Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

Failed Critics Podcast: Atomic Blonde

Welcome to the latest episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where your hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes were joined by Brian Plank to review David Leitch’s newest action thriller, Atomic Blonde. The episode was recorded a day late and about half an hour short after Steve decided to copy the film’s star, Charlize Theron, and drink his own bath water. And we all know what Steve fills his baths with.  Needless to say, he was violently ill.

Continue reading Failed Critics Podcast: Atomic Blonde

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

huntsman winters war

“I bet that story wet the eyes of a few ladies.”

I’d like to get it out there right away that, although I chose to take time out of my evening, paid the 3D uplift and even volunteered my services to write this review, I went in with no expectations of greatness from The Huntsman. I would call myself a fan of most of the billed cast and given the acting pedigree on-screen. I don’t think it would be asking too much to at least have the almost two-hour run time made bearable by those that were paid to be there, would it? I mean, even if this second crack at the fantasy franchise turned out to be nothing more than hot piss, it would at least be watchable, given its stars, right?

Yeah, it would have been nice.

Half prequel and half sequel, The Huntsman tells a story that kind of surrounds 2012’s Snow White and The Huntsman‘s story of how Snow White took the crown from Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen, Ravenna. A few years before the events of Snow White, Ravenna and her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) drift in opposite directions when the soon-to-be Evil Queen watches her vulnerable sister suffer the loss of her child and in anger learns to unleash her power to control ice. With Freya’s new found power comes a new life; one focussed on conquering all she surveys and covering the world with ice. To do this, she trains an army of children, her “Huntsmen”, to do her dirty work.

Years down the line and Snow White has taken the crown. The Ice Queen’s army have decimated the land and her best huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth – sporting a pretty bad accent) is a wandering nomad who finds himself on the trail of the presumed dead queen’s magic mirror – a source of unrelenting evil that has vanished en route to a place where it will be safe and the world will be safe from it. Joined on his quest by a couple of bickering dwarves (Rob Brydon and the returning Nick Frost) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), a warrior whose skills equal The Huntsman’s and together, the rag-tag group need to find the mirror before Freya and her army get their paws on it.

Wow. I almost made that sound like it could be interesting.

Like I said, I went in with no delusions that this was going to be a good film. But the least these people could do for all that money is put a little effort in. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, in his directorial debut – a little IMDb-fu taught me he was a visual effects guy on Snow White – seems to be under the impression that making the film look pretty is all he needs to do to sell the film. It is very pretty, too; it all looks very Game of Thrones in its frozen landscapes and scary armies. But it’s not enough to mean you can ignore everything else.

The names up on that screen did nothing but disappoint, either. I adore the three leading ladies and rarely do I have a bad word to say about them; but there seems to have been a collective decision to half-ass their way through this terribly lacklustre script, possibly in the hope that they and us don’t have to suffer through a third entry in this dumbed down franchise. Charlize Theron is essentially relegated to a support role; I mean, it’s not bad considering she was killed in the last film, but she gets the part of the older sister to Emily Blunt’s Ice Queen, Freya and pretty much plays the walking embodiment of the mirror’s evil. Blunt, normally brilliant in everything, seems blank and bored in every scene she’s in. I’ve seen Blunt be great in bad movies, she always seems to put everything into her performances. But here she appears to be having a few of those bad work days that we all have; simply showing up and going through the motions because she knows that’ll be more than adequate. A real shame.

It turns out, that the price for admission into last year’s Crimson Peak for Jessica Chastain, was a contractual obligation to Universal for a film to be named later. And every single frame that her and her just awful accent are in screams of being forced to be there. No heart, no soul and absolutely no care for the job at hand. This usually exciting to watch actress looks as insulted to be there as I felt to be watching this loathsome film. Finally, Mr Hemsworth. Mate, you’re Thor! We all know you’ve actually got some character in you. We all know that you are more than a long haired cardboard cutout with zero ability to look interested in anything. So why are you in this film sleepwalking your way through every scene pretending like you’re Mel Gibson pretending to be William Wallace? Weak, dude.

Along with bits of Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time, the story has a few elements from Snow White and a whole lot has been borrowed from The Snow Queen – but friends, Frozen this ain’t. No real care or attention has been put into the plot-hole heavy story and even less into the film’s direction. The Huntsman plays itself like a dark and scary fantasy film with some flashes of horror in it but doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. Instead the film plays safe to the same crowd that went to the first film because Hemsworth – and missing-in-action Kristen Stewart hot off of her Twilight fame – not only fails to put together a decent flick for the teenagers it’s aimed at, it fails to put together a watchable movie at all.

Overall, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a bloody awful film. Even for a first time director it’s a poorly filmed, badly executed mess with a hacked together, disjointed script and a bored looking cast. It’s a real shame, because all the parts for a great film are here just waiting to be put together. Sadly, those in charge of its construction aren’t much more than peanut butter slurping monkeys, constantly distracted picking bits of poo out of their bum hair.

Failed Critics Podcast: Mad Critics Fury Podcast

mad maxHello and welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast! Joining hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes this week are Andrew Brooker and Jackson Tyler, sharing their opinion on the latest installment of the Pitch Perfect franchise, as well as George Miller’s triumphant return to post-apocalyptic Australia with Mad Max: Fury Road.

Starting off the podcast as ever is our quiz – in its new revamped format! With things teetering on a knife-edge; will Steve lose and be forced to watch Kill Keith yet again; will he win and force Owen to watch Kill Keith again? Or, with a bit of luck, will the cursed video-tape that is Keith Chegwin’s magnum opus finally be passed on to somebody else so we never have to darken our DVD player with it ever again?

We also chat about the 68th Cannes (with an ‘s’) Film Festival, from the end of the McConaissance to institutional sexism. There’s even room for Owen to revisit a film talked about exactly 150 episodes ago; Jackson shares his love for Alexander Payne’s high-school political-satire Election; Steve puts his geo-gea-jolly-ologist expertise to good use when reviewing The Day After Tomorrow; and Brooker delves into the twisted mind of James Cullen Bressack with Pernicious ahead of its UK release next month.

Join us again next week for reviews of the Poltergeist remake (why?), Disney’s Tomorrowland and the latest CGI-laden disaster movie San Andreas.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Following his recent Mad Max retrospective, Andrew Brooker returns to take a look at George Miller’s latest entry to the series. Spoiler: he bloody loves it.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

mad max fury road“It’s a lovely day.”

It’s been 36 years since George Miller changed the face of action movies and defined the post-apocalyptic genre for decades to come with his original vision of the future, Mad Max.  It’s been 34 years since he made one of the most iconic action films to ever grace the cinema, paving the way for a sea of imitators that lasted more than three decades and it’s been 30 years since the slight misfire that was Beyond Thunderdome.  With the kind of pedigree the Mad Max franchise has, you could be forgiven for being a little skeptical at a reimagining of the title a few decades after the last one has been and gone.

Mad Max: Fury Road has had a turbulent time getting to us. Green lit 15 years ago once a script was completed and returning helmer George Miller was ready to shoot. Cast changes, a complete location shift from the Australian outback to the African desert and a huge delay to reshoot large portions of the film had us wondering if we would ever see the film.  Coming dangerously close to becoming the stuff of myth and legend, Fury Road seemed destined to find a permanent home in development hell, never to see the light of day.

Thankfully, today the world can see the film that nearly wasn’t. The film that looked like it had been canned more than once over the years and frankly, the film that everyone needs to see.

Now bear with me, because I’m going to start with a negative.  My one and only problem with Mad Max: Fury Road is that I simply don’t know what I can and can’t talk about. I usually base those decisions solely on what’s been shown in a film’s trailer but even the ads are a bit spoiler-ish and as such I avoided them all.  Every scene should be experienced unspoiled and fresh on that big screen without having ever seen it before.  On top of that, it’s a Mad Max film. These films have very little story to them and are instead all about the visuals and the feelings those visuals emote in its audience.  With that in mind, and I hope I’m allowed to do this, If you want to see the film unspoiled as I suggest, skip straight down to the last paragraph for my wrap-up and come back when you’ve seen the film. I promise there will be no spoilers, I will keep to what has been shown in the marketing for the most part, with an occasional bit added for context and elaboration, but I’ll be talking about a few details I was very appreciative of not knowing much about on my first viewing.

Still with me? Right.

Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially a reboot of the series that forgoes the world building of the first film. So instead of being a complete restart to the story, we first meet Max an unspecified amount of time after he’s lost his family to the brutal gangs that run amok across the post-nuclear wasteland of Australia. Having already spent years foraging for food and gas, The ever brilliant Tom Hardy takes on the title character, replacing Mel Gibson and making the role his own.  Hardy’s Max comes to us a broken shell, near feral, being chased across the sand by the ferocious War Boys, a savage tribe of warriors led by the terrifying Immortan Joe (brilliantly played by Hugh Keays-Byrne – the original Mad Max’s “Toecutter”). Within a minute of the opening shot, former cop Max Rockatansy’s iconic Pursuit Special is destroyed and Max is taken prisoner, branded and stuck in a cage in Joe’s Citadel, a fortress built into the rocks of the outback, and left to rot.

While this is happening, Joe’s best rig driver, Imperator Furiosa, played wonderfully by the amazing Charlize Theron, has taken a detour on a routine transport run prompting suspicions from the War Boys and their leader.  It quickly transpires that Furiosa has helped Immortan Joe’s wives escape their captivity, running from their lives of forced breeding for the self-appointed king and desperately searching for a safe place to continue their lives free of servitude. The War Boys give chase, and so begins the greatest 110 minute chase scene in the history of film.

For reasons best left alone for fear of ruining way too much, Max finds himself joining Imperator Furiosa on her war rig, fighting against King Joe and his tribe battling to get his prized harem back from the traitor that took them from him. Cutting a path through the wasteland in their heavily armoured tanker truck, Max and Furiosa find themselves in a frantic, constantly moving vehicular skirmish as the tribe calls for backup from the outlying gangs and tribes that hunt in the desert. As the numbers against them increase, the odds seem to get ever more hopeless for the road warriors who are in just as much danger from the road ahead of them as they are from the crazed animals in cars behind them.

As was the way all those years ago, Mad Max: Fury Road‘s genius isn’t so much in its story as it is in its design. Not one detail is missed and not one thing you’ll see is an accident. The cars have been meticulously built to be functional but look menacing.  From one tribes bug looking vehicles that have been covered in spikes to the huge truck that has only one purpose; to house every speaker known to man, four guys on drums and one guy playing an insane guitar that spits fire from its neck at random intervals. I kid you not, no matter how I describe it, you won’t believe it when you see it and you won’t be able to keep from laughing at it when it appears. It’s spectacularly stupid and hilariously brilliant. If any other film done that, you’d up and walk out of the theatre shaking your head in disgust, but George Miller has weaved a world so good, so colourful and so absolutely bonkers that a dude playing fiery guitar on a sand truck not only makes absolute sense, but it fits right in!

The vehicular carnage in Fury Road will be a yard stick for years to come. All action scenes will be compared to these for the next few years as the film turns everything up to eleven as it crushes, rips apart and blows up enough cars and trucks to fill a decent sized service station. The first big chase alone, the chase that introduces Furiosa and Max was a 20 minute spectacle that when it ended, when the screen was filled with light and silence, I discovered I’d been holding my breath and was literally on the edge of my seat. I was relieved it was over so I could relax, have a swig of my drink and take a couple of breaths.  Almost as soon as I had relaxed and my heart had returned to its normal rate, Mad Max: Fury Road pushes yet another adrenaline fuelled skirmish onto the screen and makes you sit in awe as Miller find more spectacularly twisted ways of destroying cars, trucks and people as Max, Furiosa and the Wives try to get to their destination in one piece.

Now don’t be fooled. This isn’t The Road Warrior and Max isn’t protecting a fragile group of people that don’t know how to defend themselves.  Here, Max is simply along for the ride and has found himself in the middle of an escape plan hatched and executed by Imperator Furiosa and the women she is helping escape. Almost surplus to requirements, Max has met a group that can be just as ferocious as he is and are just as determined to survive the harsh landscape on their own.  Charlize Theron does an amazing job of bringing Furiosa to the screen and in the illustrious tradition of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor before her, the deadly war rig driver stands proud as one of the greatest, strongest female characters ever to grace our screens.  Holding her own against the biggest and baddest of Immortan Joe’s army, Furiosa and the wives are more than capable of standing up for themselves and keeping themselves alive when the odds are seemingly against them.

Last generation, almost every action film was influenced, some more than others, by George Miller’s original Mad Max films.  The director had created the epitome of on-screen action and everybody needed to take their cues from him to be taken seriously.  Now, a new generation of films and filmmakers are coming. And every single one of them will be turning to Fury Road for guidance and inspiration.  Redefining a genre Miller himself created almost four decades ago, Mad Max: Fury Road is nothing short of a masterpiece. Amazingly filmed, beautifully visceral combat; stunning visuals and an amazing score all added to the near flawless acting and the direction that makes you want to get up and cheer throughout the film; they all combine to make one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in quite some time.  I can’t recommend this film enough.  It is, in a word, perfect.

Mad Max: A Retrospective

Ahead of next week’s release of Mad Max: Fury Road, we’re taking a retrospective look back over George Miller’s original trilogy of post-apocalyptic action films.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


mad maxI’m scared, Fif. You know why? It’s that rat circus out there. I’m beginning to enjoy it.

Back in 1979, George Miller exploded onto the scene with low budget action film Mad Max. Having only previously made a short with his buddy, Mad Max producer Byron Kennedy, Miller brought a vision of the future to the screen rarely seen before. Wrapped in a real life fear with an unmistakable prediction for our future, Max’s world was one of chaos. A world shaped by the population’s relentless desire to keep their vehicles running on the increasingly rare petrol that we took for granted before the oil wells dried.

Casting a then unknown Mel Gibson, a man with only one theatrical film credit at the time (and honestly, do you remember the Australian “thriller” Summer City? Rated a spectacular 4/10 on IMDB? Me neither) with no money, a star no one had heard of and with nothing to lose, George Miller put his heart and soul into a film that, if it had gone badly, could have ended his film making career before it had even had a chance to splutter into life.

Now this was the late seventies. A time long before just the hint of a film idea had studios clambering to find room on their lots to film a trilogy, or more. A time before people would be walking out of the cinema already talking about a sequel and a time before franchises were churned out into multiplexes no matter how successful, or unsuccessful, they were. So when you see that Mad Max spawned a trilogy in a time where trilogy meant Star Wars and The Godfather, NOT the Alvin and the Chipmunks or the bloody Transformers, you know it was something special.

On what amounts to a shoestring budget, George Miller created a dystopian world to simultaneously amaze and depress us. And with Miller returning to the desert soon with Mad Max: Fury Road, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the trilogy that launched Gibson to superstardom and gave Miller a directorial career that spans more than 35 years. I wanted the franchise fresh in my mind ready for the fourth instalment, I wanted to return to the world I first visited as a kid and most importantly, I wanted to see if the trilogy still held up today as one of the greats and it isn’t, as so many things are nowadays, simply being held together with fond, rose-tinted nostalgia.


1] Mad Max (1979)

Budget: $350,000

Gross: $8,750,000

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Law and order is beginning to collapse as fuel, the worlds most replied upon resource, becomes it’s most precious. Set “a few years from now”, Mad Max is the story of Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky. Policeman, and top pursuit driver for Australia’s Highway Patrol, the MFP.

The thing that makes Mad Max stand out amongst a lot of other films, is that at less than 90 minutes, it wastes very little time on action scenes and set-pieces that it doesn’t need. Opting instead to spend the majority of its run time building the world and letting the audience become a part of it. After a spectacular 10 minute car chase, ok, not The French Connection or Ronin kind of spectacular, but it was pretty great, the film spends an hour with very little going on as it elects to instead flesh out its characters and tell the story that Miller wants– no, needs to tell.

You see, Mad Max‘s concept came from an international crisis just a few years earlier. For many and varied political reasons the Arab nations that control the vast majority of oil in the world declared an embargo against the U.S. and their allies in a show of strength against them. Knowing they couldn’t combat them in a traditional, military sense, these nations hit the Americans where it hurt the most. Their wallets. By cutting off the main supply of oil, the import cost for the U.S. went through the roof and made the price of a barrel of oil nigh on unbearable. Anyways…

This was the basis for Mad Max; a world where fuel is a rarity and people will do anything to get heir hands on more. A world that grows ever more dark and violent as gangs carve their way through the country and terrify the general population. The gangs and the Main Force Patrol clash on the roads, bringing mayhem and destruction with them and only offering a passing glance to the safety of the people anywhere near these vehicular skirmishes.

Maxs madness comes when his friends and his family are caught in the crossfire of this long running war. Maniacal gang leader “Toecutter” (played by the terrifyingly brilliant Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his band of ultra-violent misfits gradually feel the wrath of a man who tried very hard to do the right thing by his family, his friends and the law and instead becomes the thing he feared the most. One of them. In an effort to be the good guy, Max had to become the thing he has spent his life trying to protect others from and to make sure that no one else has to go through what he has, he must do the despicable and wipe these animals off the face of the earth.

Max spends the last 20 minutes or so systematically pulling apart Toecutter’s gang in some fun and imaginative ways. Taking all of his rage out on the bikers that ruined his life, making sure they can’t do it to anyone else, Rockatansky becomes wrath incarnate as the final, maybe the film’s most famous, scene comes to an end and the credits roll we all take a breath and know we’ve just watched something special.

Made on a modest $350,000, Mad Max made millions of dollars back and not only rocketed its star and its director straight into the limelight, but made a sequel an all-but-guaranteed thing.


2] Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Budget: $4,000,000

Gross: $23,667,907

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

The turnaround from the first Mad Max making a tremendous profit to us getting a sequel wasn’t long at all. Only a couple of years after we saw Max become a one man army, we are reunited with the “Road Warrior” as he lives a lone wolf kind of life, moving across the ruined countryside searching for his next meal or his car’s next fill-up. One man alone has become one man and his dog as the world goes from a slightly recognisable dystopia to a full-on, no more law left post-apocalyptic wasteland. And with a bigger budget and some studio confidence, George Miller spent a lot of time and attention (along with his production crew, of course) crafting a world that not only looked menacing and hopeless, but one that also become the benchmark for post-apocalyptic settings for years to come. Influencing media across all forms. You can see Mad Max 2‘s DNA still seeping through as recently as films like Book of Eli and even in video games like Rage.

If Mad Max was the story of a man losing his humanity, Mad Max 2, sometimes subtitled “The Road Warrior” is the story of how that same jaded soul finds a reason to dig deep and find some compassion as the film takes a page or two from almost every western ever made and has Mel Gibson’s leading man protecting a settlement from leather and rubber clad marauders intent on stealing supplies.

The bad guys definitely get to see the majority of the film’s increased production value. There is a notable change in the aesthetic of anything that isn’t a good guy. Cars aren’t just cars, they are all heavily modified death machines with a Death Race look about them with gang members all leather-clad and using old tyres to make those awesome 80’s shoulder pads. The film’s critically acclaimed costume design begins with lead baddie, “The Humungus”, a terrifying individual who wears a hockey mask, an uncomfortable looking pair of pants and a bizarre S&M harness and it pretty much ends with his lieutenant, Wez. Wez is a mohawked psychopath who terrifies the populace in arseless chaps! Ok, so maybe it’s not the greatest costume design ever, but for its time it’s a spectacular vision of the near future and more than 30 years later it still holds up as one of the best original post-apocalyptic films ever made.

Widely lauded as the best of the trilogy, Mad Max 2 still holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has a thoroughly well deserved cult status amongst film lovers across the world. An amazing sequel that turns the original’s formula on its head by switching tension building drama for telling it’s story through its action sequences. If Road Warrior has a flaw, it’s that one of the greatest action films ever made somehow spawned…


3] Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Budget: $12,000,000

Gross: $36,230,219

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

The problem with Mad Max 3 isn’t that it’s bad. It kind of is, but that’s not its biggest issue. Beyond Thunderdome‘s main issues come from the fact that it simply tried too damn hard. It tried to be bigger and better than Road Warrior and not only falls short, it stumbles almost immediately and never quite picks itself up.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome can only really be described as silly. Its premise is a good one but it’s poorly executed. The idea that 25 years after the events of the second film society would have learned to build themselves into little communities that have learn to NOT kill each other is a great one. Power struggles and the fight for the fuel that must have surely run out by now should add nothing but tension but it just plays out as daft. Ok, so they worked out how to get fuel into their film and added a pig crap methane factory thing that produces the energy for the Tina Turner controlled “Bartertown”, but it doesn’t explain how a dude that lives in a little area in the desert that’s surprisingly reminiscent of the house Luke Skywalker lives in on Tatooine has a plane that never runs out of fuel.

Even the film’s titular battle arena disappoints. Thunderdome is a giant cage, built to house two people who fight to the death. But it comes off as ridiculous when the men are attached to giant elastic ropes and forced to bounce around the giant birdcage like a pair of rubbish Cirque Du Soleil performers who have had one too many alco-pops!

Everything from production to story has gone down the tubes! Costumes have gone from looking like they were actually scavenged by the people wearing them to looking far too clean and precisely cut (I’m of course forgetting the buttless trousers) and the story forgoes the brutality of its predecessors and instead somehow turns into a slightly more violent version of Hook, right down to the silly looking Lost Boys.

Mad Max 3 falls into the same pit as so many third instalments. It tries way too hard to prove itself relevant and simply falls flat. If Mad Max 2 is the film that all the post-apocalyptic movies since have tried to be, Beyond Thunderdome is the film they have tried hard not to be compared to. Not only is it the poorest of the trilogy, it’s easily the one to have fared the worst against the test of time.

And that can only leave us with…


4] Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Budget: $150,000,000

Gross: –

Rotten Tomatoes Score: –

30 years since the last film and 15 years since the movie was officially green lit by Warner Brothers, George Miller returns to the wasteland with Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy will be taking the title role, joined by Charlize Theron as we return to the desolate world that has been influencing Hollywood for almost four decades.
Only time will tell if Miller and his new star can relight the fire that Thunderdome kicked sand all over.


Fury Road will be released in UK cinemas on 14th May 2015. Brooker will be back to review it for the site soon after, and you’ll be able to hear our podcast review some days later.

EDIT: AND YOU CAN NOW READ BROOKER’S REVIEW OF MAD MAX: FURY ROAD ON THE WEBSITE!

Failed Critics Podcast: Episode CXV – A New Sound Quality

Edge of TomorrowWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast: now with added not sounding like we recorded it at the bottom of the ocean with only a drill and some bees for company. Steve, James, and Owen round up the week in film news, including the latest Star Wars rumours, and the joyous future collaboration of Nic Cage of John McTiernan.

We also review Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, and will James finally convert to Seth MacFarlane fandom after watching A Million Ways to Die in the West?

Join us next week for reviews of 22 Jump Street and (brace yourself) Grace of Monaco, and put up the bunting and get the good champagne out as we introduce our newest full-time member of the team..

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A Million Ways To Die In The West

A Million Ways To Die In The West is 30 minutes of genuinely funny material poorly and painfully stretched out over 2 hours.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-seth-macfarlane-02-636-380Full disclosure: I don’t hate Seth MacFarlane but nor do I think he’s a comedic genius.  I know that it’s the cool thing to despise the man now, and we all know that the Internet is all about that hive mind collectiveness, and he has done some questionable or just plain bad things (most of post-Season 4 Family Guy, helping to foist Dads upon a public that has done nothing to deserve such a thing, the 2013 Academy Awards), but I can’t hate him.  He worked on Johnny Bravo, Family Guy was genuinely revelatory back in the day, he has a great singing voice, he’s a super talented voice actor and, most importantly, he helped bring American Dad!, one of the best shows on television for the past decade it’s existed for, to mankind.  He’s a fallible human being who has made some gold and made some crap.  It happens to the best of us (even The Beatles made Beatles For Sale) and I happen to like the guy.

His first foray into filmmaking, 2012’s Ted, was MacFarlane at his best.  Genuinely funny, well-paced, heartfelt and mostly consistent; not every joke landed but enough did at a frequent enough rate to paper over the bum gags.  Ads for his new film have strongly played up the Ted connection, even going so far as to have frequent appearances by its title character to fully hammer home the point that “THE GUY WHO MADE TED MADE A NEW MOVIE!”  I was rather a bit confused by the move, like, I knew Ted was popular but I didn’t think it was a phenomenon or anything.  Turns out I missed the true reason why ads for this one were playing up Ted, they’re trying to coax people into the cinema based on residual good will because A Million Ways To Die In The West is disappointingly underwhelming from start to finish.

Set in 1882 Arizona, MacFarlane plays cowardly sheep-farmer Albert whose girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) has dumped him after he publically embarrasses himself during a gunfight.  Thrown into a funk when he spots her dating the supreme dickweed known as Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) and sick of living in a town where death is almost literally around every corner, he resolves to move to San Francisco.  Plans change when he saves a woman, Anna (Charlize Theron), during a bar fight, becomes friends with her and, in a moment of impulse, challenges Foy to a gunfight.  Oh, and Anna is actually married to a notorious outlaw named Clinch (Liam Neeson) who is a murderer, a wife abuser, is inbound to Albert’s town and is kind of a despicable person with no redeeming qualities and isn’t even entertainingly evil to make up for said fact.  One of these things is not like the others.

If Ted and A Million Ways To Die In The West share anything quality-wise, it’s the problem that the jokes dry up when the plot gets involved.  Ted had the crazed stalker plot that, thankfully, was mostly kept to the side-lines until the last third.  However, that still managed to sneak some jokes and heart by even when it ended up overtaking the film’s final third.  A Million Ways… has Clinch.  Clinch is much like the stalker from Ted in that he appears near the beginning and then makes himself scarce until he can show up in the last third, but here Clinch is completely unnecessary to the main plot.  Albert has basically completed his arc when Clinch shows up and all his appearance succeeds in doing is adding another bump in the road of Anna and Albert’s relationship, giving Albert a more traditional and infinitely weaker arc-capper; and dragging the movie out for another 40 minutes so that it can hit that two hour length that all comedies, apparently by royal decree at this point, feel the need to run for.  He feels extraneous to the film and his total despicable human routine isn’t even entertaining to watch, he’s just horrible and creepy which doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film.

Why do all comedies nowadays feel the need to run for two hours, whilst we’re close to the subject?  Like, what is gained by dragging the runtime into triple digits and dos hours?  All that usually ends up occurring is audience fatigue and a whole bunch of very obvious filler, jokes and scenarios that outstay their welcome or just plain aren’t funny to begin with.  Very few films are going to be The Wolf Of Wall Street, where the high quality of jokes and the pacing of the film are actually sustained throughout the entire runtime!  I mean, how hard is it to hire an actual editor or somebody to just say “no” to yet another over-long improv scene or extended piece of toilet humour?  Quality over quantity, people!

Anyways, Clutch isn’t the only time the plot gets in the way of the laughs.  A lot, and I mean a surprising amount of a lot, of scenes that depict the bonding of Anna and Albert are written sans jokes.  I mean, I’m going to assume that most of them are purposefully sans jokes, because there were a hell of a lot of scenes between them where nothing particularly funny was said or occurred in their general vicinity.  So, because of this and most of the Clinch stuff, that’s a fair amount of this supposed comedy that’s not being played for laughs.  It’s weird, I honestly don’t know if MacFarlane and his co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild understand how to make jokes out of or cram jokes into plot points.  So, again, there are long stretches of this film that don’t have any jokes and we end up with a film that has a man taking a dump into another man’s hat in one ten minute stretch, and in the next ten minute stretch has a scene in which Clinch beats Anna and all but openly threatens to rape her (again, for whatever it’s worth, that latter scene is played dead straight).  The tones don’t gel and the film never quite feels right because of it.

The other reason why A Million Ways To Die In The West never feels quite right is because it forgot to bring enough jokes to fill those two hours it runs for.  If Ted was more MacFarlane than his co-writers Sulkin and Wild (gags that are rooted in character work, genuine likeable characters, plot events that actually tied into furthering the characters instead of just going, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”), then A Million Ways… is more Sulkin and Wild (the people responsible for Dads, if you were wondering).  So we get pop culture references (not parodies) for the sake of pop culture references (say what you want about the Flash Gordon bit in Ted, it was at least rooted in the characters and served a plot-based reason for existing), gags that run for far too long and then run a bit longer for good measure (said aforementioned hat dump scene), gross-out gags that use their grossness as the set-up, delivery and punch-line (“Look!  Seth MacFarlane’s face is being peed on by a sheep!  That’s hilarious,” said people with questionably low standards in humour), and jokes about ethnic stereotypes (there’s an extended bit involving Native Americans that I still can’t decide as to whether it’s a parody of stereotypical depictions of Native Americans in film or just an offensive stereotypical depiction of Native Americans in film).

There’s little heart, here, little rhyme or reason to the gags and a very tiny amount of actual one-liners or funny exchanges.  It’s not just Sulkin and Wild, though, MacFarlane indulges in his worst impulses too.  Beating jokes into the ground (there’s a continual joke about how nobody smiles in old photos that officially stops being funny by the third, of at least five, time it’s brought up), constant smug knowing references to the setting and set-up of the film that fail to adequately masquerade as actual jokes, over-long action scenes that lack thrills (only the first of which, a bar brawl, contains anything close to resembling a joke or thrill worthy of its existence) and a musical number, which everyone is subjected to twice even though it wasn’t good or catchy or funny the first time (unless you find the word “moustache” inherently hilarious).

It’s all even more of a shame because there are some actually genuinely funny jokes here.  Granted, half of them were shown in the first trailer, but there are still some legitimately funny gags in there.  Jokes at Albert’s total ineptitude at his sheep herding job are almost always funny, the sudden deaths are great bits of physical comedy, as is most of Albert’s training montage, the prior mentioned bar fight has a very funny gag for Albert and his friend that almost smooth over the total ineptitude shown in the direction of the fight itself, and a montage of Albert’s crapsack of a life prior to the events of the film pulls a steady stream of legitimate laughs until it brings out a group of dwarves to laugh at.  Those aren’t all of the jokes, but they are the majority of the better ones (and you can probably also throw anything that comes out of Neil Patrick Harris’ purposefully-trying-too-hard mouth onto that pile too) and they total about 30 minutes of film.  And, yes, that is a problem for a film that runs just shy of two hours.  It also doesn’t help that the film is front-loaded with the best gags as hour two involves the return of Clutch and we’ve already touched on how well the film handles plot.

A Million Ways To Die In The West’s main saving grace, in addition to the fact that I actually laughed at it (unlike with, say, Blended), is MacFarlane himself in his first lead role on-camera.  He brilliantly nails the ultra-pathetic side of Albert and is fully committed to everything his script tells him to do.  He’s got a natural charm that he brings to his work, too, which keeps the character likeable instead of just plain pathetic.  It’s all best exemplified relatively early on with a sequence in which Albert flips out and starts ranting about how much he hates living in The West and just how dangerous the place is.  Neil Patrick Harris is the film’s other standout performer, although everybody proves themselves to be funny when the script actually lets them tell a joke or be funny, which is more of a rarity than one may think.  Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi are especially wasted as Albert’s friends, a devout Christian prostitute and her boyfriend respectively.  The film sets up an actual subplot with them, involving the pair wondering if they’re ready to have sex with one another, and they have a legitimately sweet chemistry together… but the film promptly drops both of them completely for the middle hour and then brings them back for glorified cameos in the last 30 minutes.  It’s a total waste of talent, if you hadn’t already guessed.

Sigh.  Writing this review is bumming me out.  I really wanted this one to be good, folks!  I’ve had a lot of disappointments ever since The Raid 2 went and blew all my expectations away.  Godzilla, X-Men, Maleficent, even The Wind Rises!  I’m supposed to be due a win, by this point.  To see a film that fully lived up to its potential or track record.  But unfortunately A Million Ways To Die In The West is not that movie.  It’s too long, too infrequent in quality laughs and lacking in actual gags anyway.  Humour is especially subjective, so you may enjoy it far more than I did, but I found myself checking my watch a lot during that second hour and wishing that everybody involved had tried harder.  Because MacFarlane can do better but he and his co-writers indulge in all of their worst vices, here, and a very funny 30 minute sitcom episode or TV special is instead stretched out into a mildly amusing but hugely disappointing two hour film.  Simply put, it doesn’t work and that’s a damn shame.

Callum Petch will give you want you want.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Lost Reviews… Prometheus (2012)

The Lost Reviews are articles that our editor produced for another publication but, for one reason or another, never got published.

It’s not because they’re shit. Honest.

After 24 years, Ridley Scott returns to the universe that spawned arguably his best film, and certainly one of his most influential. It’s clear from the outset however that this prequel isn’t ‘Alien Begins’; it’s a far different beast, owing more in terms of its tone and ambition to Scott’s other sci-fi classic Blade Runner. While aspects of Prometheus’ set-design and its action set-pieces share a lineage with Alien, this film is epic in scale rather than claustrophobic and dripping in terror.

And while Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is nowhere to be seen, Noomi Rapace stands in more-than-ably as Elizabeth Shaw – a scientist who discovers a clue to the origins of mankind. She persuades the Weyland Corporation (yes, that Weyland Corporation) to fund an expedition to the darkest reaches of the universe to confront mankind’s creators. This being an ‘Alien’ film though, the meeting is unlikely to result in a welcoming party or cosy chat over the family photo albums.

Rapace is excellent as the head-strong Shaw, which will be no surprise to those who saw her in the original The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo. The star of the piece, though, is Michael Fassbender as the ship’s android David. We see him watching David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and practicing Peter O’Toole’s mannerisms while the crew are in hyper-sleep. However, it is another David that seems to imbue Fassbender’s android – that of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. He has the same other-worldly presence, clearly fascinated by humans but easily corrupted by them.

Sadly, and unlike Scott’s original Alien, the rest of the crew aboard the good ship Prometheus are largely underwritten. Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pierce are all more than competent in their respective roles, but as the action steps up a gear in the second half they become reduced to two-dimensional plot-devices.

The other major problem is the film’s unanswered questions. It’s great to see a motion picture refusing to spoon-feed its audience, but the ambiguity will frustrate many viewers. Whether this is intentional or not depends on how you view script-writer Damon Lindelof’s TV series Lost. Hopefully a rumoured sequel, or the almost-inevitable Ridley Scott director’s cut, will expand on the themes explored here.

Regardless of its flaws, let’s be thankful people have still got the ambition to make films as beautiful and ambitious as Prometheus

Prometheus World Premiere – we were there…

So it came to pass that on the evening of 31st May, I managed to score a couple of tickets to the world premiere of Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction – the long-awaited Prometheus. After a discussion with the lovely lady who was dealing with our arrangements, it was decided that if Jeremy Clarkson was going to be there then we might as well go in jeans, shirt, and jacket as well. Clarkson-style. Except we made a pact not to insult public sector workers or an entire nation while we were there.

To hear what I thought about the film, you’ll have to download the next Failed Critics podcast (due tomorrow). What I will say is that I found it to be an enjoyable and intelligent sci-fi blockbuster, which looked gorgeous and had a couple of brilliant central performances.

Anyway, this is meant to be about me…

So we arrived at the Empire Leicester Square, and the entrance and red carpet was completely out of sight.

After picking up our tickets, we queued up along the outside of this pretty unglamorous dystopian fence and started to lower our expectations. We are going to be bundled in the back-door, but at least we get to see the film before the shitmuchers. So, we show our tickets, pass though a few security guards and end up being vomited out onto the red carpet…

And it wasn’t just us on the carpet. We had managed to turn up at the same time as Ridley Scott…

Guy Pearce…

And I even managed to catch Charlize Theron’s eye in amongst all the chaos.

I didn’t have time to even think about the Richard Curtis-esque romantic comedy about to occur before we were ushered into the cinema to take our seats…

Oh, and Ridley Scott introduced the film about 15-feet in front of me. Front-row seats were a bit of a neck-ache for the film, but it was worth it for this…

If you want to know how my mate and I ended up chatting to a film star and getting into the after-show party – you’ll have to listen to this week’s Failed Critics podcast – available on the 4th June 2012!