Tag Archives: Bruce Willis

Owen’s 2015 In Film: Part 11 – No(tmanyfilms)vember

In the penultimate entry to Owen’s 2015 in review series that has been looking back on all of the movies he’s watched during each month of the year, he discusses a few of the films he’s seen in November.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

cg-buckle1If October was my busiest movie-watching month of the year, watching at least one horror film every single day, then November was something of a respite period. When I wasn’t writing stuff for my University assignments, then I was writing a new blog post every single day, or occasionally even finding time to review movies on here.

What I apparently didn’t find time for is actually watching more films. I think this past month is possibly the first time since around 2011 that I actually went four days in a row without watching anything at all. Not only did that happen once, but twice! What kind of behaviour is that for a man who supposedly runs a film podcast?

Although, some of that time that I didn’t spend watching films, I did spend productively. I appeared on the pilot of The Bottle Episode‘s new podcast, talking about my TV genealogy, which was a lot of fun. I also drove down to Wikishuffle HQ and interviewed Chris Wallace and Phil Sharman about their show and Best Comedy Podcast award, which you can watch on my YouTube channel.

Anyway. Back on topic, I suppose I better get on with discussing a few films that I’ve seen lately, starting with…


Week 1: Sunday 1 – Sunday 8 November 2015

Sunday – The Blair Witch Project (1999); Monday – The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Batman (1966), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994); Saturday – Iris (2015), HUDSON HAWK (1991); Sunday – Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

hudson-01I’ve already moaned about this on the podcast, but I honestly don’t think I can fully portray just how bad I thought Hudson Hawk was. For those that don’t know, Bruce Willis plays a cat burglar recently released from prison, who is set up with a new job to steal various Da Vinci inventions from museums. Hidden in said items are special diamonds required to power an alchemy machine, turning lead into gold. I said it at the time and I stand by it now, even after the steam has stopped blowing from my ears, but Bruce Willis (credited as a story writer) is absolutely appalling in what is one of the worst movies I have seen all year. Possibly even ever. From the eye-rollingly bad premise that’s too absurd to contemplate, to the lamentable performances and sickeningly smug comedy skits, it’s just horrendous. I’m sure it was probably a lot of fun to make, as Danny Aiello, Richard E Grant, Andie MacDowell etc all seem to be enjoying themselves in what I think is supposed to be a throwback to old fashioned goofball comedy capers; it just doesn’t translate into anything even remotely associated with the word “fun” for the viewer. It’s definitely one to avoid.


Week 2: Monday 9 – Sunday 15 November 2015

Monday – He Named Me Malala (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Green Butchers (2003)

2a9435Going right back to where this blog series all started with last October’s Horrorble Month, where I watched one horror film every day in the build up to Halloween, the very first review I wrote was for Witchfinder General. I don’t remember when I first watched Michael Reeves’s English folk-horror, starring Vincent Price as the infamous Matthew Hopkins. What I do remember is that it was then – and still is now – one of my favourite horror films of all time. It might possibly have been my first introduction to Price, kick-starting my love-affair with his movies. It’s atmospheric, dark and uncomfortable to watch as you might expect. Whether it’s because the charismatic witchfinder himself is asserting his influence to sexually assault and murder women, or from the sheer brutality of the violence, it’s a chilling historical drama. I think this time around, one thing struck me more than any other, which was the fact that you never understand Hopkins’ motivation for doing what he does. Not properly. You don’t know whether or not he believes he’s actually on a mission from God, or if he’s just a sadistic killer who is after fame and fortune. It’s odd that I’ve never really noticed that before. It seemed like a glaring omission at first, but the more I thought about it, the more clever I thought it was. Hopkins (the real Hopkins who was responsible for around 60% (nearly 300) of ALL the women killed in the 17th century accused of witchcraft) was a monster. Leaving the film character’s motivations as clouded as the real man’s were, it’s entirely fitting. And, more to the point, doesn’t matter. Price’s subtleties in the role are more than enough to keep you interested in the character – and again, credit to the young director for winning Price’s respect and forcing him to tone down his occasional tendency to perform with a certain… vivaciousness. Excuse the plug for a moment, but I wrote up a piece on Witchfinder General for my blog, Films As News, which you can read here.


Week 3: Monday 16– Sunday 22 November 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – THE VOICES (2015); Saturday – X-Men: First Class (2011); Sunday – Don’t Look Now (1973)

The-Voices-01-GQ-10Mar15_rex_b_813x494I think I owe Callum a certain degree of gratitude for being so insistent earlier this year that The Voices was one of the best films of 2015. If it wasn’t for his continuous recommendations for this psychological horror comedy, starring Ryan Reynolds as a delusional psychopath whose dog and cat talk to him (both of which are voiced by Reynolds), it might have passed me by entirely. As it happens, I’m inclined to agree with his assertion that it genuinely may be one of the most underrated gems of the entire year so far. It’s almost guaranteed to make my top 10 list when I submit it for the Failed Critics Awards (ahem, please vote in them this year as soon as you’re done with reading this article!). As Callum also pointed out in his review, to say too much about The Voices would be to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. Suffice to say, it’s a plot that escalates in its complexities as Reynolds’ character, Jerry, stops taking his meds. Whilst I’m positive there’s a message behind the film about not-so-much perhaps mental illness and how it affects people, but more about a general social conscience and how we, the mentally well, perceive them, the mentally unwell. With Jerry more contented to live in a fantasy world as it makes his grim situation more easy to digest, there’s a sadness in what feels like an uncomfortable truth. Marjane Satrapi deserves to take credit for the way she portrays Jerry’s dreamlike existence with its vibrant colours that fade or get stronger, depending on what stage his mental wellbeing is at, but I also think that Michael R Perry’s script is incredibly detailed and it just seems like the perfect combination of style and substance that’s so very rare. So if Callum’s recommendation wasn’t strong enough for you, let me add my weight behind it too. Go see it! It’s on UK Netflix right now so you have no excuses. Unless you don’t subscribe to Netflix, I guess.


Week 4: Monday 23 – Monday 30 November 2015

Monday – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Event Horizon (1997); Friday – The Warriors (1979), Zardoz (1974); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Force Majeure (2015); Monday – Cartel Land (2015), THE COMEDIAN’S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL (2016)

James-bombing-on-stageI’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games again. I made my feelings quite clear on the podcast that week that it’s just not a series of films I’ve particularly enjoyed. In fact, I am struggling to think of a series of movies that I’ve invested so much time into and got so little out of with each passing entry in the series. Especially as I didn’t even enjoy the first bloody one! Instead, I’m going to talk about (and not review) a film that I went to see the test screening of in London that’s due for release sometime next year. It’s called The Comedian’s Guide To Survival and stars James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) as the struggling stand-up comedian, James Mullinger. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Mullinger is not only an actual professional comedian with his own TV show, but is also (and more importantly, I’m sure) the co-host of the first Failed Critics spin-off podcast, Underground Nights, along with Paul Field. The movie about his life (which he wrote along with director Mark Murphy) had an audience test screening that Paul, Carole and I went along to see at the Courthouse Hotel. It’s a bit weird going to see a film about the life of someone you kind-of know. Mostly, as Paul and I discussed on our way there, what happens if the film turns out to be.. well.. shit? Do you lie about it? Do you not say anything at all? As it turned out, it wasn’t an issue, because the film was thankfully very funny. With support from various British comedy actors such as Paul Kaye, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap and so on, I think it could go on to be a success next year. Word of warning, though: don’t buy a round of drinks at Soho hotels. £28 for three drinks! What a rip off. (Cheers for that by the way, Carole. I’ll buy you one next time….)


And that’s it. Only one more of these to go that I will be scrabbling around to write in the following few weeks. If you’ve any thoughts about the reviews above, or if you disagree and want to tell me why I’m wrong, leave a comment in the box below or message me over on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you all in the new year!

Failed Critics Podcast: Awe Steve That Stinks

scouts guide

Everybody, raise your right hand and say it with me:

On my honour, I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to Owen and to Steve,
To help other people
And to keep the Failed Critics Podcast on my iTunes subscription list at all times.

You may lower your hand so that you can press play now and listen to your hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes, with their special guest Brian Plank, play a game of 20 Questions around the camp fire, stay up late talking about movies (such as He Named Me Malala, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Kill Your Friends) and scare Brian by telling him ghost stories.

Well, Steve tells a ghost story of sorts with a review of Housebound, a horror film from New Zealand (not Australia). Owen finds possibly the worst Bruce Willis movie ever made in Hudson Hawk, whilst Brian – still recovering from the shock – talks about indie documentary King of Kong.

There’s time before all of that for the group to sing a rendition of Kumbaya – but unfortunately the mic wasn’t plugged in. So instead of doing seven versus in full again, they decide instead to take a look at why the Chinese market get a different Star Wars trailer and what’s wrong with Warcraft. We pay a small tribute to horror icon Gunnar Hanson who passed away this week, as well as casting our beady eyes over the BIFA nominations.

Join us again next week where we’re inviting you lot to send in your listener questions! We’ll answer them, whatever they may be about, during the podcast.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Over The Hedge

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.


over the hedge12] Over The Hedge (19th May 2006)

Budget: $80 million

Gross: $336,002,996

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

For a lot of movie folk, that is to say folk that work in movies, there is a saying that I imagine follows them around everywhere like a really annoying ghost that just won’t quite get the hint and leave already: “you’re only as good as your last film”.  It’s definitely applicable to prominent animation companies whose filmic output has a kind of studio auteurship attached to whatever they do put out.  Like, nobody looks at Shrek and goes, “Oh, that’s an Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson joint!” just like how nobody looks at Madagascar and goes “That is an Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath production!” (although they should, we’ll come back to them later in the series).

With animation, unless the director has already been established (Genndy Tartakovsky, Lauren Faust when Medusa eventually graces us with its presence) and even then they often have to switch to other medium to make their names very recognisable (Phil Lord and Chris Miller), we typically don’t care about who’s making it.  It’s the studio we focus on, and frequently just the studio.  This is why that standing of Pixar has taken a major hit in the past few years, because their last three films (Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University) ranged from “good” to “shockingly poor” and we expect better of the studio.  This is why Disney are advertising Big Hero 6 as “From The Creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen”, because those were the studio’s last big hits and they indicate that Disney aren’t coasting on their reputation from several decades ago.  Hence the application of the phrase, “You’re only as good as your last film.”

DreamWorks Animation’s last film in April of 2006 was the universally lauded Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.  Except that everyone, arguably quite rightly, attributed that film’s success to its main production company, Aardman Animations.  Therefore, DreamWorks Animation’s real last film in April of 2006 was Madagascar.  Critics didn’t really like Madagascar.  Oh, sure, the public liked Madagascar, but the public also liked Shark Tale.  I sort of like Madagascar, but hopefully you get what I mean.  It had been about 2 years since Shrek 2 and their one knock-out since then came from a different company that they were affiliated with rather than themselves.  DreamWorks films at that time seemed to be a lot like Adam Sandler comedies, devoid of quality and critical approval yet inexplicably popular with the public.

Therefore, the critical success of Over The Hedge probably came as a surprise to a lot of people, especially since their next few films would firmly restate that, no, DreamWorks had not gotten their mojo back yet.  The film ended up Certified Fresh, no less, and many critics awarded it praise for being cleverer, funnier, and just plain better than the other animal related animated movies coming out around that time (2006 was the point in which that particular sub-genre hit over-saturation as the destination of this link will demonstrate).  It even beat out Cars, overall, a feat that I’m pretty sure most caused most people to perform spit-takes the length of whatever room they were in when they got the news.

Financially, the film was a decent success, although, much like with last week’s Wallace & Gromit, not to the degree that DreamWorks would have liked.  Over The Hedge debuted in second place with a very respectable $38.4 million.  It’s just that, y’know, The Da Vinci Code opened to double that.  In any case, the film held strong over the following two weekends against X-Men: The Last Stand and The Break-Up.  Then Cars happenedOver The Hedge would close with $155 million domestic and $180 million from international markets, marking a $336 million gross against an $80 million budget, but it only lasted five weeks in the Top 10 domestically and not once did it sit atop the chart.  The film was a success, but it arguably wasn’t a big enough success, it wasn’t a Shark Tale level success, which is probably why the planned sequel never happened.

In fact, one could see this “mediocre” box office performance against a critical success as a precursor to the studio’s current problem, especially if one wants to take the Adam Sandler comparison further.  Both got their starts on the motion picture stage with pretty darn good films that attained critical respect of some degree and a healthy financial following from the public.  Both proceeded to coast once their big financial breakthrough occurred with critically-trashed films that kept making a tonne of money despite their often audience-insulting content.  Both occasionally break out of their rut to show off their skills in critically acclaimed films that either underwhelm or out-right bomb financially, sending them scurrying right back to what pays.  DreamWorks, obviously, have kicked their arses into gear these past few years, unlike Adam Sandler, and we’ll get to that, so the metaphor falls apart here but hopefully you see what I’m getting at.

It’s weird how the mass public at large keeps rejecting those DreamWorks films that are actually really good.  Remember, Mr. Peabody & Sherman from this year is a financial failure and it took multiple weeks for people to change their opinions on whether or not How To Train Your Dragon 2 was actually a financial success.  Unlike a lot of critics, I tend to give kids the benefit of the doubt when it comes to films aimed at them.  I don’t settle for “good enough” and I don’t let people get away with slinging unwatchable crap their way because kids deserve better and, frequently, do actually know better.  Yet, more recent non-franchise DreamWorks films keep underwhelming.  Do you think it could be burnout?  Poor advertising; after all, I thought Mr. Peabody & Sherman looked like garbage until I actually watched the finished film…

Sorry, I’m just spitballing ideas of various kinds in public.  Back to Over The Hedge.

Like a lot of other DreamWorks movies (see also: Sinbad, Shrek, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, How To Train Your Dragon), Over The Hedge is only very loosely related to its source material, a long-running newspaper comic of the same name.  In fact, it’s still going strong today, as evidenced by the fact that its website is still posting strips and that the guy who does the drawings – Michael Fry – keeps following, and promptly unfollowing me immediately after, on Twitter whenever I mention this film or sometimes just DreamWorks in general.  Now, if, for some reason, Mr. Fry is reading this article, perhaps with a Monday morning cup of coffee in hand and his feet on some kind of footrest, I would like to humbly admit that I am not familiar with the comic strip.  In my defence, I’m British.  The closest we get to proper newspaper comics in this country is Andy Capp, and nobody should ever have to read Andy Capp.

However, not knowing the source material can oftentimes set one at an advantage when looking at a film.  After all, then you’re not spending forever watching a film and mercilessly comparing it to its source material; looking for changes, big or small, good or bad, nitpicking at every little thing and such.  Instead, you get to look at it on its own merits, judge it on its own merits.  I, for example, recognise that both live-action/CG Garfield films are terrible in their own right, but I will never not be able to separate them from my childhood love of the Garfield & Friends TV series, trade paperbacks of the comics and the subsequent horror I experienced when I saw Garfield dancing to Black Eyed Peas.

Oh, look at me dancing around the issue!  Dance-y, dance, dance!  “Callum, just tell us if Over The Hedge is any good, already!  Stop time-wasting!”  Fine!  OK!  I’ll admit it!  I really liked Over The Hedge!  You happy now?

I’ll admit that the real reason why I spent so long dancing around the issue of whether Over The Hedge is good or not came down to the fact that I did not like Over The Hedge when I was 11.  I was one of those kids that I spent a few paragraphs back being bemused over.  I’m rather ashamed of this fact, to be frank, as two years earlier I had really enjoyed Shark Tale and I can’t get away with the “I was a stupid goddamn teenager” excuse because I was 11 and still watched Cartoon Network religiously; it wouldn’t be for another two years until my stupid goddamn teenager habits kicked in.  And the reason why I tried to avoid admitting that is because it undermines one of my key arguments as to why Over The Hedge holds up better than anything DreamWorks Animation solely produced between 2003 and 2006.

It really is just as good for adults as it is for kids.  See why I didn’t want to divulge disliking that movie when I was a kid?  Fact of the matter is, watching this back for the series, I don’t even get why I disliked it, but I did and that very fact undermines this very argument.  Nonetheless, despite 11 year-old me being a total nitwit, Over The Hedge really does work about equally for kids and adults.  The issue, the one that I imagine was the thing that made me dislike the film when I was its target market, is that it often doesn’t achieve this by double-coding.  For example, go back to the first Shrek and its “Do you think he’s compensating for something?” line regarding Farquard’s castle.  For kids, it’s a joke about his short height.  For adults, it’s a joke about his tiny penis.  Hell, Lord Farquad’s name in general!  For kids, it’s a silly name.  For adults, it sounds like one of your friends saying “f*ckwad” with a bad Mark Wahlberg impression.  There are some jokes just for kids and some just for adults, but mostly they cross over with one another.

By contrast, Over The Hedge tends to segregate its jokes with only the occasional cross-over in intended audience.  Kids get fart jokes, a wacky comic relief character burping his ABCs, and the sight of a nearly-bald woman being elbow-dropped by police officers.  Adults get casting in-jokes, Ben Folds songs, and a lot of not-particularly-subtle satire against white middle-class suburban life.  Can you see why kids – and it is kids that drive the success of lower-than-PG-13-animated films due to that continued mainstream stigma that this kind of animation is only enjoyable to children and nobody else, make no mistake – mostly rejected Over The Hedge, especially when the much broader and more-focussed-at-them Cars came along?  Unlike that film, which double-coded properly, Over The Hedge has long stretches where kids don’t really have anything to command their attention (besides some character designs and animation that… honestly kept looking rather off-putting to me).

Maybe that’s why I really like Over The Hedge now.  The purely kid-focussed gags are rather minimal; most of the laughs created for them that aren’t fart jokes etc. come from bits of physical humour which, assuming it’s good enough, crosses between both demographics.  Therefore, the really bum jokes don’t drag down the pace of the film for long stretches at a time, as it skips the easy jokes in favour of genuine satire and jokes coming from the characters.  And, yes, the satire may not be, say, Network or Great Dictator or In The Loop levels of razor-sharp, but watch RJ’s monologue about food and see how many aspects of human nature you can apply it to when you strip out the specific ties to food and overconsumption.

Throughout, the film takes swipes at that lifestyle, of the clueless people who inhabit it, of the inconsiderate way we tend to view wildlife that encroaches upon our picture-perfect surroundings, and the cost our desire for more puts upon nature and the environment… all things that more than likely flew right over the heads of kids.  After all, how are they going to relate to jokes about how suburbia and its white middle class inhabitants, as well as those who often engage in that selfish excess behaviour, are gigantic assholes?  Note that I’m not knocking the film for this.  After all, remember, I don’t rate animated films based on how much kids will like them, I’m just noting why it didn’t catch on the same way that, say, Madagascar did.  The humour is primarily just a little too intelligent, a little too subtle, for kids to completely appreciate, and there’s too much of a gap between the broader jokes for most kids to remain entranced by, especially when Cars would appeal to them more.  Again, I’m basing this off of personal experience, so I could be wrong, but at least you’ve got an idea where I’m coming from.

And on the note of “too subtle for kids to appreciate”, the fact that these Ben Folds songs didn’t become massive and nominated for several Academy Awards is one of the great crimes of this modern age.  OK, obviously not that bad, but you get the idea.  The thing about the Ben Folds songs, and the reason why I love them way more than any other song utilised in a DreamWorks film so far, besides the fact that it’s Ben Folds, is that they work even if you remove the context of the film.  A lot of the original songs in films like Spirit, The Road To El Dorado and Joseph are too on-the-nose, too desperate to link into the film they feature in, and their frantic attempts to tie in end up causing songs to lack hooks or memorable lyrics or something that sticks with you after the film has finished.

Compare that with “Heist”.  There’s the ultra-catchy horn riff, the vocal harmonies in the background, a super simple yet fun to sing chorus, and the lyrics relate to the film whilst still being open and non-specific enough to apply to similar situations that aren’t the film.  Also, despite the toe-tapping and upbeat nature of the song, there’s this tinge of melancholy throughout, as if the narrator knows that the train he’s talking about will eventually stop and maybe even sooner than anticipated, that makes the track stick with me.  The “da-da-da”s that initially sounded carefree and triumphant now sound slightly unsure, even mocking.  There’s a sense of regret, of fear of some kind of inevitability, and it is so f*cking clever that I have literally no clue as to why it didn’t become some kind of breakout cross-over hit.

(I’ve had it on constant loop on my iPod for the last week.)

But look, great goddamn Ben Folds songs (even the family friendly re-write of “Rockin’ The Suburbs”, although not as venomous and hysterical as the original version, is insightful and entertaining) and smart, funny satire are all well and good.  Without some kind of emotional base underpinning the film, though, Over The Hedge would just be a more intelligent Madagascar; entertaining, yes, but lacking in substance and memorability.  Fortunately, and more so than any other DreamWorks film covered in this series so far post-Sinbad, Over The Hedge feels like a film whose production was started because somebody wanted to tell a story with characters, rather than a business executive going “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny is Will Smith voiced a fish?” and greenlighting said film with nothing more to it than the dollar signs that lit up his eyes.

Though it is a bit over-stuffed when it comes to characters, to the degree that a lot of them can be boiled down to one specific trait without too much work, the majority do get character arcs of some kind and are not just here to act as designated comic relief.  They’re characters, characters of their own kind and any influence their voice actors may have on them is purely down to their having been cast and the voice they bring to the table.  Or, to put it another way: Ozzie is a possum and his technique for playing dead is to be as hammy and overly dramatic as is humanly possible.  William Shatner plays Ozzie so, obviously, he Shatner’s the scene in which Ozzie has to play dead as a distraction.  But rather than feel like a “Hey!  We got William Shatner to do that thing William Shatner does!” moment, one that pulls somebody out of the experience by feeling more like a casting gag than something that comes from the character, it still feels in character for Ozzie to over-act that much.  It’s his trait, his choice – Shatner just adds to the performance.

And besides, one can’t really remain that cynical about what may or may not have been done for snarky in-jokes and pop culture references.  Not when everything in Over The Hedge is brimming with heart.  In the characters who constantly re-enforce the bond they share with one another instead of just being needlessly cruel to each other for 80-odd minutes, in the script which has clearly been honed and refined as much as possible so that there’s a genuine reason for every joke (this is why the THX gag got a full-on laugh out of me instead of a sigh of derision), for the characters so that they don’t end up interchangeable or painfully one-dimensional, in the character development that ensures that the attempts at emotion actually mean something…  Dammit, somebody wanted to tell a story!  Somebody came to this project with the intention of telling a story and saying something!  That desire infects nearly every part of the film and bleeds out into the viewer, which helps elevate the parts that work and make the whole damn great.

It’s not perfect, though.  Besides the aforementioned younger end of the audience likely being lost – after all, they’re probably expecting something as broad as Shrek 2, it’s by the same people, so a more intelligent comedy based more around an emotional centre may end up turning them off – and skipping the animation and character designs (as my opinion on them keeps shifting every few minutes), the big issue for me that keeps Over The Hedge from that upper echelon is the two leads.  Not the characters of RJ and Verne, the voice actors that portray them, Bruce Willis and Gary Shandling.  Now, the rest of the cast are mostly great and give off the impression of being cast due to their being the best people for the job (the aforementioned Shatner, Steve Carell, who would later go on to prove his VA talent with the Despicable Me series, and Allison Janney being the standouts) rather than for stunt casting.  OK, maybe not so much Avril Lavigne but she’s also decent enough to make that not an issue.

Willis and Shandling… really aren’t.  Willis’ problem is that he’s inconsistent, both in terms of quality and in terms of tone.  Some of his lines and some of his entire scenes are near spot-on, especially when he plays the too-cool guide to the suburbs for the forest residents.  Other times, he’s, well, post-2000s Bruce Willis, lazy, bored, more than a little flat.  Then there are multiple times where it’s clear that scenes are being stitched together from individual line takes, like the previously-embedded rabid squirrel scene.  Shandling is more consistent, which is his problem.  Instead of being a warm, comforting leader/father-figure presence, his lines are almost universally flat and lacking in emotion.  It’s especially bad whenever Verne has to display emotion because Shandling, well, doesn’t and that robs many scenes, especially the ones where Verne is supposed to be scared, of a fair chunk of their power.  Much of the film hangs on these two leads, and Shandling is never good whilst Willis is really inconsistent; both of which end up distracting.

Hang on, I’m starting to sound like I’m down on Over The Hedge.  Let me change tack real quick…  Over The Hedge, then, is a damn great film and a definite bright spot in the non-Aardman mid-2000s DreamWorks’ catalogue.  It achieves this primarily by being a film, with characters and substance and heart, instead of a formula pitch that was rushed into production half-finished before it had the chance to lose any potential cash.  That sounds like damning with faint praise, but it really isn’t meant to be.  It’s a highly entertaining film with stuff to say, likeable characters whose arcs feel genuine instead of forced, legitimately funny jokes and, yes, great Ben Folds songs.  It may not break any ground, it may not crack anybody’s Favourite Animated Films Ever lists, and it most likely sails right over the heads of children, but it is a damn great film at what it does, balancing cynical satire with heart-on-sleeve character work better than I’ve seen a lot of vastly inferior animated films try this year.

So, hey!  Turns out that Younger Me was wrong again, only this time in a good way!  How’s about that?


As their first film distributed by Paramount Pictures, Over The Hedge was a qualifiable success, winning back some critics that their past few films had lost but coming up short financially compared to everything else they’d produced.  Understandably, many could have been wary about the film for their own reasons; DreamWorks with the possibility that their box office days may have begun a steady decline, and critics who may have been wary that one good film doesn’t mark a total turn around for the company as a whole.  Their next film would reset to the status quo, somewhat saddeningly.

However, before that, we have to take one last trip over to Aardman Animations for their second film in two years, the first that was made all in CGI, the last one they would make with DreamWorks, their first release to not receive universal acclaim, and a film sold as “From the creators of Shrek and Madagascar.”  Next week, we look at Flushed Away and see whether 2006 Me was right to be immensely disappointed by it.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch will tell y’all what it’s like being male, middle-class and white.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Listen Up Hollywood – Die Hard 6

A new series where Steve takes a semi regular bash at planning some movies for the Hollywood bigwigs.

by Steve Norman (@stevepn86)

diehard1

I have a theory about the Die Hard films. Not only do they get worse with every film made but the quality also dips the larger area John McClane covers during the movie.

In the original, and the best, McClane is confined to a single skyscraper. The movie also has the best villain of the series in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber but the relatively small area it takes place in helps make the film what it is.

The second instalment sees our hero tackle terrorists in an airport. A sizeable area but again still quite confined. In Die Hard with a Vengeance McClane teams up with Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus in a movie that spans most of New York City.

Then the franchise went away for a bit and everyone thought we had ended up with an excellent action trilogy. However it was bought back and in Die Hard 4 (I’m not bothering with ridiculous taglines) where we yippee-kayayed around most of the East Coast of the USA. This was the first Die Hard that was not good. It was OK though and in my opinion receives more flack than it deserves. It did sacrifice the 18 rating to get a larger audience which made the film suffer. Number 5 did the same with the rating and seemed to span an area of Eastern Europe that Vladimir Putin would envy. It sucked.

I do not like to see film franchises I love go out on a low. This is why I am optimistic that the new Star Wars films will be immense and this is why I want more Die Hard.

And I have a plan for the film.

It needs to be set in a confined(ish) space and only have one main hero, John McClane. No Samuel L. or Jai Courtney offering support. Just the former cop ass kicking and wise cracking throughout the movie.

You also need a reasonable ‘in’. In the first two movies he was picking up his wife. In the rest it was a bit more elaborate to get him involved.

Die-Hard-Square

So with this in mind my film starts in the White House. Ok, I know we have had White House Down and that other one with Gerard Butler but they were pretty mediocre.

Why is McClane at the White House? Maybe he is taking his grandchild (his kids in the film are old enough to have kids about seven or eight, right?) and their class on a tour along with a teacher. Maybe he is collecting a medal or award for his heroics during his life.

Either way he is there and some terrorists turn up. Part of me wants to introduce a third Gruber brother but it seems a bit stretched. Basically pick a bad guy/group. Their motive and origin is of little consequence to the story. The main bad guy needs a bit of psychological menace and their needs to be a henchman in a vest. Preferably Nordic looking.

Of course the President is kidnapped and held hostage in the Oval Office. McClane’s only help, other than ineffectual and ‘by the books’ jobsworth police and CIA officers is White House security guard Al Powell who was annoyingly absent from the last three movies.

There you have it Hollywood. Die Hard 6.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

“Nancy: Looks like trouble..

Marv: Looks like Christmas.”

By Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

sin city 2 2Back in 2005, the world finally got an adaptation of the Frank Miller story that it didn’t even realise it was craving. Alas, it wasn’t a live action version of The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, but was instead the pulp noir crime thriller, Sin City. After his RoboCop sequel scripts were butchered back in the 1980’s, it seemed Miller was destined to remain known as a successful comic book writer (albeit one of the most important and influential of our time) and not a successful script writer.

Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City came at a time when only five short years before, comic book movies received a successful revival; thanks in no small part to Bryan Singer’s PG-13 X-Men. Two years later, Sam Raimi got in on the act as he turned Marvel’s biggest property, one friendly neighbourhood web-swinging wall crawler Spider-Man, into a PG-13 movie. As ground-breaking, box-office record smashing and popular as they were, fans knew that the market for more mature offerings was lagging behind somewhat. Why did they have to all be PG-13? The promise of Batman-to-come (allegedly based on Frank Miller’s seminal Year One) never truly broke that cycle. Batman Begins, also released in 2005, may have been darker and seedier than your average superhero flick, dealing with crime families, murder and that long wispy moustache of Liam Neeson’s, but it too found itself restricted to a PG-13 audience. In the 5 years between X-Men and Batman Begins, the only two major R-rated comic-book movies to come out of America were Blade II and The Punisher. That’s pretty much it.

To say Sin City was a gamble would be an understatement. Hiring a director to make an R-rated, somewhat arthouse thriller, who at the time had seemingly moved on from his over-the-top action movies (the brilliant Mexico Trilogy) and bloody sci-fi horrors (From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty etc) to create the family-oriented Spy Kids trilogy, it was a risk. Yet it paid off in more ways than one. It may not have topped the box-office charts in 2005 ahead of the likes of Star Wars Episode III, King Kong and another bloody Harry Potter sequel, but it still earned praise from critics and fans alike whilst being relatively commercially successful. It may not have been the catalyst in turning studios on to a wave of adult comic book movies, but it was seen as a triumph on its own merits.

Quite why it took Rodriguez and Miller nearly 10 years to allow us to return to the filthy stinkhole that is Basin City seems almost unfair. With its saloon bars every ten feet full of drunk criminal louts, sleazy prostitutes on every corner and corrupt officials turning a blind eye to every crook looming in a shadowy doorway ready to take every dime you own and leave you for dead, perhaps it was a place of mind that Rodriguez and Miller weren’t keen to frequent too often! Nevertheless, I, for one, am glad to have had the privilege of another peak into the loathsome lives of Sin City’s inhabitants.

The four stories that comprise the run time are equally as entertaining as each other. Beginning with a tale from Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he comes to after a brutal accident, hunting down some despicable youths, the tone of highly-stylised ultra-violence is set very quickly. This is continued as Johnny (played by the always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduces himself as the cocky young gambler taking on a game of poker that will only end one way, with his story intertwining with that of Jessica Alba exacting revenge for her lover’s (Bruce Willis) death. The atmosphere is continued in the next sequence, upon which Sin City 2 titles itself. Dwight (previously played by Clive Owen, now re-cast with Josh Brolin) sets out on a mission to save his nearly always naked femme fatale ex-wife (Eva Green) who is oppressed by her cruel husband. Feeling sorry for her, he agrees to help but as with everything in Sin City, it appears someone is manipulating the situation beyond his control.

Short snappy sentences that Billy Wilder would’ve been proud of litter the script, just as a classic crime-noir should. It’s immensely enjoyable, trashy and disturbingly fun. Shot entirely in black and white with colour only occasionally piercing the dreary shades of grey like a strike of lightning, it is a film with an abundance of style. Is it perhaps a case of too much style and too little substance? Debatable. There’s a chance that the co-directors may have papered over a few cracks in the plot with some pretty pictures – although, they are very pretty pictures. The cast and their performances are a step up from 2005’s effort, with returning faces Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and particularly Powers Boothe all revelling in their roles, as do the new additions. Eva Green especially steals the show as a siren-like Ava.

Whilst A Dame to Kill For has not followed suit with its predecessor, stuttering at the box office and picking up mixed reviews along the way, it still has plenty to enjoy for returning fans and new ones alike. You do not need to know everything that happens in the previous movie – in fact, some people seem confused by the chronology of both. Approaching it as a stand alone movie about some stuff that happens in this crime-ridden city may be the best method.

If Frank Miller’s stories have any message to tell, it’s probably a not very pleasant one. Everyone is corruptible, it’s just that some people are better at taking advantage of it than others. Yes the film’s morals and ethics are as questionable as the characters who entertain us; is vigilantism justified in a city like this? Is murder ever acceptable? Can you honestly have your strongest independent female character’s motivations bent around her love for a man? These are questions the film raises and leaves unanswered. But I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t half look cool as it poses them.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in cinemas nationwide right now in both 3D (not worth it) and 2D (totally worth it).

Failed Critics Podcast: 300 Rise of a Critic

Grand Budapest HotelThis week’s podcast introduces a young, fresh-faced critic to the mix in Callum Petch. Much like the plot of Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel, this episode sees a classy yet older gentleman (James) taking a young and enthusiastic outsider under his tutelage. At least that’s how James sees it.

We also have reviews of 300: Rise of an Empire and Escape from Planet Earth, as well as our plans for how to save the Die Hard franchise, and some bitter accusations of cheating in the quiz.

Join us next week for reviews of Need For Speed and The Zero Theorem.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Die Hard 5

12a certificate bbfcIn this week’s podcast we’re reviewing Die Hard 5 (we’re refusing to play along with their ridiculous naming practices), and in an effort to appeal to a younger audience we have decided to make the following changes and earn ourselves a 12a certificate.

  • James is still drinking while recording, but his part has been cut to a 10 minute phone call from a Brewdog Glasgow (sponsors of our Glasgow Film Festival coverage)
  • All references to the makers of Die Hard 5 being ‘motherf***ers’ for delivering an inferior version of the film to the UK market have been replaced by the more child-friendly ‘dickheads’
  • All scenes of extreme violence by Steve and Gerry on Owen have been replaced by scenes of mild peril

We’re back next week (including James) with our Oscars Special!

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No, Die Hard isn’t my favourite Christmas film.

die hardYou don’t often hear Bridget Jones’s Diary referred to as a Christmas film, despite the presence of a certain reindeer jumper, and London being dusted in an inch of fake snow throughout. Similarly, the Belgian Tourist Office’s hitman documentary In Bruges isn’t the first feature you expect to see when opening your festive Radio Times. And yet Die Hard, the tale of a heist masquerading as a terrorist attack, seems to be a default response for many people when asked to name their favourite Christmas film. (Though, for me, this same response recently uttered in the aforementioned TV tome, by a certain bumbling film columnist has now rendered this proclamation anything but cool.)

We conducted an entirely unscientific analysis of Die Hard as a stand alone Christmas movie. Stripped of all rockets, ineffectual SWAT teams, and carpet based jetlag cures, it went a little something like this.

INT. A PLANE – EVENING
The plane, containing a nervous looking John McClane, lands.

AIR STEWARDESS
Welcome to LA. Merry Christmas.

No longer nervous looking John McClane departs the plane carrying a giant teddy bear. Bells are ringing.

INT. NAKATOMI CORPORATION OFFICES – EVENING
The offices are decorated with Christmas trees and a party is under way.

NAKATOMI BOSS GUY
Happy New Year!

INT. SOME SWANKY HOUSE IN LA – EVENING

LITTLE KID WHO SHOULD PROBABLY BE IN BED
Mom, when are you coming home? Is Daddy coming home soon?
I promise I haven’t searched the house for presents.

INT. A LIMO – EVENING
John McClane rides in the passenger seat. Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis plays loudly.

JOHN MCCLANE
Don’t you have any Christmas music?

LIMO DRIVER
This is Christmas music!

INT. NAKATOMI CORPORATION OFFICES – EVENING
Jingle Bells plays as John McClare strolls down a corridor.

INT. MCCLANE’S WIFE’S OFFICE – EVENING
John McClane meets his wife, her boss, and her colleague.

JOHN MCCLANE
Some vaguely racist quip expressing surprise that they celebrate Christmas in Japan.

INT. AN EMPTY OFFICE – EVENING
There is a desk with a Christmas tree on it.

INT. ELEVATOR ON UNKNOWN FLOOR – NIGHT
John McClane holds a lifeless body, spots a large plastic snowman in a Christmas outfit, laughs to himself.

INT. ELEVATOR ON HOSTAGE FLOOR – NIGHT
A gang of mean looking men discover a dead body wearing a Santa hat, with a Christmas inscription written on its jumper. The note reads: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.”

EXT. CENTURY CITY – NIGHT
A lone police car pootles towards the Nakatomi building, before doing a lap of the driveway which is lined with trees covered in fairy lights.

INT. NAKATOMI CORPORATION LOBBY – NIGHT
An unwitting cop bids the lobby security guard farewell, having carried out some kind of basic search.

UNWITTING COP
Merry Christmas to you!

Unwitting cop strolls out of the building singing ‘Let It Snow’ having concluded there is nothing wrong in the building. Moments later, a dead body is thrown onto the bonnet of his car from height.

INT. NAKATMOI VAULT DOORS – NIGHT

GEEKY LOOKING BADDIE
‘Twas the night before Christmas,
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, except…
the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.

INT. NAKATOMI VAULT ROOM – NIGHT

BOSS BADDIE
It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time of miracles.
So be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.

EXT. A MANHOLE NEAR THE NAKATOMI BUILDING – NIGHT
One tall FBI agent, one short FBI agent, an engineer and a deputy chief of police who has an air of being recently usurped are talking.

RECENTLY USURPED LOOKING DEPUTY CHIEF OF POLICE
Are you crazy? It’s Christmas Eve!
Thousands of people – the Mayor’ll scream bloody murder

EXT. THE REMAINS OF THE NAKATOMI BUILDING – NIGHT
The limo driver, now very dishevelled, walks through piles of dead bodies and general explosion rubble, gets into limo.

DISHEVELLED LIMO DRIVER
If this is their idea of Christmas
I gotta be here for New Year’s.

Let It Snow plays.

FADE OUT

Other than that it’s a few shots of a bearer bonds robbery with an artificial tree in the background, external shots of building explosions framed by street light decorations, and the occasional light up Santa perched on a desk, as an office chair gets loaded with C4 and lobbed down an elevator shaft.

I did an equally scientific ‘What’s your favourite Christmas film that isn’t Die Hard’ twitter poll. The result was overwhelmingly Elf. Compare Die Hard to Elf on a frame by frame Christmas basis, and Willis doesn’t stand a chance. No North Pole, no department store, Santa and his sleigh are nowhere to be seen, and there is a distinct lack of James Caan on piano.

But that’s ok. The month of December isn’t just about spreading Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear. It’s also about defending corporations from German faux terrorists. And Bruce Willis in a white vest, punctuating every other sentence with ‘fuck’. Die Hard is a truly magnificent film, and it just happens to be set at Christmas.

Watch Die Hard Sunday 16 December 9pm Film4

Failed Critics Review: Looper

Sadly (or thankfully depending on your point of view) James was absent from this week’s Failed Critics Review, in which Steve, Owen and Gerry review sci-fi time-travel headfuck Looper. Luckily James’s future-self has told him that they managed to pull together an excellent podcast in the mouthy old bastard’s absence.

In honour of the big man himself, they also reviewed a Bruce Willis film each – and maybe someone suggested everyone really should go and watch Taken 2. James hasn’t a clue to be honest, and writing in the third person is taking its toll.

Join us (sans James again) later this week for Triple Bill: Eighties Films.

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Failed Critics Review: Brave

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Review – coming to you live from, among other places, James’ car. That’s right.

This week our main review is Pixar’s latest film – ‘Brave’. As well as giving our opinions on the film, we discuss the success of the studio and whether or not they’re a bigger draw these days than the Disney brand.

In other news James finds a film that didn’t make him cry in The Expendables 2, Gerry ponders society after watching Dreams of a Life, Steve continues to confuse himself with time-travel films by watching Twelve Monkeys, and Owen finally finds a Tim Burton film he can get onboard with in Ed Wood.

The critics also pay tribute to Tony Scott, while the Quote Game makes a return after literally no one realised we’d forgotten in for the last few weeks.

We’re back later this week with ‘Triple Bill: Based on a true story’, and in next week’s review with Total Recall.

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