Cue the sax, it’s the Failed Critics Podcast: Latenight Softcore Edition, where host Steve Norman finally gets his wish to make Owen Hughes review Emmanuelle In Space, possibly the boobiest of all our quiz booby-prizes thus far. If you giggle when you hear naughty words, you’re going to, well, giggle, when you hear our quiz.
“Now are you a rusher? Or are you a dragger?”
Yup, the Oscars are almost here. The annual celebration of people doing their job very well when they’re paid hundreds of thousands of times more than you and me do for our nine-to-fives. Basically, it’s Hollywood’s Employee of the Month award with an almost ironclad guarantee that winners will go on to do something bloody awful afterwards – I’m looking at you, Halle Berry and I’m DEFINITELY not looking at Swordfish.
So what do you say? Shall we continue my list of missed opportunities and wrong decisions? I promise to be a little less controversial than I was in the first part and hopefully, hopefully, you’ll agree with some of my choices. Only one way to find out.
1994 – Pulp Fiction
The first of a 1994 double bill that lost out to the bloody terrible Forrest Gump. Yeah, I know, I’ve probably lost you already, but hear me out. My dislike for Tom Hanks aside, I simply don’t like Gump and his stupid face. The whole film just bugs me, and the fact that it has beaten a bonafide classic like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is just unforgivable.
The intertwined stories of gangsters, everyday criminals and Joe average that blurs the lines between good guys and bad is one of the most amazing films dedicated to celluloid. To spend the two and a half hour running-time with these characters is to spend a tenth of your day with some of the most brilliantly written characters in the history of film.
Between this, and the next film in my list, there’s no way on God’s green earth that anyone, ANYONE, can tell me that they think the escapades of Mr. Gump deserves that Oscar.
1994 – The Shawshank Redemption
Yeah, believe it or not, the Forrest Chump beat this to the Oscar too. Based on a Stephen King short story and current, almost permanent, number one on the IMDB top 250 (Pulp Fiction is 5, while Hanks’ statue thief sits at 13), Shawshank is regarded by many as the greatest film is ever made.
Frank Darabont makes his feature film debut and gets his name known around the world with what is easily the best prison drama put to film. Featuring Tim Robbins and an Oscar nominated performance from Morgan Freeman as a pair of unlikely friends working through years behind bars with each other. With escape constantly on the mind of Robbins’ innocent Andy Dufresne and Freeman’s “Red” living with the desire to just play out his time in peace and quiet; Shawshank is maybe the only film that could beat Tarantino’s Classic to the finishing line if quality of film was actually the standard used for handing out these awards.
1997 – Good Will Hunting
Genuinely, I think this is a no-brainer. Forget the star power of writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting is a truly original film. The story of Damon’s Will Hunting who, with the help and guidance from his court appointed psychologist (Robin Williams) learns to find his identity in a world where he can solve almost any problem, but can’t seem to shift his own personal demons.
Compare that to the film that won the Oscar that year? A film about a giant sinking boat. And while Titanic may be a visually impressive film to watch, the fact that it’s a love story, based on an unsinkable boat that sank, where the happy ever after was one of the lovers freezing to death in the water while the other clung to a lump of wood to survive? No thanks. Utter guff. And again, no staying power. All these years later, Titanic looks like a CGI laden mess, Good Will Hunting can still draw you in with its fantastic drama.
2011 – Moneyball
Definitely more of a personal opinion for this one than a flat out obvious mistake on the Academy’s part. Based on Michael Lewis’ book, The art of winning an unfair game, this Brad Pitt starring drama lost out to The Artist. Now, I enjoyed The Artist; it was a well made film that, considering what it was, kept me riveted the entire time it was on. But in my opinion, it was a flash in the pan and on second viewing isn’t half as good.
Moneyball earned a handful of nomination in 2011, including acting nods for its star and, much to everyone’s surprise, Jonah Hill. The film takes the mundane behind the scenes stuff of pre-season baseball and makes it a thrilling, interesting, drama that has you hooked early on and doesn’t let go. Its author hits his third adaptation to get a nomination for best film this year with The Big Short (the frankly amazing The Blind Side as also nominated in 2009 but lost, quite rightly, to The Hurt Locker) and honestly, this should have been his first win.
2015 – Whiplash
Now, I know I’m gonna get shit for is one, and that’s ok. There was absolutely nothing wrong with last year’s winner, the brilliant Birdman was deserving of its statue. And even when watching it again, it’s just as good; well acted, brilliantly directed and with a very cool improvised jazz score I would gladly have The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance in my collection.
But it didn’t do one thing that Whiplash did. Not only did the film completely blow me away, but the story of the young jazz drummer going up against his abusive band leader and trying to come out on top left me walking out of the cinema in a state that I can only describe as shell shocked. It’s a state I’ve been in several times after watching this amazing spectacle of a film. Every rewatch leaves me exhausted and at the same time begging for more. The only other film to do that recently is 2016 best pic nominee Mad Max: Fury Road. And only time will tell us if whatever beats it has the staying power that both of these films have.
That’s me done. For this year at least. What did you think? Do you agree with my choices? Think I’m a complete imbecile for hating Titanic and Forrest Gump? Do feel free to let me know. There’s nothing I like more than a good argument over great films!
“You want to bet against the housing market, and you’re afraid we won’t pay YOU?”
I’m not a smart guy. I have absolutely no idea what happened in the housing market crash of 2008 and the economic balls-up that followed. I know my hard-earned money suddenly became less valuable and that it was gonna be a few more years before I got to own my house; but outside of that, I am a blinkered, clueless idiot as far as the last few years on Wall Street are concerned.
So what I needed was someone to explain to me what the holy crap happened back then, without talking to me like a complete muppet.
The Big Short was just what I was looking for. The intertwining tale of a handful of financial experts who, through one means or another, figure out that the housing market and the credit bubble associated with it are in the verge of collapse and work on making themselves rich in the process. Based on a true story (again), Christian Bale is the real-life Michael Burry; a brilliant but eccentric hedge fund manager who has a penchant for predicting insane financial changes that no-one else can see. When he discovers that a lot of money can be made when this collapse, that no-one sees coming or believes will happen, he sets about betting against the housing market and making him, and his clients, a fortune.
Obviously, making waves this big attracts attention and Burry’s actions eventually get him noticed by a few others that look to cash in on the banker’s foresight and savvy. Catching the eye of Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling – who also serves as a narrator of sorts), a trader smart enough to see that Burry is right and poised to make a fortune; he in turn mistakenly lets slip to a couple of traders who work for another hedge fund manager, Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, who also jumps in on the action. As the money hungry bankers are ridiculed for their predictions, more dodgy practices and money magic is discovered that takes the men’s predictions quickly from probable to inevitable and the men go all in; betting their reputations and other people’s fortunes against the incoming crash.
Do you want to know the thing about The Big Short that makes me love it so much? It isn’t the amazing cast. A cast that includes Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo and Marissa Tomei on top of those I’ve already mentioned that all chew the scenery up at any point they are on the screen; and it isn’t the direction from comedy veteran Adam McKay, a guy that can drag a laugh from almost anyone with his films – even if most of them do star Will Ferrell, I won’t hold that against him.
What this film has, much like Wall Street did but, say, The Wolf of Wall Street didn’t, was the ability to explain to me what was going on on-screen as it was happening. I learned a little bit and understood what was happening as it happened because the film let me understand it. More importantly, the book this film was based on was written by Michael Lewis; the same author that wrote the books that would later become Moneyball and The Blind Side. Much like the baseball drama and football biopic did before our film today, they explained what was going on without patronising me or making me feel like a complete imbecile; and that’s a miracle all on its own, especially since when it comes to finance, I am borderline retarded.
The Big Short is a surprisingly funny film that has a very serious message running through it. It’s a scathing look at the financial situation we all found ourselves in in the mid-2000’s and the people that put us there while simultaneously giving us that knew bugger all about what happened a lesson or two in the economics of stealing from the world. The film wonderfully balances the poking fun at the slew of true stories put to film recently with the stark warning that we will face another collapse if we don’t pay attention to the slick bastards in slicker suits.
This amazing film should be required viewing for anyone with a need to be able to spend the money in their wallets; it’s a harsh reminder of things of the past and a warning for our future. But just as important, at least as far as these last few paragraphs are concerned, is that it’s a brilliantly made film that kept me glued to the screen the entire time.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment. Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.
Budget: $130 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
2010 was a very successful year for feature-length animation. Now, when one looks at the year in animated film and tries to determine how good of a year it was, they cannot just cast their eye in the direction of the Disney-DreamWorks-Pixar circle trust and judge it solely from there. I mean, they can and it should factor in to a large percentage of that – they are the biggest animation companies in the Western world at the moment, after all – but the true indicator of just how successful a year it has been for animation comes from the efforts of other studios and how their works hold up qualitatively and financially which, for 2010, was rather well indeed.
In terms of the big three, DreamWorks put out three solid hits – How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, Megamind (sort of, we’ll get to that) – two of which were creative and critical successes, whilst Disney properly kick-started their second renaissance with the financial smash of critical hit Tangled, and Pixar put out Toy Story 3 so I really don’t need to go into detail with that. They carried the year very well, but there was activity outside of those. My Dog Tulip was an indie darling that did decent box office numbers, Zack Snyder tried to make an ambitious and dark fantasy epic with Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole that did very well overseas, Alpha & Omega is a dog turd in a bucket made out of Xenomorph piss but made enough money to justify a direct-to-DVD series that’s still inexplicably going to this day.
Oh, yeah, and Despicable Me happened.
In fact, I’m gonna go ahead right now and state this for the record: as a fan of the Despicable Me series overall, I still don’t quite get why Despicable Me was the one that broke through into the mainstream public consciousness. Every year, of the tens of animated films that get released into the wild by studios that aren’t part of that circle trust I previously mentioned, one breaks through into mainstream acceptance and becomes the next big franchise. It’s a recent thing, and some years end up having that big film come from DreamWorks anyway, but it is a thing nonetheless – Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs in 2009, Despicable Me in 2010, Rango and Rio in 2011, Hotel Transylvania in 2012, The Croods in 2013 (because pretty much everything else was a sequel), and The Lego Movie in 2014.
Now, in fairness, Despicable Me is a good film – although I never found it to be great and vastly prefer the better paced, better structured, wackier, funnier, more surprisingly heartfelt and just plain better Despicable Me 2 – and I much prefer it being the breakout in a rather quiet year than f*cking Alpha & Omega, but I’ve never fully gotten why. The first film is flawed – a lot of the non-physical gags don’t land, the heart isn’t quite earned, and many of the voice performances are just awful – and forgettable, yet it became the film that everybody went back to again and again and again. My best guess is the same as my guess for why Madagascar became a hit: the funny comic relief side characters (Penguins in Madagascar, Minions in Despicable Me) and the collective belief that a sequel will fully realise the potential that is frequently hinted at but never quite reached.
Despicable Me, for those not in the know, follows an ineffectual supervillain who wishes to become the most evilest supervillain of them all, but has a change of heart and becomes a hero of sorts after he lets women into his personal life and discovers that, deep down, he actually has real feelings and cares about other people that are not his minions or his steadfastly loyal sidekick. Megamind, for those not in the know, follows an ineffectual supervillain who wishes to become the most evilest supervillain of them all, but has a change of heart and becomes a hero of sorts after he lets a woman into his personal life and discovers that, deep down, he actually has real feelings and cares about other people that are not his minions or his steadfastly loyal sidekick.
Can you see why Megamind was doomed from the get-go?
Now, I am not saying that Megamind and Despicable Me ripped one another off. Of course I’m not, animation lead times are hellish and whichever one of these films came out first would have had the advantage of not being seen as a rip-off of the other. What I am saying, is that an uninformed public may end up seeing it that way and they’re unlikely to turn up for a second go-around if they look too similar to one another. DreamWorks had gotten away with it before with Antz and Shark Tale, but both of those looked very distinct from the films they were going up against, Antz came first and Shark Tale was a year removed from Finding Nemo. In a darkly funny way, being late to the punch and suffering for it, this is basically karma finally coming for DreamWorks Animation.
Like it or not, Despicable Me will have been at least partially responsible for the lower-than-average gross for Megamind. It may not have been such a problem if Despicable Me wasn’t A Thing, but it was A Thing and it ended up being a breath of fresh air in the animated medium – I’m assuming, my guess being that it was an animated comedy with real heart and few pop culture references – and so Megamind ended up suffering in comparison in the public eye. After all, here was a DreamWorks film. The third in a year, no less! It had been 9 years since the first Shrek and, since most of the animation medium had decided to poorly copy that film’s way of doing things, people were tired of the DreamWorks formula by this point.
The film opened OK, first place and $46 million is nothing to sniff at, but was still somewhat below par for a DreamWorks film with 3D bells and whistles – especially since 66% of its opening weekend came from 3D showings at the height of the 3D craze. It held well in weekend no. 2, only slipping 37% and beating off Unstoppable which was a real movie that existed and not some kind of amazingly stupid fever dream we collectively had, but any hopes of a long run on the chart were collectively dashed by four words that sent the entire box office sprinting for cover: Deathly Hallows, Part 1. The combination of that opening in Week 3 and Disney’s Tangled opening in Week 4 signalled a very swift end to Megamind’s domestic box office fortunes; it dropped out after Week 6.
Considering that one-two punch, one would wonder why DreamWorks didn’t simply push the release date forward a bit, perhaps into October. Problem is, DreamWorks were very much in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” situation with Megamind. Too early and Despicable Me would be too fresh in the audience’s minds and that would harm Megamind’s box office even more. Too late and they’d have to push it into January/February of 2011, the cinematic dead zone and creating the problem of having three films coming out in relatively close proximity to one another in 2011; essentially postponing the burnout problem another 12 months. Plus, in October, a very large number of 3D screens were taken by Jackass 3D and Katzenberg’s very public uproar over the competition foisted upon How To Train Your Dragon back in March probably convinced him to keep schtum this time.
So it didn’t do particularly great in the US. Problem is that overseas grosses weren’t particularly great, either. DreamWorks films that don’t do great financially domestically typically, not always but typically, make up for that with very strong overseas sales – Penguins Of Madagascar has crashed and burned domestically (it won’t even cross $80 million by the time it finally closes) but is at least trying to force its way into profitability with a slow but strong overseas performance. Megamind, for whatever reason, never managed to do that. Therefore, the film, although not a bomb, is one of the lower grossing entries into the more recent DreamWorks canon – although that bar keeps getting lowered/raised with each passing entry, to be frank.
Despicable Me is certainly one reason, three DreamWorks films in one year is definitely another (I have talked before about the DreamWorks release plan so I won’t repeat myself), and the fact that it looked very much like The DreamWorks Movie certainly didn’t help matters. In fact, after having viewed the film and tweeted out how I prefer it to Despicable Me 1 – like you’re surprised, if you’ve followed this series or any of my writings on this site, you saw this coming – a friend of mine replied with surprise at my position as they found it to be “the most DreamWorks-ass movie they’ve ever made.” And I am inclined to agree with that statement, name a DreamWorks Animation trope – pop culture references, expensive sounding licensed soundtrack, characters that resemble their voice actors more than a little too much, a Dance Party Ending – and it probably shows up here at some point.
But, crucially, Megamind also perfectly encapsulates just how far DreamWorks Animation had come since their commonly accepted dark age. See, Megamind has a fair bit going on in it. The DreamWorks of old would have taken its superhero parody premise, filled in the blank spaces with the bare minimum of character work and pop culture references, and then called it a day. Megamind instead fills its blanks with the bare minimum of pop culture references – the bigger ones being relevant to the genre the film is occasionally parodying and therefore making sense – a very good amount of character work, a surprising amount of heart, and a vicious and relevant deconstruction of the Dogged Yet Determined Nice Guy trope. It’s not original, Christ no, but it is highly entertaining and, as I have said before, films don’t have to be original to be great.
Now, I am going to be frank, a part of me did sigh dejectedly when Roxie ended up not being the one who gets forcibly injected with the hero serum – after all, DreamWorks have a (previously discussed) female problem and, if this was pulled off well (because it could also have gone so horribly wrong), giving Roxie powers and making her Megamind’s self-created nemesis would have provided so many potentially brilliant plotlines. However, the serum going to Hal allows Megamind to touch on its best theme: loudly telling young boys that they are entitled to jack sh*t when it comes to women.
What do the movies typically teach us? The hero gets the girl. The good guy gets the girl. The dogged nice guy is rewarded for his patience and persistence by getting the girl. If your soulmate is currently with the wrong guy, a lunky meathead who is cool and awesome whilst you’re a sad lonely nerd, she will eventually realise that it should have been you all along and will come around if you just don’t stop trying to convince her. This is why “friendzoning” is a thing. We are very much a culture of entitlement, men are entitled to their dream girl and the guy that gets in the way of that is a horrible jock asshole and any girl who rejects you just doesn’t realise how special you are, despite just how f*cking abhorrent that entire philosophy is, and it’s why tragic events like the Isla Vita massacre end up happening.
So Megamind gets across just how non-OK that is by making Hal the villain. Without powers, his constant hitting on Roxie even long after she has made it quite clear that she is not interested is an annoyance and creepy, but not especially threatening since he can’t do anything about it. With powers, his entitlement overtakes his being and he now has the means with which to actually lash out at the world when everything he has been promised isn’t dropped into his lap. Roxie is in love with Bernard – or, at least, who she thinks is Bernard, we’ll get back to that in a minute – and Hal suddenly sprouting powers and pecs does not cause her libido to suddenly gain feelings for him. She wasn’t interested in him before because he was rather creepy and overly forward and unable to let the crush go, and she’s not interested in him now since all the powers have done is give him the strength to act on those creepy and overly forward impulses. Her rejection is what spurs him to turn evil, but it’s clear that he would have gone this way at some point regardless of how things turned out with Roxie.
To put it another way: a big message of a big expensive animated kids’ movie aimed at young boys is “No means no. Always. No exceptions. You aren’t entitled to sh*t.” Ain’t that something rather amazing?
This all being said, Megamind does very much risk undercutting this message in three ways. 1] There are quite a few times, pre-powers, where Hal’s creepy hitting on Roxie is played more for laughs than “this is not OK”-ness. I’m not 100% certain about this, because I’m not sure how much I’m projecting my own beliefs onto this movie and how much is the film mashing that “not OK” button (all of its prior attempts at getting jokes from that fall flat for me, you see, so I’m not certain how much of the film is properly playing it for laughs), but it’s there nonetheless. 2] The finale still ends with Megamind himself having won Roxie after proving himself to be a nice guy hero deep down, although that problem is somewhat nipped by a large chunk of the movie being devoted to showing the two of them mutually falling in love with each other. Mind, that also brings us to…
…3] much of that romance occurs with Megamind tricking Roxie into believing that he is somebody else, with him taking the form of Bernard. No matter how real and genuinely touching the rest of their relationship is built on, there’s still the issue of the fact that Megamind built much of his relationship with Roxie on a lie. A lie that he is rewarded for, even after the jig is revealed and Roxie reacts understandably betrayed and angry, by getting the girl after rescuing her from Hal/Titan. Now, this whole plotline and development isn’t exactly something made up specifically for Megamind, the film is a parody of comic books and superheroes and this kind of thing crops up there too (I’m assuming) so it carries problematic undertones anywhere (see also: any plotline that involves love potions of any kind), but those uncomfortable undertones still sit there regardless.
Yet, I honestly don’t find them a film-killer, like they should be, and I put that all down to the film’s incredibly strong character work. The relationship between Megamind and Roxie feels very real, very honest, very spontaneous. Although the film makes it somewhat clear from the outset that the two are going to end up together – this is a film, after all, apparently only Hayao Miyazaki understands that the lead man and the lead woman don’t need to get together by the rolling of the end credits – this isn’t apparent to the characters. Megamind doesn’t kidnap Roxie at the outset because he has secret deep-down feelings for her, the film repeatedly makes it very clear that he’s only doing that because that’s what villains are supposed to do and he views her as somewhat of an annoyance – crucially, the film itself doesn’t, which is why she’s a very entertaining and interesting character despite being shunted into the two roles that women are apparently supposed to play in blockbuster action films.
The first time Megamind properly hangs out with Roxie, as in not keeping himself from being discovered by her, it’s not even in a romantic context. Or, at least, an openly romantic one. It starts very much as a position of his enjoying her company and wishing to spend more time with her, and his not realising that the true extent of his affections for her being love until later. Vice versa for Roxie, it’s very much two friends slowly realising that they have a deeper bond than just being friends and it’s that naturalness and realness that’s able to transcend the somewhat… iffy details surrounding it. For me, at least. No, it doesn’t much help the film’s case that a good chunk of this is dealt with in one Electric Light Orchestra backed montage, but the relationship between the two is very much the centre and backbone of the movie and the execution of everything surrounding that is why it all still works.
See, Megamind’s arc feels natural. It feels sincere. He may seem like he’s deciding to become a hero because of the love of a woman, but the reality is that that’s only one part of it. For one, he never really wanted to become a villain in the first place, society bullied him into it because school kids are the f*cking worst. For two, there’s a good 10 to 15 minute stretch where the film loudly announces the fact that Megamind only got the fun out of the chase and actually finds the non-chase parts of villainy rather boring. And for three, his first instinct when he sees Titan running off the rails is to try and shut down his creation before it gets further out of control, proving that he’s always had good inside of him somewhere. The love of Roxie is a catalyst for that realisation of his change, but it’s not the sole reason and that’s why his arc feels genuine. There’s more to it, it’s built up over time, and where he ends up personally when the film closes makes sense based on what the film has shown us about him earlier. By contrast, Despicable Me’s shift in Gru’s character feels forced and ham-handed, arriving suddenly because the plot demands it and only really coming from the three girls – the only real foreshadowing coming from Gru not treating his Minions like garbage.
That’s why Megamind’s heart hits for me whilst Despicable Me’s does not, and why I prefer the former to the latter. Megamind has issues – the ratio of good jokes to “ugh” jokes is slightly less one-sided than I’d like it to be, animation quality is alright but not outstanding, art style and character designs are honestly really generic, there are no real “Wow!” stand-out moments – but its heart is in the right place and its heart works gangbusters. A joke machine is fine, but that means that a prolonged stretch of time where the jokes aren’t firing on all cylinders exposes the weaknesses in the rest of your film. Megamind, however, has stuff going on under the surface – mostly stuff that has been done before, with the exception of that whole entitlement angle, but it’s all very well executed in any case – and its emotional centre always feels genuine which means it tugs my heartstrings more than Despicable Me 1 did.
Also, that moment just before the title card where the studio version of George Thorogood & The Destroyers’ “Bad To The Bone” seamlessly transitions into a glorious orchestral version of said tune is brilliant and makes up for every mediocre-to-bad usage of that song for at least the last decade. What can I say? I’m a simple man of simple pleasures.
Megamind was a somewhat successful film critically and financially, although not the runaway that How To Train Your Dragon (critically) and Shrek Forever After (financially) had been. Of 2010’s DreamWorks Animation releases, it’s likely that the company regard it as the black sheep of the group, although the film does have its fans. Their next film, the first of two for 2011, would cement the standing of their third big film franchise, wow the critics, kill the foreign box office, and baffle everybody when, much like with How To Train Your Dragon and its first instalment, it was passed over for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Next week, it’s Kung Fu Panda 2.
A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!
Callum Petch can taste the bright lights but he won’t get them for free. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!
A very good war drama, replete with fantastically well shot action sequences and brilliant performances, that’s just shy of greatness.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
War is hell. That much we know. According to the cast, who have stated many times during various interviews this past week or so, making a war film with (writer & director) David Ayer is also hell. Three months of strict training regimes, rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal, sitting inside a tin can for hours on end with the smell of another man’s body odour forever burnt into the inside of their nostrils; Ayer used all of his personal experiences of serving in the armed forces (on a submarine, no less) to convey as realistic an experience as possible. It was all worth it in the end though as it has resulted in a strong character driven drama with five fantastic performances.
Along with its gala screening closing the 2014 BFI London Film Festival and various previews around the UK on Sunday, and an already high box office taking in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this pop up on many peoples watch-lists in the coming few days, if it’s not there already. You’ve probably seen the trailer a hundred times. Or, at the very least, on more than one occasion you’ve had the annoyingly-still-handsome Brad Pitt’s face fly past you as it’s plastered all over the side of a bus. The marketing for this two and a bit hour movie has been relentless.
Shot mostly in Hertfordshire (and a bit in Oxfordshire) in the UK, the plot actually takes place in and around Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is the sergeant in command of a tank unit comprised of Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf). The four of them, along with their recently deceased comrade in arms have been together since the war began, fighting their way through Africa to Europe. Their close-knit group is about to have a spanner thrown in the works as they’re forced to recruit a new gunner, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has no previous combat experience and appears to be reluctant to pull the trigger. As they march across Germany, capturing and killing the last of the Nazi soldiers, they’re bent, twisted and forced into the shape of something resembling a family.
And that really is the key word to describe the main theme of Ayer’s movie. It’s about family. As much as the film carries with it messages about the horrors of war, about the trauma inflicted on those who participated in one of the most horrendous events in modern history, ultimately what’s being conveyed is how people can find solace in the unlikeliest of places. Almost every war film made has to deal with the concept of good versus evil and how to presents this; either with anti-war messages such as those in the immediate post-war era of the 50s; or glorifying and honouring those who served with propaganda films funded by the military and government; or even just stating things in as matter-of-fact manner possible. It’s as pronounced as it’s ever going to be with a World War II based film, with the allies on one side (the good) and the axis on the other (the evil). However, the good here is clearly defined by the warmth and sometimes brutally honest home that the group find together in their heavily-armoured mobile-weapon, an M4A3E8 Sherman tank. It’s not in Ayer’s interests to educate you about right and wrong.
As others have mentioned (including Carole in her LFF diary article), Fury hinges on the performances of its main cast. If they had failed to convince you to see the characters as a family, with all their camaraderie, banter and friction that comes with it, then nothing else around that would’ve worked at all. As it happens, Pitt really gets into and perfectly suits his position as the father of the dysfunctional family, whilst his relationship with the youngest member (Lerman) grows naturally throughout. Peña and Bernthal add a little humour to their roles that is so desperately required in juxtaposition to the bleakness and grim realities of war. A big surprise for many is the multi-layered performance from Shia LaBeouf as the man of faith. Not me, I hasten to add. I’ve been a fan since his role in Lawless. Probably even more so since he started to go a bit crazy. The main point is that they all work as well as individual, well-rounded and realistic characters who develop and grow over the course of the runtime, as much as they all work well together. There’s a certain tenderness displayed during the quieter moments that allows the viewer to see these men as human beings rather than just soldiers doing their job.
If it sounds like I’m gushing too much, then that’s just me avoiding the issue of one or two criticisms I have. Let’s get them out of the way!
What is there left, really, for world war films to tell us? Hasn’t it all been done before? World War II dramas from a soldiers perspective are so few and far between these days. Excluding Inglorious Basterds, which I hasten to call a World War movie, pictures like Band of Brothers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and of course Saving Private Ryan, these are all approximately a decade old now. Surely all that this tells us is that this particular well has run dry. In many respects, Fury is absolutely nothing new. However, this doesn’t seem like much of a criticism in and of itself. Who cares how original it is, if it’s actually done well enough, right? There’s enough here for it to feel worthwhile telling this story, even if there isn’t a whole lot to learn about that’s not been seen previously.
Saying all that, if you’re going into this expecting to see Saving Private Ryan, only newer and flashier, then you won’t be too disappointed. It’s absolutely not a sweeping war epic with bloody battles on the beaches of Normandy. There are many, many bloody battles as they traverse Germany, but they are on a somewhat smaller scale. What is similar to Spielberg’s iconic movie is that there are plenty of exceptionally well shot action scenes. Battles between soldiers and tanks that take place in tiny rubble covered streets, or large open fields, or narrow country roads, they all command respect for their meticulous design and unwaveringly brutal execution. As Wardaddy leans out of the top of his tank, leading his men into fight after fight, not a single one disappoints. Despite the brooding family drama, you’re never far from the next ricocheting shell or flashing tracer round. One particular tank-on-tank clash is simply sublime. It’s intense, exciting and even harrowing at times.
At two and a bit hours long, the pace isn’t fast enough for it to zip by unnoticed, but it’s not a chore to sit through by any stretch of the imagination. The dialogue did induce a cringe or two on occasion, as if it was written for a melodrama but acted like a deeply serious Carl Theodor Dreyer film. However, mostly, the script and performances went hand in hand. Whether the team are sitting around a dinner table or cooped up in a tank on the brink of what may be their last stand, regardless of whether or not the dialogue can be occasionally cheesy, you’re guaranteed to be totally engrossed in what they are saying to one another.
The biggest compliment that I can pay Fury is to say that you definitely do get a sense of that family atmosphere between the quintet that Ayer wanted to instil. These men, these soldiers, they are entirely believable and Ayer has shown that if you can put a bit of personality into a World War film, then there is still something worth watching in the genre yet.
Fury is released in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow, Wednesday 22nd October 2014.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full on retrospective treatment. Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.
Budget: $60 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%
Have you noticed anything about the nature of DreamWorks releases yet? I mean, do you notice how each of their films seem geared towards a specific audience with little overlap? Maybe this requires further explanation. Look at the filmography for Pixar. With the exception of the Cars series, which are blatantly aimed near-exclusively at kids, notice how they don’t actually create films for a specific audience. They go general, try and make films that can appeal to everyone near-equally. They don’t go “And this one is the kids’ film, and that one is the award bait film, and that one is the one more aimed at adults…” and so on. Pixar films mostly just aim for a wide-as-possible audience and then people get what they want out of it. DreamWorks Animation, however, and at least in regards to the films featured up to this point, do work on a more-focussed mind-set. Like, Shrek was the kids’ film, The Prince Of Egypt was the Oscar bait, Antz was the one aimed at an older audience… See what I’m getting at?
Remember back when I talked about Chicken Run and I posited the theory that this intention was to create an animation company where a whole bunch of different types of films encompassing all different age ranges, genres and animation styles could congregate under one house name that represents quality? It’s one that rings true the more I think of it and one day, if I ever get the chance, I’d like to put it to Jeffrey Katzenberg and see how far on or off-base I am with it. So, in this cycle of DreamWorks films, if Shrek is the one aimed more at kids and Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron was the Oscar bait, then that makes Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas the one aimed at an older audience. More specifically, it feels like DreamWorks going back and addressing some unfinished business that The Road To El Dorado had created.
You’ll recall that The Road To El Dorado was a silly, lightweight buddy-comedy adventure throwback that is far better than its critical and financial reputation suggest. But those reputations were what people remembered El Dorado to be at the time (it would take a while for it to become the cult classic that it deserved to be) and one gets the feeling that DreamWorks felt that they had something to prove, that they needed to demonstrate that they could crack this genre and this kind of movie. Hence Sinbad, a film that apparently has pretty much nothing to do with the Sinbad mythos excepting the character name, a Roc, the island that’s actually an angler fish, and that boats are involved; including the fact that Sinbad himself is no longer Arab (a move that was taken to task at the time of its release by certain publications). It’s cut very much from the same cloth as El Dorado, being a fast-paced genre-blending adventure throwback. The Wikipedia page even uses the word “swashbuckling” in the opening description without a hint of self-awareness! It’s got charming actors and actresses swapping witty dialogue at all-times, the protagonists of both start off as anti-heroes and slowly make their way towards becoming true heroes, there’s a love-triangle (sure, you keep telling yourself that Tulio and Miguel aren’t in love with one another in El Dorado, I’m sure you’ll believe your own delusions eventually), it tries to blend traditional animation with CGI enhancements…
…and, much like El Dorado, nobody ended up biting. It is currently the third worst reviewed film in DreamWorks Animation’s history, only ahead of Shrek The Third and Shark Tale (which is two weeks away, so brace yourself accordingly if you’re watching along), it has the smallest profit of any of their films ($80 million gross against a $60 million budget) and is also the biggest loser in the company’s history, racking up a loss of $125 million. It, combined with the failure of El Dorado and the underperformance of Spirit, sent DreamWorks running from traditional animation as fast as humanly possible, was a key factor in the sale of DreamWorks the studio to Paramount, ending the company’s independent nature, and was the very last nail in the coffin for traditionally-animated films in the West, a topic we spent the majority of last-week talking about. You can put El Dorado down as a failure, if you wish, but that film’s D.O.A. status (at the time) didn’t push the company to the brink of ruin. I’d say that Sinbad holds a very ignominious position in the company’s history that is unlikely to be matched nowadays, financial-wise, but, well, I’m assuming you read all of my entry on Joseph: King Of Dreams.
So, how come? Why did nobody bite? Well, as per usual, we can blame marketing. You have watched the embedded trailer for this one, right? As I mentioned last week, it’s this kind of samey interchangeable marketing that drove people to computer-animated films that were marketed far better. The New York Times noted that the only animated films that found genuine success during this dark period were comedies aimed at both genders instead of adventures that were aimed near-solely at young boys (of course, that doesn’t explain the disappointing underperformance of Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, but sure I’ll go with that), a sub-genre that was already a bit over-saturated by the time of Sinbad’s release. There’s also the release date, which was the same weekend as Terminator 3 and Legally Blonde 2 (look, they will have caused some neglectful parenting, believe me), during a Summer where Finding Nemo was picking new releases out of its teeth with $100 bills (which, in fairness, nobody could really have foreseen, especially with just how long those legs ended up being), and seven whole goddamn days before Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Also, yes, much like Titan A.E. likely did so for that film, the very public crashing and burning of Treasure Planet will almost certainly have had an effect on this film’s box office takings seeing as pirates were still seen as box office poison (until seven days later, at least).
There is, however, a much simpler reason, one that explains why it didn’t receive a box office resurgence when Pirates Of The Caribbean made pirates cool again. Sinbad just isn’t very good. It’s not bad, and it has very good vocal performances and a great villain, but it is really unremarkable. It wanders through its 85 minutes not really saying much of anything or trying anything different. I mean, those aren’t necessarily bad things; El Dorado didn’t attempt to say anything and wasn’t attempting anything that a hundred other movies like it hadn’t already tried before, but I had a lot of fun with that. The problem comes from how perfunctory everything feels. Whereas El Dorado has love and effort put into every frame, Sinbad feels more slap-dash, more generic, like a lot of the things that do end up going on are only happening because those are the beats that need to appear in this stuff. It feels like “here’s the action opening, now here’s the quiet little bit, here’s the villain giving our hero a reason to set off on an adventure, now we introduce the main dynamic for the film, it’s been too long since an action scene, set one off immediately!” with most being executed with a lack of soul. The requisite thrills are there but there’s nothing beneath or in those thrills, if you get me. It’s oddly soulless.
That’s the main problem with Sinbad, although there are other ones. For another, the film’s structure is awkward and poor. We jump straight into the action with Sinbad already a feared outlaw who is ready to pull one last job, and learn all the important character relationships and skills on the fly. Nice idea in theory, but in practice it just leads to characters spouting exposition at one another (and then frequently re-stating said exposition so that even the youngest are absolutely aware of the vital info) and makes the relationship between Sinbad and Proteus, one that apparently was majorly important for the both of them in their younger years, hollow. I never got a sense of why these two were friends in the first place, let alone why Proteus is willing to risk his life in the hopes that Sinbad still cares about him after all those years. Contrast with The Prince Of Egypt for an example of a DreamWorks film taking the time to build up that central relationship so that it has meaning. I understand the wish to not simply retread ground that El Dorado already covered, but I need full-on proof about a close bond in order to believe in it, not just having everybody repeatedly tell me so.
Mind, Proteus and Sinbad is not the main relationship that most of the film pivots on. That would be Sinbad and Marina, Proteus’ fiancé. Now, for a good hour of this film’s runtime, I really liked what it was doing with her. She was tough without losing her feminine charm, not exactly “sassy” but capable of giving as good as she gets from Sinbad, she gets kidnapped at one point (by the Roc) but is still more than capable at escaping with Sinbad being more of an assist than her sole rescuer, and she was overall a well-written and interesting character. Her capability at seafaring even seemed like it’ll remove Sinbad’s sexist ways via begrudging respect and a close fire-forged bond as friends when all is said and done… And then, right on cue, it’s revealed that they have both fallen in love with one another because of course. I mean, god forbid the token girl who ends up just as capable at proceedings as the men not immediately be attracted to the gravitational pull of the lead character’s genitalia, right? It’s especially egregious here because not only could you cut the romance stuff and lose almost literally nothing, lest we forget that she is engaged to marry our lead character’s childhood best friend! Oh, but it’s an arranged marriage, Proteus totally understands and just wants her to be happy, so it’s all OK(!) I was reminded very much of how the first How To Train Your Dragon treated Astrid, giving her depth and character motivations of her own and teasing a plot where she eventually comes to respect and like Hiccup as a friend or comrade, only to set fire to that hard work at the halfway point by also having her succumb to the gravitational pull of the lead character’s genitalia (METAPHORICALLY! Metaphorically! They’re children, literally would be gross and horrible and wrong).
This makes as good a segway as any to talk about Sinbad himself and how he’s kind of an unlikable dick. Oh, sure, he doesn’t immediately start that way, the opening action sequence with the ship raid finds him in relentlessly charming anti-hero mode, talking and acting like pretty much any Joss Whedon character ever. The issue starts when he is set free from prison with the goal of getting to Tartarus and he immediately, and without any guilt, decides to head to Fiji and leave his childhood friend to die. It’s a dick move, plain and simple; a bit too much of a dick move for me. I get that the idea is for character development to eventually prevail and turn him from a puckish rogue into a full-fledged hero but, well, your lead character should probably not be so much of a jerk as to turn your audience against him near-completely. Plus, his sexism towards Marina only compounds the unlikability. Sexist characters, for me at least (being a very strong feminist and all), are often near-immediately thrown into the “I would like for you to suffer a painful death as quickly as possible” pile anyway (so, if you ever see any pieces of media in which sexists suffer long drawn out dispatches, be sure to check the writer credits cos I may have bumbled my way into an industry I have interest in being creative in), but it’s rarely exaggerated enough to be humorous, like the intention is supposed to be. The film at least has the good grace to call out his behaviour as wrong at every opportunity, but then he gets over his sexism by falling in love and I just want to drink the draining fluid from under the sink.
Animation, meanwhile, is not great. It does hold the distinct honour of being the first animated film made entirely in Linux (in 2003 when, according to TV Tropes at least, animation functionality in Linux was limited, to say the least), so it has that going for it, but it’s still not great. Character animations frequently seem to be missing a whole bunch of frames, coming off as jerky as a result, character designs are too Disney-esque for their own good, feeling like pale imitators instead of a unique voice, whilst the attempts to blend CG and traditional animation (if it’s not a person, it’s mostly computer-animated) are frequently nowhere near as seamless as, let’s say, Long John Silver from Treasure Planet. Backgrounds and complicated camera tracking shots are fine. Ships, monsters, the sea and various special effects really aren’t, noticeably sticking out in a way that’s more distracting than a conscious artistic decision. Time and advancing technology may be influencing my thoughts in this regard, it may have looked damn near seamless and really pretty back in its day, but I can only tell you about how a film looks now and it has aged poorly (and before you think I’m too in-love with it to level any criticisms against it, Treasure Planet kinda really suffers from this issue as well).
All this being said, Sinbad isn’t without merit. Although its genre-blending often leaves the film feeling a little schizophrenic until it finally settles into its groove, it does enable us to have a fantastic villain in the form of the Goddess Of Chaos herself, Eris. She’s everything I like in a good showy movie villain: she’s playful, affable, perfectly aware of herself and using that to her advantage, hammy without being overly so, and in it just enough to make you wish she was there more but not so much that she overpowers the film. Most of the animation work also clearly went into her, too, because her every movement is filled with details both obvious, like how she never once stays totally still for even a half second, and incidental, how her eyes can flit between being something close-to-human and completely otherworldly depending on the situation. Initially, upon the realisation that she actually was Eris, I jokingly and rather pessimistically made the mental note that she was going to give me the perfect excuse to go on about the Eris featured in The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy, and Rachael MacFarlane’s performance of said interpretation, if she underwhelmed in any facet, but she doesn’t. Everything really does come together on that character, here, and she is the best part of this film. Hell, you can watch all of her scenes in this video embed, if you want, at least then you’ll know that you’ve seen the best parts of the film and saved yourself another 70 minutes of your life.
The other big plus is that the voice acting from the leads is really damn good, presumably because two of them had genuine personal reasons for getting involved beyond “is that a whopping great paycheque I smell?” Michelle Pfeiffer plays the aforementioned Eris, a role that she took based on the urging of her children apparently (I sometimes wonder what it’s like to be the child of an actor and actress who might play a role in a cartoon), and she knocks it out of the park. Barring one or two awkwardly delivered lines, she gets the character dead-on, going theatrical without being overly hammy and helping to make Eris a villain who is a prankster, but one whose pranks carry about them genuine threat. Brad Pitt plays Sinbad, a role he took because he wanted his nieces and nephews to be able to actually watch one of his films, and his natural charm and likeability is trying its damndest to keep Sinbad himself from veering off the cliff of tolerability, even if I did spend a lot of the runtime distracted trying to figure who exactly was voicing him (you know when you recognise the voice but can’t remember who it belongs to? Yeah, this was one of those times). He was even committed enough to be conflicted about the fact that his Missouri accent sounds nothing close to ethnic or Arab, which is something I guess. Catherine Zeta-Jones is Marina and she’s very convincing in the role, especially when Marina is barely tolerating Sinbad’s sh*t. Also, Dennis Haysbert is in this! I like Dennis Haysbert! He was David Palmer in 24 and Lambert in one glorious instalment of the Splinter Cell series, and his voice is like a hug from a warm teddy bear!
I should mention that I don’t dislike Sinbad. I had some good fun with its mildly entertaining action beats, Eris is a cracking villain, and I was really liking what the film was doing with Marina until it ended up exactly where I should have known it was going to end up. It’s just really mediocre, though. It doesn’t do anything that hasn’t already been done better, its animation is of a lower-quality than I expect, and it’s all rather soulless. There’s no real emotional connection to the film and it leaves the enterprise feeling hollow. Did it deserve the 6th place debut and complete and total failure that it got? No, and I feel that it wouldn’t have suffered that fate if a) traditional animation wasn’t officially in the last stages of life support, b) it were much better marketed, and c) released a few months after Pirates Of The Caribbean in order to capitalise on the resurgence of pirates, but that’s how it ended up and it wouldn’t have fixed the issue of the fact that it’s not a particularly good film. There may have been a higher opening weekend, but it would likely have still sunk like a stone afterwards, and most definitely would not have had the same legs that Finding Nemo had. Sometimes, films fail at release and disappear into obscurity for a reason, and this just happened to be one of those times, I’m afraid.
As you may have gathered, DreamWorks was in a bad spot in mid-2003, with their last two films underwhelming spectacularly at the box office and the company itself having been bought out of its independent roots in order to survive. Fortunately, things would swiftly turn around next year with two major financial successes, starting up a box office hot streak that would last for the next 4 years, albeit at the expense of critical praise and respect by the Internet animated fandom. Next week, we tackle the first of them which is still one of the most successful animated films of all-time: Shrek 2.
A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!
It’s that time of year again – the bathroom light has to go on in the morning, loads of good American TV shows start again, and Christmas tat is starting to appear in the shops. Yes, autumn is on the way, and with it comes the 58th London Film Festival.
by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)
My initial reaction to this year’s line-up – once I had grumbled about the member’s launch being a day later than the press launch, rendering it invalid for the most part – was how many big names are missing. No room for The Theory of Everything, St Vincent (the film, not the singer), or The Equalizer; all making their Toronto debuts this week. But scratching beneath the surface yields some treasure.
First up, let’s deal with the obvious contenders. I am looking forward to Foxcatcher very much – directed by Bennett Miller of Capote and Moneyball, the film stars Steve Carrell in a rare serious role alongside Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows the struggle between two wrestling champion brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) which takes a sinister turn with the arrival of a mysterious benefactor (Carrell). Foxcatcher received stellar notices when it premiered in Cannes earlier this year and has also been prominently mentioned in early Oscar buzz. Other big hitters include The Imitation Game, the long-awaited Alan Turing biopic which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured mathematical genius, and Fury, a World War 2 film from David Ayer (End of Watch) starring Brad Pitt. These open and close the festival respectively, and will be shown at cinemas across the country in tandem with their gala screenings. Mr Turner features an already award-winning performance by Timothy Spall as the titular JMW Turner, and LFF also hosts the directorial debut of Jon Stewart – Rosewater is the story of an Iranian journalist covering the country’s political unrest in 2009 who gets on the wrong side of the establishment.
Gala screenings I am looking forward to include The Salvation, a Danish western (!) starring Mads Mikkelsen and, bizarrely, Eric Cantona; Whiplash, a story about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his virtuoso teacher which is audaciously structured like a thriller; and The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, a wuxia starring Fan Bingbing as a witch fighting to free people from tyranny during the end of the Ming Dynasty.
In the official competition, the film that stands out is Dearest – the story of a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their son goes missing. One of the most eagerly anticipated films in the first feature competition is ’71, set in the streets of Belfast during the titular year and starring Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) as a wet behind the ears squaddie dispatched to keep the peace.
The documentary strand has yielded some interesting prospects. There are familiar subjects in Hockey: A Life in Pictures, National Gallery, and The Possibilities Are Endless (the story of Edwyn Collins after his stroke), and a step into the unknown with In The Basement – a film about what Austrians do – yes! – in their basements. The love strand has one particular film of interest to me – Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple forced to leave their apartment separately. This film has gathered some notoriety in the States for being rated R for no apparent reason, apart from its central relationship being a homosexual one.
1001 Grams is an intriguing-looking slice of dark humour, and Night Bus explores the sometimes intimate, sometimes scary, but always intriguing world of the London night bus (shout out to route N1). A Hard Day is described as a neo-noir slice of Korean cinema, following a policeman who is having a really bad day. The follow-up to Monsters, Monsters: Dark Continent, had more creatures in the trailer than in the whole of the previous film put together, so that bodes well. There are also restored classic films scattered throughout the programme, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Guys and Dolls. And of course, the legendary shorts programmes are back, spanning all strands and giving you plenty of bang for your buck.
So although at first glance the line-up looks a bit light, a proper dissection of the schedule reveals that there is something for everyone here. The beauty of LFF has always lain in taking a chance and seeing something you would never normally buy a ticket for. I think this year will see a return to that essence for many people.
We will of course be bringing you reviews and diary entries during the festival itself, so don’t forget to check back between 8-19 October 2014 for more articles! You can find a full line up of what’s showing at the LFF 2014 on the BFI website.
This ‘week’s’ installment is heavy on the new releases, with the team running the rule over The Counselor, The Butler, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon.
We also dust off Triple Bill, presenting our favourite unnamed central characters; as well as discuss the new Marvel/Netflix projects, the Monty Python reunion, and a sacrilegious plan to produce a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life.
Join us next week for our review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Owen, the old cynic, might have to watch The Family instead.
As well as reviewing World War Z (starring Brad Pitt), we also discuss new releases in the shape of This Is The End and Now You See Me, and pay tribute to James Gandolfini and Ray Matheson who sadly passed away in the last seven days.
Join us next week for a Triple Bill of the Worst Movie Jobs (in ‘honour’ of The Internship), and maybe even a new release or two.
A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.
Kate has chosen to relive the nineties, because she’s old enough to remember them in their entirety This week she revisits 1991.
‘Tie your napkin round your neck, Cherie, and we’ll provide the rest.’
The first animation to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, an honour which wasn’t bestowed again until Up got the nod some 18 years later, Disney present this classic fairy tale as a Broadway production. Notable voices provided by the delightful Angela Lansbury as kindly Mrs Potts, and the late Jerry Orbach, whose French accent steals the show as Lumière the singing candelabra, in the same year he first appeared in Law & Order.
While other Disney offerings have some cracking songs, make no mistake, this is a musical. Indeed, in another Oscar first, this was the first picture to receive three nominations for Best Original Song. From the big budget opening number, to Céline Dion warbling over the end credits, this film is all about the singing. ‘Be Our Guest’, performed by the ensemble cast of enchanted objects, is right up there with Little Mermaid‘s ‘Under the Sea’ for lyrical genius.
It’s difficult to find a huge amount of sympathy for the Beast, who really doesn’t do himself any favours considering his mission to ‘love and be loved’ is a rather time sensitive matter. Belle, our plucky protagonist, is sweet enough. But a carriage clock, a teapot & cup, a footstool and the aforementioned candelabra are the real stars. Anyone else find it really disappointing at the end, when they turn back into humans?
‘Our plane’s about to take off, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. Thank Mom for everything, ok? Dad, I love you. I love you very much.’
A remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor romp of the same name, Father of the Bride is a simple tale of a daughter flying the nest. Like the Meet the Parents of the nineties, what makes it great is the stellar ensemble cast. Steve Martin portrays almost the same neurotic, fiercely loyal father he did in Parenthood two years earlier. Only this time he plays basketball and makes trainers for a living, so he’s pretty much the perfect dad.
Add to that the always great Diane Keaton, Kieran Culkin at the same age, and just as funny, as his older brother was when he starred in Home Alone, and Martin Short‘s inspired performance as the generically ‘European’ wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer. There is also a bridal couple but, as these things often go, the film is less about them and more about everything surrounding them. Indeed, Wikipedia notes that groom George Newbern is ‘best known for his roles as Bryan MacKenzie in Father of the Bride (1991) and its sequel’.
An enjoyable 105 minutes for anyone who has planned a wedding, owns a daughter, or likes looking at the ridiculously lavish mansions that seemingly pass for a ‘house’ in the United States.
‘Shoot the radio.’
You know that feeling on the last day of your holidays when you really don’t want to go home? This is the tale of what happens when you actually act upon those feelings, under the direction of Ridley Scott. The story obviously resonated, and gained writer Callie Khouri the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this, her first produced film.
Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon star as sunglasses and head scarf clad best friends, heading off to the mountains in their dusty convertible. Thelma is instantly lovable as the ditzy downtrodden housewife, while Louise is bolshy and demanding, with hints of a hidden past which might make you warm to her. Such is the nature of long car journeys, spend enough time with a person in a confined space and you’ll grow to love them. Or kill them. (Spoiler.)
There’s a cameo from Michael Madsen, a ‘before he was famous’ sex scene with Brad Pitt, and Harvey Keitel as the cop with a heart who is rooting for our anti-heroes. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’re sure to know the oft-parodied ending scene. And while, at age 11 watching my mum’s VHS copy, it took me a while to comprehend the significance of the decision to ‘keep going’ in relation to the Grand Canyon, it was nonetheless pretty inspiring.
‘You go, we go.’
Admittedly the initial appeal for me was the sight of William ‘Billy’ Baldwin in full firefighter get-up. But legendary director Ron Howard goes one better and makes burning buildings look sexy. Chicago’s emergency services never fail to impress on the big screen, and this depiction of their fire department is no different, gaining the auspicious title of ‘the highest grossing film ever made about firefighters’ in lieu of awards.
Baldwin and Kurt Russell are brothers and co-workers, who become embroiled in the work of a serial arsonist, the fallout of a mayoral campaign, and the deaths of several colleagues. One of them also has sex with Jennifer Jason Leigh on top of a moving fire truck. Have a guess which one. Elsewhere, Robert De Niro puts on a suitably geeky performance as an arson investigator, while Donald Sutherland is like Hannibal Lecter but with fire.
Backdraft has action, obviously, tension, and more than a little heart-wrenching family drama. Personally, nothing makes me sob like a baby more than some on screen reference to real life at the end of a movie. There are over 1,200,700 active firefighters in the U.S. today.
‘I’m not one of you, but I fight! I fight with Robin Hood! I fight against a tyrant who holds you under his boot! If you would be free men, then you must fight! Join us now, join Robin Hood!’
A thoroughly British affair, showcasing our rolling landscapes, our engaging folklore and our classic actors. Kevin Costner does his bit, by chucking in the occasional semi-English accent when he remembers to. Which is more than can be said for Christian Slater, as New York’s finest Will Scarlett.
Funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so much) the film builds to the climactic final wedding/multiple hanging celebrations. Naturally Robin of Locksley saves the day, with a combination of arrow skills, sword fighting, and good old fashioned punches to the face. Alan Rickman is at his slimey evil best as The Sheriff of Nottingham, while Morgan Freeman’s Azeem is the person you’d most want to have your back in the woods.
The Bryan Adams rock ballad which featured on the soundtrack spent an epic 16 consecutive weeks at number one in UK charts, and somewhat eclipsed the film. Which is a shame because, to dismiss it, would be to miss out on the most amazing cameo/tribute to The Untouchables at the end.