“That’s it. Game over man. Game over…”
…although it’s not quite “game over” yet for Andrew Brooker who continues his challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days.
“That’s it. Game over man. Game over…”
…although it’s not quite “game over” yet for Andrew Brooker who continues his challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days.
Winking self-acknowledgment is not an acceptable substitute for actual self-improvement.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
WARNING: The following article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Ant-Man, and SPOILERS OF VARYING AMOUNTS for other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Throughout most of Ant-Man, Hope van Dyne spends her time being considerably irritated by the fact that Scott Lang is the one stepping into the Ant-Man suit instead of her. She has good reason to, though. Hope is tougher than Scott, she’s smarter than Scott, she already knows Pym Technologies inside out, and she’s close enough to Derrick to be able to be kept in the loop at all times. Essentially, there is no good reason for her not to be wearing that suit. She knows it, everyone else knows it, and the film itself knows it. Yet, she is told time and time again by her overprotective father that she can’t. Instead, Scott is the one in the suit because he’s expendable, and Hank can’t bear to think about what would happen if things went bad with Hope in that suit.
In addition to being an arc for both Hank and Hope – him learning to accept that his wife (and Hope’s mother) Janet chose to sacrifice herself and that him trying to control the women in his life, even if he does genuinely think that it’s in their best interest, is wrong; her learning not resent her Dad for his decisions in life – the stuff with Hope also works as a meta-text for Marvel’s reticence to just allow women to suit up, kick ass, and headline their own damn movie already. There’s a character that’s basically a stand-in for every single audience member who is sick of waiting for women to get their shot at the limelight, she is told by the hunky white guy that he’s there because he’s expendable if anything goes wrong, and a big part of big daddy Hank’s arc is learning that keeping women from being superheroes out of some misguided paternal instinct just breeds resentment. The first of the film’s two big mid-credits scenes involves Hank revealing a prototype Wasp costume and giving Hope permission to use it, to which she responds with the big-hell-yes line, “It’s about damn time.”
Here’s the thing. Yes, I really like Hope. Yes, I agree with what Ant-Man is saying. Yes, I appreciate that Marvel seems to understand the criticisms levelled against it. And, yes, my heart did swell with joy at the reveal of the Wasp costume. But, no, I don’t think that we should be giving Marvel credit or praise for any of this. After all, they are part of the problem. Kevin Feige has constantly shot down the idea of a Black Widow solo movie, Captain Marvel isn’t due until November 2018 (and every single one of these movies from now on is getting mentally marked-down if they don’t feature Carol Danvers in at least a 10 second post-credits sequence), and this franchise still hasn’t been making any particular strides towards bettering itself when it comes to its female characters.
Yet here’s Ant-Man, self-consciously pointing out how ridiculous this situation is and expecting a round of applause for doing so, instead of actually trying to fix the issue. It’s like an architect of glass houses pointing out all of the structural dangers and safety concerns inherent in his work, and how ridiculous it is that he’s doing this, and then expecting a ticker-tape parade and a knighthood because at least he admitted to it, right?
Look, it’s not that I don’t approve of a big movie pointing out the fact that this is a problem that needs fixing, I just don’t think that Marvel are the people who should be doing so. Black Widow is still one of only two Avengers to not have their own solo movie because… well, quite frankly, Kevin Feige can’t seem to come up with a genuine answer. If the issue is brought up, he’ll instead spout some rhetoric about how they have “gone for the powerful woman versus the damsel in distress” as if that excuses them continually side-lining these characters over their male counterparts.
In fairness, Marvel films do typically have better-written female characters than most blockbusters, in that most of them do actually contribute to the plot in ways that aren’t solely “jumping into the hero’s pants”. But they’re still not great. For one, most of these “powerful women” arrive from the same school that most “powerful women” in popular media do: the ones who kick ass and/or snark but otherwise lack much distinctive personality. Lady Sif, Gamora, Maria Hill, Sharon Carter… My affection for these characters are born less out of what I’ve gotten to know about them in their respective films and more out of my love for their actresses and hints of what could possibly be done with them in the future. Instead, they’re always the least-served characters in their respective movies, asked to do nothing more than occasionally beat people up and snark before getting out of the way of the men’s stuff.
Otherwise, despite Feige’s assertions, these women still mostly fall into the camps of “love interest” or “damsel”, and sometimes both! Jane Foster’s main role in both Thor movies is “bland love interest” whilst her contributions to helping Thor save the world are forced at best. Pepper Potts, despite spending much of the first two Iron Man movies being depicted as Tony Stark’s intellectual equal, is relegated to being just another damsel throughout Iron Man 3 with her last minute Extremis powers being an utterly laughable attempt to combat arguments like mine about the near-total destruction of her character. (There’s also the fact that Iron Man 3 itself is borderline misogynistic, but that’s a whole other article.) And despite acting as a walking meta-commentary on female marginalisation in the MCU and how this needs to change, Hope still spends the majority of Ant-Man on the sidelines and ends the movie as the girlfriend of Scott Lang, despite the only build-up being a begrudging respect for him and a flustered look at some fine Paul Rudd abs, because… that’s how these things are supposed to go, I guess.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t some really genuinely well-drawn female characters in the MCU – everybody keeps bringing up Black Widow for a reason (even if Age of Ultron dropped the ball by handing the sterilisation and Bruce Banner developments less-than-well), but Peggy Carter has also blossomed into an outstanding character, and Scarlet Witch is, in my opinion, the real star of Ultron – and I’m also not saying that strong female characters (how I hate that phrase) can’t also be love interests, pre-Iron Man 3 Pepper was absolutely one of the strongest and most well-written characters of this franchise regardless of gender. But what I am saying is that this currently isn’t good enough and that there is room for substantial improvement. And I do mean substantial; this is not something that can be fixed purely by the existence of Captain Marvel, although Feige worryingly gives off the impression that he thinks it can.
A female-led superhero movie is a good start, but it’s not a be-all-end-all. These movies need more better-written women across the board. It’s not just that Hope is better suited to the Ant-Man suit than Scott, it’s that her character is honestly not that interesting beyond her meta-text and Evangeline Lilly’s charm offensive. It’s not that Gamora is boring, it’s that her few moments of genuine personality (which call to mind Starfire from DC’s Teen Titans, natch) are just that. Moments, compared to the extensive character studies we get for Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon in the rest of Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not that Jane can’t be Thor’s girlfriend, it’s the fact that she doesn’t really have a distinctive personality beyond being his girlfriend who occasionally quips about how ridiculous this world she’s been shunted into is, and she’s outperformed at that by Darcy.
The reason why everybody keeps calling for a Black Widow solo movie is not because we just want a movie in which a female superhero is fronting things instead of a man. It’s because, through the four films that she’s appeared in so far, Black Widow is one of the most richly-drawn, well-defined, and just plain interesting characters in the MCU. And she’s a woman, which makes that prior fact a goddamn miracle. This is what everybody seems to misunderstand. DC and Warner Bros. seem to be under the impression that throwing Wonder Woman into Batman v. Superman and giving her a prominent three-second shot in the trailer is going to be enough to get them showered in bouquets of roses. And whilst it is more than nice to finally see Wonder Woman up on the big screen, it’s going to mean jack sh*t if she hasn’t got an interesting character with stuff to do and only shows up to kick arse and snark indiscriminately. Because then she’s not Wonder Woman, she’s just yet another in a long line of quote-unquote ‘strong female characters’.
That’s why the Hope stuff in Ant-Man irritates me so. Yes, it’s nice that everyone seems to recognise that this is a problem, and that they are going to put Hope in the Wasp suit at some unspecified point in the future assuming the inevitable heat-death of the universe doesn’t murder us all to death first. It’s the fact that the film still doesn’t actually do anything to fix the problem, still mostly marginalising Hope’s role in the story, still giving her a rather interchangeable personality, and still shunts her far out of the way of the important concluding parts of the story. Openly acknowledging a problem is not an acceptable substitute for actually trying to fix the problem, and the time and effort spent on this “look at us, we’re so self-aware and clever” routine is time and effort that could have been spent actually bettering the situation.
Hope’s “it’s about damn time” is meant to be a satisfying fist-pumping indicator that things may finally be turning a corner, but forgive me for holding off on the party poppers and champagne until I see actual evidence that things are getting better. And, no, just throwing Carol Danvers into a post-credits sequence alone won’t be enough.
In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.
Ushering in phase two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the third and final part in the Iron Man trilogy. With a change in director from John Favreau to the one-time highest paid screenwriter in the world, Shane Black, Iron Man 3 was the first film to deal with the fall-out from Avengers Assemble. Particularly on a personal level for the man who thwarted the invaders.
Whilst Robert Downey Jr’s contract talks were still up in the air, he returned for the fifth time in a feature film as the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist Tony Stark another spurned former colleague (Guy Pearce) and evil terrorist megalomaniac. Incredibly exciting for fans of the source material, the big-bad Hell bent on destruction this time was the Mandarin, Iron Man’s arch nemesis finally brought to the big screen, portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley.
The film itself was quite controversial for fans of the source material. A twist in the way the Mandarin was presented proved to be a step too far for some viewers; particularly for those listening to our original Iron Man 3 podcast back in 2013 who didn’t switch off before our “spoiler alert” section and hadn’t yet seen the movie. Such as Matt Lambourne – who between the trailers and clips we have in this episode will be featured in our retrospective review to finally let us know his opinion on the seventh Marvel Cinematic Universe film.
Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers
We’ve been making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who the Failed Critics podcasters, writers, and our beloved readers/listeners think was naughty, nice and downright talented in 2013. If you want some pomp and circumstance (and can handle two hours of us drunkenly announcing the winners) then you can download the Review of 2013 Podcast otherwise, strap in tight because here we go.
Top 10 Films of 2013
A complicated three-way tie for tenth place in our poll, and it’s difficult to imagine three more different films to kick off with. Abdellatif Kerchiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour not only won the Palm d’Or in 2013, but for the first time in its history the prize was shared between the director and the stars of the film (Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos). A brilliant, yet simple film about first love, identity, and well, lesbian sex. Rush was Ron Howard’s return to form after the needless Angels & Demons and the inexplicable The Dilemma. Howard works best as a chronicler of recent history (see Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon) and the story and setting of James Hunt and Nikki Lauda’s tragic and inspiring rivalry was perfect fodder for the man most famous these days for his brilliant turn as the narrator of Arrested Development. Rounding off this trio is the last film in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’. The World’s End combines Shaun of the Dead’s invasion themes and b-movie sensibility with Hot Fuzz’s exploration of small town life and authoritarian control of the populace, but at its heart is a story about friendship, growing up, and growing apart. With some brilliant fight scenes.
Possibly the sexiest film of the year, starring Failed Critics Podcast man-crush Ryan Gosling, dreamy Bradley Cooper, and the gorgeous Eva Mendes, but this film is so much more. Director Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious modern-day Greek tragedy is not only wonderful to look at (and we’re not just talking about the acting talent now), but a brilliant exercise in tone and storytelling. While the third act may have grated with many, not many films would have been brave enough to even try it in the first place.
The highest-grossing film of the year, and while Marvel Studios must realise they’ve essentially got a licence to print money it is great to see that they are still taking risks on directors with with plenty of baggage, but utterly unique takes on cinema. After resurrecting Joss Whedon’s career, Marvel handed their biggest single-character franchise to a man who had only directed one film before. Luckily that man was also the writer of some o the best action films of the 1980s and 1990s – Shane Black. Iron Man 3 suffered from a comic fan backlash over a number of decisions, but cinema audiences lapped up the self-referential humour.
Years in the making, and not to be confused with the completely non-singing version starring Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman, Tom Hooper’s film was always going to bring in the crowds. What surprised many people though was how technically brilliant the film was, taking the almost unheard of step of recording the cast’s vocals onset, which in turn allowed for far more naturalistic performances, especially from Oscar winner Anne Hathaway.The only drawback was that Russel Crowe’s singing was so lifeless you wish he’s given it 30 odd foot of grunts.
Probably the biggest surprise entry on this year’s top ten, The Way, Way Back was an American indie gem of a comedy written and direct by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Oscar-winning co-writers of Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. One of the finest ensemble casts of the year, with great performances from the likes of Steve Carrell, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, Amenda Peet, and Liam James. Most impressive of all is Sam Rockwell, as the Peter Pan-esque manager of a scruffy water park where a shy 14-year-old boy spends his summer and discovers himself. Heart-warming, and very funny stuff.
This film didn’t have the easiest ride from the critics (including one or two members of our own podcast), but its high showing in our awards just proves that there is still a huge audience out there for decent monster movies. So the script sucked and some performances were a little wooden? When giant ass robots fighting giant as alien sea creatures looks as good as this, who cares?
Another film that divided critics and audience alike, Quentin Tarantino was at his most breathtaking, hillarious, and frustrating in this epic western starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Featuring a trademark QT soundtrack and visual flourishes loving recycled from the Speghetti Westerns of the 1960s, Django Unchained was a brutal and guiltily enjoyable romp through the old west and the height of slavery. Nobody does it quite like Quentin.
The highest-placed British film of 2013, and a real rarity: a movie adaptation of a sitcom that delivered on the humour, while not sacrificing the feel of the original. Steve Coogan donned the string-back driving gloves once more to play one of the greatest comic creations since Basil Fawlty, and was in imperious form. From the opening credits featuring Partridge lip-syncing to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy to the pinpoint skewering of local radio, Alpha Paper was unashamedly British, and almost embarrassingly funny.
The common link between our illustrious top ten of the year, and a similar list published by those hacks at Sight & Sound, is that this film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón finished in second place on both. Everyone who saw it agreed that it is a stunning technical and visual acheivement, with many (including us) going so far as to state that it’s one of the few positive uses of 3D they’ve seen in the cinema. However, without Sandra Bullock’s central performance grounding the film in some kind of recognisable humanity the film would have been a flashy, but ultimately soulless experience.
Ignored by the Academy, the cinema chains, and the ‘man in the street’ (barely making back its $100m+ budget), the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker’s co-directed historical drama/conspiracy thriller/escape caper/sci-fi blockbuster/fucking bonkers post-apocalyptic nightmare is exactly the kind of film that film bloggers love to write about, and they voted for it in their droves. Adapted from David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ novel. Cloud Atlas is an incredible experience, jumping between six very different, but intertwined stories, each featuring the same cast of actors. It swings from the sublime (Ben Whishaw as an aspiring composer, Tom Hanks as a manipulative doctor, Donna Bae as a replicant service worker) to the ridiculous (Hugh Grant as an angry Korean restaurant owner, Halle Berry as a white Jewish emigre, Hugo Weaving as The Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh) at regular intervals, and is certainly not the kind of film you can watch with one eye on your Twitter timeline.
For its sheer ambition, imagination, and chutzpah, we are very proud to call this our film of the year.
The best of the rest:
13. Side Effects
15. Before Midnight
15. Wreck-it Ralph
17. Spring Breakers
18. Zero Dark Thirty
19. Captain Phillips
20. Despicable Me 2
Here are the rest of our awards, and you can hear a full discussion about these awards on the Failed Critics Podcast:
Best Performance by an Actor
1. Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips
2. Sam Rockwell for The Way, Way Back
=3. Daniel Bruhl for Rush, and James McAvoy for Filth
Best Performance by an Actress
1. Adèle Exarchopoulos
2. Sandra Bullock for Gravity
3. Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
2. The Act of Killing
3. The Great Hip-Hip Hoax
Best Film not in the English Language
1. Blue is the Warmest Colour (France)
2. The Thieves (South Korea)
3. The Act of Killing (Denmark/Indonesia)
1. Cloud Atlas
3. Les Miserables
We’ve been hearing reports that the summer blockbuster is on life-support after the last few months served up a number of badly under-performing (box office-wise) flops. We asked the Failed Critics team what they thought of this summer’s releases.
James Diamond – Editor and reluctant cynic
I really do hate to say what I’m about to say. Some of us don’t enjoy being cynical, and I am a lot more comfortable with feelings of pleasure and optimism. That said this has been the Sum-meh of Blockbusters for me.
It all started so promisingly, with Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr giving us the Iron Man film that we all hoped and prayed they would make. It was funny, gripping, and bombastic in all the right places. It set a tone that, unfortunately, the rest of the big budget summer films failed to live up to.
Man of Steel was two and a half hours of Nolan-lite cinema from Zak Snyder that bored the pants off me (worn on the outside of course, unlike this modern Superman), while Star Trek Into Darkness also disappointed with a script full of holes and crowbarred-in references to far superior films (well, mostly one far superior film). Oblivion looked wonderful, but suffered from similar problems of plotting and dialogue, while the relatively warm reception for World War Z was mainly due to fact that everyone was convinced it was going to be a disaster. Pacific Rim was an absolutely brilliant film for large sections, but utterly atrocious for others.
Fast 6, GI Joe: Retaliation, and Pain & Gain received mixed reactions, but at least offered something the summer’s other blockbusters were missing; a sense of fun and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Mixed reviews for Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium have severely dented any hopes I had for a upturn before the autumn season begins with its mix of late-season blockbusters, award-seekers, and those awkward films that no one seems to know how to market.
That’s not to say it’s been a poor summer overall though, just that other areas of the film ecosystem have stepped up to the plate. I’ve seen three great mainstream comedies this summer (This is the End, The World’s End, and Alpha Papa), which is three more than last year), and Only God Forgives and Much Ado About Nothing are also likely to find spots in my Best of 2013 list come December.
Owen Hughes – Podcaster and a lover, not a fighter
With still a few more weeks to go yet and the likes of Kick Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and one I’m particularly excited for, Elysium, still to be released, it might be a bit premature to form a judgement yet. Whilst some might say the summer has so far been disappointing, I disagree.
Kicking off the summer was Shane Black’s venture into the Marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man 3, which got us off to a good start. Big budget sci-fi actioners were obviously the order of the day as over the next few months we’ve seen everything from the stunning but shallow Tom Cruise flick Oblivion, to enjoyable films like JJ Abrams’ Lens Flare Into Darkness and Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Man of Steel was another triumph, although some critics disagree. Even The Wolverine was a fun way to spent a couple of hours.
We’ve also been spoilt with some good drama films this year. The Place Beyond The Pines is my favourite film of 2013, never mind the summer. Soderbergh signed off with his elaborate biopic of Liberace in Behind The Candelabra. The Look Of Love starring Steve Coogan was also enjoyable.
Although Coogan’s biggest success is not only the best comedy of the summer, but probably the best comedy for years, Alpha Papa. How can any summer be considered disappointing when we’re presented with this gift to mankind? Enough to induce tears of laughter, it’s ruddy excellent. Somehow it topped the years other major successful comedy in Pegg, Frost & Wright’s latest ‘The World’s End’.
The biggest ever zombie flick was released to some critical acclaim and much financial success as Brad Pitt adapted Max Brooks novel World War Z. Evil Dead and Dark Skies have also been decent but the years stand out in the genre is James Wan’s The Conjuring. A Field In England gave us something, erm, different too.
Speaking in general terms, I enjoyed the vast majority of this summer’s releases. There have been stinkers (After Earth, Monsters University) and Dwayne Johnson hasn’t quite given us all that we’d hoped for with Fast & Furious 6 and Snitch both being disappointing. Whilst we’ve not had an Avengers Assemble or Dark Knight Rises to wow us either, it’s been a more consistent summer than most.
Gerry McAuley – El Northern Podcaster
Alpha Papa delivered, as did Pacific Rim, two of the main ‘could be shit but I really hope it’s great’ films for me. Kick Ass 2, Pain & Gain, and Elysium are all yet to come (some of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year) so it may well be too early to tell. The awesomeness of Despicable Me 2 is a personal highlight, particularly as it did so well at the box office. Man of Steel and Monsters University were good without being great which was a slight disappointment but otherwise I think it’s been just that as a summer: good, but not particularly great. Given the amazing quality of 2012 though, it was always going to struggle to match such standards.
Matt Lambourne – Contributor exiled in a cultural black hole
My hopes for summer were somewhat ‘constrained’ as there was little there to wet my appetite with the exception of Pacific Rim which did an excellent job of re-igniting the Kaiju fan laying dormant for many years. So much in fact I went and watched the latest Godzilla Millennium series in tribute, but needless to say Pacific Rim takes the tried and tested formula and does it much better. It’s easily been my stand out movie of the summer.
Another highlight for me was Fast 6. Needless to say, I’ve found limited appeal in the series (Jordana Brewster provided much of that appeal) prior to Fast 6, and whilst this latest addition to the series won’t win much on technical merit, my goodness did it ever deliver on entertainment! Another film falling into that category is Hangover PT III. I’m a massive fan of the original and have a significant aversion for the 2nd, but I really found part III going back to utter silliness that made the 1st so likeable and when you watch it in a good crowd at the cinema, as with any good comedy movie, you really get a great sense of communal satisfaction.
Then comes the lowlights… Oblivion was adequate distraction if nothing else although is a very crisp and attractive looking piece, but the big downer for me was ‘The Wolverine’. I’m a huge fan of the character, from comics, to animated television and for the most part all of Jackman’s outings as Weapon X to date, but this really bombed for me. It was certainly the lamest Wolverine incarnation to date, I was furious that the Silver Samurai turns out to be a robot (of sorts) and that Logan has become far to hospitable in general. I hope that the next X-Men movie really gets him back on track, but can’t help but think that Jackman has become too big of a star to be cast as the ultra-aggressive and socially incapable anti-hero type depicted in early Marvel writing.
Mike Shawcross – On first-name terms with the ushers at Cineworld
What a fantastic time I’ve had at the cinema this summer with most of the films I’ve seen so far. I’ve seen cities brought to rubble by starships, giant robots fighting giant aliens, and of course a couple of super strong aliens slugging it out in my favourite film of the summer so far; Man of Steel. I’ve seen a car chase with a tank and an aeroplane; car’s racing around London with stunts to gasp at, all in the 6th film of the Fast and Furious franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness was superb as was Iron Man 3, while World War Z was a great zombie action flick. Pacific Rim was visually stunning but I was dismayed by the woeful script and acting, and Wolverine wasn’t the train wreck I expected.
Looking past the big hitters, and Stuck in love and Mud were both excellent. Behind the Candelabra was also very good. Now ou See Me had me guessing to the end, Populaire a film about speed typing was a joy, while Before Midnight was a fitting end to a great Trilogy. James Franco’s party to end all parties was a great laugh but Pegg’s pub crawl was a little flat. 2 Guns and Stand up Guys were great fun yet Alan Partridge made my belly ache. I had fun with The Heat, along with the antics of Mike and Sully at Monster’s University. I’ll finish on a couple of excellent horror films Byzantium and The Conjuring. There may be more to come as well with Kick-Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and Elysium left for me to see.
What do you think about this summer’s offerings? Have the good films outweighed the bad? Are we focusing too much on a few big budget films at the expense of some great films made for peanuts? Let us know…
A year older, wiser, and fatter (in some cases) and the Failed Critics Podcast is back with a bit of a redbranding and format shake-up. Worry not, it’s still the same four idiots (three this week) talking about film from our respective bedrooms via an unstable network connection.
This week we review the start of Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 2 with Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. We’ve dusted off Spoiler Alert especially for the occasion and James even finally got around to watching all the Marvel Phase 1 movies. He gives his opinions on those in What We’ve Been Watching, while Steve struggles to make head or tail out of the utterly bonkers and surreal Holy Motors.
We’re back next week, hopefully with Gerry and a discussion on Studio Ghibli.
With nearly a quarter of the year already a distant memory, James Diamond presents the notable releases and hidden gems in UK cinemas from April through to June.
Spring is turning into the new Summer in terms of the big studio blockbusters, and getting the jump on your rivals this early in the year can work out heavily in a film’s favour if it’s good enough (Avengers passed the $1 billion mark before The Dark Knight Rises even saw the inside of a multiplex last year). Marvel has opted for a repeat of that strategy with the release of Iron Man 3 on 26th April, and they’ll be hoping for similar success from Shane Black’s take on Tony Stark. Personally, I just think it’s great to see Shane Black getting the kind of backing that Joss Whedon received last year. It genuinely seems like the age of the blockbuster auteur.
Iron Man 3 isn’t going to have it all its own way in terms of the sci-fi blockbuster landscape though, with the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion getting its UK release on 12th April. Cruise plays one of the last remaining drone repairmen, looking after the surface of Earth which was deserted by humanity decades before, following a brutal war with an alien race. From its Wall-E-esque beginnings, it’s clear that the film soon descends into an all-action shoot-em-up and conspiracy thriller, also featuring Morgan Freeman and Andrea Riseborough.
This really is a month of action, with ‘Die Hard in the White House’ thriller Olympus Has Fallen (17th April) stealing a march on a very similar looking White House Down (released in September) and making the brave choice to be a violent adult action film in a world where the Die Hard and Taken franchises have chosen to appeal to a child audience. We also get our second glimpse of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in as many weeks as he follows up GI Joe: Retaliation with Snitch; a film apparently based on the true life story of a father who went undercover for the FBI to get his son out of trouble.
I wish The Rock was my dad.
Also released this month is the unnecessary, but potentially great Evil Dead remake, as well as the latest Michael Winterbottom /Steve Coogan collaboration The Look of Love, which has been impressing audiences at Sundance and Glasgow Film Festival.
Another month, another highly anticipated sci-fi blockbuster sequel. Star Trek Into Darkness (no colon there? Really? Sounds like a film about hiking) arrives in the UK on 9th May, and first impressions have all of us at Failed Critics very excited. The first instalment of the reboot series was impressive, but things look like getting a whole lot bigger, darker, and Benedict Cumberbatchier in the sequel.
The following week the UK will get its first look at another big budget, 3D and CGI’d beast of a blockbuster in the shape of a screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Wait, that can’t be right. I have a feeling that The Great Gatsby in 3D is either going to be incredible, or one of the worst films of the year. Baz Luhrmann doesn’t tend to do shades of grey.
This month also sees the release of a couple of sequels, with their respective franchises suffering very different fortunes at the moment. While The Hangover Part III (24th May) looks like being another experiment in ever decreasing comic returns in a series that started reasonably well and then went off a cliff, Fast and Furious 6 looks like being the biggest and most utterly bonkers instalment of a franchise that people had written off as irrelevant years ago.
How did they do it? Two words: The Rock.
Also out this month is a foreign language film to get those of you who don’t mind reading your movies excited. A Hijacking was one of my favourite films of Glasgow Film Festival, and it finally gets a UK release on 10th May. Written and directed by one of the creators of Borgen, it tells the harrowing story of a Danish freighter hijacked by Somali pirates in quite harrowing and ultra-realistic style.
Every year we see films with a similar narrative start point going up against each other. Years ago it was Armageddon and Deep Impact. A few years later we had Melancholia and Another Earth, while last year we saw two excellent ‘cops trapped in apartment block’ movies in The Raid and Dredd. This summer a couple of ‘deserted Earth and the fight for humanity’s future’ blockbusters coming out within a few months of each other. I’ve already written about Oblivion, but 7th June sees the release of After Earth, the latest film from the crossword wrapped in a Sudoku that is M. Knight Shyamalan. It’s got plenty of star power though, starring Will Smith in one of his rare screen appearances, and his son Jaden Smith.
The big release this month is the return of Superman in Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel. Clunkily billed as ‘Produced by the Director of The Dark Knight Trilogy’, the early trailers suggest that Snyder may have toned down the visual style that made 300 and Watchmen so great to look at. I’m looking forward to this, but I have a nagging suspicion that this might be Snyder doing a Nolan impression, and that’s a worry.
World War Z starring Brad Pitt is out on 21st June, and it seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the kids today just aren’t scared by shuffling zombies any more It’s a shame, as I really enjoyed the book and I think it may have been better produced as an HBO miniseries, rather than a bog-standard zombie flick that is World War Z in name only. We shall see.
A far more entertaining look at the end of the world could be found in Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s This Is The End. The setting is a party at James Franco’s house, and a variety of celebrities end up facing the apocalypse together. While there is definitely the potential for this to be horrifically self-indulgent and only funny to those on set, the trailer holds up very well and the cast list is a veritable who’s who of US comedy. Fingers crossed.
Rounding off this preview is Joss Whedon’s new film. Considering his last film was a near 3 hour epic that made over $1 billion at the box office and resurrected the superhero ensemble movie, it’s typical Whedon that his next release is a black and white Shakespeare comedy that he filmed in his house with his close friends over a couple of weeks. Much Ado About Nothing got rave reviews at Glasgow Film Festival last month, and word is that it could be one of the great adaptations of the Bard’s work.