Tag Archives: Chris Hemsworth

Ghostbusters

“Welcome to the good old days of New York.”

I’ve just walked out of my local cinema in one piece. I survived the latest trip to my local Cineworld thinking that this might be my final act. For the last few months we’ve been bombarded with basement dwelling imbeciles trying to convince us that the remake/reboot/reimagining of bonafide 80’s classic Ghostbusters was going to ruin our childhoods, destroy the ozone, melt the polar ice caps and bring about the apocalypse with its evil plan to replace all the ghostbusters with ladies. With lady parts. Who have the audacity to have boobs, and lady periods, and god knows what else. Leg wax perhaps?

This isn’t to say I went in hopeful. It is a remake after all, and if there’s something I really crave with my cinema going, it’s something original. But… Well, you gotta try everything haven’t you?

Years after going their own separate ways, paranormal investigators Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) find themselves working together again. Joined by nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), the team soon find themselves digging around haunted houses and God-knows-what as reports of ghost sightings around the city of New York need looking into. When subway worker and local historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) gets the shock of her life coming face to face with a ghost in the tunnels under the city, she quickly joins the girl ghoul hunters and the four become the Ghostbusters.

Wouldn’t you just know it? Turns out that the increased ghost sightings have been done on purpose. Someone is out to release generations of angry, trapped spirits, and with them begin an apocalypse. With the world against them, the team must spring into action and stop the maleficent ghosts and the end of the world.

Let’s get this out of the way early. It’s ok to be a bit hesitant about this film. A 50/50 reboot/remake of Ghostbusters was never going to garner much in the way of good vibes. It’s not ok, however, to act like an entitled, selfish, sexist asshat about it. Watch it, don’t watch it, I don’t care. Just don’t be a dick about it.

Now that’s out of the way, a little positivity.

Ghostbusters is great. It’s more than great, I loved every second spent watching it and I can’t wait to go watch it again. That’s not to say it’s perfect, of course it’s not. But it’s absolutely worth your time, in my humble opinion.

Paul Feig, the guy behind films like The Heat and Bridesmaids has modernised this classic and given new life to it; in turn bringing a few of the best comedic actors – of any gender – into the limelight and letting them have a bit of fun with the characters they are playing.

The originals had a real sense of fun and adventure in them. Their tone was never serious and still gets laughs out of me to this day. This lovely little reimagining of their story keeps all of those feelings there for you. You never feel like you’re not having a ton of fun, and it even manages to whip up a surprise or two along the way; for both us and for the New York natives hunting beasties.

The beauty of this film lies in the chemistry of its stars. In absolutely no time at all, the leading ladies have gelled together not only as a fresh-faced ghostbusting team, but as an awesome little comedy troupe. With a steady stream of one-liners and physical gags that hit the mark almost every time, it’s evident in every scene that our new ghostbusters are having a great time in front of the camera.

Maybe my favourite part though, is how no one thought it necessary to have analogue representations of the previous team. There’s no lady Peter Venkman, there’s no female Egon. All of the previous characters’ traits are represented (more or less) but there’s no one person filling each role; and considering how easy it would have been to have a selection of carbon copies, that’s possibly the bit that impresses me the most.

In fact, Jones’ Patty Tolan is the closest to a direct comparison there is, being the non-scientist of the group and more or less tripping into the job; she’s almost the mirror image of Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zedmore. But even then, as the historian of the group, she definitely shows more purpose than the classic character in it for “the steady paycheck”. Also getting the gender reversal treatment is the Ghostbusters’ receptionist; out is Annie Potts’ feisty Janine and in is the gorgeous but dumbass Kevin Beckman, with Chris Hemsworth having a whale of a time in the role.

And I tell you, considering how much of a fan of her I am, I was surprised to see the awesome Melissa McCarthy upstaged and out-laughed at almost every step by the little known – at least here in the UK – Kate McKinnon. Her Holtzmann is laugh-a-minute brilliance that will get her an army of insta-fans with her role here. Me included.

If we can step away from the controversial stars for a few minutes though, I’d love to chat a bit about the film.

I would comfortably say that Ghostbusters is probably the most well put together and well-paced comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. Feig’s films – as I’ve said plenty of times before – have been pretty hit and miss for me and his pacing is definitely one of his biggest problems. He doesn’t always know what to keep and what to cut; something very obvious with this film. With four Saturday Night Live improvisation specialists in your bill, there’s going to be times when you have to cut something you love to help the pacing.

Luckily, this time around, the comedy hits the right notes so frequently that you don’t feel the film sagging and you can happily enjoy your two hours without so much as a boring scene or a bit of dead air. In a twist from the usual “all the best bits are in the ads”, somehow, we got all the worst bits in the marketing leading up to the film’s release. The flat jokes aren’t any better in the film, the jokes that fall on their face in the trailers still fall on their face in the film, but they’re 90 seconds of gags in a two-hour movie. If ever there was a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a film on its trailers, Ghostbusters is it.

Of course, you can’t have a ghost film without a few ghosts, and here’s where I had a bit of a tough time. The ghosts look great, they really do. They’re beautifully detailed and once you’ve gotten used to them, they’re a great addition to the film. Unfortunately, and I am very aware this is just how I saw it, they reminded me far too much of the awful spooks in the even worse The Haunted Mansion; not a good film to be bringing into the minds of your audience when you’re trying to get them to enjoy your flick!

But, they do fit into the film nicely. Their aesthetic is eventually important to the film and you know what? If I have to reach for the style of ghosts you chose for your film in order to drag out a negative, you ain’t doing that bad a job.

Is Ghostbusters perfect? No, of course it’s not. It’s a sci-fi action comedy about ghost hunting in New York. But it’s a barrel of fun. There’s never a dull moment, even in the early half hour while the film finds its footing and you’re not sure if this is going to work. But with enough cameos to embarrass your average Kevin Smith production and a solid job done by everyone on both sides of the camera, in Ghostbusters we have the year’s first proper summer blockbuster. I can’t wait to watch it again.

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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.

In the Heart of the Sea

HEART OF THE SEA

“The tragedy of the Essex is the story of men. And a Demon.”

It’s been a long year; a year that seems to have been filled with more guff films than decent ones. Of course, you may disagree; you may not enjoy the same things I do and I may think what you like is complete toilet. The subjective nature of films aside, I think In the Heart of the Sea may be the film that finally killed my 2015. And I was hoping to end it on a high note, too.

Inspired by the true story that inspired Moby Dick – we’ll get to THAT in a bit – In the Heart of the Sea sees Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), an author looking for inspiration for his next book, tracking down and persuading Brendon Gleeson’s Thomas Nickerson; a deckhand and last surviving member of the crew of the doomed whaling ship, The Essex; to tell the story of the ship, its crew and their encounters with the demon that tried to send them all to the bottom of the ocean.

Spinning Melville (and us) a yarn about his time as a teenager upon the Essex at the height of the lucrative whale oil trade of the early 1800’s, Thomas tells us the tale of a ship, captained by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) a man who shouldn’t be captain and has instead been born into the position; with a first mate (Chris Hemsworth) who really should have got the job but has been nudged back because his surname isn’t Pollard. This man, Owen Chase, is the perfect man to run a ship like this, on a mission like this, but has instead been shunned because of his lineage and now we have a ship with the two people in charge already at odds with each other. This doesn’t bode well for our crew that includes the adolescent Nickerson (Tom Holland) and a sailor trying desperately to stay sober (Cillian Murphy).

As the weeks go on and the whale sightings dwindle, the crew catch word of a part of the ocean far from any known fishing area where the sea is brimming with the giant mammals to hunt. With promises of enough oil to fill their hold twice over, the crew set to these uncharted waters with hopes of a fortune ahead. The problem is, almost as quickly as they find what they are looking for, something finds them; a monstrous whale that dwarfed all those around it takes umbrage at the sailors’ presence there and proceeds to obliterate the whaling boats, the sailors, and eventually the Essex using nothing but its size and strength. The whale – let’s call him Moby – then taunts the survivors for an hour and a half as they Jerry-rig a life raft and try to float home via desert islands, cannibalism and intense beard growth.

In the Heart of the Sea may be the most disappointing Ron Howard film that I’ve seen to date. It acts as if it has something to say but doesn’t even come close to telling me anything of note. The film is about as plain, and by the numbers, as it could possibly be, substituting characterisation for celebrity – hoping that casting Thor will be enough to carry the film – and storytelling for nice special effects. Sadly, neither do their required job and about the only thing I got from my trip to the flicks to see this was a comfy seat for two hours and an excuse to eat popcorn. In truth, the only reason I stayed until the end of the film was the fact that I had already bought my popcorn and didn’t want to leave it, or my Starbucks, behind.

Make no mistake, it’s a very pretty film. The CGI looks great, the boat and its movement on the water look amazing and I’d even go so far to say that a lot of the scenes, especially the underwater ones, look spectacular in 3D. But this doesn’t save the film from being a dull, lifeless two hours where the only thing it serves to tell us is that both Chris Hemsworth and Brendon Gleeson can’t do a Boston accent very well and that humongous fish are not to be trifled with when all you have is a rowing boat and a large cocktail stick to stab it with! Much has been told of Hemsworth’s transition from muscle man to starving survivor. Unfortunately, I have seen Christian Bale do it three times now and I find myself unimpressed when you put yourself through that for a lacklustre film.

Finally, I promised I’d bring this up, but I am really getting a little sick of this “inspired by true events” shit. Every other film is “inspired” by some true story or another and In the Heart of the Sea is the most heinous of these films. The trailer tells us “inspired by the true story, that inspired the legend, Moby Dick”. Forgetting for a second that a trailer filled with huge fuck-off whales knocking seven shades of shit out of boats didn’t need to tell me it was Moby Dick; but this whole “Inspired by…” shit just screams “I wanted to tell this story, but couldn’t make it interesting enough without changing it”. But to do that to Moby Dick? That, Mr Howard, is arrogance of the highest order and is absolutely inexcusable from a veteran director. Shame on you.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

url2 Let’s not mess around here – if you’re a Marvel fan, two things are all but guaranteed.  Firstly, you will have likely loved Avengers (in the UK it was called Avengers Assemble, but my version just says Avengers, and AA is a silly name, so there) and rated it high in Marvel Studios’ output so far, if not top of the pile.  Following on from that, you will go and see Age of Ultron regardless of what anyone says.  That’s fine!  But I need to say something straight away – you will not get the same giddy thrill from this film that you got from Avengers.  Save for a shot (shown in the trailer) of the entire team flying towards an unknown enemy in the first two minutes – a nod back to the climatic battle of Avengers – this film is about moving the team and the universe forward, for better or worse.

The film opens with the afore-mentioned battle, a mission to retrieve a artefact we’ve met before in the series.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) realises the implications of this – the idea of Avengers has always been to eventually render them surplus to requirements by seeing off all threats.  Throw in a little encounter with a pair of newcomers along the way – Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the need to protect the world before any of the team perish becomes more urgent.  With the help of an unconvinced Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he creates probably his most impressive invention yet, but quickly realises he is out of his depth as his creation threatens the world.  Thus the stage is set for an epic battle which takes in mind control (pitting Avengers against each other to divide and conquer) and some truly mighty action sequences.

And the sequences are huge.  The action scenes in Avengers felt slightly small in scale until the climatic Battle of New York, but here they are amplified, taking in whole cities and towns at a time.  The much-vaunted Hulk vs Hulkbuster smackdown is an excellent piece of fight choreography, never spilling into Transformers territory (“I don’t know what’s going on”, “Why can’t they fit the whole robot into the screen”, etc.).  There’s a great sense of scale here – this is a global threat being realised globally, not funnelled through the metaphor of one city as shorthand.  The action travels from the fictional Eastern-European city of Sokovia to South Africa, South Korea and rural America.

In between big fight scenes, however, we do get a decent amount of character development.  This is especially concentrated around the Avengers who aren’t the subject of solo films – Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye all get significant amounts of screen time.  Hawkeye benefits the most, making up for his side-lining in Avengers with a fully realised back story.  This does mean that the big three of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor feel sidelined – there is a Thor sequence which sorely feels like it was chopped for running time, ultimately having no impact on the film but setting up Ragnarok instead.  In a film with at least 15 named and principle characters, this is going to be an occupational hazard.  It was managed well in Avengers, but that was with less leads – this can feel overburdened at times, with everyone from War Machine/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle, making the most of some very limited screen time) to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) popping up in slightly beefed-up cameos.  This leads me to my main gripe with the film – Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch feel like the chips you still have to eat after you’ve finished your burger.  It was a good idea when you ordered them, but now you’re looking at them and wondering if they were necessary.  Scarlet Witch does redeem herself somewhat during the final battle, and provides a handy jumping-off point for the creation of Ultron, but these beats could have been allocated elsewhere.

Having said that, the best new character doesn’t even exist for the first two-thirds of the film.  We’ve heard Paul Bettany as JARVIS for years, but he’s finally rewarded with a physical presence as Vision.  I really like Bettany and it was a real delight to see him here – Vision could look a bit more ethereal, but he nails the tone of the character completely and again makes the most of a small amount of screen time.  It probably helps that he gets the best “HELL YES!” moment of the entire film as well.

The main plaudits have to be saved for James Spader as Ultron.  Created to protect the world, he quickly realises the best way to do that is to eliminate the Avengers.  Spader’s crafty delivery is wonderful, and Ultron has the swagger of his motion-captured performance down – if you’ve ever watched Spader in anything, it’s easy to picture him instead of the menacing robot.  His wisecracking delivery makes him the son that Tony Stark has never had, and is a real highlight.

There are parts that don’t work.  A blossoming romantic subplot feels slightly unnecessary, and the whole thing at times feels overburdened by what it has to set up in context of the wider universe (the events of Civil War, Infinity War and the aforementioned Ragnarok are all foreshadowed here).  But ultimately it’s lots and lots of fun, despite being much darker than the first outing.  And that’s all we can ever really ask for from Marvel – it’s what they’ve done best for years, in print and now on film.

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 8 – Thor: The Dark World

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Our eighth Avengers Minisode takes a look back on director Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World. With a slightly larger budget than Brannagh’s first Thor film, this sequel attempts to expand on the epic fantasy adventure element by introducing the malevolent threat of the dark elves. An ancient species led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who harbour a grudge – and it’s up to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his earthly chums (Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and her intern) to stop them.

After everything that happened to disrupt the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe during Avengers Assemble, perhaps the one thing that viewers wanted to know above all else was what would now happen to everyone’s favourite villain, Loki? Escorted out of Midgard under lock and key by his brother at the end of that film, as you might expect he plays a key role in the plot here and Tom Hiddleston never fails to disappoint.

However, the film is not without its critics, including a few of our own as you can hear during our retro review with Owen, Steve and James taken from our podcast back when the film came out in October 2013. And our brand new retrospective review in this episode with Carole Petts is unsurprisingly no different.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT LINK

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 6 – Avengers Assemble

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

The longest episode in our Avengers Minisode series sees us clock in at a bumper 30 minutes! But it’s worth it for Avengers Assemble, the film that truly cemented Marvel Studios as the groundbreaking film company they are today. The third highest grossing film of all time, earning over $1bn in ticket sales alone, The Avengers was an unstoppable juggernaut of a film that earned almost as much critical praise as it did in box office revenue.

It was the final stamp on a project that began all the way back in 2005 and closed out Marvel’s Phase 1 in style. The heroes we’d seen develop in the five preceding movies finally got together on screen for the first time under the direction of Joss Whedon.  To see Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), finally together alongside Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD as they tried to thwart an alien invasion, led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the movie was the massive pay-off that the franchise so richly deserved.

Long time listeners to the podcast will recognise our retro review here has been taken from the second ever episode of the Failed Critics Podcast with James, Steve and Gerry, back when the film was first released in 2012. Joining Owen for a brand new retrospective look back on the film is our special guest – and former podcast regular – Carole Petts to assess whether or not the film still holds up considering all that’s come after it in Phase 2.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 4 – Thor

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

The fourth episode of our Avengers Minisodes looks at the big screen debut of the God of Thunder. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe well and truly established at this point, its first big expansion came with the arrival of other worlds and monsters in this Shakespearean fantasy story. With Kenneth Brannagh in the director’s chair and an age old story of brotherly rivalry, both of whom are vying for their father’s throne, Thor‘s tonal shift was unlike any of the previous three films produced by Marvel Studios up to this point.

Although the film featured a relatively small cast compared to Iron Man 2, it could boast having the likes of Natalie Portman, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins and of course Tom Hiddleston as the trickster, the God of mischief, Loki, opposite Chris Hesmworth as our titular hero. The latter two would eventually go on to shine in Avengers Assemble 12 months later.

In this episode, we’ll be featuring clips and trailers from the movie, as well as a retro review taken from an old archived podcast. We’re also joined by the ever insightful Tony Black from Black Hole Cinema, who on rewatching Thor prior to recording this podcast had something of a change of opinion…

Our next episode will again feature clips, a retro review and retrospective review on the penultimate entry in Marvel’s Phase 1 series, Captain America: The First Avenger.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Half A Decade In Film – 2013

The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.

It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew  McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.

It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…


Rush

Rush Chris HemsworthHappiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.

Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.

Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.

There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.

The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.

Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempo (aka The House of the End Time)

house at the end of timeThere’s no turning back

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.

I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.

A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.

Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.

The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.

We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.

It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.

The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.

If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.

Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


A Field In England

A072_C001_1001IE“Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right?
Whitehead: Is that not usual?
Friend: Not in Essex.

Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.

Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.

I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!

Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.

The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIMFortune favours the brave, dude.

Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?

So why were we watching this again?

I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.

You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.

So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!

Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.

If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Matterhorn

matterhornYeah

This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.

Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.

We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!

Failed Critics Podcast: Thor 2, Philomena, and liking scary movies

Thor 2 The Dark World Chris HemsworthAfter a long break during which some of us watched a lot more films than others, we’re back with a belated Halloween special, as well as reviews of Philomena, Bad Grandpa, and Thor: The Dark World (with the inevitable return of Spoiler Alert).

Joining us this week for his pod debut is Matt Lambourne, providing us with a fresh perspective and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Jackass films. Don;t worry though, we’re not forgetting our pretentious cinematistas, as Owen and James discuss the 1922 Danish silent horror documentary Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages and Werner Herzog’s retelling of Nosferatu.

Join us next week for our long-awaited Gravity review.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Rush, Insidious 2, and killing hookers

RushStart your engines for this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, as we review the first of the serious award-bait movies this autumn in the shape of Ron Howard’s Rush, the true-life story of the F1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Owen also reviews Insidious 2, while James and Steve take time out of killing hookers and punching pedestrians in the face to review a new computer game. And then they might play Grand Theft Auto 5.

Boom, boom!

In honour of Rockstar’s latest opus, we also talk to Jackson and Calum from The Pupcast about the relationship between games and movies, and talk about our least favourite video game to movie adaptations.

Join us next week for a worryingly bad looking line-up of films, including Diana, RIPD, and The Call.

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Rush

Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda in Rush: 'Niki is very sharp and honest, he never repeats himself.'The events depicted in Ron Howard‘s latest film, Rush, took place long before I was born. I’ve only existed on this mortal plane since 1986, and never had an interest of my own in Formula One. I still don’t. However, my dad loves it. I grew up occasionally having to watch Senna, Mansell, Schumacher, Brundle etc on TV, but knew very little about the history of the sport. At that point in my life, I doubt I’d have even heard of British racer and playboy James Hunt or his constant feud with his equally talented but much more reserved rival Niki Lauda. As I grew older, I’d come to learn a little bit about their rivalry, but never really found the story that fascinating (probably because I didn’t really know that much about it, in fairness.)

That might partly explain why I had no great interest in watching Rush initially. I’d seen the trailer countless times on my various other excursions to the cinema. As far as the story of this historic rivalry goes, I was convinced all I needed to know was in the trailer. Laid out in exactly the same way as the plot would progress in the movie itself, showing you the beginning, the middle and the end. Basically, it was like an animated storyboard of every major step Rush takes. Despite not necessarily being something I was excited about watching, I was still quite furious about the 2 minute long spoiler ridden showcase – and yes, it is spoiler ridden, regardless of it being based on a true story.

Admittedly, the actual full movie was slightly different, in so much as the trailer made it look like the story of James Hunt, but it was actually slightly more fair to describe it as the story of Hunt from Niki Lauda’s perspective and how their rivalry drove them to become the men they were.

Never mind the fact that it was all laid out in the trailer then, I found Rush a surprisingly very exciting watch. Initial reaction from both my wife and I as we came out of the cinema was one of being incredibly impressed. I was rerunning all the tense races through my mind and remembering how Howard somehow managed to make even formula one seem quite exhilarating. I reflected on how I thought the more dramatic moments of both main characters lives were told in a not entirely sympathetic light, but in a very controlled way. At the time, it’s safe to say, I loved this movie.

The more I’ve thought about it since, the more little things there are that annoyed me have started to creep into my consciousness. Not anything that’s completely changed my opinion of the film, I’m just recounting some of the rather melodramatic moments. The scenes that I’m sure will be parodied endlessly in future. The camera focussing on Lauda in his car looking toward Hunt, panning over to Hunt who looks back at Lauda, then the camera is back on Lauda who waves, back to Hunt who waves, back to Lauda who nods, then back to Hunt who nods etc. It was a bit silly actually, but at the time I was caught up in the moment and loved it.

Whilst I’m talking about Hunt and Lauda, the best thing about the film is definitely the performances of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl respectively. They have the appropriate amount of humour blended into their portrayals but also the right amount of seriousness and weight too. Bruhl captures that ratty look and pernickety / pedantic nature that the Austrian was famed for, but he’s never once the villain of the story. In fact, there is no villain here. There’s no heroes either, as Hemsworth’s performance as the larger than life, long haired, party guy may appear to be the most likeable, but through a combination of the writing and the acting, you understand how deeply tragic and lonely his life could be at times. The ego of the two men and how they are more alike than they realise in many respects is what keeps you compelled right through the finish line.

Contrasting with that are the support characters made up of a mostly British cast. I think half of the cast of the hospital sitcom Green Wing are in here in one guise or another. A lot of the support characters are somewhat peripheral in the sense that once their part in the story is done, then we move on and never get the chance to understand their overall part in the proceedings, what role they play in shaping Hunt and Lauda in the latter stages of their story. But the main two are at least Oscar nomination worthy. Bruhl perhaps more than Hemsworth, but either getting a nod for lead would not be a surprise at all.

It still has some very cool racing scenes, though. I’m not a fan of F1 (as I mentioned) and even though some of the races take place in a montage style, it was still fun and tense. Enough to earn the film an Oscar? We’ll see. It’s definitely set up that way, though. To compare it to last years dramatic true story that came out around the same time and was primed for many Oscar nominations, Argo, I can see Rush achieving a similar level of attention. I’m not sure it will do quite as well as Argo did in the States, but for my money, Rush is the far superior film.

The Failed Critic Podcast – Episode 2: Avengers Assemble

Critics assemble! They have an army – we have the Failed Critic podcast, featuring Steve Norman, James Diamond, and Gerry McAuley.

This week the Failed Critics review the first BIG blockbuster of the summer Avengers Assemble, and discuss this weeks Triple Bill theme – Child Protaganists. We also have their thoughts on recent releases Lockout, and The Kid With a Bike, and a little-known gem called The Third Man – starring some up-and-comer called Orson Welles. There is also scintilating chat about frame rates, more Mighty Ducks chat, and one of the contributors gets all tongue-tied when proposing to Cobie Smulders. Also a little bit of bad language right at the end. It’s worth it though.

Spoiler Alert! If you want to avoid the Avengers review, then skip 6 minutes through to 31 minutes. Also, completely avoid the podcast if you’re desperate to avoid the endings of The Sixth Sense and My Girl.

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The Failed Critic Podcast – Episode 1

After quite literally days of planning, and whole hours of work going into it – the Failed Critic podcast has arrived! We know it’s just 3 blokes who barely know each other talking about films, but we’re pretty proud of it for a first go and hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoed recording it. If you think we show any promise at all, please subscribe and spread the word.


The Failed Critic Podcast – Episode 1: The Cabin in the Woods

From the studio that brought you the Born Offside Podcast: the inaugural episode of the Failed Critic podcast, featuring Steve Norman, James Diamond, and Gerry McAuley.

This week the Failed Critics discuss the horror-genre game-changer The Cabin in the Woods, and discuss the three films they could watch forever in the Desert Island Movie Triple Bill. We also have their thoughts on films as diverse as Rocky, Primer, and the yet-to-be-released God Bless America. Meanwhile Steve ensures we’ll never get Keanu Reeves as a guest, Gerry ruins any chance he ever had with Rhianna, and James predicts the year that Ron Howard’s brother dies.

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