“That’s it. Game over man. Game over…”
…although it’s not quite “game over” yet for Andrew Brooker who continues his challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days.
“That’s it. Game over man. Game over…”
…although it’s not quite “game over” yet for Andrew Brooker who continues his challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days.
“Y’all jokers must be crazy.”
February. Awards month. This second diary entry starts with a list of Oscar nominated films I would love to get through before the awards ceremony on the last Sunday of the month. Try as I might, I don’t have the time nor energy to travel up and down the country to obscure little picturehouses to watch three hour French films about the government’s war on Brussels sprouts (I don’t know what any of these films are about. Call that an educated guess) so that pipe dream was never going to be doable.
Maybe that’s a tick list for next year. One challenge at a time. Maybe next year will be the year I watch every single nominated film. For now, it’s all about these 365 films I have to watch. So…
The first week felt pretty busy when it came to films. More blind luck than organisation, the month started by knocking another film of the blu-ray pile of shame; The Martian‘s extended cut burned through our evening on day one. I honestly forgot how good that film was.
The three year old’s journey through the MCU continued with Iron Man 2 on the same night we bought foreign film Oscar nom A Man Called Ove. The Saturday of the Failed Critics Pubcast gave me train time for a first watch of 1984’s Bad Taste and a repeat visit to Luc Besson’s Lucy. A family trip for the excellent Lego Batman Movie, followed by the pretty rubbish Gold was how that Sunday started. Rounded it off with the traditional yearly watch of Any Given Sunday.
Early February ended a bit of a mixed bag. The hopefully final but surprisingly fun Resident Evil movie was certainly better than the first Schumacher Batman that I somehow ended up watching. But with the last films of the week being the great Hidden Figures and the sublime Gone Baby Gone, things were looking up.
In my misguided attempt to watch all the Oscar nominated films, I forced myself through a couple of horrendous films to start week two. Michael Bay’s Stars and Stripes masturbatory fantasy that is 13 Hours may be one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Followed by the promising, but overall sleep inducing Passengers felt like the worst way to continue this challenge. Luckily, the newly released “Definitive Directors Cut” of Heat was enough to cleanse the palette.
The next few days was a mix of first watches and old favourites. John Wick and Training Day filling the quota of films we’d seen before; while new films were covered by The Girl With All The Gifts and Fences. All superb choices, if I do say so myself. The bizarre documentary Beware the Slenderman was our Saturday night viewing this week. Four films on the Sunday filled in my numbers nicely, I finished off the weekend with the beautiful, boner inducing “Black and Chrome” cut of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Luckily, work was quiet as this week carried on. An empty office and a stack of paperwork meant iTunes films to pass the time. A couple of films at work, the original Jungle Book with the kid when I got home and I ended the week with an early contender for film of the year, John Wick: Chapter 2.
More films at work mean that by the time we are watching Leon that evening – another from the Pile of Shame – I’ve added three more to the list. Revisiting last year’s War on Everyone, along with an impromptu Paranorman watch and rewatching Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter meant my list had a diverse selection being added.
Excellent espionage thriller/comic book film Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Founder clocked in at numbers 98 and 99 on my spreadsheet. Leaving space for something special for the next milestone. Film 100 was the first watch of this year, the seventeenth since the film came out almost a year ago to the day. Film 100 was the one, the only, Deadpool.
A couple of animated films, that included the surreal but fun A Cat in Paris brought up the rear for the most part this week. I also managed to get my sticky hands on a review screener for the latest film from one of my favourite directors to end this week. If you ever get the chance, you should definitely watch James Cullen Bressack’s Bethany.
The month begins to come to a close. The original cut of Mad Max: Fury Road kicks things off (yes, a different cut is a different film. My challenge, my rules). Peter Berg’s Patriots Day and Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness meant the week had an up and down middle section. You can hear me wax lyrical about both on the Oscar fallout podcast. This week also saw us dig into one of the worst films we have ever seen; Nude Nuns with Big Guns is just as award worthy as you think it is.
Loads of films with the kid this week, too. On request, we saw three, THREE, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. The two recent ones and the original 1990 version. Creepy, rapey Michelangelo aside, they ain’t the worst movies in the world. And she loved them, that’s all that matters. It’s the same reason I sat through the Angry Birds Movie again! Luckily, she didn’t watch our final one of that weekend, we watched the dug in to The Greasy Strangler. Just… wow.
Finally, after weeks of joking around about how ridiculous it is that we could live in a world where Suicide Squad won an academy award, it actually happened. So a rewatch of the film I loved that everyone else despised; the Oscar winning Suicide Squad. Then, as I write this, I’m in my seat at the local IMAX waiting for the premiere of Logan to begin. And thanks to Fox’s brilliant marketing ploy to show it at 10.23pm, it still counts as a February film. And much like last month, the second I turn this in, it’s onto writing the review.
This is getting tiring. But at this point, I’ve done more than half of the number I totalled last year. That can’t be bad.
Two months in the bag. Only ten to go.
Films seen this month: 54
Current count, as of 28th of February: 114 of 365.
“These timelines are so confusing.”
2016 has been a real arse of a year, hasn’t it? With only a few days until this awful, awful year is behind us, I thought I would take a few words – OK, a lot of words – to share with you not only my challenge of the last twelve months, but my 365 day long journey towards failure.
I’ve been writing regularly for Failed Critics for more than a year now; closer to two, in fact. Between forcing Owen to constantly edit my pointless rants into something readable (sometimes two or three times a week) and being lucky enough to be invited to appear on the podcast every few weeks, I’m always watching something. But I got to the end of last year and thought that, considering what was becoming start a large part of my life, I wasn’t watching nearly enough. So I set myself simple enough challenge…
A film a day throughout 2016. That’s at least 365 unique films by the time we hit New Year’s Day 2017. They didn’t need to be brand new films, although of course some would have to be, but the list just needed to have 365 films on it.
Sadly, I failed. Miserably.
I started so well too. All those award season films we didn’t get until the new year and all those blu-rays I got for Christmas padded my numbers out nicely early on. With me making a real effort to watch everything in time for the Oscars podcasts in February, everything was looking peachy. The start of my year was looking great.
An early guest spot on fellow Failed Critic Tony Black’s Pick-a-Flick podcast in time for The Hateful Eight meant I banged through three Quentin Tarantino films in one night as preparation, not only filling in my spreadsheet super quick, but giving me the chance to have a night off. Similar super-fast binges followed for specials on South Korean cinema, Shane Black’s filmography and Batman Vs. Superman. It was all going so well.
Then, Deadpool happened.
Within our little echo chamber of people, there are a couple of things I’ve become a bit notorious for this year. The second of these was my explosion of hate and abuse that was my Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie review. A few hundred words of such utter contempt for a film that saw some of the worst things I’ve ever written put to paper for all to see. Everyone seemed to love it.
But the first was the fact that in its short theatrical run, I managed to see Deadpool ten times in the various cinemas local to me that, even with various Unlimited cards to my name, I still paid to see several times. It became the first movie this year that I pre-ordered on American iTunes to ensure I could watch it again as soon as possible, as well as buying a lovely looking steelbook blu-ray when it came out in the U.K.
As of right now, 2016 has seen me watch The Merc with the Mouth an insane sixteen times. But as great as that is, it had a pretty detrimental effect on my list of watched films. Filling out numbers with multiple viewings is great – more on that in a bit – but I wanted a unique film every day; and it was starting to look like it’d be a tough one to pull off now.
Months pass and, while I’m certain I’m going to fall short, I’m kept pretty busy. Between watching entire series’ within franchises before their latest instalments come out (*cough* The Purge: Election Year *cough*) and enjoying Suicide Squad enough to fit in multiple screenings, my numbers aren’t looking too bad. This might even be doable. Especially by the time August came around.
Baby’s first FrightFest!
I’m a long time horror fan. It’s usually my genre of choice and going to Fright Fest has been a dream of mine for years. This writing nonsense was the perfect (extra) excuse to spend a couple of hundred quid and get my arse to London. Sadly, work commitments (namely: hating my job), meant that my trip was kind of gimped and I could only manage three of the five days. But I saw some amazing stuff, including Rob Zombie’s latest gorefest, 31. It broke into my top ten instantly and is another film that I’ve paid to watch at least three times since I first saw it – including a trip to the hallowed grounds of the Prince Charles Cinema to see it on the big screen again.
Three days of non-stop horror added something like twenty films to my list in a short space of time. A welcome boost to my spreadsheet. The introduction of “Netflix of Horror” service Shudder to the UK certainly didn’t hurt either.
One of the reasons I set myself this challenge was because there was so much stuff taking up film watching time that I wanted to make space for more. But I also wanted to share it with the family. Obviously, my three year old can’t be watching Ringu, Suburra or Pet Sematary – all films that are on the list – but there’s a huge amount of children’s films that we can watch together. I could kill two birds with one stone; I can show Nikita a variety of films, avoiding the dross that is kid’s TV, and pad out my numbers during the day.
This backfired horribly. Instead of getting a ton of extra films on my list, I ended up watching thirteen films 83 times. EIGHTY THREE! This included sixteen views of Big Hero 6. We watched Zootropolis eight times, all of them at the cinema; and one ‘movies for juniors’ trip to see Kubo and the Two Strings, not at all influenced by the bollocking I took from Callum Petch for having not watched it yet. (Excellent little film, by the way). But, you know, she’s also squeezed in multiple watches of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and the much hated Ghostbusters reboot, so I’m not going to complain too hard, even if the little git did ruin my numbers!
Of course it’s all well and good me blaming everyone else for me failing this ridiculous challenge. Once October rolled around, I had no one but myself to blame. It turned out that convincing Failed Critics head honcho Owen to give up his feed to me and my mate to chat bollocks about video games once a fortnight was the easy part to starting the Character Unlock podcast. Losing a night to record and a night (sometimes two) to editing eats away at your valuable film watching time. More than that, if you wanna talk about games, it helps if you’ve played them first! There goes more hours that could have been spent with my hands down my pants watching films. Damn, whatever was I thinking?
And that brings us to today. Where I’m sitting in the house on my own watching Scuzz TV and writing this instead of adding more films to my list. It’s no wonder I failed at this challenge this year. Hitting a little over half of the intended 365 unique films, I managed a measly 213. Once I tallied up the films I’d watched multiple times, whether it be with the little one or because I was weirdly obsessed with Ryan Reynolds’ spandex covered arse, my total is a slightly more respectable 344. Still not good enough, but I’m getting there.
So what does 2017 hold? Well, I’m looking to try the same challenge again once January kicks in, but I’ll be happy if I can beat this year’s numbers. I’ll be leaving Letterboxd aside and sticking to my Numbers spreadsheet and hoping for the best. With several long running franchises getting sequels this year, I’ll be binging through collections like Alien, Saw and The Fast and the Furious early on. I have every intention of hitting FrightFest stronger this year and getting to a few shows at the London Film Festival after having to skip it this year.
This time around though, I’m dragging you lot along with me. To try and force me to keep better track of what I’m doing, and hopefully to embarrass me enough to actually work at it, I’ll be putting together a monthly article covering the best and worst of what I’ve seen that month and hopefully start a bit of a running tally. I might not make it to 365, but I’m damn sure going to have fun trying. See you in January.
Unironic warning: there are some minor spoilers in this article for the following films: Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Time to Quit Those Spoiler-Filled Trailers, Or: How studios are trying desperately to make it so that we don’t need to go to the movies anymore
Directors, producers, studios: we need to talk. I’ve had about enough of forcing myself to avoid your marketing because you are intent on spoiling the entire damn film, sometimes months before we’ve even been given the chance to see the bloody thing.
Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve lost count of the amount of times where I’ve gone into a movie knowing not just the plot and some of the best bits of dialogue, but I’ve actually known the mid-film twist, or the big action sequence that’s supposed to be a surprise. All sense of awe has selfishly been taken away from me.
I go to the cinema to be amazed, to escape the day-to-day shittiness of having to go to work and to give me an excuse to babble on about films. Whether that’s with my mates, or in one of those many reviews I’m allowed to keep writing here.
What I don’t go to the flicks to do, is to watch the gaps in between the plot points and spoilers that I’ve already seen in your bloody trailers and TV spots.
So, of course, from here on in there will be spoilers. Mostly of older films, but I will telegraph them all and hopefully give you the opportunity to skip those you want to.
There are definitely degrees of spoiled bits, I reckon. There’s that key moment in last year’s Jurassic World where Chris Pratt’s main character, Owen, has his little bad ass moment. Zipping through the jungle growth on a bike followed by a herd of dinosaurs; that should be this amazing, awe inspiring moment. But we all knew it was coming. It was in the damn ads.
From the first reveal, to the final trailer: we saw Owen “taming” these animals one second and running with them like Mowgli and the wolves the next. But this ain’t that bad…. OK, it is. But it’s one action scene in a two hour film full of them. It’s almost understandable that you’d need to show something to whet the audiences’ appetite. There are plenty of other scenes you could have used, but whatever.
It’s nothing – and I mean nothing – compared to the now infamous Terminator: Genisys trailers. An average-at-best film (on a good day) needed a good marketing campaign to get people excited for it. After Salvation, no one wanted this pointless half reboot, and a great trailer campaign would’ve got you some serious hype.
Instead, the imbeciles whose only job was to sell me the movie decided to put the film’s defining moment, its big twist, in the god damn trailer. And here’s where my biggest issue with these bloody trailers lies – I can’t avoid them! I was staring at a screen the size of the barn when someone revealed that John Connor was a poxy Terminator!
So many films have fallen foul of this egregious marketing bullshit. Recently, X-Men: Apocalypse had Quicksilver’s family tree and a super-clawed cameo thrown directly into the faces of film goers in its final trailer The latter of which was revealed in TV spots during the ad breaks for any show on after 6pm.
Imagine trying to avoid spoilers for your next big film, only for it to be ruined because you had the audacity to be watching Coronation Street!
Southpaw gave away a vital plot point/character death in its initial trailer. Star Trek Beyond not only gave away massive plot points in its final trailer, but ruined what should have been a head nodding “awwwwww SHIT!” moment from the first reveal trailer. One of those Twitter buddies I hold so dear even had a spoileriffic trailer for The Huntsman: Winter’s War played to him in the trailer segment just before the Snow White sequel was due to be played.
I know it’s not a new phenomenon, I do. I know that as long as trailers have been a thing, they’ve been spoiling what they’ve been advertising, but surely it’s time for something to be done. As I write this, I’m furious (and deeply thankful) that another Twitter acquaintance warned me off of the latest Suicide Squad trailer as it reveals a load of act three spoilers! What the fuck, Warner Brothers?
It’s time these idiots leaned how to market their films. Recently, 10 Cloverfield Lane managed to get the world flocking to see it, even after it looked like a sequel to a mediocre film that no one really asked for. Marketed perfectly, we all went in clear-headed with no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. And made an excellent film from it, too.
Or you can go the other way. You can pound us with never-ending ads, trailers and TV spots if you want. Why not? Deadpool did it. But its genius is in the fact that after trailer one, we got no new footage shown to us. A load of new stuff made especially for its campaign kept the jokes coming in at ten to the dozen, without killing the comedic payoff once the film actually came out.
Just take a look at what Adam Wingard did last week. He got us all super excited for his amazing looking, insanely creepy The Woods. Then went and revealed that it’s actually a Blair Witch sequel! He managed to grab a franchise many didn’t care for and as many had forgotten – myself included – and made me all kinds of excited for it. I guarantee that trailer has barely scratched the surface of what we see when the film hits!
Come on guys, you can do so much better. Some of the greatest, most memorable films that stuck with us came with stellar marketing campaigns too. There’s no need to explain the film’s plot, beat-by-beat. or reveal twists and show all the best bits in the 2-4 minutes you get to advertise your film.
Ask absolutely anyone. Blowing your load early like that is never pretty and people don’t come back for more.
Another week, another Bucks101 radio show complete and resultant podcast of said show…!
On this fourth episode of Front Row, hosts Owen Hughes and Paul Rutland bond over Bond, review the R-rated box office smash Deadpool, and mull over some rather curious superstitions in the sports round-up. The rules of the ‘roll the dice’ section are broken, just four weeks in, as the topic of conversation chosen by the random roll lands on ‘music’ yet again – three weeks out of four! Nope. Re-roll, please.
As always, Front Row will be back on Bucks101 Radio next Thursday at 6pm, where you can hear all of the lovely chat (…well, lovely-ish…) as well as that week’s music. A playlist of all the tracks you missed out on this week is below.
Welcome to the Failed Critics Podcast, where hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by both Andrew Brooker and Paul Field to put their collective expert (ha!) minds together to predict who will win what at this year’s Academy Awards on Sunday 28th February. You too can take part! Simply leave a post in the comments box on our website to tell us which films you think will pick up the award in each of the categories listed below. The winner will pick up some DVD’s and blu-rays! OOooohhhh exciting.
Also in this episode, we feature a few new release reviews. Brooker, our residents American sports fan, finds Concussion is not all it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, Paul calls Steve’s heritage into question whilst reviewing British zom-rom-com Nina Forever. And then we all get together at the end to slightly gush over Deadpool‘s expletive-laden fourth wall-breaking comedy capers.
Join us again next week as Owen and Steve take part in our first ever Netflix special episode.
Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast. What’re the names of our hosts and guests on this episode..?
Shh! Don’t tell ’em, Steve Norman, Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Chris Wallace…
Yes, that was a tedious set-up to reveal that on this podcast we’ll be discussing the Dad’s Army movie in our new release section. We’ve also got reviews for you of: heist-thriller Triple 9; a comedy sequel 15 years in the making in Zoolander 2; and the Bryan Cranston starring Trumbo.
In the news this week, the team sat down and watched every single film trailer shown at Super Bowl 50. From a Deadpool teaser to the latest look at Jungle Book, a new Bourne movie and even TMNT2. Yeah – don’t get your hopes up for that last one is all we’ll say right now. More importantly, perhaps, we also try to work out just what the hell is going on lately with Netflix stepping up their attempts to block users accessing multi-regions.
In ‘What We’ve Been Watching’: Owen comes to a conclusion about Woody Harrelson; Brian gets somewhat uncomfortable whilst watching the 70’s Paul Newman classic Slapshot; having only just now finished watching The Wire (for some unfathomable reason) Chris awards it five Brookside‘s out of five; and Steve undertakes a Nic Cage experiment to see if Left Behind is worse than Knowing.
Join us again next week for our full review of Deadpool and our Oscar’s Preview special!
NB: Apologies for the appallingly lazy editing job on this week’s episode. But, in my defence… TTTHHWWPPPTTTTT
“Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my very own movie?”
Let’s get this out the way quick and easy; I don’t read comic books, I don’t care about comic books and I certainly couldn’t care less about how faithful comic book films are to their source material. I just want a good film out of whatever I’m paying to see this week. That being said, no matter how aggressively average X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, its depiction of Deadpool may have been one of the worst things I have ever seen put to film. Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson was funny, but the Deadpool character he was mutated to, played by Scott Adkins – an entirely different actor – was just fucking awful.
Thankfully, after years of threatening to give fans exactly what they wanted with a real, true to the comics, Deadpool; Reynolds and first-time director/long-time video game effects producer Tim Miller have vowed to do us all proud and brought the “Merc with a mouth” to the big screen in not just the best comic book film that Fox has put out, ever; but maybe a challenger for my favourite comic book film ever.
Chasing after the man that left Wilson a scarred, deformed mess under his red spandex, Deadpool sees our hero cutting a path through anyone that gets between him and his new worst enemy; a man who has made a career creating mutants from desperate people. Having offered Wade Wilson escape from the multiple cancers that riddle his body, his cure comes at far too high a price for ‘Pool who loses far more than he gains from his “treatment”.
Story wise? That’s pretty much all you need. Deadpool isn’t a film that lives and dies on its story telling. It is a film whose sole existence is to make you laugh harder than you’ve laughed at any comedy in the last year or so. Making no bones about the fact that this film isn’t supposed to exist, Deadpool is a beautifully self aware film that shows far more genius than anyone expected. Within a couple of minutes of the opening titles, the fourth wall is broken as the red-suited nutter addresses his audience and drags us kicking and screaming into a world that so many of us thought we would never get to enjoy.
The real surprise with this flick, though, is the emotion at its centre. Most of Deadpool’s motivation comes via the girlfriend he proposed to just before his cancer diagnosis; Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa is the perfect emotional core for a film that I wasn’t expecting to have one. They bring us some weighty, heartfelt moments that serve not only to help us connect with the pre-mutated Wade Wilson; but they also amplify the already pretty out there, balls to the wall comedy to insane levels.
The laughs and the action are where Deadpool‘s greatest strengths lie. Razor sharp humour that takes aim at some of the most unexpected targets with a few politically incorrect and just flat out wrong digs at some that clearly wronged the writers in a past life. Genuine laugh-out-loud moments that had me wishing I could pause the film to wipe the tears from my eyes before the next joke came along. With action scenes as sharp as its humour; every fight, every explosion, every set piece looks absolutely gorgeous and feels bone-crunching. When your film’s fights include people with super-powers, the only way to go is completely ridiculous and that, is Deadpool‘s bread and butter.
With impressive and surprisingly good support from his bad guys, Deadpool has as much fun with its bad guys as its hero. With fun turns from Ed Skrein, a man who has finally embraced his budget price Statham image and enjoyed his time with it; and the always fun to watch Gina Carano in as his henchman (henchwoman? Henchperson?) doing all his heavy lifting. We’ve had a couple of X-Men imported into our film but even when the over the top Colossus and the delightfully stupid Teenage Warhead come on screen, nothing feels out of place or overpowered. Everyone compliments everyone else and at no point, even when we are eyeballs deep in insane superhero jousting tournaments, do any of these characters feel stupid or out of place.
Everything about this film screams that it’ll be filled with in-jokes and meta humour that will quickly become irrelevant and in a couple of years simply won’t we worth watching anymore. Thankfully, that’s nothing like what we get here. On its surface, Deadpool is a childish, silly flick for those looking to giggle their way through a couple of hours. But in reality, its sharp humour, superb cast and great action make this a film that not only blows away most of what Marvel have been putting out over recent years, but will still be fun to watch without losing any edge for years to come. In his fifth comic book movie appearance, Ryan Reynolds has finally given us an almost perfect film and an almost perfect performance. I can’t recommend it enough.
Inviting you to listen to this podcast may make you uncomfortable. Not because we’re walking around naked, but as one of our longest episodes for a good while (at nearly one hour and three-quarters long), you may get something of a numb-bum if you listen to the whole thing in a single sitting! Unfortunately there are no ways to montage your way out of it either.
Nevertheless, in this bumper episode, your hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Tony Black to wag their fingers in the direction of the recent Oscar nominations, celebrate the life and work of Alan Rickman, and discuss a petition to actually lower the rated R status for the upcoming comicbook movie Deadpool.
As well as this, there’s room for Room, time for Creed, and for us to revel in The Revenant as we spend the latter part of the podcast discussing the three big new release reviews of this past weekend. We even take a look over what else we’ve watched in the past seven days. Brooker apologises to James Cullen Bressack for not getting on with White Crack Bastard; Steve, in tribute to Alan Rickman, revisits Kevin Smith’s 90’s classic Dogma; Owen reviews the recently released My Nazi Legacy documentary; and Tony is impressed with Ryan Reynolds after his surprising resurgence after seeing The Woman In Gold.
And that’s still not all as we start (as ever) with a quiz and Owen suffers through the first episode of Rob Schneider’s latest TV series, Real Rob, as penance for losing last week’s quiz.
You can see why it’s such a long episode!
Join us again next week as we bring back Liam and Andrew Alcock for a World Cinema triple bill.
On an audio-pod adventure, they got hit by cosmic rays. And the four would change forever, in some most fantastic ways! Oh, Steve Norman is sarcastic, Brian Plank’s unusually polite. Carole is obsessed with Bill Murray, and Owen’s opinions are a crock of shite. Call for Four… Failedastic Four!
Yes, that’s right listeners. This week’s main release review is the not particularly well received [ahem] latest superhero film from Josh Trank, Fantastic Four. Or Fantfourstic if you’re going to take the poster literally (and we do.) We try to work out what exactly didn’t work and why it didn’t work with our special guests Carole Petts and Brian Plank, both of whom contributed to the Avengers Assemble and The Incredible Hulk episodes respectively in our Avengers Minisodes series from earlier in the year.
Staying with the comicbook theme, the team also take a look at the divisive Deadpool trailer that officially launched last week and react to the news that Bill Murray will be cameoing in the new Ghostbusters film. There’s even enough time for: Brian to spread the joy of Pixar’s recent hit, Inside Out; Carole questions the BBFC and their decision to rate The Diary of a Teenage Girl as an 18; Steve continues to be impressed by Ben Affleck’s directorial prowess with Gone Baby Gone; and Owen stares into the Heart of Darkness by watching Apocalypse Now.
Join us again next week for reviews of Pixels, Paper Towns and The Man From UNCLE.
Ant-Man is a heist movie AND a father-daughter relationship movie, so it’s alright in my book.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
OK, that’s exaggerating a little, but it gets at the precarious little platform that I am currently stood on. Unlike most people (that I hang around with), I am still all aboard the Marvel Studios train. I have liked or loved every film they’ve put out to various degrees, except Iron Man 3 which is just garbage save for The Mandarin twist, and I will continue to like them until they start putting out multiple bad movies in a row. That said, I am nearing the verge of burnout and plain old cynicism about superhero movies as a whole. The Marvel movies are formula, I know and understand that, which will one day soon wear out its welcome, whilst everybody else seems to be on a mission to drain every last strain of fun out of the genre with an even stricter adherence to rote formula, deathly seriousness, and blatant franchising during the initial birth stages.
It’s a recent occurrence, but it’s not one that I’m particularly happy with. Even though I don’t read comic books, I love me some good superhero movies! But most of them nowadays aren’t good, and the sheer number of them on the horizon is now, for the first time, genuinely daunting to me. I love this genre, but it needs to try new things or it risks losing me. Of next year’s load of superhero flicks to come, Deadpool is the one I’m actually looking forward to most because, even though the trailer isn’t particularly funny by most metrics, it looks different instead of more of the same, or needlessly and endlessly miserable.
Which, with that context out of the way, brings us onto Ant-Man, a heist movie wearing the clothes of a superhero movie. In stark contrast to most every other movie released during Marvel’s Phase Two, and this includes Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is a very small-scale film that focuses in on a tight cast of characters, withholds basically all of its action until the last 30 or so minutes, and has stakes that only really affect our immediate cast more than anything else. In fact, there’s something that rings false whenever anybody tries to insist that the central technology that everyone is fighting over would cause untold chaos if released into the public, like saying so is just a reflex that everyone involved can’t kick. The truth is that the stakes are small, the pacing is deliberate, and the focus is on the characters more than the plot.
Said plot, and the characters that populate it, follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a recently freed convict who was arrested for robbing from a powerful company and handing out its funds to their employees. He wants to do right by his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), but is drawn back to crime when his attempts at finding a job go as well as you’d expect for an ex-con. Fortunately, this time he’s being secretly swept into the world of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who is trying to recruit Scott to pull off a daring heist. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the head of Pym Technologies and Hank’s ex-protégé, has managed to crack the formula and technology required to shrink human beings down to insect size – the same technology that allowed Pym to become the first Ant-Man back during the Cold War – and Hank is very worried about the effects that selling the tech would cause. So, rejecting the help of his more-than-capable daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank tasks Scott with using his old Ant-Man suit to break into Pym Technologies and destroy Cross’ research and prototypes, with both Hank and Scott possibly earning their shots at redemption as a result.
So, immediately, Ant-Man is pressing two of my major weakness buttons: heist movies, and films about father-daughter relationships. The latter ends up being the emotional and thematic backbone of the movie, as Hank and Hope try to reconcile things after a life of Hank not being there for Hope, whilst Scott tries to become “the hero [his daughter] already sees [him] as”. Hank and Hope’s strand has issues that I’ll come back to shortly, but Scott and Cassie’s relationship works gangbusters primarily because the film doesn’t belabour the point. Their on-screen interactions are minimal, but they, coupled with the genuine remorse that Scott shows throughout the movie, already clue the viewer into just how much they both mean to each other. Plus, in a rare turn-up for the books, her new soon-to-be-step-father, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), is not painted as a douchey hateful nuisance we’re supposed to despise. The film understands that he’s a good guy just trying to do his job and never treats him as some kind of villain to wish death upon, a nice change of pace compared to usual.
Meanwhile, the heist side encompasses all of the traits that you expect from a good heist film: extended training montages, detailed step-by-step plans that are slowly put together (often in montage), the smaller heist to build up to the real heist, the moment where certain failure is just avoided, the moment where everyone has to improvise, the bit where everything goes to hell in a handbasket. I’m a sucker for heist movies, basically, and the standard heist mechanics get a nice shot in the arm from the fact that we’re watching this take place in a superhero movie, allowing for more inventive ways of executing acts like frying circuitry or making an escape from a hairy situation. What’s most impressive is the way that the two elements balance so smoothly, although there are times when the superhero part of things takes over, as the addition of the Ant-Man suit and the power to control ants shifts sequences like desperately trying to hide plans or briefing new last-minute team members in slightly different yet distinctive ways.
On the note of “new team members”, Ant-Man spends a lot of its time developing its cast, either through character arcs or just letting them hang out. I bring this up not to mention that Scott Lang is wonderfully charming, or that I really like Hope despite most everything attached to her character, or that Darren is a surprisingly menacing and sadistic villain who is one of the few genuinely good MCU villains that have come along so far. No, I bring this up to make reference to Scott’s friends, headed up by his ex-cellmate Luis (Michael Peña). They are, to be blunt, racial stereotypes whose ethnicities are played up at every opportunity, yet they still feel like three-dimensional characters because their actors (which also include Tip “T.I.” Harris as Dave and David Dastmalchian as Kurt) commit totally to them and the film cares enough for them to give off the impression that they actually do have real lives outside of the times where Luis gets all motor-mouthed or Dave plays up his blackness to try and get out of trouble with the police. It’s a very fine and tough line to walk, but the film, in my opinion for whatever that’s worth, just manages to pull it off.
Again, that smaller-scale is what helps here. Characters like Luis would usually be lost in the shuffle in a giant world-ending stakes movie, like most Marvel movies are, but because the film commits to that smaller scale, to building its stakes out of personal legacies and character relationships, it allows for a deeper emotional connection than most typical Marvel films. Sure, there are multiple characters that just get shunted to the sidelines – which is the kind way of saying that Judy Greer is in this movie and we are all currently part of 2015: The Summer of Completely Wasting Judy Greer – but the central relationships get time to properly develop and blossom. Plus, the film finds time to invest in some more idiosyncratic relationships: Scott ends up taking a fancy to one particular ant, whom he dubs Anthony, in a way that’s pretty funny but gains genuine resonance because the film is always completely sincere about how much Scott likes it.
It would also be remiss of me to not mention the film’s final third, the point where one would expect the film to expand its scale for those big action setpieces that all superhero movies apparently must close with by law. Instead, once again, Ant-Man remains committed to keeping those stakes small and personal, with the main conflict coming from Darren’s inferiority complex towards his former mentor, his rapidly deteriorating mental state, and his desire to punish Scott for being everything he wanted Hank to see him as. That also extends to the final setpiece, one of only three times in which the film really lets loose with the suit, which utilises the size-changing mechanics to allow for a big pyrotechnic battle to take place in a little girl’s bedroom. It’s a load of fun and more inventive than any other Marvel setpiece I’ve yet seen, where the fusion of the superhero and comedy aspects works to brilliant effect.
As much as I do really like Ant-Man, though – and that’s not even mentioning Peyton Reed’s stylish direction or the across-the-board-excellent performances – it does have several notable flaws. For one, although this is one of the most stand-alone Marvel movies yet, there are moments where the broader universe intrudes itself on the rest of the film. Now, I am not opposed to this concept, when pulled off right it can excellently give off the feeling of this universe existing outside of each hero’s individual movies, but it’s very hit-and-miss here. Scott immediately asking aloud why Hank doesn’t just contact The Avengers is an example of it working, since it’s an acknowledgment that these films don’t exist in a bubble and provides justification as to why they wouldn’t work on this kind of story. An extended setpiece about midway through the film with a surprise cameo (that I won’t spoil) is one that doesn’t. Oh, sure, it is pretty fun, but it still feels a little clunky, like it was forced in there either because somebody panicked and feared that holding off on proper action until the last third would bore the audience, or somebody just thought it was a really cool idea and threw it in there regardless of whether it fit the film or not.
More of a problem is Hope van Dyne. Now, I like Hope – a combination of Evangeline Lily’s winning charm offensive and my natural love for women who can get sh*t done made sure of that – but her existence in this movie is part of a meta-text that I am not really comfortable with Marvel making. See, Hope is clearly the one best suited to donning the Ant-Man suit and undertaking the heist – she’s tougher than Scott, a fair bit smarter than Scott, more accustomed to the labs and technology – but Hank keeps refusing to let her for personal, ultimately unfair reasons. It’s played as this meta-commentary on how Marvel seem similarly resistant to making a female superhero movie, instead constantly trading on white guys cos if one fails, in the words of Scott in this very film, “[they’re] expendable”. It’s a nice acknowledgement of a genuine problem, and builds to a promising payoff, but that doesn’t change the fact that Marvel still aren’t actually doing anything to fix the problem and ultimately just made me even more annoyed that we still won’t get a fix to this problem until November 2018.
(For more on this, keep an eye on the site over the next few days, I have an article about this in the ideas oven as I type these words.)
That said, I do still really like Ant-Man. For every moment it adheres to the standard Marvel formula, there are many more where it tries something completely different or twists the familiar into something that’s atypical for these kinds of films. It’s still recognisably a Marvel Movie, but its commitment to keeping things small and personal provides a shot-in-the-arm and a nice change of pace for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not massively different, so those completely averse to Marvel/superhero movies are unlikely to get much from this one, but it is a positive step in the right direction. As stated up top, I do still like these kinds of movies, but I need them to be trying something different if I’m going to stay a fan of this stuff. Ant-Man is a good start.
Tell us, Steve. What’s happened in the world of film news in the past week..?
by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)
Sitcom Dad’s Army is being given a big screen makeover nearly 40 years after the T.V. show stopped being made.
Rumours of a film adaptation have been around for some time but this week a cast has been announced, some four decades after Captain Mainwaring uttered the fantastic line ‘don’t tell them your name, Pike’.
Toby Jones will play Mainwaring, the man in charge of Walmington On Sea’s Home Guard unit during World War 2. Billy Nighy takes on the role of Sergeant Arthur Wilson and the Inbetweeners Blake Harrison steps into Ian Lavender’s shoes as Private Pike while Michael Gambon, Danny Mays and Catherine Zeta-Jones are all set to feature.
The cast is pretty impressive and encouraging but the writer is the man behind Johnny English: Reborn and Mr Bean’s Holiday. So there is cause for both concern and positivity around this venture.
Anyway since the announcement the theme tune has been stuck in my head and I like most of you have it committed to memory.
Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler…
Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Befuddle
J.K Rowling was in cryptic form this week tweeting the following anagram
“Cry, foe! Run amok! Fa awry! My wand won’t tolerate this nonsense.“
Some believed this to mean a return to either the silver screen or to book/e-book for Harry Potter but apparently not. However, the Potter universe, or the Potterverse as it will be hereby be known, is to be expanded with a movie based on a minor character from the books/films, Newt Scamander.
I Do It On The Night
Hugh Grant revealed live on television that he is a lazy so and so who does not prepare for roles.
He told some ITV morning programme (not Jeremey Kyle – now that would be an interesting lie detector) “I’ve barely ever done any research for a film. I just turn up and say the lines and hope they sound convincing.”
Sometimes it really does show Hugh.
Robert Downey Jr. signs on to Iron Man 4 according to reports, but then the man himself denies it on US T.V.
This leaves the Iron Man section of the Avengers/Marvel franchise up in the air. Will they leave it alone or will War Machine or someone else become Iron Man?
Comic Book News
With Comic Book movies and shows so popular and rife it may just be worth having a section of this weekly roundup dedicated to anything from the genre.
So briefly there may be an X-Men live action T.V series from Fox to partner the upcoming Deadpool; Dredd looks set for a seven episode mini-series although there is no news on Karl Urban’s involvement; and once again tentative whispers about Sony and Marvel working together to see Spider-Man appear in something produced by Marvel.
Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.