Tag Archives: fantasy

Failed Critics Podcast: Mr Peregrine’s Podcast for Peculiar People

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Wahey look how quirky and gothic we are as hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes stumble around for far longer than they should on this week’s podcast discussing Tim Burton’s latest zany fantasy film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Ooooh we’re so weird. Steve’s got a face full of wasps and Owen constantly props himself up with sticks else he sinks into the ground. It’s fine though because of the randomness and wacky way we present ourselves so you’ll have to love it.

Oh, by the way, I was being sarcastic.

In less annoying Burton-esque tropes, the pair struggle to get a handle on why Disney are bothering to remake The Lion King and end the show rather unusually by trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the BBC’s sitcoms lately.

In What We’ve Been Watching, Steve also finally gets to see Don’t Breathe after its glowing review on the podcast a few weeks back, whilst Owen revisits the remake of one of his favourite ever movies in 2008’s Day of the Dead.

Join us again next week for a slightly more on track podcast (presumably).

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Ghostbusters

“Welcome to the good old days of New York.”

I’ve just walked out of my local cinema in one piece. I survived the latest trip to my local Cineworld thinking that this might be my final act. For the last few months we’ve been bombarded with basement dwelling imbeciles trying to convince us that the remake/reboot/reimagining of bonafide 80’s classic Ghostbusters was going to ruin our childhoods, destroy the ozone, melt the polar ice caps and bring about the apocalypse with its evil plan to replace all the ghostbusters with ladies. With lady parts. Who have the audacity to have boobs, and lady periods, and god knows what else. Leg wax perhaps?

This isn’t to say I went in hopeful. It is a remake after all, and if there’s something I really crave with my cinema going, it’s something original. But… Well, you gotta try everything haven’t you?

Years after going their own separate ways, paranormal investigators Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) find themselves working together again. Joined by nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), the team soon find themselves digging around haunted houses and God-knows-what as reports of ghost sightings around the city of New York need looking into. When subway worker and local historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) gets the shock of her life coming face to face with a ghost in the tunnels under the city, she quickly joins the girl ghoul hunters and the four become the Ghostbusters.

Wouldn’t you just know it? Turns out that the increased ghost sightings have been done on purpose. Someone is out to release generations of angry, trapped spirits, and with them begin an apocalypse. With the world against them, the team must spring into action and stop the maleficent ghosts and the end of the world.

Let’s get this out of the way early. It’s ok to be a bit hesitant about this film. A 50/50 reboot/remake of Ghostbusters was never going to garner much in the way of good vibes. It’s not ok, however, to act like an entitled, selfish, sexist asshat about it. Watch it, don’t watch it, I don’t care. Just don’t be a dick about it.

Now that’s out of the way, a little positivity.

Ghostbusters is great. It’s more than great, I loved every second spent watching it and I can’t wait to go watch it again. That’s not to say it’s perfect, of course it’s not. But it’s absolutely worth your time, in my humble opinion.

Paul Feig, the guy behind films like The Heat and Bridesmaids has modernised this classic and given new life to it; in turn bringing a few of the best comedic actors – of any gender – into the limelight and letting them have a bit of fun with the characters they are playing.

The originals had a real sense of fun and adventure in them. Their tone was never serious and still gets laughs out of me to this day. This lovely little reimagining of their story keeps all of those feelings there for you. You never feel like you’re not having a ton of fun, and it even manages to whip up a surprise or two along the way; for both us and for the New York natives hunting beasties.

The beauty of this film lies in the chemistry of its stars. In absolutely no time at all, the leading ladies have gelled together not only as a fresh-faced ghostbusting team, but as an awesome little comedy troupe. With a steady stream of one-liners and physical gags that hit the mark almost every time, it’s evident in every scene that our new ghostbusters are having a great time in front of the camera.

Maybe my favourite part though, is how no one thought it necessary to have analogue representations of the previous team. There’s no lady Peter Venkman, there’s no female Egon. All of the previous characters’ traits are represented (more or less) but there’s no one person filling each role; and considering how easy it would have been to have a selection of carbon copies, that’s possibly the bit that impresses me the most.

In fact, Jones’ Patty Tolan is the closest to a direct comparison there is, being the non-scientist of the group and more or less tripping into the job; she’s almost the mirror image of Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zedmore. But even then, as the historian of the group, she definitely shows more purpose than the classic character in it for “the steady paycheck”. Also getting the gender reversal treatment is the Ghostbusters’ receptionist; out is Annie Potts’ feisty Janine and in is the gorgeous but dumbass Kevin Beckman, with Chris Hemsworth having a whale of a time in the role.

And I tell you, considering how much of a fan of her I am, I was surprised to see the awesome Melissa McCarthy upstaged and out-laughed at almost every step by the little known – at least here in the UK – Kate McKinnon. Her Holtzmann is laugh-a-minute brilliance that will get her an army of insta-fans with her role here. Me included.

If we can step away from the controversial stars for a few minutes though, I’d love to chat a bit about the film.

I would comfortably say that Ghostbusters is probably the most well put together and well-paced comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. Feig’s films – as I’ve said plenty of times before – have been pretty hit and miss for me and his pacing is definitely one of his biggest problems. He doesn’t always know what to keep and what to cut; something very obvious with this film. With four Saturday Night Live improvisation specialists in your bill, there’s going to be times when you have to cut something you love to help the pacing.

Luckily, this time around, the comedy hits the right notes so frequently that you don’t feel the film sagging and you can happily enjoy your two hours without so much as a boring scene or a bit of dead air. In a twist from the usual “all the best bits are in the ads”, somehow, we got all the worst bits in the marketing leading up to the film’s release. The flat jokes aren’t any better in the film, the jokes that fall on their face in the trailers still fall on their face in the film, but they’re 90 seconds of gags in a two-hour movie. If ever there was a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a film on its trailers, Ghostbusters is it.

Of course, you can’t have a ghost film without a few ghosts, and here’s where I had a bit of a tough time. The ghosts look great, they really do. They’re beautifully detailed and once you’ve gotten used to them, they’re a great addition to the film. Unfortunately, and I am very aware this is just how I saw it, they reminded me far too much of the awful spooks in the even worse The Haunted Mansion; not a good film to be bringing into the minds of your audience when you’re trying to get them to enjoy your flick!

But, they do fit into the film nicely. Their aesthetic is eventually important to the film and you know what? If I have to reach for the style of ghosts you chose for your film in order to drag out a negative, you ain’t doing that bad a job.

Is Ghostbusters perfect? No, of course it’s not. It’s a sci-fi action comedy about ghost hunting in New York. But it’s a barrel of fun. There’s never a dull moment, even in the early half hour while the film finds its footing and you’re not sure if this is going to work. But with enough cameos to embarrass your average Kevin Smith production and a solid job done by everyone on both sides of the camera, in Ghostbusters we have the year’s first proper summer blockbuster. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Warcraft: The Beginning

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“A new warrior for the horde.”

May 2006, nerds across the world jizz in their pants as they hear that Blizzard have finally decided to sell the rights to undoubtedly their most profitable product, Warcraft.

Years and years of development hell and being on the brink of cancellation has haunted film and game fans to the point we’d all given up on ever seeing it hit the light of day.

Then, in 2013, cult director Duncan Jones (the man behind Moon and Source Code) announced he’d be taking on directorial duties and even I got a little bit excited for the seemingly imminent release of the fan favourite adaptation.

May 2016, I’m finally sitting in one of the UK’s earliest general release shows for the third video game adaptation is half as many months with those same fans, wearing the same spunk encrusted pants from ten years ago, having barely mustered up the will to turn their computers off and the energy to leave the house. I’m sat with these sad fools, hoping that the film I’m about to watch isn’t a massive bag of wank.

Disclaimer: I am a former Warcraft player. I gave up right around the point that Blizzard stopped supporting Warcraft III and instead focussed on their subscription based RPG. So while I may have once had some knowledge of the lore of this series, I have gone in as a film-fan – and not a fan of the series.

With their world dying and their race on the brink of extinction, the fearsome Orcs utilise the powerful magic of their sorcerer leader, Gul’dan, to open a portal to another world. Powered by dark magic that needs life to fuel it, the portal can only be opened long enough to allow the Orc’s best warriors through to the peaceful land of Azeroth. There, they will build a settlement and create another portal to bring the rest of their race through. As the Orc army start to cut a path through the lands they’ve invaded and collect prisoners to power their new portal, word gets to the leaders of Azeroth of the invasion.

With news of the invasion comes panic. As the rulers and commanders of the land mobilise against this unknown enemy, King Wrynn (along with his friend and advisor Lothar) plan to tackle the Orcs head on and try to purge them from their world before too much damage can be done.

Plans go sideways on both sides of the battle and as the plans of all parties are revealed, both the humans and Orc clan chief Durotan – along with a few of his smarter clansmen – realise that the best (and indeed only) way that this war ends well for anyone is to work together to try and find a solution to their troubles.

Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin….

Warcraft isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be going in. That’s not to say it’s good; it’s pretty crap. But it has a few almost redeeming features that almost make it worth going to see. But unfortunately the bad points certainly heavily outweigh the good.

The film seems completely unfocused in its attempts to tell a story. The problem with having more than half a dozen “main” characters, all with their own story to tell and fighting for screen time means that no one really gets to have a decent crack at making me care about them. There’s no time to get invested in anyone’s predicament and no time to get to know anyone before your smash-cut to the next guy that wants to try for your attention.

And when you’ve got such a rich lore and such a well put together world as your source material, to not give it a chance to be on the big screen for us all to see is a real shame. Warcraft spends far too many of its opening minutes flicking between a whole butt-load of different locations, seemingly just to give the filmmakers an excuse to flash a bunch of in-game place names to prove that the guys making the film know what they’re talking about. “Please guys. Believe us. We have read a Warcraft wiki and the back of the game box. We can prove it.”

Almost as much of a travesty is just how much talent is wasted by this film. I’ve been a fan of Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel for a long time; but as Lothar he just seems like a cheap version of the Ragnar character that I love so much. And even when the big, significant character arc pieces happen, I simply don’t care because I haven’t been given the appropriate amount of time with characters to care. The same can be said for Dominic Cooper’s King, a man that somehow looks like a teenager dressing up like a Shadow of Mordor character for Comic-Con and has about the same amount of range.

Yes, I’m bringing up Lord of the Rings. Tell me this wasn’t greenlit after LOTR was a success, I dare you.

With Toby Kebbell unrecognisable on voice duty for Durotan; Ben Foster as super-duper human wizard/guardian Medivh; and Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu bringing up the rear as barely recognisable, wasted voice casting, Warcraft has a shit load to answer for.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, some of it is rather good. Front and centre of this piece is of course the CGI and how it’s used. Durotan and his Orcs look absolutely amazing, the attention to detail in the character design is flawless and everyone looks like an individual. Closely tied to that are the couple of immense battle scenes that look superb. Filmed from an awesome angle that makes it look like any of the massive in-game battles players could have seen in the decades of playing Warcraft and taking control of game after game after game.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that it’s like that bit in the Doom movie where the camera went first-person. But not utter shit.

Finally, and I am very aware that I’m harping on about the CGI, but it’s definitely worth talking about, is the couple of one-on-one fights in the film. Whether Orc vs. Orc, or Orc vs. Human, the fighting looks great. I won’t go far as to say that you forget that you’re looking at a computer generated monster, but it certainly looks good enough to immerse you in the moment, and that’s all that really matters.

Duncan Jones shows some real flashes of genius with Warcraft: The Beginning. But sadly it’s just not enough to quite break the curse of bad game-to-film adaptations. I’m very aware that this is likely to be one of those “for the fans” kind of films, and considering the veritable smorgasbord of complete fuckwits in the screening with me last night, I’m glad I’m not one of those fans – seriously.

I would love to review the collection of wet, lumpy farts I was sharing the screening with. I could get an essay out of tearing them apart! But when your film costs this much, you need to put more effort into not alienating general filmgoers and not just delivering fan service to those hordes of people that refuse to leave their damn computer desks.

Like I said before, Warcraft isn’t as bad as it could have been. Some poor character choices, worse story-telling decisions, and the part where it blatantly tees up a sequel (with an opening shot it refused to revisit and an ending that isn’t anything close to an ending) left me with a shitty taste in my mouth.

And the worst of this film’s crimes? Crimes against the film and against its legacy?

You want to guess?

It tries so hard not to be Lord of the Rings that it completely forgot to be Warcraft.

Victor Frankenstein

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“People only remember the monster. Never the man”

Did you know that Igor isn’t part of Frankenstein’s story? Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t. Introduced back in the ’30s, the Igor we know started life as a character in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. He wasn’t a lab assistant (good old Frank never had an assistant!) he was a semi-crippled blacksmith – I think. It’s been a while – who brought the monster back to life. Bastardised in the annals of Hollywood history, Igor now is as main a character in Frankenstein’s story as his monster and nowhere is that more apparent than in Victor Frankenstein, the latest retelling of this classic story for an ever more dulled down audience.

Told from the point of view of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), and going so far as to give the hunchback a backstory as a circus freak, he is rescued from a life of cruel beatings by a charismatic stranger who sees potential in the young man playing doctor when he’s not taking a whooping. That stranger is none other than Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and boy does he have a job for our young hunchback. Draining out Igor’s hump (an abscess apparently), straps him into a primitive lifting belt to straighten him up and such, a man is born. Now we have the hunchback and the mad scientist, we just need the monster. Here, friends, is where the fun begins.

Good ol’ Vic Frank spends his days toiling away in his basement, sewing together bits of animals together that Igor has, for want of a better word, fixed. Having taken the dead bits from inside and outside a host of different species, Frankenstein sets about creating life from death and proving that it doesn’t take God to create a man. All the while trying to avoid the prying of London’s police force who are on the hunt for the man acquiring body parts by nefarious means. Hiding from a near obsessive Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), Frankenstein’s quest for life turns into a bit of a cat-and-mouse game for his freedom and his experiments.

It took less than ten minutes for Victor Frankenstein to show its influences and aspirations and believe it or not, the damn film is trying exceptionally hard to be Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes. Now, I’m quite a fan of Robert Downey Jr’s detective, but even I know they’re not particularly good films and any film trying to draw inspiration from others should be aiming a damn sight higher than some junk-food-for-the-brain silliness that craps all over its source material. Even the daft, over-stylised fighting has been transplanted into this shoddy mess of a film. To say the writers worked hard would be giving too much credit, but you can tell what they wanted was to mimic the buddy cop style relationship between Holmes and Watson with Igor and Victor but the relationship, not for a lack of trying on the parts of our stars, just falls flat and lifeless.

Direction falls somewhere between the gothic by numbers of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the modern gothic of Underworld. Having almost no imagination, it’s a struggle to find a single original idea and where it references something from its source material, instead of treating it with even a hint of respect, it shits all over it. Vic’s creature was always simply his “monster”, or his “creature” and in the book, it simply doesn’t have a name. So when Dr. Frank names the monster “Prometheus” it doesn’t only crap all over Mary Shelley’s story, but it takes a hot early morning piss all over the actual Prometheus – the Greek god that breathed life into man at the behest of Zeus – while little bits like that won’t bother many, those kind of things really grind on my nerves and it was just another reason for me to never, ever recommend this film to anyone.

A few interesting effects, Victor’s first creation is a particular high point; gross, spectacular and just a little twisted and a couple of sometimes unintentionally funny lines aren’t enough to make this film worth your time. Almost everything about it is bland, and I can’t abide that. The leads are completely wasted in this movie that commits the worst of sins; it’s completely forgettable! I walked out of the screening having huffed an almighty “meh”, and by the time I got home, I was struggling to remember anything about it. I could forgive a film being crap, I can’t forgive a film being so vanilla that I struggle to think of a memorable moment in the whole thing.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Not quite the triumphant fanfare that the epic fantasy adventure series deserved to bow out on, but still an impressive conclusion to an entertaining series.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

hobbitDuring the week, you may have read an article that I published on here expressing my excitement at the release of Peter Jackson’s final jaunt through Middle Earth. After I recently watched all three of the extended edition DVD’s of The Lord of the Rings and rewatched the two Hobbit films, the most unexpected thing happened. I found out that despite previously believing these fantasy adventure films to be little more than Hobbity-tosh, they were actually rather marvellous. Full of character, personality and thrills, I could not wait to complete the set by taking myself off to the cinema and spending 144 minutes with Bilbo & Friends one final time.

In fact, I’ve actually been holding out voting on our end of year awards just yet in case The Battle of the Five Armies made my top 10, as both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug had done in 2012 and 2013 respectively. (Yes, that is a plug for our Failed Critics Awards 2014! Finish reading this and then scroll back up the page and click this link to vote for your choices!)

So, where does this third and final Hobbit film begin? It picks up directly from where the previous film left off without pausing for breath or to stroke its long and lusciously thick beard. As we saw in the closing scenes of the second movie in the series, Smaug the dragon has taken flight and is on his way to burn Lake-town to cinders to inflict revenge on the company of dwarves out to steal back their home. Perhaps an even bigger threat to our heroes is the impending arrival of an army of orcs marching towards the Lonely Mountain ready for all out war.

Maybe I made a rod for my own back by over hyping the film to myself beforehand, but I genuinely was looking forward to this. However, as disappointing as it is for me to say, it was something of a let down. Whereas the previous two movies feel like lots of mini-adventures all taking place within one movie, the final part is.. well.. it’s just the third act to the second film. From the arrival of the dwarves at Bag End and Bilbo’s confrontation with Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, to the barrel riding escape plan and awakening of the dragon in The Desolation of Smaug, there’s always one more perilous quest awaiting Gandalf’s party of homeless dwarves and burglars. In that regard, this is lacking somewhat, which is no surprise when you consider the original plan was for JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit to be adapted into two movies rather than three. The main issue is that isn’t very well concealed. This may be the shortest movie of all six films, but that’s because it’s essentially just one long battle sequence with a bit of story at the beginning and a bit more at the end.

Don’t get me wrong, the battle is well shot. There’s the epic scale that is to be expected and director Peter Jackson doesn’t deny the viewer some absolutely fantastic and imaginative set pieces. It’s not like Jackson doesn’t have experience in how to shoot them by now. However, it just wasn’t satisfying like The Return of the King was. Calling it a battle sounds quite grand but it was more of a brawl with thousands of unidentifiable generic soldiers.

My biggest gripe lies with the lack of humour. It’s not completely without comedy; indeed, I chuckled and sniggered during some amusing scenes. However,  the dwarves simply weren’t fun characters to be around any more. A (100% CGI) Billy Connolly pops up to deliver one or two funny lines, but generally they are more concerned with the darkness enveloping their rightful king, Thorin Oakenshield, played brilliantly by Richard Armitage. In fact, the performances across the board were of a high standard again. Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Lee Pace and of course Sir Ian McKellen were all positive aspects, as was Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. The only problem with Martin Freeman is that he really should’ve had more screen time. All of the best lines and most interesting plot lines come from the little hobbit. Unless of course you count Legolas declaring that “these bats are bred for one purpose; for war” to be the best line in a so-bad-it’s-good way.

Finally, on the subject of characters and their respective actors, I really think Luke Evans as Bard is one of the best human characters from any of the Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit films so far. An honourable character whose sentiment is not over-egged, with a performance that does not seem to be discussed as much as it should. He carries the story on his own during some of the lesser moments and does so admirably.

Overall, it’s still an occasionally exciting and impressive film, but undeniably lacklustre. The first two films made me laugh and had their own identity as fun, fantasy adventure films. Oddly The Battle of the Fives Armies only managed to make me laugh on a handful of occasions and as such, regardless of the fact the run time flies by (unlike An Unexpected Journey), unfortunately it just feels like Lord of the Rings-lite as opposed to the conclusion to an original and new Hobbit trilogy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in cinemas right now and will be featured as the main review on our next episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, a Christmas special.