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Chef

ChefChef is basically two hours of Jon Favreau working through his issues with the studio system.  Mainly because of this, it’s rather entertaining.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Chef is Jon Favreau: The Movie.  Any pretence that this film is telling a story about characters that have no relation to the film’s writer, director and star is jettisoned the moment Dustin Hoffman swaggers in and orders Jon Favreau’s chef to cook by menu, “play [his] hits,” as it were, and that, if he doesn’t like it, there are a million other people that Dustin Hoffman could easily replace Jon Favreau with as director of the kitchen.  If not by then, then it will most certainly become clear when Jon blows up at a food critic who trashed his cooking, questioning whether he cares that the hurtful stuff he writes genuinely hurts those he writes about.  This is not subtle.  It makes the high school parallels in Divergent look like the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song.  The film permanently seems five seconds away from actually dropping all of the pretence and having everyone just dramatize Jon Favreau’s post-Iron Man life.

One, therefore, may see Chef as a vanity project and little more, what with its extremely unsubtle real-life parallels, starring role for Favreau that lets him stretch himself beyond ‘funny comic relief guy’ and that he casts both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as his ex-wife and possible ex-lover respectively (the latter of which outright tells Favreau’s character at one point that he’s the best chef she ever worked with).  And… well… yeah, it kinda is.  The actual character work, and characters in general, populating the film are flimsy and undercooked and, once things head to Miami, nothing ever goes wrong for Favreau ever because he is the world’s greatest chef if people will just LET HIM DO WHAT HE DOES BEST INSTEAD OF CONSTRAINING HIS CREATIVE GENIUS, DAMMIT!!  That being said, I’d recommend not writing off Chef sight unseen.  It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s nothing memorable, but it is mildly amusing, rather entertaining, nearly always interesting and, brace yourself for the big one, it’s a comedy that runs for two hours… that I can’t see cutting down to 100 minutes!

Oh, I have your attention now, do I?

Our story, then.  By the by, I’m going to dispense with much of the pretence and just straight up tell you the “subtext” cos it’s that unsubtle and it saves me time later on.  Jon Favreau is a chef, a very well-respected chef, at that, who caused a splash ten years ago as a hungry guy wanting to make a name for himself.  He’s currently employed at a big, fancy and relatively famous restaurant that’s about to get reviewed by the biggest food blogger in town and he wants to surprise the guy, cook up something original and shocking and biting and all that jazz.  The restaurant’s owner, Dustin Hoffman, thinks that’s not a good idea, being too risk-averse, and orders Favreau to cook by menu, reasoning that people who go to see The Rolling Stones want to hear them play ‘Satisfaction’.  This ends disastrously, Favreau’s heart is clearly not in it and the critic tears apart both the food, which is too safe and generic, and Favreau himself, believing him to be over-the-hill and also fat jokes cos critics are dicks.

Favreau does not take this well, with the review and Favreau’s resulting meltdown at the critic going viral.  Fired from his job for refusing to follow orders, Favreau’s ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) convinces him to meet her successful first ex-husband, Robert Downey Jr., and get back to basics.  Gifted a food truck, Favreau decides to take his little low budget venture on the road, making smaller products with more heart that may connect with the public more and revitalise his love for his art.  Tagging along are his son, EmJay Anthony, who doesn’t see his dad much but aspires to follow in his culinary footsteps, and his old workmate, represented here by John Leguizamo, where father and son may just bond together and learn a thing or two about a thing or two.

It’s even less subtle than that, before you ask.  A good 50-60% of Chef really is just Jon Favreau working through his frustrating studio experiences via the thinnest of metaphors.  Not that that’s a bad thing inherently, mind.  A fair bit of the film’s entertainment value comes from just how far the metaphor goes, in much the same way that 22 Jump Street’s appeal comes from just how far that film is willing to push its central joke, “we are a pointless sequel and we’re well aware of that fact.”  It also helps that the execution is rarely cringe worthy or overly blatant, the lone exceptions come during the times when Favreau meets up with the critic that wrote the nasty things about him (embodied by Oliver Platt).  Those times trot out the usual “what you say hurts me! I make art, what do you do?  Just sit behind your computer and vomit words” clichés that typically accompany artists ranting against critics.  (It’s not the heckler bit from Louie, is what I’m getting at.)  Otherwise, the execution remains interesting, it becomes a kind of fun little exercise to see Favreau working through his problems and seemingly rediscovering his love for filmmaking.

See, the film does have characters, which makes this a landmark point in Sofia Vergara’s acting career if nothing else, but they take a backseat, along with nearly everything else that’s not related to the metaphor.  Even the food stuff feels more like an extension of that metaphor instead of a total love of food, there are several scenes where Favreau explains his creative process to his son that come across far more as his creative process to filmmaking than food-making (especially when he mentions that he first goes looking for ingredients and only then decides what he’s going to cook, he doesn’t go in with a fully-formed pl-it’s a reference to the creation of Iron Man, alright).  The whole enterprise feels less like a story that Favreau wanted to tell and more like he just decided to make a film and see if it made him fall in love with filmmaking again.  Such a theory is practically confirmed when it comes time for the film’s ending to occur, which the film practically crashes into and is over before it has a chance to become satisfying.  Again, though, it is fascinating to watch, feeling relatively raw and personal instead of pretentious and whiney.

Look, I apologise for spending so long fixated on the metaphor side of Chef.  I know a lot of you will be able to get past it, or maybe not even clock onto it (although I have no idea how you would, I have seen South Park episodes with subtler allusions and metaphors), but it really does constitute the meat of the film.  Outside of it, you have the barest of plots about a father and son bonding over a shared enthusiasm (if you choose to read it like that and not, say, as the kid merely being a representative vessel for Favreau’s increasing realisation that he does still love making movies) and a very glossed over subplot of Favreau reconnecting with his ex-wife Vergara because… I actually don’t know, it’s that glossed over.  I should note that I’m not knocking the film for these things, I’m just letting you know how incidental the whole thing is.

Besides, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about with regards to the film outside of that subtext.  It’s all fine and pleasant.  There’s a runtime that’s just shy of two hours and though it feels like that at times, the film is paced well enough, and its content serves the whole metaphor point enough, to make it hard for me to find scenes to cut out to reduce that time to 90-or-so minutes.  There aren’t really any big laugh out loud moments and I guarantee that there are no jokes you’ll think back to 12 hours after seeing the film and go “that was hilarious” or some such, but the film is still funny.  It has very charming actors and actresses striking up a great enough chemistry with one another to make exchanges amusing, even if nothing particularly funny is being said.  Praise should especially go to EmJay Anthony who is not only hugely non-irritating, he’s able to keep up with Jo(h)ns Favreau and Leguizamo.  Food, meanwhile, is very often shot excellently, which is a hard thing to do right on film and television.  Not up to Hannibal standards of “mmm, that looks de-licious” but enough that I felt legitimately peckish for some high-quality grub as I left the cinema.  Also, for whatever it’s worth, I really like the film’s soul, Cuban and groove-laced soundtrack; Jon Favreau (and/or his music supervisor) has excellent taste in music.

Yes, I am stretching for stuff to talk about but there’s one last thing that deserves some conversation.  Chef loves social media.  Chef loves social media.  If social media and Chef were embodied by real life people (which the film kinda is, anyway), they would have a hopelessly romantic meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind fairy-tale romance that culminates in a magical beach-side wedding at sunset.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, the celebrity gossip website Holy Moly!; all these and more get prominent screen time and are actually relevant to the plot, as well as being the subject of hi-larious gags about how Favreau has no idea how the Internet works (he tweets an insult at the food critic who wrote the negative review cos he thought the service worked like text messaging).  It’s equal parts toe-curlingly awkward, like when your dad posts a “selfie” of himself having a day out in Scarborough, and strangely progressive.  Like, yeah, the film does mine the expected jokes out of Favreau not knowing how social media works and his son being a whizz with it because kids today and their computermabobs, but the usage of social media is actually vital to the plot.  It ends up being utilised as a tool for good, a way for Favreau and his low-budget venture to travel around drumming up buzz and connecting with the people who matter.  It’s refreshingly free of cynicism or confused-dad-“when-I-was-YOUR-age”-ness which, if nothing else, puts it above f*cking Transcendence.  It does officially go too far when 1 Second Everyday comes up for the sole purpose of adding some feels to the finale, but get over the initial “oh, no, Dad’s trying to get down with the kids” response you will inevitably have when it comes up and it’s not actually a problem.

Chef, then, is more of an extended therapy session for Jon Favreau than it is a movie in its own standalone right.  That therapy session, though, is always interesting and frequently entertaining; it’s definitely the most personal thing Favreau has been involved in in a good decade and it’s nice to see him seemingly fall back in love with his art again.  Outside of that, there’s not much here.  There are funnier films available now, there are more heartwarming films available now, there are TV shows with better food porn on the air right now.  On the surface level, it’s a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.  I would, however, be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for what it is under that surface.  You may too, but that depends on both your knowledge of the film industry and your tolerance for “inside-baseball” stuff.

So, with Favreau having rediscovered his passion for filmmaking by going back to his roots and delivering a deeply personal work, I look forward to seeing what he’s going to transfer that passion into next!  … …“he’s making a live-action, CG version of The Jungle Book for Disney?”  Well, in that case, either he’s a quick forgiver, or I eagerly await the spiritual successor to this in 2020!

Callum Petch saw you standing on the opposite shore.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie

Although this fact may surprise quite literally no-one, Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is awful.  Hoo, boy, is it awful.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

DARDIS1+MRS+BROWNS+BOYS_33The continuing mega-success of Mrs. Brown’s Boys bewilders me.  It truly does.  Hell, the fact that something like it was turned into a television show in 2011 alone bewilders me.  The show feels ripped straight from the 80s, from its music to its sets to its raucous studio audience to its total lack of stakes and the like.  I hesitate to label it a throwback because I don’t think that adequately conveys just how much like a rejected 80s sitcom it is.  I also hesitate to label it a throwback because Only Fools And Horses existed in the 80s and to even so much as insinuate that the former is even close to Only Fools in quality is quite possibly the biggest insult one could throw at British comedy as a whole.

Mrs. Brown’s Boys the show, you see, is garbage.  Total and utter garbage.  For one, there are no jokes.  There are no set-ups, no punch-lines, no semblance of pacing in their construction or delivery and no intelligence in their design.  The fourth wall breaks are pointless and add nothing except a distraction, the inclusion of outtakes in the final cut of the episode only serve to kill the non-existent pacing and colour the entire enterprise as amateurish and slap-dash, and when it starts sermonising on star and writer Brendan O’Carroll’s thoughts on the world?  It’s like those “I learned something today…” parts from South Park except played completely straight and even more unbearable.  It’s aggressively unfunny and, yes before you jump in, I have seen several episodes (two full ones and snatches of other ones) so I do feel quite qualified to impart my opinion on the show.  And the show is shite.

Yet, it is popular shite, seeing as something being shite has almost never stopped it from becoming famous.  Popular enough to get a movie.  A full movie.  One that lasts 96 minutes which is just over the combined length of three episodes of the show.  One that has a reported budget of $6 million.  You know what the budget for In The Loop, the film version of The Thick Of It, was?  Just under $1 million.  So, not only did the BBC deem this worthy of a budget six times that of one of the century’s best comedy films, it’s also practically guaranteed to open with nearly twice the gross of In The Loop (£4 million).  I felt like waiting at the entrance of the nearly sold-out cinema screen prior to the movie and shouting in the face of everybody who walked in “AND JUST WHERE THE F*CK WERE YOU WHEN IN THE LOOP CAME OUT?!”  I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, we live in a world where some enterprising young studio head deemed that the Great British public, and cinema-lovers across the world in general, were deserving of movies based around Keith Lemon and Harry Hill.  What’s one more to add to the growing pile of evidence that we, as a collective nation, considered by the rest of the world to be the finest purveyors in comedy, have officially lost all taste in humour?

As you may be able to deduce from the tone of the prior three paragraphs, I was not approaching my assignment with much in the way of hopeful positive enthusiasm.  You may, therefore, pre-emptively decide to dismiss this review outright, citing reviewer bias or baggage or some other such stuff.  I would like to refute your claims, that going in with low expectations and a less-than-sunny attitude taints my critical opinion, by calling attention to my thoughts on The Fault In Our Stars, a film that I went into expecting to actively dislike and prove resistant to; my genuine reaction upon first viewing that film’s trailer was a succinct “nope!”  Instead, it proved to be a legitimately heart-wrenching film with excellent lead performances, a film I very much liked.  Just because I was expecting nothing, doesn’t mean I can’t admit the film in question is any good.  I’m not that unprofessional.

So, with that cleared up, it is my professional and unbiased critical opinion that Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is complete and total shit.  I went in hopeful that the 96 minutes it ran for would make it less painful than similarly total crapfest comedies I’ve recently had to sit through that ran for two hours, and was proven to be wrong about the time that O’Carroll showed up playing the single most racist Asian stereotype I have been subjected to in a good long while.  This film is appalling, a complete mess of conflicting tones, lack of jokes, regressive stereotypes, cheap production values, unearned drama and heart, and prolonged soapboxing.  It is dire and the sustained laughter that greeted most every frame by the packed audience will prove to be one of life’s greatest mysteries to me, one that shall remain unanswered even as I wither and die unloved and unmourned.

The plot, then, what little there is, concerns Agnes Brown’s (Brendan O’Carroll in case you had yet to figure out the show’s central hook) family owned market stall coming under threat from unpaid debts, scheming politicians for some reason that is never explained, and Russian gangsters for reasons that are never explained but likely boil down to ‘it’s a movie so we need an overlong and painfully unfunny action/chase scene in the last third”.  I would also accept “because foreigners are funny,’ what with all of the casual racism going about it.  Do you find Russians saying “rip off their head and sheet down their neck” a thing that is automatically hilarious?  How about that same ‘joke’ being repeated ad verbatim with no changes in set-up, delivery or design in the space of about 10 minutes?  Well, today is your lucky day because Brendan O’Carroll has made the movie villains for you!

That’s it, by the way.  That one sentence is the whole extent of the film’s plot.  The politician is in league with the Russians but they’re relegated to “Third Act Chase Scene Fodder” as the real villains are tax collectors who are seeking €3.8 million in unpaid taxes because Mrs. Brown willingly refuses to pay taxes (in the words of Joel Hodgson, “Our hero, ladies and gentlemen”).  The plot is flimsier than the ‘jokes’ that are strewn about the film; jokes so lazy that writers of Chuck Lorre sitcoms would throw them out for being so terrible (or, at least, had been edited out of their first drafts).  Hey!  Do you know The Pink Panther theme song?  Well that plays as two characters plan to sneak their way into a building.  That is the entire extent of the joke.  Ditto the Chariots Of Fire theme for when the gay stereotype son gets ready to swim the channel in an ill-fitting swimsuit (the costume is also the entire extent of the joke).  And The A-Team theme when it seems that help has arrived.  And how about ‘She’s A Lady’ by Tom Jones during the opening which show’s Mrs. Brown getting ready for her day?

“Callum,” you may now be going, “You’ve only listed one joke four times.  What others are there that suck?”  Fair enough.  Do you find a man in drag who is supposed to seem sweet suddenly swearing a giant rib-tickler?  Everyone involved in this seems to think so and it’s the film’s main stock in trade, so you’d better too.  Does a whole bunch of characters mistaking a man of Indian heritage for a Jamaican just bring you to your knees in hysterics at the mere concept?  I hope so, cos that’s the entire extent of the joke.  Do you think blind people being blind but attempting physical activities is a knee-slapper of epic proportions?  How about if they’re part of a ninja group?  In full not-at-all-racial-stereotyping ninja get-up?  And what if they were led by a guy, also played by O’Carroll, who is the single most unpleasantly racist Asian stereotype I have come across since I can’t even remember?  How racist?  His entire character, his entire character for a guy who gets at least 15 minutes of screen-time (and is possibly going to be the subject of a spin-off movie in our very unpleasant future), is that he talks like the City Wok guy from South Park but with an even more played up accent.

The flagrantly casual racism that embeds itself throughout the film infuriates me because a) it’s racist and we really should be past this by now and b) the film has a near-five minute stretch during its climax where one of its characters (the daughter, played by Jennifer Gabney) stands up and proceeds to soapbox for an unbearably long time about… stuff.  Honestly, I’m not sure what the overall point even was, which could be the most damning criticism against the whole segment, but there was one point where they specifically call out the progressive and inclusive nature of Ireland.  How it is a wonderful country that is loving and accepting of all races and creeds and sexual orientations and that we should celebrate people being people.  This, from a film that not 10 minutes prior had asked you to laugh at the return appearance of a man who speaks like Kim Jong-Il from Team America having a stroke, to laugh at a barrister who has Tourette’s and that’s funny because swearwords and nonsense, and to, during the speech no less, once again laugh at the fact that someone thought The Indian came from Jamaica.  The joke is not on the characters for finding these things funny and being terrible people for thinking so, because the characters are wonderful human beings who you’re supposed to care for, it’s on the racist stereotypes.  There is no subversive edge, no point, just “laugh at the people who dare to be born different!”  Yet it still wants to preach a message of tolerance and progressiveness despite that.

In fact, Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is perhaps one of the most regressive films that attempts to seem progressive that I can recall seeing.  In addition to the previously mentioned casual racism, and the one-note jokes against Tourette’s sufferers and blind people, the film dares to paint a daughter’s decision to not follow in her mother’s footsteps (in this case, inheriting the running of a market stall that’s been in the Brown family for generations) as some inconceivable notion, with the inevitable wrapping up of said subplot being a heart-warming moment of true family values and bonds… despite said character never once showing a vested interest in going into the business and repeatedly stating that it’s not for her.  Meanwhile, there’s a plot-twist about a character putting her kids into care temporarily because she can’t provide for them otherwise, and it’s painted as the absolute worst thing any mother could ever do… despite the fact that it is made quite clear that the kids were better off being in care for those few weeks because the mother really couldn’t care for them.  I mean, after all, admitting that maybe you do need some help and can’t quite make it on your own is quite literally the worst thing you could ever do, right?

Anyways, back to the jokes, of which there are none and what ones there appear to be suffer from the same problems as the ones in the show: lack of set-ups, punchlines, intelligence, etc.  There’s also a really mean-spirited streak of dark humour running throughout the film.  An old person who has gone senile wanders into the street and gets hit by a bus, yet the film remains all jovial and light.  Grandad attempts to blow up a pub full of Russians but the explosives expert he hires has Parkinson’s and so blows himself up, yet the film remains all jovial and light.  A blind man in a ninja uniform accidentally runs into the street and gets hits by a vehicle, yet the film remains all you get the point.  Much of the film’s humour runs off of relatively light things, like musical cues or dragged up men swearing despite supposedly being sweet old ladies, characters mistaking things for other things or sexual single-entendre (to say that they were double-entendres would be giving them way too much credit).  To suddenly have casual racism or death brought up as light-hearted joke fodder, in a pathetic attempt to give the film edge, just feels needlessly cruel.  This is not South Park, where anything goes and nothing is off-limits, yet it sometimes acts like it is.

The fourth wall leans and breakages are poor and lazy.  In comparison to 22 Jump Street, where the fourth wall leans and lampshade hangings are worked into its DNA, it’s embarrassing.  There’s a bit where the camera keeps dramatically zooming in on Mrs. Brown until it very noticeably fake-ly breaks in a gag I am sure you have never ever seen before in anything at all ever.  Mrs. Brown’s friend Winnie, when they’re looking for ways to break into the tax organisation’s office, suggests that Agnes disguise herself as a man and the film stops dead for five seconds to make 100% certain that every single soul in the audience has gotten the joke “because Mrs. Brown is actually A MAN DRESSED AS A WOMAN!”  The inclusion of outtakes, meanwhile, are even more out of place, here.  There are three in the film and they only serve to disrupt the flow; a scene where Russians are threatening Mrs. Brown’s sons loses all of its potential threat or menace because they leave in a take where everyone starts corpsing for no apparent reason for a few seconds, whilst a scene with a receptionist has O’Carroll forget his line, improvise something stupid and then starts again so that we can do it for real.  Their inclusion makes the whole thing seem like it was thrown together by rank amateurs, especially because THERE IS A GODDAMN OUTTAKES MONTAGE OVER THE END CREDITS ANYWAY!

Performances are dreadful.  Everyone acts like there’s a studio audience just off-screen at all times, so half ham up their performance so much that Jim Carrey would think they’ve gone overboard, whilst the other half can’t act period and flatly deliver their lines with all of the interest of someone who’s been made to watch the World Paint-Drying Championships.  The most egregious offender of the former is Simon Delaney as solicitor Tom Crews (yes, that is the whole joke, and it is explained too in case you didn’t get it) who cannot make it through a single line without actively straining to find a funny way to deliver his trite dialogue, whilst the latter goes to Jennifer Gabney whose work only serves to make the soapbox segment even more insufferable.  Brendan O’Carroll at least seems to be having fun as both Mrs. Brown and Walking Racist Asian Stereotype, although I may be misinterpreting that as glee for swindling myself, and millions of other people who don’t know any better, out of their hard-earned cash.  He’s not funny, but he’s at least committed, which must count for something, I guess.

Oh, look.  I’m out of time and I didn’t get around to talking about the film’s half-assed attempt to inject some heart and drama despite giving us absolutely zero reason to give a shit about these terrible, unfunny, unentertaining characters.  Fitting, really.

Look, the nicest thing I can say about Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is that it is not The Worst Film I Have Seen So Far This Year like I had predicted it to be back in January.  That, however, reflects more on the quality of 2014’s suckiest movies so far than it does Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie.  This was utter tripe that was painful to sit through.  Actively unfunny from start to finish, a film that went out of its way to ensure that my time was being thoroughly wasted, stuffed from head to toe with the laziest and cheapest ‘gags’ imaginable, all executed with total ineptitude.  I know that humour is subjective and that one man’s Disaster Movie is another man’s Airplane!, but I am begging you to keep this from being a hit.  Please, for all that is sacred, let this one bomb.  Let it bomb and let it take the entirety of the Mrs. Brown’s Boys empire with it.  Let it take Brendan O’Carroll’s box-office and creative clout with it, because, I swear to Alanis Morissette, I refuse, I REFUSE, to be subjected to a spin-off film about the racist Asian stereotype in my far-flung future.

We used to have standards with our comedies.  Now a film where a man in drag gets his tights stuck in an escalator is going to print box office money.  Where the fuck did we go wrong?

Callum Petch lived too fast in this fantasy.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Fault In Our Stars

fault-in-our-stars-posterIt may follow a few too many of the tragedy-softening conventions it promises to subvert, but The Fault In Our Stars still packs one hell of an emotional gut-punch.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I was dreading this one, folks.  Not in the ways that most of its target audience were likely dreading it (the marketing certainly wanted me to be dreading it in that way, in any case), but because it set off way too many alarm bells.  I am extremely resistant to films that blatantly try to push my emotions in certain directions because I detest such things; if a film wants me to spring a leak in the tear department, it should actually work for it instead of just throwing on a whole bunch of elements that will become tragic later on, sugercoat it by playing a Peter Gabriel song, in the words of the film itself, and shouting “YOU WILL CRY OR YOU ARE A HEARTLESS MONSTER” at me.  The Fault In Our Stars looked like that kind of movie.  “It’s a romance between a teenage girl who is dying of cancer and a young man whose cancer is in remission!  START THE COUNTDOWN CLOCK TO THE TEARS!”  And really not helping the film’s case was the trailer, the one that played before every gorram film for the past two months and made it look exactly like the sickeningly sweet and manipulative trash piece I’d pegged it for from that abysmal tagline (“One Sick Love Story”).

So I was disarmed by the film I ended up sitting through.  I mean, yeah, it’s still syrupy and calculated to break your heart in two in the messiest and most painful fashion imaginable, but The Fault In Our Stars wasn’t content to call it a day there.  Real effort has been put in making the romance something to genuinely invest in and it sometimes has a genuine edge that breaks through the schmaltz to inject a string of black comedy or subversiveness that makes all of the characters involved feel like people rather than ciphers or vessels for future tragedy.  Its sharpest edges have clearly been sanded down for Hollywood (something I can tell even though I have not read the book), but the personality and depth are prevalent enough to make the result more than just a tear factory.  Although it is utterly heart-breaking.  Utterly.

The story powering the factory centres around Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a sixteen-year-old living with terminal thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs.  Her life is a simple yet sad one: she watches reality TV, she constantly reads and re-reads her favourite novel “An Imperial Affliction” and she attends cancer support groups because her mother (supposedly mistakenly, if we believe Hazel) thinks she’s depressed.  It is at one of these meetings that she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Egort), an eighteen year-old whose cancer is currently in remission, although not before costing him his right leg, and is a charming individual who almost immediately falls in love with Hazel.  His devil-may-care and laidback attitude prove to be what Hazel needs and the two begin bonding, although Hazel tries to keep her distance as she’s worried that she’ll destroy him emotionally when the cancer finally catches up to her.  You can probably tell where this is all heading.

Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that this time.  The opening 40 or so minutes, especially, the film establishes its leads as actual people rather than walking pity parades/ticking time-bombs.  An early visit to the cancer support group, for example, ends up very blackly funny by reframing the experience as wholly patronising to those it purports to help.  Both of our leads, as well as secondary character Isaac (played by Nat Wolff from The Naked Brothers Band in case you ever wanted a walking case study on how starring in a Nickelodeon sitcom at a young age needn’t always lead to premature career suicide) whose cancer is about to claim the second of his two eyes, are just as comfortable in cracking wise about their illnesses as they are making melodramatic speeches about its effects.  And things in their relationship move slowly enough to give time for their bond to feel meaningful; these are two characters who fall in mutual love because they’re people who feel connected with one another, whose lives are enhanced by knowing one another, rather than it being predicated on one another’s ability to speak like their every line is a rejected piece of Shakespeare prose.  I mean, that last part is still sometimes the case in the film’s dialogue, but it rarely feels clunky.  Hell, at points it seems natural, the result of two teenagers forced to grow up too fast as they deal with their mortality; of course they may end up wise beyond their years.

The fact that the film was able to make me think this way about Gus is especially noteworthy, seeing as his character doesn’t exactly have the best of starts.  He initially pressed far too many of my “this character is walking wish-fulfilment bait rather than an actual character worthy of my sympathy” buttons.  He was hunky, had a smirk/smile that made his face the most punch-able thing I had come across in a good long while, is relentless in his pursuit of Hazel (which, given recent tragic real-life events, is something we need to stop portraying as a good thing in works of fiction, I believe) and has an idiosyncratic tick that he justifies as “a metaphor” (he likes to put cigarettes in his mouth, a thing that could kill him, but not light them, therefore not giving the thing that could kill him the power to kill him, and yes I know that that’s not what a metaphor means).  Hell, even later on, after the film dials back and grounds him a bit more, he still gets dangerously close to the line between “actual human being” and “The World’s Most Perfect Man”.

It’s predominately a testament to Ansel Egort that Gus never ends up straying over that line, instead turning into somebody I begrudgingly liked, then really cared for and then shed buckets of tears over.  No matter how ridiculously nice and amazing and pretentious Gus gets, Egort is there to root out the humanity at the centre of the character and keep him rooted back down on planet Earth.  He also strikes up lightening chemistry with Shailene Woodley, who is also excellent.  Unlike her co-star, Woodley doesn’t have to keep her character from veering off the cliff of likability and can instead focus on being the emotional centre of the film, something she excels at due being totally engaged with the script at all times, even in the voiceover (which wasn’t exactly her strong suit beforehand, as anyone who saw Divergent will likely quite gladly tell you).  No matter how wordy the script may get, no matter how melodramatic a scene may end up, they play it all very naturally.  Nothing they do seems particularly forced, barring the odd exception (an egging sequence involves a line said by Gus that I am amazed everybody let slip through without calling out due to its pretentious stupidity), and that very grounded and realist performance work, regardless of the material, is what made connecting with these characters so easy.

Of course, that naturalist acting is at times at odds with the melodramatic yet squeaky-clean nature of the film itself.  Yes, despite stating its intent at the very top of the film to subvert all of the softening and sugar-coating that typically goes on in Hollywood tellings of tragedies, The Fault In Our Stars doesn’t do so nearly as much as it would like to/thinks it’s doing.  This isn’t too much of a problem, as it doesn’t sand down the stuff that matters too much, but it’s most noticeable when the film doesn’t quite know that enough is enough.  By that I mean there are times when the film indulges in romance and melodrama tropes which would be perfectly fine if it learnt to pull back every now and again, cos when it goes all in, it goes all in.  At one point, Hazel has an episode and the entire sequence is presented in slow-motion with all diegetic sound removed and replaced with a mournful violin and piano.  There’s a section during the finale that utilises flashbacks and then practically drowns the screen in soft focus, slow-panning and lens flares.  Most egregiously, there’s a bit where Hazel and Gus are visiting Anne Frank’s House and Hazel, whose lungs are very weak, has to climb some stairs.  The scene is backed by slightly worried music and shot in such a way that the point is adequately conveyed, but then the scene keeps working in “relevant” Anne Frank quotes and builds up to a big romantic gesture in a way that would be offensive if it weren’t so unintentionally silly.

These are the most notable instances of the film going overboard and, thankfully, they’re in the minority.  Most of the rest of the softening instead comes from the film’s score and soundtrack which are, you guessed it, dreamy reverb-drenched guitar and piano instrumentals, and soft indie-folk respectively.  They’re fine, most are really quite nice in isolation (I do have a soft spot for well executed versions of both of those), but they do betray the edge the film wants to have.  It’s why the appearance of the cantankerous author of Hazel and Gus’ favourite novel (Willem Dafoe who… well, Willem Dafoes the entire time he’s on screen) feels very weird, his love of Swedish hip-hop, and tonally mean-spirited and out-of-place instead of natural and intentional.  I feel like you could cut his appearance out of the film (keep the trip to Amsterdam but just cut him out) and not really lose a whole lot besides 10 minutes, which would actually help the film in all honesty (it’s a little bit too long).  Failing that, it could work but it just requires more commitment to that end of the cynicism-optimism spectrum than the film is willing to try, seeing as it believes that such a tone would necessitate the removal of a romantic candlelit dinner in a fancy restaurant.  The film nearly strays back in that direction by hinting repeatedly at Hazel’s dissatisfaction with how her parents handle looking after her (her mother is relentlessly positive and her father keeps his distance), but it doesn’t fully commit which gives off the impression that later drafts of this script severely cut down on that element.  Again, none of this is bad, because Egort and Woodley are excellent and the film manages to get a good balance between their natural performances and its commercial melodrama leanings, but the hints of an even better film are too tantalising and… and…

…ah, sod it.  I honestly can’t sit here and pick straws at what the film could have been or how it seems a bit too sanitised and safe and sugar-coated than initially planned.  Well, I mean, I can, but to do so is pointless in the face of this one fact: about 80 minutes in, The Fault In Our Stars finally pulls out its knife and emotionally shivs you in the gut, at which point the tears started and really didn’t let up in any considerable way for a good half hour afterwards.  It didn’t matter that I had called the turn from the first time that I saw the trailer, it didn’t matter that the film had not-in-the-least-bit subtly arranged the pieces from frame one to get this outcome, none of the other issues and hang-ups mattered a damn bit.  I was gone.  The dam protecting the waterworks had burst and nothing short of a friggin’ miracle or a re-appearance of Willem Dafoe Willem Dafoe-ing was going to stop them.  This is where Woodley and Egort really get to come into their own, as they transfer all of that hard work spent building up their relationship and funnel it into their new reality with its impending countdown clock of oblivion.  It never once feels fake, they never once strain for emotion, they never once give off the aura of “see me acting, I am all the acting”.  Hell, one or the other spends pretty much every scene afterwards shedding tears and it still works.  There’s even a bit at a gas station where the film once again indulges in its melodrama impulses and Egort lets loose, yet it still works and doesn’t break the mood or spell the film is under.

I spent a fair bit of the drive back from the cinema questioning how much of that emotional release was due to the film itself and how much was due to personal events in my life that I’m honestly not sure I’ll ever get over (my granddad passed away due to cancer late last year), and I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of it is down to the work the film puts in in those first 80 or so minutes.  A real attachment had been forged between myself and Gus & Hazel, despite the fact that the entire film had been very obviously constructed around the moment the tragedy button is pushed and the fact that they rarely talk like one would expect normal teenagers to.  To see their genuinely romantic relationship be slowly and devastatingly torn asunder during those last 40 minutes was genuinely upsetting and every time I thought I had cried all that I could cry, the film would once again throw up another poignant scene between the pair that would set me off all over again.  I may have been played like a goddamn fiddle and I do not care.

And, in the end, is that really a bad thing?  Movies are genetically engineered to force certain reactions out of us, after all.  Can one really get mad at a film for doing what it was supposed to do?  Can I really pick a film apart for hitting me with only about 80% of the power it teases potentially having because it doesn’t quite nail the pre-tragedy tone?  Can I really call a film out on its extremely manipulative romance and tragedy when I was eating both up hook line and sinker?  I may have had some personal investment in one of the film’s main themes, but that doesn’t explain away the exceptional work that leads Ansel Egort and Shailene Woodley put in and how I was wrapped up in them long before the countdown clock made its presence known.  I could put a hundred asterisks to my recommendation of this film, I could nit-pick or just plain pick until the sun went down and I could try to pithily offer a backhanded compliment with my recommendation.

But all of them distract from these two facts.  1] The Fault In Our Stars somehow just plain works.  2] I cried profusely for 30 of its final 40 minutes (which includes the end credits).  End of story, go see it.  Okay?

Callum Petch will stay here and never push things to the side.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Following Takes Place Between 2005 And 2014

24 LADRight now: terrorists are plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, my wife and daughter have been targeted, and people that I work with may be involved in both.  I’m FailedCritics writer Callum Petch, and today is the longest day of my life.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

On Wednesday, 24: Live Another Day successfully managed to make me cry as they killed off a major character (I shan’t specify here for the benefit of those of you who are either not caught up yet or are saving all of the episodes for marathoning at a later date).  Two weeks ago, they revealed that another character was a mole and my response was of gleeful shock instead of eye-rolling.  Last week, the show pulled off an action sequence that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat even though they obviously weren’t going to kill off Jack Bauer, c’mon, that’d be like ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania (shut up)!  Hell, from frame one, this season had my attention and when it finally ran that intro, I realised that 9PM Wednesday nights for the next 11 weeks were going to be the sole property of 24, much like how 9PM Sunday nights were the sole property of 24 for a good four years before.

24 and I have a history.  See, 24 was the first prime-time drama I ever watched.  I was 10 years old in 2005 (and, yes, I do realise that I have made the majority of the people on staff here, and likely a fair percentage of the reader-base, feel really old by saying that) and the demo disc that accompanied one of my Official PlayStation 2 Magazines had a video hyping the future release of 24: The Game.  Being 10 years old in 2005, I got excited for pretty much anything assuming that it looked cool enough.  And 24: The Game looked cool, it had gun fights and car chases and people shouting really loudly at other people and it all looked really exciting.  (You may think poorly of me for this line of thought but Enter The Matrix was what got me into The Matrix, in the same way that my love of cartoons got me into The Animatrix, so there was a method to my madness.)  I was sold on the game and, consequently, resolved to take a shot at the show.

It took a little convincing my dad but I managed to get his permission to record an episode one Sunday night on VHS (yes, it was 2005 and my dad was still recording shows with VHS, what of it) for me to watch the following day after I got home from school and finished my homework (I was a real boy scout in my formative years, feel free to mock).  Without having to look it up, I can tell you that episode was Day 4, 9:00pm – 10:00pm and involved the season’s big bad Marwan holding Jack Bauer hostage, whilst he set plans in motion to shoot down Air Force One.  I know that a lot of people like to use this phrase in regards to things that they are overly impressed by, but it really was like absolutely nothing 10 year-old me had ever seen before.  The hour was fast, it was brutal, it was stylish with its split-screens and that ominous ticking clock, and it had my full undivided attention for the entire hour it ran.  Lower down on the list but also important, it was filled to the nines with plots and history and characters that I had no prior knowledge of but were clearly important prior to the episode and for the episode in general; as a 10 year-old who was used to cartoons and Nickelodeon sitcoms, the idea of the events of one episode of a show carrying over and informing the events of another one was mindblowing to me.  I was hooked, I wanted more of whatever it was selling and to subscribe its newsletter etc.

So, naturally, I didn’t check in again until the last four hours of Day 4, VHS recording of digital channels being what it was.  Not that it mattered, though, as the damage was already done and I was determined to see more.  BBC Two re-ran parts of Day 1 over the Summer and I have vague memories of forcing 10 year-old me, who was always in bed for no later than 8PM (yes, you may yuck it up at this fact), to stay up to the twilight hours of the morning in order to catch Jack Bauer rescuing his wife and daughter from the terrorists and defying the odds by saving presidential candidate David Palmer.  Christmas 2005 brought me the complete Day 4 boxset, a present I had been begging for for about six months; my parents even took me into the store as they bought it to make absolutely sure that it was the right present and everything, like they knew I would never forgive them if they screwed up.

Day 5 was scheduled to begin just over three weeks after Christmas Day.  I finished that Day 4 boxset before 2005 was out.  As soon as the credits on one episode had passed, it was straight onto the next one with the only self-imposed breaks coming from toilet stops and refilling drinks, and breaks imposed on me by society (like “Christmas dinner” and “you have go to bed” and “you’ve watched enough for today, come and spend time with your family”) lasting for the bare minimum of time and not one second more.  24 just had its hooks in me, it was compulsive viewing.  The relentless pace of the show, combined with its (on the surface) serious tone, had a sense of urgency that I simply hadn’t experienced before.  Most cartoons and kids’ sitcoms, well the ones that I watched and liked anyway, were very relaxed.  There were conflicts and moments of drama, but it all still felt safe and relaxing, that these were issues that could be resolved at any point without any danger to the characters involved, especially since some kind of funny joke would be along at any point to diffuse the tension.  The constant ticking of the clock, though, which always re-appeared on screen whenever the pacing seemed on the verge of dipping, kept that from happening.  These were real threats with real stakes that needed resolving now and that urgency wasn’t being let up until either the threat was resolved or the hour was over.

And that feeling of events having real stakes was compounded by how often 24 would actually let the bad guys get one over on the heroes. Again, at 10 years old, 11 when I finally got the Day 4 boxset, I was conditioned by the shows I watched to expect the heroes to win.  The heroes would always win.  No matter the obstacle, no matter how bleak the situation looked, the villains would never significantly hurt anyone and the heroes would always foil them.  Perhaps as a result of their season structure (filling 24 hours’ worth of programming is likely very hard), 24 would sometimes let the villains actually do some real damage.  Killing off major characters, revealing that certain characters were evil all along, having several attacks go off without a hitch.  I was not prepared for it.  “You don’t let the bad guys win!  That’s supposed to be Storytelling 101, right?”  There was only one other show that I was watching at the time that did that on about as regular a basis as 24, Codename: Kids Next Door (and I’ll have more about that in the near future), but it shocked me.  It also reinforced the idea that Jack Bauer, and his friends and co-workers at CTU and in the government, were only human.  Sure, they would eventually take down the bad guys and bring them to justice, but they weren’t infallible.  They weren’t superhuman, they couldn’t stop everything all the time and I wasn’t used to heroes that were that vulnerable.

Of course, being 10/11 years old, I was enamoured with Jack Bauer.  He was just the definition of cool: a man dedicated to serving his country and willing to go as far as he had to in order to protect it.  Bauer was driven, resourceful and mostly unflappable under pressure.  But he was also prone to overstepping, conflicted about his more questionable actions, devoted to the people he loves and respects, and was just a man.  Again, that fallibility was what grounded him, made him more than just a force of nature.  He had emotions, thoughts and feelings and sometimes they, along with other outside sources, would conspire to trip him up.  I think that’s what drew me to him, even though I wouldn’t have realised so at the time.  Yes, his one-man rampage through a terrorist compound to rescue the Secretary of Defence James Heller and his daughter, and Jack’s lover, Audrey Raines was awesome incarnate, but his capture and torture by Marwan made him more grounded and his family drama made him more relatable.  After all, everyone loves a relatable underdog, it’s human nature.

For Day 5, I adopted the practice, through much begging to my dad (and also to my mum to let me stay at his house on Sunday nights), of recording the episodes on VHS on the Sunday night and then getting up extra early on the Monday morning to watch them before school.  Initially, this practice was due to my extreme excitement for new episodes; waiting until I got home from school at 4PM was much too long when I needed to know what was happening in the lives of Jack Bauer, Chloe O’Brian, Bill Buchannan and others right now, dammit!  Eventually, though, word got out that I watched 24 (my memory is too hazy to remember how and I chose that phrase because it sounds far cooler than the more likely answer “I never stopped talking about it”) and it turned out that there were other people in my year who watched the show too.  Suddenly, I had another reason to watch new episodes as soon as possible, so that I could chat about them with friends over lunch, the school kids’ equivalent of the water cooler.

See, 24 was the home of so many firsts for me.  It felt like a primer for all future adult dramas I would get into as practically all of the tropes that 24 had exposed me to (heightened stakes, fast-pacing, heroes who could lose, shocking character deaths and even shocking-er twists, cliffhangers, “did you see [x] last night…” conversations with people the day after, the season with the massive dip in quality that we all like to pretend never occurred) would be deployed or come up in practically every other big drama I have come across since.  Some would even do 24 better than 24 at points (Nikita’s first season is probably the best example of such a thing) and the show suffered a dip in quality after the phenomenal Day 5 (still one of my favourite seasons of TV ever) that it never really recovered from, but it always held a special place in my heart for being the first.

Being the first is not the only reason why I stuck with it all the way to the bitter end, mind.  Nostalgia doesn’t blind me that much to the quality of things (for example, Day 6 sucks utter balls and if you’re going through the series for the first time I guarantee that you can skip it and lose pretty much nothing).  See, even at its worst, 24 was always entertaining.  At its best, few shows could touch it.  Not in its ability to turn the screws, not in its ability to extract tension, not in its ability to keep the pace up, not in its lead turn (seriously, no matter how the show ended up, Kiefer Sutherland was always exceptional as Jack Bauer), not in its action, not in its audacity.  Those two reasons are why, ultimately, in the final minutes of Day 8 3:00pm to 4:00pm, during Jack and Chloe’s last conversation with one another, I blubbed like a sheep that’s just been told it’s up next for the slaughterhouse.  Part of it was the moment itself, and part of it was finally closing the book on the previous five years of my life as a show so integral to my formative years finally drew to a close.  My dad, who was sat next to me at the time primarily because I had commandeered the TV from him and he doesn’t really have anywhere else to go in the house, probably thought I was weird for doing so, but how would he know?  My last tether to my infinitely happier childhood had finally wrapped up.

Which is why it was strange to hear in May of 2013 that 24 was coming back, in the same way that the return of The Powerpuff Girls back in January for a one-off (at the time) felt strange to hear.  As much as I loved the show, 24 peaked back in 2006 with Day 5.  I mean, sure, it still reached some great heights (and some lows we don’t talk about) but its best days were undoubtedly behind it.  Its signature tricks were beginning to feel like checklist clichés, I greeted Day 8’s mole reveal with much derision instead of shock.  Plus, I have a cautious wariness about people digging up things I once loved and trying to resurrect them.  Add in the fact that most of the people involved in 24 had moved onto Homeland (which I still love and is still great and I will not hear otherwise) and… well… what place does 24 have in 2014?  The television landscape has both absorbed and moved past 24’s big hooks and storytelling style, not to mention the fact that pretty much every possible angle of the show’s universe and concept had been wrung out in the original run.  What’s gained by bringing 24 back for a 12 episode half-season besides a nostalgia run and a filled up slot on the schedule for 11 weeks?

As you may be able to guess, I was sceptical for a lot of the build-up to the season, even with all of the tidbits that they were throwing out that should have gotten myself, a die-hard 24 fanatic for whom the show was a vital part of his growing up, super excited in anticipation (Chloe’s back!  Heller is the president!  Yvonne Strahovski is still getting work!).  But as the premiere date drew ever closer, I started getting excited, I started getting hyped, my worries and suspicions faded into the background.  I was excited for 24 again.  I was so excited that I actually stayed up until 3am on premiere night, when I really should have been doing uni coursework instead, in order to catch the US/UK simulcast.  And it was good.  It was really good, in fact.  Suddenly, I was excited for next week’s episode.  And then next week’s episode was great, so I was really excited for the week after’s episode.  And this cycle kept going and going until they revealed the mole in 4:00pm – 5:00pm and I realised something.

For one hour every Wednesday, I am back to 2006 Me.  The one going through his first as-it-happens season of 24.  The one who counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds between episodes.  The one who is genuinely blindsided by twists and reveals, whose heart gets broken when characters he loves are killed off, who is on the edge of their seat because “oh, man, how is Jack going to get out of this?”  The four year break between the end of Day 8 and the start of Live Another Day really is the best thing that could have happened to 24.  Whilst it never really fell out of my memory or my life (I have the entire show on DVD and Blu-Ray, obviously), enough time had passed between new episodes to make the prospect of them something to relish instead of accept as a thing that will happen.  That time distance is what makes Chloe O’Brian telling someone to open a socket a joyous little in-joke, a tight Jack Bauer escape feel amazingly badass, or the reveal of a mole to be an exciting twist in the ride.  Everything feels fresh again, even though it’s not.  The season so far has basically been a greatest hits of the 24-verse and that four year gap is what adds to the appeal, instead of feeling like a warmed-over re-hash.

Which, again, is what leads me back to my point: for one hour every Wednesday for the last seven weeks, it is like the last 8 years never happened.  With the exception of the having friends to discuss the episode with (*blasts All By Myself whilst gorging on a tub of cheap ice cream*), it is that exact same feeling!  A straight blast of that every week.  24 is hitting me like it did the first time and for one all-too-brief hour every week, I am back at my dad’s house.  It is 7am Monday morning, I am sat on the couch with my cereal and watching last night’s episode recorded from my VHS before I have to go off to school.  I am in bliss, and nothing else matters because terrorists have placed Jack Bauer and CTU in a seemingly impossible situation and I need to know how they are going to get out of it.  So thank you for coming back, 24.  For the hour of my life you have taken up these past few weeks, you have made it seem like the last eight years never happened and I cannot thank you enough for giving me that feeling.  Dammit.

Oh, and because I know you, the reader, are curious:

Day 5

Day 2

Day 4 (for personal reasons you’ve likely already figured out)

Day 3

Day 1

Day 7 (its last third really drags the whole season down)

Day 8 (although its last third is some of the best of the whole run)

Day 6 (which is mostly without value after 9:00am – 10:00am)

Callum Petch might need a raincoat.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Blended

BlendedCynical, lazy, sexist, racist, prolonged torture.  All of these descriptors and more apply to Blended.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You know, every point this year where I think that we have hit the bottom in regards to film releases, I keep getting proven wrong.  First, there was A New York Winter’s Tale back in February, still one of the worst films I have ever seen (incidentally) and a total failure in all basic aspects of moviemaking.  I was certain that we would not see anything close to its level for the rest of the year.  March quickly put pay to that line of thinking with 300: Rise of an Empire which gained points for at least passing basic filmmaking standards but immediately lost all of those points for being a hateful piece of misogynistic tripe.  The tail-end of April presented, for my consideration, Ava-Tarzan, quite possibly the worst feature-length animated film to see the light of day since 2006.  And now, as May gives way to June, we have Blended.

Folks, I do not like having to re-evaluate what the worst film of the year is every month.  Not, of course, so that I have a headline grabbing phrase to parade my review around with when the time comes (papa don’t play that way), but because I don’t like having to subject myself to films that keep striving for new levels of badness.  It’s like they’re in competition with one another.  “I’ll see your total failure at basic filmmaking conventions and raise you blacked-up actors and an attitude to women not unlike that of a psychopathic thirteen year-old!”  Only there are no winners in their contest, and we, the film-going audience, but mostly just me because I don’t have a choice in subjecting myself to these avant-garde attempts at flinging poo onto a film reel and releasing the result, suffer due to their petty game of one-ups-man-ship.

Blended is a comedy made by statisticians and accountants.  It is a comedy made by people who have not got the first clue of how to tell a joke but have seen far more talented people make a lot of money telling jokes, and so decided to make their own comedy purely to get at that money.  Of course, being statisticians and accountants, this comes with the built-in handicap of nobody involved knowing how to tell a joke.  But such an issue does not stop them from their dream of making loadsamoney as they have hatched a cunning plan.  Instead of coming up with jokes, with set-ups and punchlines and wit and insight and originality and all of those things that make up good jokes and which allow things that would otherwise cross lines of good taste pass by unscathed, they would instead simply present people with concepts that are supposedly inherently amusing and ask you to laugh at them.  Who cares if you only laughed at them in other films because they had actual craft in their construction?  Their graphs and pie charts and glances at two minute red-band trailers on YouTube show that you laughed at these topics in other films so, mathematics dictates, you will laugh here too and their film won’t offend anyone at all!

I’m just going to go straight for the jugular here, I think that Blended is racist.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with Terry Crews’ “character” (for the fully intended effect, I want you to imagine that those air quotes are as tall as a New York skyscraper) whose entire character can be summed up as “look at the funny black man with the weird voice and the crazy eyes sing the word blended over and over again!”  He comes with a back-up crew of about seven other people who look exactly like him and have the exact job description.  Crews wanders about the screen nearly always leaning forward, eyes looking like they’re ready to pop out of his skull, voice sounding like a drunk Oxford senior’s party impression of what he thinks ‘the blacks’ sound like, and the joke is the same every time.  “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  There’s no nuance, nothing profound, no grand subversion.  Just, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  It’s like a minstrel show periodically gate-crashes the rest of the film; I was waiting for Joel McHale (who appears in two scenes playing the total douche role he did far better in Ted two years ago) to show up covered in black shoe-polish to seal the sorry mess.

AND IT’S A JOKE THEY KEEP COMING BACK TO!  Again and again and again with no change in pacing or tone or content, until the realisation set in that this racist stereotype is something that everyone involved in the film thinks is legitimately funny.  Not ironically funny, not a set-up for a takedown of such outdated and offensive stereotypes.  No, it’s something that is supposedly just hilarious because “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  The other black characters (I count three with names) aren’t anywhere near as pronounced in their racist caricatures but the joke is still nearly always “Look at the black man talking with the funny voice!”  Well, except for Shaquille O’Neal.  He turns up for two scenes, for some reason, and his joke is that a man of his size and physicality cries over-dramatically at something.  I’ll let you decide if that’s a real step up or not.

I’m sorry, I thought we were past this?  I thought that we’d all come to the realisation that this kind of shit does not fly anymore?  That it was outdated and offensive?  That we’d actually have to work to get laughs from our characters of colour now by writing actual characters and actual jokes?  Say what you want about Ride Along but that at least tried writing actual characters and actual jokes for those characters, instead of going, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype saying words that sound different coming from his funny voice!”  Yet, every time Terry Crews came on screen, the audience in my screening were giggling and guffawing as if his every sequence was a classic Malcolm Tucker tirade.  I don’t get it.  How can these people not tell the difference between a clever subversion of racist stereotypes with an effective payoff (which this is not) and an uncomfortable one-note stereotype that has no substance to the joke besides the fact that he’s a walking black stereotype (which this is)?

Sorry, sorry.  I’m allowing my own moral and social beliefs to infect my judgement of a film again.  My bad.  I should leave the racism point behind and move on to my next point which is that Blended is sexist.  Question: are you a girl who dresses in a decidedly unfeminine manner?  Congratulations!  Blended thinks you’re a man or a lesbian or someone who is willingly holding themselves back from love and happiness and acceptance by society, and it won’t stop letting you know that for the whole film by constantly making fun of people who look like you and using jokes based around literally those same points I just mentioned!  I dread to think of how more sensitive people who happen to choose to style and dress themselves in an unconventionally unfeminine way will react to the constant scorn and mockery the film throws their way.  The film hints towards revealing that Jim (Adam Sandler) is practically forcing his daughters into dressing this way and participating in such a masculine lifestyle because he’s living through them or something, but nope.  Lauren (Drew Barrymore) practically swoops on in and unlocks Hilary’s (Bella Thorne) femininity and voila!  She’s actually totally gorgeous and so much happier now that she’s an actual woman and oh my gods typing these words are making me realise just how truly horrible the whole thing is.

In fact, quick sidebar: this film’s usage and treatment of Bella Thorne worries me.  For one, there are the aforementioned “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you looked like a guy” jabs which are constant, demeaning and never once deviate from exactly what I just typed.  For two, and much more problematic, I got the vibe that we, the entire audience, are supposed to find Bella Thorne super-hot.  She was 15 at the time of filming and her character in the film is 15, too.  Yet her second scene (no prizes for guessing what the first was) involves her in a bra in front of the mirror, sticking out her apparently non-existent chest for the camera and lamenting her apparent lack of breasts.  It feels creepy but maybe I could let it slide on the basis that the camera (to my recollection) does not focus totally on her chest and the fact that if this was a coming-of-age drama, or something, I’d probably not get that interpretation from the scene.

What I cannot excuse is later on, when she makes her grand womanly-charms-embracing re-entrance and the camera introduces her in the same way that other films introduce their much older female stars when they want to get across how good they look.  You know the way: camera pans up in slow-motion from their legs all the way up the body so that the last part revealed to you is their face because the face is always the least important part of a woman, apparently.  Back it with appropriately sexy music (which the scene does eventually, in a gag that I still do not understand), cross-cut to other characters’ stunned reactions and maybe blow a little gust from the wind machine in their direction and watch the number of people getting a visit from Chris Hanson shoot through the roof.  Now, you may sit there and claim that my mind chose to go there and that I’m the pervert and paedophile.  I would retort by noting that I got that interpretation from the scene because the scene employed the conventions that appear in such a sequence and if it didn’t want that interpretation, it should not have filmed it in such a way.

Also, this is a film that has a joke involving a teenage boy sexually harassing a girl who appears to be maybe three years older than him in the finale, and you’re supposed to not be offended and even find it charming because you’ve already spent 110 minutes in this creep’s presence so it’s acceptable, I guess.  Try telling me that I’m the one who is off-base about this film’s intentions.  Go on, I’m waiting.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah, Blended’s casual sexism.  So, Jim is an asshat.  A total, barely likeable asshat, much like all of Adam Sandler’s characters.  This is a character who named his child Espn after… you know what, I’m going to let you figure that one out.  He’s rude, boorish, demands fist bumps after every supposedly cool thing he ever does and, somehow, he is still a better person than Lauren is.  Lauren, you see, is often exactly like Jim (minus the fist bumps, thanks the Maker) but she always happens to cross the line whenever her and Jim are in a verbal sparring match.  She’s also shown to be a terrible mother, whose kids are a future sex offender/serial perverted murderer and a kid who may or may not have ADHD and who keeps getting his hand banged really hard on walls by Lauren because child violence is hi-larious?  Jim’s daughters, meanwhile, are a little one who just says the darndest things, the middle child who still talks to her mom (who died of cancer years ago, which the film likes to bring up for drama with Jim, and only Jim, whenever it gets the chance) and whose grief is used near-exclusively for “look at that weirdo” comedy, and the tomboy we’ve already discussed (also it’d be remiss of me not to mention an excruciatingly awful scene in which Hilary beats a boy in basketball and, when the boy is informed that she’s a girl, Terry Crews’ Minstrel Society jumps in out of nowhere to re-enforce traditional gender values with a song about how embarrassing it is to be beaten by a girl at a sport).

As for the other women in the film who are on screen for more than 10 seconds; we have a babysitter who is the target of sexual obsession by the older of Lauren’s two sons, Lauren’s alleged best friend who is shown to be a completely selfish, inconsiderate and repulsive human being at all times, an air-headed trophy wife the group stumble across on the Africa trip and whose entire character involves speaking like a bad Kristin Chenoweth impersonator and shaking her cleavage for the camera, and a group massage leader who has no character except for her poor British accent.  “Now, hold up, Callum!” you’re probably going.  “The film has dreadful male characters, as well!  It’s equal opportunities poor treatment!”  True, but I have two things I want to note to you.  The first is that, with the exception of two hecklers at a child’s baseball game and that Joel McHale cameo and I guess Lauren’s children, these are mainly black people.  Jim’s an asshat, but the film constantly tries to put him in a likeable light, more so than it does Lauren, anyway, so The White Guy is the least terrible person in the film.  The second is this fact: the worst physical humour that befalls Jim is that he is flung from an ostrich into a drinking trough.  The worst physical humour that befalls Lauren is that she is nearly speared in her vagina by a rhino that she avoids by spreading her legs like one does when they’re gearing up for sex.

Sorry, sorry.  I appear to have let my personal moral and social beliefs overtake this film review.  Again.  It’s the beginning of A4 page 4, now, and you want to know the reasons why I hate Blended that can’t be traced back to my own personal hang-ups.  OK, then.  Sandler and Barrymore have no chemistry, which is especially surprising since they’ve already done this twice before.  Every child actor or actress in this is appalling, pulling off that overly stagey “LOOK AT MY ACTING I AM ACTING SO HARD” thing that all terrible child actors and actresses do.  It is atrociously paced, withholding the ending long past the point it should appear in order to artificially pump up the run-time to two hours.  It looks extremely cheap, pretty much all of the animals are CG and not in the slightest bit convincing.  Its tone, particularly in that unnecessarily long final 20 – 30 minutes, is whiplash inducing whenever it brings up the whole “Jim’s first wife died of cancer” thing.  It practically stops at several points and becomes a tourist destination ad for South Africa.  It thinks that the height of comedy is having a shot of two CG rhinos doing each other like dogs.

Have you got enough yet or do you need me to go on?

Look, I wouldn’t make such a big stink out of this if there were jokes here.  I’m not infallible, I can acknowledge that something’s offensive but still find it funny.  If the joke’s good enough, I will laugh at it and that’s a guarantee.  But Blended has no jokes.  Again, this is a film that thinks that the concept of sexual harassment is a funny enough gag to put at the end of your film, that having a teenage boy try to claim that their mother can do better than somebody like Jim because “she’s hot” is such a funny and messed up thing that it should run that joke into the ground at every opportunity, that a grown man poorly phrasing his question about what tampon is best for his teenage daughter is just raucous material, and that foreign black people are automatically hilarious because stereotypes.  These are not jokes, these are carnival side-show attractions brought out for your amusement without any effort made in the department of them being worthy of your amusement.  It’s just “Black people: laugh!  Women who look like men: laugh!  Drew Barrymore may get impaled through her vagina by a rhino: laugh!”  So when this is all the film can be bothered to come up with, hell yeah, I’m going to fixate on the troublesome undertones it ends up peddling!  There’s nothing to distract me from them, because the jokes aren’t funny, so why wouldn’t I find them a legitimate problem?

I honestly didn’t think that Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company had any lower to go after they turned statutory rape into a light-hearted set-up for a bawdy comedy.  But, much like my continuing belief that 2014 can’t keep churning out even worse films, it turns out I was proven wrong.  Blended is lazy, cynical filmmaking; the kind of film that’s slapped together with no effort or talent and shunted out of the door on the belief that the audience will turn up to anything with a big star’s name on it.  And I think that’s why this trash angers me so.  That it’s not even trying to be offensive, it’s not trying to push any boundaries of taste for comedic effect or anything.  It wasn’t setting out to be racist and sexist or anything like that, it just turned out that way because it lazily tried to present things that it thought were inherently funny with no effort towards making them funny and no effort put into thinking of the implications of not adding jokes to these supposedly inherently funny concepts.  This is trash, trash of the lowest order.  I do, however, hesitate to say that 2014 can’t bottom out any further, because I don’t want to jinx anything.  I do not want to experience a film worse than Blended in a cinema in 2014.  Please.

I did not like it.

Callum Petch races towards an early grave.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Am I Ruining Cartoons?

Callum Petch believes that he may be part of the problem and for that he is not sorry.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

gravity fallsI am probably ruining cartoons for kids merely by enjoying them to the same degree adults enjoy, say, Star Trek.

This epiphany hit me the other day when I read an article on The AV Club about the official Season 5 renewal for the hit animated kids’ show (and one of my personal favourites on the air today) My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.  It was a thought that had been rolling around in my brain for a while, anyway, the side effect of being really friggin’ anxious about everything you ever do because trying to live like a good human being is really hard in this crapsack of a world, as well as a theory I had been working on a bit, but that article made it clear.  In fact, I’ll just quote the exact sentence that led me to this realisation.

“The 26-episode order will push the series over the milestone 100-episode mark, a remarkable achievement for a show primarily aimed at teaching young girls self-confidence, the importance of friendship, and the fact that anything that’s special for them will eventually be co-opted and stolen by dudes.”

The Brony fanbase, adult fans of the show (typically depicted as male as that apparently makes for a much more interesting narrative when reporting on them), have become inexorably tied to the show and the discussion surrounding it.  If you haven’t even heard of the show it’s based on but you spend some time on the Internet, you’ve still probably heard of the concept of Bronies.  It’s inescapable, to an extent that I honestly fear that, once the show is done and wrapped, everyone has moved on to other things and the passage of time sends the show fading into memory, its legacy won’t be “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was a great show that broke down gender stereotypes thanks to strong writing and characterisation.”  Instead, I’m incredibly worried that its legacy will be “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was the show that gave the world Bronies.”  That’s it or, at the very least, the show will get a passing mention in maybe paragraph 12.  Neither outcome is one I particularly desire.

I don’t consider myself a Brony but I do consider myself a very big fan of the show, enough to own several shirts and the second season on DVD, enough to frequent the show’s main fan-site, and enough to have to talk myself out of walking into Build-A-Bear and getting a Rarity plushee every single time I walk past my local store (I also have an affinity for cute things, so that may not be just the fan in me talking).  My rejection of the Brony tag comes primarily because I don’t associate myself wholeheartedly as a member of any fandom anymore (and partly because “Brony” is second only to “Avatards” on my list of Embarrassingly Stupid Fandom Portmanteaus) and, therefore, keeps me at a distance.  I enjoy the show for what it is; very well written, strongly characterised, funny, gorgeously animated and full of a tonne of heart.  I enjoy it for the reasons I imagine its target audience would, not because there’s a two-second reference to Bioshock Infinite in the background of one of the episodes and not because I want to marry Twilight Sparkle (that is not a joke and is still nowhere near the most disturbing thing I have come across from fans of this show on the Internet, trust me).

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if that, appreciating and loving the show for what it is, is a problem in and of itself.  I understand that this is a kids’ show, made to be enjoyed firstly by little girls from ages 5 to 8, and I would never want the show to start pandering to myself, the older male fan.  I am a periphery demographic.  Yet that periphery demographic is the one driving discussion of the show, it’s the one that has become the focal point of discussion surrounding the show.  Hell, I wouldn’t have given it a test-run just over two years ago (I ended up accidentally picking one of the episodes that requires prior character knowledge, which is why I didn’t try again until my growing knowledge of animation led me in the direction of anything with the name Lauren Faust attached to it about six months later) if it weren’t for the periphery demographic making a giant noise about it.  And through all of this I wonder, what about the little girls from ages 5 to 8?  The ones the show was made for?  How do they feel about the show basically being stolen out from under them by grown-ups whose mere existence may have forever tainted the show for future generations?

Probably not too much, in all honesty.  The merch keeps selling, the ratings keep climbing (as far as I can tell, most of the adult fandom gather together to watch live streams on the Internet instead, which don’t count) and the kids still care enough that there are more than enough of them to turn up to most of the 900-bazillion fan conventions that have sprung up for the programme to redress the balance somewhat (I may spend a lot of my free time watching VA panels on the Internet, not just ones for this show, don’t judge).  Plus, even with the peripheral demographic, the show has yet to forget about its target audience.  It doesn’t openly pander to the periphery demo (the few times when it has have been the most cringe worthy things the show has done) and it still has the same style, voice and attitude that it did when it started, just with a slight bit more maturity to represent the growing up of its target audience.  The Bronies may dominate the conversation (enough to have two separate feature-length documentaries on their existence made) but the kids still have the show.  They still exist which goes some way to lowering my anxieties.

But this is not a feeling that is just linked to My Little Pony.  Regular followers of my Twitter may be well aware that I am a big fan of Gravity Falls.  For those who don’t follow my Twitter or aren’t aware: I am a big fan of Gravity FallsA big fan.  It is fast, it is hysterical, it is gorgeously animated, superbly voice acted, excellently plotted and full of immense heart.  It is one of the best shows on TV and I don’t know a single person in its target audience who watches it.  Of course, one could put this down to the fact that I don’t live in America and I don’t hang around children (…probably could have phrased that better) but I see a lack of kid fandom or references to children anywhere in discussion of the show, even though its target audience is children aged 7 to 11; that’s what the TV-Y7 rating is for.

Instead, it’s a collective group of intense adult fans combing the show for clues to its mysteries.  The show’s creative staff (creator, writer and voice actor Alex Hirsch, especially) lean on the show’s more grown-up fandom in conversation much more frequently than those in other shows I know do (Hirsch even all but said that it’s down to us if we want Disney to release merch for the show).  I’ve seen precisely one kid at a panel for the show (they asked a question that Alex, who teases and trolls like a master, wasn’t allowed to answer, it was cute) and few, if anybody, would refer to the show as “a kids’ cartoon,” even though it kinda is.  We’re about to enter the second season so we’ll get an answer then as to if the periphery demographic have managed to infect the product we adore so, but it worries me as to whether the target audience cares at all about Gravity Falls.  And if that is the case, then have we adults hijacked the show from them and co-opted it for our own?

Maybe it’s a question of gender roles and gender narratives.  My fear of my stealing of Gravity Falls from its target demo is less vocal because the talk surrounding the fandom is non-existent, arguably because the target demo for Gravity Falls is not exclusively little girls and the story “Adults Enjoy Watching Cartoon For Children” is not as sensationalist as “Grown Men Love My Little Pony”.  You could argue that it’s the same reason why the very large and very vocal adult Adventure Time periphery don’t get any such “co-opting” claims or fears; ditto Regular Show.  They make up a huge percentage of the fandom for Adventure Time, we’re talking near-Sherlock levels of activity on Tumblr…  OK, maybe not (practically nothing else on Tumblr gets close to Sherlock levels of devotion), but you get the general idea.  From what little I’ve glimpsed on the Internet (I’m still yet to get into Adventure Time, I keep switching off because the first season is just weird and rough as all hell), they’re basically a well-organised fan convention away from being near equal to the size and scale of Bronies.

Except that Adventure Time and Regular Show are barely for kids as it is.  They both sport TV-PG ratings and wear them with pride, watch either show (in their American formats, for the love of the Maker, if you’re going to watch either of these shows, do not watch their bowlderised UK edits) for more than three minutes and you’ll get why they’re intended for an older audience than My Little Pony (TV-Y) and Gravity Falls (TV-Y7).  It’s hard to steal something from a group of society if it’s not exactly being made primarily for them as it is.  And besides, the best cartoons aren’t just enjoyable for kids.  They’re enjoyable on multiple levels for all audiences: there’s a great throw-away scene in Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends where the show’s creator Craig McCracken pops up in its universe that caused my 19-year-old self to almost fall out of my chair in gleeful amazement.  But the scene also works if you’re young and have no idea who the guy is because the joke is rooted in the situation, not Craig McCracken.  (Ditto pretty much the entirety of “Frankie My Dear” which becomes extra hilarious if you believe rumours that Mac is based off of a young Craig and Frankie is based off his wife, Lauren Faust.)

Maybe my anxieties are just rooted in lack of the passage of time.  After all, I’m a huge fan of The Powerpuff Girls and I don’t feel like my being so is going to/is ruining it for future generations.  If I were a fan at the time it were going out (which I was) but this age, I’d probably feel how I do with My Little Pony and Gravity Falls.  And then you have the collective nostalgic waxing by the Internet every time somebody announces a movie remake/adaptation/reboot of some beloved Saturday morning toy commercial (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, most recently, Power Rangers).  Perhaps the distancing effect of time creates the effect that things are now allowed to be freely appreciated by everyone equally, regardless of their age or the work’s intended audience.

But… just what if none of this matters?  What if I’m not actually co-opting jack?  Yeah, I may be a big fan of cartoons made predominately for kids, but does that mean I’m truly ruining it for the kids?  No matter how large the Brony fandom gets, no matter how many conventions they create, no matter how loud they may get on the Internet, no matter how many Rule 34 ship-drawings of Applejack and Rainbow Dash there may be, and no matter how many plushees get sodomised by people that I would like to forget exist, thank you kindly, the little girls aged 5 to 8 will still have the show.  They will always have the show.  Friendship Is Magic hasn’t changed due to the stuff surrounding it; if anything the show has strengthened its resolve to non-corporate outside influences.  The target audience will still have the show.  Everything else is just noise.

Maybe the simplest way to resolve this problem is to just stop labelling cartoons as explicitly for kids in daily conversation.  I don’t mean “stop making cartoons directly for kids,” not at all.  But what I mean is that we should stop having to separate kids’ stuff from adult stuff so much.  A random episode of The Amazing World Of Gumball has way more laughs and stronger characterisation than The Big Bang Theory at its best, for example.  I have heard that Steven Universe blows most current prime-time dramas out of the water (I need to get around to watching it).  The Legend Of Korra and its more famous original series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, are almost never referred to as kids’ cartoons even though they are; that’s the kind of level they operate on.  You class something as “for kids” and you immediately class it as “other”, something that requires lowered expectations, a different metric for success and can only be enjoyed by its target audience.

Entertainment can be enjoyed, loved and embraced by all.  So what if mainstream society is co-opting something made primarily for a specific demographic?  Who said they’re trying to?  Maybe they’re just in love with a show and don’t care about its “other-ness”?  If we had a generation of children get really into Community, would we be accusing them of co-opting media that’s not for them?  No, because that would be dumb.  Good media is good media and we shouldn’t be discouraging people from liking good things because “it’s not supposed to be for them”.  This is why I never pull any punches when I review films aimed at kids because crap shouldn’t be given a Get Out Of Jail Free card and quality should not need an appended asterisk.

So, yeah, I am probably ruining cartoons for kids merely by enjoying them to the same degree adults enjoy, say, Star Trek.  But I don’t care and I’m going to keep on preaching about how Gravity Falls is the best thing to hit TV since Community debuted because I refuse to be made to feel bad for liking something that’s apparently not supposed to be for me.  Maybe this makes me selfish, stealing away pleasures designed for people who don’t often get enough pleasures aimed at them.  Maybe this makes me progressive, somebody who is sick of barriers dividing what is supposed to be enjoyable to who and who thinks that cross-demographic enjoyment on equal levels is something to be encouraged not shunned.  Maybe it’s a bit of both.

All I know is that I don’t care either way.  Now, would you pass the remote?  Wander Over Yonder is about to start.

Callum Petch has been putting up with your constant whining.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Love Punch

The Love PunchIt may be definition of lightweight, but that turns out to be The Love Punch’s biggest strength, second only to the natural charisma and chemistry of leads Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

If you’ve been following along with the website this past week, you may have noticed that I went to the cinema a lot.  A total of six times, in fact, with five of those being turned into reviews (the fifth is the one you’re reading right now, in case you’re wondering, keep up).  You may have also noticed that a whole bunch of them sucked uncontrollably.  Divergent, unfathomably stupid and a seemingly endless slog.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2, permanent potential pulveriser that learnt absolutely nothing from its last attempt two years ago.  Khumba, earnest and full of heart but amateurishly made and majorly derivative.  Transcendence, “computers are scarwey and women should stay in the kitchen instead of science-ing because their emotions can’t make the tough decisions”.

In short, it’s been a bad week for movies.

I fully expected to continue regretting my voluntary decision to see and review all the recently released non-horror movies that I could in the last week as I sat down to watch The Love Punch.  I’d seen one truly good film all week up to that point (Richard Ayoade’s absolutely phenomenal The Double) and I wasn’t expecting a film whose trailer’s centrepiece gag was having its middle-aged cast all rush off to the toilets for a wee in quick succession to one another to suddenly turn around my fortunes.  But do you know what?  Perhaps it’s due to having been beaten down by incessantly bad films for the better part of a week, perhaps my standards have been sufficiently lowered as a result, perhaps they caused a desire in me to give a positive review to something, frickin’ anything, at this point, but I really enjoyed The Love Punch.

OK, before we move on, I should probably clarify that it’s not actually down to any of those things.  I may be human, but I can still tell a bad movie from a good one even when I’ve spent an extended period of time wading through the crap.  So, if The Love Punch did stink to high heaven, I’d still be capable enough to tell you that it did.  But it doesn’t, it’s actually really good.  Not spell-bindingly amazing, not “Best of the Year” and most certainly not flawless but far better than its title of “The Second-Best Film I’ve Seen This Past Week” would make it sound, considering the competition.

Our story revolves around Mr. and Mrs. Jones, both divorced and staring down old age like it’s the barrel of a gun.  Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is days away from retirement, has just broken up with yet another in an apparently lengthy line of young wives and is nursing feelings of loneliness and boredom.  Kate (Emma Thompson) is saying goodbye to her youngest daughter as she leaves for college, is facing life alone for the first time and has resorted to Internet dating to try and find love.  They’re brought back together when Richard’s company is liquidated of its assets by its new owner, taking with it everybody’s pensions but, most importantly, Richard and Kate’s which they’d stored away in order to pay off university fees, mortgages and basically everything that needs money these days.

In response, they both hop on over to France to confront the man personally responsible for the mess (Laurent Lafitte).  When he gloats about how he doesn’t have to give them jack as what he did was apparently totally legal, and he does so whilst all but twirling his non-existent moustache, the pair decide to get back at him another way: by stealing a diamond necklace from him valued at $10 million, recruiting their mutual married friends (Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) to help out.  Does such a set-up lead to a lot of comical misunderstandings, testing of the married couple’s relationship, the possible romantic reconciliation of our two leads with one another and a whole bunch of things you have likely seen and promptly forgotten about before?  Why of course it does!

So, it’s silly and light.  There’s little depth here.  It’s not really got anything to say, it’s not pushing any boundaries and nobody in the story is ever in any real danger (not even during an Italian Job homage near the end).  Honestly, though, that’s actually one of the film’s biggest strengths.  There’s not a bad bone in its body, it’s all very pleasant and nice but it doesn’t feel patronisingly so or cynically calculated.  It feels genuine so it comes off more like a nice warm prolonged hug than an endless talking down to or insulting of my intelligence.  That’s a harder line to walk than one might think but The Love Punch pulls it off and that atmosphere is what helps propel the film through its very brisk 90 minute run time.

The other thing that helps make The Love Punch a very recommendable experience?  Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan and the chemistry they have.  OK, maybe that’s three things, but they are all great here.  Thompson and Brosnan are, in fairness, very charming and likable actors who could coast their way through roles without even trying and probably get away with it (let’s face it, Brosnan did for four straight Bond films) but they’re on fine form here.  Both understand that this isn’t the next Schindler’s List but that such a fact doesn’t give them carte blanche to sleepwalk through the movie.  They strike up a great chemistry together, rattling off witty dialogue and fast-paced bickering so naturally it almost seems second nature to them, and that chemistry helps sell the romance at the centre so that I actually felt super warm inside at the finale.  They’re clearly having a lot of fun, too, which again helps with the enjoyably breezy and light nature of the film.

Joke-wise, this is supposed to be a comedy after all, much like the rest of the film, no ground is being broken and you probably won’t remember any of them or be quoting anything from it in several months’ time.  They are often funny though and this is because, and this is why The Love Punch often gets away with things that the similarly “let’s watch some aging and otherwise classy actors go have a fun holiday somewhere and be all silly”-themed Last Vegas doesn’t, the jokes are based on the film being aware of how silly it is and are based on the characters, not the actors.  Most of the time.  For example, there’s a section where our four actors put on some scuba gear and ridiculously go paddling out into the sea in order to break into their mark’s cliff-side mansion.  Despite how that may read, the film doesn’t play it as “Look!  It’s James Bond and Emma Thompson in scuba-diving gear!  That’s inherently funny!  Laugh!”  Instead, it goes for “Look!  Kate and Richard’s plan involves them having to get into scuba gear that makes them look rather stupid!  Isn’t this whole thing rather silly and unbelievable?”  And it is, so I laughed.

An earlier example involves Kate having to go undercover by pathetically passing herself off as a relative of the bad guy’s bride-to-be at her beach-based hen party; cue a montage of Kate partaking in volleyball, jet-skis and parasailing whilst attached to a speedboat.  Once again, the film doesn’t treat the joke as “Look!  It’s Emma Thompson in a 50s-style bathing suit partaking in young people’s activities!  You wouldn’t have expected her to do that, would you?  LAUGH!!”  Instead playing it as “Look at what Kate’s gotten herself into, now!” and that’s a key distinction because these don’t just feel like an endless series of one-note “Look how we managed to get [x] actor to debase themselves for your entertainment now!” scenarios, they instead feel grounded in actual characters, like there’s a reason for their existence.

I did specify “most of the time” for a reason though and that’s because, yes, sometimes the film does cross the line and ask us to laugh because “it’s [y] actor doing a wacky thing that you wouldn’t have expected because THEY’RE GETTING OLD!” and you can tell when it’s crossed that line because it will bust out the super slo-mo camera and back the scene with hip-hop for ‘ironic’ effect.  These only stick out because they’re so lazy and they betray the effort that’s gone into crafting the better jokes.  Like the way that Kate and Richard will both enter into a very quick diatrabe argument whenever one forgets to use the term “ex” when explaining their relationship to people before snapping back like nothing had ever happened, or their brief interactions with their university-based hacker son and his criminally unlucky roommate, or the utterly paper-thin nature of their heist plan, or what happens when the bride-to-be starts having a public crisis of conscience, or when Jerry, the husband friend, buys a gun.  They’re often easy, but there’s effort put into that easiness, a choice to try and make funny jokes that don’t offend anyone or have much teeth but are still funny, which is something that lesser comedies can’t seem to pull off.

So, yeah, it’s lightweight but when has that necessarily been an automatically bad thing?  Something nice and light can be appealing comfort food, a nice time at the cinema to escape from life’s troubles for a while, that’s trying very hard to not try hard in a way that isn’t immensely loathsome.  The Love Punch, then, is the film equivalent of a slice of trifle and I very much love a nice slice of trifle every now and again.  It’s very British, smooth, lacking in edge but leaves you feeling all nice and warm and fuzzy for a very good while after digesting it.  Of course, trifle doesn’t have a very enjoyable to watch Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should check out The Love Punch because it’s better than trifle.  Or something.

Callum Petch took her home to his place, watchin’ every move on her face.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCEWhatever potential Transcendence may have had is squandered by Stone Age gender and technological politics and overall nonsensical stupidity.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I have come to the conclusion that films don’t know how to use in medias res, anymore.  Transcendence opens 5 years after its story is supposed to start, in a post-apocalyptic America where the Internet is knocked out totally and technology seems to no longer exist.  Sorry, I’ve just spoiled the end of Transcendence for you but only because Transcendence all but flips every single one of its cards in the first three minutes.  That is not how in medias res is supposed to work!  You’re not supposed to just show your ending and then wheel back to the start!  This gives me no greater understanding of the plot at large, starting at the end does not hook me any more than starting at the beginning would and, most importantly, it’s still exposition!  In medias res is supposed to start with action, somewhere exciting, to hook the viewer!  Here, I’m just being told information I would have reached by the time the story catches up, anyway!

So, that’s how Transcendence starts.  It does not get better.  The film does have a great premise, which only serves to make the fact that it wastes it on rote and poorly executed technological scaremongering all the more disappointing.  Scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is shot with a radioactive bullet by a radical anti-tech terrorist group which will kill him in just over a month’s time.  Desperate to save his life, his grief-stricken wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) convinces their friend Max (Paul Bettany) to upload Will’s mind and consciousness into the form of a functioning AI program, a concept that Will has spent most of his entire life researching and working on.  Will and Max both agree and the trio set about trying to make it a reality.  Will eventually passes on but, miracle upon miracles, the plan seems to work and he wakes up as an AI.  Evelyn is overjoyed at reuniting with ‘Will’ but Max’s alarm bells are set ringing when the first thing the newly AI and self-aware Will asks for is more power…

What follows is nearly two hours of the same tone-deaf “all technology, regardless of the benefits, will DESTROY US ALL!!” message that I honestly thought we’d finally grown out of post-Y2K.  Hell, one character actually name-drops the Y2K concept at one point to let the audience know just how much of a threat AI Will is.  My issue is not the entire concept of the film, the “rogue AI” sub-genre of sci-fi is rife with realised potential, my issue is with the fact that the film never once lets up on its cynical nature.  Everything AI Will does, and I mean everything, whether it be clever stock trading or helping fix up a run-down old town or developing renewable energy sources or furthering nanotechnology, is constantly portrayed with a sense of dread.  That these are not things to be celebrated, but to be feared as they’re clearly being used as part of a larger scheme by an evil overload to take over the world!

The reason why this doesn’t work, and why it actually rather offends me, is down to the issue of tone.  Unlike other films of this type, and apparently the upcoming The Wind Rises, this is not a balanced portrayal.  It’s never “technology can be used for so much good, but it is also capable of being used for evil and destruction”, it’s always “anything that technology can provide, no matter how useful and helpful it may seem, is a time-bomb waiting to happen”.  Late on in the movie, AI Will manages to perfect nanotechnology, which enables human beings to self-heal and have unimaginable strength, and not five seconds after this development occurs does the film reveal that it’s only possible if the person receiving the nanotechnology is connected to AI Will and the film all but screams “THESE WILL BECOME AN EVIL TERMINATOR ARMY LATER ON”.  It never allows itself a moment to just show off the new technology in a positive light, it all has to be cloaked in this envelope of dread and fear for what will happen.

So, in the end, you’re supposed to side with the radical anti-tech terrorists.  You know, the ones who kill, kidnap and torture people, blow up buildings and speak near-permanently in soliloquies about how technology is going too far and is a total always-unspecified threat to everything.  Funnily enough, this didn’t take for me and such a sentiment only stayed with me when, surprise surprise, they’re proven totally right near the end.  And, no, the last-minute switch of motives to “but it only did these things for love” also didn’t take because it rang hollow, a last-minute attempt by the people involved to try and cover their arses from me making this very criticism at the film instead of an earned plot and character development.  You can’t spend 1 hour and 45 minutes bellowing one message as loud as possible and then turn around in the final 5 minutes and quickly shout something else.  It’s going to feel false.

Or, to put it another way, watching Transcendence is akin to a person acting like Billy in this clip from The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy for nearly two straight hours and it’s near insufferable.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, oh no!  See because a film in 2014 has pulled out that old chestnut of “women shouldn’t science because their emotions make them unstable and will DESTROY EVERYTHING!!” and played it dead straight.  Evelyn is given plenty of chances to shut down AI Will, is told repeatedly and explicitly that the AI is not the real Will and that it is a danger to everyone else (all by men, incidentally) yet constantly she refuses to listen with her entire counter-argument for about three-quarters of the movie being “It’s Will!  It’s my husband!”  If this were a film about grieving and learning to let go and accepting that loved ones are going to die, this tract would be acceptable and, hell, could even be handled well.  Instead, she’s the sole person who is shown to be wrong about their methods of going about things, she’s the one that allows things to get to an irreparable and irreversible state and she takes at least 90 minutes (3/4 of the film) to be successfully convinced that she’s wrong because she’s a woman and “women and their emotions, amiright lads?

And don’t even get me started with a late-game conversation that strongly posits the idea that AI Will’s code is this way because it more resembles Evelyn than it does Will and that she may possibly have inadvertently futzed around with the code and caused this whole mess.  It is maddening, absolutely maddening, to have to sit through a film in 2014 that still insists that women and their emotions are volatile things and that men are the only sane force in the entire film.  “But Callum, what about that girl in the anti-tech terrorist group played by Kate Mara?  She’s speaking sense, seeing as the film proves her and her cause right.”  That’s a good point you raise and one that can immediately be dismissed by the fact that she, along with everybody else on the anti-tech terror team are not characters.  They are blank slates, not people, their entire character is their cause, the rhetoric they spout in support of their cause and their youth.  That’s it.  Hard to help buck the “women shouldn’t science” message template when you’re the barest definition of a character.

Fact of the matter, though, is I would not be fixating so much on these message issues if the actual film housing these messages was in any way interesting or well-made or less ponderously self-serious about everything.  (Well, I mean, my 300: Rise of an Empire review clearly indicates otherwise, but still…)  Yet, it is.  A slew of likeable actors who otherwise should know better line-up to collect paycheques and nothing more, giving barely passable performances with the lone exception being Johnny Depp who is awful.  He just does not seem to give one single crap at any point during this, constantly mumbling and staring off into space and seeming completely disinterested throughout.  You could do a thing with this when he becomes an AI, make it seem creepier and uncanny and off-putting that way… except that he’s like that from frame one, WELL BEFORE HE’S BEEN SHOT AND DYING, LET ALONE UPLOADED!  I haven’t seen Depp this checked out in nearly five years, he is just dreadful here.

The pacing is poor, both in terms of getting through it (the middle hour seems to drag on for ages) and in terms of story urgency and agency (there’s a two year time-skip in the middle of said aforementioned middle hour that basically makes it seem like R.I.F.T., the anti-tech terror group, spent the time sat on their arses twiddling their thumbs despite insisting that AI Will is a huge danger just moments ago).  The scale is preposterously tiny with literally nobody outside of maybe 10 people being at all concerned or at all aware of the evil sounding self-aware AI that may or may not be building up an army.  Despite costing $100 million, Transcendence looks cheap as all hell and no more so during its bafflingly stupid final 30 minutes, despite being an allegedly serious film.

And that extreme self-seriousness is the film’s major downfall here.  It’s so serious and joyless, like it’s offering up some kind of cautionary tale, imparting some kind of wisdom that only it has ever gotten and which will blow our minds when it tells us!  Except that its supposedly majorly smart wisdom is “science is scarewy” and its finale involves lots of explosions, Terminator-people and dreadfully rendered data bytes that act like vines.  It thinks it’s Ghost In The Shell or something similarly smart about the nature of humanity, but it’s actually more Surrogates.  If it didn’t have the feel of a big important serious treatise about big important serious things, it’d be easier to just write it off as a terrible dumb movie.  Instead, it’s a terrible dumb movie that has pretentions of being a smart movie and those are smug, highly irritating sh*tfests to sit through.

You could have made something great out of Transcendence.  A tight-knit relationship drama about coping with loss.  A satire about how dependent we are on advancing technology.  A thriller about an evil sentient AI that explores the worldwide consequences of such a thing and doesn’t demonise all technology on the straight-faced basis of the usually sarcastic quip “THIS IS HOW SKYNET STARTED!!”  We got none of those films.  Instead, first-time director Wally Pfister (previous of being the Director Of Photography for all Christopher Nolan films from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight Rises) has turned in a dumb piece of crap that thinks it’s got the key to the safety of future civilisation.  A film that’s terrified of science, dismissive of women and women scientists and also a poorly acted, poorly paced, cheap mess.  I felt insulted as I left the cinema, feeling like I had both had my time wasted and my intelligence stamped all over.

To think Wally Pfister turned down working on Interstellar to make this…

Callum Petch has cloned a human being, it is now a member of his band.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Khumba

KhumbaIt tries really hard, which is more than I can say for most kids’ films I’ve seen, but Khumba is still not a good film.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

My continuing quest to absorb all of the animation as it happens is one often fraught with feelings of despair and sadness.  Usually because the medium, which is one filled with possibilities in both the story-telling and artistic senses, is mostly used by film companies to pump out mediocre, by-the-numbers and, saddest of all, soulless products designed to strip money from kids who, presumably, don’t know any better.  And that bums me out.  Just because animated kids’ films almost always seem to make money, doesn’t mean that accountants should be in charge of their production in order to boost the bottom line at the end of the year.

Khumba, the second effort from South African production company Triggerfish Animation (previous of Zambesia), does not have that problem.  Whatever other failings it does have, they’re not caused by a lack of effort or interest in the project.  This wants to be a good film, it is trying to be a good film and that earnestness infects most every facet of the film, which is more than I can say for some other low-budget animated films I’ve had the displeasure of seeing.  Unfortunately, earnestness and enthusiasm can only carry a film so far and Khumba falls down on the whole “being a good film” side quite majorly.

Our story follows Khumba (Jake T. Austin), a zebra born with only half of his stripes much to the mockery of the rest of his herd.  He is raised by his father (Laurence Fishburne) in a gated community in the Great Caroo that hasn’t had any rain since he was born which the very superstitious herd blames on his birth, not helping his outcast nature.  One day, he meets a mantis who draws him a map that leads to a supposedly mystical water hole that may give him the rest of his stripes.  Tired of being different and spurred into action by the passing of his sick mother, Khumba ventures out into the wild, gaining two travel companions, a wildebeest named Mama V (Loretta Devine) and an ostrich named Bradley (Richard E. Grant), being pursued by an opportunistic leopard named Phango (Liam Neeson) and leaving the herd to decide on their future when the water runs dry.

It sounds messy and overstuffed (needless to say, Khumba and co. run into a whole bunch of other eccentric characters through the film’s svelte 85 minute run time) but the script does a good job at balancing proceedings.  It only asks the audience to invest in a few characters, the rest basically wander in and out of proceedings as a way to provide action or humour or one of the film’s overall messages of “doesn’t matter what species(race) you are, everyone is still a living thing at heart and we should come together in celebration of that fact”.  Honestly, I’m OK with that.  The film is very clear as to who we need to invest emotionally with and I prefer this approach to the kind of mess Escape From Planet Earth had where it tried to put stories and character arcs and the like to all of its characters in its 80 minutes and came off rushing things as a result.

A mostly interested voice cast also help truck along proceedings, even if some of them aren’t very good.  Chief among those not very good is Jake T. Austin as Khumba, he does seem to be interested in proceedings but his line readings are the definition of stilted.  Sometimes his line deliveries have passion and suit proceedings, other times they’re flat or the wrong direction for the scene.  Fairing much better is Richard E. Grant as the film’s main source of comic relief, he may not get anything funny to say but he nails the pompous theatricality inherent in the lines.  Loretta Devine exudes motherly warmth whilst Laurence Fishburne just about stays on the right side of the line between “gentle paternal authority” and “phoning it in”, ditto Liam Neeson but replace “gentle paternal authority” with “menacing villainy”.  Plus, littering about the film are professional voice actors in several of those supporting roles, like Charlie Adler as the leader of some Rock Rabbits and Dee Bradley Baker as a doting Meerkat father, which pleases me, a staunch supporter of giving professional VAs large-ish roles in animated movies, to no end.

The score backing this thing, by the way, is actually really rather interesting.  It does operate predominately in the same way that American-made animated films soundtrack proceedings, lots of orchestral bombast during action sequences and light bouncy music for most everything else, but it also infuses it with elements of traditional South African and country road-trip music.  It’s definitely unique and helps give Khumba its own feel.  Admittedly, it doesn’t always work, the addition of vocal wailing on the score over the fake-out death at the end of the movie only serves to push the scene into overwrought parody territory, but it is different and it fits the travelling scenes very nicely.

Unfortunately, that’s about it on the list of things that Khumba is good at.  See, enthusiasm and heart can only take you so far and Khumba has three key issues that keep it from being worth your time.  The first of which is the quality of its animation.  At best, it’s sub-par.  Character designs for the different species are nice and distinct, even rather good in some cases (a recurring wild dog voiced by Steve Buscemi in particular has a tiny stature, specific wide eyes, mangy quality to his overall being and yet is still rather cute in his own way), but individual character designs are neither of those things.  Despite how much time we spend with the zebra herd, I could not confidently tell you which one is supposed to be Khumba’s father if you put the lot of them in a line-up.  This is used as the basis for a joke with a gang of Springbok, but that only serves to call attention to the problem, not explain it away.

As for when things start moving, it’s all over the place.  Lighting and shading lack detail as does pretty much everything else in the film (a brief section set on a dusty plain during high winds just looks like an Instagram filter has been overlaid on the action).  Movement switches between unnaturally fluid and noticeably jerky between shots, the one constant being that all actions take a few frames less to perform than they should do which creates a disconcertingly fake and cheap feel.  There’s a frequent tendency, too, to underplay certain gestures.  Bradley gets a sudden musical number (the only instance of one throughout the whole film so it does awkwardly stick out) but his accompanying dancing is too restrained, too hemmed in and so the whole thing feels awkward.  Meanwhile, chroma-keying (the act of animating characters separate from the backgrounds and then digitally adding them in later) is very noticeable and disappointingly frequent.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a budget problem, more an issue of inexperience.  After all, you can do a lot on a little over this film’s $20 million budget (just look at most any feature-length Anime), and the issues mostly stem from problems that could have been avoided.  Don’t have the budget to animate all of the frames necessary to move Character A to Expression B in Position C?  Then work around that, find an exploitative loophole.  It’s animation!  You can use that bending of reality to your advantage if you do it well enough.  I got the constant feeling that a few more years of experience and practice under the animation team’s belt would have managed to make a pretty great looking film considering the budget.  But there are just a surplus of rookie mistakes littering the animation and it exposes the whole enterprise as cheap.

The inexperience similarly shows in a screenplay that liberally borrows from other, often resoundingly better animated films.  There are cribs and shout-outs from and to Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Fantasia, The Black Cauldron, Rio, Madagascar and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (hey, I said “often better” not “always better”) and those are the ones I actively noticed.  It’s not done in the way that more cynical animated kids’ films do it, there is a genuine love for the source material it cribs from and its aim is to use these references to further its own story.  The issue is that the non-cribbed material is not particularly engaging and the execution of the borrowed material never quite works, it hits those points without getting why they work.

It’s all stuff that I’ve seen before and better executed in those other places.  Khumba wants to use its borrowed material to help boost its own story but it only serves to highlight how… middling its own story is.  None of the characters are particularly unlikable but I didn’t feel an attachment to any of them, either.  The story beats are rote and uninspired, failing to put any new twists on them to justify their being trotted out for the hundred-millionth time.  There are some occasional mysticism and superstition elements thrown in to try and make things seem more epic but inadvertently only serve to needlessly clutter the finale and the villain’s motivation.  Again, none of this is to a lack of trying, but it means the film never rises above its pastiche of references to stand up with its own identity besides the enthusiasm.

One last issue is down to pacing.  Now, normally when I talk about pacing, I mean it in the sense of “this film is way too long/short” because that’s the most noticeable kind of bad pacing.  Khumba is the perfect length, it never drags and it never charges through things at 200MPH.  The issue is that the action on screen never seems to get out of first gear.  Action scenes are too gentle, too slovenly, there are no stakes and no danger because nothing feels deadly or intimidating because nothing particularly seems to happen in them.  There’s an early section where Khumba, Mama V and Bradley are surrounded and pounced on by a group of wild dogs but the whole sequence plays out with all the urgency of being harassed by a couple of rogue fleas.  The animation too stiff, the camerawork too static, the music remains sedentary.  Almost every action scene is like this and it kills a lot of investment because these characters are clearly not in any danger so why should I worry about what happens to them?

It bums me out to have to type this review, it truly does.  See, ripping apart a soulless bad movie is easy: it’s clear that nobody involved cared about the product other than the bottom line it generates so there’s precisely no reason to feel bad about treating it like a leopard treats its prey.  Having to dismantle a bad film that is trying really, desperately hard to be a good film is akin to kicking out Tiny Tim’s crutches as you walk past him, or deliberately performing an elaborate tap dance routine in front of people paralysed from the waist down, or going around to the houses of those who made the film and taking a dump on their front lawns whilst they watch.  You’re going to feel bad, unless you’re a monster, because the victim is so earnest and desperately trying to avoid being deserving of the sentence you’re flinging down on them.

And that’s Khumba.  It’s earnest, it’s got heart and it thinks that is all it needs to win because heart and good intentions can overcome poor execution, right?  It’s the scrappy underdog in the sports movie that’s not the best at the game but still triumphs in the end because believing in yourself despite your sub-par abilities conquers all, right?  Sadly, though, reality ensues in this metaphor and Khumba’s noble intentions and excitement to be here is negated by poor animation, stake-less action and an inability to rise above the influences it has a good deal of respect for.  Hopefully, Triggerfish Animation use this as a learning experience and come back with something better next time because there is clearly potential and love coming from that studio and it saddens me to see inexperience sink that.

Callum Petch wants you to know he’s a rainbow too.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!