Is it their finest hour and 17 minutes? With a stonking quiz hosted by guest Callum Petch, pitting hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes against each other, plus reviews of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, 2016 mystery thriller Pet, and the extraordinarily awful documentary Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story, it might well possibly be!
NOOOOOOOOOOO– I mean, yes, it’s the latest episode of the Failed Critics podcast with Callum ‘bright eyes’ Petch and Dr Andrew Brookerzaius joining hosts Steve ‘chimpan A’ Norman and Owen ‘chimpan Z’ Hughes as they get their stinkin’ paws on The Dawn of the War Beneath the Battle for the Planet of the Living Dead Apes, or whatever it’s called.
We’ve reached the point in the year where it’s safe to start legitimately putting together a rough outline for your top 10 films of the year. Your number one might be displaced come December, or a handful of others might infiltrate the rest of the list; but it’s likely that those you’ve already decided are your favourites, will still be there or thereabouts by the time we compile our End of Year Awards. Continue reading Top 5 Films of 2017 (So Far)
(Click this link and press play now!) Dare to believe you can survive [another Michael Bay Transformers movie]. You hold the future in your hand. Dare. Dare to keep all of your dreams alive [of never having to sit through another one]. It’s time to take a stand. And you can win, if you dare [to stay home when the Bumblebee solo film comes out].
B&B is a gay drama thriller that’s weirdly self-loathing about its homosexuality, dramatically inert, and lacking much in the way of thrills.
Welcome to the Failed Critics Podcast as we review The Fate of the Furious, the eighth entry in the Fast & Furious series.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster this week. Tears have been shed about the noticeably absent (and some would even say crucial) member of the team, whose mere presence is what has made the previous entries so entertaining, so absorbing, and so full of heart and character. Alas, even without Owen around, Steve Norman, Callum Petch and James Diamond soldier on regardless.
It may not fully work for everybody, but Neruda is an inventive and very entertaining approach to the mythmaking biopic. Read Callum Petch’s review below.
Are we a podcast that exists inside your iPhone? Or is this an iPhone with the ghost of the latest Failed Critics Podcast inside of it? Hmm. Someone should make a movie out of that premise.
Intentionally quiet and slight arguably to a fault, Certain Women nonetheless is not without its charms.
I want to love Certain Women. I really and truly do. Even within the more independent filmmaking world, Certain Women represents a sort of breath of fresh air by its mere existence. In a sphere of film mostly dedicated to Sad White Men dealing with their Sad White Men problems in a low-key fashion, here is a film all about depicting the mundane lives of three women. And when I say “mundane,” I really do mean “mundane;” these are lives that are profoundly uneventful even when they are, by comparative metric, eventful. Writer-Director Kelly Reichardt, who has made her name with measured and uneventful interpretations of stories that are usually fodder for more traditionally thrilling fare, here adapts a few short stories by Maile Meloy and consequently works with set-ups that are devoid of basically any kind of dramatic conflict whatsoever. One story never acknowledges an earlier potential conflict generator in its own story, another simmers on words unsaid but never truly boils over, and the third intentionally deflates itself at the first opportunity in the driest possible way.
In effect, what you end up watching is less of a series of short narratives with clear beginnings, climaxes, conflicts, etc. and more a collection of snapshots of ordinary if lonely women living their lives. These kinds of lives just don’t get told in Film that often, not in this kind of frank and empathetic way, and especially not for women. Women in the rural-American Mid-West, no less! Dealing with loneliness and isolation in a world that often attempts to forget they even exist. So, I do want to love Certain Women.
I just can’t quite get there, though. That same intentional quietness and deliberate pacing that provides the film’s selling point is also its major weakness for me. All three stories touch on the same themes, have the same pacing, and are so intentionally slight that my mind couldn’t help but wander from time to time. There may be a tangible empathy here, particularly in the stunning final segment, but there’s also just a bit too much of a sedate distance to proceedings, where the film is purposefully avoiding anything eventful and instead filling up that time with very long takes where not very much happens at all. When the film is clicking on all cylinders, where its stories ache with a noticeable pain and quiet suffering, it’s not an issue. But when it’s anything less than that, either by not sketching that story’s protagonist deeply enough or holding an interminably long conversation that’s going nowhere in no particular hurry, then it starts to poke holes in the enterprise.
That, I guess, is my way of saying that not all of the stories are created equal. The first involves a lawyer, Laura (Laura Dern), dealing with a long-disgruntled client (Jared Harris). The second has a married couple, Gina (Michelle Williams) and Ryan (James le Gros), trying to convince a somewhat-crotchety old man (René Auberjonois) to sell them some sandstone that they can use to build their house in the wilds. The third, and best by a country mile, follows a lonely Ranch Hand (newcomer Lily Gladstone) as she finds herself drawn to a night school class and forges a connection with the teacher, amateur lawyer and out-of-towner Beth (Kristen Stewart). The second is the millstone, somewhat fittingly, that drags down the rest of the enterprise, being so slow and so uneventful that I found myself checking my watch frequently and wondering if there was a point being made at all with it. There is, it’s just that said point is made almost immediately and the segment fails to find any further spins on it for the rest of its run time.
It’s also the most dialogue-heavy of the three segments, or at least feels like it, and the most static. Strangely, dialogue often turns out to be a crutch for Certain Women as a whole. It’s not that any of it is bad, sometimes it even manages to provide some dryly humorous levity to proceedings, it’s more that the film’s most powerful moments come from a lack of. From words unsaid, from connections unrealised, from an honesty that can’t quite be reached. Gina goes off on runs that are more excuses to sneak a cigarette without Ryan knowing, whilst Ryan is revealed in the first story to be having an affair with Laura but her story never allows him the chance to finish his attempt at ending the thing, whilst the moment that the third story gets as close to an honest admission of feelings as its protagonists can, the resultant pause communicates more hurt than a thousand words ever could.
These are women who feel isolated from society around them, lacking in any real meaningful connections or any connections at all. Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography, which is low-key gorgeous for the record, goes to great lengths to frame each of these women as separate from the rest of the world around them, for that kind of isolation and enforced distance to become quietly wearying on the viewer like it is for the women themselves. How society renders them all-but-invisible in subtle ways that are only picked up on by those on the receiving end – Laura’s client only accepts the exact same judgement that Laura’s been telling him for the past 8 months once it comes out of a man’s mouth, the old man that Gina is trying to buy the sandstone from often straight up ignores her and talks solely to Ryan instead, whilst the Ranch Hand deliberately secludes herself at the back of the class lesson after lesson and is ignored wholesale by the rest of the class members, despite one student’s claim that “we all know each other.”
Rather than dance around the point any further, I’ll just come right out and say it: the reason that you need to watch Certain Women, even if the whole doesn’t quite rise like it should and its second story is just kind of dull, is for that third story. That’s where everything comes together – the writing, the measured pacing, the commitment to depicting the crushing mundanity of a lonely life, the empathy for all those involved, and the quiet pain of longing constantly flowing under the surface – to deliver a phenomenal half hour that builds to a closing oner which devastates ever more the longer that it runs. It also stands head and shoulders above the rest of the stories due to the performances and unique chemistry of Stewart and Gladstone, both awkwardly dancing around the central question of their connection with a tangible caution clearly born out of a desire to not hurt or get hurt that only serves to make those unsaid words cut that much deeper. Gladstone, especially, is a full-on revelation, particularly when that final shot comes around.
I kinda wish, in all honesty, that Certain Women were just that story, since then I’d be able to properly love it. Don’t get me wrong, this is in no way a bad film, not in any respect, even that second segment isn’t bad so much as I just found it wholly unengaging. For me, though, just under 110 minutes of this much deliberate slowness and intentionally minor storytelling was ultimately a little too tiring for me to be able to properly love. I’m honestly fine with that, however, and not just because I know that there are certain people who will absolutely adore Certain Women. When the film clicks like it does many times during the final story, the resultant cinema is enrapturing. And even when it’s not, there really is something to be said for its commitment to realising and empathising with the sort of uneventful (often) middle-aged female life that it squarely focusses on. We can’t all have dramatic lives. Sometimes, all we can ask for is to be acknowledged by anybody at all.
Certain Women is playing in UK cinemas from March 3rd.
Well it seems we were a little hasty this week in recording the podcast. If only we’d have waited another 12 hours, we could have discussed the actual nominations for the Academy Awards and not just speculated. Although it doesn’t seem to matter as we were broadly correct in our predictions and round-up our thoughts in a brief news section to open the show proper (after Steve Norman hosts the long-delayed quiz finale between Owen Hughes and Callum Petch).
Speaking of delays – apologies to those of you who were expecting an episode last week. Fate conspired against us on a number of occasions when we wanted to record.
But don’t worry! Even though record-breaking La La Land was not released this weekend but seven days earlier, we still bung it in with both Manchester By The Sea and animated comedy Sing in the new release reviews. We also found time to run through some other movies that we’ve been watching of late as Steve gets creeped out by Robin Williams in One Hour Photo, Owen raves about sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale, and Callum regales us with his story of a trip to see Labyrinth for the first time.
Join us again next week for our T2: Trainspotting review, plus our usual load of shambolic nonsense.
Fanfare, please! It’s the final part of our Failed Critics Awards 2016 podcast. We’ve got the full list of all the films to make it onto our top 10 of the year, as voted for by you folks.
Also in part 2, Steve Norman, Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Callum Petch reveal which have been the best performances of 2016 from both male and female actors. Spoiler: Mob Handed star, Yvette Rowland, didn’t make the shortlist – but did Mob Handed make it onto our worst 3 films of the year? Or even our top 10? You’ll just have to listen to find out.
If you missed the podcast yesterday, you can go back and listen to part 1 to find out what our best documentaries, British films, “foreign muck” and soundtracks are.
We’ll be back in the New Year, but until then, we’d just like to express our enormous gratitude to everybody who took the time to vote in this year’s Failed Critics Awards. We’re always surprised at just how many of you there are who are willing to give us any amount of your time, either to listen to the podcast, read our reviews or submit votes. Thanks and here’s hoping you’ll stick with us in 2017!
Welcome to the first part of this year’s Failed Critics Awards!
Rather than force you to sit through a two-hour podcast only days after our three-hour compilation “best of” episode came out, we’ve split this year’s awards in half.
In part one, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Andrew Brooker and Callum Petch to scowl, whoop and whine about the winners in:
- Best documentary
- Best British film
- Best film not in the English language
- Best soundtrack
As well, of course, as our end of year quiz!
We’ll be back tomorrow (new year’s eve!) with the winners in our best male / female performances, worst films of the year and the big one: Our top 10 movies of 2016 – as voted for by you, our listeners and readers.
It’s just gone midnight on Christmas Eve, which means those of you who have managed stay up past your bedtime and wait for Father Christmas can officially open one of your presents early! I’ve got the perfect one for you, right here…
This brand new episode is a three and a half hour long ‘best of’ the Failed Critics Podcast from the past 12 months, all cobbled together into some kind of Christmas TV type compilation episode. There’s all of our favourite bits, including Paul’s famous quizzes, reviews of Mob Handed and Killer Bitch, every single booby-prize that Owen and Steve put each other through, all of our pre-titles and post-credit stingers, and loads more.
It’s not gift wrapped. It’s not store-bought. There’s no receipt so you can’t go and exchange it for any other podcast during the Boxing Day sales. But hopefully it’ll keep you company should you be enduring any agonisingly long car journeys over this festive period.
Merry Christmas all and a happy new year from everyone here at Failed Critics!
Before writer Callum Petch had even got his foot through the door upon returning from Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire last Sunday, he was answering a telephone call from Failed Critics to let us know exactly how it – and the rest of the BFI London Film Festival – had been this year.
This special bonus podcast is the result of that call, as Callum kindly rounds up five of the best, and a few of the rest from the 60th LFF. If you’ve been following his posts on the site, you’ll have a good idea of which movies came out top, as well as those that flattered to deceive.
Did Paul Verhoeven’s latest feature, Elle, make the cut? What about the new Denis Villeneuve sci-fi, Arrival? Was it as good as Sicario, Prisoners and Enemy? How was Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden received?
Listen to or download the podcast below to find out!
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
And that’s that. I’m back home now, in Scunthorpe, got in last night after 2 full weeks away in London. My experience of gallivanting around the nation’s capital for 12 solid days as a professional film critic all by myself with no backup if anything went wrong has come to a close and, aside from traumatising the neighbour of the man I was Homestay-ing at on the first night by mistaking her house for his, the whole thing went off without a hitch. I didn’t get lost, I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t run out of money like I was terrified would happen, I didn’t get robbed, I didn’t make an ass of myself in front of anybody. No, it all went fine. Hell, it went better than fine, it went near-perfectly. I saw 40 films overall (41 if you count my seeing Free Fire twice) within the span of 12 days, I got into most all of the screenings I wanted to, and I managed to crank out a full-length article for each one of those days, all without my enthusiasm or energy dropping once – aside from that final night where I finished my work, collapsed onto bed, and then slept for an uninterrupted 9 hours.
I did it, in other words. I really did it. I had so many fears and anxieties prior to this trip that everything was going to go wrong and that I wasn’t good enough to deserve this trip and what if I hated the experience and what if I wasn’t inspired to work, and none of those mattered in the end because I did it. Nothing went wrong, I turned in some of what I feel is my best work yet, I loved every second of the whole thing, and, once I’ve taken a day or two to recuperate, I feel fully re-invigorated and ready to start bashing out new pieces left, right, and centre – there’s the Christine/Kate Plays Christine piece I already have plotted out, and I’m finally going to tackle that “Lost Cels” entry I’ve had on the backburner for a year just for starters. In a rarity for my life, everything was just as I had hoped and I actually pulled it off instead of falling flat on my face. This fortnight, as previously mentioned, has been the greatest and I currently feel better than I have done in a long time.
But enough about me. You want to know what the best films of the festival were out of the 40 that I managed to see. Well, if you are too lazy to go looking back through all my prior articles from the festival in order to figure that out for yourself, then you’ve come to the right place. I saw a lot of great films during this festival, 2 of which I would especially feel comfortable putting in the upper echelons of my Top 20 of the Year list if both of them come out to the general populace in time, but these are the crème-de-la-crème, so to speak. They’re also arranged in alphabetical order rather than order of preference both because you should go and read my other articles, and because I’m lazy and really cannot be bothered right now to stamp them into a definitive ranked order. So, without further delay, here are Callum Petch’s 10 Best Films of the London Film Festival 2016 (That He Managed To See)!
A Quiet Passion: I usually despise costume dramas, and a torturously long and dull pair of Awards Seasons these past two years have turned biopics into a tainted genre for me, but I sincerely could not get enough of Terence Davies’ costume drama biopic of acclaimed-after-her-time poet Emily Dickinson. Equal parts witty and tragic, Davies manages to walk the fine line between communicating to the viewer how sappingly dull Emily’s life was despite her hopes and wishes without boring the viewer, as he and a tour-de-force Cynthia Nixon performance paint a complex, sympathetic, and all-too-relatable picture of an independent, undervalued, and increasingly bitter woman forced to sit back and watch life happen to everyone but her. A stunning film.
Arrival: Nothing came close to Arrival at the London Film Festival, this year. Many films tried, one almost succeeded, but nothing else was remotely on the level of Denis Villenueve’s instant sci-fi classic that offers something for everyone – hard sci-fi, existentialism, edge-of-your-seat tension, sincere sentimentality – but still has a singular identity of its own. Containing many of the best scenes of the entire year (I am still in total awe of the phenomenal first contact sequence), Amy Adams’ best work in a long time, gorgeous cinematography from Bradford Young, an essential score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, and all masterfully handled by Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villenueve’s impeccable directing, Arrival is one of those films that really does remind you of just how powerful cinema can be. Smart, heartfelt, astoundingly beautiful, more adjectives that express positive emotions!
Chasing Asylum: Created with the intention of “shaming” the Australian government over their abhorrent and damn-near illegal immigration policies, Chasing Asylum has found itself more vital relevance given the current state of the Western world and our constant dehumanisation and discriminatory rhetoric towards refugees. An absolutely horrifying glimpse into the brutal and inhuman detention centres purposefully designed by the Australian government to convince those desperately needing help to turn back or stay locked in as prisoners, Eva Orner manages to create an incisive and righteous condemnation of the kinds of policies a worrying amount of other nations are believing to be the gold standard in immigration control without losing touch of the fact that these are human beings being affected by countries who see them as nothing more than statistical parasites. Mandatory viewing.
Christine/Kate Plays Christine: OK, so this is now technically a Top 11 list, but the two Christines are so inseparable from one another to me – both inadvertently complimenting and contrasting, justifying and negating each other’s existences – that I can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. Both tackling the live on-air suicide of local news journalist Christine Chubbuck in July of 1974 in different ways – Christine via an empathetic and highly-accurate depiction and communication of living with depression, Kate Plays Christine via examining the acting method, finding a meaning in an act that none of us can fully understand, and questioning the quietly sadistic reason why we’re all interested in Christine’s story in the first place – the two films are exceptional watches that have refused to leave my brain ever since I saw them. And, for the record, Kate Plays Christine is the better film, but Christine has resonated with me more, especially with its career-best Rebecca Hall performance.
Elle: Yeah, this one really grew on me. Partially because I saw two other films this festival that demonstrated in great detail just how badly this could have gone wrong, and partially because further discussion about it with other people has made the words coming out of my mouth not sound absolutely horrible. Elle is button-pushing cinema made by the master of button-pushing cinema, but it also never feels exploitative or offensive, the provocations coming out of a desire to make the viewer examine and re-examine their attitudes towards sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny – thankfully in ways that cannot be reduced to, and never even get close to, “maybe these are good things.” Paul Verhoeven directs with assured determination, Isabelle Huppert commandingly keeps things on track at all times with a fascinatingly complex performance, and it’s honestly refreshing to watch a drama about a middle-aged woman for a change. Plus, like I said before, it’s never ever dull.
My Life as a Courgette: Incredibly sweet, moving, and taking full advantage of the medium of Animation, My Life as a Courgette is a wonderful drama about life in a group home for orphaned, “damaged” children. It could stand to be longer than the 66 minutes it runs for, but that’s out of a desire to spend more time in its world and with its characters rather than any rushed storytelling issues. Crowdpleasing but powered by a melancholy undercurrent that doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the harsh reality that these kids are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to find a new home, and at turns very funny and quietly heartbreaking, Courgette is reminiscent of The Story of Tracy Beaker and is similarly a brilliant piece of work.
Nocturama: At the risk of sounding like every clichéd lad’s mag writer whenever they review a particularly nasty piece of work, Nocturama really does not give a f**k what you want it to be. It is bleak, confrontational, provocative, seemingly-pointless filmmaking that could lend itself to being called “punk rock” if it weren’t so intentionally detached in its direction, even when it is indulging in stylistic touches. But Bertrand Bonello’s near-masterpiece, if you get it, eventually reveals itself to a searing indictment of youthful arrogance, egocentrism, and pointless rebellion, a repudiation of materialism and indulgence, and a giant middle-finger to any act of authority-bucking born out of boredom. It is nasty, compulsive, angry, gripping, callous, essential viewing – Spring Breakers as delivered through the medium of domestic terrorism and without any of the sympathy, and just like Harmony Korine’s own near-masterpiece is gonna divide audiences like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll either get it or you really won’t, but those that do are in for one hell of a film.
The Handmaiden: The most pure fun I had at the entire festival, Park Chan-wook’s latest is the Park Chan-wook-iest film ever made, and all the better for it. The Handmaiden is the trashy psycho-sexual drama that Chan-wook was born to make and he puts on one hell of a directing masterclass, here, effortlessly jumping between tones, genres, and a pile-up of twists with skilful aplomb. Phenomenally acted, gorgeously shot, and refreshingly gay as all get out, The Handmaiden balances being ludicrous fun with a surprisingly insightful condemnation of misogynistic erotica and the patriarchy. It does feel about 15 minutes too long and is a little slow to get going, but even as the end credits were rolling I knew that the film was one that will only grow on repeat viewings, as prior knowledge of where things will end up shine a light on elements I missed the first time around. Plus, it’s a fantastic reminder that Park Chan-wook is still one of the very best directors in the business.
The Stopover: French film really cleaned house at this year’s festival, as you can probably tell. The Stopover is an uncompromising drama about PTSD, misogyny, and toxic masculinity, all brought to boil in the military, and all on the verge of bubbling over during a mandated “decompression” weekend in a 5-star Cyprus resort. Viewed through the eyes of the 3 women in a regiment otherwise entirely filled with men, The Stopover draws attention to just how tiring, draining, and menacing being exposed to this kind of rampant casual hatred from your ostensible comrades-in-arms can be, building up a surprisingly tense head of steam that pays off in a deeply disturbing way during its finale. This is one hell of a calling card for The Coulin Sisters, who have very bright futures ahead of them if they can make further films even half as good as this.
Women Who Kill: I had a very hard time deciding between this and Prevenge for the final slot, but in the end I gave the edge to Women Who Kill purely on the basis of Prevenge being basically guaranteed to get its due with the world when it gets a proper release, and Women Who Kill being hella gay. Sardonic, witty, very New York, but also capable of an unsettling streak when it aims for it, this twist on the “is my partner a murderous psychopath?” subgenre is super-entertaining viewing. Writer-director-and-star Ingrid Jungermann’s script is on-point, the performances are all spot on, and its specific immersion in the lesbian New York scene provides a refreshing perspective and a diverse and non-stereotypical collection of lesbian characters in film who all feel lived-in and somewhat real. A real discovery, Women Who Kill deserves to find a wider audience than it inevitably will.