Ee arr, our kid. Yow wo’ believe it, but we’ve only gon’ an’ published anuva bostin’ episode! Ark at four half-soaked wallies blaberen about films an’ that in a Failed Critics Dudleycast.
“It’s hard for me to admit I’ve been standing in the same spot for eighteen years.”
As I wrap up the last of this year’s Best Picture nominations, I sit wondering if last year’s negativity towards the Academy with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign has led to the disproportionate number of films this year based around race and racial tensions, or if the committee genuinely thinks these films are worth the nominations.
I mean, Hidden Figures is excellent, but it’s got such a flat, emotionless ending that it almost ruins the film. Loving is a great story, well acted, but is so formulaic that I’m forced to ask if it wasn’t for the fact that it was about what it’s about, would it have been nominated? But here we are, with Denzel Washington directing Denzel Washington in a film that perfectly encapsulates Denzel Washington.
A bin man in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s, Troy Maxson (Washington) is a man trying to raise his family, all the while being bitter about the cards life dealt him. His failures in his past are not only holding him back, but they’re forcing him to hold back his long suffering wife, Rose (Viola Davis) and his son Cory (Jovan Adepo).
Feeling like he’s been trodden on and kept down his whole life, Troy insists on pushing his life views onto his family even as they try desperately to move forwards and make their lives better. As life carries on around him, the old man has to come to terms with the fact that he has stood still for god knows how long as everyone and everything around him has moved on.
Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, and with a screenplay written by Wilson himself; Fences is set almost exclusively in Maxson’s back yard, which acts as a natural point for people to hang out and chat – much like your kitchen every time you’re forced to have people over. This central location gives us an interesting view on Maxson family life as time goes by; like a time-lapse photo of Denzel Washington being an asshole. And it works surprisingly well.
Washington’s bitter patriarch is a joy to watch, as any Washington character is. The man has made a career shaped in excellence with both his acting and directing and that’s continued with Fences. We are invited to watch this legendary actor seamlessly move between loving husband, jovial workmate and concerned dad. We get to watch him try his hardest to be good at all three roles, but not necessarily do a great job at any of them.
It’s an interesting look at a working husband’s life in this particular slice of time, no matter your views now, it’s no doubt mirroring the lives of so many from that time. If I had to pick a fault, it would simply be that while Denzel Washington is excellent, he has become the king of the angry monologue and that is pretty much his only move here. It really is a great move, but it’s nothing new. I was hoping for something a little more than the man’s greatest hits.
However, the stand out performance is Viola Davis as Rose, Troy’s wife of almost two decades. She brings such a spectacular performance that you can’t help but be in awe of her. Admittedly, I don’t know an awful lot of her work (aside from last year’s Suicide Squad) so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – outside of the fact she was already Oscar nominated by the time I got to the film – so I was more than pleasantly surprised when almost all of the emotional pull comes from her role. In this year of very racially charged Oscar-bait films, I was very impressed that her performance came more from her portrayal of an almost downtrodden woman, fighting for respect in her own house, than anything else. I can’t speak highly enough of her performance.
With an excellent rear guard consisting of usually excellent, but almost always ignored support actors, like Mykelti Williamson and Stephen Henderson, Washington’s film has a near perfect cast to tell this story for him. Setting the film in a twenty square-foot garden doesn’t give the actor/director much opportunity to show off his cinematic chops, but somehow the man with only a few films under his belt has managed to make this both interesting and compelling. Which, considering the limits he has, is a small miracle.
Fences isn’t the best of the Oscar Season films, but it’s an excellent entry in 2017’s contender bracket. A film with a point – several points in fact – and a fascinating story certainly isn’t one to be ignored. I look forward to seeing more from Denzel’s directorial playbook in the future.
Yeehaw, listeners! It’s a darn tootin’ mighty fine show we’ve got for you this week. Hosts Steve ‘the kid’ Norman and Smilin’ Owen Hughes are joined by pardners The Liam With No Surname and Django Brooker for a special westerns triple bill episode.
Their pistols are cocked and ready to fire on each of their favourite three westerns in honour of this week’s big new release, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun amongst others.
A ‘west’ inspired quiz opened the podcast with the score delicately poised at 2-2 between Owen and Steve, who was just one loss away from watching the abhorrent Killer Bitch. There was also time for a short chat about the furore over the latest images from the Jumanji sequel.
Join us again next week for reviews of Deepwater Horizon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
“I seek righteousness, as we all should. But I’ll take revenge.”
Can you believe it? Just as I say one of the best films of the year is a Western in a time when both modern and classic style westerns are either lacking or simply not a thing anymore, along comes the second one is as many months that isn’t only excellent, but has all those classic hallmarks that made the greats from all those years ago, well.. great.
Now in their third collaboration together (after Training Day and The Equalizer) director Antoine Fuqua and average Joe badass for hire Denzel Washington return to us with a remake of a remake of a remake, The Magnificent Seven.
When landowner and businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing) rolls into Rose Creek wanting to take control of the little town, killing a bunch of people and threatening the rest, newly created widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett, The Equalizer) goes in search of someone to help her rescue her town from the merciless industrialist.
As luck would have it, she finds Sam Chisholm (Washington), a lawman who seemingly wants nothing to do with her problem until Bogue’s name come up. Setting out to recruit a few more guys good with guns, Chisholm assembles The Magnificent Seven. Sharpshooter and gambler Josh Farady (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Chris Pratt) is the first to join and is sent off to grab legendary soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (I will go with Training Day‘s Ethan Hawke) and his sidekick Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun, of I Saw The Devil and The Good, The Bad, The Weird fame), while Chisholm goes to find outlaw Vasquez (From Dusk til Dawn‘s Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).
Coming along for the ride and helping to build an army from the small town’s residents are skilled tracker and famous Indian hunter Jack Horne (Daredevil‘s Vincent D’Onofrio) and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Senmeiser, soon to be seen in the Westworld remake).
But even with this collection of certified badasses, Rose Creek is going to need more than a slight miracle to overcome the land baron and his army of hired guns.
Now, it must be fifteen years since I last saw, well, any iteration of The Magnificent Seven – or Seven Samurai – so I had to go into this latest version of the classic as if I was watching a brand new film and not compare it to any of the others. And as such, I reckon The Magnificent Seven is a damn fine film.
Every member of the cast has their part to play, and does so perfectly. Even as the film quickly becomes the manly-man filled, trope-infused guns and trench coats film you expect it to, every single person feels perfect in their place.
This is a huge thing for me. The announcement of Chris Pratt joining the production previously left me worried for the film. I was concerned that he was being brought in for comic relief and not because he was the right man for the part; but boy was I wrong. In fact, Pratt’s presence in this film, while not entirely straight-faced, is one of the more seriously played roles here. Second only to that of the near silent Native American, most of Farady’s jokes actually fall rather flat, with several of his cast mates enjoying much better one-liners.
And like I said, everyone here is perfect on screen, but one man I reckon needs special mention (and it’s not Mr. Washington, as you may think). While Denzel has been awesome in recent years, he’s often just playing the near invincible ass kicker character that he perfected back in the days of Man on Fire‘s John Creasy. While he’s just as awesome here, in his perfect black getup that even out in the desert never seems to get a spec of dust on it, he’s not the man I’m talking about.
I’m talking about Vincent D’Onofrio; a man I’ve been a fan of for decades (literally) who outshines everyone he’s on the screen with with his wise-cracking, near-psychopathic tracker Jack Horn. This bear of a man, so often overlooked, is easily the best and purest bad ass on that screen. From his introduction to the end credits, he’s a joy to watch.
Antoine Fuqua’s direction is superb. A man who got famous with films like Training Day does a fantastic job of capturing the old west look and feel, giving us that ‘comfortable slippers’ vibe while still managing to feel somewhat fresh.
Action feels fast and frenetic, balanced out with slower moments for story and exposition; the film keeps the pace spot-on and interesting in every frame. The Magnificent Seven‘s two hour and change run-time doesn’t feel long or drawn out. Instead of praying for it to be over, I found myself wanting more. A rarity for this most masculine of action genres.
All in all, The Magnificent Seven feels like a return to those Westerns we all used to love. The ones that Film4 delight in putting on during weekday afternoons. The ones your old man used to watch. It’s a killer cast having a ton of fun working for an excellent director and it shows. This remake of a classic is destined to be a classic, in and of itself in years to come. It is, in a word, magnificent.
In recent years, cinema audiences have been scared out of flying by terrorists in United 93, the spectre of death in Final Destination, and by motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane in a film I forget the name of. Then, just when you thought it was safe to go back on a plane, you get Denzel Washington piloting your flight. Not that nice, charming, good Denzel; but the naughty, irresponsible Denzel most recently seen in the underwhelming Safe House.
Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker; introduced to the audience in an opening five minutes which see him wake up in a hotel room with a naked woman surrounded by empty bottles, arguing with his ex-wife on the phone, and snorting a generous line of cocaine. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain descending into self-destruction. Once aboard his plane, Whitaker gets his head straight with a mixture of vodka and pure oxygen from his emergency mask, which is just as well since moments later the plane suffers a catastrophic failure resulting in a nosedive and imminent death to all on board. Whitaker then pulls off a manoeuvre only a drunk or desperate man would even attempt. Luckily Whip is both, and he manages to save many lives in the resulting spectacular crash landing. The film then concerns itself with the resulting investigation, with our ‘hero’ having to face up to personal demons and the legal ramifications of his actions on the day of the crash.
Washington has received an Oscar nomination for his performance, and I can only imagine it’s for his ability to be the most odious on-screen presence in a film that features Piers Morgan. The main problem with the film is that Whip is so unrepentant, arrogant, and downright unlikeable that long before the end I’d lost interest in whether or not he would gain redemption. The film is also flabby and over-long, with the pacing after the exciting opening 20 minutes making my time in the cinema feel like a long-haul flight without refreshments. Director Robert Zemeckis also seems to have turned up at the editing suite with only his iPod shuffle to choose the film’s soundtrack from. Need to introduce an edgy character? Use Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. Need to show the break-up of a relationship? Use Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Need to introduce another edgy character? Use Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones (again). This predictability and cliché permeates the entire film.
Aside from an entertaining John Goodman cameo, and the aforementioned plane crash, there’s very little to recommend about a film which collapses under the weight of its own melodrama and religious overtones. As studies of addiction go, it’s also very shallow compared to the likes of Steve McQueen’s Shame which was mysteriously overlooked at last year’s Oscars.
On this week’s podcast we review Zero Dark Thirty, Flight, Hyde Park on Hudson, and The Possession We also induct the second member of our Corridor of Praise. Let’s hand over to Gerry to introduce him…
Murzzuschlag, Austria. The Second World War is ending. Aurelia Jadrny, a clerk in her early twenties whose husband was killed just eight months after their wedding, is working at her desk when she spots a tall, good looking man in his late thirties walking past. He’s wearing the uniform of the gendarmerie, Austria’s rural police, and she likes a man in uniform. Over time, they talk through the window – she works out when his shift is so she’s always at her desk. His name is Gustav and when they marry late in 1945 he is thirty eight, she is twenty three. He is assigned to Thal, a tiny village, and they live in a simple stone house at the top of a hill, 100 yards from a ruined old castle, on the single unpaved road in the village. There is no plumbing, no shower, no flushing toilet, and the nearest well is a quarter of a mile away. They make do, scraping by on his meagre wage through hard work and thrift – an ethic they will instil in their children.
They quickly have a son, Meinhard, and struggle along despite the widespread famine in newly-occupied Austria. In 1947, with the famine ongoing and at its worst, they have another son. In this small, impoverished stone house in rural Austria, one of the 20th Century’s greatest stars has just been born. Gustav and Aurelia name him Arnold, and their big, broad genetics and hard working nature will combine to make Arnold Schwarzenegger one of the most influential men in modern American culture.
Both boys are encouraged by their father to frequently take part in sport, particularly football. As the children grow up, they start to do sit ups to earn their breakfast as well as doing a lot of chores. At 15, Arnold decides to take up weightlifting over football, attending a gym in nearby Graz. The dedication his harsh father has drilled into him leads him to break into the gym when it is closed on weekends. At 18, he serves in the army as part of his military service. During basic training, he goes AWOL to take part in the Junior Mr Europe bodybuilding contest – the week he spends in military prison is made worthwhile by him winning the competition. In 1966, he takes a plane for the first time to go to London for the Mr Universe competition. He comes second but a judge spots his potential and invites him to live with his family in London to train him. A year later, age 20 and with a slowly improving grasp of English, Arnold wins the Mr Universe title – the first of three. He moves to Munich and goes to business school, recognising that his Mr Universe titles are the way to achieve his long-held ambition of moving to the US.
In 1968 he moves to LA, training at Gold’s Gym and embarking on the path to being an American legend. He wins the first of seven Mr Olympia titles in 1970, but his brother Meinhard dies in a drink driving accident in 1971 followed by his father a year later. Arnold doesn’t attend his funeral, and by this stage he’s had his first film role in Hercules in New York…