Tag Archives: ex machina

Top 100 Films on Netflix (UK)

Tired of flicking through Netflix for an hour before bed looking for something to kill the time, only to settle on another episode of Bottom that you’ve seen a hundred times before? Next time, why not try one of our top 100 films on Netflix instead, as chosen by Failed Critics editor, Owen Hughes.
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Failed Critics Podcast: End of Year Awards 2015

awards 15

Votes have been counted, booze has been consumed and a resulting two hour long podcast has been produced, examining each of the winners (and some of the losers) in this year’s Failed Critics Awards.

With Steve Norman absent, it’s up to Matt Lambourne to step in and host our final podcast of the year as Owen Hughes runs through who has won what in all eight of the different categories that our listeners have submitted votes in. Accompanying them both are special guests Callum Petch and Phil Sharman, who duke it out in the opening quiz, before laughing/lamenting the choices for:

Best soundtrack of 2015

Best documentary

Best film not in the English language

Best British film

Best male performance

Best female performance

Worst film of 2015

and of course the definitive Top 10 films of the year.

Thank you to everybody who spared 5 minutes to send in your picks for each of the above – and thanks to all of you who have downloaded our podcast over the past 12 months. You’ve made this year the most successful in our relatively short history and without you, it’d just be Steve and I talking over Skype each week to an invisible audience. Which, quite frankly, would be a bit weird. So thanks for sparing us that indignity, at least!

We’ll be back again the first week of January to review Joy, The Danish Girl and no doubt some other stuff too.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE (including bookmarks for each category)

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Failed Critics Podcast: Winterval Special 2015

gremlins

Ding dong, merrily on high – Steve’s pants are wet and minging.

Don’t worry. He just got a bit over-excited on last week’s Star Wars podcast. But before Steve worked himself up into that state, you can listen to his usual mildly-subdued-self as he hosted our Christmas special podcast, recorded the week before he exploded in a fit of fan-geekery over The Force Awakens.

Joining him in our festive celebrations during this most unholy Winterval and non-religion-specific season are Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank. As is tradition, we start off with a Christmassy quiz – quite possibly the worst quiz we’ve had on the podcast all year. Possibly ever. But moods are soon lifted as the team run through which Christmas movies they’ve been watching over the holiday period.

In lieu of any main releases to talk about, we have a special triple bill where each member of the crew pick their films of Christmas past (favourite first watch of a non-2015 film during this year), Christmas present (favourite 2015 release) and Christmas future (which movie they’re most looking forward to in 2016). It really isn’t as confusing as I’ve made it sound.

There’s still one more podcast to go this year – our Failed Critics Awards end of year wrap up (deadline for votes is 27th Dec) – so you can join us again later this month. Until then, Merry Christmas from all of us here at Failed Critics!

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT LINK

 

The Best of 2015 Thus Far

As we’re now well and truly past the half-way mark for the year, it seems like as good a time as any for a few of the Failed Critics contributors to bundle together and reveal which films they’ve enjoyed the most so far. Come December, we’ll still be running the annual Failed Critics Awards, giving you the opportunity to cast your vote for your favourite films of 2015.

In the meantime, let’s have a quick run through of what some of our writers and podcasters have chosen as their five favourite films of the year. Will the biggest film of the year so far, Jurassic World, be featured? Will United Passions somehow infect this article too? Will anyone pick anything other than Mad Max?? Find out below…


by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad maxFighting the urge to fill my word limit with just paragraphs of me repeating the words “Perfect”, “Awesome” and “The most fun I’ve had this year with clothes on”, I’ll try and be a little more cohesive in my description. It had been thirty years since the last film in the iconic Mad Max franchise, to bring a fourth entry to a series after that long is a massive undertaking at the best of times. But when its original star is as iconic as the film’s that made him famous, replacing him as well would be a recipe for disaster in any other filmmakers hands. Thankfully for all of us, the series’ creator made a triumphant return and gave us one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. A breathtaking, visceral two hours (on three occasions) in the cinema left me shellshocked and shaking with excitement and almost unable to write my review when I got home I was so pumped. Oh, and there’s a dude on a truck made of drums and speakers playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar! No more needs to be said!

2] Ex Machina

3] Whiplash

4] Still Alice

5] It Follows

WORST: Avengers: Age of Ultron – Years of subtle hype and weeks of actual hype in the buildup to this, the biggest Marvel movie yet. What we got was a more than two hour long wet fart of a film that left me blindingly disappointed with a really bad taste in my mouth.


by Paul Field (@pafster)

1] Wild Tales

wild talesDark, twisted and utterly enthralling anthology from Argentina. All of the stories are great, no fillers here as is often the case with anthology films. I love a revenge film, and to have 6 served up in one sitting is a real treat. Hard to pick my favourite… the parking ticket is brilliant, the plane passengers unsettling and hilarious, the overtaking motorist caper that escalates out of all control…..but I think the Wedding. Pissing off the bride on her wedding day is an absolute no no, and here, she conveys her displeasure in spectacular fashion. As a first feature from Damián Szifron, this is outstanding and will take some toppling come the end of the year.

2] Hyena

3] Creep

4] We Are Still Here

5] Buzzard

WORST: Lost River Ryan Gosling believing his own hype, delivers the most pretentious load of cobblers ever committed to film. Utter, utter toilet.. and yes, I’ve seen United Passions, Accidental Love and the new Danny Dyer film this year too. Its worse than all three of those, on repeat, for eternity.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

1] Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdmanReleased in the UK on 1 January 2015, I still don’t think I’ve seen a funnier, more entertaining film in the cinema all year. Michael Keaton is absolutely phenomenal as the flailing former superhero movie star attempting to reinvent himself as a stage actor and producer. His manic behaviour, coupled with director Iñárritu’s frenetic, constantly adapting story shot as if the whole production was just one long take; I just loved every minute of it. However, I was hesitant to put it as number one on my list, given a couple people I’ve recommended it to have hated it! But ultimately, despite seeing it only two days into the year, nothing else has managed to better it yet for me.

2] Mad Max: Fury Road

3] Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

4] Cobain: Montage of Heck

5] John Wick

WORST: United Passions – Technically not even released in the UK this year, and unlike Jupiter Ascending (cinema) and The Man With The Iron Fists 2 (VOD), I didn’t even watch this legally. But if there’s a more abhorrent, reprehensible piece of offensive propagandist garbage with as high a budget and released globally within the next decade, I’ll be surprised.


By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max 4I’m still thinking about this movie, weeks after seeing it. The action, the character, the dialogue, the music and most importantly, the SCALE. It’s over the top in every sense and works for me on every level. I can’t wait to get hold of the home release and enjoy it without the hindrance of 3D. Absolutely superb movie!

2] American Sniper

3] Furious 7

4] Jurassic World

5] Terminator Genisys

WORST: Fifty Shades of Grey Bloated, tacky, overly polished and un-sexy. I didn’t get an erection and I didn’t get a shag that night.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

1] The Theory of Everything

theory of everythingThe Stephen Hawking biopic earned lead man Eddie Redmayne an Oscar and deservedly so. His portrayal of a genius of a man going through various stages of a terrible, life changing illness was extremely believable. The film also put over a side of Hawking you don’t often see, the friend, parent and husband, not the man who invented time. Or something.

2] Ex Machina

3] Kingsman: The Secret Service

4] Selma

5] Furious 7

WORST: United Passions Garbage of the highest order. I found Tim Roth less deplorable playing a racist in Selma than I did playing Sepp Blatter in this tripe. It’s offensive that it was even made.


by Callum Petch (@CallumPetch)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max fury roadFury Road is the kind of film whose existence is a reminder that this Movies thing might be alright after all, a beacon of hope that we can all look to in dark times and remind ourselves that we can, in fact, have it so much better.  From its uncomplicated story, to its unique world and set design, to its outstanding special effects, to its jaw-dropping practical stunts, to its brilliantly subtle Tom Hardy performance, to its mesmerising Charlize Theron performance, to its openly and furiously feminist and matriarchal heart, every last frame of this utter masterpiece is what I have heard perfection is supposed to be like.  It is everything that modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking isn’t, a purposeful pushback against everything wrong with those films right now that, in a just world, will have everyone following its example in the years to come.  Both times that I saw this movie, my veins pulsed with pure adrenaline from frame one and the feeling did not stop until long after I left the screen in tears of pure joy at that perfect final shot.  I foresee nothing else coming anywhere close to it for the rest of this year, mainly cos I have no idea what’ll happen to me if there is a better film than Fury Road to come.

2] Magic Mike XXL

3] The Voices

4] Shaun The Sheep Movie

5] Spy

WORST: Entourage  I said everything I needed to say about this reprehensible piece of abysmal shite here and here.  I’m not going to repeat myself.

Failed Critics Podcast: Spy, United Passions and Utter Filth

uwe bollWhat happens when you reunite the filthy minds of [The Mirror’s film correspondent] Paul Field and Andrew Brooker on the same podcast as Steve Norman and Owen Hughes?

If you guessed “clean, mild mannered discussion on various films in the cinema” then you’d be wrong. This episode is explicit with a capital E. And a capital X, P, L, I, C, I and T as well. You have been warned! Although there are still plenty of films discussed this week.

Together, in-between the carnage, the team manage to put together 80 minutes of semi-coherent chat, starting as ever with a tightly poised quiz (+ results from last week’s United Passions defence) and discussing the latest from the world of film news, including Jurassic World‘s initially poor reception and Hugh Jackman relinquishing his most famous role.

We also discuss a number of new releases in the cinema this past week, including:  Paul Feig’s comedy Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne and Miranda Hart;  the confusingly titled studio horror prequel Insidious: Chapter 3;  James McTeigue’s latest attempt to save his career with crime thriller Survivor;  and the FIFA propaganda film that’s convincing nobody, United Passions.

As well as that, Brooker discusses Alex Garland’s Ex Machina;  Owen flips his opinion around on The Redwood Massacre;  Paul has two very different opinions on the terrifying We Are Still Here and bizarre sleep paralysis documentary The Nightmare;  and Steve tries to raise the tone with a review of Billy Elliot… but quickly plummets back down to our usual depths.

Join us again next week as we review (amongst other things) Colin Trevorrow’s adventure sci-fi, Jurassic World.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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US Box Office Report: 22/05/15 – 24/05/15

Tomorrowland comes today and is really underwhelming, Poltergeist is here and did really mediocre… y’know what?  This whole Memorial Day Weekend was basically a total bust, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You may not know this, but this past weekend was a Bank Holiday.  No, really.  A second one in the same month, the official “Spring Bank Holiday”.  No, I really don’t know why.  Maybe we have it so that, when America shuts down for Memorial Day Weekend, we don’t have to wonder what those lazy ingrates are celebrating for whilst we have to keep going to our miserable dead-end jobs.  Did anything even actually shut down on Monday for anybody?  All of the shops in my village remained open as if it was any normal Monday, as if even they realised that this bank holiday is utterly pointless…

Hmm…?  Oh, right, movies.  Sorry, I was awake until 3:30am last night essay writing and got barely 5 hours of sleep.  My brain might make some left-turns during this piece, so be prepared.

Anyways, Memorial Day Weekend!  Typically, this is the period in which studios launch their biggest heavy-hitters to guide the 4-day weekend to piles-full of Scrooge McDuck money.  For example, last year, 20th Century Fox dropped X-Men: Days of Future Past, and despite humanity collectively forgetting everything that ever happened in that 2 hour piece of moving wallpaper as soon as they left the cinema – yeah, I said it – the film still opened to a ridiculous $110 million.  Analyst expectations were high, everyone was on the edge of their seat, this is meant to be the first Summer Blockbuster season that crosses $5 billion, after all, so Memorial Day Weekend should be a fever pit of activity, right?

Small problem with that: the two big films that people gave a sh*t about came out last weekend.  Instead we got a bad Brad Bird film, which is a phrase that physically hurts to type, and a crappy pointless horror movie remake.  Surprising nobody, the box office promptly died on its arse.

Tomorrowland is technically the winner, since it ended up in first place over the period, but it could barely scrape together $40 million over all four days which, for a film that cost $190 million to make and has been marketed and advertised to the hilt, is more than a little pathetic and embarrassing.  Hell, it barely beat the second week of Pitch Perfect 2, which was in an almost dead-heat with Tomorrowland for most of the weekend!  Meanwhile, Poltergeist posted exactly the numbers that you are expecting a crappy horror movie remake to post.  It started out strong on Friday with a good $9 million, then proceeded to sink like a stone once every horror fan collectively realised that, yeah, it was a bit sh*t, wasn’t it?  It eventually finished the long weekend with $26 million for fifth place.

In the land of the limited releases… things were rather crap over there, too, actually.  The only thing worth talking about was When Marnie Was There, currently the last planned Studio Ghibli film so, let’s face it, it would have still been the only thing worth talking about even if the limited releases were filled to the brim with films of quality and note.  Well, for the possible swansong of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, animation studios that has ever existed, the public came out in force!  They all collectively joined arms, packed their best tissues, and skipped merrily together down to their local cine…  Sigh.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  Marnie managed to post a three-day weekend total of $27,388 from 2 screens.  By contrast, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya managed $54,915 from 3 screens, whilst Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises scored $313,751 from 21 screens.  So, a bit underwhelming.  It did, though, post the highest per-screen average of the whole miserable weekend, at $13,694, so little victories and all that.


tomorrowland 1

This Full List will only be doing the three-day period of this four-day weekend (but including the fourth day in the total gross so far area) cos that’s the formula.  You know what happens when you mess with formula?  Chaos and anarchy, that’s what!

Box Office Results: Friday 22nd May 2015 – Sunday 24th May 2015

1] Tomorrowland

$32,972,000 / $41,736,000 / NEW

My review, for those of you who enjoy reading my opinions on stuff, for some bizarre reason.  Yeah, really disappointed that this one didn’t work and I lay the blame at Brad Bird’s feet.  I know that a lot of people are going to blame Damon Lindelof, and I do get why, but he’s not mainly to blame, here.  I mean, Lindelof’s various works are a lot of things, but the last thing that they are is preachy and obsessively on-the-nose about their messaging, to the detriment of everything else.  Bird is usually way better than this, but he dropped the ball here for whatever reason.  Damn shame.

2] Pitch Perfect 2

$30,830,000 / $117,305,000

For those of you following along at home, that is a 55% drop between weekends which is a far better hold than I thought this film would have.  It is typical, after all, for female-targeted movies to drop majorly between weekends – last year’s box office smash The Fault In Our Stars collapsed 70% between weekends, whilst Fifty Shades Of Grey plummeted 73% between weekends – so this hold is pretty miraculous.  It’s not tearing it up overseas like I thought it would, but $250 million worldwide still seems like a lock by this point, and combined with the inevitable smash that it will be on DVD…

Give me a moment, I just want to savour all of this cos like sh*t is anybody going to give this the proper credit that it is due.

3] Mad Max: Fury Road

$24,815,000 / $95,540,000

Look, I know that everybody is collectively crapping their pants because Fury Road hasn’t slaughtered every box office record and made off with all the money in the world in its first week.  I get that, I really do, the quick-fix narrative of modern day box office reportage makes any film that doesn’t immediately dominate all-comers a complete failure that will sully impressive track-records and ruin careers.  But look a little closer for a second: Max spent the weekdays trading incredibly close places with Pitch Perfect 2, whilst posting very strong numbers, it’s doing very well overseas, that R-rating was always going to handicap it anyway, $150 million domestic now seems a lock, and it’s only dropped 45% between weekends with nothing else to really challenge it until Jurassic World comes along.

Plus, as myself and Lucy discovered on Thursday together for the second time, it’s still an utterly mesmeric movie that deserves way more than a ridiculous box office narrative attached to it.  Believe me, it’s going to be fine.

4] Poltergeist

$22,600,000 / $25,509,000 / NEW

Yep, the reason why it finishes fifth on the four-day scale is because it only made $2.9 million on the Monday.  Crappy horror movies, and especially pointless crappy remakes of actually good horror movies, won’t hang around for long.  Nor, in fact, will actually good horror movies.  Really, no horror movies do particularly strongly at the cinema.  Huh.

5] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$21,691,000 / $410,978,000

do we think anything will ever beat Avatar’s $2.7 billion all-time worldwide gross?  Can anything?  I ask because I don’t want Avatar to be remembered as a statistic, mainly because I don’t want Avatar to be remembered at all.  Nobody remembers anything from the movie itself, anyway, so we’re already halfway there!

6] Hot Pursuit

$3,600,000 / $30,300,000

The rest of this chart might be wrong, don’t blame me if it is.  Box Office Mojo has clearly been handed over to a clueless intern for whatever reason, and is thusly impossible to read and trust.  I can’t find anything, several reported grosses are just plain wrong – yeah, sure Pitch Perfect 2 posted a $30 million weekend but only did $900,000 on Friday – and their write-ups are somehow even worse than mine.  What’s going on, folks?  Sort it out!  Where am I going to go otherwise for this stuff?  Deadline?  (*snorts derisively*)

7] Furious 7

$2,232,000 / $347,687,000

So I am actually now cross-checking with Deadline on all of these entries for total accuracy.  Feel I need to explain that that was my attempt at a light-hearted joke and that I harbour no ill will to any potential outlets who are looking for writers and, if they’re gigs of the paying variety, I can be reached at p…  (*author notices Owen eyeballing him, hastily covers up work and moves on*)

8] Far From The Madding Crowd

$2,200,000 / $6,048,000

At least I never have to hear “Come all ye fair and tender girls” ever again.  Hearing it in front of damn near every single film for 3 straight months was absolutely maddening, which is something I should never have to say about Carey Mulligan’s singing.

9] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$1,875,000 / $66,358,000

Kevin James’ next film has just been picked up by Netflix, the company that just won’t stop enabling Happy Madison affiliates despite common goddamn sense.  If this is this trade-off for Orange Is The New Black and Bojack Horseman… well, I can’t really have an opinion in this case as I haven’t watched either show yet.  They are in my cue, though, so I’ll get to them around 2018.  At the earliest.

10] Home

$1,753,000 / $168,763,000

Well, after nine weeks of quietly decent performing, it’s time to say goodbye to Home.  It’s almost certainly not done well enough to justify DreamWorks continuing to spend $135 million on every damn film they release – thank CHRIST, that lesson cannot be hammered into them fast enough – but it’s hopefully done strong enough to keep them afloat for another year.  Yay!  Now I’m just going to go and find myself some Tip merchandise so that I can feel good and happy about DreamWorks taking steps towards better representation in ani…

Just one goddamn doll?  One?!

(*buries head in hands, defeated*)

Dropped Out: The Age of Adaline, Ex Machina

Callum Petch is living on such sweet nothing.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 15/05/15 – 17/05/15

Pitch Perfect 2 beat Mad Max: Fury Road so I guess society is completely fucked or something, Age of Ultron has only just now passed $1 billion so Marvel are completely fucked I guess, people are still voluntarily giving money to Far From The Madding Crowd, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This weekend, two female-driven – and, at least according to the fact that the film itself bills Charlize Theron above Tom Hardy, female-fronted – blockbusters/tentpoles made a combined opening weekend of $114 million between them.  If you, for some literally inexplicable reason, still thought prior to this weekend that female-fronted and female-targeted films just can’t make any money, then this should finally piledrive that stupid, moronic, close-minded, and arguably sexist line of thinking straight down to the earth’s core where it will never again return from.  Now watch as Hollywood, instead of doing the correct thing and green-lighting every single female-driven film that crosses their path, sticks dollar bills in their ears, loudly yells “LA LA LA” and continues to try and shove Jai Courtney or Joel Kinnaman down our throats.

So, I’m celebrating!  Two damn great, staunchly feminist movies with a female-focus just made ALL the money!  …oh, no, wait, hang on.  Cancel the celebrations, it turns out that Pitch Perfect 2 beat Mad Max: Fury Road, like we all saw coming from a mile away.  After all, one’s a PG-13 teen comedy sequel to a sleeper hit from 3 years ago that became a sensation on home video, whilst the other is a hard R-rated action sequel to a cult franchise that hadn’t produced any activity in exactly 30 years prior to this.  What did you all think was going to happen?  Pitch Perfect 2 handily trounced Mad Max: Fury Road, $70 million to $44 million, and both posted absolutely ludicrous per-screen averages, $20,242 and $12,004 respectively.

In a perfect world, we would all simply sit here and celebrate the fact that these two films did great and be happy and optimistic about the future of this whole Movies thing.  Unfortunately, our world is crap and so now I, along with those of us who follow Film Twitter even tangentially or who are even slightly involved in Internet Film Circles, have to strap in for the next week of Thinkpiece Hell.  Joy!  What’s on your bingo card?  I am expecting variations on “Damn Millennials, ruining everything for the rest of us!”, “REAL action movies are DEAD!!”, “stupid girls with their cooties!”, and “Why Film Critics Don’t Matter In 2015” among others.  I mean, GOD FORBID we just take this positive victory as is and leave it at that(!)

Also likely to cause Thinkpiece Hell, although it’s already done a fine enough job of that before this weekend, is The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  This weekend, the film finally passed the $1 billion mark worldwide, but only after 24 days, which is foooooreeeeveeeerrr in these days of Furious 7 crossing the mark in 19.  Clearly this means that Marvel Studios are in complete disarray and that, in addition to ruining all blockbusters for everybody forever, they have ruined their once glorious and infallible reputation on a not-completely-incredibly-brilliant film that everybody hates and nobody wants to see again.  Oh, the horror!  Oh, the humanity!

Meanwhile, Far From The Madding Crowd breaks into the Top 10 and nobody’s whipping up their vitriol for that.  I fucking hate Film Internet.


pitch perfect two

What a lovely day for this aca-mazing Full List.

Box Office Results: Friday 15th May 2015 – Sunday 17th May 2015

1] Pitch Perfect 2

$70,300,000 / NEW

I stand by most all of my review.  See, heading back in this past weekend, I was rather nervous, because my good friend Jackson hated the living daylights out of this film for perfectly legitimate reasons – his great review is over here – and he and I are so well-tuned and agree so often with one another that whenever we do end up having differing opinions I end up getting very worried and self-conscious, especially since he’s really good at reading films (better than I am, at any rate).  Did I get it wrong?  How did I miss such glaringly obvious minority-marginalising?  Do I not check my privilege enough despite spending almost every goddamn day fretting over everything I do or say?  Does really liking something problematic make me a terrible person?

Then I saw the film again, had a lot of fun whilst acknowledging certain flaws, and left feeling confident in my opinion, albeit slightly cooler on it than I was the first time.  One of these days I’ll learn not to be so self-conscious, it’s bad form in this critic game.

2] Mad Max: Fury Road

$44,440,000 / NEW

At approximately 5:18PM on Saturday the 16th of May 2015, I am 80% certain that I witnessed perfection, and it was tear-inducing.  The last shot of Fury Road is the textbook definition of perfection, for me, and it so perfectly caps off a film for which there are no descriptors that could be classed as hyperbole when applied to this thing.  I couldn’t think straight for almost the rest of the day, let alone form coherent thoughts on this utter masterpiece of cinema.  It’s… it’s just beautiful.  Utter beauty.  I don’t know why we haven’t been giving George Miller $150 million live-action budgets for the last 20 years, and why we’ve been settling for anything less than this.  I really don’t.  More coherent thoughts can be found here on the site by good old Brooker.

Also, I want to be even a tenth as awesomely and passionately feminist as Imperator Furiosa when I grow up.

3] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$38,837,000 / $372,008,000

Finally going to give this a re-watch on Thursday, when I can finally get a spare few moments break from the Hell that is Essay Season 2015.  Then I’ll more than likely immediately walk back into Mad Max: Fury Road afterwards.  Then I’ll get out of Fury Road and immediately buy a ticket for the next showing, and so on and so on until that film is seared permanently into my retinas.

4] Hot Pursuit

$5,780,000 / $23,504,000

This collapsed 59% between weekends, surprising nobody since Pitch Perfect 2 arrived to remind everybody what a good female-led and female-focussed comedy should look like, and Mad Max: Fury Road arrived to inform everybody of what feminist entertainment should be like.  Therefore, this movie has no reason to exist.  Roll on July 31st when I can be incredibly disappointed myself, then, I guess.

5] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$3,600,000 / $62,939,000

I don’t care that this is only making miniscule money each week and has still only just made half worldwide of what the first one managed worldwide, WHY IS THIS UTTERLY REPREHENSIBLE PIECE OF SLOTH FAECES STILL HANGING AROUND MY CHART?! Get it out of here!  Get it out!  OUT!  GET IT THE FU…

6] Furious 7

$3,600,000 / $343,800,000

This has a higher per-screen average than Blart yet is sat behind it, for some reason.  Why?  Do we really think that the actuals are going to hurt this more than Blart?  Ugh, whatever.  Let’s instead look forward to next February’s Academy Awards where this and Mad Max will duke it out for Best Picture!  …it can totally happen, shut up.

7] The Age of Adaline

$3,200,000 / $37,072,000

I don’t know what the hyper-specific and scientific narration in this movie was all about, but what I do know is that it made me really, really want a resurrected Pushing Daisies.  Hey, Bryan Fuller!  Yeah, I hear that Hannibal is great and all, but could you maybe put it on pause to bring back Pushing Daisies?  Thanks!

8] Home

$2,700,000 / $165,647,000

This just will not die at my local Cineworld.  No, really, it’s still here after more than two full months!  I don’t care anymore about box office grosses, I’m just going to class this as a full-blown success and live in bliss for a while.

9] Ex Machina

$2,103,000 / $19,556,000

Really looking forward to revisiting this when it hits Blu-Ray on June 1st.  Film Crit Hulk’s piece on it this past week has sufficiently stoked those fires and I’m all about revisiting that ending to see if I read it wrong – I saw it as the film sacrificing its fantastic and angry gender themes in favour of returning to the surface-level and far less compelling AI themes – or whether Alex Garland really is just 90% incapable of sticking the goddamn landing.

10] Far From The Madding Crowd

$1,300,000 / $2,631,000

This goddamn movie…  If I get started on this thing, I will be here all day, so just skip to the drop-outs before I spoil a nice day with unrestrained venom.

Dropped Out: Woman In Gold, Cinderella

Callum Petch got you thinking just too much.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 08/05/15 – 10/05/15

Age of Ultron drops like that one thing from the movie that I can’t specify cos spoilers I guess, Hot Pursuit has lost ‘em, The D Train has been cancelled, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Continuing to very much embody and experience the effects of the younger sibling of the family – in that it comes along after a successful first effort that everybody loves, has unreasonably high expectations fostered upon it that it unsurprisingly doesn’t live up to, ends up vocally liked a whole lot less than its older sibling, and eventually grows up to be a miserable burnout who never received the love and compassion that could have stoked its drive to succeed and do something great with the world, YOU MONSTERSThe Avengers: Age of Ultron managed a second weekend of only $77 million for first place, $26 million less than The Avengers’ second weekend.  (*takes deep breath*) CINEMA IS DOOOOOOOOOO-

In non-superhero news, because such things do actually exist nowadays believe it or not, Hot Pursuit came out!  You know, that Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara buddy-movie?  Fronted by women, directed by a woman, aimed at women, things that are still unfortunately rare in this damn industry?  The one that looks like (and, by all accounts, is) total garbage?  Yeah, that one!  Well, it’s a dud.  Despite canny counter-programming placement and an apparently decent marketing campaign, it turns out that those toxic reviews caught up with it after all, so its second place finish came from a paltry $13 million.  Maybe everybody was saving their money for Pitch Perfect 2 next weekend instead.

(Side bar: If Pitch Perfect 2 bombs, I am going medieval on everyone’s asses.  Consider yourselves warned.)

Meanwhile, in the land of limited releases…  things were rather miserable here, too, actually.  I’m starting to believe that people actually were saving their money for Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 next weekend.  Doing the worst of the lot and opening on the most screens of the lot was The D Train which built its marketing campaign around Jack Black and a twist that anybody could figure out purely by looking at the goddamn title.  It did horrendously, only managing $469,000 from 1,003 screens for a per-screen average of $465.  That makes it the 17th worst opening weekend for a wide-release film ever and puts it below even Men, Women & Children in terms of per-screen averages.  Poor, poor Jack Black.  I was looking forward to christening his career resurrection “Back In Jack Black” but I guess everybody figured that would happen and decided to snuff out the whole concept to be safe.

Speaking of actors pushing themselves out of their comfort zone only to be slapped down violently by an uncaring public who just want the monkeys to dance for their amusement, dammit, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried acting in a moody zombie drama called Maggie this past weekend where, by all accounts, he actually acted instead of just chewing scenery!  This, however, is not the kind of sh*t the public pay to see Arnie do, dammit, and so the film could only manage $131,000 from 79 screens for a sub-$2,000 per-screen average.  Not even “pleasant” movies were saved from general public apathy as the Morgan Freeman/Diane Keaton comedy 5 Flights Up found out the hard way, only mustering up $234,000 from 87 screens for a $2,690 per-screen average.  The only success from this weekend was I Am Big Bird which managed a $10,000 per-screen average… from its singular screen.


maggie

We’ll head off this Full List at the pass, boys!

Box Office Results: Friday 8th May 2015 – Sunday 10th May 2015

1] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$77,203,000 / $312,589,000

This will pass a billion next week.  Three words my friends: Chinese opening weekend.  Mad Max doesn’t have a release date over there yet, and Tomorrowland doesn’t drop until the very end of May.  Consider this Open Season for The Avengers on the Chinese box office.  I really need to find the time to see this again in cinemas before the utter mayhem that is Summer Movie Season 2015 boots this to home media.

2] Hot Pursuit

$13,300,000 / NEW

Disappointed but not at all surprised to hear that this is garbage.  I watched that trailer, too, and it was around about the time jokes were made about how Reese Witherspoon is short (ha!) and Sofia Vergara is over-40-and-therefore-ancient (HA!) that I realised, despite all my best hopes, that this would be pure garbage.  Sigh.  Hurry along, Pitch Perfect 2.  Show the rest of cinema how to do this sh*t right.

3] The Age of Adaline

$5,600,000 / $31,529,000

Saw this this past weekend and I was so close to liking it for what it is – a film that wastes its thematically rich premise on a bog-standard love story with an infinitely better melodramatic subplot at the halfway point – but it loses points for having a lead male protagonist who only gets the girl because he keeps forcefully inserting himself into her life despite her objections, wearing her down until she finally goes on a date and realises how dreamy he is.  Serious question: how goddamn hard is it to get a romance story that’s actually friggin’ romantic, huh?!  Surprisingly great Harrison Ford performance, though.

4] Furious 7

$5,272,000 / $338,420,000

When actuals came in last weekend, this did beat Adaline after all.  Might even happen again!  Who knows?  Not I, for I am neither psychic nor particularly bothered.

5] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$5,190,000 / $58,075,000

Oh, just fuck off already.

6] Ex Machina

$3,470,000 / $15,722,000

This expanded to another 725 theatres this past weekend, putting it up to 2,004 total, hence why it’s made a fair bit more money than last weekend.  I mean, its per-screen average isn’t particularly great but, again, this is a hard sci-fi that’s expanding purely on word-of-mouth and with little advertising behind it.  I think we can agree that this is doing fine.

7] Home

$3,000,000 / $162,116,000

Up to $330 million worldwide which makes it currently the 18th highest grossing DreamWorks film worldwide.  It will pass Over The Hedge this week but Shark Tale seems more than a little out-of-reach, and it’s still made less worldwide than notorious flop Penguins of Madagascar.  No, I won’t stop worrying about DreamWorks Animation.  I feel like a parent with a kid at Secondary School – the kid is more than likely fine and capable of taking care of themselves, but I’m going to keep worrying regardless.

8] Woman In Gold

$1,652,000 / $26,978,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good retailers on July 27th.

9] Cinderella

$1,574,000 / $196,116,000

OK, I am completely out of things to say for most of this list.  Can the rest of May hurry up please so that I get some fresh material?  Not too quickly, mind, I still have 5 uni essays to do in the next 8 or so days, but, y’know, soon.

10] Unfriended

$1,412,000 / $30,943,000

Lucy was sufficiently impressed with this when she reviewed it for Screen 1 – if you missed the episode, you can listen back here – which, coupled with the generally positive responses I have heard from other people, has led me to believe that this isn’t a total waste of time.  I’ll find out for myself on DVD then, I guess. [Owen: Also, we covered this on our recent podcast and apparently have a very different opinion to Callum’s colleague]

Dropped Out: The Longest Ride

Callum Petch will do this one himself.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 01/05/15 – 03/05/15

Age of Ultron makes all of the money but not ALL of the money so cinema is officially doomed, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Heading into this weekend, Disney and Marvel Studios were probably preparing the Scrooge McDuck money bin for the inbound GDP of multiple small countries that would make up the opening weekend total of Age of Ultron.  After all, it’s not like they’ve been quiet about the fact that the film was inbound – I’m waiting for somebody to piece together the movie from the endless promo clips that Marvel released for this thing, like what happened with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – it’s The Avengers, and it’s not like there was anything else out this weekend.  Or the weekend before that.  Or the weekend before that.  What was everybody going to do, watch Furious 7 again?  They probably felt like Shane McMahon; “here comes the mon-ay!

Well, the mon-ay came, but not in the Earth-shattering quantity that we all unreasonably expected it to.  Age of Ultron opened in first, and accounted for 85% of the weekend’s domestic box office, but it didn’t beat The Avengers’ $207 million opening weekend.  In fact, it didn’t even come close, finishing with $187 million.  I mean, it’s understandable, the first Avengers was an EVENT MOVIE of epic proportions, the first time that we could see all of these guys (and girl) together on screen in the same movie.  By simple fact of it happening again, Age of Ultron is only an Event Movie, and no amount of excess marketing saturation can change that.

Then there’s also the fact that everybody seems very much more divided on this instalment than the first one.  I mean, not so much audience-wise – it got an “A” on the shaky silly CinemaScore metric – but critically, definitely.  I mean, I’m probably going to be on the minority side of things with regards to my critic friends by liking it, and this divide will likely bleed over into the general public, too.  Plus, some sh*tty boxing thing happened this weekend or something, and there’s only one thing that captures the American public’s slovenly attention quicker than movies…  It’s sports, I’m talking about sports.  Besides, this is still, by a considerable margin, the second best opening weekend in America ever, and the film is already up to $436 million overseas with China still to go.

However, Age of Ultron did not beat The Avengers in its opening weekend and May is incredibly crowded with regards to films – basically guaranteeing that Ultron won’t match The Avengers’ total – so cinema is now doomed forever.  The superhero bubble has burst, folks!  Marvel Studios are over the hill!  Their films aren’t as good as they used to be, they can’t beat opening weekend records anymore, and they only made all of the money instead of ALL of the money!  They’re finished, the genre is finished, this whole goddamn medium is finished!  If even Marvel can’t make ALL of the money, anymore, then what hope is there for the rest of us?!  WHAT, I TELLS YA?!

Oh, yeah, and Far From The Madding Crowd opened in limited release this weekend.  $172,000 from 10 theatres.  Snooze.


age of ultron

There are no strings on this Full List.

Box Office Results: Friday 1st May 2015 – Sunday 3rd May 2015

1] The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$187,656,000 / NEW

Yes, even with a per-screen average of $44,000, Age of Ultron is still a failure!  …yeah, OK, I’m gonna stop that now.  I am serious though when I say that I don’t think Ultron is going to match The Avengers’ total, at least domestically.  The first film had nothing serious to challenge it for three weeks, and even then I don’t think we all expected Men In Black III to perform that well, but Ultron has the combined onslaught of Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 in 11 days, with Tomorrowland the week after.  Even if one of those bombs – hint: it’s going to be Tomorrowland, get the disappointment out of your system now – that’s still two films taking a chunk out of its box office.  We’ll see, I guess.  Man, this Summer is stacked!

2] The Age of Adeline

$6,250,000 / $23,424,000

Wait, this actually beat Furious 7?!  I mean, I sort of saw this coming since this has only been out for two weeks and Furious 7 has been out for over a month, but still.  Huh.

3] Furious 7

$6,114,000 / $330,539,000

Up to $1.4 billion worldwide, now the 4th highest grossing film worldwide of all-time, has successfully made $1 billion purely from foreign markets, and is closing fast on The Avengers’ $1.5 billion.  It might actually get there, but this going to go right down to the wire.  I still can’t get over the fact that all of this originally came from a silly mid-budget Point Break riff from 2001.

4] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$5,500,000 / $51,186,000

So, last Thursday, I was given the opportunity by my university to go down to London, attend a press-only screening of Pitch Perfect 2, and have a 20 minute roundtable interview with the film’s director (and movie star in her own right), Elizabeth Banks, afterwards.  I have been wanting to shout about that day and that whole experience since I found out about it that Tuesday, so finally getting to spill today has been incredibly cathartic.  At the risk of sounding unprofessional, the day was incomparable – mainly because it proved that I could do this for a living if the opportunity were presented to me – and you can read all about it and the interview here.  The full interview transcript will be posted over at The Hullfire soon enough, but there’s a Pitch Perfect 2 review for you to read in the meantime!

Yes, I am talking about something that makes me happy instead of Paul Blart.  Why wouldn’t I?

5] Home

$3,300,000 / $158,132,000

Home finally opened in China last week, where DreamWorks films have often done well recently… and only made $8 million.  It is now up to $326 million worldwide, though.  Still, MAKE MORE MONEY FASTER, DAMMIT!

6] Cinderella

$2,357,000 / $193,651,000

Wait, seriously?  This re-entered the chart?  From the no. 12 slot?  Man, this was a bad week to be a non-Avengers film.

7] Ex Machina

$2,231,000 / $10,868,000

Surprising no-one, not even art house patrons could resist the allure of Ultron, since all art house patrons must be able to butt into conversations about blockbusters and explain in great detail why they suck horribly.  In any case, Ex Machina was never going to be a film that made a giant expansion in audience moneybills, anyway, so the fact that it’s doing $10 million worth of business already is good enough, I feel.  Yay for Alex Garland!

8] Unfriended

$1,988,000 / $28,531,000

I don’t think Lucy’s seen this yet, so I’m going to withhold having an opinion until I’ve heard from her.   What?

9] The Longest Ride

$1,700,000 / $33,240,000

Should probably clarify that I don’t think Age of Ultron is perfect – god, no, it’s a mess – and that having reasonable complaints about it is fine.  I just don’t understand why people who hate a certain genre or series, know that they will hate the latest instalment, and spend all of their time prior to seeing the thing complaining about doing so, would voluntarily… (*author remembers that this is what he does on an astoundingly frequent basis*)

I’ll be quiet now.

10] Woman In Gold

$1,681,000 / $24,588,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good video shops on July 27th.

Dropped Out: Get Hard, Monkey Kingdom

Callum Petch didn’t mean to make you cry.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 24/04/15 – 26/04/15

The Age of Adeline is not upon us, Little Boy makes child-sized money… basically, filmgoers opted to not see the crap that came out this week, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

…look, nothing came out this week.  It’s the weekend before The Avengers, or it is the weekend of The Avengers if you live in the specially designated half of the world, and every movie studio worth their salt knows that you release jack in the week before and after that Galactus-sized money-hoover.  After all, what’s the point when The Avengers will just swallow up any and all potential revenue for your film near-immediately?  This does make me question why Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 are opening two weeks after instead of three to make absolutely certain that they can bank a nice amount of cash… but, then, I’m not the guy who has to deal with the utterly ridiculous Summer 2015 release schedule, so what do I know?

In fact, side note: can 2015 just end after the weekend of May 15th?  Like, just stop and move onto 2016?  I’m seeing Mad Max: Fury Road and, more importantly, Pitch Perfect 2 on the same day with the bestest and closest friend I have, who’s also staying for the weekend.  The year’s not going to get any better than that, it may as well just pack up and go home.  Anyways…

So, since nothing came out, audiences decided to take one last ride with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and the whole gang before The Avengers supplants the “surrogate family”-driven film fix that we all so desperately crave.  Furious 7 held onto the top spot for the 4th weekend in a row with $18 million in ticket sales.  Close behind it – OK, about $2.5 million behind it, but that’s still way too close for me – was the excretable Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 which somehow retained 65% of its opening weekend audience and came away with $15.5 million in ticket sales.  It’s still trailing how the first Paul Blart was doing at this time by about $20 million, but that still doesn’t guarantee that we are safe from a sequel just yet.  I mean, we already got one!  I now have to go through my life in constant fear that Kevin James might force another one of these upon me!  I don’t like living in fear, you guys!

In any case, some films did come out this week.  It’s just that, like Paul Blart, they all stank to high heaven.  Widest-releasing, and therefore the one that actually charted, was The Age of Adeline, a film so confident in its construction and qualities that it actually lists one of its two screenwriters twice on its poster.  (EDIT: my good friend Jackson Tyler has informed me that it’s a WGA thing.  Still seems weird and ridiculous, mind.)  It actually beat Furious 7 on Friday, until everybody collectively realised that they could be watching good movies instead, where upon it finished the weekend in third with about $13 million in ticket sales.  Next up was Little Boy, a film that… you know what, how about I just post the Wikipedia synopsis and see how long it takes for you to realise why this film has not exactly won over the critical press…

The story centers on a 7-year-old boy, Pepper Flynt Busbee, who uses magic powers produced by his faith to end World War II and bring his father home.

yeah.  It only managed $2.8 million from 1,045 screens for a pathetic $2,708 per-screen average.  Then we have Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner.  Despite, according to himself, being a much more talented movie director than any other movie director alive today, because he’s been in 41 movies which means he knows more about directing than someone like Ridley Scott, nobody much seemed to care about his movie.  The film managed a meh $1.25 million from 320 screens and a sub-$4,000 per-screen average.  But, hey, at least it wasn’t Child 44!  Poor, poor Child 44.  I’d feel kinda bad for both of these films if they weren’t so uninterestingly rubbish.


furious 7 2

The age of this Full List is none of your business, you rude young man!

Box Office Results: Friday 24th April 2015 – Sunday 26th April 2015

1] Furious 7

$18,259,000 / $320,536,000

This will close having out-grossed 2014’s actual Highest Grossing Film Domestically, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and what is technically its Highest Grossing Film Domestically, American Sniper.  More importantly, this week, and this is even with Age of Ultron coming in hot, it will become the 4th highest grossing film worldwide of all-time and has a good shot of closing extremely close to The Avengers’ $1.5 billion.  Once again, if I see ANY “The Box Office Is DYING!” think-pieces this year… words have not yet been invented that can convey the strength of my response.

2] Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

$15,500,000 / $43,950,000

Now, I realise that I didn’t provide an actual professional or traditional review of this film when I subjected myself to it a few weeks back.  Some of you may wish for a second review, one that actually discusses the movie and properly conveys its various qualities and failings.  Well, you are in luck, cos I’ve got one right here for you!  Are you ready?

(*hits head on desk repeatedly for about 5 minutes*)

That’s your professional review of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

3] The Age of Adeline

$13,375,000 / NEW

Age of Ultron has already banked $201 million at the countries it managed to roll out to this past weekend.  Think it has any chance of breaking $2 billion?  Think it has any chance of breaking the $200 million opening weekend the first Avengers had in America?  All of this, I feel, depends on whether everybody agrees with Owen – who really doesn’t like it and is wrong – or myself – who finds it great but doesn’t love it like he did the first one, and is right.  Time will tell soon enough, folks.  Time will tell.

4] Home

$8,300,000 / $153,784,000

Despite being a legitimate success, Home has only just now been able to double its production budget worldwide.  Goddamn, even when they have a success, DreamWorks are still constantly teetering on the verge of oblivion!  Kung Fu Panda 3 was moved to late-January, recently, and I’m still worried that that’s going to crash and burn!  Do you see what you’re doing to me, DreamWorks?  DO YOU?!  Don’t you dare go dying on me now, ya hear!

5] Unfriended

$6,244,000 / $25,158,000

So this is apparently actually good?  Well, not if you believe the public – this has plummeted 60% between weekends – but the public wouldn’t know a good horror movie if it appeared out of nowhere and inflicted some kind of blender-based violence upon them; they mostly rejected It Follows, after all.  According to critics and horror fans, this is apparently rather good.  Huh, colour me surprised.  I’ll know for certain, in any case, when I subject Lucy to it this coming Friday.

6] Ex Machina

$5,441,000 / $6,920,000

Oh, yeah, this movie!  This actually expanded nationwide after a string of strong reviews and a fantastic pair of limited release weekends, so for a hard sci-fi with next-to-no real advertising behind it and only critical and art-house buzz this is a really good performance!  Yay for Alex Garland!  I don’t love this film like everyone else – mainly because, in typical Alex Garland fashion, he drops the ball on the ending, and there are a few structural choices that undermine its strongest thematic through-line – but I’m happy to see him do well.

7] The Longest Ride

$4,365,000 / $30,398,000

This has now done better than The Best (THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST) of Me, but is still one of the lowest-grossing Nicholas Sparks adaptations ever.  Can we finally put this guy’s brand/schtick out to pasture now?  Please?

8] Get Hard

$3,905,000 / $84,066,000

Because I know that some of you are curious: “Lucy” is Lucy Meer, my co-host of Screen 1, Monday nights at 9PM BST on Hullfire Radio.  The fact that you don’t know that means that you don’t listen, and that fact hurts my feelings.

9] Monkey Kingdom

$3,551,000 / $10,258,000

Monkeys are amazing.  That is all.

10] Woman In Gold

$3,501,000 / $21,635,000

The Voices is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all good video shops on July 27th.

Dropped Out: Insurgent, Cinderella

Callum Petch can’t read about it, burns the skin from his eyes.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: The Pod In The Machine

robocop vs terminatorOpening the pod bay doors on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast and simultaneously rescuing us from the brink of disaster is our special guest, Matt Lambourne.

Matt joins regulars Owen and Steve for a one-off ‘Artificial Intelligence’ themed episode! And by that we don’t just mean Owen is pretending to be cleverer than he actually is again…

There’s still a main review which sees the team discuss Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina; the story of a potentially sentient machine called Ava who is the subject of a Turing test. In honour of which, the trio have resurrected the ‘triple bill’ segment to discuss three of the most interesting uses of A.I. in film that they could each think of. Steve had to be on top form to prevent the podcast from turning into a playground RoboCop vs Terminator debate for the next 60 minutes!

Join us again next week as things get back to normal with Callum guesting on the podcast for reviews of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Big Hero 6.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

A.I. In Film

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

I’d love to say that’s a quote from a sci-fi action film such as Dredd, or a Japanese anime such as Ghost In The Shell, or any other iconic sci-fi movie dealing with the rise of the machines for that matter. Instead, it’s a direct quote from one of the greatest minds of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking, when speaking to the BBC last year. The crazy nut.

Essentially, it’s a theory that fascinates me, so to tie in with last week’s release of Ex Machina, this week’s release Big Hero 6, the soon to be released Chappie, and the next ‘Artificial Intelligence’ special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, I’ve decided to take a look at the role A.I. has played in a few famous films.

2001_30
Image courtesy of http://blushots.weebly.com/2001-a-space-odyssey.html

Artificial Intelligence is of course something that already exists in some forms in the real world; whether you’re referring to a Tamagotchi toy or even a digital Mario that can learn to beat its own game without assistance.That said, a sentient form of life created from wires and silicon is still something very much reduced to the realms of science fiction. Although the dictionary definition is somewhat oblique, what we generally mean when we refer to A.I. is the full, true, conscious self-awareness of being in an unnatural device manufactured by a person. A type of intelligence that we possess as humans, that we arrogantly claim does not (or cannot) exist in the same way in any other creature or mechanical computer. An automaton that is rather than simply does.

It is of course frequently used as the motivation of a terrifying baddie in a film, such as the killer androids on the loose in Westworld. But that’s not really an artificial intelligence. It’s more like a malfunctioning pre-programmed robot executing a series of commands. You know, if you want to get all nerdy.

Similarly, whilst there are some grey areas, such as in Paul Verhoeven’s sophisticated and ultra-violent film RoboCop, where you’re asked to consider if it’s a man inside a robotic body or robot with a man inside of it, A.I. doesn’t really refer to cyborgs either. They obviously cross-wires, so to speak, but a human brain inside of a tin can is still a biological entity. More than what we might consider A.I., which is a completely manufactured form of intelligence.

Of course, the very notion of a sentient mechanoid is enough to give even the most sensible minded person the heebie-jeebies. With that in mind, allow me to pick out five different – although equally terrifying – uses of artificial intelligence in film (albeit admittedly slightly predictable choices!)


terminator 2Skynet and the Terminators (first appearance: The Terminator, 1984)

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we. If the mere concept of an intelligent military computer causing a nuclear war based on its own logic isn’t something that sends shivers down your spine, then maybe the idea of being chased by an unstoppable shotgun-wielding motorbike-riding nightclub-crashing robot is. No? How about a relentless melty-man who can turn his hands into sword-like objects and stab you through the throat? Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. There are many incarnations of A.I. throughout the Terminator film series, but perhaps none are as chilling as that initial idea of a single sentient machine deciding to wipe out the human race and cause a full scale world war. The clever twist in the sequel, T2: Judgement Day, is that the A.I. is both the hero and the villain of the story, of course. But the lasting legacy of the series that James Cameron started over 30 years ago now is that spine-tingling chill of the first military owned A.I., Skynet, that will inevitably lead to the destruction and genocide of the entire human race.


HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

You and your fellow astronaut buddy are on a exploration mission through space, the rest of your colleagues safely frozen in their cryogenic pods. Everything is all hunky dory. Well, right up until the supposedly unerring on-board computer has the awareness to make a decision that you and your crew are expendable. halLogically speaking. That is exactly what the A.I., HAL, does in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science fiction 2001: A Space Odyssey. It doesn’t necessarily make HAL a villain in the sense that he’s wrong or evil, he’s simply decided of his own accord that ridding himself of the crew will make his mission more efficient and thus heightens the viewers insecurities. Just how necessary are we, really? Maybe that is why HAL is so scary. Not because of his unemotional, sterile voice, as he ruthlessly decides to do away with his crew, but because for the most part he’s an abstract tool; just a solid red light in a metal cube that makes us feel inferior solely by existing in the first place. He’s influenced virtually every version of A.I. in film since, from Ash in Alien to Auto in Wall-E.


TRANSCENDENCEDr Will Caster (Transcendence, 2013)

It’s fair to say that both Callum and I had a difference of opinion over last year’s summer sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence. While the quality of the film overall is not a debate I intend to bring up again any time in the near future, the idea that Johnny Depp’s character, Will Caster, could have his mind transported to that of a quantum computer is an intriguing idea. Is the piece of hardware simply simulating what the mind of its creator would do in a very pre-determined and programmed way; is it actually the mind or soul of a human controlling the machine; or is the computer acting completely of its own volition? Do these even count as artificial intelligence is also a debate I don’t want to get into. What makes it worthy of inclusion on this list is the suggestion that after your physical body dies, you could have your mind imported into a computer. It’s the whole “brain in a jar” scenario that’s been used so many times before, although without a physical biological brain. The film does have an inevitable consequence as it drifts towards being about love rather than anything particularly meaningful, but there’s still a neat little idea tucked away in there somewhere!


Roy Batty (Blade Runner, 1982)

Of course a list of sci-fi films about the use of artificial intelligence wouldn’t be worth its salt without the inclusion of this Ridley Scott classic, adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’. Whilst theroy batty role of Deckard, the bounty hunter played by Harrison Ford, is probably more synonymous with the movie, it’s the tragic story of the blonde android suffering from an existential crisis played by the charismatic Rutger Hauer that is arguably the most accomplished and well rounded aspect of the story. It begs the question, just because we can create an A.I., should we? Is it fair? It goes right back to science fiction 101 in that man wasn’t meant to play God, dabbling in sciences that we don’t truly understand. Not from a technical point of view; clearly within the context of the film, people understand how to create artificial intelligence, but perhaps not so much the consequences of gifting life and then taking it away. Perhaps the ease at which we’re ready to hit the ‘off’ switch is in turn something we should fear more than pressing the ‘on’ button in the first place.


aiDavid (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001)

All right, I’m aware that perhaps even more obvious than any of the other inclusions, a film literally called Artificial Intelligence worming its way onto my list is not particularly imaginative. Especially when I haven’t even mentioned characters like Robby The Robot, C-3PO, Fassbender in Prometheus or poor ol’ Johnny 5. Nevertheless, I had to include the little boy who will never grow up, abandoned by those who created him to replace their ill son and forced to spend the rest of his time with the creepiest looking sexbot ever and his bizarre teddy bear. It’s quite a sad film, with the whole idea of replacing someone you’ve lost (or are losing) with a Pinocchio-esque robot being a rather moving subject. David narrowly escaping destruction with all the naivety of a real human boy; the apparent genuine feelings of loss and abandonment that David experiences; as well the final 20 minutes of the film, it will make you completely empathetic towards what is essentially nuts and bolts. It’s a marvellous juxtaposition between life and non-existence. The ending to the Christmas special episode of the TV series Black Mirror, called ‘White Christmas‘, drew similar feelings of anxiety about existing forever as an artificial life-form. It’s not a faultless film, of course, but deals with the complexity of A.I. better than most other films ever have.


And that’s it! Look out for the podcast due out this week where I chat to both Steve and special guest Matt Lambourne on the same topic, as well as reviewing Ex Machina in full. Until then, cheerio.

Ex Machina

Never mind what I think of this well plotted, intelligent and entertaining sci-fi drama; how does Ex Machina make you feel?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

ex machinaDeus ex machina, literally “God from the machine”, is presumably a phrase you’ve come across at some point in your life. I was first made aware of its proper meaning by a friend of mine a long time ago when talking about some comic book or other. He explained it as like when a God steps in at the last minute at the end of a Greek tragedy to save the hero (such as Athena stepping in at the end of the Odyssey). It’s probably why the phrase is sometimes also referred to as “the hand of God”. Traditionally introducing a device – divine or otherwise – when the characters are backed into a corner to produce a happy ending.

Think of those bloody eagles in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. All seems lost, the characters have no tricks left up their sleeve, doom is imminent. Suddenly, *poof*, just like that they’re rescued by some massive birds out of nowhere and all is well again… save for the fact they’re now stranded on the top of a rather tall mountain, but that’s besides the point.

Quite how the film’s title Ex Machina relates to the plot of Alex Garland’s directorial debut is fairly self explanatory. Suffice to say, ‘God from the machine’ is more appropriate than (the erroneous) ‘hand of God’. Garland is already familiar to most cinephiles as a novelist and the screenwriter behind some of Danny Boyle’s best work; including 28 Days Later, Sunshine and the original novel for The Beach. Not only that, he’s recently found more cult success by being the mighty pen behind Judge Dredd and his deadly lawgiver in 2012’s action thriller Dredd. Given that his name is also attached to an upcoming Halo film, you would be forgiven for perhaps expecting this sci-fi about potentially the most advanced form of Artificial Intelligence to also be rather loud, colourful and explosive.

Forgiven, because you would be wrong. Just like the script for the similarly ominously low-key and unsettling sci-fi that Garland also adapted, Never Let Me Go, the role of Ex Machina appears to be less about dazzling you with special effects (as amazingly well realised as they are with the mechanical Ava gliding across the screen, full internal cogs whirring inside of her transparent abdomen) and more about making you think. Or, I suppose, as fitting as it is, making you feel. Putting logic to one-side and using your imagination and full range of emotions to be affected rather than to analyse. To really be a human and not a machine.

Which leads me on nicely to the plot! It revolves around the talented Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson’s character ‘Caleb’, an American programmer working for a company that owns and develops the world’s leading internet search engine. We are first introduced to Caleb as he’s sat at his desk, white headphones protruding from his ears with stilted sound emanating as he checks his email inbox to find he has won a competition. His prize is to spend a week with the company’s CEO, Nathan, at his wilderness retreat. What transpires is that Nathan (played by the often underrated yet exceptionally talented Oscar Isaac), despite being a heavy drinker, believes he has created a genuine Artificial Intelligence called Ava; and Caleb is to be the lucky recipient who gets to perform the Turing test on it to determine if it (or ‘she’) is sentient or not.

Throughout the course of the film, Garland attempts to navigate a few of the more theoretical issues and complexities of AI by having Nathan drag Caleb away from his very analytical approach to the Turing test. He’d rather Caleb simply express how he feels when communicating with Ava, which is a perfectly acceptable way to prevent the film being bogged down in philosophies and jargon. It can be a little grating when films make characters speak out loud their emotions; if an actor and a script is good enough, you shouldn’t have to have someone explicitly state that they feel anything, you should just be able to see it and know. However, such is the type of film Ex Machina is that it really does work to quickly and succinctly help you understand the nature of the relationship developing between its three primary characters.

Speaking of whom, Ava’s plight is wholly sympathetic whilst being shrouded in a menacing aura. Trapped for her entire existence in a small glass room by Nathan, never experiencing the outside world or anything beyond the confines of her cage, she seemingly begins to form a bond with Caleb. Quite possibly due to the way she looks (rather like the stunning actress Alicia Vikander that’s playing her, funnily enough) you immediately empathise with her; you want her to be free. It’s a natural gut instinct to feel that putting someone behind bars who hasn’t done anything wrong is unjustified. In a way, it makes her the good guy. But being behind a window, separated from human contact like that, it does also add an element of danger to Ava. Before Caleb first meets her to commence the experiment, he notices a slight crack in the partition, which suggests either someone was trying to get in, or that something was trying to get out. As Ava declares that Caleb is the first human she has met other than Nathan, it sets the tone for what’s to come very fittingly. Some of the conversations that Ava and Caleb have during their sessions are both fascinating and, like other parts of the film, genuinely amusing. The film is not completely bone dry; as much as every scene gives the impression that it means something, how funny it can be takes you by surprise on occasion.

There’s also quite a few themes that Garland brings up along the relatively tight 108 minute run time. An impending robocalypse being one of them, as you might expect! The thought of the human race being wiped out by a race of super computers is not an entirely new theory, but is always terrifying to think about. Garland also brings the role of sexuality into his film, and how it’s required in a species. That it’s a need to be a sexual entity, rather than completely sexless, in order to force an organism (for want of a better word) to grow and to evolve. If you’re not already wondering why Ava is designed to look female at the point in the movie when Nathan explains his decision, then it’s a good point for the audience to re-evaluate what has been seen so far. Why would Nathan, a man, attempt to create self-aware intelligence and choose to make it look, act and behave like a female? What is his purpose? There’s a lot of questions raised if you look for them beyond basically “why is character [a] doing [this]”.

Another topic that is called into question is that of information gathering. Putting your life into a search engine term that creates something as a whole to define who you really are is quite a scary concept. The idea that Nathan’s company would scan everybody’s phones, their cameras, their profiles and search history (illegally, mind you) in order to make his robot learn to look and act more human is deeply disturbing. You also don’t have to be a genius to work out that it is in no small part a social commentary on what we are already doing in the real world. Or even what certain companies who own internet search engines could well be doing with that information right now. You have no idea – and more worryingly, no control.

It’s also a bizarre coincidence that Domhnall Gleeson was in the Black Mirror episode ‘Be Right Back’ where he played a lifelike synthetic representation of his character after an artificial personality profile was compiled using data from his online presence. Both this episode and Ex Machina attempt to make you aware of the digital footprint you are leaving every single day and how costly that may be.

There’s a quote from Ex Machina which has appeared in the theatrical trailer, where you hear Ava say to Nathan:

Is it strange to have made something that hates you?

There are many ways to interpret this line. At first, you could easily interpret this as Ava, a machine with a true consciousness, simply detesting her manufacturer for locking her away, depriving her of both the world outside and the man she has apparently grown to act like she loves. Of course whether this love is something programmed into her, something she has developed naturally, something unquantifiable, or whether it’s not really love at all, is not really the point being made in this particular line of dialogue.

Another way to look at it is as a genuine question about whether it is normal for a creation to hate its creator? Again, drawing on themes not explicitly discussed such as religion perhaps and even looking at the role of father/daughter relationships. A rebellious teenage girl doing whatever the opposite of her dad wants, or man’s spurning of a God who supposedly loves them, or rather more sinister is the idea that a machine is looking down on an inferior species with a cold and calculating disdain. There are many ways to look at it and the beauty of the film is that it never closes off these avenues for you. It’s open, it’s out there, and it’s for you to decide what you think.

As the plot goes on, things get a bit weirder without ever straying too far from its slightly predictable basis. The manner in which the final act will occur is not completely hidden from the viewer early on – and it does feel slightly rushed to get to the main point. But it is yet another clever example of the difference between man and machine. It’s why success in a species cannot be defined by who will live the longest, or whose population will be densest, or even who is the most intelligent. The smartest man in the room is not always right. However, as a proposal of some interesting ideas, acted out well by its cast with a completely engrossing plot and some sharp writing, it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half watching the birth of an artificial intelligence that does not require your clothes, your boots or your motorcycle.

Ex Machina is in UK cinemas right now and will be the main review on this week’s special ‘Artificial Intelligence’ themed Failed Critics Podcast.