Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

Okja

Korean filmmaking icon Bong Joon-ho gives English language features another crack with a Netflix Original about a young girl and her friend, a giant genetically modified pig, whom she raises in the mountains of Korea. It’s as weird as it sounds, but ten times more lovely – and more than a little bit distressing. Owen reviews Okja: Continue reading Okja

Life

“You’re playing with it like it’s your buddy.”

I almost feel sorry for Life. As I sit down to write this review, I have just perched my arse on the sofa and started my binge on the holiest of space-based horror franchises. I’m sat, feet up, tapping away at this review as the one and only Alien plays out on my television.

And I say “the one and only” on purpose. Because Life, this most derivative of sci-fi scarers, takes so much from Ridley Scott’s seminal movie that its tagline could quite possibly be “In space, everyone can see you steal”.

After retrieving a capsule filled with samples from Mars, a six man team of scientists aboard the International Space Station become the first to prove the existence of life on the Red Planet. Things aren’t as simple as they first seem when, what starts off as a single-cell organism, quickly evolves into a tiny monster intent on not being so tiny anymore.

To succeed in that goal, it’s going to need to eat everyone!

Horror ensues as the jellyfish looking beastie starts to pick off scientists one-by-one, making itself bigger and badder than the people that brought it to life. Now the crew are in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with higher stakes than any of them imagined when they started this trip.

This film is Alien. Ok, it goes to the 1979 Classic by way of a lot of other films. Event Horizon, Pandorum, The Thing, Virus, Species; it even steals more than a little from space-based survival horror game Dead Space. Life is so unapologetically derivative of all of these movies that if it didn’t come to you after months of advertising that plastered Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson all over big screens everywhere, it would have definitely premiered on the SyFy channel, probably after the next Sharknado instalment.

As well as the trio mentioned above, we also have Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada. The five roles are pretty interchangeable; not a single one is fleshed out enough to make you want to care about them. Pilot, doctor, toilet repair astronaut, it matters not; the crew could be any of a million people – one of them just happens to be super-handsome and one was in a Mission: Impossible film. The only exception, in my opinion, is Ariyon Bakare.

As the chief scientist, he has the most interesting of the interactions with the alien – whose name is Calvin, I shit you not – and gets to be the one that shares the scene with it when its true intentions are revealed. This is easily the best and most tense scene in the entire film. Sadly, if you were at a screening of Get Out in the last week or so, you’ve seen that moment in its entirety already, because someone thought it best to have a mini preview instead of a trailer in cinemas this week.

Director Daniel Espinosa (the man behind the fun, silly Safe House and the boring, lacklustre Child 44) has delivered a sci-fi that fulfils none of its promises. It looks like it’s trying (and failing) so very hard to be the new Alien – although hilarious rumours that it’ll be the origin story for Sony’s recently confirmed Venom movie have kept me giggling since I walked out of the screen his afternoon.

I can’t blame Espinosa for trying. That’s his job. But if you’re going to borrow from every sci-fi horror you can name, then the very least you can do is pick one or two and keep your film consistent. As it is, between him and Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (which accounts for Mr Reynolds’ recycling a joke from last year’s masterpiece) they’ve half-inched the blueprints from a dozen movies, ran them all through a shredder and tried desperately to make something worthwhile from the bin bag of rubbish left over.

It’s not all bad though – ok, it is mostly bad – but it does have a redeeming feature or two. Life has some impressive set-pieces to show off and a fair amount of imagination has gone into the monster and how it behaves. Its final form looks a little like a floating, bodiless version of the aliens from Independence Day and behaves like it took acting lessons from The Abyss‘ extra-terrestrials; but Calvin is fun to watch and a delight to look at.

Sadly, these minor flashes of fun don’t distract enough from a film that will forever be overshadowed by the much better genre pieces it is trying to imitate. As I watch the final scenes of Alien on the TV, I can see why someone would want to make this again. Maybe next time they won’t schedule its release a month and a half before an ACTUAL Alien movie is due out where, like this time, your mediocre copycat is eclipsed even by the Covenant trailer that was shown before it.

London Film Festival 2016: Day 10

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Since last Sunday, I’ve taken to wearing my press badge whenever I’m out of the house I’m staying in in London.  Before I even step out of the door first thing in a morning, I throw the pass on around my neck and it stays there for the entire remainder of the day, until I get back to the house and start writing.  Even when I don’t need it on, if I’m just wandering around London killing time or attending screenings that I’ve paid money for, I still keep it hanging.  It brings me a kind of comfort, that I am making the absolute most of this experience whilst I have the chance to do so.  This fortnight has been the greatest – it really, really has – and I haven’t felt anything less than happy the entire time I’ve been here, on this trip.  And as I sat down in the Picturehouse Central café after definitely not watching a film that I am absolutely not under embargo for and so can’t talk about for the time being, that was the only thought that ran through my head: this has just been the greatest.

I can tell you that I definitely won’t miss the ridiculous sleep schedules, though.  Ploughing through a massive 18 hour day on less than 6 hours sleep is kind of a pain, I won’t lie, but at least that kind of schedule allowed me to be disappointed by Nocturnal Animals (Grade: C+) a good month before I would have been in general cinemas.  The long-awaited film follow-up to A Single Man by fashion designer Tom Ford, and an adaptation of the novel Tony And Susan, the film supposedly follows highly-disillusioned art gallery designer Susan (Amy Adams) who is in a loveless relationship with her second husband Walker (Armie Hammer), is slowly going broke, has grown to despise her artistry, and is also currently suffering from severe insomnia.  One night, she receives a package from her former husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she has not spoken to in the nearly 2 decades following their divorce.  Edward has finally finished the novel he always wanted to write and has sent Susan the first manuscript.  He’s also named it after an in-joke between the pair, dedicated it to her, and the characters in the story are heavily reminiscent of Edward (named Tony in the manuscript), herself (represented by Isla Fisher), and her daughter, and very nasty things happen to the lot of them.

Nocturnal Animals, basically, is an endless drumroll for a crescendo that never fully arrives.  In theory, the movie is two separate stories that are meant to keep converging and intersecting in ways that tell us more about the two characters, but the overlap turns out to be relatively minimal.  In reality, the movie is two films taking turns to play out across 2 hours, and the supposed subtext and character study elements in the second story don’t manifest themselves enough.  What instead happens is that you’re watching this B-grade gritty thriller that is clearly meant to be an examination of regretful male impotence, and then every 15 minutes the film will cut to a shot of an absolutely wasted Amy Adams staring pensively into the middle distance.  If you’re lucky, the film might even throw in a flashback to Susan and Edward’s relationship to add some kind of actual context to proceedings.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

There’s just no real indicator of what Ford (who also wrote the script) is trying to say with these sequences, outside of the immediately obvious theme of how creative types throw themselves into their work and that those who know the author and what to look for can become understandably troubled by what they experience as a result.  Otherwise, the film is so deliberately opaque and meticulously designed that any deeper meaning or reason for being or message that Ford is trying to convey was utterly lost on me.  Kind of like most fashion for me, come to think of it.  He clearly thinks he’s saying something profound or meaningful given the way he directs these sequences, but I’ll be buggered if I can tell you what those are.

That said, Nocturnal Animals isn’t a waste.  The manuscript sequences are quite entertaining, and its inciting incident is genuinely gripping in a way that kind of makes me wish that Tom Ford had just made a straightforward thriller, or actually delivered the psychological thriller he initially promises, rather than the unwieldy hodgepodge he’s crafted.  The film looks absolutely stunning, of course; cinematographer Seamus McGarvey having clearly pored over every single image in a concerted effort to ensure that each and every single shot could be slid into a fashion catalogue and fit right in.  There are also a great pair of performances from Michael Shannon, as a rule-adjacent West Texas Detective that is exactly as perfect a fit for him as you would expect, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as a slimy redneck psychopath – and from whom another good performance has been LONG overdue.  Mostly, though, I’m just disappointed by how empty I found the film to be.  There may be substance here, but it’s all been scrubbed away by the relentless need for style, and I’m left wondering if there was actually any substance in the first place.  If you want to make a nasty, gritty thriller, just make a nasty, gritty thriller.  Own that; don’t detract from it by trying to be something you’re clearly not.

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Having most definitely not spent the 3 hours between Nocturnal Animals and our next film watching a totally different film that I can’t talk about yet, my day eventually led me back into the realm of public screenings, which I’m now relying on for the rest of the festival.  The Last Laugh (Grade: C+) was the first of 3 for the day and attempts to tackle the burning question that surrounds Comedy ever more nowadays: should comedians make fun of tragic events?  Specifically, The Last Laugh attempts to discuss that question in relation to The Holocaust, one of human history’s greatest atrocities and still a taboo subject to this day, for the most part, when it comes to humour and jokes.  Is it OK to make light of The Holocaust?  The Last Laugh comes at this from a variety of angles, particularly through questioning whether Comedy can help people work through trauma and eventually heal thanks to it, as depicted through a Holocaust survivor who likes cracking really dark jokes about her experience.

All of the usual arguments in this debate are brought up and examined – whether jokes about taboo subjects re-enforce negative stereotypes even if they’re being done with kind intentions (as illustrated by Jack Benny’s “your money or your life” skit re-enforcing the stereotype of the cheap Jew), how much time needs to pass before such material becomes acceptable fodder, whether only certain groups of people are allowed to make certain jokes, how different people can find certain jokes and portrayals to be wildly different in terms of respectfulness or offensiveness based on their subjective beliefs, everybody’s personal “line” and whether they’re capable of finding comedy in situations that other comedians can, and of course the old standby of “if you’re gonna go there, the joke had better be a riot.”  Each is backed up by relevant clips and analysis, and the result is a very comprehensive look at this more-relevant-than-ever issue.

Where it all falls down is in two key areas, the first being the film’s half-assed attempt at trying to remain objective and not pick a side.  Despite attempting to remain neutral, by sheer force of number on the part of the comedians and the way the footage is edited and ordered, the film can’t help but come down on the side of those wanting to preserve their rights to make taboo gags.  I’m not knocking the film for coming down on their side, hell I mostly agree, but I am knocking it for clearly wanting to remain objective but doing such a terrible job at trying to be so.  For two: in a documentary about offensive comedy, 90% of the contributors to the talking-heads are Men, and all of them are White, so unchallenged issues of privilege come into play as a result.  To be fair, the film is explicitly primarily in relation to The Holocaust rather than offensive comedy at large, but given the social and cultural landscape that The Last Laugh has been released in, for it to be about taboo comedy and not feature a single person of colour and maybe just 4 women in your interview list feels incredibly out-of-step with the current world and recklessly irresponsible as a result.

dont_think_twice_01

The evening brought about the second of the films I had bought a ticket for prior to the festival, in the shape of Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice (Grade: B), which I guess you could say was one of my absolute most anticipated films of the festival.  Set in New York, as many indie dramedies usually are, the film follows The Commune, a highly respected but struggling improv comedy troupe founded by the 37 year-old Miles (Birbiglia).  Its current incarnation includes the slowly-embittering Miles, obvious breakout talent Jack (Keegan Michael-Key) and his girlfriend Sam (Gillian Jacobs), the aging Bill (Chris Gethard), aspiring graphic novelist Allison (Kate Micucci), and the parent-reliant Lindsay (Tami Sagher).  About twice a week, they perform a super-cheap sold-out improv show at Improv America, and the rest of the time they live together, work menial low-paying jobs to get by, and gather around every weekend to watch Weekend Live, an American comedy institution that likes to poach talent from The Commune at every opportunity.

The group begins to fracture once Weekend Live comes a-knocking once more, offering Jack and Sam audition spots, at the same time as their beloved Improv America is being shut down, Bill’s dad gets into a serious accident, and Miles becomes more and more bitter for being passed up by Weekend Live.  After all, “why wouldn’t the show want to hire the guy who taught most of their recent hires everything they know?” he reasons.  Don’t Think Twice pivots on this, on that heartbreaking moment where you realise that the artistic or creative lifestyle you desperately want may not be achievable after all.  Do you try and keep up that optimism, putting forward strong writing packets and hoping that your big break is still just around the corner?  Do you turn incredibly bitter towards your friends as they achieve the success that eludes you, especially if you think they don’t deserve it?  Or do you deliberately screw up your opportunity out of that anxiety of change, of wanting to try and preserve your life as it is now despite all the tides fighting back and winning against you?

It’s a very bittersweet film, funny due to our cast of characters being semi-professional funny people, but mostly dramatic as the group very slowly and very painfully splinters apart.  As a result, I honestly feel like this film was done a disservice by watching it with a sold-out crowd, who all seemed to think they were watching a straightforward comedy and laughed uproariously at any cutting remark regardless of how hurtful it was and loudly winced every time the drama got too heavy.  I feel that my viewing experience didn’t allow me to fully appreciate the film, snobbish as that is to say, and drew more attention that I maybe otherwise wouldn’t have paid to the film’s minor flaws – the ensemble is all well-performed and lived-in but certain characters get noticeably underserved by the script, and the blatant Saturday Night Live swipes are too self-conscious and loudly inside-baseball, seemingly born out of genuine sourness on the part of Birbiglia.

But Don’t Think Twice is worth watching purely on the back of an absolutely sensational Gillian Jacobs.  Jacobs is a brilliant comic talent, as anybody who watched Community will be able to tell you, but she’s asked to carry the bulk of the film’s drama and pulls off that task masterfully.  Sam began as a super-fan of The Commune before being asked to join, and their slow disintegration causes her to start self-destructing out of a desire to try and preserve this perfect little status-quo she currently has.  To Sam, improv is not a stepping stone to Weekend Live or some alleged higher-form of comedy, improv is the best that things can get and that desire to remain locked in her comfort zone is quietly devastating to watch.  Jacobs absolutely nails her work here, especially during a heartbreaking final improv scene, and her performance will touch the hearts of anybody who has tried in vain to keep their group of friends together or has committed intentional or unintentional self-sabotage in their creative careers for whatever reason.

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Since press screenings wrapped up for good today, leading to there being no reason to get up super early the next morning, I chose to stay out on this Friday evening and catch a second evening movie for once, with my press-ticket-approved screening of The Man From Mo’Wax (Grade: B+).  A warts-and-all documentary about James Lavelle, the founder of the highly-influential Mo’Wax Records label and co-head of the group UNKLE.  And when I say “warts-and-all,” for once, I do mean warts-and-all.  This is the kind of rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-redemption documentary that really does properly lay into its subject during its middle-stretch.  I’m not talking about a documentary that goes “yeah, he could be an asshole during this period, but the man was a genius so it was all good,” I mean this is a film that unrepentantly looks at the man that James Lavelle was after Psyence Fiction dropped and goes, “No, this guy was an A-grade ASSHOLE and there was no excusing it.”

That’s actually really exhilarating to watch, and the film going so all-in on this period makes the two sections either side of it much stronger as a result.  Lavelle starts off as a youthful visionary, a misfit drawn to Hip-Hop thanks to it sounding “otherworldy,” with the drive, ambition, and raw unvarnished skill that led to him dropping out of college and founding Mo’Wax at just 18 years of age.  But that youthful nature quickly ends up enabling all of his worst impulses once he and the label become famous, leading to him burning professional and personal bridges through rampant assholery, letting his attention drift away from being a label boss, and trying misguidedly to become a musician and songwriter in his own right as the primary creative force of UNKLE, epitomised by the film’s reveal of just when exactly the vast majority of these “present day” interviews are taking place – a quietly brilliant reveal so masterfully done I was on the verge of standing up and applauding at the sleight-of-hand being pulled off.

Spending so much time on James driving himself further into a hole is what makes the epiphany of his behaviour and his eventual curation of 2014’s Meltdown Festival act as a genuine act of personal redemption.  The film doesn’t pretend that it’s some kind of massive world-beating success that shows everyone just how wrong they were to write James Lavelle off, and it doesn’t pretend that this lets him off for how much of a massive dick he could be throughout the 2000s, and that’s what makes James’ minor redemption work gangbusters.  It would have been so easy for director Matthew Jones and editor Alec Rossiter to betray all of the hard work of their film’s previous hour to give James an unambiguous happy ending, and their refusal to do so is what makes The Man From Mo’Wax a real find.  Even viewers with no interest or prior knowledge of Mo’Wax, UNKLE, or even Trip-Hop can find something in this focussed and super entertaining documentary about a youthful visionary being undone by success and eventually beginning to turn themselves back around again.

Day 11: Things become far less set in stone as I start braving the Rush Queues in order to make up my schedule on the fly.

Callum Petch got this sinking feeling he sank with the tulip.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Demolition

Demolition

“The man’s wife just died. Show some compassion you little shit!”

I’ve eaten my words previously when it has come to Jake Gyllenhaal; a cynic towards his work in a previous life – one before my time with Failed Critics – I have become quite the fan of the man that once bugged me just for having a surname I couldn’t spell. His acting prowess is such that, a film that would be average without him *cough* Southpaw *cough* is elevated to great just by having him in it. In a way, the latest effort from Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée is subject to the same equation.

{mediocrity} + [Jake][Gyllenhaal] = Brilliance

Okay, in this case, “mediocrity” is a little unfair. But my point still stands.

Having just lost his wife in a car accident, banker Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) doesn’t know how to deal with the loss. Seemingly unable to properly mourn, Davis instead directs his energy in writing what starts as a simple complaint letter to the owners of a vending machine in the hospital him and his wife were treated at. When the letter quickly turns from complaint to confession, Davis finally seems to find his catharsis not just in his constant letter writing, but in his new found honesty and need to deconstruct his life and everything around it.

His letter writing soon grabs the attention of the vending company’s customer services agent Karen (Naomi Watts). When she takes it upon herself to give him a call and make sure he’s alright, the pair form an unlikely connection; one where Davis gets to have a peek at a different life and maybe start to heal his wounds a little. With help from Karen and her 15 year old son Chris (relative newcomer Judah Lewis), Davis starts to take control of his life, by demolishing everything around it, with their help. Literally and figuratively.

There have been some fantastic films in the past that centre on people and how they cope with the death of someone close. Three Colours: Blue always jumps to the front of my mind when I think of really powerful films like that. On the other side of the coin, we’ve had some pretty ghastly films that touch on the subject too; I’m looking at you, Meet Joe Black!

Demolition plays the ground somewhere in between these films. It has moments where its power and its emotion are strong enough to drag a lump into the throat of even the most hardened bad ass, but at the same time it never takes itself too seriously. It’s a strange balance to keep, but this film manages to walk that line very well for the most part.

Demolition is all about Davis, his relationships and the effects they have on him as he tries to grieve. When his father-in-law (a magnificent Chris Cooper) advises that the widower starts to take apart his life, he takes the business owner far too literally and does so. To the detriment of fridges, coffee machines, toilet doors; you name it, Davis is taking it to bits and using it as a proxy for his real problems.

Karen and her son are the stars of Mitchell’s little show, and in a way, the film we have here. Their relationship with each other is as important as their relationship with the man that has fallen into their lives. Moody teen Chris, having already decided to hate Davis for no other reason than because he’s a moody teen, finds himself in a real battle of wits. Duelling with the investment banker who seems impervious to his mardy routine and just bashes him back with his own moodiness with often funny and heartwarming results. But Chris’ mum, a woman who is in as much need of help as Davis is, seems to relish her new found position as informal head shrinker to this damaged man. Karen finds as much relief in her relationship with Davis as he finds with her and together they make an unlikely couple that gravitate towards each other in their shared insanity.

Over for last couple of years, Gyllenhaal has chosen some pretty taxing roles, in a few different ways. From his Taxi Driver-esque performance in Nightcrawler to his insane transformation for previously mentioned boxing drama, Southpaw, with quite a few in between. So to take on what looks to be a pretty run-of-the-mill comedy-drama seemed a little strange for the man that appears to be pushing himself with every role. The thing is, whilst this isn’t the kind of role that’ll leave you stunned at the change the star has made, I do think it is the kind of role that is much deeper than a lot of people will give it credit for.

The truth is, it’s a genuine pleasure to watch Davis Mitchell unravel and take his world down with him. Vallée’s beautifully subtle direction allows for Bryan Sipe’s screenplay to do the majority of the heavy lifting. There’s a teary moment here and there, but Demolition isn’t about dragging all of your feelings out of you like some crappy sitcom finale, it’s all about watching the madness that is Davis’ life splat out across the screen as he tries to squeegee it up.

It’s a film made for the heartwarming chuckles and knowing smiles, not one that makes you feel bad for enjoying it. And while it might not be the best film you’ll see this year, it’ll certainly leave a bit of an impression by the time the credits roll.

What I won’t be voting for in 2015

As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2015, I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before midnight tonight.

Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6, Transporter Refueled, Lost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.


Foxcatcher

steve_carell_foxcatcher1Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.


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Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age-of-Ultron-0003Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.


Southpaw

SOUTHPAW

I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.


SPECTRE

spectre-daniel-craigThis might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 9 – September Refuelled

As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

everest-base-camp-movieNormally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.

However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.

Wrong.

It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.

Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.

It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.

Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…


Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015

Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)

transporterI know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:

“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”

At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.


Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015

Monday – Tabloid (2010)Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015)Sunday – The Hunted (2003)

sons of benOrdinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:

“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015

Monday – L’eclisse (1962)Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015)Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015)Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)Sunday – EVEREST (2015)

60ea71a0-dcbf-4e43-92f6-415984fbdbd6-1020x612To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.


Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015

Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978)Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986)Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)

maxresdefault-3I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:

FAILED CRITICS PODCAST: THE INTERN, THE MARTIAN & SICARIO (29 Sep 2015)

Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.

There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.


Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015

Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)

skintradeheaderAh, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.


And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!

Failed Critics Podcast: One MILLION Dollars! Triple Bill

everestWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast. As promised, Steve Norman is back in the host’s chair this week as the award winning duo of Jack and Phil from Wikishuffle depart to be replaced by Matt Lambourne from the award winning video-game podcast Retro Asylum, such is the quality of guest on our shows these days!

As ever, they are both joined by Owen Hughes for this week’s triple bill episode, where each member of the team pick three films made for one million dollars or less in a bid to prove that the quality of a movie is not always dependent on its budget.

Before all of that, the guys also take a look at the Primetime Emmy Award winners announced this past weekend and indulge themselves with the final round of our ongoing quiz – which, for once, isn’t as shambolic as you might expect! There’s also time for:  Steve to tackle Everest, starring Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin amongst others;  Matt blows the dust out of his Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie cartridge;  and Owen joins him in continuing the video-game adaptation conversation by listing everything wrong with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

Join us again next week for reviews of Sicario, The Intern, and The Martian.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT LINK

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 8 – August, You Slice

Another month on in his year in review series, Owen takes a look at some of the films that he’s seen this past August. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

these final hours 2015Anyone who has been following the website and podcast over the past few months might have noticed that for a little while now, we’ve been going a bit Danny Dyer crazy. Not, like, mugging off slaaaags as per his persona. I mean, we’ve been covering a lot of Danny Dyer stuff.

In last month’s article, for example, I talked about how his tweet at the Failed Critics meet up in July played a part in cheering me up after some rather gutting news. We then had our most popular individual episode since 2012 when we inducted Dyer into our Corridor of Praise. Basically, we haven’t shut up about him. Throughout August, particularly in the couple of weeks leading up to that particular podcast, I watched a boat load of his movies. I’ll try not to talk about them all here [if you really want you can read my short reviews of them all over on Letterboxd] to spare you from being subjected to the same material over and over again.

Instead, I’m going to kick off this month’s article by talking about something completely original for this series: a b-movie sci-fi horror…

…What?


Week 1 – Saturday 1 – Sunday 2 August 2015

Saturday – HARDWARE (1990); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

hardware 1990In my July In Review article, the very last film I talked about was a documentary called Lost Soul. It follows director Richard Stanley’s doomed attempt to bring HG Wells’s novella The Island of Doctor Moreau to the silver screen back in 1996. It led to me immediately afterwards searching frantically online for a copy of said film to stream with no luck whatsoever. However, I did find Stanley’s two previous feature length movies available on Netflix, starting with his futuristic, dystopian, science fiction thriller Hardware. As you may have already ascertained from the title, the plot can essentially be boiled down to “cyborg gone bad”. It has the claustrophobic paranoia of Alien crossed with the relentlessness of The Terminator, made for a fraction of the cost of either film. Anyone who has been following these articles will know that during the past eight months, despite already having some degree of fondness for b-movies, one particular director, Albert Pyun, has really grabbed my attention of late. Richard Stanley’s Hardware is very reminiscent of Pyun’s style, with a nuclear ravaged world and killer-robot running rampage in an apartment, although it is somewhat smaller in scale. Where Pyun’s ambition is to always tell as epic an adventure as is possible, it maybe stretches him further than his budgets would sometimes allow. When he pulls it off, I love it. When he’s been a bit too ambitious, obviously it leaves his films rather painful to watch. Stanley seems as aware of his restrictions and tries to utilise them as much as possible. Hardware isn’t a perfect movie; indeed the last 20 minutes seem very repetitive and ends rather tamely. There are so many different ideas all crammed into an hour and a half that it convolutes things slightly too. But there’s a lot to admire here. Visually, I absolutely adored it. From the design of the robot to the red and orange tint across the picture, it is beautiful to look at all the way through. The world building is great to start with but kind of gets thrown out of the window at the mid-way point to turn it into a more close-knit horror, but is interesting all the same. All in all, despite knowing what happened to Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau, Hardware just made me all the more keen to find it and question the reputation of it being one of the worst films ever made!


Week 2 – Monday 3 – Sunday 9 August 2015

Monday – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)SOUTHPAW (2015)Tuesday – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), Fantastic Four (2015); Wednesday – Dust Devil (1992); Thursday – Top Gun (1986); Friday – Ginger Snaps (2000); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

southpawI could continue this Richard Stanley theme and talk about Dust Devil, his next feature after Hardware, but I won’t say any more than simply: I didn’t enjoy it as much. I could also discuss the two Mission: Impossible films that I enjoyed – alas, I found them largely forgettable and, as such, have… er… forgotten most of what they’re about beyond Cruise-gon’-Cruise. Instead, I want to explain why Southpaw was the film I was most looking forward to seeing this August and why it didn’t actually live up to my expectations. I actually picked Southpaw on our Summer Preview Podcast back in May, mostly because I was excited to see if Jake Gyllenhaal could improve on his performance in Nightcrawler last year. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.) The fact is, his performance is good enough to warrant a film like this; the way he transforms himself so he’s hardly recognisable in each role is thoroughly impressive. But Southpaw as a whole simply turned out to be a film that is just good enough. It keeps coming back to me. It’s just good enough. Good enough for me to have not felt like I’d wasted two hours in the cinema. Good enough for me to say it wasn’t disappointing. Good enough for me to have liked a lot about it. But it’s not great and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. Perhaps the story is little more than OK, with a Rocky-meets-Raging-Bull quality to it? Boxing films do seem to follow a pretty standard pattern, whatever culture they’re from. It doesn’t matter if it’s South Korea’s Crying Fist or a very Clint Eastwood Million Dollar Baby; they are typically about a character falling on hard times, facing adversity and then redeeming themselves. Maybe the lack of anything new or original is why I’m struggling to think of any reason that this would be anywhere near my top 10 of the year so far list, despite not actually disliking it? It’s just good enough. Nothing more and that’s a real shame.


Week 3 – Monday 10 – Sunday 16 August 2015

Monday – Apocalypse Now (1979); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – The All Together (2007); Friday – Devil’s Playground (2010); Saturday – The Other Half (2006); Sunday – Next Goal Wins (2014), WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001)

wet hot american summerLike a lot of other people, I have since found out, I too was tricked by the pretty terrible TV advert for the new Netflix prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. It didn’t appeal to me at all, despite Callum raving about it on our podcast not too long back. The cast looked impressive, but it had something off-puttingly Scary Movie / Epic MovieMeet The Spartans / other-shit-parody-movie about it. However, I knew it had cult status and I fancied watching a comedy film – something that The All Together and The Other Half had failed to deliver earlier in the week! So, despite going into Wet Hot American Summer with some degree of trepidation, it actually delivered a very smart, mostly laugh out loud comedy full of self-parody, fantastic comic-performances and made me re-think how I’d interpreted that TV ad for the Netflix series. I’m certainly glad that I watched the film first as even though the show is a prequel (made 15 years after the first film – something hilarious in itself) it does have a heck of a lot of call backs and set ups for the movie that have great pay-offs that I otherwise would have missed out on. Also, I’m aware that they very rarely all appear on screen together, but to get some of this cast back on board is simply amazing. Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper etc are all so much more well known now compared to back in 2001, yet still fit together like they’ve been planning a prequel show all this time. I highly recommend it for some quick consistent giggles and advise against letting that fucking advert put you off.


Week 4 – Monday 17 – Sunday 23 August 2015

Monday – The Island of Dr Moreau (1996); Tuesday – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015); Wednesday – The Wraith (1986); Thursday – VENDETTA (2013)Friday – Dead Man Running (2009); Saturday – Soldier (1998), Piranha 3DD (2012); Sunday – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

VendettaIf I’m going to pick any Danny Dyer film to talk about in this month’s article, it’s got to be the revenge thriller Vendetta, featuring an appearance from James Mullinger and produced by Jonathan Sothcott, both of whom appeared on that Corridor of Praise podcast I mentioned at the top of the page. The plot is very straight forward as British soldier (Danny Dyer) goes AWOL, returning to the UK to catch the scumbags who have burned his parents alive. It’s very nicely shot, there’s a lot of violent revenge enacted on people who “deserve their comeuppance” (described by The Guardian as revenge-porn) and it’s entirely unapologetic about it. If that’s your thing, then you are quite likely to love Vendetta. It’s probably the most grown-up performance from Dyer who, although having the reputation as a geezer and/or gangster, is usually playing the likeable, fallible, boy-ish good looking fellow in a group, not the rampaging murderer. In this, he properly is the hardened cold-killer and nails the role. Paul Field basically pressured me into buying this on blu-ray and it turned out to be a good decision as it’s an entertaining low-budget British thriller. It’s actually a shame that there’s no sign of a sequel just yet as they can’t “get Danny out of Walford” for the foreseeable future.


Week 5 – Monday 24 – Monday 31 August 2015

Monday – The Business (2005), The Football Factory (2004); Tuesday – Outlaw (2007); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – White Chicks (2004); Friday – THESE FINAL HOURS (2015)Saturday – The Guvnors (2014); Sunday – American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987), Sinister 2 (2015); Monday – [absolutely nothing]

these final hoursWe’ve talked about this Australian pre-post-apocalyptic (a genre term I’m pretty sure I coined) on the podcast in recent weeks, particularly as it was shown at FrightFest this year – although I actually found it on US Netflix. Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, starring Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek), Sarah Snook (Predestination) and Jessica De Gouw (Arrow, Dracula), as mentioned on the pdocast it does start off a bit like a music video. You’re not really invited to connect to the story nor the characters as a series of expositional dialogue sets things up alongside a show of bright, shallow visuals. It’s safe to say that it didn’t grab me straight away and I immediately thought it’d be a tediously dull wasted concept. However, once I got past the opening credits and the first five minutes, things suddenly get very dark. Whilst on the surface it appears to be as bleak as hell about humanity when facing a crisis – hey, let’s all get pissed, do a load of drugs and party until our skin is burnt from our bodies in 12 hours time – it does showcase some brightness in how we interact with each other. That there’s good in some of us. As the protagonist James stumbles across a young girl who has been separated from her family (played brilliantly by Angourie Rice), he decides to help her find her dad; at first reluctantly, but eventually it takes him on a course to see visit his mother, make peace with some friends and discover something about himself (albeit a little bit too late!) As far as these stories go, it never quite gets as distressing as something like The Road, but if you’re into an apocalyptic story that doesn’t feature either vampires or zombies, this might just be for you.


And that’s it! I’ll be back next month to recap what I’ve been watching throughout September. Until then, leave a comment if you’d like or just ignore the entire article completely. Your call.

Southpaw

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

southpaw 2015She’s hurting too. You’ve got to let her hate you, so she can get better.

I got hit by a southpaw guy once. I honestly thought he’d broken or popped something the second that his foot hit my unguarded and unprepared ribs. As the pain of the hit went through me, I thought I was going to die! I wheezed, I hit the deck and I called time on what was nothing more than a typical Tuesday night training session. To fight “southpaw” is, for want of a better description, to fight lefty. To switch your stance in such a way that punches (and kicks) are thrown from the wrong direction for your opponent. It provides a tactical advantage over the guy in front of you, fighting what is essentially a mirror image of yourself isn’t easy to combat. It’s harder still when a well trained fighter switches stance halfway through a fight, suddenly changing how you have to fight and defend and opening you up for a world of hurt.

Now, my little story is from an MMA point of view, and no matter the discipline, the term “southpaw” always means the same thing, but it’s primarily a boxing term and boxing is where we find ourselves with Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest drama, a film about a man who suddenly loses everything and simply doesn’t know how to cope without the things most precious to him.

Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, a champion boxer with 43 wins and no losses under that huge championship belt. Nicknamed “The Great”, Billy’s strengths lie in his ability to take a beating, to get hit over and over again and still have the strength in him, in his arms to throw enough punches to get the win. Always moving forwards, always getting in close is Billy’s key to success. A man impossible to beat into submission, a rabid dog who knows only how to bite and keep biting until he’s pulled off of his victim. But, on the flipside of that coin, once Billy is outside of the ring, he’s a doting family man; living only for his wife Maureen, his childhood sweetheart who came through the fostering system with him, and his daughter Leila, a headstrong kid who adores her fighter dad.

“The Great” Hope’s life is turned upside down when a charity dinner turns bloody and Maureen is the victim of a stray bullet fired in the heat of the moment. As Billy is forced to watch the life drain from the love of his life as she dies in his arms, as the light leaves her eyes, it begins to leave Billy’s too. With the woman that anchors his life suddenly gone, Billy spirals out of control and, try as he might, he can’t drag himself up from the hole he has found himself in and his daughter is beginning to feel the consequences of her dad’s actions.

After Billy is pushed into his next fight by his manager, uncaring of Billy’s situation and only smelling the money, the once proud, undefeated warrior lets himself take a beating in the ring hoping for some kind of deliverance in the hits he’s taking. Not defending himself, not fighting back, after the fight is stopped, events quickly take a turn for the worse and a rash decision on the boxer’s part quickly snowball and leave him without a home, without an income and with the State of New York taking Leila into care subject to Hope getting his act together and proving that he’s a man worthy of the title of “Father”.

At rock bottom and needing help clawing his way back up, Hope turns to Forest Whitaker’s Tick Willis. A former pro coach turned gym owner who spends his time training the neighbourhood kids and keeping them out of trouble. In a last-ditch attempt to get back his pride, his dignity and his little girl, Billy puts his trust in Tick to lead him down the right path to find some form of salvation from the road that he’s found himself on.

Southpaw comes to us from a pretty heavy hitting team-up. Starting with a great turn from Jake Gyllenhaal, a man who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for last year’s Nightcrawler, puts in an outstanding performance as the broken and beaten Billy Hope. A man who couldn’t be beaten in the ring but couldn’t hold it together outside of it. Direction duties come courtesy of one of my favourite directors working at the moment, Antoine Fuqua. Apart from the fact that he made Training Day, one of my all-time favourite films, he’s turned his hand to a few different genres with a few well known actors and has always been able to make an enjoyable film with what he’s given and that trend absolutely continues with Southpaw. But maybe my biggest surprise was when I discovered that it had been written by Kurt Sutter. A man not everyone knows, but those that do, know that his work is outstanding. Most famous for creating motorcycle drama Sons of Anarchy and being on long-term writing duty for The Shield, Sutter has put together a powerful film with enough emotional pull to get the heart straining at what you’re seeing on screen.

But, outshining all of them, even Gyllenhaal’s impressive change into Billy Hope and his spectacular performance, is (at the time of writing) twelve year old Oona Laurence’s performance as Leila Hope. As Billy’s heart, soul and reason for living, she stole every scene from Gyllenhaal and put in an award worthy show as the distraught little girl who’s lost her mum and is being wrenched from her dad. As one half of Billy’s “fighter” and “father” moniker tattooed along his arms, her fight is almost as great as his as she has to grieve and try to be a grown up for her dad. All of the magic of Southpaw comes from her performance. Every look of anger and disappointment from her will make your heart sink and every glimmer of pride for her old man will make all but the soulless weep for her.

The bottom line, is that Southpaw doesn’t really break any new ground. It’s a redemption story that has been told a hundred times before. Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation to Billy Hope is a spectacular one and a testament to how hard he worked to make his fights look as painful as they do with Fuqua’s direction making every hit hurt and every quiet moment tense. The film’s Oscar worthy performances, its strangely under-stated direction and its great script make it shine above other similar films. Fuqua and Sutter do an amazing job of subtly playing to the fears of every guy wanting to be a dad to their kids and NEEDING to be a man to their daughters. By the time I left the film last night, I was suitably emotionally drained and desperate to get home and hug my little girl, that’s praise enough for me.

You already know if you’re Southpaw‘s audience. Those that are, will love the little over two hours you’ll spend with Billy Hope on his journey for salvation. Those that aren’t, well, I’m sure there’s a talking animal film on for you somewhere.

Accidental Love

Accidental Love should have stayed unreleased.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

accidental loveAccidental Love has a long history behind it that I feel is worth mentioning before I attempt to impart coherent thoughts on the film itself.  See, the film was originally titled Nailed and its production first began in April of 2008 before being shut down once James Caan left over creative differences.  His role was recast and filming started again, before being shut down again.  Then it started up again, then was shut down again.  This happened 4 times over the course of two months, either via delays or just straight up shutting down production, leading to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to finally shut down production for good – supposedly on the final, crucial, plot-kicking-off-event day of shooting – in June 2008 as the crew weren’t getting paid.

The film then languished in purgatory for a full year and a half, before David O. Russell quit his directorial role, supposedly after clashing hard with the film’s producer, Ron Tutor, leading to 2010 re-shoots (no really) being done by somebody else.  An unfinished cut was screened in Los Angeles in March of 2011, supposedly without the knowledge of any of the cast or crew, in an attempt to find a distributor.  And now, four years after that screening and seven years after principal photography first begin, the film is finally seeing a release to the general public, albeit with an entirely different and hilariously generic title, and with O. Russell’s director and co-screenwriter credit changed to Stephen Greene because… well, I think you understand why he wanted his name removed from this regardless of how the film turned out.

So, it very much seems like the universe was out to get David O. Russell, that it was going out of its way to ensure that none of us had to bear witness to Accidental Love.  Unfortunately for us all, it didn’t go far enough.  Accidental Love got out and…  I honestly have no words.  I really don’t.  I got nothing here, folks.  I sat through all 100 minutes and I honestly could not tell you what happened, or what it was about, or what the point was, or why any part of this exists.  It’s one of those movies where quite literally every single thing is wrong, to such an extent that I have no idea what this film could have been even if it weren’t mired in production hell.  Could this has been a good movie at any stage?  I don’t know, I honestly do not know.

Here’s the gist of the set-up.  Jessica Biel plays a happy waitress at a throwback diner who is about to get married to pompous self-involved jackass James Marsden.  At the restaurant of the proposal, however, she suffers a freak accident and ends up with a three-inch nail in her head that can cause sudden mood-swings, unavoidable onsets of lust, and occasional lapses into Portuguese (for some reason).  Denied surgery because she doesn’t have healthcare, and with James bailing on her because he’s a self-involved jackass, she ends up inspired to travel to Washington D.C. when she sees an advert for a freshman congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal) in an attempt to coerce him into passing a bill providing free emergency health care for herself and her friends, a preacher with an inflamed penis (Kurt Fuller) and his charge’s prolapsed arse (Tracy Morgan).

Then, things get really weird.  There are a group of Girl Scouts who get involved for… some reason that I think is due to Shakira because that whole concept sounded funny to… someone.  Catherine Keener plays the Congresswoman who is opposed to this sort of thing because it might encourage child lesbianism, which she is also against, and she’s trying to push through a bill to build a military base on the moon because… reasons.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel fall in love because he could give her an orgasm whilst James Marsden couldn’t which is… something, alright.  There’s a moment late in the film where Gyllenhaal runs off to join a tribe in order to become a man and he either excessively bronzed up or just straight up blacked up (I honestly couldn’t tell, the lighting in this movie is abysmal) because… I honestly just do not know.

Look, I love me some absurdism.  Literally 18 hours prior to my typing these words, I just got done watching Wet Hot American Summer for the first time and I laughed harder at that than I had at anything else in months.  But the best absurdism, sort of contrary to the entire point of the concept but there you go, has a central point to it, a reason as to why, in a WHAS example, a man is dry-humping a fridge whilst a crowd of 10 year-old kids cheer him on.  But Accidental Love really doesn’t seem to have a point.  I think it purports to be a political satire?  Yet its satire is on the level of middle-schoolers who have watched a few episodes of The Daily Show but don’t at all get why that show is so good – Republicans oppose health care because they’re paranoid hate-filled lunatics, and it’s impossible to do good in politics because nobody’s got any principles.  Very insightful satire, folks.  Next you’ll blow my mind by telling me that Capitalism is a bad thing we should all rebel against.

Then there’s the fact that this is just shot and designed appallingly.  There’s this half-assed Tim Burton-y feel to the film’s pre-D.C. locations, where nothing feels quite real in this obvious stagey way, but is done with even less effort than Burton has in recent years (and which he did far better in last year’s sadly ignored Big Eyes, natch).  The camera spends much of its time tilted at 45-degree angles for no particular reason, everything seems to be underlit all the time (as I’ve already mentioned), and there is this dreadful Danny Elfman-esque score backing damn near everything.  The score is really irritating, I cannot stress that enough, so excessively quirky and blaring and zany and straining to communicate just how ka-RAAAYYYYZEEE the movie you are watching is and I hate it I hate it I hate I hate I hate I hate hate hate hate…

That score ends up indicative of the film in general.  It’s trying way, way too hard to be quirky and off-beat and Indie, yet doesn’t seem to have had any actual effort put into it anywhere.  It feels like a film that just had a whole bunch of the stupidest ideas thrown into it randomly and with no concerted effort to have the resulting concoction make any sense, have any actual point, or be any good.  It’s not funny, I’ll tell you that much, and everybody screaming their dialogue really fast at the top of their lungs does not disguise that fact.  I don’t know what this film is.  Are there supposed to be jokes?  Cos I didn’t find any.  Is this supposed to be a satire?  Are we supposed to laugh at Jessica Biel, since her condition keeps trying be played for laughs like the film believes that people who suffer mental damage from strange accidents is hilarious?  Are we supposed to like any of these frequently and outwardly horrible people?  I don’t know, I don’t know, I just do not know.

Just… I… It seriously just blows my mind that human beings made this.  Like, I’m used to good actors giving bad performances in bad movies – it’s like this was purposefully timed to remind us all that Jake Gyllenhaal can, in fact, give the polar opposite of the quality of his Nightcrawler performance when he really tries – and for (apparently, since I’m still yet to see a David O. Russell movie that I actually like) good directors to make terrible movies, but this…  Accidental Love goes beyond that.  This is so utterly inept, so totally incompetent, and so thoroughly and fundamentally wrongheaded and misguided that I see no universe in which this could have turned out to be any good.  Even if its production went off without a hitch, even if it weren’t so thoroughly outdated by now, I still cannot imagine this…  I…

I’m sorry, I just can’t believe that this was made by living functioning human beings.

Callum Petch, while you were sleeping, took over your town.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Half A Decade In Film – 2014

So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.

Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.

Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…


Kundo: Age of the Rampant

kundoToday, those who serve the people, serve only their own interests, and neglect their sworn duty. Isn’t that shameful?

Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.

I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.

The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.

He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.

The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.

Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.

It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.

There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.

But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.

A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Pride

prideI’ve had a lot of new experiences during this strike. Speaking in public, standing on a picket line. And now I’m in a gay bar.

Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!

We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.

The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America The Winter SoldierBefore we get started, does anyone want to get out?

As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.

For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.

Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!

Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.

My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.

It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nightcrawler

NIGHTCRAWLERYou can’t win the lottery unless you make the money to buy a ticket.

Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.

Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.

It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Guardians of the Galaxy

gotgHe said that he may be an… “a-hole”. But he’s not, and I quote, “100% a dick”.

Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.

James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.

The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.

Half A Decade In Film – 2011

2011 seems so long ago now. It’s hard to imagine films even existing back then. The fields were all green, the sky unpolluted and movies were just a figment of the imagination.

That’s clearly not true. But certainly Failed Critics didn’t exist until the following year, so anything that went before it was obviously just practice until our arrival. Film criticism in particular wouldn’t reach its zenith until 2012 with the inception of this website (……)!

OK, so that might not be true either! Nevertheless, Liam, Paul, Mike, Andrew and Owen all return for another entry to our Half A Decade In Film series as they cast their minds back all those years and each take a look at their favourite film of 2011 as we continue with our Decade In Film spin-off series.


Source Code

© 2010 Vendome PicturesAny soldier I’ve ever served with would say that one death is service enough.

It seems insane to say it now, but I wasn’t always a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Not least of all because just typing his name for this article brings up that obnoxious squiggly red line that tries to convince me that I can’t bloody spell!
I liked his earlier films. Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are great. But for the most part they are great in spite of Mr Gyllenhaal’s inclusion. I tended to judge him more on rubbish films like The Day After Tomorrow and stuff I just didn’t like, like Donnie Darko and with those in mind I just never saw the appeal of Jake and his performances. Until I saw Source Code that is.

The weird thing is that Gyllenhaal’s performance wasn’t anything special! It wasn’t crap, but it was one of those times when you could name any number of half decent actors that do the role just as well. But the direction, was absolutely superb and anyone in the role of Gyllenhaal’s Army Pilot would have been great as Duncan Jones (the guy that made the excellent Moon) dragged the best out of everyone involved.

Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an Army Pilot who’s last memory is of being on mission in Afghanistan. Suddenly waking up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) he takes a few minutes to figure out what is going on and where he is. In those minutes, his train explodes and kills everyone on board.

Waking from the explosion like a bad dream, Stevens is told he is part of an experiment called “Source Code” and he is being used to stop a terrorist attack that is due to happen in the next few hours having already blown up a commuter train. He is being sent back to relive the last few minutes on that train and find the bomber.

Annoying and silly tacked-on “Hollywood” ending aside, what should be a so-so plot to an average screenplay (written by the guy that wrote Species 3 and 4, for Christ’s sake) is brought to brilliant life with Duncan Jones’ direction as Gyllenhaal thrillingly races against the clock time and time again in a sci-fi Groundhog Day with a shorter memory span, for a generation that’s grown up with The Matrix!

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Super 8

super 8“According to my Uncle Seth, an accident like this is exceptionally rare.”

After the success of  JJ Abram’s Star Trek, there was a buzz about Super 8, a creature-feature which many now consider to be Abrams homage to the Spielberg films of the 80’s. There are some similarities that’s for sure; it uses the same heartbeat, the same suspense and creates a great character dynamic that some of Spielberg’s films have used. Yet it never really reaches the dizzy heights or emotions that those kinds of films hit. E.T broke your heart, The Goonies made you really care about a bunch of misfit kids, and Close Encounters left you in awe. Super 8 never gets there for me, yet that said it is still a great film and one which really does entertain me.

Abrams doesn’t just follow one Spielberg film, he amalgamates a collection of them. A group of friends: not as misfit as the Goonies but pretty close. The broken home: here the family is ripped apart by tragedy and the husband left to bring up his son in a haze of grief and loneliness. Friendships torn apart and rebuilt, romance and of course let’s not forget about the alien. The alien is along ET’s path, while it’s a bit more ferocious then ET, Abram’s alien is just as lost and alone has the little planet loving alien we all cried over (well some of us) back in the 80’s. Being held in captivity and under constant scrutiny and testing, all the alien wants to do is go home.

Once the alien escapes after the rather over-the-top yet quite spectacular train crash, the hunt is on, a town in fear, the military spinning the truth and we are back to Close Encounters. Objects going missing, strange sounds in the distance and of course we need one of the kids to go missing as well. Abram builds the tension from the train crash slowly and surely to he finally reveals his alien in all its glory. While I do like the final third of the film, the ending seems a little flat after everything which has come before it. I was just lacking a real connection to the alien, the kids or even the grieving father and son, and it just feels a nice and satisfactory end to the film, but it doesn’t really spoil it for me.

There isn’t really that much I dislike about Super 8 (except the end). It has a superb score from Michael Giacchino, some wonderful cinematography from Larry Fong and a really solid cast of kids and adults. Kyle Chandler is superb as the father, along with the gang of kids led by Joel Courtney and the wonderful Elle Fanning, they all give solid performances from a decent script. Visually the look of the film is stunning, the train crash without doubt one of my favourite scenes of the whole film. As I said Abram’s is channelling Speilberg but never really pulls it off completely but even so it’s a rather brave attempt and one of my favourite films of 2011.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

rise of the apesPlease, Mr. Jacobs! Lives are at stake! These are animals with personalities, with attachments!

I’ve written and talked extensively about my fondness for the Planet of the Apes films, book, comics, TV show and remakes. Most recently in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I explain a little about the time I first saw Rise of… in the cinema upon its release (coincidentally on my birthday!)

At the time, I absolutely adored it. After the terrible trailer showing apes leaping off bridges onto helicopters, I half expected a dreadful, CGI filled blockbuster with less redeeming qualities than Tim Burton’s attempt to tell Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet tale. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this clever little sci-fi began to carefully tell a story of an old man with dementia, a potential cure being tested on an ape (Caesar) that begins to grow in intelligence, learns to communicate and, er, leads an uprising.

I’ve since watched it a couple of more times and although that surprise is obviously no longer present, it’s still no less entertaining. It’s everything that’s required of a sci-fi blockbuster. It’s got heart, a great story, decent performances (brilliant performances in the case of Andy Serkis and John Lithgow), an epic climax and it looks utterly breathtaking.

The fact that director Rupert Wyatt and his writers got the tone so absolutely spot on that it completely fits in with the Planet of the Apes franchise, yet felt fresh and modern in a way that some of the dated original sequels don’t any more, is testament to not only their ability, but also to the source material. Quite simply, as much as I loved Conquest of and Escape from, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the series since 1968. And probably the best science fiction blockbuster released between District 9 and a certain Marvel movie a year later.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


The Yellow Sea

the yellow seaDon’t forget it. If you forget it, your family’s all dead.

One of my favourite Korean films is The Chaser (2008), the tale of a cop/pimp and a serial killer, which as the title suggests, has an awful lot of chasing. The team behind it, director (Na Hong-jin) and stars (Kim Yun-seok & Ha Jung-woo) team up again for The Yellow Sea. That the phenomenal The Chaser was a debut effort put The Yellow Sea top of my ‘to see list’ for 2011.

It’s a simple set up, gambling debt ridden cab driver is offered a way out of his problems……..go to Korea and kill someone. It takes a while to get going, and I can’t deny the simplistic plot is then burdened with a sub-plot about his wife and a small army of characters that you don’t care about or are just not fleshed out that well. So why do I love this film so much…?

…A good Korean gangster caper needs the following ingredients. A completely inept Police force, people being hit around the head repeatedly, ridiculous melodrama, no guns, the main protagonist being outnumbered to a ridiculous degree in fights and chase scenes and of course, close combat involving knives.

The Yellow Sea does all of this. It’s very, very stabby…..and axey….and er…large unidentified animal boney…if it can be used to beat, stab and kill people, it will be. Rivers of blood, things being chopped off, lots of screaming and of course….lots of chasing. This is to The Chaser, what The Raid 2 was to The Raid. All the fun of the first film is there, but they’ve shoe-horned in a proper film too.

I’ve seen this 3 times, this was my first look at the slimmed down directors cut for US audiences. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the main characters, and that alone made this my favourite film of 2011.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Le Havre

le havreYou don’t deserve such a good wife. You’re not worth her.” “No-one is, so I’ll do.

Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre is a wonderfully karmic comedy drama set in the titular French port.

Marcel Marx is a financially struggling shoeshine who comes across a young Gabonese boy desperately trying to hide. The shipping container he and his compatriots stowed away had been delayed & diverted from its intended destination of London and opened by heavily armed immigration authorities. The boy, Idrissa, is the only member of the party to make a bolt for the door and get away.

The film follows Marcel’s struggles to help the boy evade capture and make his escape across the Channel to join his mother in London.

They face numerous obstacles; Marcel’s wife’s seemingly terminal illness, the media frenzy about immigration issues, the government authorities’ high profile crack down and the local police have Marcel marked down as chief suspect.

Those familiar with Kaurismaki’s work will recognise many of his signature touches. It’s a simple story about the basic, human decency of ordinary people. All his usual trademarks are present, the constant cigarette smoking, the dog, the importance of music and the wonderfully wry, deadpan humour.

One of the most interesting characters is Monet, the local Inspector. His morals and motives are far from obvious, you are kept guessing right to the end of the film. His encounters with Marcel are so uncomfortable. Is he speaking “Off Duty”, as he claims? Is he genuinely warning Marcel that the net is closing in out of compassion? Or is he slyly trying to wheedle out information by putting Marcel at ease? He brings to mind a slower moving, morose version of Columbo. Hardly surprising, as both are clearly inspired by Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich.

A highlight, maybe not entirely for the right reasons, is the Charity Concert performance of French recording artist Little Bob, making a cameo appearance. Imagine an elderly Ewok dressed in 1980’s biker leathers and you’re on the right lines.

The only slight disappointment in the whole film is the performance of Kati Outinen as Marcel’s wife Arletty. A truly superb actress, she is somewhat restricted by her character’s illness, but this is still far from the level of performance she’s given in any of Kaurismaki’s other films.

A hugely enjoyable film, with compassion and decency as its main themes.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Five films there that span a few different genres and continents but are all equally as excellent as each other, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or, maybe you don’t agree and think we’ve erroneously overlooked an obvious choice? Let us know in the comments section below. Otherwise, you’ll have to stew in your own angry juices until we return next week with five of our favourite films released in 2012.

Enemy

by Gerry McAuley

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a history professor in Enemy.I had the chance to see a preview of Denis Villeneuve’s second collaboration with Jake Gylenhaal last Spring when the film was released in North America and Spain. It is testament to the film’s lasting impact on the viewer that I can write this review quite clearly many months later when it finally gets a general release.

I’m not expecting too many people in the UK to see it at the cinema because frankly it’s had minimal promotion; those that do venture out, however, will undoubtedly have a ‘Marmite’ reaction. I absolutely loved it, even if I don’t fully understand it. My other half hated it. This is a polarising film that you will argue over (and try to understand) for a long time. For that reason alone it’s worthwhile viewing but there is so much more that makes it significant.

Enemy is a psychological thriller that centres around two Gylenhaal characters: Adam, a solitary professor who seems to be frustrated by his monotonous life yet incapable of changing it, and Anthony, an aspiring actor who appears to be Adam’s exact physical doppelgänger. When he spots Anthony in a minor role in a movie, Adam becomes obsessed with tracking down his double.

I don’t want to give away anything further about the narrative as this is the key to the film’s success. Based on a Jose Saramago novel, Villeneuve’s direction always seeks to create ambiguity and prompt questions. You will find yourself asking what the hell is going on here on a number of occasions. And that’s what’s so fantastic in my opinion – this is challenging without straying into art-house bollocks, thrilling and puzzling and horrifying and brilliant and potentially rubbish all at the same time.

What I can say is that there is something unmistakably ‘off’ about the entire film. There is a cloying sense of a rotten core, a darkness just below the surface that continually threatens to expose itself fully before scurrying tantalisingly out of the viewer’s reach. No interpretation I have come up with fully satisfies. Currently there are two separate theories/explanations I’m subscribing to without being able to decide if they can be compatible or not.

There are two outstanding elements that prevent Enemy from becoming the aforementioned art-house bollocks. The first is Gylenhaal’s performance as the two protagonists. He brings tremendous variety and nuance to each so that they become distinct while hinting at hidden depths which make the film so enigmatically wonderful.

The second is Villeneuve’s direction – the pacing is measured (some might say slow) and the use of light and camera to create atmosphere is excellent. He’s confident enough to leave extended pauses between anyone speaking, interspersing the narrative work with lingering shots of birds flocking above the Toronto skyline. There is a feeling that everything is deliberate, every element of a shot carrying some kind of meaning that will be crucial when attempting to decipher this film afterwards (and that is what you have to do – probably with a second viewing) that is reminiscent of true masters of the genre like Hitchcock and Haneke.

That’s not to say that I think Enemy is on a par with either of their best efforts, just that Villeneuve is one of the outstanding up-and-coming talents in mainstream cinema. With Enemy the boundaries are pushed even though the experience also feels comfortingly familiar. This is a film that merits several viewings and animated discussions around the dinner table – I will be checking it out again myself with the hope that I can finally debate its meaning with people I know. It’s unusual to be able to say this about a film that’s just gone on general release but I can assure you that Enemy will stay with you for a long time, regardless of your opinion on it.

In trying to provide a conclusion to this review I struggled for quite some time to adequately capture my feelings, to provide a neat, short summary on what this film is or why you should watch it. Truthfully there isn’t any way to accurately convey how good this film is in a short written review. And that, in fact, is probably the best thing I could say.

Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #10 – #6

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

141.  That’s the number of films released in 2014 that I have seen. That is a lot of films.  To put that into perspective, I have been attempting to critique films on the Internet for five years now and that number is more than the combined total of films I had seen in all four of those prior years when it came time to do some list making.  Of those 141, 131 were eligible for appearances on my lists.  That is insane.  To tell you the truth, I have no idea how on earth I’ve managed it, especially since I spent much of this past year despairing at movies in various forms.

Except that, as the year has come closer to its end and I’ve reflected more and more upon what I have seen, the problem is not that films were worse in 2014 (although there have been some atrocious pieces of tripe, as we shall see in a few days’ time).  The problem is that I have seen more films in 2014.  Whereas in prior years I would have to pick and choose what films I could and could not see, therefore sticking with safer bets and actively avoiding crap, this past year I have been able to see damn near everything that came my way, which has meant flinging quality control out of the window and exposing myself to films I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten-foot pole.

In some cases, this has meant extended bouts of self-flagellation.  In others, this has allowed for major surprises that I would not have typically tried to burst through to the forefront.  In some cases, this has meant that the frequency of films that I was looking forward to disappointing me in some way this year would get me down somewhat.  In other cases, this has meant that I can see the films I love multiple times and allowed them to really stick out in my brain for days, weeks, even months on end.  It’s a double-edged sword is throwing out the personal quality control barrier and seeing whatever comes your way, but I honestly can’t think of my cinema-going lifestyle now in ways that don’t involve voluntarily seeing everything that I can.

It also means that constructing my Top 10 list this year was both incredibly easy and unbearably difficult.  I’ve had to do this three separate times over the past month for various different things and each time it’s gotten progressively easier and harder, as certain films remained steadfast in their appearance and placements whilst others jumped around and dropped out.  Seeing so many films has made the absolutely cream more apparent but has also made filling the bottom end of the list that much harder, as certain entries are way too close in quality to others.  The list is actually a Top 20, but it’s been abbreviated to Top 10 as I am pretty sure that Owen would like back his website at some point this week.  I am, however, incredibly satisfied with it, the most satisfied with any Top 10 Movies of [x] list I’ve so far had to make, so take that for what it’s worth.

Now, before we begin, a brief set of pointers.  This list is strictly limited to films that have seen a UK release in 2014, so the awards season films that have yet to cross the pond (Foxcatcher, Wild, Inherent Vice, Whiplash, Birdman) or just films that don’t have the common courtesy to turn up on time (Big Hero 6, Top Five) aren’t eligible.  I am also limiting the list to 2014 films, awards season films that saw an American release in 2013 (The Wolf Of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, The Wind Rises) aren’t eligible.  Finally, even though I have seen a ridiculous amount of films in 2014, I haven’t seen them all and, naturally, this list can only include films that I have seen.  Blue Ruin, Belle, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nymphomaniac may be outstanding, and I tried so hard to get around to seeing them, but I unfortunately ran out of time and so they can’t be featured.

Lastly, I mentioned that I did arrange a Top 20 so I might as well share 20 to 11 with you before we get started on part one.  In reverse order (starting at 20, ending at 11): St. Vincent, Locke, Pride (which was my favourite surprise of 2014 and would have taken the #10 slot by default if this were any other year), Mistaken For Strangers, Lucy, 22 Jump Street, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks, The Lego Movie, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians Of The Galaxy which was pushed out of the Top 10 at the very last minute.  It’s a testament to the Top 10 that these films, all of which I love, are the ones that just missed out.

So, no more pre-amble faffing.  Today, we go through entries 10 to 6.  Are we all ready?  In that case, TITANS, GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


edge of tomorrow10] Edge Of Tomorrow

Dir: Doug Liman

Star: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

Edge Of Tomorrow is something that 2014 surprisingly lacked: a damn fun, pure blockbuster.  Much of this past Summer consisted of films that either took themselves way too seriously, were majorly flawed in some way, or severely underwhelmed and disappointed.  That’s not including those films that were desperately trying to force a franchise out of thin air, or were so busy trying to set-up pays-offs in practically guaranteed later films that they did nothing and told no stories in their current films.  Blockbuster filmmaking nowadays frequently consists of nothing but po-faced seriousness, loud noises and delayed gratification.

Then in swaggers Edge Of Tomorrow, wide-eyed with optimism, confident in what it wants to do, aviator sunglasses proclaiming it to be the coolest motherf*cker in the room at that moment in time, and looking for some fun.  It takes one look at the dreary and dull way that everybody else is doing things, sees how the general public is lapping up that crap, then swiftly turns around and marches back out that door.  Edge Of Tomorrow wants nothing to do with the modern blockbuster.  It wants to be fun, it wants to smarter than just loud noises, it wants to tell a full and complete story, the kind that only a $178 million budget can provide, and it does not give one f*ck if anybody else cares or not.

By the time that Edge Of Tomorrow had arrived in cinemas, I was in rather low spirits for 2014 film.  I had come off a string of disappointments and was all prepared for this film that I had heard good things about and seen advertised majorly to similarly underwhelm me.  Instead, over the course of 113 brilliant minutes, I was rejuvenated and reminded of why I love the movies.  Sometimes you want to sit down and be challenged, be pushed, be confronted and to experience something very serious.  But sometimes you just want to sit down and watch something fun, and Edge Of Tomorrow delivers that in spades.  It takes its central premise – the day resetting every time that Tom Cruise’s Major William Cage dies – and goes for broke, exploiting it for drama, comedy, black comedy, character work, and a tonne of incredibly awesome action moments.

But it’s also smart, it has a brain going on up in its head.  Edge Of Tomorrow is fun and spectacle, but grounds that fun and spectacle in excellent character work and committed performances.  Tom Cruise sheds his usual charm and movie star charisma to play a slimy cowardly ass and he is equally as strong at that as he is when Cage slowly becomes braver, more in control, more heroic; his excellent performance adding onto the extremely well written character.  Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is a goddamn revelation as Sgt. Rita Vrataski, absolutely commanding the screen in a performance of such intensity and skill and quiet emotion that, in a decent and deserving world, would catapult her to A-list superstardom.  Vrataski, too, is one hell of a character, a strong capable woman who has been hardened by trauma but is not emotionless or humourless or relegated and degraded by the film.  In other words, the kind of female character that blockbusters almost never bother to create.

It’s not perfect, it’s not thematically heavy, and I do wish that it ended about two minutes earlier, before the bittersweet ending is turned into a completely happy ending, but those flaws only serve to raise Edge Of Tomorrow as a whole.  They are the flaws and rough edges of a scrappy individualistic film, a film that does its own thing and remains steadfast against studio interference and focus grouping as much as possible.  They throw what Edge Of Tomorrow does right into sharper relief and Edge Of Tomorrow gets so much right.  It’s a reminder of what blockbuster filmmaking is capable of if it would get its head out from its ass, stop purely focussing on profit margins, quit focus-testing everything, and stopped sucking the teat of serialisation and franchising.

In a decade or so’s time, we as a film-going audience, along with a generation of filmmakers with studio budgets, are going to look back at Edge Of Tomorrow and go, “Yep, we should have done more of that.  We should be doing more of that.”


09] Starred Upstarred up

Dir: David Mackenzie

Star: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend

Forget the trailer.  Ignore the trailer.  That is not Starred UpStarred Up is not a dark, gritty, lads’ “C’MON, YOU SLAAAAAGS!!” prison flick with nothing going on aimed solely at the lowest common male denominator.  Starred Up is actually a bleak, unflinching, realist melodrama about masculinity, fathers, and the self-perpetuation of the modern prison system.  It is not a film that asks you to like any of its characters, it is not a film that revels in its bursts of violence or nastiness, it is not a film that is interested in fulfilling anybody’s fantasies of how cool prison is.  Starred Up is an angry film and you are damn well going to pay attention to what it wants to say.

Much of the plaudits thrown Starred Up’s way are for Jack O’Connell’s central performance as Eric Love, and it’s hard to argue against that.  O’Connell – in the first of what turned out to be three outstanding performances from this past year, I really hope that this momentum keeps up because he deserves to be a star – plays Love with such barely restrained intensity that perfectly fits his livewire tendencies without going overboard into ham and cheese.  He’s also able to reach down and find the sadness, the wounded nature at the heart of Eric that powers his angry violent lashings out at the world and which makes them hurt that much more.  Eric Love could have been a cartoon character in the wrong hands, but O’Connell mixes that intensity, that vulnerability, an air of mystery and his own natural likeability as an actor to create a profoundly complex lead.  It really is a powerhouse performance.

But to focus solely on O’Connell would be to do the rest of Starred Up a disservice.  The script, for example, by newcomer Jonathan Asser, grounds its more melodramatic tendencies in a low-key rather realist way.  The tropes that you expect to show up in a prison drama – corrupt officers, shankings, prisoners running the show, lots of swearing – turn up here, but they’re executed in a low-key way.  Big deals aren’t made of them, they’re just everyday facts of prison life and their appearances tie back into character work, with Eric’s crazed alpha-male desire to make a name for himself both disrupting the delicate nature of this broken system and re-enforcing his worst impulses, and the film’s bleak overall message of the self-perpetuating cycle of prison.

Nobody in Starred Up is clean or fully good.  There are only shades of grey and even darker shades of grey.  Even the closest thing the film gets to a fully sympathetic character, in Rupert Friend’s tired and ceaselessly loyal prison therapist, is still strongly hinted to have some kind of superiority complex powering his actions – his adamant claim of “I need to be here” can be taken so many ways.  Eric’s been raised with the belief that self-destructiveness and violence is the only acceptable form of masculinity, and he can’t realise that all it has done is destroy his life.  It’s also so deep-seated that all of that hard therapy work can be instantly discarded the second his dad turns up and tries to make up for lost time by steering him the wrong way and completely misreading his son.  Not to mention the fact that the actual prison staff view the people they are assigned to look after with nothing but contempt; deep-seated beliefs that all of their charges are irredeemable and not worth even trying to reform.

The film’s more melodramatic moments – shower attacks, the final 10 to 15 minutes – benefit from that realist nihilism and strong character work.  Such effort has gone into fashioning a portrait of our broken prison system that the moments where more blatantly fictional touches break through still fit within the previously established world and nature of the film, acting like cappers to its overall point.  Couple that foundation with extremely well-handled themes, great supporting performances (Friend’s increasing desperation in protecting his little group is especially well-conveyed), an excellent script, and a thunderous central Jack O’Connell performance and you get a film as commanding and fiercely memorable as Starred Up.  It is bleak viewing, but it is vital viewing and it is so much better than the trailer suggests.


grand budapest hotel08] The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dir: Wes Anderson

Star: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, a lot of others

My first viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel underwhelmed me somewhat and I am willing to chalk that up to two things.  The first was trailer overexposure – this thing was relentlessly trailed before films for months on end, a lot of its best laughs were featured in it, and most everything stops being funny when you’ve seen it for the 20th time – the second was personal overhyping – I really liked that trailer when it dropped and was really bloody excited for the finished film.  I still thought it was a very good movie, but overexposure (the catalyst in getting me to just walk out during trailers now) and my weird belief that I was going to get a more monumental film than what I ended up getting lead to my questioning of whether this was it, as it were.

A second viewing later in the year proved me to be majorly and totally wrong on every negative account.  See, Grand Budapest is my first proper Wes Anderson film – I had seen Fantastic Mr. Fox in late 2012, but that was it – and so I wasn’t properly prepared for what was in store, expecting something different than what I got (I don’t know what it was I was expecting, but there you go).  I think the rather low-key nature of Grand Budapest caught me off guard.  It’s a film whose scale is large – encompassing tonnes of characters in a wide range of locations across multiple time periods and several different aspect ratios – yet whose stakes are rather small and its central character relationships tight knit.

And it’s that closeness that actually makes The Grand Budapest Hotel resonate and stick.  This is a very funny film – good lord, is it ever a very funny film, especially pretty much anything that comes out the mouth of an absolutely dynamite Ralph Fiennes – but what sticks with me after watching this film, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks after, is the sadness that runs throughout the entire film due to that closeness.  This is a sad film, a melancholy film, a film that never lets that sadness get buried under too many layers of whimsy or raucous jokes.  It is a film that is sad for days long since passed, both in terms of humanity – with barbarism and self-interest corroding decency and respectability – and filmmaking – there’s genuine love coming from Anderson’s insistence on using virtually every aspect ratio ever used in a commercial cinema release.

Yet the irony is that none of its characters are from the time it’s so wistfully nostalgic for.  Gustave H. is a man of some level of respectability and civility stuck in a time that slides further into greed and fascism the longer he sticks around.  Zero is a man who is clearly wounded and saddened by a world that would reject the actions and principles of a man like Gustave, and whose life is marked by constant loss and the encroachment of old age.  The Author is fascinated by the stories of Zero and Gustave H. but remains removed and emotionally distant due to both his profession and the fact that he doesn’t get the true feeling of that time due to having experienced nothing close to it.  The Young Girl who reads the book that starts off our film similarly can only paint a picture in her head of those times, to escape the miserable looking world that she is currently a part of, and it’s unlikely to resemble anything close to reality.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is very much about people trapped out of time, even Inspector Henckles who tries to deal with proceedings in a civil manner despite the force that he is a part of being of the barbaric type.  That wistful nostalgia does not really exist for many of its characters, as the time they are nostalgic for frequently ended long before they were born.  Yet, it’s what bonds them, it’s what brings Zero and Agatha together, it’s what makes Gustav and Zero such fire-forged friends, and it’s what ultimately proves their downfalls; their inability to let go.  Yet, they are respected and admired by the film and by Anderson for that commitment to their nostalgia – why should holding onto a time when people weren’t being violent fascist pigs be considered a bad thing? – and that’s why the film’s gradual reveal of its incredibly bittersweet ending feels so poignant.

It’s a film that is sold on its laughs and its quirkiness, but stays with me thanks to its deep-rooted sadness and melancholy heart.  It’s an incredibly clever and impeccably well-balanced film and pulls off that tightrope walk – sentimental without being sappy, riotously funny without drowning out the melancholy or becoming too bawdy – with aplomb.  I should really make the time to watch more Wes Anderson films, already.


07] NightcrawlerNIGHTCRAWLER

Dir: Dan Gilroy

Star: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

First things first, Nightcrawler contains my single favourite film scene in all of 2014.  I am referring to “Horror House”.  Not the bit where Lou Bloom is filming the sequence, nor the bit where he utterly unnervingly shreds Morning News Director Nina over negotiations for the tape (although that is close), the bit where it goes to air and the film makes you sit through every last agonising second as a whole studio full of ratings hungry opportunists exploit the misery and suffering of others for profit.  It’s the way that it twists the knife and turns the screws and keeps going, and going, and going, forcing you to sit through the whole segment, making you complicit in their work, and being written and presented in such a way that the scene stopped being a sequence from a movie for me and became something uncomfortably close to our reality.

It’s a magnificent scene and it also hides the true target of Nightcrawler’s venomous anger in plain sight.  Nightcrawler is a takedown of sensationalist 24-hour cable news networks, but it’s also a blisteringly angry screed against Capitalism, encapsulated in “Horror House” by having the news crew exploit the suffering of others to further their own hunt for money and success, especially hammering home the idea that a wealthy white suburban family was murdered by lower-class possibly Hispanic (at the time it’s unclear, not that that stops any of the anchors from pushing down hard on this button) gang members.  After all, nothing’s more likely to keep the broken system of Capitalism in place than by terrifying those with the power and success that the unworthy lower classes are coming to take everything away from them, whilst simultaneously profiting off of that fear.

The film’s thoughts and views on Capitalism can be best summed up by the character of Lou Bloom himself, a walking encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the system.  Lou is a complete sociopath purely interested in his own self-gain.  He is somebody who has been told time and time again that he deserves success and that he can win at The American Dream if he just works hard enough, and when that doesn’t happen he resorts to crime and petty theft to claw his way up.  He speaks near-exclusively in sound-bites ripped from corporate handbooks, justifies everything he ever does in cold, calculated business terms and is incapable of treating people like humans – later revealed to be down to his contempt for them.

Then, he stumbles into a field where his sociopathy, lack of morals and complete disregard for social decency and the law are rewarded.  His desire to stay one step ahead, by any means necessary, in the Nightcrawling business gets him the money, the car, the recognition and the in to start climbing up the corporate ladder.  And when he doesn’t get what he wants, he manipulates, blackmails, threatens, sexually exploits, and even near-outright murders to get his way.  But not once is Lou punished.  Not once does he truly hit a setback, because Capitalism is broken and those who are willing to cross the moral line are the ones who will successfully make it, whilst the rest will be left in the dust to be exploited by those who go too far.  [BRIEF SPOILER BIT, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU’VE YET TO SEE THE FILM] That’s why Lou gets off scott-free in the end.  Sure, the police technically have enough evidence to put him away, but to do that would be to undermine the message: Lou has won Capitalism because of his complete sociopathy and lack of a moral code.  Even his new company logo is ripped straight from that of the rival he killed earlier!

Jake Gyllenhaal puts in the performance of his career as Lou Bloom, always keeping the viewer at a distance yet forcefully commanding their attention at all times.  He’s clearly relishing the opportunity to sink his teeth into such a detestable yet complex role, and his total commitment to making Lou this utterly abhorrent and frightening monster is a major reason of why the film works.  Rene Russo also puts in her best performance in years as a similarly repulsive but slightly more socially acceptable female counterpart to Lou, Dan Gilroy’s direction for his debut feature is confident and assured, I have already talked about James Newton Howard’s quietly genius score, and the film is also tightly paced and expertly structured.  Nightcrawler is an outstandingly relevant and captivating film that features a villain protagonist for the ages, and satire and venom that deserves way more analysis and conversation than it has sparked.  A film for 2014 if there ever was one.


the guest06] The Guest

Dir: Adam Wingard

Star: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Lance Reddick

Holy hell, is this one ever fun!  Dumped into the beginning of September with precious little fanfare and left to fend for itself, The Guest is one of the biggest gems I have stumbled across all year.  Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s, previous of You’re Next, demented genre hybrid thriller is just pure good old fashioned fun.  That’s it.  There is nothing deeper to The Guest, no giant thematic core or major emotional centre, and no huge twist to it.  The Guest is just pure, undiluted fun and, as mentioned back in my entry on Edge Of Tomorrow, fun is something that I put a very big price on due to its growing rarity in the modern filmmaking landscape.

So, what is The Guest?  After all, I spent pretty much all of September doing nothing but praise the ever-loving crap out of it and despairing when, unsurprisingly, nobody saw it.  Well, The Guest is hard to categorise for people who haven’t seen it, partially because it hops around between genres like an indecisive driver coming up on a line of toll booths, but mainly because the fun of The Guest is watching it slowly reveal its true colours.  In the most general terms, it’s a throwback to trashy 80s B-Movies, mashing together elements of psychological thrillers, gory low-budget action films, the works of John Carpenter, and a nice sprinkling of camp.  It sounds like a mess, but Barrett’s script is airtight, Wingard’s direction is so confident, and the pair are so learned in what they are trying to emulate that it works perfectly.

It also helps that they have an outstanding central performance to hang proceedings onto.  I’ve raved about Dan Stevens in my review of the film, so I’ll let you go back and re-read that to save me from repeating myself, but I cannot stress how absolutely note perfect he is here – switching between charming, terrifying, and utterly hilarious (in a deadpan way) effortlessly whilst keeping David a consistent character throughout.  He’s also matched beat for beat by Maika Monroe who expertly embodies the determined Final Girl archetype whilst making it her own.  The film visually is wonderfully stylish, the soundtrack is one of the very best of the entire year, and it is by far the coolest film of the year thanks to the way it completely owns and openly embraces its campy tendencies – the finale is absolutely hilarious and unbearably tense without one ever undermining the other.

Look, I want to write a giant (attempted) intellectual deep analysis of this film like I have everything else so far on this list, one that gets to the root of why this film works and why I love it so, but I just can’t because The Guest is not that kind of film.  The Guest actively resists that kind of analysis because, quite frankly, its start and its end can be summed up with “it is a hell of a lot of fun” which it very much is.  It is also damn near flawless at what it aims to do, it’s an immaculately constructed film that I can’t find a single wasted second, dropped pacing or glaring flaw in.  Sometimes, a film sticks out as excellent purely because of how much fun it is and The Guest is the single most amount of fun I have had in a cinema all year.

Or, to put it another way, I saw it opening day and went back for a second go-around seven days later.  I would likely have kept going every Friday if the film hadn’t been pulled from cinemas in near-record time.  Whilst you are reading this, I will be watching it again on the Blu-Ray that I picked up on the first day it was available, and my writing for this is being fuelled by the film’s soundtrack.  This is just a straight shot of pure smile-inducing fun, for me, and you are officially out of excuses to not give it a shot.


That’s the first half of the countdown done.  Tomorrow, we’ll tackle numbers 5 to 1.  In the meantime, let me know in the comments on whether you agree with my picks or not and what some of your favourite films of 2014 are!

Callum Petch’s letters are returned to sender.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Last Night of the Nightcrawler

Living on a craggy rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, resident contributor Matt Lambourne is always on a quest for a better cinema experience. In his latest article he explains his frustration with the current mainstream offering and why YOU are to blame!

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

It is fair to say that the general cinema going public aren’t always the brightest bunch. We regularly see dumbed down, CGI-laden bloat-reel adorning the top of the Box Office charts and that is fine. There is definitely room for braindead entertainment and we are all guilty of enjoying from time to time. However as a fan of cinema, I yearn to be intellectually stimulated as well as being taken to popcorn-pyro heaven.

This evening, I have enjoyed the immensely entertaining and dark thriller that is Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Without going into too much detail, the film is a throughly pleasantly uncomfortable romp with a unique premise that is brilliantly executed. Jake Gyllenhaal, shows yet further acting dexterity as the creepily cold and relentlessly ambitious night time news video shooter, who crawls the L.A streets at the midnight hour in search of grim footage of crime and human tragedy to sell to News stations.

Tonight was its opening night here at the Isle of Man’s Broadway cinema and I must admit I was quite surprised we even got it here at all! The Isle of Man has 2 cinemas, one has 2 screens and the other (Broadway) only one. This means we generally get only box-office heavyweight sure-fire sellout hits… something that leaves this movie critic extremely frustrated.

Alas, we receive the eagerly anticipated Nightcrawler and for it’s opening night it got a whopping 12 attendees for it’s only evening showing of 19:30 (this includes myself and my girlfriend). This is for a film with a decent Hollywood drawer lead in Jake Gyllenhaal and currently sits on a superb 8.3/10 on IMDB at the time of writing.

Empty cinema

This tells you everything you need to know about the current state of cinema and whilst the Isle of Man is a microcosm in the grand scheme of the cinema industry you can bet this is repeated often up and down UK & Irish cinemas. Yes, we demand entertainment, sometimes in the form of a heat seeking missile or a giant Robot fight that is happening so fast we can’t even process what is happening. Yet there is a core of cinema fans that yearn for more, yearn for that intellectually challenging, original and even adult orientated piece of cinema that gets you talking amongst friends, or writing about in social-media.

But unfortunately, when cinema takes a stab at doing the right thing, you don’t show up, like that unreliable friend who always cancels on you last minute. A cinema with a captive audience at only 80,000 people maximum and one screen can’t afford to take many stabs at high-brow entertainment and we’ve let ourselves down on this one.

We’ll continue to turn up in droves for the latest Transformers romp, or Tim Burton’s latest instalment of gothic Johnny Depp worshipping, but when when a director dares do something a little different, you stayed at home and let cinema lose.

The change starts with you folks, don’t cry foul when your local cinema isn’t showing the latest Oscar-bait because you didn’t turn up last time but gladly handed over your money for Marmaduke. You did it with Fight Club, you did it with Dredd and now you’ve done it with Nightcrawler.. a film that is likely to be spoken of for a long time to come, but sadly will disappear into the night as suddenly as it appeared.