Ooga-shaka, I’m hooked on a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise and it keeps getting better. Owen Hughes reviews James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
“The only thing that you’re ever gonna have is what you make.”
Another year, another collection of films chasing statues that they quite possibly don’t deserve. Another day, another film inspired by a true story. Another David O. Russell film, another wasted Jennifer Lawrence performance. Ladies and gentlemen, Joy.
Joy is the “true story” of Joy Mangano, the struggling mother-of-two who invented the Miracle Mop and is the latest film from David O. Russell; director of the excellent Three Kings and The Fighter but doesn’t seem to have produced much of note since. His third film in a row to star Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper seems to be following quite a steep downward trajectory in terms of writing, direction and just generally having the ability to be interesting in almost any way.
Jennifer Lawrence is the titular Joy, a young woman with aspirations to be an inventor but is stuck. She’s stuck in a dead end job; stuck living in a house with her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) living in the basement; stuck with her mother (Virginia Madsen) who lives and dies by the soap operas she has developed an unhealthy addiction to and now, stuck with her father (Robert De Niro) who has been dumped on her doorstep by the latest woman in his life. Working herself silly trying to make ends meet, Joy has become a dab hand at almost everything and can do a bit of anything; from your standard household chores to a quick repair of the house plumbing.
After cutting her hand cleaning up a broken glass on the boat of Trudy (Isabella Rossilini), her father’s latest squeeze, Joy goes home with an idea for a new type of mop, one that wrings itself to prevent accidents like the one she suffered on that day. As the ideas keep coming, Joy convinces Trudy to invest in her and her product. Struggling at first to get her idea off the ground, between shady companies she’s forced to work with for manufacturing and interference of almost every member of her family; Joy gets a break when she’s introduced to Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an expert salesmen who is a fundamental part of the newly formed QVC shopping channel and Joy seems destined to make her fortune.
Bad business and worse advice means that life isn’t all plain sailing for Joy, but we get to see this young woman’s resolve as she refuses to give up on her family, her invention or her dreams.
Joy clocks in at two hours and change. And in that two hours, the only thing that David O. Russell manages to convince me of is that maybe he needs to rethink his strategy when he’s writing and directing movies. I mean, I’ve seen films that on paper should be boring but are in fact, excellent – I’m looking at you, Whiplash – but this is a mess of a film that would be simply bad if it wasn’t trying so hard to put me to sleep. I’m assuming that the point of Joy’s family was to make me so angry that I considered getting up and walking out of the cinema uttering coarse abuse at the douche canoe of imbeciles on the screen. Between De Niro’s skulking, manipulating dad; Madsen’s moronic mum and her attention seeking arsehole of a sister (Elisabeth Röhm), Joy is surrounded with idiots that do nothing but hold her back.
But that was pretty much my only strong reaction that I think was intended by the guys behind the camera. All my others circled somewhere between boredom and annoyance at almost all times. I’m sorry, but you can’t take the story of the woman who invented the Wonder Mop and make her story one anybody wants to see. I need a reason to care about the people on screen and whether or not someone can get their product into the Betterware catalogue just ain’t going to do it. The cast try their hardest, but there’s nothing there for them to get me invested. De Niro is doing his best to prove that he’s going senile in his old age and has forgotten how to pick a great role (see the incoming Dirty Grandpa) while Madsen just seems desperate to be on the big screen and willing to do anything; including play a soap addicted imbecile who’s behaviour is borderline retarded the whole way through.
My love of Jennifer Lawrence in roles that aren’t The Hunger Games took a severe knock here too. I don’t hate her, I just don’t think she’s right for the part. We all know she can carry a big film – and even a big franchise – but that doesn’t mean she should be doing everything that comes across her desk. One of my favourite young actresses is wasted here, looking far too young to be playing the part and given a par-boiled script that fell flat the entire time. I’ll admit to enjoying Cooper’s part. The super smart sales guy role suits him and he played it very well. If the acting jobs ever dry up, he’ll make a great addition to your local Ford dealership.
One last thing, I don’t think I can mention this enough. This is the film about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop! I mean, how much scraping of the true story barrel has been done to mean that we’re left with this? I really think there must be something better around that’s worth looking at first. The coffee mug with a biscuit holder? The Wonderbra? The stink bomb? Anything! No, ladies and gentlemen, we get the self squeezing mop. And don’t let that trailer fool you. You know the one I mean don’t you? It’s nothing like what’s advertised. Don’t waste your energy, fall asleep in your living room chair in front of a good film instead.
“If it isn’t perfect, throw it away.”
I tried my very hardest to find something positive to write about Burnt. But as I sat in the cinema watching it, wanting desperately to leave after the first twenty minutes, I couldn’t think of a single good thing to be said about this, the most awful of films I’ve watched in recent memory.
I’m not talking about films like The Intern, shitty, not at all funny comedies, I’m talking about a film that doesn’t have a shred of decent filmmaking anywhere in the nearly two hours I suffered through to bring you this review. I was already a bit skeptical when I read other write-ups on it, how its star power can’t save it and how it’s just not that good, but I tried to go in open-minded and not be swayed by the naysayers; maybe they were wrong?
It turns out they were. Just not in the direction that I was hoping. The reality of the film was far worse than I thought it could be.
The story of Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones, a once great chef who lost it all to booze, drugs and women is nothing short of cliché ridden nonsense. Having served a self-imposed penance; going sober, celebate and cracking oyster shells, Jones finds his way to London where he convinces his friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) to open a new restaurant an let him chase his third Michelin star. He gets himself an all-star team of chefs, including Sienna Miller and Omar Sy and starts on his journey for the most hallowed of restaurant accolades, all while his past – including ex-girlfriend Alicia Vikander – is trying to catch up with him.
On paper, it sounds a bit, well, meh. But actually watching this ghastly piece of shit was far more painful, and brought on far more anger, than I thought possible. Let’s start with the really, really obvious shall we? You and I are supposed to feel sorry for this clown. Oh, he’s had such a hard time and he’s trying so hard to make amends, fuck right off. This guy is a spiteful, hateful asshat and to feel sympathy for him would mean I first gave the slightest shit whether he was allowed to cook or not. And let’s be clear about this, we aren’t seeing him drag himself up by his bootlaces and find his way in the world. Within ten minutes of him being on screen we are well on the way to him opening a restaurant with his name on the poxy door; to be filled with pretentious twats that think it’s ok to spend £300 on a third of a plate of food made by an equally pretentious twat that thinks it’s ok to throw away £300 of food because it’s “not perfect”. Cooked in a room filled with utter tool bags that think it’s ok to have pictures of cleavers and wooden spoons tattooed on them. I couldn’t care less about your situation pal, you want my sympathy? You want me to care about you? Get thee to a Harvester and shut the fuck up!
You can’t endear yourself to me by being such an abysmal human being that you don’t let your chefs have the day off for their kid’s birthday, yelling at people Gordon Ramsey style and physically abusing the one chick in your kitchen, mate. But “oh no, your dream is vanishing before your eyes” as the mate you fucked over years ago returns to fuck you right back! Good. You deserve nothing less for the pain and suffering you are putting all of us in the theatre through watching as you try to prove you’re not a has-been, as you try to bring drama to a plate of fish and as you swear off women for life but get the girl anyway. Please, dear god, just piss off.
Do yourself a favour, there is nothing here to see. Even the usual talents of the usually decent Cooper and the awesome Vikander aren’t worth swiping your Unlimited card for. There are far better ways to spend an afternoon. I mean, you could watch that latest John Lewis Christmas ad on a constant loop for a couple of hours. It’d be far more entertaining and less like a household chore you’re being forced to do naked in front of your entire family.
In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.
Welcome to the very last episode in our Avengers Minisode series! Here we take a look back on the second best film of 2014, as voted for by you in our Failed Critics Awards. I am of course referring to the spectacular space-adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
First conceived as a movie to enter the franchise back in 2009, when writer Nicole Perlman pretty much hand picked it herself, it wasn’t until 2012 that the ball really started rolling on production when director James Gunn was attached to the project. Released two years later, the film was a huge success for Marvel Studios, nearly quadrupling its budget by grossing approximately $774,000,000 worldwide – most of those ticket sales courtesy of our special guest for the retrospective review, Mike Shawcross, who saw the movie 23 times at the cinema!
Featuring the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro, it had an enormous ensemble cast that rivaled even that of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble some two years earlier. All of whom were fantastic in their individual ways as the MCU ventured into the realms of space-opera, with the Starlord and his “group of wrong-uns” attempting to stop the psychopathic Ronan the Accuser from getting his hands on a powerful orb containing an infinity stone and thus destroying the Nova Empire.
As through the rest of our Avengers Minisodes, this episode will feature clips and trailers, as well as retro review taken from an archived podcast released last year when we were joined by Carole Petts. As mentioned earlier, the brand new retrospective review sees occasional writer and podcast guest Mike Shawcross share his educated opinion on the film.
We’ll be back next week with a review of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, released here in the UK tomorrow!
Warning: these minisodes may contain spoilers
So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.
Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.
Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…
Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.
I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.
The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.
He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.
The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.
Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.
It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.
There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.
But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.
A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!
We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.
The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”
by Paul Field (@pafster)
As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.
For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.
Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!
Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.
My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.
It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.
Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.
It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.
James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.
The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.
By design, American Sniper has nothing to say which makes it a waste of both my time and yours.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Like it or not, a war film is inherently political. The act of war is inherently political and ideological, so a war movie, by extension, has to be about something. A “just the facts” war movie is a documentary and even then many have things to say about war and/or the people being forced to fight in it – Restrepo, for example, ends up making a sharp point about how war can affect the men and women forced onto the front lines, and the absolute mess that comes from having to establish relations with citizens whose language you don’t speak and who do not trust you at all, purely by stepping back and “just showing the facts”. A non-documentary film, though, cannot subscribe to that and needs an overall point to power it, otherwise it’s just wasting the viewer’s time. Something to say about the war, about PTSD, about politics, about the men and women who pull the triggers, something, anything.
American Sniper, the newest film from director Clint Eastwood, has no point. By design, it has absolutely no point to make. When faced with the task of adapting the life story of Chris Kyle (here portrayed by Bradley Cooper), a decorated war hero who went on four tours of Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and whose official recorded kill count of 160 makes him the deadliest sniper in US military history, Eastwood and the film’s writer, Jason Hall, have opted to simply print the legend. “Just the facts.” Consequently, American Sniper is a film that goes out of its way to avoid making any point whatsoever, which is the single worst possible thing it could do.
See, again, war films are inherently political. War films about the Iraq war, one of the most political wars of at least the last 30 or so years, are especially inherently political. The conflict is so muddled, so ideologically driven in such different ways, so tied to the current world landscape, and such a mess that any film made about it or set during it is going to make a point regardless of how hard it tries not to. American Sniper, therefore, most resembles the Modern Warfare-era Call of Duty games. Those are war games set in the Middle East that just want to be fun video games and not make any major ideological points. However, by aiming to do that, they do, in fact, end up taking a side: that side being jingoistic pro-war slightly xenophobic glorification, insidiously so.
And that’s what American Sniper ends up doing. Without even meaning to, it glorifies the war, its subject, and the murdering of any being who even dares resemble a terrorist because of its desire to try and make a “just the facts” film. Because there can be no such thing as a “just the facts” dramatisation because a film has to decide and construct certain things that will get in the way of “just the facts”. A filmmaker will bring their own personal baggage and ideologies to a film and that will influence them on what they end up doing, consciously or unconsciously. So Kyle’s shots are always justified, the American military’s response is always justified, and the war is always justified because the film refuses to linger on any of the aftermath, or to characterise any of the Iraqis as anything other than Western-hating insurgents – save for one Sheik which is the film equivalent of “I can’t be racist, one of my best friends is Iraqi!” – because Eastwood and co. are all trying so hard to avoid making a point. The irony of a film trying so hard to avoid saying anything about the Iraq war ending up saying something is not lost on me, but is completely lost on the film.
Then there’s the character of Chris Kyle himself who, once again, the film completely refuses to try and say anything about. Kyle is a man with a ridiculously long kill list, who went on four tours, had a loving wife (played thanklessly by Sienna Miller) and family back home, and who struggled with severe PTSD upon finally remaining at home… and yet, despite spending two hours and ten minutes in his company, the film has nothing to say about the man. Nothing about his upbringing, nothing about his time overseas, nothing about why he keeps re-enlisting despite having a loving wife begging him to stay home, nothing. It utterly refuses to dig into his psyche and figure out why he does what he does, instead presenting the things he does as stuff he did.
This, ultimately, means that the film also fails as a biopic about Chris Kyle. Bradley Cooper is trying really hard – in a relaxed manner that isn’t straining for awards consideration like Eddie Redmayne was in The Theory Of Everything, another film with nothing to say about its subject – to find the character of Chris Kyle and what makes him tick, but the script gives him next-to-no material to work with on that front. Occasionally, we will be given the slightest slither of an insight into Kyle – there’s a sequence late on where he quietly begs a child he has lined up in his sights to not go for the recently dropped RPG, as well as a very understated scene in a bar when he returns home early – but then we’re back to this cold, distant, closed-off look at what he done did, with pretty much every other time that the film threatens to question what makes him tick – usually signposted by his wife asking him point blank “Why do you keep going back?” – immediately cutting away before anything can be revealed.
As a result, the extent of the film’s insight into what made Chris Kyle the man he was boils down to “When he was a young boy, his dad took him hunting and gave him a talk about being a man who stands up to bullies. Also, he’s just such a goddamn patriot.” And maybe it really is that simple. Maybe he really was just a man who wanted to save the lives of his fellow and prospective fellow soldiers, and maybe he really was just a man who didn’t question or self-reflect on his actions. There is a difference, though, between a portrait of a man like that and a film that doesn’t want or can’t be bothered to reflect on a man like that, and American Sniper is the latter. This is a film that relegates Kyle’s fight with PTSD to a barely five minute montage near the end and doesn’t have the guts to spend any time on the circumstances leading up to and surrounding his (off-screen) murder, because those would risk having to actually probe Kyle psychologically and that goes against the apparent “just the facts” edict that seemingly informed the whole production.
American Sniper is not a badly-made film – there’s Cooper’s aforementioned performance, Eastwood is able to extract some decent tension out of some scenes, and there are times when the film threatens to start on the road to making a point – save for a prominently featured plastic baby standing in for a real one, but it is a completely pointless one. Yes, it insidiously promotes and glorifies a jingoistic patriotic attitude towards war, but that’s completely by accident. The fact is that American Sniper has nothing to say about war. Not about Iraq, not about the men and women who fought there, not about its subject Chris Kyle, not about the moral quandaries behind his actions and most certainly nothing about PTSD or his post-war life. It has nothing to say and the fact that it actively goes out of its way to avoid having an intentional point or something to say is infuriating.
In other words, it’s two hours and ten minutes of active squandering of anything interesting to say. It is literal timewasting that inadvertently pushes a glorified pro-war viewpoint. If it were open about it, I’d still disagree with the film, because of my own staunch anti-war and anti-violence beliefs, but I’d at least respect it for being open about it and saying something. Instead, American Sniper is a film that runs out the clock for two hours and ten minutes of admittedly well-made pointlessness. That offends me.
Callum Petch likes to destroy all the things that bring the idiots joy. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!
“Undeniably an origin story but it works so well I would have been happy to sit through a sequel there and then.”
by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)
I must admit to being slightly apprehensive about this film. Even Marvel Studios, the behemoth responsible for most of the box office take since 2008, seem to have got ants in their pants about this film – we’ve had a more formulaic trailer, a tagline change (from the smart-arse “You’re Welcome” to the schmaltzy “All Heroes Start Somewhere”) and tonight I’m sitting in Crawley, as part of a nationwide premiere event presumably designed to get social media buzz a-going.
They needn’t have worried. From the credits sequence (Marvel’s only to date, and therefore the best by default), it’s clear this is going to be a winner.
The film is essentially the origin story of the titular band of misfits; a thief (Chris Pratt), an Ent (voiced by Vin Diesel), a creature who looks an awful lot like a raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a green-skinned living weapon (Zoe Saldana), and a chap who wouldn’t look out of place in a wrestling match watched by Doctor Who (Dave Bautista). They are thrown together in the pursuit of a mysterious MacGuffin which could make them all rich. Problem is, others also want said object for nefarious reasons of their own, and the stage is set for an interstellar jousting match between good and evil.
Guardians is immediately up against it because the group are, to be frank, not Marvel’s best known commodities. It’s difficult to remember a time when the cinema-going public at large didn’t know much about Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, but they did at least have a large following devoted to their source material before laying waste to multiplexes. Guardians doesn’t really have that luxury, and also has to introduce (and make us care about) five whole characters in one film. As a result we are given crib notes on each character’s past – Peter Quill’s tenure on Earth lasts mere minutes in the film before he’s abducted, most of the other back stories are explained in a few sentences, but you still end up caring about them. (This can be said less about the antagonists of the film – we are introduced to the baddies and told they want to destroy stuff without ever really being told why.)
In a Q&A this evening, James Gunn said that Guardians of the Galaxy may be “the most James Gunn film ever”. The fact that he’s accomplished this on a major studio’s tentpole release, rather than the low-budget fare he has made his name with, is nothing short of amazing. The film looks wonderful, bringing to life alien otherworlds and star systems with the visual flair of a much more accomplished director at this level. The script zips along with Gunn’s trademark vim and vigour, albeit slightly sanitised for his newly-found PG-13 audience. Everyone involved is clearly having a lot of fun; Pratt brings his likeable everyman persona to a leading role for the first time and succeeds hugely, Saldana is quiet but pulls out some excellent fighting technique when required; Cooper channels the most smart-arse New York cab driver you could ever meet, and hits the emotional mark more frequently than you’d expect from a talking rodent. Even Diesel brings the vocal pathos he first displayed in The Iron Giant to Groot, infusing a talking tree with warmth and humour. The real revelation, however, is wrestler Bautista as Drax, a man with a sad story to tell. He takes his time but eventually becomes the source of some rich comedy (standing up to accomplished laugh merchant Pratt with ease), as well as some surprisingly emotional moments. It’s the interplay between the five characters which makes this such a fun watch. It does mean that other characters are under-served as a result of developing this chemistry – Benicio del Toro and Glenn Close are woefully underused in their roles, and Ronan the Accuser probably has a good reason for his scheme, but we never find out what it is. The biggest disappointment is probably Thanos – who seems to have been rendered with the leftover CG money that wasn’t used to make Rocket and Groot look amazing. It’s an incongruous appearance from one of the great all-time Marvel baddies and doesn’t really serve the story at all.
This is very much an origin story. I got the same feeling walking out of this film as I did walking out of X-Men – that of the start of the story being told very well, but also feeling that there were greater things to come. And despite being slightly rushed at times, this is a great origin story, setting up the group of misfits as an entity currently separate from the rest of the Marvel Universe (save a couple of Easter eggs thrown in for those who are paying attention) and thoroughly deserving of their own adventures. I would have happily sat through a sequel right then and there, I had so much fun in the universe that Gunn has created. And I can’t wait to go back.
Guardians of the Galaxy is out in cinemas nationwide on Thursday 31st July 2014.
Carole is the latest permanent edition to the Failed Critics Podcast team and can usually be found roaming the streets of London on the look out for unwanted Nic Cage DVD’s. Or on twitter.
Happy New Year to you all, and in an effort to stick to some hastily made resolutions about getting rid of the fat, the first Failed Critics podcast of the year is lean, mean, and looking forward to McQueen (next week’s big review is 12 Years a Slave).
This week’s chat sees the gents discuss the finer elements of the Oscar Foreign Language shortlist, as well as review new releases American Hustle and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. James also gets around to reviewing Anchorman 2, Owen takes us on a journey through South Korean cinema, and Steve is aiming to beat the bookies with his Oscar race tips/blind guesses (delete as appropriate).