Tag Archives: E.T.

Failed Critics Podcast: Child Performances Triple Bill

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They’re heeeerrrrreeeee….

And by ‘they’, we of course mean ‘we’. We’re here to host another triple bill edition of the Failed Critics Podcast!

This week, Mike Shawcross and Matt Lambourne step into the fold along with regulars Steve Norman and Owen Hughes as they each pick their three favourite child performances in film. From sweary little girls, to doom-bringing seven year old boys, we’ve covered all of the best young performances that we could fit into 100 minutes of podcast.

Amongst that, we did still manage to squeeze in a quick round up of who-won-what at the Cannes Film Festival, which closed this week. In keeping with the Cannes theme, Mike even watched a film called The Beaver that was first screened at the festival a few years back, starring Mel Gibson. And, as if we’d planned it (we didn’t), Matt also watched a Mel Gibson movie as he looks back on the original 1979 Australian rampage film Mad Max. Meanwhile, Owen recounts his experience this past weekend at a Q&A with Al Pacino, whilst Steve quickly runs through 2012’s Avengers Assemble and the latest season of Game of Thrones.

Join us again next week as we look at Pacino’s latest project Danny Collins, as well as the Rock’s new disaster movie San Andreas.

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P.S. If you can’t wait a whole week to hear Steve & Owen’s voices again …… check out the second ever Quizcast, this time hosted by Tony Black of Black Hole Cinema (or listen to the original Quizcast here).

Earth To Echo

Your enjoyment of Earth To Echo will depend on how much you want to see a classic Spielberg family film recreated beat-for-beat.  I personally dug the hell out of it.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

earth to echoThat headline is not a misnomer or over-simplification, just so you’re aware.  Earth To Echo is a beat-for-beat recreation of one of those “young kids band together and go off on an adventure” family movies that used to be so prominent in the 80s and early 90s.  Think of a feature or plot beat from any of them and I can practically guarantee you that it showed up here at some point or another.  A close group of young boys consisting of their leader (who thinks he’s a bit of a charmer and has a personal crusade), the cool one (who is deeply insecure about people moving away) and the slightly eccentric one (who is prone to panicking under pressure)?  Check.  The group is about to be broken up due to outside circumstances dictating that they all move away from one another?  Check.  Strange goings on are happening in the area and, on their last night together, the trio decide to investigate behind their parents’ backs?  Check.  They discover a ridiculously cute alien who crash-landed on Earth and just wants to get home?  Big check.  The group ends up being joined by a girl who happens to enjoy unusual things, has to basically force her way into the group and may end up hitting it off with one of them?  Check-ity- check check.  Everyone involved discovers that the people forcing them to move away may actually be connected to and hunting for the ridiculously cute alien?  Mr Check, of Checkingsville, Illinois, you’d better chiggidy-check yourself before you wriggidy-wreck yourself!

In blunt terms, if Amblin Entertainment was in any way responsible for it, Earth To Echo blatantly steals from it at some point or another during its run time.  I can practically guarantee that you will have seen this movie multiple times before and, inarguably, done better.  It brings one thing to the table, the found-footage framework, that, to my knowledge, has not been done by any one of these films beforehand.  Otherwise, it’s the kind of homage where the only aim was to recreate one of the films it wants to homage.  This should be a huge knock against the film and, in a way, it still is.  And yet, Earth To Echo worked for me.  It worked near-totally.

Now, again, don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact that this film does nothing new and has little depth or anything to say besides “Hey!  Remember those family movies from the 80s?  Weren’t they awesome?  Gee, I wish they’d make ‘em like that nowadays.”  But the film is so good at that homage and its filmmakers are so good at what they do and they clearly have so much genuine love for the genre they wish to be, that my cynicism was overwhelmed and the film just swept me away.  A much less talented filmmaker would have coldly replicated the style of classics like E.T. and The Goonies for cheap sympathy pops, but director Dave Green and the screenplay (provided by Henry Gayden) invest their hearts into the thing.  They have real love for this style and it washes through every facet of the film’s production, especially its tone which is dead on.  This is a light, heart-filled, optimistic and just plain feel-good film; there is not one bad bone in its entire being which made it much easier for me to lose myself in proceedings.

And that heart manifests itself everywhere.  In the trio of leads (Teo Halm plays the cool kid, Brian “Astro” Bradley plays the group leader, Reese C. Hartwig plays the eccentric one) who are all excellent, striking up lightning chemistry with one another and are so believable in their respective roles that one could be forgiven for thinking that they all were close friends way before filming even began.  In the titular alien, Echo, who is utterly adorable and whose fate I cared rigidly about, even though his personality is just that he’s utterly adorable and that the adults hunting him are clearly bad news.  In the tinge of melancholy that hangs over proceedings, playing on the loss of friendships and abandonment issues theme enough to create the illusion of full-on depth but not enough to make it feel like I was being bashed over the head with it.  In the score by Joseph Trapanese, which is ripped straight from that kind of era but overlaid with minor key reverb guitars for that 2010s version of wistful forgotten youth-invoking.  It all feels sincere and that makes the entire film feel like a genuine throwback to that bygone era, and a very nice change of pace from most family films currently on the market, instead of a cynical invocation for the end purpose of nostalgia dollars.

As for the one thing that it does that isn’t rip off from the 80s, the found-footage, Earth To Echo plays very fast-and-loose with the concept.  And I mean very fast and loose.  Even though everyone knows that found-footage found its logical end point with that bit in Chronicle where Andrew uses his mind to levitate the camera and keep it steady, Earth To Echo tries its own stab at spicing up proceedings by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it.  The film is presented like it’s a film that Tuck, the group’s leader, has pieced together from footage on various cameras a year after proceedings, although that doesn’t really explain the frequent usage of footage taken from the viewpoint of Echo itself.  In any case, in addition to your standard camera holding, there are cameras mounted on bikes, spy glasses, shots from the viewpoint of Echo itself, webcam conversations, screen-recordings of computers, YouTube progress bars, Google Maps indicators of where the cast are headed, overlays on the environment provided by Echo’s analysis, and the occasional visual distortion because everyone knows that the audience won’t know that situation has gotten serious until the camera gets hurt.

Assuming one doesn’t think about it too much, it actually kinda works.  It creates a nice fast-paced editing style that keeps things moving at a good clip.  Plus, some moments are rather inspired.  The aforementioned screen-recording of a three-way webcam conversation has a bit where Tuck, in trying to rally Alex and Munch into joining him on the adventure, cues up the Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves overture and we actually see him opening it up in iTunes.  There’s also a bit where Emma, the girl who tags along, keeps hogging Echo and getting obsessive in finding out his history and Tuck, bored of the section, takes the clip and actually trashes it before we cut back to the film.  Again, assuming that one doesn’t think about how it all actually pieces together into this coherent film made by one of its protagonists that we are supposedly watching, it all actually works and they offer up quick little gags at the medium’s expense.  I will admit that there were many times where my brain was questioning how it all fit together, though, so how much it bugs you will depend on your tolerance for this stuff.

Although I’m not docking the film points for its relentless “homaging” to E.T. and The Goonies, I do still have one problem with it that prevents it from being one of my favourite films of the year so far and that problem is Emma, the lone girl.  She joins in on proceedings about halfway through but, in notable contrast to the three boys, she doesn’t really have a character.  There’s a brief scene that goes on in the background at one point of her complaining how she’s not going to be some “prom princess” or something, and during the rest of the film she gets very occasional scenes where it seems like her and Alex are hitting it off, but that’s about it.  Her character trait is just The Girl and, again in contrast to our three boy leads, I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything about her or what makes her tick.  There’s also that aforementioned clip trashing scene and some occasional bits where some of the boys rag on her seemingly just for being a girl which creates a Boy’s Club feel to proceedings that’s a little jarring, considering how nice the rest of the film is to everyone.  Her actress, Ella Wahlestedt (who I mistook for Molly Quinn for at least a good 10 minutes), tries forcing in some raw blunt charisma to try and make up for it, but it can only go so far when you’re up against the challenge of having no character to play.  It’s a shame because the other three leads are so strongly written and it makes her come off like an afterthought.

So, once again, your enjoyment of Earth To Echo is going to be dictated primarily by how much you fancy watching “Not Goonies”.  As you may be able to gather, I wasn’t much bothered by the fact that it has nothing new to bring to that table.  Sure, it’s not as good as E.T. or The Goonies or the like, but it has something that is strangely lacking from a lot of movies nowadays, not just family ones: heart.  This is a film with love pouring out of every seam, with a trio of well-drawn lead characters excellently performed, with a melancholy yet kind-hearted mood dictating the show, and with an adorable little alien.  It’s a throwback of the best kind, the one that makes you walk out of the cinema and wistfully sigh “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  And maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for that kind of emotion-filled cinema, or maybe it’s because this Summer season has been near-relentlessly miserable and I’ll take anything that is in the slightest bit different from the current norm of film releases, but that is exactly what I did upon exiting the screen.  I dug the hell out of it and, depending on if you can get past your possible hang-ups, you may too.

Callum Petch won’t hear you from the stratosphere.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1982

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1982.

5. Space Adventure Cobra

spaceactioncobra“So, are you taking any bets on how this is going to end?”

Space Adventure Cobra is perhaps the oldest in a line of 80’s/90’s Anime that adorned my Video shelf as a teenager. Being released only a few years after the original Star Wars, it steals from the source material incessantly even beginning with a large Starship flyover, however it is far from a film for all the family.

The story follows Cobra, the most wanted man in the galaxy who is on a voyage to protect a beautiful female bounty-hunter whom is being hunted by the evil ‘Space Mafia Guild’. Cobra himself is the happy go lucky, overly confident macho hero who is very much Han Solo crossed with Mega Man, due to the ability to morph his left arm into a powerful Psycho Cannon.

The aesthetics of the movie certainly complement the era it’s trying to imitate, with vivid colour and a Vengelis-esque soundtrack, it may lack the polished animation that later Manga will trademark yet is still so easy on the eye.

Every Star Wars wannabe needs a bad guy and that comes in the form of the seemingly indestructible ‘Lord Necron’, who resembles more Dr. Doom (of the Marvel Universe) or perhaps even the camped up bling-bling diva that is Emperor Xerxes from ‘300’ more than the Sci-Fi baddie archetype Darth Vader.

The film is a charming love-story, brilliant sci-fi and hypnotic psychedelica all crammed into the right running time for easy viewing. The saga continued in a popular anime comic and has spawned a cult following. If a movie has ever paid a better tongue-in-cheek homage to classic sci-fi then I’d very much like to see it! Cobra provides a bite-sized action adventure that defies its age and leaves a lasting legacy that it is ‘Love’ not good, that will conquer all.

4. Tootsie

TootsieI was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man. You know what I mean?

The 80’s did two types of movies better than any other decade, action movies and great comedies. Tootsie is a delightful example of taking a ridiculous concept, adding a great ensamble cast and making on screen hilarity ensue. The focus of the film is on Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) an actor who is a notoriously difficult to work with, as he struggles to line up his next big role. He takes matters into the extreme by creating a female counter-part, Dorothy Michaels to enable to find work. However he never banked upon falling in love with the lovely fresh faced Jessica Lange or the number of men who’d fall for his less than classical feminine character!

The cast really makes this movie so watchable. Aside from Lange and Hoffman, you have a typically funny supporting role from the legendary Bill Murray, a creepy TV actor has-been in George Gaynes (better known as Commandant Lassard in Police Academy) and a very early mini role for Geena Davis. Hoffman is quite brilliant as Dorothy, much more so than he is as Michael. His no nonsense approach to his professional and personal life which rendered him so unemployable as a male makes him a prime candidate for a full time soap opera role as powerful leading lady.

This allows him much closer access to Lange’s character who is a single mother being taken advantage of by the show’s creepy producer, she slowly gains a remarkable liking for the mysterious and refreshing hard-nosed approach of Dorothy, wishing she could emulate her. Dorothy begins to spend more time with Lange outside of work and there is a particularly disturbing heart to heart part way through the movie whereby you actually wonder if Lange’s character is falling in love with a transvestite, unbeknownst to her! It’s an awkwardness so convincing that it landed her the Oscar for Best Supporting actress!

It goes without saying that Hoffman really delivers when thrust into extreme roles, such as that he will later take up in Rain Man. This movie really sets a blue print for those that follow in the 90’s such as Mrs. Doubtfire, but even that does not match the innocence and delight of Tootsie, which was 1982’s 2nd highest grossing film behind E.T!

3. First Blood

first-blood-knife-rambo“I could have killed ’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!”

It’s the movie that defined the action hero archetype. Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, vagrant Vietnam veteran, passing through a sleepy mountain town that simply does not want him spoiling their idyllic scenery. He crosses the path of Teasle (Brian Dennehy), Sherriff of the town who makes it clear on no uncertain terms that he should leave town immediate and escorts him to the town borders. However when Rambo marches back the wrong way, he is taken into custody having committed no crime.

He eventually escapes into the wilderness and begins a one man guerrilla war against the inept local law enforcement. It likely encouraged a generation of youngsters to enter into their local woods planting booby-traps and getting gimped up in camouflage face-paint, or was that just me and my friends?

Unlike later Stallone action romps, the action here is subtle and realistic; it’s a stealth war against meandering nincompoops. It’s also one of the few movies where Stallone talks fairly eloquently, it would seem he perhaps dumbed himself down for many roles he played later.

Whilst the action is clever and satisfying, it poses a greater moral concern to the American viewing public as to how veterans are perceived upon leaving service, particularly those deployed to Vietnam. It demonstrates a common disregard for soldiers who served in a messy war, something that Hollywood was slow to highlight. Later efforts such as Born on The Forth of July picked up the mantle, though it is arguable that that ‘First Blood’ is more mainstream friendly, thus ramming home the undeniable truth to a wider audience.

The Rambo character does for the action-movie genre what Hoover did for Vacuum cleaners. It became the synonymous figure for the unstoppable one-man army genre that dominated the 80’s. It spawned 3 sequels, non of which live up to the original in my opinion, but First Blood was the movie that established Stallone beyond Rocky and saw his career go supernova!

2. Blade Runner

Blade Runner“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

It was a difficult decision in regards to the positioning of my favourite two movies of 1982, both are worthy of the grandest title of them all. I think you’ll approve of my final choice, however there is much time to discuss the grandeur of my number two choice.

I was fortunate to only see Blade Runner for the first time in my twenties, a good 25 years after its release. I feel much of its subtle appeal and nuances would have passed me by at a younger age. Co-produced by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is sci-fi indulged on the most epic of scales. From the monumental soundtrack by Vengelis, to its dark and wet Urban backdrops dashed in Neon lighting creating a Future Noir masterpiece. Blade Runner is easily one of the most visually impressive movies ever created.

The film follows Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is a Blade Runner, a group of specialist police assembled to hunt Replicants, which are near perfect human duplications with enhanced strength and tolerance to pain. He is assigned one last case to hunt down 4 recently escaped Replicants and ‘retire them’ before they cause havoc on the LA populous and ultimately meet their maker.

Ford puts in a great performance as the care-free and seemingly nonchalant Deckard, who shows no sympathy for those he is trying to hunt, or those whom his spiteful tongue might disturb, namely that of the seemingly emotionless Rachel (Sean Young) who is introduced to Deckard as test subject for Replicant interrogation, yet she is unaware that she is even a Replicant.

Lining up for the Replicants is Darryl Hannah and a career defining performance from Rutger Hauer, whose soliloquy as quoted at the beginning of this piece brings together a fitting finale that ties up many of the movies deeper residing themes,  which can be easily lost when distracted purely by the visual brilliance of the film.

A particularly favourite piece of eye-candy during this film is the scene where Deckard shoots one of the escaped Replicants following a chase from a strip club, A a rather stunning young lady is fleeing her would-be assassin wearing nothing but spiked boots and a see-through PVC rainmack.  The moment that she is shot in the back by Deckard as she crashes through several panes of glasses, all of which are illuminated by an abundance of neon is one of my all time favourite scenes for sheer visual impact.

The greatest gift the movie leaves for the viewer is that of an ending open to interpretation, is Deckard a Replicant or a human is ambiguous at best with strong cases for either. Fortunately this is one classic movie whose legacy has not been destroyed with a meaningless sequel meaning you can decipher the evidence and make your own conclusions.

It’s yet another IMDB Top 250 for Harrison Ford who was really at the top of his game during the few years either side of this movie, Blade Runner resides as a Science Fiction hall of famer and one of the best films ever made.

1. Gandhi

Ghandi Ben Kingsley“The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are.”

There are few movies that have stirred me as much as watching this movie for the first time. Directed by the mighty Richard Attenborough, the film follows the tribulations of Mohandas Gandhi, an English educated lawyer and Indian immigrate who is assigned to a practice in South Africa and is immediately subjugated to horrendous treatment due to his ethnicity. He leads a minor rebellion against the white British establishment, seeking equal rights for all races in South Africa and becomes a national hero back in India.

Upon returning to his home nation seeking peace and tranquillity he finds the problems of subjugation have not eluded him and the rape of his country’s resources prompt him to become the spearhead for India’s claim for independence from the British empire. This is accomplished using a innovative tactic of ‘peaceful rebellion’ or more accurately referred to as ‘non-cooperation.

Ben Kingsley is brilliantly cast as Gandhi and is entirely convincing in playing the hero of the movie, both in terms of aesthetic suitability and the humility he brings to the screen. It’s very difficult to take your eye off Kingsley during the whole film, it’s almost as if you’re watching the real Gandhi and it is truly a remarkable performance considering he’d done very little outside of TV roles at this point in his career.

It leaves a somewhat nasty taste in the mouth to see Kingsley selling himself short in movies such as 2012’s ‘The Dictator’ playing a somewhat stereotyped and foolish middle-eastern politician, it removes some shine from the legacy he build for himself in the Gandhi role and directly insults the magnitude of his performance. That said he deservedly bagged himself the 1983 Best Actor gong at the Oscars and the movie itself taking a tremendous haul of 7 further Oscars. It really is a heavyweight of a movie and is a must see for fan of history, particularly that of the civil-rights movement or the British Empire

In regards to the latter, it opens up some scar tissue and painful memories of how the British treated their colonial Empire. This is particularly emphasised in the excruciatingly merciless killing at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre where up to a 1000 men, women and children were trapped and shot by the British army during a peaceful protest. The movie closes out with the crushing division of Indian Territory following independence prompting the founding of Pakistan and the eventual assassination of Gandhi himself.

A lifetime of defiance in the name of justice, Gandhi established himself as one of the most important persons of the 20th Century and this movie more than does him worthy and is an incredible addition to the IMDB Top 250 and my best movie of 1982.

Whine on You Crazy Diamond – Found Wanting

Welcome to another helping of the scooped-out mind-innards of yours truly. This week I want to talk about a style of film-making and, some might say, a genre in its own right – Found Footage.

On Saturday I went to see Paranormal Activity 4 (featured on this week’s Failed Critics Review podcast) and it reaffirmed all of the issues I have with found footage films. They are completely unrealistic, and actually alienate me as a viewer.

First let’s look at the reason people make found footage films. The bottom line is that they are cheap. Very, very cheap. The original Paranormal Activity only cost about $15,000 to make, and The Blair Witch Project was also made for peanuts. Studios love these films because they represent a low-risk green-light decision, especially in the horror genre which, more than any other genre it seems, has an inbuilt audience who are willing to give films a chance.

The reason these films are so cheap to make is not just because they don’t use expensive sets and equipment, but also because the people involved are cheap to hire. From the director, to the screenwriter (especially with a number of these films improvised in nature), to the actors (usually unknowns who are cheap, and this also helps make them seem more realistic. No one is going to believe Brad Pitt in a found footage movie).

So from a business point of view I totally get it. I even admire these films.

But from an artistic point of view?

The other argument I have heard in support of found footage films is that they are ‘more realistic’ and that in the horror genre this makes them scarier. This is where I have to disagree. In my opinion, found footage films are less ‘realistic’ than any stop-motion film, CGI-powered superhero film, or badly dubbed and bloodily violent 1970s kung-fu film.

Let me explain.

Cinema has been around for over 100 years. In that time, as a species we have evolved our perception of cinema as art-form and entertainment, and can now put ourselves in a state of suspended disbelief when watching a well-crafted film. When I watch The Exorcist, or Ringu, I forget that I am watching a film and get drawn into the horror that the characters are facing. This is despite the fact that I am seeing things that I couldn’t possibly see in real life – including camera angles and special effects. A well-directed and shot film feels ‘real’.

So any attempt to consciously make a film appear real has the opposite effect on me. My suspicions are instantly raised. I can’t suspend my disbelief and find myself asking questions – why are they talking about boring things in a film? Who ‘found’ this footage? Why are they recording this seemingly random set of events?

And that’s the killer for me – I spend the majority of every found footage film questioning why a character is filming that particular footage. Once a film sets itself up as being ultra-realistic, the slightest crack in the façade ruins the whole pretence. I have the same issue with 3D films presenting themselves as being more immersive, when in fact the opposite is true – but that’s for another day…

DVD – New out this week is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – and you can hear what we thought of that on the podcast here. Instead, why not treat yourself to one (or both) of the lovely re-releases of classic films available for the first time on Blu-ray. Steven Spielberg’s E.T., or Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

TVLayer Cake. Film 4 on Fri 26 Oct at 9pm. If you’re not going to see Skyfall on Friday night, then why not watch Daniel Craig’s breakthrough performance in Matthew Vaughn’s debut film that is that very rare thing – an excellent, modern British gangster film.

Lovefilm InstantClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). If you’ve heeded my advice above and forked out on the Blu-ray release of E.T., then make an extra-terrestrial night of it and watch Spielberg’s other ‘they came from the stars’ classic from the era in which he could do no wrong.

Netflix UKDreams of a Life (2011). Recently discussed on the Failed Critics Review, this fascinating documentary investigates the circumstances around the death of Joyce Vincent who died in her bedsit aged 38, and lay undiscovered for three years.