Tag Archives: Ewan McGregor

Failed Critics Podcast: T2: Trainspotting

t2

Welcome to this week’s podcast as we hold the metaphorical tourniquet and inject you with our audio-skag. No c**t listens to this till we find out what c**t made it.

(That would be Steve Norman, Owen Hughes, Paul Field and Matt Lambourne.)

This week’s main review is T2: Trainspotting; Danny Boyle’s eagerly awaited (loose) adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s sequel to his classic 1996 movie, starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle.

Before all of that is this week’s quiz, which follows Owen’s verbal tirade about last week’s booby-prize, the nonsensical British comedy Essex Spacebin, destined to be this year’s Mob Handed. There’s also a chat about the SAG awards as well reviews of Sadako vs Kayako (aka The Ring vs The Grudge), Oscar contender Hidden Figures, Paul’s film of the year, A Man Called Ove, and the resurgent Shin Godzilla.

Join us again next week for what will hopefully be two brand new episodes.

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American Pastoral

american-pastoral

“What she blew up that day, was his life.”

Directorial debuts are an interesting beast. I’ve never refused to watch a film based on the fact it was the director’s first time out; after all, over the last couple of years, films like Ex Machina and Deadpool marked the first time behind the camera for their helmers. But when I read that Ewan McGregor was busting his directorial cherry with American Pastoral, I admit to being less than enthused at the idea of watching it.

Based on Philip Roth’s 1997 novel and starring McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning, American Pastoral is the story of how the Vietnam war and the politics surrounding it in the United States affects a middle-class suburban family, both directly and indirectly. High school superstar turned marine turned business owner Seymour Levov (McGregor) and his beauty pageant winning wife Dawn (Connelly) live a seemingly perfect life in the Newark countryside; big house, farm, and a beautiful daughter, Meredith – played by a combination of Dakota Fanning, Hannah Nordberg and Ocean James.

Meredith (or Mary), has suffered her entire life with a close-to-crippling stutter, with an inability of her parents to help their kid and a therapist trying to point the blame at the loving mum and dad. Mary’s struggles don’t seem to be letting up at any point as her impediment forces a gap between her and everyone she knows; her family most of all. As she gets older, and the war in south-east Asia gains more public coverage, Mary begins to take the lack of empathy towards the war in her house – and America in general – quite personally. When she finds a group that does seem to accept her, the Levov family find themselves with a political protestor on their hands with no way to reason with her.

Things come to a head when Mary lets off a bomb in a local post office, killing the proprietor and setting in motion years of torment for her family as she goes on the run from the law.

American Pastoral certainly has plenty to say, and it doesn’t take a genius to scratch through to its subtext to see that the point it’s trying to make is about how people are just as vulnerable and easily manipulated today as they may have been then. That often goes more so for people feeling marginalised in any way. But the film is just so clumsy in getting to its point that I find it quite hard to care once we get to the closing credits.

The story is told to you as a flashback on the eve of Seymour Levov’s funeral by his brother, to a fellow classmate at a high school reunion. With a promise of a story of Seymour’s life and how it fell apart at the hands of his daughter, the storytelling device feels throwaway and incidental as it is all but forgotten until the final scenes. Sadly, this is indicative of the film as a whole.

Performances are good, but not really good enough to bring the rest of the film together. McGregor plays the angry and concerned father and husband very well, but his awful American accent is a distraction and it pulls you out of scenes when he’s trying to convey anger or fear. His performance isn’t terrible, but it’s so-so.

I could say almost exactly the same for Connelly’s role as the concerned mother who goes through grief in a completely different way to her husband, adding to his stresses. She’s good (of course she is, she’s Jennifer Connelly) but she’s just not as great as we all know she can be. In a surprise turn-around, the person that impressed me the most was someone that hasn’t had that kind of impression on me since she was ten years old! Back in 2004, Dakota Fanning left me in absolute bits at her performance in Man on Fire. Sadly, since then, she’s barely been a blip on my radar, not really giving me any reason to pay attention to her. Until now.

I’m not saying she’ll be taking away awards or anything for this role, despite the fact that she is very good. I just think that for an actor to all-but disappear from my field of vision, to jump back into it with a performance that strong, is definitely something worth mentioning. Watching this girl angrily try to get her words out as her dad refuses to understand her point of view is awful and brilliant. Sadly, the people that need the most recognition are the people that will inevitably get the least. Like Fanning all those years ago, the actresses playing the young Mary are outstanding. Both Ocean James and Hannah Nordberg, who play Mary at eight and ten years old respectively, both put I n genuinely heartbreaking performances as the young girl suffering incredibly with an inability to communicate properly. Every time one of the girls was on screen, my heart sank into the cushion of my seat as I wanted to reach into the screen and desperately tell her it’s ok! Now, I know when it comes to daughters having a shit time of it, I am a big girl and I’m willing to blub at a moments notice, but damn those girls were incredible.

Unfortunately, McGregor’s direction and the lacklustre screenplay don’t do the largely great performances justice. A feeling of mediocrity flows through the entire film and leaving it a half-baked attempt to be poignant and dramatic. Not what I expected for a drama released this late in the year. It’s not a bad film, but I would have liked just a little bit more cohesion in its story telling, is all.

Our Kind of Traitor

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“I thought it was the right thing to do.”

I don’t know much about John Le Carré or his writing. The only book of his I read was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and, considering the quality of the film, I seem to be the only person I know that really enjoyed the 2011 adaptation that starred, well, everyone.

I know the man has had a ton of his work adapted for film and television, including the recently acclaimed BBC thriller The Night Manager – I didn’t know it was La Carré until I went to check his bibliography this morning – that I just haven’t had time or opportunity to watch. Such is life.

But now, long-time TV director Susanne White has brought a few names; including Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomi Harris and Damien Lewis; together to bring us an adaptation of the spy aficionado’s 2010 novel, Our Kind of Traitor.

While on a romantic holiday, University lecturer Perry (McGregor) and his lawyer lady-friend Gail (Harris) make the acquaintance of a loud, brash but charismatic mob money-man Dima (Skarsgård). After spending more time than a man on holiday with his other half should spend with a complete stranger, Perry discovers that Dima isn’t just being nice for the sake of it, he’s trying to get the lecturer to help him defect to the UK before the new mob hierarchy have him killed.

But as is always the way, things just don’t go smoothly for future traitors and when Perry gets back home and tells the government of the mafia middle-leader’s plan, they are less than convinced. This leaves the happy couple helping out Hector (Lewis) a spy with an axe to grind who has to run his operation to get Dima and his family away from the mob off the books and away from the prying eyes of his bosses. The group find themselves in a race against the clock as their world shrinks around them with both the Russians and the British trying to quash the would-be defectors plans.

What is perhaps most surprising about Our Kind of Traitor, being an honest-to-goodness spy thriller, is the complete lack of spies. Or thrills. While all the elements are there for what should be a great film, I left the screening I was in feeling an overwhelming desire to take a nap.

Considering director Susanne White’s pedigree – having worked on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Generation Kill, shows that existed solely to run at a glacial pace but to keep everything interesting – her pacing here is all off, with no real consistency across the less than two hour running time. Her cast don’t seem too interested with what they’re doing either. I mean, it’s pretty funny watching Ms. Moneypenny tell Obi-Wan Kenobi to “Fuck off”, but the realisation that that had just happened was pretty much the high point of the film for me. Damien Lewis all but confirms what I’ve always thought about him in as much as, while I like him, he’s supremely lucky to be where he is now and not starring in mid-season prime time BBC dramas.

Good old Mr. Skarsgård is alright as the main money-man; even if, in a few of his recent roles, he’s been a little too fond of getting his nob out. Honestly, it’s concerning. I’m scared that Thor isn’t going to be the only one waving his hammer around in Ragnarok next year. With a supporting cast that includes Snatch‘s Velibor Topic, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Northam; I don’t know. Maybe I just expected more.

Overall, Our Kind of Traitor is pretty average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just there. There’s certainly no harm in watching it and it’s not a complete waste of your time. I just wouldn’t go in expecting the world. Realistically, I think it probably would have been better suited to a two or three part mini-series on a channel that lets you swear. As it is, it was financed by Film4 and Amazon Prime Instant Video. It’ll be on one of those soon enough and you can make up your own mind.

Mortdecai

It stinks.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mortdecaiDo you remember when Johnny Depp was one of our most interesting and relatively exciting actors?  At home as a leading man but the kind of leading man who took chances and tried different roles, who was all about finding the characters beneath the eccentricities, and who knew exactly how far was too far and scaled back accordingly?  There will be an entire generation of moviegoers who only know of Johnny Depp as “That Guy Who Plays Weirdos” and that’s genuinely saddening, to me.  I still think he is a very talented actor when he shows up to work or when he’s given an actual character, and he deserves better than this stigma he’s gotten attached to.

That is how I felt before I saw MortdecaiMortdecai has managed to accomplish what Transcendence, what The Lone Ranger, what even Alice In Wonderland was unable to do: it has gotten me over Johnny Depp.  I am done with him.  As I left Mortdecai, I was filled with a burning desire to never see Johnny Depp again.  He needs to go away, for a long while.  Mortdecai marks the point where his hammy, character-less mugging has sailed way over the line of tolerability for me and now has made me wish for him to disappear for a good while.  He needs to just stop, take a year or so out, find better scripts, and then come back looking to impress instead of irritate.

Yes, surprising quite possibly nobody, Mortdecai is a bad film and Johnny Depp ends up being emblematic of everything wrong with it.  It’s a film that really wants to be a throwback to 60s British farcical capers – where every line of dialogue is a sexual innuendo of some kind, everybody is pompously self-involved, the actual plot itself is light on the ground, and most of the comedy involves slapstick – but one that lacks any of the wit, intelligence, charm or fun required to make that happen.  In an attempt to make up for that fact, everybody spends their time hamming the living daylights out of every line of dialogue – practically shouting in exaggeratedly exaggerated accents of whichever nationality their characters are supposed to be – keeping the register at that heightened level for what turns out to be a near-unbearably long 106 minute runtime.

It comes back to the script, written by Eric Aronson – whose only other credit is a 2001 Lance Bass and Joey Fatone (yes, of N*SYNC) vehicle titled On The Line – instead of director (and accomplished screenwriter in his own right) David Koepp.  See, the script lacks any particularly funny or original quirks, instead resorting to jokes about how women are just insatiable and/or disposable sexual conquests, how foreigners are funny, how Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) is very much whipped by his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) despite his best efforts, how Charlie is totally not gay not that he has any problems with gay people, you understand…  When it does try and come up with its own thing, it’s an endless rambling obsession with moustaches that feels forced and cynical, instead of natural and honest, like it’s trying to force the moustache thing into popular and meme culture.  Needless to say, it’s embarrassing.

Even more problematic is that nobody in the film is particularly likeable or entertaining to watch.  Charlie is a pompous self-centred asshat whose characterisation is rarely consistent save for the “irritating” part – especially since the film can’t decide just how much of a total nitwit the guy is – Johanna should be a fun foil to Charlie but she and Depp have the sexual chemistry of a rat and a bucket of rat poison, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor, oh god why) ends up being a humourless squib on the film instead of an entertainingly humourless squib – and whose relentless pursuit of Johanna never really comes off as convincingly sweet or believable – and the less said about Olivia Munn’s nymphomaniac Georgina Krampf – three guesses as to what the sole joke surrounding her character is and which side she ends up on, first two don’t count – the better.

I’m not saying that the problem is that the cast is unlikeable, a tonne of great comedies are filled from head to toe with awful characters, in the good sense.  The problem is that they are all really dull to watch.  Koepp normally has a speed, dynamism and fun that he brings to his features – Premium Rush was a very stupid film but damn it all if it wasn’t also a tonne of fun – but Mortdecai very, very rarely displays that kind of manic, passionate energy or anarchic sense of fun.  Where Koepp would normally seem engaged and entertained, he instead feels disinterested and bored, gliding through this incredibly cheap-looking $60 million film with a sense of obligation overriding everything else.  Consequently, what seemed entertaining on some level from the trailers grates over 106 minutes because he never varies that tempo or mood.

Mortdecai, therefore, is a film that seems genuinely irritated by its own existence.  A film that knows the script it’s working from is garbage, hates the fact that it’s garbage, but at no point shows any interest in bettering itself, almost out of spite, instead dragging itself, its cast, its crew, and the audience it holds with nothing but contempt through the mud for nearly two seemingly endless hours.  What very few good gags it has are drowned out in an endless sea of allegedly inherently funny accents and repeated usages of the phrase, “Open your balls.”  It has no heart, no entertaining characters, and no energy or desire to try and be some kind of fun.

And so we return to Johnny Depp, mugging his way through the entire film, indulging in all of his worst impulses, refusing to find a character underneath the eccentricities like he’s flipping off his growing critics.  “I’ll show them what ‘He doesn’t play characters anymore and hasn’t been bearable for nearly a decade’ looks like!  Wait, I don’t actually know who that is supposed to be making fun of.”  The film Mortdecai ends up being powered by Depp’s Mortdecai and that sheer concentrated Depp-overload ends up making the film even more of a slog than it might otherwise have been.  I was sick of him by the 15 minute mark, and 106 minutes with him officially got me over Depp completely.  Mortdecai managed to do what Alice In Wonderland could not, and this is saying something.

Jeff Goldblum pops up in this randomly for about 5 minutes – maybe he owed Koepp, who co-wrote Jurassic Park, or something – and his presence ignited a desire within me to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel again, a genuinely good farcical caper.  In fact, that’s what you should do: you should just watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and stay far away from Mortdecai.  Please.  Please do that.  I’m worried they’ll try and turn this into a series, otherwise.

Callum Petch is fantasising all the time, “move your body next to mine.”  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Week In Film – 16 October 2014: Four-Four-F***ing-Two

If there’s one thing that gets Steve more excited than football related news, it’s football related film news. And we’re not referring to the revelation this week that Michael Owen hates all movies.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

mike bassettFailed Critics: England Manager

One of my favourite, and most under-rated comedies, Mike Bassett: England Manager, has a sequel. Personally I’m worried it will not live up to the original although a title of Mike Bassett: Interim Manager hints that it may still take a witty, satirical look at the beautiful game.

For £5k I could have a speaking part. So come on, put your money where your mouth is and get me on the big screen.

The Viewing Dead

Zombie series The Walking Dead broke all US cable records this weekend with the premier of its fifth season. 17.3 million tuned in to see Rick, Daryl and their group of survivors fight back against their captors at Terminus.

This beat the previous record of 16.1 million set by the shows fourth season premier. The show’s popularity was further enhanced due to the fact that over 12 million illegal downloads were made worldwide within the 24 hours after it aired.

The action packed opener will hopefully set the tone for a good series. Most previous seasons have featured strong beginnings and ends but have sagged in the middle. With the story taking slight deviations from the comic book we may see some fresh and interesting ideas and characters.

Where’s the News?

A lot of the time when researching this weekly article websites pass off new trailers or posters as news.

Is that actually news? Not in my book. It’s advertising.

Why Are Pirates Called Pirates? Because They Javi-ARRGHHH

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tells No Tales looks set to be the fifth POTC movie and is due for a 2017 release. Former Bond villain Javier Bardem has been linked with playing the protagonist to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

Superhero Section

Big news coming out of Marvel this week with the announcement that Robert Downey Jr. will play Iron Man in Captain America 3.

No plot details have been revealed as of yet but the poster/artwork released may suggests, and will no doubt fuel the Twitter rumours that Steve Rodger’s third solo movie will take the Civil War storyline from the comic books to the big screen.

In Civil War Iron Man and Cap go head to head along with many other superheroes, good and bad, and has far reaching implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than Cap 2.

Of course this could all be bluff and double bluff and the film is comprised of completely original material.

Elsewhere in Marvel Ewan McGregor is the latest actor to be linked with the Doctor Strange role joining the likes of Keanu Reeves and Ethan Hawke as the frontrunners to play the sorcerer?superman batman

Outside of Marvel Michael Keaton has revealed that he would be up for playing Batman again. Hardly a huge revelation, I’m sure Adam West would be as well if you asked him.

DC have also said that Wonder Woman’s origins will be revealed in Batman vs Superman but rather than an Amazonian she will be the daughter of Zeus, according to producer Charles Roven anyway.

Quite why the origin of a popular and well established character needs to be changed is beyond me, and most people and it just gives another reason for people to doubt the movie.

Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.

The Impossible

The-Impossible

By Mike Shawcross

This review may contain spoilers.

Films depicting real natural catastrophes can be very hit or miss, and mostly they miss. Hollywood disaster movies often descend into melodrama and over-produced stylised action to raise the tension, and flesh out their simple survival plots. When these events are as recent as the tsunami of 2004, which cost the lives of over 200,000 people, and the images are still so vivid in our memories due to the large scale media coverage, is a film what we really need?

Maybe not, but the fact that this is a Spanish film with Juan Antonio Bayona (director of The Orphanage) in charge gave me some hope that the tragic events might be told in a more honest way. It also bodes well that Bayona decided not to specify the nationalities of the main characters, so as to create a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot. I can understand the reasoning in casting an English-speaking cast, as if this had been a subtitled film a vast majority of people wouldn’t have bothered to see it. Of course this would lead to the inevitable American remake and the overproduction of the disaster.

Bayona centres his film on one family; a happy, normal family. If there are any tensions we are unaware of them; this isn’t a film about reconciliation or forgiveness. This is a simple story of survival, courage and hope against the odds that the members of the family are still alive. The fact that the film keeps them central throughout  makes it work even more for me. This is their story, their ordeal. It makes no difference that they are not locals, or even that they are Westerners; at the end of the day they were still part of this disaster. They were just lucky enough to survive it.

Maybe that’s why Bayona wanted to take this family’s story, because it is remarkable and it is worthy of being told. I think the director has done an excellent job. It’s an extremely sensitive subject and will invoke quite a few negative feelings and naysayers. I have no idea how survivors will react to it either, but I hope some commend Bayona for his efforts. The scenes of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the aftermath are extremely powerful. I really got an understanding of the force of the water, the speed the wave was travelling, and how helpless people would have been as it hit the land. The aftermath was devastating to look at as well, as Bayona shows us graphic scenes of the victims and the harrowing distress of the survivors from the family’s view point.

Naomi Watts (Maria) in a physical demanding role really delivers. Her emotion never seems false, and she is just superb. Her scenes in the wave are excellent; and we can really see the fear in her eyes. Alongside her, Tom Holland (Lucas) as the eldest son gives a solid performance for such a young actor. This is also the best I’ve seen McGregor (Henry) recently (he was ok in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but here he really impresses). The score is quite simply beautiful, with pieces of music composed by Fernando Velzquez whose previous works include The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. He’s also composed the score for the forthcoming Mama, which is released in February.

My final thoughts are about the emotional connection I had with the story. I’m a family man with three kids, and maybe that’s why I was so emotionally moved by this film. That said, I suspect I would still have been moved by this tragedy if I was single. This is an uneasy watch about a disaster of massive proportions, but it is ultimately a powerful and uplifting story.