Tag Archives: Christian Bale

The Big Short

The Big Short

“You want to bet against the housing market, and you’re afraid we won’t pay YOU?”

I’m not a smart guy. I have absolutely no idea what happened in the housing market crash of 2008 and the economic balls-up that followed. I know my hard-earned money suddenly became less valuable and that it was gonna be a few more years before I got to own my house; but outside of that, I am a blinkered, clueless idiot as far as the last few years on Wall Street are concerned.

So what I needed was someone to explain to me what the holy crap happened back then, without talking to me like a complete muppet.

The Big Short was just what I was looking for. The intertwining tale of a handful of financial experts who, through one means or another, figure out that the housing market and the credit bubble associated with it are in the verge of collapse and work on making themselves rich in the process. Based on a true story (again), Christian Bale is the real-life Michael Burry; a brilliant but eccentric hedge fund manager who has a penchant for predicting insane financial changes that no-one else can see. When he discovers that a lot of money can be made when this collapse, that no-one sees coming or believes will happen, he sets about betting against the housing market and making him, and his clients, a fortune.

Obviously, making waves this big attracts attention and Burry’s actions eventually get him noticed by a few others that look to cash in on the banker’s foresight and savvy. Catching the eye of Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling – who also serves as a narrator of sorts), a trader smart enough to see that Burry is right and poised to make a fortune; he in turn mistakenly lets slip to a couple of traders who work for another hedge fund manager, Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, who also jumps in on the action. As the money hungry bankers are ridiculed for their predictions, more dodgy practices and money magic is discovered that takes the men’s predictions quickly from probable to inevitable and the men go all in; betting their reputations and other people’s fortunes against the incoming crash.

Do you want to know the thing about The Big Short that makes me love it so much? It isn’t the amazing cast. A cast that includes Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo and Marissa Tomei on top of those I’ve already mentioned that all chew the scenery up at any point they are on the screen; and it isn’t the direction from comedy veteran Adam McKay, a guy that can drag a laugh from almost anyone with his films – even if most of them do star Will Ferrell, I won’t hold that against him.

What this film has, much like Wall Street did but, say, The Wolf of Wall Street didn’t, was the ability to explain to me what was going on on-screen as it was happening. I learned a little bit and understood what was happening as it happened because the film let me understand it. More importantly, the book this film was based on was written by Michael Lewis; the same author that wrote the books that would later become Moneyball and The Blind Side. Much like the baseball drama and football biopic did before our film today, they explained what was going on without patronising me or making me feel like a complete imbecile; and that’s a miracle all on its own, especially since when it comes to finance, I am borderline retarded.

The Big Short is a surprisingly funny film that has a very serious message running through it. It’s a scathing look at the financial situation we all found ourselves in in the mid-2000’s and the people that put us there while simultaneously giving us that knew bugger all about what happened a lesson or two in the economics of stealing from the world. The film wonderfully balances the poking fun at the slew of true stories put to film recently with the stark warning that we will face another collapse if we don’t pay attention to the slick bastards in slicker suits.

This amazing film should be required viewing for anyone with a need to be able to spend the money in their wallets; it’s a harsh reminder of things of the past and a warning for our future. But just as important, at least as far as these last few paragraphs are concerned, is that it’s a brilliantly made film that kept me glued to the screen the entire time.

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Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.

Exodus: Gods & Kings

In what is the last blockbuster of 2014, Exodus: Gods & Kings delivers an suitably enjoyable romp. However resident cynic Matt Lambourne proverbially pokes Ridley Scott’s latest sand and sandals epic full of holes.

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

exodus 2Unfortunately Exodus missed the release deadline for the Failed Critics end of year awards for 2014, so by default it will be spared any embarrassment for it’s absence. In truth it probably wouldn’t have harmed the chances of the eventual top 10 anyways, that said the movie is deserved of some attention.

I must state in the interest of fairness that I am an admirer of the period of history that is the source material for the film, although not necessarily a big interest in the religious aspect. Being an atheist, there are aspects of the film that are malignant to my overall enjoyment of the film. OK, now that is out of the way we can get stuck into the bones & meat of Exodus: Gods and Kings.

The first thing that will strike you about this film is the outrageously beautiful set and costume design. If there was any question where the reported $140,000,000 budget for this movie went (with the exception of Christian Bale & Joel Edgerton‘s barber costs) then look no further than this, as this film looks as beautiful as it’s protagonists’ spray tans.

For the uninitiated, Exodus retells the story of the rising of Moses and his leadership of the Hebrews as they break free of 400 years of slavery under the hands of the Egyptian Pharaohs, but in overly dramatised Hollywood fashion. Bale & Edgerton are cast in the main roles of Moses and Ramsees respectively and in fairness do a decent job for the most part in convincing they are masters of this ancient world we are thrust into.

The Make-Up/Tan/Costume of Edgerton is particularly impressive, he looks absolutely superb and entirely in place as King of the Egyptian realm. The film follows a similar opening to that of Gladiator, in whereby you are introduced to this seemingly stable power triangle in the form of the current Pharaoh, Ramsees the successor and the overly favoured army General in Moses. In fact, its the same damn template to a tee and I doubt too many people who see this movie even on a casual viewing would fail to detect this obvious repeat of formula.

You can’t blame Ridley Scott, really. It worked so well with Gladiator that when he dared to change it up a little for ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘ it didn’t yield the best return or praise. Exodus wants to be Gladiator for the most part and delivers in scale and grandeur, however it doesn’t on 2 major components; character development and battle sequences.

Don’t get me wrong, the character arcs for Moses and Ramsees are decent enough. Moses gradually shifts from part of the Egyptian machine to reluctant leader of the Hebrews at just the right pace, whereas Ramsees’ plunge into Megalomania dictates the tempo for the entire story. However the other characters are entirely symbolic and add almost nothing to the quality of the movie, nor the story other than their obligatory inclusion to be consistent with the legend of the film’s subject matter.

This moves me along nicely to one of my biggest movie bugbears, pointless casting. There are several inclusions in this movie that are fairly high on the pay-grade that I either did not recognise or felt brought zero to the table in either performance or draw of their name to the target audience.

Firstly, lets start with Aaron Paul. His stock has fallen ever so slightly since finishing Breaking Bad and immediately jumping into a shitty intellectual property in the live-action Need for Speed but he still holds a little pull for a certain audience, but why on Earth is he in this? He is just about recognisable in his get-up as Joshua (another win for the make-up team) but he delivers no performance value in this at all, in fact he barely even speaks!

Ben Kingsley will sell himself out to just about anything that requires a remotely dark complexion and has become a caricature of his standout performance in Gandhi. His face just about adds some form of safety/trust as a tribal elder but again, no value overall and another big casting fee wasted. Then there are the ones I failed to recognise at all. Sigourney Weaver totally escaped my recognition despite being fairly prominent… I’ll give that one up for my own ignorance perhaps. The usually excellent John Tuturro is cast as Pharoah Seti, whilst doing nothing wrong in performance it just appears as one of those token favour castings… why would you squeeze in a heavyweight Jewish actor in a role as a Pharoah, someone that oppresses persons of your faith? Then there was the peculiar addition of Ewen Bremner (Yes, the Scottish Ewen Bremner) as one of Ramsees’ advisors.

The whole casting smacks of some sort of agenda. You have the most caucasian actors in the world playing all the juicy Egyptian/Hebrew roles (with the aid of heavy tanning I might add!) whilst they carefully selected performers with Arabic heritage for the few select roles that were of that ethnicity. This is the biggest issue with Exodus in general, it massively leans towards the Zionest slant of the story and appears to depict that everything good about Ancient Egypt came off the sweaty and bloodied backs of Hebrews.

I won’t even go into whether that is right or wrong historically, however it comes across as somewhat deliberate, to the extent that it may prevent the film getting any long-term praise for its technical merits in a similar fashion to Mel Gibson’s historical bludgeonings like The Patriot and The Passion. I can’t imagine the Arabic community at large being terribly ecstatic about the movie either, which then makes you wonder who the movie is really being made for? The general viewership won’t care for the underlaying message or the historical appeal, they just want to be entertained.

Ultimately this is where Exodus misses the mark. The marketing for the film implies (at least in my person interpretation) an epic battle at the centre of the conflict between Moses and Ramsee however it simply doesn’t exist. In fact the film’s main action sequence is over and done with rather quickly into proceedings. That leaves you waiting patiently for something that never really occurs and whilst you’re sitting back enjoying the Plague scenes (which are truly spectacular by the way) you’re still looking forward to the big climatic battle, which is sadly denied and audiences don’t enjoy feeling mislead about what they’re handing over money for.

The ending really doesn’t satisfy in any sense and I’m left to wonder how much better this could have been if a few tweaks had been made here and there. For me, this is a film for fans of ancient/religious history but isn’t quite good enough for the main stream. The critics will have quickly panned any slim Oscar chances for Exodus as far as Cinematic achievement goes, however I will give this massive kudos for the stunning costume, make-up and set design as previously mentioned… its here where the movie really excels and does have some legitimate chance of picking up some accolades during awards season.

In conclusion, go and see it and enjoy it as it is pretty good, but its far from a genre-classic like it’s director’s other attempts such as Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (directors cut only of course!)

A Decade In Film – The Noughties: 2005

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

When I was putting together the longlist for this article, I realised that this year seems to be notable for the number of eminently forgettable films it produced. That is, films I’ve watched that I’ve never had a desire to watch again or, worse, had forgotten that I’d even seen. Examples include Syriana, Wedding Crashers (come at me bro), Jarhead, The Island, The Business, Casanova, War of the Worlds, Revolver, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Producers, Robots, The Longest Yard, Assault on Precinct 13, Just Friends, Lord of War, Match Point, Cinderella Man, Wallace and Gromit, King Kong, whichever mediocre interpretation of Harry Potter was due that year…

Oh and apparently someone made a fan-film about how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader? And they even pretended to be George Lucas?! What a crazy idea. I’m just glad it’s not part of the official canon – I’d hate for the legacy of the Star Wars trilogy to be tarnished.

Anyway, my conclusion is that I may have watched more films from this year than any other so far, and yet I’ve struggled to pull together 5 films that are really amazing. Usually selecting 5 films is an agonising process. I just have very little emotional connection to many films – I’d say my Top 4 are strong and I chose the other fairly arbitrarily out a number of ‘meh’ choices. And please, as always, bear in mind that these are not supposed to be the ‘best’ films of the year but simply the ones I enjoy the most.

5. Kingdom of Heaven

kingdom of heavenThere will be a day when you will wish you had done a little evil to do a greater good.

I know this may be fairly controversial as many people I speak to think KoH is boring, but Ridley Scott’s epic tale of the Crusades has a lot going for it. Orlando Bloom is as good as Orlando Bloom gets (which admittedly isn’t all that great) and the historical world is lovingly created. Really though, I like this film because it has some awesome battle sequences, a rousing, sweeping soundtrack, and simply because I find that era of history utterly fascinating.

I won’t go into the historical accuracy or controversy about the film’s message on Western-Arab relations at a deeply sensitive time; far more qualified people than I have covered this in much greater detail. If you’ve not seen the film before or haven’t watched it in a long time, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Director’s Cut Blu-Ray and strap yourself in to the home cinema system for the film and accompanying documentaries.

4. A History of Violence

a history of violenceThere. You see how cozy it can be when you decide to play nice? Now come, Joey. Get in the car. You won’t need your toothbrush. We’ll take care of everything.

Criminally underrated by the general population but loved by critics, David Cronenberg’s film stars Viggo Mortensen as a man in a quiet town who responds with extraordinary, lethal skill when two men try to rob his diner. While not the most surprising or twist-filled narrative, the story is still gripping and as the film unravels, it is a pleasure to watch Mortensen’s consummate portrayal of the protagonist.

I’m not going to say any more about this film other than this: if you’ve not seen it, rectify this immediately. If you have, you’re probably overdue another viewing.

3. Hidden (Caché)

hiddenIsn’t it lonely, if you can’t go out?

It took me far too long to watch this film and I suspect many readers will be aware of the film without having seen it. As I said when raving about the film on a podcast many moons ago, the main feeling I was left with was simply awe at Haneke’s direction.

At the heart of the film is a mystery, a frighteningly real and possible mystery that it would be detrimental to discuss in case you, the reader, haven’t seen the film. Nonetheless, the way in which the narrative is unwound, meticulously, thread by thread, is a joy to behold. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the mystery continues right up until the final shot – which unlike most films doesn’t give the viewer closure but instead opens up a whole other line of enquiry for the viewer to ponder as they walk away from the film.

The beauty is therefore in Haneke’s intention; no explanation is fully satisfactory. There are flaws in any theory to answer the film’s questions, just as in life. If you’ve seen Hidden though, I’m sure you will be bursting with theories of your own and will happily engage others in a discussion/argument about it. And that, really, is the beauty of good entertainment, of a fine cultural artefact – enjoyable in the moment, just as enjoyable when shared with others.

2. Sin City

sin cityThe silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she’s gone. I’ll never know what she was running from. I’ll cash her cheque in the morning.

Stylish, brutally violent and full of smart dialogue, Frank Miller’s graphic novel series is definitely worth a read. And as the film is arguably the most faithful interpretation of comic/graphic novel source material you’re likely to find, it isn’t surprising to find it here on this list. Robert Rodriguez had spent a few years directing kids films by this point (interspersed with Once Upon a Time in Mexico) so this represented a powerful return to type.

Still notable nearly ten years on for the striking visuals thanks to being shot almost entirely on green screen, Sin City explores the dark side of urban humanity. RR managed to pull together an all-star cast (who interestingly weren’t all signed up when some scenes were shot, so RR digitally swapped them in for doubles later on) and in particular a great turn from Mickey Rourke after years in the wilderness, an absolute must given the disparate nature of the multiple narratives woven together. Plus it has lots of sexy ladies in it who, much like in Planet Terror a couple of years later, kick a lot of ass and aren’t just there purely as eye candy.

Sin City is like the most archetypal film noir ever made and yet completely unlike pretty much every film noir at the same time. Mostly though, it’s just terrifically entertaining.

1. Batman Begins

batman beginsJim Gordon: I never said thank you.
Batman: And you’ll never have to.

There was only ever going to be one winner here and we all know it. Just a few weeks ago I found that a significant number of my work colleagues consider BB the best of the Nolan Batman films and I know they aren’t alone in feeling that way. Personally I think The Dark Knight is superior but Begins will always have a special place in my heart as a Batman geek.

It may be difficult to remember now but Begins came out when superhero films were reaching a difficult stage. We’d seen the DC heroes (Batman and Superman) decline by the late 90s with the genre seemingly dead until Raimi’s Spiderman and the original X-Men films smashed a big-budget hole in the cinematic landscape. Suddenly cinemas were awash with shiny, polished interpretations of a whole range of comic book heroes. New special effects technologies transported us to incredible, fantastical versions of the world time and again, with huge ticket and DVD sales for even the mediocre efforts (for instance, the distinctly average Hulk took $245m). Warner Bros took a look at their big ticket hero. And they had a problem.

What on earth were they to do with Batman? Since Schumacher took on the mantle, the Batman of recent memory was all style, no substance – and the style was questionable. Tim Burton’s Batman films in the late 80s/early 90s had been a huge success but the landscape seemed to have moved on. The WB execs found a way to get back to that darker vision of Bats and gambled on audiences being fed up of the more superficial treatment prevalent at the time. Enter Chris Nolan, still relatively unknown by mainstream audiences despite the relative success of Memento & Insomnia, with a bold vision: to make a film about Bruce Wayne, not about Batman.

The rest is history. I could write a very long article about this film, about the series it spawned, about the brilliance of Nolan’s interpretation (I kind of already have). I may still do. For now, let’s just bask in the glory of Batman Begins, a film that changed cinema for the better and kicked off one of the finest trilogies in recent film history.

Around the World in 80 Films: The journey begins

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in streetAnother year, another set of good intentions. It’s the same every January, as well as my vague declarations to “start jogging again” and “cut out crap food”, I always head into movie awards season with a new set of film resolutions. Even the creation of this website was the result of a festive spirit fuelled desire to better myself through the education of film.

Although I mentioned on the Failed Critic Podcast Review of 2013 that my resolution was to watch more silent films (and that is something I need to do), it was while browsing my Letterboxd review of the year I realised how  little ‘world cinema’ I had seen in those 12 months. Although two of my top five of the year were foreign language films (including my film of the year The Act of Killing), only 30 out of the 231 films I watched weren’t in English.

So this year’s challenge is to emulate my great childhood hero Willy Fog (I’ve seen the cartoon series, but never read Jules Verne’s novel) and travel around the world in eighty films. My only rule is that I can’t include films I’ve already seen, and although the first twenty or so look easy enough, I’m definitely going to need some help and recommendations from people reading the site and listening to the podcast.

So starting as I hope to go on, here’s a double bill.

No.1 American Hustle (USA)

I know this looks like I’m cheating, but the United States of America is a country after all, and I’m not inclined to make things more difficult than they already are. Plus, how could I not start this challenge with a film that perfectly encapsulates its country of origin; it even says the name in the title!

American Hustle is a film based on the true story of an FBI investigation into corruption that snared some senior US politicians at the tail end of the 1970s. What makes the story worthy of cinematic adaptation is that the FBI recruited a small-time couple of con artists to orchestrate the deceit. It’s a film about the American Dream, post-Nixon politics, and the glitz and glamour of a decade that has been dusted off and put on a pedestal by a number of film-makers recently, most notably Ben Affleck’s Argo, and Ron Howard’s Rush.

The talent on show is the current cream of the American acting community, including Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., and a small cameo from Robert De Niro. Token Brit Christian Bale might as well be American by now, having portrayed one of America’s most popular cultural icons (Batman) and one of its most iconoclastic literary creations (American Psycho). In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time I heard him with a British accent.

Director David O. Russell is one of the most feted of recent US directors, and with good reason. His latest film features his trademark focus on characters over plot, and he is obviously someone who gets the best out of his performers. What’s different from previous films is that he is wearing his influences on his sleeve, specifically Martin Scorsese and Goodfellas.

While some have complained that the story is slightly too long, or predictable, I have now seen this film twice and can’t agree with either criticism. For a film that was improvised at some key points, the main narrative holds together pretty well under close scrutiny. What makes this a great film for me is the performances, especially in the funnier scenes featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. While it may not be quite the timeless classic that it is pilfering from, it is still one of the best films I’m likely to see in 2014.

No.2 Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Finland)

The second film in my odyssey has been sat on my shelf as part of a box set for over two years. One of the earlier films from Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki, it tells the story of the fictional (but subsequently very real) Siberian punk band Leningrad Cowbows and their attempts to crack America after a local mogul tells them that Americans will “buy anything”. The resulting film is a road movie following the band (all kitted out with two foot long winklepinkers and quiffs of a similar length) as they make their way across America in an old Cadillac (sold to them by Jim Jarmusch in a fun cameo).

It’s an odd film, but very funny. The band’s manager Vlad is a wonderfully deadpan presence, and the band grow increasingly tired of his orders and the fact that he has a constant supply of cold beers that he has stashed in the cabinet holding their frozen bass player. As I said, it’s very odd.

The only Kaurismäki film I’d seen before this was 2012’s Le Havre, which has a similar feel to its central performances that, while not entirely cold, are far from the realist cinema we’re used to in mainstream Western Cinema. I could draw a definite line between the films of Stanley Kubrick, with their emotional coldness and static camera shots, and the films of Wes Anderson, particularly the quirky characters and bizarre onscreen behaviour that we see in this film. I’m now very much looking forward to the sequel Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, and the concert film Total Balalaika Show.

Right, on with the journey. Why couldn’t Jules Verne have gone with 50 days?

Failed Critics Podcast: American Hustle…David O. Russell. You gotta have a system.

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in streetHappy New Year to you all, and in an effort to stick to some hastily made resolutions about getting rid of the fat, the first Failed Critics podcast of the year is lean, mean, and looking forward to McQueen (next week’s big review is 12 Years a Slave).

This week’s chat sees the gents discuss the finer elements of the Oscar Foreign Language shortlist, as well as review new releases American Hustle and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. James also gets around to reviewing Anchorman 2, Owen takes us on a journey through South Korean cinema, and Steve is aiming to beat the bookies with his Oscar race tips/blind guesses (delete as appropriate).

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Failed Critics: Episode 14 – The Dark Knight Rises BATMAN SPECIAL

Holy half-baked opinions Batman! This week our very own Rogues Gallery of Villains (Gerry – The Joker, Owen – The Riddler, James – The Penguin, Steve – Catwoman) not only review The Dark Knight Rises, but also tackle all things Batman in a bumper 2 hour Batman Special.

THWACK!

In the opening section we discuss our randomly-allocated Batman films of the past – including Gerry’s near-breakdown over the 1966 movie and Owen looking for the positives in Batman and Robin. Plus Steve puts us all to shame with his tales of heroism. Well, sort of.

BIFF!

This week’s Triple Bill sees the critics giving us their favourite performances from the actors that have played the Caped Crusader in the last 25 years.

CRACK!

Then finally (at 1hour and 19 minutes if you want to skip) we review the most anticipated film of the year. Does it live up to expectations? Was it a worthy conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy? Could we understand a word Bane was saying?

We’re away next week, but will return on 7th August with a review of Ted and our favourite sporting movies.

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BATMAN WEEK – Holy Adam West!

Today I read an article in the New York Times  that suggested that we make all of our important and meaningful friendships in our teens and early twenties. I made one of mine at an even younger age.

If you are British, reading this, and of a certain age you’ll like have a favourite portrayal of The Doctor from Doctor Who, and it will probably be the first one you saw as a child. Sure, I enjoyed the work of David Tennant, I love the maverick genius of Tom Baker, and Matt Smith may well be the best Doctor I have ever seen – but Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor. The gruff, paranoid time-traveller with a Scottish twang that mesmerised me as a 7-year old will always be my favourite.
So it goes with Batman. While Christian Bale may be an the ultimate Caped Crusader for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, my Batman is, and always will be, Adam West.
My memory is almost certainly playing tricks with me – but all I remember watching during my summer holidays between the ages of seven and eleven was Batman. The Caped Crusader dishing out justice 25 minutes at a time to some of the most outlandish villains I had ever seen. Cesar Romero’s Joker thrilled and terrified me in equal measure (although it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered he didn’t shave off his moustache, and simply painted the greasepaint directly over it), while my first guilty carnal fires were stoked by Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.
Everything about the show blew the mind of a young man growing up in a small Devon village. From the opening blast of the iconic theme music, which I’ve now discovered as an adult is brilliant fun to blast out when driving – to the explosion of colour onscreen in almost every frame. The plots are downright hokey at times, but the charm and charisma of Adam West meant that even some of the worst detective plotting went unnoticed by my tiny little mind.
My favourite has to be from the 1966 movie:

Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them… But which one? Which ones?
Batman: Pretty *fishy* what happened to me on that ladder…
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea… Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet, an exploding shark *was* pulling my leg…
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O’Hara: All adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-R. Riddler!
Commissioner Gordon: A thought strikes me… So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance…
Batman: The four of them… Their forces combined…
Robin: Holy nightmare!

The camp 1960s Batman may look ridiculous now. You barely see a punch connect in the fight scenes, and every cliff-hanger leaves Batman facing certain death only to escape 20 seconds into the next episode with a deus ex machina that would put Matrix Revolutions to shame (my favourite being the Batrepellant for sharks in the movie – compounded by the fact that the Batcopter has 3 other repellants designed for different dangerous sea creatures). But none of this mattered when I was in primary school. All I knew was that Bruce Wayne was an honourable gentleman who quoted poetry, and Batman always beat the criminal with cunning, panache, and a great line in quips.
He was clearly a liberal as well, with his belief that criminals could be rehabilitated (although maybe he was just trying to get into Catwoman’s pants) and he never carried a gun or killed any of his adversaries. He always seemed to turn the other cheek, and had a lesson for us all. The TV show taught me everything I need to know about morals, justice, science, and wooing woman. If Jesus wore a cape and drove the coolest car I’d still be going to church every Sunday.

One of the great pleasures in life is watching the Blu-ray of the 1966 movie and listening to the commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward (who played Robin). At one point West even talks about Batman as being ‘the theatre of the absurd’. It’s great to hear an actor talk so fondly of the role that both launched and effectively throttled their career. He doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. It’s a shame the world has.

BATMAN WEEK – Batman Begins Here

In honour of this week’s release of  The Dark Knight Rises, Failed Critics is going quite literally Batshit mental as we devote the site for one week only to the Caped Crusader. Today our very own Gerry McAuley gives us a brief summary of the main influences on Christopher Nolan’s trilogy from the comic book world. So you can seem knowledgeable to your friends on the way in to the cinema, obviously!

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Batman – after all, D.C. Comics’ flagship superhero has infiltrated popular culture quite successfully in his 70+ years of life. Film adaptations since 1989 have revived the franchise and put a new spin on a hero who for most people was previously associated with the annoyingly camp and light-hearted original series (and 1966 film) starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Bats.

What fewer are aware of though is that the darker interpretation which began with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and was continued 16 years later by Christopher Nolan (I prefer to forget the Schumacher films in between) reflects a shift in tone in the comic world too. In 1986, Frank Miller – who would of course go on to write Sin City and 300, both of which became hugely successful films – wrote The Dark Knight Returns, the gritty tale of a jaded 55 year old Batman who was forced to come out of retirement and save Gotham again.

The gap between The Dark Knight and the sequel would seem to be based on Miller’s story, as Batman has been chased out of Gotham for eight years after taking responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes. Of course, Tom Hardy’s Bane first gained prominence in the Knightfall story arc in the early 90s, so Nolan’s universe is hugely reliant on recent Batman interpretations. As will be seen later, another Miller title, Batman: Year One, is a major influence on Batman Begins.

Another huge name in comics had also helped revive Batman in the late 80s. Alan Moore is probably known to most film fans through adaptations of his work: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell are all based on his publications, although Moore dislikes all film interpretations of his comics/graphic novels. Just a year prior to Burton’s film being released, D.C. published Moore’s one-off graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, a dark examination of the Joker’s madness that interspersed his origin story with his twisted attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. The disturbing tone of the story, which involved the Joker shooting Gordon’s daughter in the spine and paralysing a character who was also Batgirl, explored the morality behind the Batman/Joker battle and was undoubtedly a huge factor in the performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger in their respective film roles. For instance, the Joker has varying memories of how he came to be:

“Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight famously provides differing accounts of how he got his scars, which his comic book counterpart does not have – just one example of the different ways the Batman mythology can be interpreted.

The strongest influence on Nolan however seems to have been Batman: The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s 1996-1997 epic. So strong was that influence that Nolan and David Goyer, the co-writer of the trilogy, provided an introduction to the latest edition of the graphic novel. Although taken from an interview in 2006, just before principal photography began on TDK, both men cite the influence Long Halloween had on both movies and surely the third instalment too.

“When you’re putting together a Batman film, people always ask, ‘Are you looking at this comic book or that comic book?’ And the truth is you look at all of them. As a filmmaker, though, The Long Halloween was one Batman story that really drew me in in terms of cinematic potential… to integrate the more fantastical elements of Batman, most notably the villains, within the context of the real world, strike a balance that felt credible [The Long Halloween] was a great inspiration to us in terms of tonality.”

And with that, allow me to make some suggestions for those of you who are curious about exploring the Batman legend further. Nolan’s trilogy is so epic in scope that one cannot help be drawn in to that world; given that, it seems appropriate to focus on the more recent interpretations which have that gritty, realistic feel.

The place to start is Frank Miller’s Year One, which tells the origin story better than anything else and was recently voted the greatest Batman story ever by IGN. Goyer cites it as one of the three main influences on him in Batman lore and this is clear in Begins. There are various versions of the book around and crucially for those of you who don’t find comics appealing, an animated film of the story was released in 2011 which very faithfully follows Miller’s original.

The next stop should be The Long Halloween, which takes place early in Batman’s career and takes in a staggering number of the rogues gallery of villains our hero faces. If Year One is the basis of Begins, this is obviously the foundation of TDK. Harvey Dent’s story will be very familiar and the Nolan interpretation is largely faithful to Loeb’s story. Furthermore, the subtle differences between the two will give a new appreciation of Nolan’s skill – for instance, he plays with the viewer by having a gun pulled on Dent in the courtroom, a threat which Dent confidently disarms; in Long Halloween, this is a much more pivotal moment which I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, familiar Batman fans had a different moment of suspense and surprise with that particular scene.

Moving on, The Killing Joke is utterly brilliant and really gets to the heart of how small the differences are between good and evil, exploring how our reactions to difficulties can shape both our lives and the world. Yes, there is much more to Batman than you might think. As an aside, there’s a book called Batman and Philosophy which highlights just how many issues are present in the Dark Knight’s struggles against evil.

Once you’ve seen how the Joker began, it seems logical to look at his first battle with Batman – step forward The Man Who Laughs, which takes place in the same early years as Long Halloween, seemingly straight after Year One. Then we can move away from these early Bat adventures and look at something totally different in style. Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious earth is another journey into madness and the fine line that separates good from evil, as Batman enters the asylum to save the staff from the villains who are holding them hostage. Those who have played the game of the same name will find this familiar territory but the presentation is astonishingly different. This is as close to art as Batman gets in my view and is essential reading. More on the games in a forthcoming article by the way…

With a view to The Dark Knight Rises, the main villains could do with a look too. Bane, as mentioned, appears in Gotham in the Knightfall trilogy and Hardy’s version is apparently much more true to the original than the horrible portrayal Schumacher had Robert Swenson give in Batman & Robin. For Catwoman, choices abound and both Long Halloween and Year One feature a certain Selina Kyle. Hush is the most recent title to have an interesting portrait of Bruce and Selina’s complex relationship and is visually stunning.

To finish off, of course The Dark Knight Returns is a must. I’ve already spoken about the content and the impact of the story but it bears repeating that this is far, far more than ‘just a comic’ as many tend to dismiss Batman stories – as if comics cannot be a serious medium. Hopefully, reading some of the above will correct that impression and give you the added bonus of really knowing what you’re talking about when watching the films with your mates, rather than just blagging it based on the info I’ve given you.

Gerry will be discussing this article as well as a myriad of other Bat-things on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast Batman Special.