Tag Archives: Emily Blunt

Failed Critics Podcast: The Guys on the Pod

girl-on-the-train

All aboard!

Every week Owen Hughes rides the Failed Critics steam train from host Steve Norman’s caravan park in Swanage all the way to guest Andrew Brooker’s residence in Milton Keynes, stopping at the exact same point along the way to peer through the windows of the FC HQ in Oxford.

Unfortunately there are no affairs or murders for him to observe and fantasise about, only a depressed version of himself wondering why the bloody hell he sits through these uninspiring movies that 2016 keeps on churning out. Specifically the latest to cross the team’s path, The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt.

This week’s journey also pulls in at the games and tech podcast Super Pixels Radio stop. Failed Critics debutant Elliot Beverley chats with Owen about the animated stop-motion family movie, Kubo and the Two Strings.

We also have the buffet cart stocked with the latest trailers from the New York Comic Convention. It’s got all of your favourites only slightly overpriced, including Power Rangers, John Wick 2, Iron Fist, and the new Resident Evil and War of the Planet of the Apes teasers.

In What We’ve Been Watching, Brooker leaves the quiet carriage to shout about the Ghostbusters extended edition, while Steve shimmies out of the bog after feeling less than Supersonic to review the new Oasis documentary, as well as revisiting The Martian for the first time since its cinema release.

Join us again next week for a triple bill of film franchises that should’ve ended before reaching a trilogy.

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The Girl on the Train

“When I saw her, with him, I felt nothing but rage.”

I’ve said it before. Super-twisty crime-thrillers are a real favourite of mine. To immerse myself in a film for a couple of hours wondering whether or not I’ve figured out the inevitable twist is one of my favourite things to do. Second only really to watching a good horror film.

I’d been looking forward to The Girl on the Train for quite some time. Not least of all because Emily Blunt is nothing short of amazing and the trailers made it look like this year’s Gone Girl – more on that later – but also because a good thriller can be quite hard to come by sometimes. This one looked to scratch the itch well.

Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a woman who spends her commute to the city in the same seat every day, staring out of the same window of her train. Most days, the train slows down at the exact same point on the tracks allowing Rachel a glimpse into the same few houses and the same few inhabitants, just for a couple of minutes. She concocts stories for the families she sees, connecting with these total strangers better than anyone she knows in real life. Watching married couple Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) live what she thinks is the perfect life, she purposely fills herself with jealousy staring at the life she wants.

When Rachel sees Megan apparently cheating on her other half, this fires up a rage in her that she hasn’t experienced before. The near psychotic alcoholic makes the decision to get off the train a few stops early and confront the woman that’s ruined her fantasy for her. Chasing Megan under a railway bridge, drunk and hurling abuse, Watson sets in motion a series of events that (whilst she doesn’t remember it) ends in the disappearance of the unfaithful Megan and a police investigation that may, or may not, have The Girl on the Train as their main suspect. Rachel fights to prove her innocence and rescue her sanity as her world starts to crumble around her.

The Girl on the Train screams of a film rushed into production because a certain other film based on a book was received so very well. But the sad fact is, this flick is nowhere near as good as it’s advertised to be.

The film’s story is almost incomprehensible as its flashbacks try to set the scene while simultaneously telling her story in the present day. But with nothing discernibly separating the flashbacks from the current scenes, you’re left wondering for longer than you should be about what part of the timeline you are watching. It seems that The Help director Tate Taylor had a few ideas that he wanted in his film, but either didn’t take, or ignored, advice on whether or not these things should be in his movie. Smash cutting blurry flashbacks might be trying to convey the feeling of trying to remember what you done when you were drunk, for example, but all it did was leave me feeling like I need to go have a word with the projectionist for fuzzing up my film. It’s so grossly over directed that nothing really got to shine in the two hours I was watching it for. The same can be said for its editing; shredded to within an inch of its life, The Girl on the Train is just a mess of a film to watch.

Blunt is trying very hard, and she’s always good to watch, but even she can’t rescue the film. Her performance is easily the best thing about the flick, but to say that I’m damning her with faint praise would be understating it quite a bit. Her perfect couple are decent to watch: Luke Evans and Haley Bennett are passable as a happy-on-the-surface couple, but Evans doesn’t really convince me when things start to go tits up. Similarly, Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson as Rachel’s ex-husband and new wife, caught up in the middle of our main character’s psychotic break, feel like an afterthought for a large portion rather than the quiet subplot that they are. It’s a shame to watch a few well-known actors, who all have a decent role or two on their IMDB page, do such a clunky job of telling this story.

For a film relentlessly marketed like the next Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train doesn’t even have the chops to sit on the same shelf as Fincher’s superb thriller. Every ad made us believe we were off so see another beautifully twisted thriller that would leave you pondering the-girl-on-the-trainafter it was done. Sadly, once you got through the dodgy direction and erratic editing, what we were left with was something so bland and formulaic that to call its twist a “twist” would be close to false advertising.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

huntsman winters war

“I bet that story wet the eyes of a few ladies.”

I’d like to get it out there right away that, although I chose to take time out of my evening, paid the 3D uplift and even volunteered my services to write this review, I went in with no expectations of greatness from The Huntsman. I would call myself a fan of most of the billed cast and given the acting pedigree on-screen. I don’t think it would be asking too much to at least have the almost two-hour run time made bearable by those that were paid to be there, would it? I mean, even if this second crack at the fantasy franchise turned out to be nothing more than hot piss, it would at least be watchable, given its stars, right?

Yeah, it would have been nice.

Half prequel and half sequel, The Huntsman tells a story that kind of surrounds 2012’s Snow White and The Huntsman‘s story of how Snow White took the crown from Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen, Ravenna. A few years before the events of Snow White, Ravenna and her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) drift in opposite directions when the soon-to-be Evil Queen watches her vulnerable sister suffer the loss of her child and in anger learns to unleash her power to control ice. With Freya’s new found power comes a new life; one focussed on conquering all she surveys and covering the world with ice. To do this, she trains an army of children, her “Huntsmen”, to do her dirty work.

Years down the line and Snow White has taken the crown. The Ice Queen’s army have decimated the land and her best huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth – sporting a pretty bad accent) is a wandering nomad who finds himself on the trail of the presumed dead queen’s magic mirror – a source of unrelenting evil that has vanished en route to a place where it will be safe and the world will be safe from it. Joined on his quest by a couple of bickering dwarves (Rob Brydon and the returning Nick Frost) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), a warrior whose skills equal The Huntsman’s and together, the rag-tag group need to find the mirror before Freya and her army get their paws on it.

Wow. I almost made that sound like it could be interesting.

Like I said, I went in with no delusions that this was going to be a good film. But the least these people could do for all that money is put a little effort in. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, in his directorial debut – a little IMDb-fu taught me he was a visual effects guy on Snow White – seems to be under the impression that making the film look pretty is all he needs to do to sell the film. It is very pretty, too; it all looks very Game of Thrones in its frozen landscapes and scary armies. But it’s not enough to mean you can ignore everything else.

The names up on that screen did nothing but disappoint, either. I adore the three leading ladies and rarely do I have a bad word to say about them; but there seems to have been a collective decision to half-ass their way through this terribly lacklustre script, possibly in the hope that they and us don’t have to suffer through a third entry in this dumbed down franchise. Charlize Theron is essentially relegated to a support role; I mean, it’s not bad considering she was killed in the last film, but she gets the part of the older sister to Emily Blunt’s Ice Queen, Freya and pretty much plays the walking embodiment of the mirror’s evil. Blunt, normally brilliant in everything, seems blank and bored in every scene she’s in. I’ve seen Blunt be great in bad movies, she always seems to put everything into her performances. But here she appears to be having a few of those bad work days that we all have; simply showing up and going through the motions because she knows that’ll be more than adequate. A real shame.

It turns out, that the price for admission into last year’s Crimson Peak for Jessica Chastain, was a contractual obligation to Universal for a film to be named later. And every single frame that her and her just awful accent are in screams of being forced to be there. No heart, no soul and absolutely no care for the job at hand. This usually exciting to watch actress looks as insulted to be there as I felt to be watching this loathsome film. Finally, Mr Hemsworth. Mate, you’re Thor! We all know you’ve actually got some character in you. We all know that you are more than a long haired cardboard cutout with zero ability to look interested in anything. So why are you in this film sleepwalking your way through every scene pretending like you’re Mel Gibson pretending to be William Wallace? Weak, dude.

Along with bits of Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time, the story has a few elements from Snow White and a whole lot has been borrowed from The Snow Queen – but friends, Frozen this ain’t. No real care or attention has been put into the plot-hole heavy story and even less into the film’s direction. The Huntsman plays itself like a dark and scary fantasy film with some flashes of horror in it but doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. Instead the film plays safe to the same crowd that went to the first film because Hemsworth – and missing-in-action Kristen Stewart hot off of her Twilight fame – not only fails to put together a decent flick for the teenagers it’s aimed at, it fails to put together a watchable movie at all.

Overall, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a bloody awful film. Even for a first time director it’s a poorly filmed, badly executed mess with a hacked together, disjointed script and a bored looking cast. It’s a real shame, because all the parts for a great film are here just waiting to be put together. Sadly, those in charge of its construction aren’t much more than peanut butter slurping monkeys, constantly distracted picking bits of poo out of their bum hair.

Failed Critics Podcast: The Intern, The Martian & Sicario

sicario 1Hello and welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, released slightly earlier than usual to try and push it out just before the end of International Podcast today (that’s today for the next couple of minutes, anyway!) As such, we recommend you check out our fellow podcast comrades Wikishuffle, Black Hole Cinema and Diamond & Human; all of whom are deserving of your time during your commute or whilst peeling the spuds, or whatever you do whilst you’re listening to us.

Joining Mexican assassin Steve Norman and intergalactic failed critic Owen Hughes for this week’s episode is Andrew Brooker, undertaking his unpaid work placement, as they review three new releases. They’re so new, in fact, that they are not even out in the UK yet! First up, Owen reviews new Ridley Scott sci-fi The Martian (which doesn’t feature any aliens – xenomorphs or otherwise) before Brooker seethes over the new Anne Hathaway / Robert De Niro comedy The Intern. There’s even room for a review of the much anticipated crime-thriller Sicario, starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent working with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro on the trail of the Cartel in Mexico.

Before any of that though we have our quiz (which Steve helpfully explains in detail) and news section where the team react to Sam Smith’s Bond theme replete with improv poetry, The Simpsons opening Smithers closet, and the Prometheus sequel details. This is followed by our usual what we’ve been watching section, which sees: Owen review cult 80’s horror From Beyond as he pleads for your HP Lovecraft recommendations; Steve runs through three first watches of Beverly Hills Cop, Cooties and Cop Car; and Brooker reminds himself of a time when De Niro could do comedy well with Analyze This.

Join us again next week as we review ‘the Scottish play’, Macbeth, and have a very special guest in tow for our Scottish triple bill: It’s the acclaimed author of the Three Realistic Holes trilogy of novels, Escobar Walker!

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Sicario

“You’re asking how a clock works. For now, concentrate on the time.”

Every now and then, a director comes along that outshines most of the competition. Amongst a slew of films that all kind of meld into one giant movie when you watch as many as I do, it’s great when you find someone you can latch on to that guarantees quality, or fun, or whatever measure you use to find the ones you love. In recent years, names like Antoine Fuqua and David Ayer have risen up and given me a yardstick to measure my entertainment against. Now, following up his 2013 Jake Gyllenhaal double bill of Prisoners and Enemy, Denis Villeneuve has guaranteed himself a spot on that list for me with his latest film; drug war crime drama Sicario.

After a speedy rise through the FBI’s ranks, Emily Blunt’s bad ass door-kicker Kate Macer has made a bit of a name for herself. A tough agent who spends her days raiding drug dens and chasing the tail end of cartel bad guys trying to make even a slight dent in the war on drugs. After a particularly important raid that turns several shades of nasty, Macer and her partner are dragged in front of the director of the FBI; but instead of raking her across the coals for letting the shit hit the fan, she’s handed the opportunity to spend some time on the other side of the border with a joint task force chasing down an all but invisible drug lord buried in the war zone that is Juarez, Mexico.

Handed over to Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, a veteran of the war on stuff you can snort and the guy in charge of this little jolly across the border; Macer joins a colourful cast of soldiers, spooks and spies as they head into Mexico to get their hands on a man that can point them in the direction of the local Pablo Escobar wannabe and get the group closer to making a big play or two in the war on the cartels. Tagging along for the ride is Graver’s adviser Alejandro Gillick; a mysteriously quiet man in a suit, quite obviously haunted by his baggage and much more dangerous than he looks. Together, the group are going to do whatever it takes to get their job done and, all things being well, get everyone home in one piece having removed a major part of the Mexican-American drug trade.

Tension is the order of the day with Sicario, Villeneuve has honed his craft over the last couple of years and this film is the culmination of all his work. I mean, if you thought Prisoners was tense and edge-of-your-seat, this flick will have you slipping off of that edge in almost every scene as this tale of bad guys being hunted down by not quite so bad guys plays out along the badlands of the Mexican border. Emily Blunt’s tough chick proving herself in a men’s world has to tow the fine lines between legitimate and illegal, between doing good and doing the right thing, all while searching within herself for the conviction still be an agent on the right side of the law.

The story unfolds at an excellent pace. No sooner are we getting over the imagery of the horrific opening scenes that we’ve been subjected to are we heading into Mexico to start the shady agency’s assault on the drug traffickers. And shady is definitely the word; between Matt Graver’s antics on each side of the fence that doesn’t so much dance along that legal line as it does conveniently forget it’s there from time to time, and Alejandro Gillick’s reserved “consultant” who talks in riddles but, when things go south, shows glimpses of just how lethal he can be; we get to ride along as these men put their lives at risk to do the right thing, whether you or Kate Macer agree with their tactics or not.

To say much more would risk spoilers for a film that should be watched with as little exposure to the story as possible. Not that this films breaks much new ground with its story, but for me to reveal the key points of what isn’t available from watching the trailer would do a real disservice to the film. I would say though, that it’s difficult to pick a stand out part of the movie. Denis Villeneuve’s direction is amazing; the imagery he puts on the screen is as awe-inspiring as it is disturbing, his pacing has the film’s two hour run-time feeling good and brisk and his choices for casting are perfect. The film’s stars do a brilliant job of bringing some of the best performances I’ve seen this year. Ok, so I think Emily Blunt should be handed every role, for every film. I think while everyone is talking about a black Bond, we should actually be talking about a woman; and I think it should be Emily Blunt. Sicario does nothing to change my mind as she pulls out a great performance as the excellent but slightly naive agent trying to understand what’s going on while beautifully side-stepping the feminist/strong woman/we don’t need men argument that so many roles like this one bring up but simply don’t need to happen (just enjoy your films for shit’s sake, not everything needs to make a statement). In perfect contrast to Blunt’s Kate Macer is Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick; in my favourite role for Del Toro since The Usual Suspects, this man with a past is equal parts terrifying and awesome! By the end of the film I was ready to get up and cheer for this man that’d been carved out by his past and set loose on the cartels.

The bottom line, is that Sicario is a masterclass in how to build a great thriller. Every scene is oozing with tension, every performance is screaming for awards nods and every shot is beautifully directed. I went in hoping for a half decent flick to try and erase Traffic from my memory, I came out two hours later with a sure-fire top five film of 2015 for my list. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Sicario is a close to perfect, unmissable film.

The Five Best Video-Game Movies

In addition to telling us about the five worst video-game movies last week, Andrew Brooker is back again to take a look at the other side of the coin and reveal of the best.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

Next Week! Hitman: Agent 47 arrives next week.  As I type this I’m watching the booking pages for my local cinemas refresh hoping for a decent show so I can get a nice early screening and get my fill of video game stupidness.  As the days go on I’m getting a little more excited for this movie and I’m hoping and praying that it isn’t complete wank.  I’m not looking for award winning cinema; I’m looking to disengage my brain for a couple of hours and just enjoy my time with Agent 47.

So, as my own rebuttal to last week’s Worst Video Game Movies; my super-duper scientific research continues in making the list I’m hoping 47’s latest entry makes it to.  Here’s my five favourite video game movies.


5] Silent Hill (2006)

Budget: $50 Million

Box Office: 97.6 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 29%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkK8udIqKPQ]

Now, I refuse to care about the Rotten Tomatoes score for this film; or any film for that matter.  The thing that gets Silent Hill onto my list is the atmosphere.  The original Silent Hill is one of the creepiest games ever made; using the restrictions of the old technology it was made on to it’s advantage and filling the entire game with a thick fog that hid just how slowly the game was being rendered in the background; but as far as creepy atmosphere is concerned the town of Silent Hill is best in show and the film does a fantastic job in replicating it.

Granted, the story takes a mental left turn away from the lore towards the end, something I have lambasted game and book adaptations for in the past, but with enough fan service and actual scares to keep your average fan happy, I can heartily recommend Silent Hill.


4] Mortal Kombat (1995)

Budget: $18 Million

Box Office: $122.1 Million

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHIfHL5UgFs]

Come on! COME ON! It’s Mortal Kombat! The mother of all fighting games turned into one of the most fun video game movies ever made. How can I not put it on the list?  I am writing this on the 20th anniversary of the film’s original release for crying out loud, I can’t NOT talk about it.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (the not-entirely-shit Uwe Boll), MK‘s legacy speaks completely for itself (spawning a bloody awful sequel that almost made my previous list) The story of Christopher Lambert’s lightning god Raiden, dragging the worlds best fighters into another realm to fight in a tournament to decide the fate of both worlds.  Silly fights and rubbish special effects fill the screen as the Alien Vs. Predator  director squeezed as many of the game’s dumbass story elements as humanly possible into a 100 minute definition of “junk food for the brain”.


3] Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: Unknown

Rotten Tomatoes: None

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWUdPYmPz5c]

Dead Rising: Watchtower is a bit of an anomaly.  No theatrical release at all; debuted on the United States’ free video service Crackle and went straight to Blu-Ray in the UK.  Released in March this year, the film adaptation of one of the silliest zombie game franchises is easily one of my favourite films this year.For those that haven’t played the games, each one follows a new protagonist as they fight through hoards of zombies in a world where the zombie infection is accepted and controlled with medication, but things have gone horribly wrong.  What makes the games something a little special is the stupidity involved in them.  The only way to survive in Dead Rising is to find two weapons and weld them together to make bigger weapons.  Until you’ve played it, you’ll never understand how I lost hours running around the map with a mate laughing my childish arse off firing masses of rubber cocks across the screen using my dildo launcher and poking my buddy with a giant foam finger gun!

The film sticks to this level of stupidity.  It’s gross, it’s violent, but it’s completely fucking stupid and it knows it.  Only really for fans, but it’s one of the best ways to waste two hours in recent memory.


2] Resident Evil (2002)

Budget: $35 Million

Box Office: $102.4 Million

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5Rbk7ChmVk]

This is a strange one for me.  Considering how pissed I got at Doom for taking more than a few liberties with that iconic game’s story, to laud the first Resi film as my second favourite in this list when it’s pretty much universally hated by fans of the game for the same thing is pretty hypocritical of me.  Luckily for me, I don’t care. 

Resident Evil kicked off a franchise of some of the most fun action films to grace my blu-ray collection.  Substituting the horror of the early games for an action thriller feel with an amnesiac, combat ready, Milla Jovovich taking on an underground lab filled with zombies as her and a special forces team try to stop an outbreak and escape the subterranean complex and the mansion that’s hiding it.  Sure there’s a stinker in the six film long franchise; and the quality only really dropped with the most recent (but not quite final) instalment; but there’s no stopping this series and with Paul W. S. Anderson getting the last chapter made as you read this and promising a worthwhile end to (not an actual RE character) Alice’s saga, I have nothing but faith that we are in for a treat when it comes out next year.


1] Hitman (2007)

Budget: $24 Million

Box Office: $100 Million

Rotten Tomatoes: 13%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJhNzHyq-IE]

Agent 47’s first trip to the big screen is, without a doubt, my top video game movie of all time; and one of my favourite junk food, sick day kind of movies.  Now, I made Owen watch this back on the 150th podcast just because I wanted him to give it a butcher’s and he really didn’t like it. I’m sorry to say, that Owen is wrong and we’re no longer on speaking terms!

One thing our esteemed leader did get right though, was describing it as a wannabe Luc Besson film and I’m absolutely alright with that description.  The always awesome Timothy Olyphant dons 47’s iconic suit and tie and brings all the ham-fisted action of Besson’s finest work.  Maybe without the finesse that the legendary filmmaker does, but no film based on a video game was ever going to get that level of director involved in it.

Hitman does an excellent job with what it has.  Another film on this list that sacrifices the game’s lore to make sure that we aren’t bored to death by the film’s pace. Agent 47’s story is far too long and complicated for a 100 minute movie, so we get the bare bones of the legend on screen and are left to either remember, guess, or simply not care about the parts that we aren’t told.  Whichever option you choose, I can absolutely recommend Hitman to any game fan, any action film fan, or anyone that just fancies seeing good old Mr. Olyphant in a suit and tie killing people in an ultra cool, ultra slick fashion.

If Hitman: Agent 47 is half as fun as this telling of the suited assassin’s story, I’ll be coming out of the cinema a happy man next week.


Honourable Mention – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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

While not in any way a video game movie; it is, in EVERY way, a video game movie. Even the most casual of gamers can see that the film’s tagline, and adopted subtitle, “Live. Die. Repeat” is absolutely endemic of the trial and error nature of video games and playing them. Who of us hasn’t spent hours endlessly playing the same sections of a game over and over again hoping to just get it right this time?

The film, which arguably belongs to Emily Blunt and not her stuntman co-star, took on even more of the video game world when it was released the same year as shooter powerhouse Call of Duty introduced exo-suits to its players; making us all look like the rows and rows of suited soldiers from the battlefields of Edge of Tomorrow.

A movie that is absolutely about video game checkpoint abuse, I can’t not mention Edge of Tomorrow in this little list of mine.

US Box Office Report: 14/08/15 – 16/08/15

Audiences head straight into Compton, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s cover is blown, Mistress America takes home a Participation Award, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Surprising absolutely nobody who is at least somewhat aware of popular culture, Straight Outta Compton is your new box office number 1.  Having said that, though, I don’t think anybody was prepared for just how much of a success the thing would be.  You see, Straight Outta Compton didn’t just take first place with ease, it did so with $56 million, almost $40 million more than the second place film managed.  That’s an absolute domination, a ridiculous opening for a non-sequel/franchise movie, and an utterly sensational opening for a film in August which is typically a complete dead zone at the box office.  I’d sit here and make terrible N.W.A, “Forgot About Dre”, and “It Was A Good Day” puns but, honestly, I’m too gobsmacked at the ridiculous success to make puns.  That’s just amazing.

Similarly surprising was the complete non-performance of The Man From U.N.C.L.E..  Perhaps due to a combination of an off-putting marketing campaign, that I really liked if nothing else, and tepid reviews, which are mostly wrong as you’ll find out in my own review later in the week, Guy Ritchie’s latest adventure in Hollywoodland face-planted right out of the gate.  Losing the battle for second place to Mission: Impossible quite handily, The Man cried U.N.C.L.E. – eh? Eh? EH?! – and bowed out for the weekend with only $13.5 million.  Nice to see that the Warner Bros. “funding off-beat and often great blockbusters with loads of money only to see bugger-all people turn up to watch” streak is still intact, if nothing else.

Whilst we’re still affixing our eye to the Top 10, let’s briefly check back in with everyone’s favourite complete and total catastrophic failure, Fantastic 4.  After failing to achieve the number 1 slot last week and earning roughly half of what it was projected to, the film continued its magnificent spiral of humiliation with a near 70% drop between this past weekend and opening weekend.  Enjoy looking at this one, folks.  This is the kind of old-school catastrophe that modern Hollywood was supposedly designed to completely avoid.  It’s a beautiful sight, like a unicorn grazing underneath a double rainbow.

In the realm of limited releases, Noah Baumbach’s second film this year, Mistress America, did surprisingly poorly.  I mean, sure, we’re talking very relatively when I say that $94,000 from 4 theatres is poor.  But Baumbach usually has much better openings than this.  Hell, he already had one such opening earlier this year when While We’re Young opened to $227,688 from 4 screens, whilst his last collaboration with Greta Gerwig, 2013’s Frances Ha, opened to $137,398 from 4 screens.  Maybe, just maybe, audiences are getting sick of movies about annoying self-obsessed New Yorkers.  Wouldn’t that be something?  Meanwhile, the Jemaine Clement-starring People Places Things Nouns got off to a poor start on 19 screens with just $31,000 for a per-screen average of $1,632.


straight outta compton

The jury has found this Full List guilty of being a redneck, white bread, chickensh*t motherf*cker.

Box Office Results: Friday 14th August 2015 – Sunday 16th August 2015

1] Straight Outta Compton

$56,100,000 / NEW

Man, I really cannot wait for this!  That’s literally all I’ve got for this one, since I haven’t managed to listen to Dre’s “Compton” yet – that’s a job for tonight, before anyone asks.  I will note, however, that an opening like this is yet another sign that mid-budget stories about non-White protagonists, starring a non-White cast and aimed at predominately-non-White audiences are a lucrative and untapped market.  A sign that, as per usual, will most likely go stringently ignored by Hollywood.

2] Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

$17,000,000 / $138,137,000

Man From U.N.C.L.E. outclasses this movie in every respect.  Just thought I’d let you know that.

3] The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

$13,535,000 / NEW

Saw this on Friday and the review will be up on my site tomorrow – in the meanwhile, Brooker’s got a good review of it up here.  Short version: probably the best non-Fury Road blockbuster I’ve seen all year.  Lot of fun, lots going on under the hood, and impeccably acted with Alicia Vikander nearly running away with the film from everyone else.  It’s the first time that “Guy Ritchie, Hollywood Director” has made sense to me, and not coincidentally is the first time he was allowed a crack at the script, so it’s a shame that the film’s box office failure sadly guarantees that we’ll be getting “Hired Gun, Guy Ritchie” for the next few years.

4] Fantastic 4

$8,000,000 / $41,961,000

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA (*continues like so for another 15 minutes*)

5] The Gift

$6,500,000 / $23,577,000

Don’t even talk to me about the ending of this.  Seriously, it’s been well over a week and I still can’t make up my mind on it.  Or, more specifically, I can’t stop trying to rationalise an objectively disgusting and too-far ending as honestly kind of brilliant.  Jackson noted that I basically already summed it up when I described the whole film as “very Fincher”, but I still can’t let this go.  If nothing else, at least The Gift has stuck with me a week later, unlike the very vast majority of films that have been released so far this year.

6] Ant-Man

$5,517,000 / $157,568,000

Emily Blunt for Carol Danvers, please!  Seriously, it’s perfect casting.  She’s got the acting chops, Edge of Tomorrow proved that she can be a walking badass when required, she’s more than willing to dye her hair blonde if that’s necessary, she was already going to be Black Widow until Fox forced her to do Gulliver’s Travels instead, and she’s English which continues the superhero movie tradition of casting British leads in American hero roles!  Come on, it’s a no-brainer!

I mean, unless the Bond producers do the right thing and cast her as the next Bond.  Either of these two things happening will satisfy me.

7] Vacation

$5,330,000 / $46,852,000

Once I’ve finished my Man From U.N.C.L.E. review after this, I’ll be sitting down to watch the original National Lampoon’s Vacation in preparation for Friday.  Not Tuesday, what’s the point of going to a Cineworld Unlimited Screening for a film that’s out about 48 hours later and looks terrible?  Ugh, Unlimited screenings have been going down the drain recently…

Hmm?  “The next one’s Sicario, two weeks before its UK release”?  Oh, Cineworld!  Have I ever told you how much I love you?

8] Minions

$5,200,000 / $312,969,000

A round of applause for Universal Studios for becoming the fastest studio to break $2 billion domestic in a single year, besting Warner Bros.’ previous record by a good 4 months!  That’s what happens when you release a whole load of good films that people want to see… and are also part of really successful franchises.  OK, I guess we should probably temper that applause slightly, this was basically already predetermined by merely looking at that release schedule.

9] Ricki and the Flash

$4,570,000 / $14,656,000

Oh.  Well, err, bye Ricki, I guess.

10] Trainwreck

$3,800,000 / $97,919,000

Review will be up on my site on Wednesday.  Gonna keep my opinion under-wraps until then, in a failed attempt to build up suspense and intrigue.  I will, though, let slip that I can now happily count the number of good comedies released this year on 3 fingers.  That is also a sentence that looks incredibly depressing typed out like that.  This goddamn year…

Dropped Out: Pixels, Southpaw

Callum Petch is nine exits north of Las Vegas.  He now writes for his own website (callumpetch.com).  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Into The Woods

Watered down for family viewing, this Brothers Grimm musical mashup sails a sea of mediocrity for two hours leaving you feeling that something is most definitely missing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

into the woodsIt’s a strange feeling to go into a Disney film with lowered expectations. It’s a weird mind-set to have knowing that the last few musicals you sat through knocked out any hope that you might ever enjoy one again. But hey, I grew up on old school Disney animation and can still to this day reel off the lyrics to all the songs in The Jungle Book and Aladdin. So if any film was going to restore my faith in family films I can sing along to with the kids like we used to back in the day, it’s got to be Disney, right? Sadly, I don’t think this is the movie my childhood needed it to be.

I confess, until very recently, I had no idea what Into the Woods was. I hadn’t heard of the stage production and I had absolutely no idea that it was almost 30 years old. When I did get through a detailed synopsis and understood the concept, my initial reaction was surprise. Not that it was being adapted to film, but that it hadn’t been done twenty years ago. Upon continued reading, I thought I discovered the reason for the film’s existence. The story has some quite dark themes. Themes that have been touched upon in a lot of the Grimm fairy tales, but that have never really come to life in the countless animated movies Disney have given us. With the recent success of Maleficent, a film with some very dark undertones, I thought I could see what was coming and I got quite excited about seeing more of the same from Disney’s latest.

Adapted for the screen by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the creators of the stage show and its music, Into The Woods is the story of a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are desperately trying for a family. Forced to take on a quest to search out items that an evil witch (Meryl Streep) needs for a spell. In exchange for these seemingly benign objects, the witch will remove the curse she herself placed on them to prevent them having kids. A spell she cooked up in revenge of the baker’s father stealing her magic beans.

Seems reasonable to me. You steal my rubbish beans, I curse all your children to an eternity of Brewer’s droop. A good, proportionate response, right?

Anyways. These items are the start of the recipe for a melting pot of fairy tales that plays out almost exactly as you would expect them to. The very good Emily Blunt and the pretty pants James Corden set off into the woods in search of a cow, a red cape, a slipper and a lock of blonde hair, inserting themselves into all your favourite kids’ stories to steal stuff and get in the way. Judging from its genre descriptions on IMDb, I’m almost positive that it’s here that hilarity is supposed to ensue.

What follows is a couple of hours of story with no real direction. Rob Marshall (the guy that made the very good Chicago, the boring Nine and the bland Pirates of the Caribbean 4) doesn’t seem to know where to go with each scene. Having not seen the stage production, I can only assume that this is how it plays out on Broadway, but it just seems aimless. Jack gets his beanstalk in lightning quick time but it takes Cinderella three days to lose her shoe. Red Riding Hood takes seconds to play out her story with the Wolf and we either have a massive decade long gap between scenes or Rapunzel is soaking her head in Miracle-Gro at night. It’s just all over the shop. Each scene comes with a new song and a new reason to roll your eyes. Aside from a couple of the musical numbers, none are delivered with any heart or passion. It’s difficult to describe what feels so wrong with the delivery considering the very point of a musical is to sing the script, but it just feels like the music has been shoehorned in and none of the cast are happy about it.

For the most part, the acting seems just as erratic. But a few, for better or worse, deserve special mention. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are excellent in their roles. Streep’s wicked witch routine is sublime. Her hag filmography is starting to fill out nicely with this and Maggie Thatcher vying for the top spot. The usually very good Anna Kendrick’s performance as Cinderella is, maybe ironically, best described as wishy-washy. She doesn’t seem like she’s having any fun in maybe the most recognisable role in the film. The film’s two princes are just embarrassing! Played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, they both seem to be channelling Errol Flynn, trying to swash and buckle their way through their respective tales and joining up for a very, VERY camp musical number at the top of a waterfall. Pine’s prince seems the more “Disney” of the two, if you can look past the fact that for his first five or so scenes, I thought it was James Van Der Beek with a bad accent. Nope, it turns out it was Captain Kirk, with a bad accent. But the relatively unknown (at least, to me) Billy Magnussen’s prince is completely out of place. Several of his key scenes have a slapstick element to it which while I expected a comedy, felt like I would find them as deleted scenes on the Robin Hood: Men in Tights DVD.

Finally, Disney have carried on their tradition of trying to sell you everything by having an appearance from Johnny Depp in a silly hat! You’d be forgiven for going in expecting more than the five minutes screen time he gets, but in those few minutes he does a spectacular job of proving that he’s become a real one trick pony. Looking like he’s just tripped and stumbled onto the set while he was on a smoke break from the latest Tim Burton film he’s in, Depp overacts his role as the Wolf clearly in the hope that one day there will be an Oscar for cameos!

Rob Marshall clearly set out with good intentions, and I have to believe that if the creators behind the original show were involved in its adaptation then at least a token show of intent was made to bring all the story’s themes across from the stage. The problem is, in an attempt to sell us a family friendly fantasy, Disney have diluted the second half of the film. Maleficent this ain’t. It’s not even that they appear to have changed things, I just got the feeling that large chunks of story have simply been removed. A whole lot of build-up sadly gives way to a rushed second half and an unsatisfying ending with none of the cautionary tale that I knew should have been there.

Overall, as far as films go, as far as musicals go, even as far as Disney adaptations go, it’s just there. Not as good as Chicago, not as pretentious as Les Miserables and not as crap as Sweeney Todd. It’s just forgettable, inoffensive, uninspired guff.

Into The Woods is in cinemas this weekend. Tune in to our next podcast to here Andrew make his debut and chat about Disney’s latest musical with the rest of the gang.

Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #10 – #6

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

141.  That’s the number of films released in 2014 that I have seen. That is a lot of films.  To put that into perspective, I have been attempting to critique films on the Internet for five years now and that number is more than the combined total of films I had seen in all four of those prior years when it came time to do some list making.  Of those 141, 131 were eligible for appearances on my lists.  That is insane.  To tell you the truth, I have no idea how on earth I’ve managed it, especially since I spent much of this past year despairing at movies in various forms.

Except that, as the year has come closer to its end and I’ve reflected more and more upon what I have seen, the problem is not that films were worse in 2014 (although there have been some atrocious pieces of tripe, as we shall see in a few days’ time).  The problem is that I have seen more films in 2014.  Whereas in prior years I would have to pick and choose what films I could and could not see, therefore sticking with safer bets and actively avoiding crap, this past year I have been able to see damn near everything that came my way, which has meant flinging quality control out of the window and exposing myself to films I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten-foot pole.

In some cases, this has meant extended bouts of self-flagellation.  In others, this has allowed for major surprises that I would not have typically tried to burst through to the forefront.  In some cases, this has meant that the frequency of films that I was looking forward to disappointing me in some way this year would get me down somewhat.  In other cases, this has meant that I can see the films I love multiple times and allowed them to really stick out in my brain for days, weeks, even months on end.  It’s a double-edged sword is throwing out the personal quality control barrier and seeing whatever comes your way, but I honestly can’t think of my cinema-going lifestyle now in ways that don’t involve voluntarily seeing everything that I can.

It also means that constructing my Top 10 list this year was both incredibly easy and unbearably difficult.  I’ve had to do this three separate times over the past month for various different things and each time it’s gotten progressively easier and harder, as certain films remained steadfast in their appearance and placements whilst others jumped around and dropped out.  Seeing so many films has made the absolutely cream more apparent but has also made filling the bottom end of the list that much harder, as certain entries are way too close in quality to others.  The list is actually a Top 20, but it’s been abbreviated to Top 10 as I am pretty sure that Owen would like back his website at some point this week.  I am, however, incredibly satisfied with it, the most satisfied with any Top 10 Movies of [x] list I’ve so far had to make, so take that for what it’s worth.

Now, before we begin, a brief set of pointers.  This list is strictly limited to films that have seen a UK release in 2014, so the awards season films that have yet to cross the pond (Foxcatcher, Wild, Inherent Vice, Whiplash, Birdman) or just films that don’t have the common courtesy to turn up on time (Big Hero 6, Top Five) aren’t eligible.  I am also limiting the list to 2014 films, awards season films that saw an American release in 2013 (The Wolf Of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, The Wind Rises) aren’t eligible.  Finally, even though I have seen a ridiculous amount of films in 2014, I haven’t seen them all and, naturally, this list can only include films that I have seen.  Blue Ruin, Belle, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nymphomaniac may be outstanding, and I tried so hard to get around to seeing them, but I unfortunately ran out of time and so they can’t be featured.

Lastly, I mentioned that I did arrange a Top 20 so I might as well share 20 to 11 with you before we get started on part one.  In reverse order (starting at 20, ending at 11): St. Vincent, Locke, Pride (which was my favourite surprise of 2014 and would have taken the #10 slot by default if this were any other year), Mistaken For Strangers, Lucy, 22 Jump Street, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks, The Lego Movie, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians Of The Galaxy which was pushed out of the Top 10 at the very last minute.  It’s a testament to the Top 10 that these films, all of which I love, are the ones that just missed out.

So, no more pre-amble faffing.  Today, we go through entries 10 to 6.  Are we all ready?  In that case, TITANS, GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


edge of tomorrow10] Edge Of Tomorrow

Dir: Doug Liman

Star: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

Edge Of Tomorrow is something that 2014 surprisingly lacked: a damn fun, pure blockbuster.  Much of this past Summer consisted of films that either took themselves way too seriously, were majorly flawed in some way, or severely underwhelmed and disappointed.  That’s not including those films that were desperately trying to force a franchise out of thin air, or were so busy trying to set-up pays-offs in practically guaranteed later films that they did nothing and told no stories in their current films.  Blockbuster filmmaking nowadays frequently consists of nothing but po-faced seriousness, loud noises and delayed gratification.

Then in swaggers Edge Of Tomorrow, wide-eyed with optimism, confident in what it wants to do, aviator sunglasses proclaiming it to be the coolest motherf*cker in the room at that moment in time, and looking for some fun.  It takes one look at the dreary and dull way that everybody else is doing things, sees how the general public is lapping up that crap, then swiftly turns around and marches back out that door.  Edge Of Tomorrow wants nothing to do with the modern blockbuster.  It wants to be fun, it wants to smarter than just loud noises, it wants to tell a full and complete story, the kind that only a $178 million budget can provide, and it does not give one f*ck if anybody else cares or not.

By the time that Edge Of Tomorrow had arrived in cinemas, I was in rather low spirits for 2014 film.  I had come off a string of disappointments and was all prepared for this film that I had heard good things about and seen advertised majorly to similarly underwhelm me.  Instead, over the course of 113 brilliant minutes, I was rejuvenated and reminded of why I love the movies.  Sometimes you want to sit down and be challenged, be pushed, be confronted and to experience something very serious.  But sometimes you just want to sit down and watch something fun, and Edge Of Tomorrow delivers that in spades.  It takes its central premise – the day resetting every time that Tom Cruise’s Major William Cage dies – and goes for broke, exploiting it for drama, comedy, black comedy, character work, and a tonne of incredibly awesome action moments.

But it’s also smart, it has a brain going on up in its head.  Edge Of Tomorrow is fun and spectacle, but grounds that fun and spectacle in excellent character work and committed performances.  Tom Cruise sheds his usual charm and movie star charisma to play a slimy cowardly ass and he is equally as strong at that as he is when Cage slowly becomes braver, more in control, more heroic; his excellent performance adding onto the extremely well written character.  Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is a goddamn revelation as Sgt. Rita Vrataski, absolutely commanding the screen in a performance of such intensity and skill and quiet emotion that, in a decent and deserving world, would catapult her to A-list superstardom.  Vrataski, too, is one hell of a character, a strong capable woman who has been hardened by trauma but is not emotionless or humourless or relegated and degraded by the film.  In other words, the kind of female character that blockbusters almost never bother to create.

It’s not perfect, it’s not thematically heavy, and I do wish that it ended about two minutes earlier, before the bittersweet ending is turned into a completely happy ending, but those flaws only serve to raise Edge Of Tomorrow as a whole.  They are the flaws and rough edges of a scrappy individualistic film, a film that does its own thing and remains steadfast against studio interference and focus grouping as much as possible.  They throw what Edge Of Tomorrow does right into sharper relief and Edge Of Tomorrow gets so much right.  It’s a reminder of what blockbuster filmmaking is capable of if it would get its head out from its ass, stop purely focussing on profit margins, quit focus-testing everything, and stopped sucking the teat of serialisation and franchising.

In a decade or so’s time, we as a film-going audience, along with a generation of filmmakers with studio budgets, are going to look back at Edge Of Tomorrow and go, “Yep, we should have done more of that.  We should be doing more of that.”


09] Starred Upstarred up

Dir: David Mackenzie

Star: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend

Forget the trailer.  Ignore the trailer.  That is not Starred UpStarred Up is not a dark, gritty, lads’ “C’MON, YOU SLAAAAAGS!!” prison flick with nothing going on aimed solely at the lowest common male denominator.  Starred Up is actually a bleak, unflinching, realist melodrama about masculinity, fathers, and the self-perpetuation of the modern prison system.  It is not a film that asks you to like any of its characters, it is not a film that revels in its bursts of violence or nastiness, it is not a film that is interested in fulfilling anybody’s fantasies of how cool prison is.  Starred Up is an angry film and you are damn well going to pay attention to what it wants to say.

Much of the plaudits thrown Starred Up’s way are for Jack O’Connell’s central performance as Eric Love, and it’s hard to argue against that.  O’Connell – in the first of what turned out to be three outstanding performances from this past year, I really hope that this momentum keeps up because he deserves to be a star – plays Love with such barely restrained intensity that perfectly fits his livewire tendencies without going overboard into ham and cheese.  He’s also able to reach down and find the sadness, the wounded nature at the heart of Eric that powers his angry violent lashings out at the world and which makes them hurt that much more.  Eric Love could have been a cartoon character in the wrong hands, but O’Connell mixes that intensity, that vulnerability, an air of mystery and his own natural likeability as an actor to create a profoundly complex lead.  It really is a powerhouse performance.

But to focus solely on O’Connell would be to do the rest of Starred Up a disservice.  The script, for example, by newcomer Jonathan Asser, grounds its more melodramatic tendencies in a low-key rather realist way.  The tropes that you expect to show up in a prison drama – corrupt officers, shankings, prisoners running the show, lots of swearing – turn up here, but they’re executed in a low-key way.  Big deals aren’t made of them, they’re just everyday facts of prison life and their appearances tie back into character work, with Eric’s crazed alpha-male desire to make a name for himself both disrupting the delicate nature of this broken system and re-enforcing his worst impulses, and the film’s bleak overall message of the self-perpetuating cycle of prison.

Nobody in Starred Up is clean or fully good.  There are only shades of grey and even darker shades of grey.  Even the closest thing the film gets to a fully sympathetic character, in Rupert Friend’s tired and ceaselessly loyal prison therapist, is still strongly hinted to have some kind of superiority complex powering his actions – his adamant claim of “I need to be here” can be taken so many ways.  Eric’s been raised with the belief that self-destructiveness and violence is the only acceptable form of masculinity, and he can’t realise that all it has done is destroy his life.  It’s also so deep-seated that all of that hard therapy work can be instantly discarded the second his dad turns up and tries to make up for lost time by steering him the wrong way and completely misreading his son.  Not to mention the fact that the actual prison staff view the people they are assigned to look after with nothing but contempt; deep-seated beliefs that all of their charges are irredeemable and not worth even trying to reform.

The film’s more melodramatic moments – shower attacks, the final 10 to 15 minutes – benefit from that realist nihilism and strong character work.  Such effort has gone into fashioning a portrait of our broken prison system that the moments where more blatantly fictional touches break through still fit within the previously established world and nature of the film, acting like cappers to its overall point.  Couple that foundation with extremely well-handled themes, great supporting performances (Friend’s increasing desperation in protecting his little group is especially well-conveyed), an excellent script, and a thunderous central Jack O’Connell performance and you get a film as commanding and fiercely memorable as Starred Up.  It is bleak viewing, but it is vital viewing and it is so much better than the trailer suggests.


grand budapest hotel08] The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dir: Wes Anderson

Star: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, a lot of others

My first viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel underwhelmed me somewhat and I am willing to chalk that up to two things.  The first was trailer overexposure – this thing was relentlessly trailed before films for months on end, a lot of its best laughs were featured in it, and most everything stops being funny when you’ve seen it for the 20th time – the second was personal overhyping – I really liked that trailer when it dropped and was really bloody excited for the finished film.  I still thought it was a very good movie, but overexposure (the catalyst in getting me to just walk out during trailers now) and my weird belief that I was going to get a more monumental film than what I ended up getting lead to my questioning of whether this was it, as it were.

A second viewing later in the year proved me to be majorly and totally wrong on every negative account.  See, Grand Budapest is my first proper Wes Anderson film – I had seen Fantastic Mr. Fox in late 2012, but that was it – and so I wasn’t properly prepared for what was in store, expecting something different than what I got (I don’t know what it was I was expecting, but there you go).  I think the rather low-key nature of Grand Budapest caught me off guard.  It’s a film whose scale is large – encompassing tonnes of characters in a wide range of locations across multiple time periods and several different aspect ratios – yet whose stakes are rather small and its central character relationships tight knit.

And it’s that closeness that actually makes The Grand Budapest Hotel resonate and stick.  This is a very funny film – good lord, is it ever a very funny film, especially pretty much anything that comes out the mouth of an absolutely dynamite Ralph Fiennes – but what sticks with me after watching this film, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks after, is the sadness that runs throughout the entire film due to that closeness.  This is a sad film, a melancholy film, a film that never lets that sadness get buried under too many layers of whimsy or raucous jokes.  It is a film that is sad for days long since passed, both in terms of humanity – with barbarism and self-interest corroding decency and respectability – and filmmaking – there’s genuine love coming from Anderson’s insistence on using virtually every aspect ratio ever used in a commercial cinema release.

Yet the irony is that none of its characters are from the time it’s so wistfully nostalgic for.  Gustave H. is a man of some level of respectability and civility stuck in a time that slides further into greed and fascism the longer he sticks around.  Zero is a man who is clearly wounded and saddened by a world that would reject the actions and principles of a man like Gustave, and whose life is marked by constant loss and the encroachment of old age.  The Author is fascinated by the stories of Zero and Gustave H. but remains removed and emotionally distant due to both his profession and the fact that he doesn’t get the true feeling of that time due to having experienced nothing close to it.  The Young Girl who reads the book that starts off our film similarly can only paint a picture in her head of those times, to escape the miserable looking world that she is currently a part of, and it’s unlikely to resemble anything close to reality.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is very much about people trapped out of time, even Inspector Henckles who tries to deal with proceedings in a civil manner despite the force that he is a part of being of the barbaric type.  That wistful nostalgia does not really exist for many of its characters, as the time they are nostalgic for frequently ended long before they were born.  Yet, it’s what bonds them, it’s what brings Zero and Agatha together, it’s what makes Gustav and Zero such fire-forged friends, and it’s what ultimately proves their downfalls; their inability to let go.  Yet, they are respected and admired by the film and by Anderson for that commitment to their nostalgia – why should holding onto a time when people weren’t being violent fascist pigs be considered a bad thing? – and that’s why the film’s gradual reveal of its incredibly bittersweet ending feels so poignant.

It’s a film that is sold on its laughs and its quirkiness, but stays with me thanks to its deep-rooted sadness and melancholy heart.  It’s an incredibly clever and impeccably well-balanced film and pulls off that tightrope walk – sentimental without being sappy, riotously funny without drowning out the melancholy or becoming too bawdy – with aplomb.  I should really make the time to watch more Wes Anderson films, already.


07] NightcrawlerNIGHTCRAWLER

Dir: Dan Gilroy

Star: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

First things first, Nightcrawler contains my single favourite film scene in all of 2014.  I am referring to “Horror House”.  Not the bit where Lou Bloom is filming the sequence, nor the bit where he utterly unnervingly shreds Morning News Director Nina over negotiations for the tape (although that is close), the bit where it goes to air and the film makes you sit through every last agonising second as a whole studio full of ratings hungry opportunists exploit the misery and suffering of others for profit.  It’s the way that it twists the knife and turns the screws and keeps going, and going, and going, forcing you to sit through the whole segment, making you complicit in their work, and being written and presented in such a way that the scene stopped being a sequence from a movie for me and became something uncomfortably close to our reality.

It’s a magnificent scene and it also hides the true target of Nightcrawler’s venomous anger in plain sight.  Nightcrawler is a takedown of sensationalist 24-hour cable news networks, but it’s also a blisteringly angry screed against Capitalism, encapsulated in “Horror House” by having the news crew exploit the suffering of others to further their own hunt for money and success, especially hammering home the idea that a wealthy white suburban family was murdered by lower-class possibly Hispanic (at the time it’s unclear, not that that stops any of the anchors from pushing down hard on this button) gang members.  After all, nothing’s more likely to keep the broken system of Capitalism in place than by terrifying those with the power and success that the unworthy lower classes are coming to take everything away from them, whilst simultaneously profiting off of that fear.

The film’s thoughts and views on Capitalism can be best summed up by the character of Lou Bloom himself, a walking encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the system.  Lou is a complete sociopath purely interested in his own self-gain.  He is somebody who has been told time and time again that he deserves success and that he can win at The American Dream if he just works hard enough, and when that doesn’t happen he resorts to crime and petty theft to claw his way up.  He speaks near-exclusively in sound-bites ripped from corporate handbooks, justifies everything he ever does in cold, calculated business terms and is incapable of treating people like humans – later revealed to be down to his contempt for them.

Then, he stumbles into a field where his sociopathy, lack of morals and complete disregard for social decency and the law are rewarded.  His desire to stay one step ahead, by any means necessary, in the Nightcrawling business gets him the money, the car, the recognition and the in to start climbing up the corporate ladder.  And when he doesn’t get what he wants, he manipulates, blackmails, threatens, sexually exploits, and even near-outright murders to get his way.  But not once is Lou punished.  Not once does he truly hit a setback, because Capitalism is broken and those who are willing to cross the moral line are the ones who will successfully make it, whilst the rest will be left in the dust to be exploited by those who go too far.  [BRIEF SPOILER BIT, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU’VE YET TO SEE THE FILM] That’s why Lou gets off scott-free in the end.  Sure, the police technically have enough evidence to put him away, but to do that would be to undermine the message: Lou has won Capitalism because of his complete sociopathy and lack of a moral code.  Even his new company logo is ripped straight from that of the rival he killed earlier!

Jake Gyllenhaal puts in the performance of his career as Lou Bloom, always keeping the viewer at a distance yet forcefully commanding their attention at all times.  He’s clearly relishing the opportunity to sink his teeth into such a detestable yet complex role, and his total commitment to making Lou this utterly abhorrent and frightening monster is a major reason of why the film works.  Rene Russo also puts in her best performance in years as a similarly repulsive but slightly more socially acceptable female counterpart to Lou, Dan Gilroy’s direction for his debut feature is confident and assured, I have already talked about James Newton Howard’s quietly genius score, and the film is also tightly paced and expertly structured.  Nightcrawler is an outstandingly relevant and captivating film that features a villain protagonist for the ages, and satire and venom that deserves way more analysis and conversation than it has sparked.  A film for 2014 if there ever was one.


the guest06] The Guest

Dir: Adam Wingard

Star: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Lance Reddick

Holy hell, is this one ever fun!  Dumped into the beginning of September with precious little fanfare and left to fend for itself, The Guest is one of the biggest gems I have stumbled across all year.  Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s, previous of You’re Next, demented genre hybrid thriller is just pure good old fashioned fun.  That’s it.  There is nothing deeper to The Guest, no giant thematic core or major emotional centre, and no huge twist to it.  The Guest is just pure, undiluted fun and, as mentioned back in my entry on Edge Of Tomorrow, fun is something that I put a very big price on due to its growing rarity in the modern filmmaking landscape.

So, what is The Guest?  After all, I spent pretty much all of September doing nothing but praise the ever-loving crap out of it and despairing when, unsurprisingly, nobody saw it.  Well, The Guest is hard to categorise for people who haven’t seen it, partially because it hops around between genres like an indecisive driver coming up on a line of toll booths, but mainly because the fun of The Guest is watching it slowly reveal its true colours.  In the most general terms, it’s a throwback to trashy 80s B-Movies, mashing together elements of psychological thrillers, gory low-budget action films, the works of John Carpenter, and a nice sprinkling of camp.  It sounds like a mess, but Barrett’s script is airtight, Wingard’s direction is so confident, and the pair are so learned in what they are trying to emulate that it works perfectly.

It also helps that they have an outstanding central performance to hang proceedings onto.  I’ve raved about Dan Stevens in my review of the film, so I’ll let you go back and re-read that to save me from repeating myself, but I cannot stress how absolutely note perfect he is here – switching between charming, terrifying, and utterly hilarious (in a deadpan way) effortlessly whilst keeping David a consistent character throughout.  He’s also matched beat for beat by Maika Monroe who expertly embodies the determined Final Girl archetype whilst making it her own.  The film visually is wonderfully stylish, the soundtrack is one of the very best of the entire year, and it is by far the coolest film of the year thanks to the way it completely owns and openly embraces its campy tendencies – the finale is absolutely hilarious and unbearably tense without one ever undermining the other.

Look, I want to write a giant (attempted) intellectual deep analysis of this film like I have everything else so far on this list, one that gets to the root of why this film works and why I love it so, but I just can’t because The Guest is not that kind of film.  The Guest actively resists that kind of analysis because, quite frankly, its start and its end can be summed up with “it is a hell of a lot of fun” which it very much is.  It is also damn near flawless at what it aims to do, it’s an immaculately constructed film that I can’t find a single wasted second, dropped pacing or glaring flaw in.  Sometimes, a film sticks out as excellent purely because of how much fun it is and The Guest is the single most amount of fun I have had in a cinema all year.

Or, to put it another way, I saw it opening day and went back for a second go-around seven days later.  I would likely have kept going every Friday if the film hadn’t been pulled from cinemas in near-record time.  Whilst you are reading this, I will be watching it again on the Blu-Ray that I picked up on the first day it was available, and my writing for this is being fuelled by the film’s soundtrack.  This is just a straight shot of pure smile-inducing fun, for me, and you are officially out of excuses to not give it a shot.


That’s the first half of the countdown done.  Tomorrow, we’ll tackle numbers 5 to 1.  In the meantime, let me know in the comments on whether you agree with my picks or not and what some of your favourite films of 2014 are!

Callum Petch’s letters are returned to sender.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

US Box Office Report: 26/12/14 – 28/12/14

Unbroken takes home a silver medal, Into The Woods busts out The Gambler, Big Eyes sees little money, The Interview did alright, [Insert Tasteless Joke About American Sniper Beating Selma Here], and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Ah, yes!  That great American tradition of spending Christmas and its surrounding weekend at the cinema in order to try and force the family to shut up for 2 hours!  As a Brit, I don’t get to experience this joy as all of our cinemas inconsiderately shut down on Christmas Day, like the people who work there have families they’d rather go home to or something.  In any case, the majority of Americans chose to spend their Christmas returning to the cinema to re-watch that film they all saw last week.  The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies easily beat off all comers to retain the #1 spot with $41 million in ticket sales and only a 24% drop between weekends, the softest for any instalment of The Hobbit trilogy (sort of, considering the fact that last weekend came after a Wednesday opening that burnt off some demand).

In fact, Americans chose to spend a lot of their moneys re-seeing films from prior weekends over the holidays, even the ones that don’t deserve it.  Night At The Museum 3 leapt up 20% between weekends because being sad about the passing of Robin Williams really does bring families closer together (not sarcasm, I’m speaking from experience), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 jumped up 27% in its sixth week to prove that, yes, this series is still a juggernaut that will make all of the money despite what the haters will say, and Annie increased by 5% presumably because a whole bunch of confused families didn’t realise Into The Woods came out this week.  Elsewhere, The Imitation Game went nationwide in 747 theatres and smashed its way into the Top 10 because everybody is in love with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I don’t quite get why, but it’s a thing nonetheless.

The holiday weekend was also the last opportunity for studios to get their films out in time to be considered for awards season, hence the flood of new releases.  Leading the charge was Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken which surprisingly smashed its way to the Christmas Day number 1 slot and then rode that momentum to a strong number 2 finish.  That, however, only happened because Into The Woods opened on 600 less screens; it ended up losing the battle for second by only $700,000 even though it had a higher per-screen average, so these two may switch places when the actuals come in.  Much less successful was the Mark Wahlberg-fronted The Gambler which only managed $9 million over the three-day weekend, sinking after a strong $5 million Christmas Day performance.

In limited release news, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper ran rampant on the competition, making $610,000 from 4 theatres over the weekend ($850,000 including Christmas Day) for a per-screen average of $152,000, the third highest opening per-screen average of any live-action film ever.  Slightly less successfully but still a major success nonetheless was the opening of Selma, which took $590,000 from 19 screens ($912,000 incl. Christmas Day) for a per-screen average of $31,053.  The inexplicably-not-nominated-for-Best-Foreign-Film Two Days, One Night finally received a US release and took $30,600 ($48,200 incl. Christmas Day) from two screens, whilst Leviathan managed $15,200 ($23,000 incl. Christmas Day) from two screens.  FILMS!!!

And lastly – good lord, this was a busy weekend – The Interview, after a whole bunch of utterly ridiculously insane and awful events, finally got a last minute go-ahead to be screened in select cinemas.  So, after all of that hoopla, the film managed to take $1,811,000 ($2,851,000 including Christmas Day) from 331 screens for an average of $5,471 per-screen.  Decidedly average, but that doesn’t count the fact that many of these were hastily-arranged at the last minute with few showings and the fact that the film has apparently made an extra $15 million over the weekend with its simultaneous VOD release.  Depending on how that holds, we could be looking at the start of something new in film distribution, here.  Time will tell, but for now I’m pretty sure Sony will be calling this somewhat of a success.

Oh, and lastly lastly, Big Eyes, the new Tim Burton film and the best thing he’s made in at least 7 years (if you like Sweeney Todd) as well as a pretty bloody good movie in its own right, collapsed on 1,307 theatres with just under $3 million for 15th place.  Dammit.


hobbit

Will the circle be Unbroken by this Full List?  Let’s go Into The Woods for the last time this year to find out!

Box Office Results: Friday 26th December 2014 – Sunday 28th December 2014

1] The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

$41,420,000 / $168,522,000

The more I think back on The Hobbit trilogy, the less and less I like it.  I find more faults, the stuff I like rescinds further into the background, and the stuff I dislike becomes more pronounced in my mind.  The Lord Of The Rings, meanwhile and which I saw for the first time in the same two week period in which I saw The Hobbit, rises more and more and more in my estimations the more I think back on it, and I really, really liked The Lord Of The Rings when I saw it.  I still don’t hate The Hobbit, but man I wish Peter Jackson had just moved on from LOTR instead of making a lower-quality facsimile of it.

2] Unbroken

$31,748,000 / $47,341,000 / NEW

Saw this on Friday and ultimately left rather cold.  Its intentions are pure and Jack O’Connell gives another commanding lead performance – now making him 3 for 3 this year – but its structure is a complete mess, any influence The Coen Brothers may have had on the screenplay has been near-totally scrubbed away by endless rewrites that make it more awards-baity and Jolie just doesn’t know when to stop overcooking certain scenes.  Nothing about the film gives me any indication that Jolie was purely aiming for awards with this one, but the finished product seems perennially missing a “For Your Consideration” watermark over 75% of its reels and so nothing truly landed for me.  Shame.

3] Into The Woods

$31,021,000 / $46,105,000 / NEW

Drops here in two weeks, which is a surprisingly quick turn-around for a Disney film, I gotta say.  Still, really looking forward to this; there’s a lot of actors and actresses that I really like in it and I am dying for a musical that’s damn proud of its musical foundations and nature right about now.  Yes, I am still angry about Annie.

4] Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb

$20,600,000 / $55,307,000

Still not an outstanding performance since the film inexplicably cost $127 million to make – and if you’ve actually seen the film, you’ll get why I refuse to believe that figure – but any film that increases its weekend takings by 20% from opening weekend at least deserves a modicum of respect tipped in its direction.

5] Annie

$16,600,000 / $45,835,000

Speaking of Into The Woods, The 2014 Failed Critics Awards results were revealed last week (*plug plug*) and Emily Blunt in Edge Of Tomorrow didn’t even make the shortlist for Best Actress in yet another example of why democracy doesn’t work.  (*flips table in disgust and storms out*)

6] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

$10,000,000 / $306,656,000

Just $26 million away from taking the #1 Domestic Movie of 2014 spot away from Guardians Of The Galaxy.  It’s got a good chance at making it, too, since Tak3n isn’t due out for another two weeks and the general dead zone of January (although it actually doesn’t look that bad this year) means that there’s a large opportunity for it to slowly earn small increments each week in the cinemas that keep it around.  I think this is actually going to be rather close, folks!

7] The Gambler

$9,300,000 / $14,300,000 / NEW

Transformers: Age Of Extinction is still the highest grossing film of the year worldwide by a good margin.  Just thought I’d bring the mood down a little bit.  Thanks for nothing, Mark Wahlberg!

8] The Imitation Game

$7,930,000 / $14,631,000

The wrong Benedict Cumberbatch movie is getting all of the money.  Yes, you damn well perfectly know which film I am talking about.

9] Exodus: Gods And Kings

$6,750,000 / $52,517,000

So, this came out in the UK this past weekend and I was circle-jerked to hell and back.  The Cineworld website said that there were only 3D screenings, but when I got there on Friday they insisted that there were actually 2D screenings, but those ended up overlapping with Unbroken so I pushed Exodus to Saturday instead.  By the time I had finished Unbroken, however, I felt more than a little burnt out when it came to watching movies.  It’s been The Great List Blitz 2014, you see, where I watch a whole bunch of films I missed and re-watch some films that fell out of my memory somewhat over the course of a very cramped couple of weeks to prepare for list-making season, and it had taken its toll on me somewhat.  So I got to thinking, “Do I really want to give over 3 hours of my life to a film I am 95% certain is going to be horrendous tripe?  Big Eyes at least has the potential to be good.”

And, in the end, on that Saturday, I decided that no, I didn’t much fancy giving over 3 hours of my life to Exodus: Gods And Kings.  So I saw Big Eyes and then went home.  And you know what?  I feel great about that!  Now let’s all point and laugh at Exodus one last time before moving on with our lives.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

10] Wild

$5,415,000 / $16,364,000

I suspect that this will experience a resurgence of major proportions when the Academy comes a-calling for Reese Witherspoon, much like what happened when Dallas Buyers Club kept revolving door-ing its way in and out of the list this time last year.  So this is not a farewell, this is a see you tomorrow.  Christ, I just sounded so f*cking pretentious…

Dropped Out: Big Hero 6, Top Five (goddammit, America), P.K., Penguins Of Madagascar (GODDAMMIT, AMERICA!)

Callum Petch got time to kill, got folks to kill, on overkill.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Episode CXV – A New Sound Quality

Edge of TomorrowWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast: now with added not sounding like we recorded it at the bottom of the ocean with only a drill and some bees for company. Steve, James, and Owen round up the week in film news, including the latest Star Wars rumours, and the joyous future collaboration of Nic Cage of John McTiernan.

We also review Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, and will James finally convert to Seth MacFarlane fandom after watching A Million Ways to Die in the West?

Join us next week for reviews of 22 Jump Street and (brace yourself) Grace of Monaco, and put up the bunting and get the good champagne out as we introduce our newest full-time member of the team..

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Failed Critics Review: Looper

Sadly (or thankfully depending on your point of view) James was absent from this week’s Failed Critics Review, in which Steve, Owen and Gerry review sci-fi time-travel headfuck Looper. Luckily James’s future-self has told him that they managed to pull together an excellent podcast in the mouthy old bastard’s absence.

In honour of the big man himself, they also reviewed a Bruce Willis film each – and maybe someone suggested everyone really should go and watch Taken 2. James hasn’t a clue to be honest, and writing in the third person is taking its toll.

Join us (sans James again) later this week for Triple Bill: Eighties Films.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Failed Critics: Episode 11 – The Five-Year Engagement

Do you, dear listener, take this slightly shambolic weekly film podcast to be your lawfully-wedded background noise for your journey to work? Forsaking allother podcasts, as long as your generic MP3 player shall live?

You may now listen to FAILED CRITICS!

This week we review the new Jason Segel/Emily Blunt romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement (including a remarkably in-depth debate on the conventions of the rom-com genre), as well as discussing our favourite documentaries in Triple Bill.

This week’s episode was recording over two nights due to crying babies and lost keys that weren’t lost. We welcomed back a fired-up Gerry to the pod, and Owen managed to get very drunk between the two recording sessions. It’s a corker!

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK