Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Failed Critics Podcast: Doctor Strange

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Apologies for this week’s podcast being so late. It took us a little while to master the art of manipulating time and space, unlike a certain Marvel wizard who can montage his way through ancient texts on the topic. Steve Norman was closely guarding the FC library which meant Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Andrew Brooker had to use all their cunning to get past him.

You know what, I’m just going to end that metaphor there. It’s possibly the worst one I’ve ever come up with and I’ll just tell you what’s on the podcast this week.

The big new release this week is – as you’ve probably ascertained – the new Marvel movie, Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Chiewetel Ejiofor amongst others. (Scott Adkins!)

In What We’ve Been Watching, Steve stays quiet as Brian declares Hot Fuzz the best of the Cornetto trilogy, Brooker quenches his appetite for all things gruesome and grotesque with The Woman, and Owen doesn’t watch anything at all, but reviews the BBC Radio4 horror The Stone Tape by Peter Strickland (of Berbarian Sound Studio fame).

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Black Mass

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“And just fucking like that, I was one of them. And I was a big fucking deal.”

So yeah, I’ve been falling out of love with Johnny Depp pretty hard this last few years. Outside of a couple of… let’s say interesting turns in films like Rango and The Rum Diaries, his appearances on the big screen have been lacklustre at best and just plain awful at worst. I mean, what in the name of Jesus beaten left testicle was going on in Tusk? It’s all good that you’ve got more money than God and you can take your pick of projects, but why the hell would you pick The Lone Ranger?

But… But, but, but! I do love me a good crime drama, the closer to true life the better and with 2009’s Public Enemies and 1997’s Donnie Brasco, Depp stars in two of my favourites. Stupid recent roles aside, I had high expectations for Mr Depp’s turn as James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass.

Directed by Scott Cooper – of Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace fame – and based on the biographical book of the same name, Black Mass is the true story of James Bulger, a small time crook that became the most powerful gangster in South Boston with the help of his gang, his politician brother and – to coin the subtitle of the book and the tagline on the film poster – his unholy alliance with the FBI.

Kicking off in 1975, we are told Whitey’s story from a police interview room as they question henchman Kevin Weeks, a doorman who impressed Bulger by standing his ground and taking a beating doing his job. Quickly becoming Bulger’s driver and playing the part of his muscle makes him the perfect guy to tell the story of the next twenty years to us, and the police. As Weeks spills the beans on Whitey’s past endeavours, we meet the man while he’s just a small time hoodlum working he way up to full blown gangster status; not far removed from a prison stint that included three years in Alcatraz, Bulger spends his days working his way through South Boston making sure everyone knows that he is the guys to be scared of. At the same time, James’ politician brother William is keeping himself busy protecting his sibling, keeping him safe from prying eyes and organising meetings with John Connelly, an FBI agent that really wants to be a dirty cop and sees the Bulger brothers as the best way to do that.

The twisting stories between gangster Whitey, politician brother Jimmy and terrible bad cop Connelly span nearly two decades. From the rise of his Winter Hill mob into organised crime and his rivalry with the Angiulo brothers of North Boston that eventually led to his conspiring with the FBI; to Bulger’s eventual fleeing Boston, the law, and his rivalries to stay alive and out of prison.

Black Mass is all about the performances. While the tale it’s weaving is great and Cooper’s direction and story telling style are amazing, it’s the stellar cast and superb acting from almost all of them that make this film stand out. First and foremost is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of local gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, his time on screen is almost flawless. Sure, his makeup is a little dodgy and he looks a bit like a 50 year old Draco Malfoy, but Depp is suitably evil in every scene he is in and has mastered the craft of the psycho eyes that make him just terrifying – one scene where he threatens a copper with “the last thing I’d do if I was planning to harm you, is fucking warn you about it” may be the scariest thing I see in a weekend that includes a Crimson Peak screening. It’s the role that has restored a little love and faith in Johnny Depp and may he pull performances like this one from here on in.

Depp’s support is almost perfect too. Joel Edgerton’s FBI agent John Connelly, the agent that comes dangerously close to being a bungling fool in the grand scheme of things but is just dying to be hot shit is great. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch for Edgerton, but he does the simple role very, very well. Jesse Plemons – a guy I only know from the excellent Friday Night Lights – essentially plays two parts; Kevin Weeks the big time gangster’s muscle and Kevin Weeks the informant driving the narration forward for us and in both roles he shines. Quickly erasing the teenage football player image I had for him and making him a bit of a bad ass. Maybe the biggest mis-step in casting comes in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch. Now I have a lot of time for the Sherlock actor, but his casting as Whitey’s politician brother Billy seems like stunt casting at its worst. Not because he’s bad or because he’s used to sell the film, but just to say “we got Cumberbatch in our flick” and it really wasn’t necessary; he just doesn’t seem to fit the role that he’s been given. With appearances from Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson and Rory Cochrane all running in support, Black Mass has more than enough acting chops on screen to keep almost anyone entertained.

Overall, Black Mass is excellent. It’s an interesting slice of time from the crime stories of Boston and while it comes across a little like a true story version of The Departed mixed with a slightly unhealthy dose of wanting to be Goodfellas, it is an amazing way to spend a couple of hours. It pains me to say it, in a year that had Tom Hardy starring in a Kray twins film, but Black Mass may be the best crime film you can see this year.

Penguins Of Madagascar

Very funny, ludicrous amounts of fun, and with a surprising injection of just the right amount of heart, Penguins Of Madagascar does right by its title characters.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

penguins 2I’m telling you right now, I don’t ever want to hit an age or level of jadedness as a film critic where I don’t find films like Penguins Of Madagascar to be absolutely wonderful.  If you’ve been following along with this website over the past year, you will have witnessed my journey through the year’s animated releases and seen me find many of them… lacking, let’s put it that way.  I realise that I can come off as unnecessarily harsh, but – as mentioned in my review of The Nut Job – I judge harshly because I care.  I care deeply and I want animated films to try, to try and be more than a sinkhole for parents’ money.  They can reach farther, try harder, tell grand stories about the human condition…

…or they can be Penguins Of Madagascar.  Look, Penguins Of Madagascar does not reinvent any wheels, it does not push any boundaries, it does not attempt to dazzle the eyes with outstanding visuals, it does not try and make any bold statements or messages you won’t have heard from a million animated films beforehand.  It knows this and it’s consciously not trying to do those things.  What separates Penguins Of Madagascar from your Nut Jobs and your Planes and your House Of Magics is fun.  Real fun.  Penguins’ mission, above all else, is to be tonnes of palpable fun.  This is lightweight stuff, but it’s not soulless stuff.  There is effort and attention and love here; a desire to create real fun.

Or, to put it another way, it’s the difference between Crank 2: High Voltage and a crappy Steven Seagal vehicle, between The Avengers and Transformers, between The Hunger Games and Divergent.  One is farted out with the sole intention of box office dollars, the other knows exactly what it wants to be and goes about fulfilling that ambition and intention with style, energy, affection and sheer stick-to-it-iveness.

Based on the spin-off TV series of almost the same name but set in the timeline of the films – if this sounds confusing, fret not as the film’s attitude towards this mishmash is encapsulated perfectly by the kid-focussed prologue being dated as “Some Years Ago” – Penguins follows the scene-stealing Penguins from the Madagascar series.  There’s Skipper (Tom McGrath) – the leader who is committed to his team and doesn’t like his authority being questioned – Kowalski (Chris Miller) – the brains of the outfit and a propensity for bluntness – Rico (Conrad Vernon) – the near-silent and crazed demolitions expert – and Private (Christopher Knights) – a lone egg the rest of the team rescued and welcomed into the group as one of their own, and who wishes to be seen as a valued member of the team.

On the eve of the final performance from Madagascar 3, the Penguins choose to celebrate Private’s 10th birthday by breaking into Fort Knox and treating him to a packet of Cheese Dibbles.  The event turns out to be a trap, however, and the team are captured by the evil octopus Dave (John Malkovich) – who also moonlights as a human scientist named Dr. Octavious Brine, it’s nicely ridiculous and genuinely rather a bit creepy – who, fuelled by years of resentment of being overshadowed by cute and cuddly penguins that started when our lead quartet were first installed at Central Park Zoo, has built a penguin-focussed super-weapon with evil intentions.  The Penguins resolve to take Dave down, but end up having proceedings complicated by the arrival of interspecies task force The North Wind – led by the egotistical glory-hogging Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The plot is really not any more complicated than that and all of the expected beats are hit at the appropriate times.  Certain scenes are more than a little forced, especially the attempts at book-ending the film, but it still all works because these beats are used as jumping off points for jokes, fun and heart.  The obvious scenes – the tension between the two teams, The All Is Lost Moment, the point where Private steps up – are executed with genuine sincerity, the feeling that these scenes have been used because they are what best helps and best fits the story rather than obligation or “this is what we need to do in order to print money”.

That is not to say that Penguins Of Madagascar is overly serious.  In fact, quite the opposite.  This is silly, light-hearted, fast-paced nonsense.  But the film is serious in its desire to entertain.  Hence why it goes all out in the action sequences.  A gondola chase in Venice takes a sudden detour on land, the opening rescue of Private’s egg moves with speed and high energy, whilst the final setpiece shrinks the scale and minimises the carnage but still feels noticeably climactic and high-stakes.  The standout, though, is an alternately hysterical and technically jaw-dropping one-take sequence in which the Penguins make a sudden exit from a cargo plane taking them to an assigned safe-house and attempt to find a different ride or a safe landing.  It’s crazed and fast and incredibly fun, which sums up the film’s overall feel, to be honest.  Pure, undiluted fun.

Incidentally, whilst I’m on the subject, that one-take free-fall sequence is the only time the animation truly stuck out to me.  The Madagascar art-style is very much set in stone by this point and there’s been no real majorly noticeable technical upgrade between films to make proceedings stand out.  Storyboarding and layout is decidedly unspectacular, so the film ends up sliding comfortably into the Madagascar canon without really amazing the eyeballs.  This is fine – as again, the film isn’t trying to astound the eyeballs, and visuals that are too good-looking would likely distract from the intended mood – but it does make the one-take sequence stand out even more, as the film doesn’t really try to match that kind of scale or ambition again.  It is insanely cool, mind, so try not to read that as an insult.

Anyways, as mentioned, Penguins is major amounts of fun.  The whole film carries with it this light, energetic kind-hearted feel.  The film is never mean-spirited, never overly-dark, never sacrifices its heart or nicer kinder characters for a quick laugh.  There’s clear love and affection going on here, a real desire to cut loose and have fun with the premise as much as possible.  And that fun is incredibly infectious.  From about minute number 2 – when the title cards disappear – to roughly minute 86 – after the mid-credits stinger has finished – I had this big goofy grin plastered on my face and it only wavered for the few moments where the film gets some semblance of serious.

That’s as good a segway as I can think of.  So, the heart.  Penguins has one.  It has a big one tattooed on its chest, powering proceedings.  The dynamic between the Penguins is what keeps the film going, keeps that spirit up.  The group are always true companions with one another and this fact is constantly underlined and reinforced.  The main conflict of the film – which is not Dave, although he is the catalyst for it, but is instead Private’s desire to be seen as more than The Cute One in the eyes of Skipper – comes from a place of genuine underestimation and obliviousness, rather than meanness, which is precisely why it works.  It’s in character, at all times, and that enables the film’s final third – where said heart bursts through front and centre without overcooking or schmaltz-ifying the film – to connect way harder than it seems like it would.

Of course, though, Penguins Of Madagascar is supposed to be a comedy and what good is a comedy without good jokes?  Well, good news on that front, there are good jokes here.  Lots of good jokes.  In fact, I’m not going to undersell it, Penguins is loaded front-to-back with damn good jokes and they come at a ferocious pace with an excellent hit/miss ratio.  Of particular note is the film’s lack of reliance on pop culture references – the frequent DreamWorks fall-back during their darker days.  Here, they are limited to one running gag where Dave names his subordinates in such a way that shouting combinations of names in quick succession equals names of actors.  Now, this is the same gag that Escape From Planet Earth did earlier in the year (much to my derision), but the film stretches this to its absolute limits until the joke becomes a joke itself – “Kevin!  Bake on!  We’re going to need that victory cake!”  I mean, they’re still major groaners, but at least there’s meaning behind them besides, “Reference!  Laugh!”

Other than that, the jokes are of the ridiculous silliness variety, albeit silliness rooted in character work.  There’s no random silliness for random silliness’ sake.  The “River dance!” gag is based on the Penguins believing Shanghai to be Dublin, for example, whilst Dave’s attempt at a video call works both on the base level – the increasing frustration of the team, the mundanity of the situation – and a character level – the guy may be competent with evil plans but he is utterly useless at pretty much everything else – and there are a pair of gags in the film’s final third involving The North Wind and a giant explosion that work extra-well because of Classified’s prior characterisation.  There is also a bunch of toilet humour, mostly in the form of pure groaners, but the film’s rapid-fire pace ensures that a gag that doesn’t work will be followed up by five or so that do soon after.

Also, the film openly calls out how irritating “I Like To Move It” and “Afro Circus” are during our first present-day scene, and I am perfectly fine with pandering when its aimed at me and completely deserved.

Since Penguins Of Madagascar is primarily a comedy, I’m resisting awarding it top five-star honours for now – because pure comedies, ones like this, I also judge on how a second viewing treats them – but I can still comfortably place this film in the highest echelons of the year’s animated films.  If The Lego Movie is at the top of the pile, and The Nut Job resides in Sub-Basement 5, then Penguins is currently sharing the number 2 slot with My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks and that number 2 slot is just a whisker away from The Lego Movie.  This is an incredibly funny, incredibly fun, surprisingly heartfelt animated film, and living proof that not aiming for the stars does not automatically mean “cheap creatively-bankrupt piece of crap” and does not mean that trying is optional.

2014 has been a really miserable and disappointing year for animated features.  Penguins Of Madagascar proves that we can have it better and that we don’t need to re-invent the wheel in the process.

Callum Petch is heading into twilight, spreading out his wings tonight.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Imitation Game

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_9yxhgb0px7kgc8cc40ogcowkg_1280Benedict Cumberbatch plays an eccentric, lonely, possibly autistic genius who uses his gifts to help people who he looks down upon, save only for a companion who serves as his foil and link to the outside world.  Remarkably though, it’s not Sherlock, but a real-life hero, whose contribution to the Allies winning World War II and his subsequent life are a rich enough vein of drama without the need for embellishment.

As I’m sure you all know, Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who succeeds in academia but is severely lacking in social skills.  His Manchester dwelling has been ransacked, and he’s sitting in a police station talking to an officer (Rory Kinnear) who is wondering why nothing was taken during the burglary.  Turing starts to talk – he was recruited by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) to help break Enigma, the machine which encoded all German messages sent over the air during the second World War.  It’s seemingly unbreakable, Turing says during their first meeting.  “Let me try, and we’ll know for sure”, he proffers.  The film jumps back and forth between wartime and 1952, as the police gradually become more interested in this eccentric figure, and the secrets he holds.

Although there is obviously a heavy focus on the actual codebreaking, it’s done in such a way that even the most techno-illiterate will be able to keep up.  Even more impressively, it is always rooted in what’s at stake – the human cost of the Bletchley Park team’s failure to crack Enigma is constantly driven home, even to the seemingly unfeeling Turing, who develops a human side once a recruitment drive sees Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) arrive.  She is of a similar intellect, but with added social skills, and she helps him falteringly take his first steps into becoming part of a team that she is excluded from by default because of her gender.  Even though he has made progress, Turing is excluded from society as a whole; he was later, of course, one of the most famous gay men to be prosecuted for gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK.  This secret threatens his livelihood, and Cumberbatch plays the part well as a man living inside a disguise which is barely passable.

The supporting cast is also excellent – Charles Dance is a suitably venerable war commander, while Mark Strong shows a rare lightness of touch as MI6 contact Stewart Menzies.  The Bletchley Park team are excellent – the scene where they crack Enigma, only to realise they can’t do anything with the information they now possess, is engrossing and well-acted.

This is a funny, sad, smart, gripping film which will leave you thinking well after you exit the cinema, if only about how far back we as a civilisation were set back by our own prejudices and ignorance.  In a season full of stand-out films so far, The Imitation Game definitely deserves to be in the mix come awards time.

The Week In Film – 20 August 2014: Fare thee well

Steve returns to sum up everything of interest that’s happened in the past week in the world of film and some stuff not quite in the world of film. More in the world of Failed Critics.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

jamesDiamond in the Rough

I don’t pay tribute to people often. However with the Failed Critics founder James Diamond leaving the site, as a regular at least, I felt it only right to say a few words.

James started Failed Critics around two years ago now because he loves film. He created this blog and podcast from nothing and has been kind enough to tolerate my involvement for that time despite me being completely ignorant of the film-making process and barely able to be coherent and eloquent in a discussion about film.

Furthermore without him we would not have Failed Critics which you all (I assume) enjoy reading and listening to and many of us enjoy writing and podcasting for.

Thanks James.

Cornetto Quadrology

After ‘The World’s End’ we thought the Wright/Pegg double act had come to its natural end. However it has been confirmed that the duo will make another film together.

They, along with Nick Frost, have been the driving force behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the aforementioned The World’s End.

They have successfully sent up and parodied pop culture, zombie films, buddy cop movies and more. With Wright having his well-publicised fall out with Marvel over Ant Man could we see them rip in to the Super Hero genre next?baloo

The Jungle Books

I’m confused. They are making two Jungle Book movies at the same time. Not a prequel/sequel and a remake of the original but two movies by two studios, as far as I can see.

Ironically though Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan for the second time in his career.

More Comic Book News

Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson will play either Black Adam or Shazam in an upcoming DC Comic book movie adaptation.

Shazam is an orphan who can transform into a hero merely by uttering the word Shazam. It’s hardly transforming by eating a banana is it?

To be honest the Rock sounds more like someone Marvel would cast in one of their roles rather than DC/WB who seem to be taking the serious route.

Join us next week when no doubt more news will have occurred and Steve will have witnessed it.

 

Failed Critics Podcast: 12 Hours a Podcast

Cumberbatch FassbenderWell, not quite. We are back to feature length this week though, with a packed agenda that includes a full run down on the Golden Globe awards, reaction to the latest BBFC guidance, and casting news in the Marvel and Star Wars universes.

The new releases this week include Oscar favourite 12 Years a Slave, as well All is Lost, and The Railway Man. In What We’ve Been Watching Steve finally catches one of last year’s biggest films, Owen finally watches one of Woody Allen’s biggest films, and James sets off on a world cinema odyssey.

Join us next week for our review of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the team’s reaction to the Oscar nominations announcement.

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Failed Critics Podcast: The Fifth Estate, How I Live Now, and falling out

The Fifth Estate Cumberbatch BruhlWelcome to what’s starting to feel like another daily edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. It’s our third outing in a week, and in this episode we are reviewing The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, as well as How I Live Now and The Great Hip-Hop Hoax.

It’s another short one this week due to James’ international jetsetter lifestyle, but there’s still room to discuss the batshit crazy Crank 2, the impressive Ip Man, and for Owen and Steve to fall out over a cult classic.

We’ll be back next week with reviews of Captain Phillips and, hopefully, The Escape Plan.

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