Tag Archives: Iron Man

Failed Critics Podcast: Eat Local, Solong Han, and Steve’s Jobs

Despite reports of different creative visions for this episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes haven’t left the project, but have brought on board Underground Nights co-host Paul Field to delve into some film news and reviews.

Continue reading Failed Critics Podcast: Eat Local, Solong Han, and Steve’s Jobs

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Just Let Hope Do It

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.

ant man 7Throughout 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.

Callum Petch am Miss Icon, and he swore he saw.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 7 – Iron Man 3

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.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 6 – Avengers Assemble

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.

The longest episode in our Avengers Minisode series sees us clock in at a bumper 30 minutes! But it’s worth it for Avengers Assemble, the film that truly cemented Marvel Studios as the groundbreaking film company they are today. The third highest grossing film of all time, earning over $1bn in ticket sales alone, The Avengers was an unstoppable juggernaut of a film that earned almost as much critical praise as it did in box office revenue.

It was the final stamp on a project that began all the way back in 2005 and closed out Marvel’s Phase 1 in style. The heroes we’d seen develop in the five preceding movies finally got together on screen for the first time under the direction of Joss Whedon.  To see Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), finally together alongside Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD as they tried to thwart an alien invasion, led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the movie was the massive pay-off that the franchise so richly deserved.

Long time listeners to the podcast will recognise our retro review here has been taken from the second ever episode of the Failed Critics Podcast with James, Steve and Gerry, back when the film was first released in 2012. Joining Owen for a brand new retrospective look back on the film is our special guest – and former podcast regular – Carole Petts to assess whether or not the film still holds up considering all that’s come after it in Phase 2.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 1 – Iron Man

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.

Therefore, in this episode we go right back to the start, where it all began, with John Favreau’s 2008 breakout hit, Iron Man. It stars Robert Downey Jr in the lead role as billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark, as he battles to keep the arc reactor that is saving his life from falling into the wrong hands. Chiefly those of his shady business partner at Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and those of a terrorist faction led by Raza (Faran Tahir).

As well as featuring Robert Downey Jr as the flashy, impulsive, genius superhero, rebuilding his life after an existential (and very real) crisis in the guise of a sophisticated flying suit of armour, we were also introduced to recurring characters such as: Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s assistant Pepper Potts; Clark Gregg as the SHIELD operative Agent Coulson; Paul Bettany as the voice of Stark’s in-flight suit of armour Jarvis; and of course Jon Favreau himself as Tony’s security, Hogan.

The film proved to be both a financial and critical success, laying the foundations for what would eventually become what we now know as the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was the first self-financed Marvel movie after they sold the film rights to their more popular characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, The Punisher and so on. A lot was riding on how well this movie would do – and we’re pretty damn glad it was as successful as it was.

Here you’ll find our retro review with James Diamond, which raises the point about how much of a gamble the casting of the film’s leading actor was and what impact he’s had on the character’s rise in popularity since. A topic of conversation carried into our retrospective review, where we’re joined by special guest Gerry McAuley.

In our next minisode, we’ll be moving onto the second movie of Marvel’s Phase 1 with the much maligned The Incredible Hulk.

You can keep up with all of the episodes as they are released here.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

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

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

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

mike bassettFailed Critics: England Manager

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

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

The Viewing Dead

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

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

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

Where’s the News?

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

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

Why Are Pirates Called Pirates? Because They Javi-ARRGHHH

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

Superhero Section

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Week In Film – 9 October 2014: Who Do They Think They’re Kidding?

Tell us, Steve. What’s happened in the world of film news in the past week..?

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

dads army 2DON’T PANIC

Sitcom Dad’s Army is being given a big screen makeover nearly 40 years after the T.V. show stopped being made.

Rumours of a film adaptation have been around for some time but this week a cast has been announced, some four decades after Captain Mainwaring uttered the fantastic line ‘don’t tell them your name, Pike’.

Toby Jones will play Mainwaring, the man in charge of Walmington On Sea’s Home Guard unit during World War 2. Billy Nighy takes on the role of Sergeant Arthur Wilson and the Inbetweeners Blake Harrison steps into Ian Lavender’s shoes as Private Pike while Michael Gambon, Danny Mays and Catherine Zeta-Jones are all set to feature.

The cast is pretty impressive and encouraging but the writer is the man behind Johnny English: Reborn and Mr Bean’s Holiday. So there is cause for both concern and positivity around this venture.

Anyway since the announcement the theme tune has been stuck in my head and I like most of you have it committed to memory.

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler…

Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Befuddle

J.K Rowling was in cryptic form this week tweeting the following anagram

Cry, foe! Run amok! Fa awry! My wand won’t tolerate this nonsense.

Some believed this to mean a return to either the silver screen or to book/e-book for Harry Potter but apparently not. However, the Potter universe, or the Potterverse as it will be hereby be known, is to be expanded with a movie based on a minor character from the books/films, Newt Scamander.

I Do It On The Night

Hugh Grant revealed live on television that he is a lazy so and so who does not prepare for roles.

He told some ITV morning programme (not Jeremey Kyle – now that would be an interesting lie detector) “I’ve barely ever done any research for a film. I just turn up and say the lines and hope they sound convincing.”

Sometimes it really does show Hugh.

Indecisive Man

Robert Downey Jr. signs on to Iron Man 4 according to reports, but then the man himself denies it on US T.V.

This leaves the Iron Man section of the Avengers/Marvel franchise up in the air. Will they leave it alone or will War Machine or someone else become Iron Man?

Downey Jr. did however reveal he would remain involved with Marvel suggesting that while he may no longer be up for standalone Iron Man outings he will stick around for future Avengers assembles.iron man 2

Comic Book News

With Comic Book movies and shows so popular and rife it may just be worth having a section of this weekly roundup dedicated to anything from the genre.

So briefly there may be an X-Men live action T.V series from Fox to partner the upcoming Deadpool; Dredd looks set for a seven episode mini-series although there is no news on Karl Urban’s involvement; and once again tentative whispers about Sony and Marvel working together to see Spider-Man appear in something produced by Marvel.

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

The Week In Film – 17 September 2014: The Age of Remakes

Welcome to the Week In Film! Steve returns from a short break to provide you with a round-up of everything worth knowing in the world of film that has occurred in the past week.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

age of ultronAge of Ultron

The slow drip feed of info about the next instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued this week as a brief synopsis of Avengers: Age of Ultron was released.

It revealed that Ultron was not created by Tony Stark, as previously thought due to Hank Pym not being introduced as of yet, but Tony Stark ‘releases’ Ultron by messing about with some old tech stuff.

With this in mind could we be seeing a Pym/Ant-Man cameo in Age of Ultron? And with a Doctor Strange movie announced and strong rumours of a Black Panther movie could we see either a cameo or mention of these popular Marvel characters?

I Know What You Did In a Summer Ages and Ages Ago

Sony are looking to remake I Know What You Did Last Summer. While it was an enjoyable teen slasher film, is there really any need to reboot it? I imagine they will attempt to spawn a franchise.

Hollywood needs some new ideas. The amount of remakes, reimaginings, prequels and sequels is getting pathetic.

Another Remake

Ben Hur is set for a rehash by Hollywood. Charlton Heston starred in the successful original, famous for its chariot race and Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman are set to star in a new version written by 12 Years A Slave’s John Ridley due for a 2016 release.

Despite a good cast and noted writer on board, whenever a film of this ilk is due for modernising it makes me think of a mediocre singer trying to belt out Whitney Huston on the X-Factor.ben hur

Bourne Again

More sequel news as Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass have agreed to return to the Bourne franchise. Previously it was thought that the character had gone as far as it could and Damon stated he would not return without Greengrass, which is what led to the reasonable but not as good as the originals Jeremy Renner outing.

How this will tie in with the Renner ‘Legacy’ film (if at all) and any further plot details are some way off, but if it is as good as the first three…? There’s certainly potential for expansion in this franchise.

An Original Origin Story

It appears that almost every character on the silver screen must, at some point, have an origin story movie. Judge Dredd looks set to have one, based on the comics, but King Kong, whose early life on Skull Island has only been briefly touched on in other cinematic outings, and looks set to get his own movie looking at the back story of the big monkey.

Max Borenstein is set to write. He is the same man who wrote the recent Godzilla movie so he has experience when it comes to monster movies and perhaps we could see some lizard vs. ape action in the future.

Tom Hiddleston is set to star, in what role we do not know. Perhaps as a motion capture monkey.

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

Chef

ChefChef is basically two hours of Jon Favreau working through his issues with the studio system.  Mainly because of this, it’s rather entertaining.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Chef is Jon Favreau: The Movie.  Any pretence that this film is telling a story about characters that have no relation to the film’s writer, director and star is jettisoned the moment Dustin Hoffman swaggers in and orders Jon Favreau’s chef to cook by menu, “play [his] hits,” as it were, and that, if he doesn’t like it, there are a million other people that Dustin Hoffman could easily replace Jon Favreau with as director of the kitchen.  If not by then, then it will most certainly become clear when Jon blows up at a food critic who trashed his cooking, questioning whether he cares that the hurtful stuff he writes genuinely hurts those he writes about.  This is not subtle.  It makes the high school parallels in Divergent look like the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song.  The film permanently seems five seconds away from actually dropping all of the pretence and having everyone just dramatize Jon Favreau’s post-Iron Man life.

One, therefore, may see Chef as a vanity project and little more, what with its extremely unsubtle real-life parallels, starring role for Favreau that lets him stretch himself beyond ‘funny comic relief guy’ and that he casts both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as his ex-wife and possible ex-lover respectively (the latter of which outright tells Favreau’s character at one point that he’s the best chef she ever worked with).  And… well… yeah, it kinda is.  The actual character work, and characters in general, populating the film are flimsy and undercooked and, once things head to Miami, nothing ever goes wrong for Favreau ever because he is the world’s greatest chef if people will just LET HIM DO WHAT HE DOES BEST INSTEAD OF CONSTRAINING HIS CREATIVE GENIUS, DAMMIT!!  That being said, I’d recommend not writing off Chef sight unseen.  It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s nothing memorable, but it is mildly amusing, rather entertaining, nearly always interesting and, brace yourself for the big one, it’s a comedy that runs for two hours… that I can’t see cutting down to 100 minutes!

Oh, I have your attention now, do I?

Our story, then.  By the by, I’m going to dispense with much of the pretence and just straight up tell you the “subtext” cos it’s that unsubtle and it saves me time later on.  Jon Favreau is a chef, a very well-respected chef, at that, who caused a splash ten years ago as a hungry guy wanting to make a name for himself.  He’s currently employed at a big, fancy and relatively famous restaurant that’s about to get reviewed by the biggest food blogger in town and he wants to surprise the guy, cook up something original and shocking and biting and all that jazz.  The restaurant’s owner, Dustin Hoffman, thinks that’s not a good idea, being too risk-averse, and orders Favreau to cook by menu, reasoning that people who go to see The Rolling Stones want to hear them play ‘Satisfaction’.  This ends disastrously, Favreau’s heart is clearly not in it and the critic tears apart both the food, which is too safe and generic, and Favreau himself, believing him to be over-the-hill and also fat jokes cos critics are dicks.

Favreau does not take this well, with the review and Favreau’s resulting meltdown at the critic going viral.  Fired from his job for refusing to follow orders, Favreau’s ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) convinces him to meet her successful first ex-husband, Robert Downey Jr., and get back to basics.  Gifted a food truck, Favreau decides to take his little low budget venture on the road, making smaller products with more heart that may connect with the public more and revitalise his love for his art.  Tagging along are his son, EmJay Anthony, who doesn’t see his dad much but aspires to follow in his culinary footsteps, and his old workmate, represented here by John Leguizamo, where father and son may just bond together and learn a thing or two about a thing or two.

It’s even less subtle than that, before you ask.  A good 50-60% of Chef really is just Jon Favreau working through his frustrating studio experiences via the thinnest of metaphors.  Not that that’s a bad thing inherently, mind.  A fair bit of the film’s entertainment value comes from just how far the metaphor goes, in much the same way that 22 Jump Street’s appeal comes from just how far that film is willing to push its central joke, “we are a pointless sequel and we’re well aware of that fact.”  It also helps that the execution is rarely cringe worthy or overly blatant, the lone exceptions come during the times when Favreau meets up with the critic that wrote the nasty things about him (embodied by Oliver Platt).  Those times trot out the usual “what you say hurts me! I make art, what do you do?  Just sit behind your computer and vomit words” clichés that typically accompany artists ranting against critics.  (It’s not the heckler bit from Louie, is what I’m getting at.)  Otherwise, the execution remains interesting, it becomes a kind of fun little exercise to see Favreau working through his problems and seemingly rediscovering his love for filmmaking.

See, the film does have characters, which makes this a landmark point in Sofia Vergara’s acting career if nothing else, but they take a backseat, along with nearly everything else that’s not related to the metaphor.  Even the food stuff feels more like an extension of that metaphor instead of a total love of food, there are several scenes where Favreau explains his creative process to his son that come across far more as his creative process to filmmaking than food-making (especially when he mentions that he first goes looking for ingredients and only then decides what he’s going to cook, he doesn’t go in with a fully-formed pl-it’s a reference to the creation of Iron Man, alright).  The whole enterprise feels less like a story that Favreau wanted to tell and more like he just decided to make a film and see if it made him fall in love with filmmaking again.  Such a theory is practically confirmed when it comes time for the film’s ending to occur, which the film practically crashes into and is over before it has a chance to become satisfying.  Again, though, it is fascinating to watch, feeling relatively raw and personal instead of pretentious and whiney.

Look, I apologise for spending so long fixated on the metaphor side of Chef.  I know a lot of you will be able to get past it, or maybe not even clock onto it (although I have no idea how you would, I have seen South Park episodes with subtler allusions and metaphors), but it really does constitute the meat of the film.  Outside of it, you have the barest of plots about a father and son bonding over a shared enthusiasm (if you choose to read it like that and not, say, as the kid merely being a representative vessel for Favreau’s increasing realisation that he does still love making movies) and a very glossed over subplot of Favreau reconnecting with his ex-wife Vergara because… I actually don’t know, it’s that glossed over.  I should note that I’m not knocking the film for these things, I’m just letting you know how incidental the whole thing is.

Besides, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about with regards to the film outside of that subtext.  It’s all fine and pleasant.  There’s a runtime that’s just shy of two hours and though it feels like that at times, the film is paced well enough, and its content serves the whole metaphor point enough, to make it hard for me to find scenes to cut out to reduce that time to 90-or-so minutes.  There aren’t really any big laugh out loud moments and I guarantee that there are no jokes you’ll think back to 12 hours after seeing the film and go “that was hilarious” or some such, but the film is still funny.  It has very charming actors and actresses striking up a great enough chemistry with one another to make exchanges amusing, even if nothing particularly funny is being said.  Praise should especially go to EmJay Anthony who is not only hugely non-irritating, he’s able to keep up with Jo(h)ns Favreau and Leguizamo.  Food, meanwhile, is very often shot excellently, which is a hard thing to do right on film and television.  Not up to Hannibal standards of “mmm, that looks de-licious” but enough that I felt legitimately peckish for some high-quality grub as I left the cinema.  Also, for whatever it’s worth, I really like the film’s soul, Cuban and groove-laced soundtrack; Jon Favreau (and/or his music supervisor) has excellent taste in music.

Yes, I am stretching for stuff to talk about but there’s one last thing that deserves some conversation.  Chef loves social media.  Chef loves social media.  If social media and Chef were embodied by real life people (which the film kinda is, anyway), they would have a hopelessly romantic meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind fairy-tale romance that culminates in a magical beach-side wedding at sunset.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, the celebrity gossip website Holy Moly!; all these and more get prominent screen time and are actually relevant to the plot, as well as being the subject of hi-larious gags about how Favreau has no idea how the Internet works (he tweets an insult at the food critic who wrote the negative review cos he thought the service worked like text messaging).  It’s equal parts toe-curlingly awkward, like when your dad posts a “selfie” of himself having a day out in Scarborough, and strangely progressive.  Like, yeah, the film does mine the expected jokes out of Favreau not knowing how social media works and his son being a whizz with it because kids today and their computermabobs, but the usage of social media is actually vital to the plot.  It ends up being utilised as a tool for good, a way for Favreau and his low-budget venture to travel around drumming up buzz and connecting with the people who matter.  It’s refreshingly free of cynicism or confused-dad-“when-I-was-YOUR-age”-ness which, if nothing else, puts it above f*cking Transcendence.  It does officially go too far when 1 Second Everyday comes up for the sole purpose of adding some feels to the finale, but get over the initial “oh, no, Dad’s trying to get down with the kids” response you will inevitably have when it comes up and it’s not actually a problem.

Chef, then, is more of an extended therapy session for Jon Favreau than it is a movie in its own standalone right.  That therapy session, though, is always interesting and frequently entertaining; it’s definitely the most personal thing Favreau has been involved in in a good decade and it’s nice to see him seemingly fall back in love with his art again.  Outside of that, there’s not much here.  There are funnier films available now, there are more heartwarming films available now, there are TV shows with better food porn on the air right now.  On the surface level, it’s a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.  I would, however, be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for what it is under that surface.  You may too, but that depends on both your knowledge of the film industry and your tolerance for “inside-baseball” stuff.

So, with Favreau having rediscovered his passion for filmmaking by going back to his roots and delivering a deeply personal work, I look forward to seeing what he’s going to transfer that passion into next!  … …“he’s making a live-action, CG version of The Jungle Book for Disney?”  Well, in that case, either he’s a quick forgiver, or I eagerly await the spiritual successor to this in 2020!

Callum Petch saw you standing on the opposite shore.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Triple Bill – Under 80 minutes

Not one of our choices
Not one of our choices

In the most self-destructive moment since school holiday-dominating kids TV show Why Don’t You told us to “switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead”, we recommend films you could watch in the time it takes to listen to this semi-coherent drivel in this week’s Triple Bill.

Elsewhere on the podcast we pay tribute to the genius of Ray Harryhausen, review new releases 21 & Over and Chimpanzee, and welcome Gerry back to the ‘ALL NEW’ Failed Critics Podcast.

Next week we’ll set phasers to stun, don our red shirts, and have sex with beautiful alien creatures as we review Star Trek Into Darkness. Make it so.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Failed Critics Podcast: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 Ben Kingsley MandarinA 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.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Best films on TV: 29 April – 5 May

The best films each day on free-to-air TV as chosen by Failed Critics contributor Owen Hughes. Expect at least one film featuring either JCVD or zombies.

predator_001Monday 29 April – Iron Man (Film4, 9pm)

With the release of the third installment in Marvel’s Iron Man franchise last week (or “this week” if you’re in America) we should be grateful to Film4 for airing the film that started it all. Especially for those of us who don’t own it already on DVD. I mean, I own it. Of course I own it. But the point is, you might not. Therefore, you should definitely take advantage of  this opportunity and remind yourself why Marvel are making some of the most successful and enjoyable movies of our time.

Tuesday 30 April – Predator (Film4, 9pm)

As a nod to our founder, James Diamond, I was tempted to recommend the Caravaggio (sorry, “Carl Vaggio”) opera that’s on Sky Arts 2 on Tuesday, but alas, I haven’t seen it to comment. Plus, it’s an opera. Opera is for slack-jawed faggots, not a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus like Jesse Ventura in the best film you’re likely to find on TV all week. It’s one of my favourite films and, quite frankly, I’m distrustful of anyone who doesn’t enjoy Predator, nevermind has the willpower NOT to watch it whenever they notice it’s on TV.

Wednesday 1 May – In Hell (SyFy, 10pm)

I can hear the groans from here that I’m picking a straight-to-video Jean-Claude Van Damme film as the best film on TV, but trust me, this is one of his best. I’m genuinely not picking it purely because it features the muscles from Brussels! You know that bit in The Dark Knight Rises where Bruce Wayne is in the prison? That’s basically what the whole of this film is like, but with Van Damme instead of Bruce Wayne. It’s brutal, intense and poses some interesting questions on justice and morality. Also, it features JCVD with a full beard. Bet you’re intrigued now, huh!

Thursday 2 May – Public Enemies (ITV4, 10.10pm)

I’m recommending this film blind, but certain it’ll be a popular decision. The best film on TV on Thursday is Michael Mann’s crime drama set in 1930’s America. Probably one of the best decades and places to set a crime drama? Certainly one of the most popular. It stars Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard who was discussed quite recently on our birthday podcast. Praised for its aesthetics, the performances from the cast and even its soundtrack, I will certainly be recording, if not watching it, that evening.

Friday 3 May – The Blair Witch Project (horror channel, 10.55pm)

Can you remember the first time you were truly scared by a film? That genuine terror that creeps into your subconscious afterwards as you get up out of the sofa, half expecting some maniac or ghoul to be lurking in the hallway or the top of the stairs, patiently waiting for you?  It’s all bollocks, of course. It’s only a film you big sissy. But still, if there’s any film that still puts the willies up me (leave it) then it’s this. Best watched in a dark room, in total silence, late at night (say, around 11pm-ish)…

Saturday 4 May – Martyrs (horror channel, 12.10am)

…and if The Blair Witch Project doesn’t screw with your mind, then let me introduce you to one of the most excruciating watches you’re ever likely to have. The French low-budget horror film, Martyrs, has a reputation that it fully deserves. Gruesome, disturbing, twisted, intelligent, horrific, shocking and uncomfortable are all words that could describe it, but one thing’s for sure; if you’re looking for a film that will violate your mind in the same way certain characters in this movie are physically, then look no further.

Sunday 5 May – The Cannonball Run (5USA, 12pm)

After watching The Blair Witch Project on Friday and Martyrs on Saturday, you’re going to need a bit of light relief! This screwball family comedy featuring the always watchable Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise as ‘him’, Roger Moore playing a brilliant spoof of the James Bond/spy archetype, and plenty of other minor supporting roles for Jackie Chan, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin (amongst others), as they race across America in their cars is both simple and funny. Perfect early Sunday afternoon watching. Or, you can continue the horror weekend with Cronenberg’s sexual body horror Shivers on horror channel later that evening. Or watch both? The Cannonball Run trumps it though, to be honest!