Tag Archives: Documentary

Failed Critics Podcast: The Magic Number

the-accountant

Counting on all of his fingers and toes like a mildly autistic Ben Affleck in this week’s main review, The Accountant, Steve Norman has discovered the magic number!

Turns out that De La Soul weren’t lying and it is three. Steve, Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, if you want to be precise, with Owen Hughes on a camping trip in Wales or something.

As well as yet another 2016 thriller to barely register any thrills, there’s also room on this week’s bitesize episode to review two other new releases, as Brooker dissects Nocturnal Animals and Paul kicks off the section with a new horror film, Rupture, starring Noomi Rapace.

We also have What We’ve Been Watching with competitive tickling documentary (no, really), Tickled, plus indie horror The Neighbour – and even a few softcore pornos make it on with the boss absent (sort of). Tsk tsk.

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Failed Critics Podcast: 36th Cambridge Film Festival Special

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As the 36th Cambridge Film Festival nears its conclusion, we round-up and preview some of the best independent and international movies that you still have a chance to see!

In this episode, Owen Hughes guides you through our pick of the bunch as he’s joined by our world cinema experts Liam and Andy (who you may remember contributed to our World Cinema Special podcast back in January).

From Romanian and Greek, to Ecuadorian and Colombian films. From docu-dramas to short film compilations. On topics as diverse as incest and the Russian avant-garde movement. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just off the beaten track from the usual mainstream cinema, then we’ve got you covered.

In the podcast, we chat about:

Cloudy Sunday – Showing Wednesday 26th October, 4pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Next Generation Tiger Shorts 2016 – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Cinemobile)
Wonderland – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Between Sea and Land – Wed 26th 8pm (Arts Picturehouse) & Thu 27th 12.45pm (cinemobile)
Alba – Thursday 27th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Illegitimate – Thursday 27th, 6.15pm (Arts Picturehouse)

Plus the Dutch Scottish drama Bodkin Ras, high-brow documentary Revolution – New Art for a New World, and Andy’s favourite from the festival, Austrian drama One of Us. All of which you’re too late to catch at the festival, but are worth digging out if you can find them!

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Front Row with Owen and Paul: Freaky Front Row

Front Row Logo

It’s finally happened. Front Row has gone all Freaky Friday. Owen Hughes put on his flip-flops and shorts despite the rain bucketing it down outside, whilst Paul Rutland stopped listening to Kate Bush songs for just long enough to record the final episode of their podcast for this series.

It wasn’t just their taste in music and attire that was switched in this Bizarro Front Row. Paul took over review duties to discuss BBC Storyville’s documentary The Lance Armstrong Story – Stop at Nothing. This left Owen to handle sports – and by “sports”, we mean “sport”. Specifically, coverage of the first round of matches at Euro 2016, including England’s draw with Russia, Payet’s opener and definitely not the hooligans.

Continuing the weird mix-up of roles, there’s no dice being rolled this week, just a double-headed coin being flipped instead. And, would you believe it, it lands on heads which means Owen and Paul get to discuss the Team Fire HOSE documentary that they’ve been working on for the past couple of months. You can view the full documentary below, or visit their YouTube page.

Thanks to everybody who has downloaded, listened, liked, shared or in any way interacted with us over the course of the second series of Front Row.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Miserable Old Gits

the boss

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. With Steve Norman away on holiday, it was up to Underground Nights‘s host Paul Field to sit in the driver’s seat and lead Owen and Liam through one hour and 45 minutes of film chat, reviews, discussions and old-man-misery.

The show begins as it always does – with a quiz! – before moving on to the latest news including The Passion of the Christ 2 (yes, it’s getting a sequel) and Kevin Smith’s long-awaited sequel-turned-TV-show Mallbrats.

In What We’ve Been Watching, Paul kicks-off with a review of Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz’s exceptional and chilling documentary, Credit For Murder, as he tracks down members of Russia’s notorious Neo-Nazi party N.S.O. who have claimed ownership of a brutal beheading video that appeared on YouTube in 2007. Meanwhile, our resident obscurist international-film fan Liam reviews the Shakespearean tribal-love story Tanna, filmed entirely on the remote South Pacific island of Tanna. Lastly, Owen has a few choice words for a documentary that popped up on Netflix recently, the Resurrection of Jake the Snake.

Finally, we end the show with our usual round-up of the latest films to hit the cinema: Owen defends The Conjuring 2 as James Wan ruffles Paul’s feathers; Liam just about finds some nice things to say about Learning to Drive; Paul has a new favourite Michael Moore documentary with Where to Invade Next?; and there’s a very mild disagreement between the trio over Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy, The Boss.

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Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights: Episode Two – Top Docs

Underground Nights

Back by popular demand, it’s the second episode Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights. Once again, your hosts Paul Field and James Mullinger are delving into the depths of cinema to dig out some of the best documentaries they can find. From the phenomenon of the Netflix series Making A Murderer, to the ground-breaking Paradise Lost, they’ve got it covered.

cleanflix

Joining Paul and James to discuss the world of documentary film-making is Cleanflix co-director Joshua Ligairi. As well as sharing his thoughts on some of the crazy conspiracies behind Making A Murderer, Josh also talks about his own work past and present, including the upcoming Plan 241.

There’s also time for the trio to quickly run through the recent Oscar nominations and explain how Alan Rickman inadvertently funded one member of the team throughout his education!

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Failed Critics Podcast: The Hateful Bolshoi Bowie Overdogs

labyrinth

With the tragic passing of one of British music’s most iconic people earlier this week, our latest episode features a touching tribute to the pioneer that was the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Jareth the Goblin King or just simply ‘David Bowie’. Failed Critics founder and Bowie super-fan, James Diamond, returns for a short emotional farewell to one of the most inspirational figures of this and last century.

We even dug up a clip from an episode we recorded back in 2012 when James went to the inaugural Bowiefest in London and have edited into the post-credits of this week’s podcast.

Elsewhere, Steve Norman hosts with Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne back for reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, The Hateful Eight, starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and more. Loads more. More than eight others.

Owen also reviews the fly-on-the-wall documentary Bolshoi Babylon, from the producer of Man On Wire and Searching for Sugarman, about the historic ballet theatre company in Moscow and all of its recent scandals. Meanwhile, Brooker indulges himself with the surfer-cop-classic Point Break in preparation for the imminent remake’s release.

We even took a few minutes to scratch our heads over the Golden Globe categories, never-mind the winners that were announced this past weekend.

Join us again next week for reviews of Creed, Room and The Revenant.

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Failed Critics Podcast: We Go Again

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Dawn breaks on a new day, ushering in the fresh optimism that another year on God’s green Earth brings with it. New starts, new ideas and new opportunities to shambolically attempt to review movies, for Paul to use wildly-offensive non-PC terms, and for the rest of us to fall flat on our arses.

As Steve Norman nurses a poorly rum-addled brain after two weeks of non-stop partying whilst not on the Failed Critics clock, he returns to the driving seat – probably still too inebriated to drive, but nobody could wrestle the keys from his clutches. Gripping the armrests, clinging on for dear life and hoping to make it out alive are Steve’s passengers, Owen Hughes and Paul Field.

Three new releases make their way onto on of our shortest podcasts in a long time, as awards season well and truly hits these shores. Paul begins this section by trying to comprehend the new Terrence Malick movie, Knight of Cups, before Owen joins in a verbal rant about the Oscar-baiting The Danish Girl. David O. Russell’s latest feature to star Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Joy, also can’t avoid the onslaught as Steve gets agitated by it.

Things are little more rosy in ‘What We’ve Been Watching’ before we even get to the new releases, beginning with Owen prepping for The Hateful Eight by checking out some other westerns; specifically The Homesman, Meek’s Cutoff and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. Steve gets on the bandwagon for the new Netflix documentary series, Making A Murderer, whilst Paul looks slightly more afield for his documentaries, Russian Woodpecker and Finders Keepers.

Join us again next week as we find shelter in Quentin Tarantino’s cabin full of nefarious characters.

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Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo may appear on the surface to be an uninspiring and uninteresting subject for a documentary. After all, despite being one of, if not the best footballers in the world, he is a preening, arrogant superstar more interested in his image and individual glory more than anything else.

However, Anthony Wonke and Asif Kapadia, the team behind the documentaries on the late Formula 1 driver Aryten Senna and singer Amy Winehouse have managed to produce a film that gives an insight into the person as well as the player.

The central themes are his rivalry with Lionel Messi, his desire to be the very best player he can be and his relationship with his family; especially his son.

Without giving too much away, it is his family life and learning about where he came from – a relatively less well-off life in Madeira – that provides the most interest, especially as a football fan.

The major difference between this and Wonke and Kapadia’s previous work is that the subject, Ronaldo, is alive and well and probably had some say over what could go in to the final cut. Whereas Senna and Winehouse were long dead when their life stories were told by the duo.

Ronaldo himself is very divisive. In this and subsequent interviews given around the release of this film he comes across as both very arrogant and very humble. He knows how attractive he is, how good he is at football and how loved he is and he loves to let people know as well.

But also he comes across as an excellent father (to a son he named after himself), a loving son and sibling and somebody who can talk openly and honestly about his strained relationship with his now deceased father and the fact that he does not drink because if his dad’s alcoholism.

Perhaps the one thing it doesn’t make much of is his charity work, how much he does for various charities in terms of both work and donations, and that he does not have any tattoos so he can continue to give blood a number of times a year.

Although including this may have made the documentary come across as sycophantic, too heavily influenced by the player himself and more of a publicity piece than an insight in to the man.

There are better sports documentaries out there; most of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and Senna to name a few. But this is worth a watch, especially for fans of the beautiful game.

If you are a football fan, you might not take anything away from this. You may know enough about the Portugal international already, or your allegiances to certain clubs and nations may have already given you an unwavering opinion on the man.

However, if you do not know much about football, or much about Ronaldo the person, you may just learn that the way he comes across on the pitch and off the pitch are very different.

Ronaldo is in cinemas across the UK right now. Check out the trailer below.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33gTb1v3wds]

Failed Critics Podcast: Ronaldo, World Cinema & Listener Questions

Nocturna

Bonjour, guten tag, konnichiwa, hola, namaste, aloha, salve, an-nyong, olá, goddag, ahalan, shalom, nei ho… and hello!

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast as Owen and Steve take a break from reviewing new releases (sort of) to draft in special guests and world cinema aficionados (and podcast débutantes), Andy and Liam.

Whilst it may be the first time on Failed Critics for the cultured duo, this episode does see the return of a feature from earlier this year called ‘Listener Questions’. Through our Twitter and Facebook pages, we invited listeners and previous podcast guests to send in any question at all that they wanted to ask us – and they did! We’ve done our best to answer as many as we could but as ever, it’s all a bit shambolic from the get go!

There’s also reviews of some lesser known movies from around the world; from the Danish black comedy starring Mads Mikkelsen called Green Butchers, to the charming Spanish animation Nocturna, via a stop over in Romania for some tasteful holocaust comedy with Train of Life. We do manage to sneak in one quick new release review though as Steve reports back on sports documentary Ronaldo, executive produced by James Gay-Rees and Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy, etc).

Join us again next week for a Hunger Games special episode with guests Callum Petch and Chris Haigh! Who will survive?? (Hopefully everybody. It’s only a podcast.)

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He Named Me Malala

malala

Academy Award winning director Davis Guggenheim’s 88 minute educational documentary, He Named Me Malala, aims to share with the world the private and public life of teenage activist and the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai.

If I think back to the first time I heard about Malala’s story, it was on BBC Oxford back in 2013. I used to listen to local radio a lot whilst driving to and from work, but one national story caught my attention that day.

You see, Malala – who now lives in Birmingham – was being interviewed about why, at the age of 15, whilst sat in the classroom of her home town of Swat Valley in Pakistan, she was targeted for assassination by the Taliban and shot in the head at near point blank range.

In talking about her road to recovery, from being in a coma to bravely discussing how she was not going to let the death threats stop her campaign, I was genuinely moved and close to tears because it was such a powerful speech. Not the most practical of problems to have when you’re trying to navigate the A34 roundabout at 8.30am – although I believe that’s what you might refer to as a first world problem.

But it’s true. It was incredibly moving and I simply couldn’t believe that it was a 17 year old saying these things. If I try to imagine what I was like at that age, and whether I’d have been able to do what she did? There’s just no way on Earth that I’d have had the kind of fortitude that Malala displayed.

After being shot in the head, kicked out of her country and told if she were to ever return, her entire family would all be killed, just for holding an opinion that was different to the criminals who had overtaken her home town and imposed their own rule of law; it’s unbelievable.

Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, becoming the youngest person ever to win it. But He Named Me Malala focusses slightly less on the importance of winning the award and instead what it really tries to do is balance this by showing Malala the way she is at home. Particularly focussing in on her family and her relationship with her dad; a huge influence on her activism. There’s also an attempt to balance this personal life with her travels around the world, speaking to presidents and royalty.

Not only speaking with them, I might add, but telling them, without any fear, exactly what she wants from them. For example, her appointment with Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria where she demands he does something to save the girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram shows exactly why Malala is an incredible person.

Unfortunately, the documentary is something of an inconsistent mess. By trying to focus on two different aspects of her life, and with such a short run time, it can’t truly decide what it really wants to be. You see the mundanity of life for a teenage girl, sitting on class and writing her homework, mixed with scenes of her recounting being oppressed in Pakistan. Then it’s straight to a scene of her looking up pictures of Roger Federer on Google images, back to talking about how her dad’s life was threatened. It’s simply not enough of one thing nor the other, despite what should be an interesting juxtaposition.

It paints the picture of Malala as a normal, regular human being. But then, on the other hand, it shows you the extraordinary things she’s achieved and is capable of and you see with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, just why she’s not a normal, regular 17 year old. She’s capable of so much more than the normal person.

Apparently, He Named Me Malala is being made available to secondary schools all around the country. And rightly so, in a way. Her message of equality of access to education for everyone in the world is an important concept for kids to learn about, so it clearly makes sense to send it in to schools.

Likewise, I am personally glad that I managed to catch it in its short theatrical run because I have learnt a lot about Malala that I didn’t know already. But – and it’s unfortunate that there is a ‘but’ – it seems like it could’ve been more insightful and may be a case that the person at the centre of the story is more interesting than the way her story is told.

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 9 – September Refuelled

As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

everest-base-camp-movieNormally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.

However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.

Wrong.

It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.

Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.

It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.

Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…


Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015

Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)

transporterI know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:

“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”

At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.


Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015

Monday – Tabloid (2010)Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015)Sunday – The Hunted (2003)

sons of benOrdinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:

“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015

Monday – L’eclisse (1962)Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015)Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015)Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)Sunday – EVEREST (2015)

60ea71a0-dcbf-4e43-92f6-415984fbdbd6-1020x612To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.


Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015

Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978)Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986)Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)

maxresdefault-3I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:

FAILED CRITICS PODCAST: THE INTERN, THE MARTIAN & SICARIO (29 Sep 2015)

Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.

There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.


Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015

Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)

skintradeheaderAh, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.


And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!

Sons of Ben

A city spurned. A dream born. A brothergood forged. Owen takes a look at the documentary Sons of Ben: The Movie to see how a group of die-hard American soccer fans embarked on a mad quest to bring a professional soccer franchise to their city.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Sons of Ben the Movie - posterWhere did you grow up? I ask because here in the UK, it most likely determines the football team you support (unless you’re a Manchester United fan, in which case you could be a “glory hunter” from practically anywhere from London to Thailand – basically anywhere except the North West, fnar fnar.)

I was born and raised in the Black Country, surrounded by a veritable plethora of professional teams like West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Birmingham City who were all within a 15 mile radius of my home (two of which were within an hours walk) and each with over 100 years of history. Let’s not forget the lower league local teams too, such as Kidderminster Harriers, Walsall, Stourbridge and Halesowen Town. Hell, I could have tripped down the stairs and landed at the gates to Tividale FC, a club over 60 years old with a 200 seater stadium that Google estimates is just 0.3 miles door-to-door.

Love it or hate it, football is ingrained in the United Kingdom’s culture. It’s a sport that we made professional when our cricketers were bored during the winter season some 150 years ago. There are perhaps only two historical dates in our country’s past that every British citizen knows off by heart: 1066 and the battle of Hastings and 1966, the year England won the FIFA World Cup on home soil. Have we ever mentioned that before? I don’t think we ever talk about it these days. We’re very humble about it.

The point I’m making is that even people here who can’t stand football know the relevance of that summer nearly fifty years ago. It’s so well known because football is so connected to our identity. There are few conversations more satisfying than those that take place in the pub, pint in hand, mulling over the latest results or football news.

But what happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion. For some of us here in Europe who might not follow the league that closely, when we think of the MLS, we think of Beckham and Keane at LA Galaxy, or Lampard and Pirlo at New York City, so I will refrain from spoiling whether or not this motivated group of individuals went on to realise their dream. Just in case!

Over the course of the relatively tight 75 minutes, we learn how a sport like this can bring people together from all kinds of different backgrounds. By the time we’re introduced to Nick Sakiewicz, a business executive with a genuine affection for soccer, the scope of the project begins to hit home. You share the optimism of these guys; their longing to create a team of their own. It’s in part due to Bell’s direction. There’s an overwhelming sense of pride in these fans and you, as the viewer, are constantly willing them to succeed. When tears are shed by the (self-dubbed) Negadelphians suffering set-back after set-back, you can’t help but share in their misery. Equally, their triumphs are greeted with a huge smile.

Sons of Ben: The Movie does capture a story greater than just the hopeful formation of a soccer team. Unfortunately parallels can be drawn to controversial FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s promise of the World Cup rejuvenating entire regions (we only have to look at the $270m parking lot in Manaus to see how wrong he could be), so too do we see how promises are made by high ranking officials in Philadelphia for investment in the run down small town of Chester on the outskirts of the city. Chester, a poverty stricken, crime-ridden ghost town that was once a thriving community back when former resident the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was there, it is an area crying out for enhancement. Tax-payer money being invested in a football team subsequently leading to a revitalisation of the surrounding area is an all too familiar dubious promise that rarely comes to fruition. There’s little more than anecdotal evidence on display here to suggest that beyond the honourable charity work conducted by the Sons of Ben – and the personal investments that they have made through their donations – that not a huge amount of what was promised has actually been accomplished. What has been created in Chester feels like a small token gesture rather than a platform from which the area can progress.

However, given the short run time and nature of the documentary, admittedly it would be out of key for Sons of Ben: the Movie to veer off into a socio-political commentary. With events being told in retrospect by various talking heads, it has the air of a fascinating story being recounted by mates rather than possessing the gravitas of a heavy, investigative documentary. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining story with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Most of all, it shows that across the pond, there are still die hard football fans out there.

The commitment to turning up at MLS games for other teams in full Sons of Ben colours, occupying a section of the support, chanting ‘Philadelphia’ louder than the home crowd until somebody somewhere with power and influence takes notice, it’s a highly commendable attitude. The perseverance to commit to that level of support, often at personal expense, is hugely impressive. The fact that their goal was to achieve 100 fans within one year of the group’s inception, yet ending up with over 1,500 members for their movement, it goes to show how within all of us, there’s a desire to belong, to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. All I know is, I know which team I’m picking the next time I boot up a game of FIFA.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Failed Critics Podcast: Sharman & Other Filth

american_ultra_2015-1366x768Welcome to another edition of the Failed Critics podcast. This week, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Paul Field (making his first appearance since the Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer episode) and Phil Sharman, one third of the award nominated comedy podcast Wikishuffle.

On top of the news about Danny Boyle confirming production will begin on Trainspotting 2, there are two new release films reviewed by the team this week; Nima Nourizadeh’s stoner comedy American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, and the Statham-less Statham-vehicle Transp4ter (…no? AKA The Transporter Refueled.) As well as the new releases, Owen discusses the documentary Welcome to Leith (which is screening this week at the Cambridge Film Festival) with Paul, who also reviews Fort Tilden. Phil rewatches a recent favourite in The Adjustment Bureau and Steve follows up on a discussion from last week’s FrightFest summary by checking out Australian pre-post-apocalyptic thriller These Final Hours.

Fans of our classic debates will also be in for a treat as plenty of our most popular topics were brought up for discussion at various points! A conversation about the Netflix series Narcos somehow ends up as a rambling stream of thought about the BBC and future of broadcasting. The Transp4ter review leads into another rant about film classification. We even manage to squeeze in a quick chat on the merits of found footage horrors, American remakes of English language movies and a short quiz complete with dodgy fake accents.

Steve will be on holiday next week but you can join Owen and Phil again, who will be ably assisted by Jack Stewart and Andrew Brooker to review Legend, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Visit.

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The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Welcome to Leith

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website: http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

In this review, Owen takes a look at the Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominated documentary, Welcome to Leith.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

To coin an American phrase, you can bet your bottom dollar that come the end of the year as we start to round up our top ten lists, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome to Leith will certainly be there for me.

Set in Leith, a small town in North Dakota with a population of just 24, Nichols and Walker document the unfolding nature of events shortly after the infamous white supremacist Craig Cobb moves into one of the run down vacant homes. Buying up plots of land, Cobb enacts his plan to legally take over the town government and establish Cobbsville, inviting white separatists and proud racists from all over the state to join him there. Understandably, the current residents of this typically quiet and peaceful rural town are agitated by their new neighbours and it’s not long until they become united in ridding themselves of the unwanted bigot.

Welcome to Leith has received a generally very positive festival run this year. On top its Grand Jury Prize nomination at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, it’s either won or been nominated for a further ten awards in 2015. Whilst the subject matter is inherently fascinating in a voyeuristic “as long as it isn’t happening in my own town” sense, what really makes it a compelling piece is how maturely the footage is presented. It could have easily slipped into a freak-show, encouraging the viewer to laugh and throw rotten fruit at all the prejudiced (and somewhat intimidating) nut jobs.

Instead, it comes across as an earnest attempt at getting you to think about human (and in the case of its American audience, their constitutional) rights and how conflicted they might make you feel when pushed to try and defend the actions of some people. How protected should Cobb and his friends feel when being jeered at by their neighbours, having their vehicles vandalised and being victimised by everyone in town for having their beliefs? Whose anti-social behaviour came first in this town? Is Cobb using or abusing his constitutional rights? They’re all questions that are addressed in the documentary and it does its best to leave those open to interpretation from the viewer. There’s very little attempt made to misguide the audience nor insult their intelligence.

There’s certainly no intention there to make you feel sympathy with one side or the other, either. The directors do a fantastic job at presenting the argument in as objective a manner as possible, using home video footage from both sides of the feud. We see interviews with the townsfolk who claim to be victims of domestic terrorism, and we hear how the Government themselves deal with this level of insecurity in their own country.

Obviously given the controversial and hateful opinions held by Cobb and his men, and the stomach churning footage of him desperately trying to get a rise out of his fellow Leith residents, it is difficult to not feel anything but disgust at these people. You are guaranteed to get angry about their behaviour and level of both ignorance nad arrogance. They’re clearly deluded and paranoid, and Cobb in particular loves the attention (although isn’t perhaps as charismatic as he thinks he is). Nevertheless, Welcome to Leith is an interesting, sometimes infuriating documentary and I highly recommend it.

Welcome to Leith is showing at The Light cinema on Thursday 10th September at 18:30 and again on Saturday 12th at 16:50. You can find more information and book tickets on the Cambridge Film Festival website.

The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: The Visit

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website:  http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

Next in our series of reviews from this year’s event, Tony Black takes a look at Michael Madsen’s conceptual documentary, The Visit.


by Tony Black (@BlackHoleOnline)

A legend appears at the outset of The Visit: An Alien Encounter which informs us everyone who takes part in this ‘simulation’ are real professionals, scientists and thinkers. The word simulation marks Michael Madsen’s (not that one) piece out as slightly to the left of the documentary, despite being filmed as such. Rather, it’s a thought piece, a consideration, a classic ‘what if?’ presented not as fiction but almost-fact. What if, in this case, we were visited by an extra-terrestrial life form? Fiction has of course covered this ground in cinematic terms a wealth of times, perhaps most memorably in 50’s B-movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, but Madsen’s spin on the idea presents the film less as entertainment, more a conversation we happen to be part of, or a series of conversations. Our POV is that of the unseen, unheard alien being who the aforementioned real life professionals respond to, explaining the procedures immediately following the aliens’ arrival and later delving into the philosophical, practical and psychological repercussions of his arrival. We are welcomed to planet Earth. We become the very thing we are questioning.

This does serve, at points, as if these world famous (in their field) people are communicating into a void, almost talking back to themselves, which is a consequence of the approach and in real terms a budgetary consideration from Madsen; this is stripped down Scandinavian conceptual filmmaking, without the license to show visual effects of aliens, the inside of spacecrafts or too many cosmic landscapes. It’s also definitely a creative choice on his part; he seeks in part to evoke the almost religious wonder of the unknown we witnessed in Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (though using the Blue Danube Waltz is perhaps a little on the nose), as scientist Chris Welch explores the spacecraft interior and finds unusual landscapes. Madsen is also, certainly, playing with our perception of reality – not just considering what lies within the craft, but scenes involving one contributor see him deliberately trick the frame, inducing parallels while flipping props to enable a sense of disorientation; indeed the scientists themselves posit the philosophical idea that if the alien leaves without sharing any information or shining a light on its own existence, was its presence theoretical? Madsen explores all of these concepts within the thin running time, though frankly he has the breathing room.

Even at just shy of eighty minutes, The Visit doesn’t necessarily feel longer but Madsen struggles at points to fill out the narrative he does present. A documentary could call upon facts and research, but a fascinating look at the makings of the Voyager space probe aside, his picture is solidly in the realms of the conceptual. It may dress itself up as a simulation but in many respects it is a drama, a play of sorts only featuring naturalistic performances functioning as reactive conversation between people well respected in their field. Madsen at times can’t quite balance whether he wants to explore an element of narrative or rest on the mere pondering of the ‘big questions’ – why are we here? What is a human being? Almost all of the big theological & philosophical ideas are in play here, as are the practicalities. This too is where Madsen over eggs the pudding. He’s a slave to the slow motion tracking shot – at first it evokes a slightly otherworldly mood, a cold and calculated exploration of the unnatural, but it quickly becomes a crutch he relies on to deploy his imagery of unusual constructions, people going about their day to day, and the mobilising balance of a military deployed as a reaction to the alien’s visit. He seems afraid to let his camera breathe as naturally as the scientists on screen, ironically enough serving to further detach himself from the documentarian approach he primarily wants to ape. It’s a shame because his imagery, intersected with the static interactions with the people on screen, is often interesting.

If nothing that will revolutionise either the science fiction or documentary genres The Visit dips a toe in either way, Michael Madsen’s film is an intriguing look with an intriguing hook at a concept which has fascinated writers and filmmakers for the last half century – what would happen if aliens visited us? It’s quite rare to find a film which doesn’t approach the subject matter in bombastic or fantastic terms, moreover one that uses real life thinkers & scientists to consider the extreme possibilities & consequences that we’re not alone in the universe; amusingly at one point two of those on screen describe ‘fiction’, and report that more often than not such attempts to portray first contact end without a happy conclusion. If you’re looking for a film with such conclusions at all, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a flawed but fascinating, rational and illuminating exploration of the idea, this may be worth exploring yourself.

The Visit will be screened as a part of the festival on Monday 7th September at 18:45 at The Light, and Thursday 10th at 15:30 in the Arts Picturehouse. To find out more information and to book your tickets, visit the Cambridge Film Festival website.