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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

Terminator Genisys

Whilst it’s great to see Arnie back in the leather jacket, and although it’s an improvement on the previous two films in the franchise, Terminator Genisys is far from reaching the impossible heights that James Cameron set.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

terminator genisysSet in the year 2028, Joel Kinnaman plays Murphy, a brutally murdered cop who — wait a second. Sorry. I appear to have started this article off by reviewing the 2014 remake of RoboCop. Let me try again. Ahem…

Space. The final frontier. Or rather the first of many frontiers for director JJ Abrams as he and Chris Pine — Oh man! I appear to have done it again. I’ll try once more.

With a surprising and disappointing lack of Colin Farrell getting his ass to Mars, the Total Recall reboot is — Oops!! This is trickier than it looks.

OK. For real this time.

It’s very rare in Hollywood for a much beloved franchise to get a reboot some years later and turn it into a huge success. For every Jurassic World, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are ten alternatives. After The Halcyon Company fought hard to acquire the rights for the Terminator series, they produced the bore-fest that was 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Alas, it was critically panned and the company folded not long after the film’s release due to various financial difficulties, despite making a profit on McG’s futuristic sci-fi actioner.

Thus with the rights to the series not reverting back to James Cameron until 2018, we now have Terminator Genisys (that’s without the colon in the title, unless you’re from America in which case you do get a colon), the fifth instalment of the franchise that began way back in 1984 with Cameron’s original movie. Although an argument could be made for placing this as the sequel to the original The Terminator, rather than the fifth in a series, and in the process wiping T2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation completely out of cannon. Not to mention the short lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re all ultimately pointless as director Alan Taylor (and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier) retcon the entire job lot.

Or… do they?

You see, the plot and the placement of Genisys within the sequence of movies is almost as convoluted as the history of who has owned the franchise itself at various points over the past 30 years. Its opening scenes are almost carbon copies of the original, albeit with less visible buttocks and silhouetted Arnold Schwarzedongs as this is a 12A certificate film, after all. It also cuts out the Kyle Reese narrated opening scene of a Terminator drone flying over a dystopian future wasteland, kicking off instead immediately with a T-800 (played by an Arnie body-double) arriving in 1984 with a flash of light shortly before approaching a group of punks on Washday Eve. Then things get a little less familiar. Waiting for our original Terminator is a visibly older version of the killing machine, dubbed “Pops”, and the two duke it out in a bout of fisticuffs.

As it transpires, this “good” Terminator, Pops, was mysteriously sent back in time even earlier to await the appearance of the 84 Terminator in a plot device that sends ripples through the timeline, distorting all manner of logical and illogical story lines. Jumping from the altered past to the future-future, we’re then treated to a show of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) taking out Skynet in the final battle. An enactment of an event that the original Kyle Reese (in Cameron’s movie) talked about occurring. Only now, it isn’t the final battle, as Skynet had one last trick up its sleeve. Back to the past, and Reese (now also naked and in need of a hobo’s trousers) is on the run from yet another Terminator in a 1984 that is unlike the one he expected. Waiting for him is a dreaded T-1000, played by the often under-appreciated Lee Byung-hun doing his best Robert Patrick impression. Apparently, the unassuming waitress Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Reese went back to save was now never a waitress at all, but is in fact a heavily armed survivor ready to take the impending apocalypse head on. She’s also apparently fully prepared for Kyle’s arrival and his involvement in her future, and invites Reese to come with her if he wants to live. And so begins the unravelling of an entire woolly-jumper-only-wardrobe’s full of threads after one tiny quizzical tug.

I realise that all sounds rather confusing, so to help you understand all this, here’s a quick summary. You ready? Stuff that we don’t really know about yet (wait for the sequel) has now happened in the alternate-past (1973) that has affected the current-past (1984) leading to alterations in the future-future (2029) that have changed Judgement Day in the prior-past (the mid 1990’s) to the new-present (2017). Clear as day, right?

And yet, despite this convoluted soft reboot, struggling to grasp when and what is taking place is not actually that difficult. In fact, whilst you’re watching what is yet another generic blockbuster blueprint executed to the required standard for a generic summer blockbuster box-ticking exercise, having to think about how each set piece fits alongside the other is a welcome relief. If you’re worried about whether you will be able to keep up, then have no fear. Exposition is your friend. “Mr Exposition” to be precise, played by JK Simmons, who helpfully pops up every so often to either personally explain what’s just happened, or to ask the other characters in the film if they wouldn’t mind quickly filling him (i.e. us) in on everything, just in case we missed it. You might mistake that for me complaining about Simmons. I’m not. I only wish he were in it more and had better dialogue to work with. The same could be said for Lee Byung-hun. Both actors were incredibly underused.

My major beef with this fifth instalment isn’t even to do with the acting, which a lot of other reviewers seem to have taken issue with. Jai Courtney – who I’m not ashamed to admit to have defended in public before – he in particular is used as a stick to beat the film with and I’m not entirely sure why. After speaking to Failed Critics writer Nick Lay about it, he told me that people dislike Courtney because “he just seems to be the type of lead that comes off a dull production line”. I get that. When you see him compared to actors like Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch etc, I totally see where folks are coming from. He’s good looking, well built, gradually getting bigger and better roles in bigger and better movies (or at least more expensive movies) without the average Joe being able to recognise his name if you sent them a CV with photo and portfolio of work. But still, I like him. He’s perhaps not made the best choice of film yet (let’s not talk about A Good Day To Die Hard or I, Frankenstein ever again), but he’s got charisma and can genuinely act, unlike a lot of his comparators. Like a lot of things about Terminator Genisys, Jai Courtney is fine.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is fine. Regardless of the fact she spends more time literally kicking arse than Linda Hamilton in the second Terminator film, she still seems less like an arse-kicking heroine and more like an adequate requirement for the story. But she’s fine. No better or worse than she’s been in Game of Thrones, for example. Jason Clarke (no relation), playing a slightly larger role than was perhaps expected in this time-hopping fiasco, is also fine. No better or worse than he’s been in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty or last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for example.

I don’t really care what anyone else says about “The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator”, “Pops”, “Uncle Bob” or whatever you want to call him, it’s always great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the role. In the atrocious Terminator 3, he remained one of the best things in it, both in terms of his performance and having the best individual lines and scenes. Again here, he’s the outstanding performer. There’s call-backs aplenty to the more humorous wise-cracking T2 interpretation of the character, with the third film’s goofyness toned down considerably. Expanding on the idea that he potentially has the capacity to not just fake human emotions in order to better integrate himself into society and ultimately infiltrate human rebel bases, but actually organically acquire and increase his own emotional depth over time, effecting his decisions, ties quite nicely into the overall arc of the movie reflecting Skynet’s ultimate aim. It might come across as corny, but have you seen Judgement Day recently? Exactly. Original film aside, they’ve all had their fair share of cheese.

Technically speaking, Terminator Genisys hits the majority of the right notes. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s also not boring. It makes you laugh whilst simultaneously turning the action set pieces into progressively bigger and louder (and usually dumber) old fashioned fun. Sure it might sound a bit complex at first glance, but it’s actually a bog standard A-Z time-travel 12A family blockbuster. And that is its biggest problem. There are zero risks taken here. If there’s any part of the plot that veers from the already tried-and-trusted big-budget formula, I must’ve missed it. Having not just one, but a number of high-tech killing machines who stop at nothing until you are dead, it should be far more menacing a movie than it actually is. Instead, any moments of potential darkness are bizarrely steered well clear of, either through deus ex machina or – more often than not – characters just doing the complete opposite of the easiest / simplest solution in order to prolong events.

Need to kill Sarah Connor? Need to save Sarah Connor? Need to have certain events still happen to ensure the future works the way you want? Need to change the past radically to keep things how they are? It’s all a load of complete and utter nonsense that follows neither rhyme nor reason. Complete and utter gibberish with things happening simply for the sake of continuing the story longer than would realistically be necessary. But, I didn’t hate it. It’s dumb, but so are so many other movies of this ilk.

Come five years time, if somebody asks me whether [scene A] happened in Terminator Genisys, Star Trek Into Darkness, Jurassic World or Men In Black III, I won’t have the foggiest. It’s as indistinguishable from the next $155m movie as any other before it. However, if you scratch hard enough, you’ll be able to glimpse the relatively decent concept buried underneath the astonishingly stupid and generic exterior. I can think of worse ways to spend two hours. Hell, I can think of two worse films within the actual franchise that this film belongs to!

Child 44

Bleak and depressing, but not for the reasons it should be.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

child 44 1“The film is never as good as the book”. I’ve spent so many hours arguing the point when people say that to me. Of course the book is better, it’s a book. It can make me spend 40 minutes reading about a few not-so-important details that a film, if it’s lucky, gets a minute or two to show me. “Just read the book, it’s much better”. Usually, the people that tell me that don’t, or can’t, appreciate what a filmmaker and his writers have to do to get those hundreds of detailed pages onto the screen and keep it interesting. Of course, that doesn’t excuse films like Eragon or The DaVinci Code in any way, shape or form from being the disgraceful waste of celluloid that they are, but as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be comparing the two.

Now I try, I really do, to read the books before I see the film, it’s just a habit I got into years ago. If I can’t, I try very hard to get it read later. So when more than a couple of friends, and my wife, insisted “don’t see the film until you’ve read the book” I made it a goal to get Child 44 read before the film came out this week. Sadly, I let them all down. As I write this, my Kindle is teasing me, essentially calling me a failure as it tells me I only got 54% of Tom Rob Smith’s Soviet set crime thriller read before I headed to my local multiscreen to take the lazy option and watch the rest of the book while I stuff my face with popcorn. So as much as I was hoping I could write this review as a comparison to the book and, good or bad, show just how fruitless some of these statements can be, it’s just a regular old review from me today I’m afraid.

Critically acclaimed book aside, and forgetting that the cynic in me knows that Child 44 is the first book in a trilogy and we all know how that’s going to play out, have you seen that cast list? It’s a veritable who’s who of modern greats that should all, someday, have a list of awards they’ve won long enough to fill one of those books we should be reading. Between them, the acting talents of the names on that one-sheet and their collective filmographies should pique the interest of almost anyone with even half an interest in movies. For the fourth time that I can recall, the amazingly talented (and personal favourite) Tom Hardy is sharing the screen with the sublime Gary Oldman, and whether or not you go into this film knowing or caring about the story, you know that with those two in the cast list, it’s going to be a spectacle worth spending your £12 on this weekend. It’s got to be. Right? Well….

Set in early 1950’s Stalinist Russia, Child 44 sees Tom Hardy take on the role of Leo Demidov, a survivor of Stalin’s famine based war on Ukraine of the 1930’s, a hero of the Second World War and a high ranking member of the MBG, the Russian Ministry of State Security, or as we, post-cold war would possibly call them, the Russian Secret Police. A man who loves the republic that he serves and follows orders blindly in an age where innocence doesn’t exist. An age where a person can be arrested, tortured and executed for almost anything that could be construed as “not in the best interests of the state”. Corruption is rife and to be on the wrong side of it more often than not means not being around very long to fight against it.

Leo finds himself on the worse side of the State’s law when he refuses to name is wife, Raisa, as a capitalist spy. Believing her name to have been planted on a list by envious, vindictive junior agent Vasili Nikitin, played by the surprisingly decent Joel Kinnaman, who’s out to teach Leo a lesson after he embarrassed him while on assignment. His refusal to denounce his wife leaves Leo exiled to a little industrial town and left under the command of Gary Oldman’s General Nesterov, the head of the militia and a man as proud and loyal to his country as he is suspicious of Leo and Raisa’s presence in his town. Together, Demidov and Nesteroy stumble upon a serial child killer case that has been brushed under the carpet by the Republic they both love so much and set out to right that wrong and bring a killer that no one in power seems interested in, to justice.

In a world where justice does not necessarily mean “justice”, Leo finds himself relying on his wits and his wife to solve these heinous crimes when he can’t call for help from a system he’s lived his life in complete obedience to. Instead, he must work outside of the law, skulking in the shadows, hoping and praying that he can keep one step ahead of those that seek his downfall while he tries to catch a killer that no one believes exists and he knows less than nothing about.

Now, everything about Child 44, on paper, sounds like the makings of an excellent thriller. It’s set in an interesting time, one we don’t see put to film very often and we rarely get to see the Russians depicted in such a bad light these days (maybe that statement explains why the film has been banned in Russia). A story focusing on something as horrible as a series of murdered children should have some real emotional pull and make every parent watching sit and hold their stomach in fear. And with all that talent on the poster, all that ability on the screen, it’s something I would have been comfortable guaranteeing to you without having seen the film.

Sadly, I have seen the film. And my only advice, is to not waste the near two and a half hours that I did hoping for the film we should have got to finally appear on the screen. There’s no way to drag it out, to be clever about saying it or to soften it so maybe you think it might be a film worth watching. Child 44, is a bad film. But it’s not just bad, it’s slow, it’s boring and being a fan of almost everyone on that cast list, it’s soul crushingly disappointing.

Forgetting the part where I’ve read up to around the halfway point of the book and there are glaring omissions from the story that’ll severely impact it if the film does well enough to get the next book, “The Secret Speech”, made. I promised I’d write this as a review of the film, not the adaptation. The film is a masterclass in poor direction, bad screenwriting and complete misuse of the acting talents of some of the best actors around today. Tom Hardy’s Leo Demidov is a great character. A tortured man who struggles with the situation he’s found himself in and is desperately trying to do the right thing while making things right for him and his wife. Raisa is similarly tortured, and played equally well by the always impressive Noomi Rapace. Her fight to stay strong doing nothing to help her as she struggles through life with a husband in such a powerful position. Thrown into turmoil with her exile, her role in Leo’s quest for redemption is much bigger than the writing gives her credit for.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, while absolutely superb aren’t given much of a chance to shine. A bad mix of painful screenwriting and something very close to stunt casting ruins what semblance of quality there may have been. Opting instead for wasting the talents of world class actors like Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassell with minimal screen time in poorly shot scenes that always appear to teeter on the edge of tense but fall flat and emotionless instead. Great actors like Jason Clarke and Charles Dance are barely given enough time to register with the audience, with the filmmakers instead choosing to gloss over what are clearly supposed to be important scenes of character development.

Now, say what you want about Daniel Espinosa as a director, and I said a lot of things when I came out of Child 44, I always thought he knew how to make a decent thriller. I know films like Safe House aren’t for everyone, but the pacing in it is superb. Hit after unrelenting hit comes at you from the first shot to the end of the film and it just doesn’t let up. The problem, is that Child 44 isn’t an action thriller. It’s a crime thriller. One that should be slow burning at that. Something more akin to Nordic film and TV than action films and Espinosa can’t quite seem to grasp that idea which, considering his background, is pretty ironic. The film has some glaring issues with its pace, never quite picking up to tell the story at a good speed but never dropping well enough to build tension. There are points where the pace slows, the acting is ramped up and the tension really should be building, but the scene just doesn’t live up to its promise. Falling flat on its face is the default position for the film’s direction and not even the skills that Hardy, Oldman and everyone else bring with them can rescue it.

Child 44 is set in one of the most interesting, but equally one of the most horrific times in living memory. It’s a bleak, hopeless time and perfectly suited for a thriller about the cold and calculating murder of 44 children. But the film never seems to pick up on the natural melancholy of a grey and gloomy Soviet Russia that’s handed to it. There should be freezing, unforgiving snow. There should be the air of cold, empty suffering and the film can’t even get that right. Call it a trope, a stereotype, whatever you want. Stalinist Russia was a sad, mournful place to live and die and Child 44 couldn’t even get to grips with the atmosphere handed to it. Choosing instead to bath unhappy scenes that should have an air death in sunshine. A dead child, in a country known to be cold and snowy, is a gift to a film maker. It doesn’t take a genius to know how that particular scene should look and if you can’t even get that right, what hope did the film really have?

I loved the performances in Child 44, everyone does a great job in selling me on their Russian accents and there’s enough Hardy to keep me happy until Mad Max comes out. The entire cast do a spectacular job but they all need…. No, they all deserve, a much better film than this. Child 44 has a spectacular premise, but it’s clearly too much for one film and far too much for this director. Better suited perhaps to one of those 8-10 episode HBO mini-series like Generation Kill or True Detective. Save your pennies and do what I’m going to do. I’m going to quench the sudden urge I have to watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy instead.

Child 44 is out in cinemas right now should you decide to ignore Brooker’s warning and try it for yourself.

Failed Critics Podcast: Planet of the Apes Special!

POTAYou maniacs! You’ve done a whole podcast on the Planet of the Apes films! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

That’s right listeners; this week’s podcast is dedicated to all things simian as we not only review Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but also discuss all the films that have gone before. Including the Tim Burton one. Sorry about that.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Another conquest in the revitalised Planet of the Apes series, ‘Dawn’ has further enhanced the reputation of its new director (Matt Reeves) and delivered on its promise to realise the potential of a truly sophisticated and intelligent blockbuster franchise that was displayed during Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

by Owen Hughes (Twitter: ohughes86)

new-tv-spots-for-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apesIt’s 11th August 2011. My 25th birthday and exactly one month after I first sat down to watch the 1968 science fiction masterpiece that is acclaimed director Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes and its four subsequent sequels. Enthralled by its epic story of ruling classes, forbidden zones, the devolution of mankind into speechless pets, time traveling hippies and Charlton Heston’s chest rug, I’m sat in the cinema eagerly awaiting the start of the latest sci-fi blockbuster, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Regardless of my personal opinion on reboots, anything will be better than Tim Burton’s effort in 2001.

Within 10 minutes, I have already fallen in love with this dazzling new re-imagination of the origin of the Monkey Planet and its founder, Caesar.

Immediately after the credits have rolled, cleverly teasing what is to come in the as yet unnamed sequel, I breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate what has been a successful birthday treat. As hungry as I am for more, surely a blockbuster as unusually intellectually stimulating and exciting as Rise cannot be topped? After all, the second film in the original Apes series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, was by far the weakest of the bunch. If history does indeed repeat itself, then lowering ones expectations seems like the most sensible approach.

It’s now 16th July 2014. Obviously not my birthday, but once again I feel like I can already crack open a beer and toast another successful entry into a much beloved franchise having seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at Cineworld’s surprise secret screening yesterday evening. It has achieved what I daren’t have dreamt it could; a worthy successor to one of the best big-budget films of recent times. Phew!

Deploying a multi-layered story of betrayal, family, home and tolerance, it once again draws you into its unlikely but bizarrely believable world through the meticulous undertaking that has gone into its conception and development.

Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s script begins by reminding us during the opening credits of the devastation caused by the outbreak of the ALZ-113 virus, as seen during the end credits of the previous film. A plague so devastating, it seemingly wiped out the human race. Shifting attention to the now ape infested (I mean, occupied) Muir Woods, California, over a decade later, we see the complex community formed by an older, wiser and greyer familiar looking chimp called Caesar. Juvenile chimps are being educated by orangutans in the laws of their society (ape shall not kill ape), the male chimps and gorillas are out hunting whilst the females stay at home. It’s a young and primitive society, but a functioning utopia for all ape kind. Aside from Caesar feeling a bit down about his old chum James Franco not being given a part in the latest flick, everything is now hunky dory in Monkey Town.

That is until the unexpected arrival of a trigger-happy Carver (Kirk Acevedo) who aimlessly drifts into the their territory. Unaware of the genetic advancements that ape-kind have gone through whilst humankind has regressed, feeling threatened by their sudden appearance, he promptly shoots one of them. Thus begins a calamitous clash of cultures so disastrous that not even Take That covering Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit compares.

What sets the Apes films apart from other big-budget Hollywood blockbusters this year (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, Transformers: Age of Extinction to name but a few) is not so much the spectacular way Reeves’ shoots his bombastic action sequences. Nor is it solely because of its gloriously uncompromising script that refuses to dumb down (monosyllabic apes aside) or spare the viewer any of the meatier dialogue that often can only take place via subtitles. Not even its consistently mind bogglingly life-like CGI that is on another level to almost everything that came before it can be the only reason why Dawn is so impressive. It’s a combination of all of the above. It hits a treble 20 with every single shot its spear-tipped poky sticks are aimed at.

Well, almost all of its targets. The only real downside is how it struggles to pin down a genuinely sympathetic human character like Rise did with James Franco and his father, John Lithgow. Watching their relationship slip away due to dementia was heart-breaking, but more importantly, both actors were tremendous. Discounting Andy Serkis and his (once again) stunning ‘motion capture’ performance as the leader of the apes, struggling to contain a rebellious little git within his ranks who wants war with the humans at the same time as providing a future for his family, there’s nothing here that matches up to what we’ve seen previously. The closest moments this ever gets to that level are, at best, fleeting.

Jason Clarke, whole-heartedly playing a father and partner determined not to let humanity lose its only chance to return to the glory days of old, gets the closest to immersing us in any individual humans struggles. We see what his old life meant to him in snippets, rather than in anything satisfyingly substantial. His friend in the human colony and co-leader of the people, Dreyfus, played by the ever-imposing screen presence that is Gary Oldman, gives a first impression of a man grappling with his responsibility to preserve a crumbling civilization. Unfortunately, one short emotional scene aside, it’s not expanded on or developed far enough to push the boundaries, but it is most definitely an assured performance nevertheless. I would have been shocked if it were anything less from an actor of his calibre.

In context, this minor gripe is hardly detrimental to the overall quality of the film in the grand scheme of things. It manages to capture the essence of what makes the original Planet of the Apes films so much fun and clever, whilst continuing to expand on the mythology firmly established in 2011. Verging into b-movie territory occasionally with the explosive action sequences does it no harm whatsoever and only serves to recall the ambitious nature of those 1970’s classics. None more so than both Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Making apes riding horses seem terrifying rather than silly (honestly) is an admirable achievement.

Quite frankly, whoever is writing / directing the next unnamed sequel (Night of the Planet of the Living Apes, anyone?) the foundations have been laid so sturdily by Rupert Wyatt initially and now Matt Reeves, that it will take some monumental effort to screw it up from here. Step up one Joel Schumacher? Nah. Please, no. No! It was a joke.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in cinemas nationwide tomorrow (Thursday 17th July 2014).

Owen borrowed all of his writing techniques from I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan and can be found regularly mumbling away in a soft-brummie accent on the podcast, using profane words to describe films on Letterboxd, or wondering what to tweet about now the World Cup is over on Twitter.