Look at me, listeners! I love you! It’s all for you, Damian— I mean, whatever your name might be! Happy birthday to us.
Yes, backs are slapped and circled are jerks as we celebrate reaching the fifth year of the Failed Critics Podcast. Hip, hip…
Look at me, listeners! I love you! It’s all for you, Damian— I mean, whatever your name might be! Happy birthday to us.
Yes, backs are slapped and circled are jerks as we celebrate reaching the fifth year of the Failed Critics Podcast. Hip, hip…
Welcome to this week’s episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where we’re once again Steve Norman-less. But don’t panic! Tony Black is here to spare you the agony of having to listen to Owen Hughes attempt to host the show. Tony and Owen were also joined by special guests and lovely chaps Daryl Bär and Ben Challoner from the Sudden Double Deep podcast, whose wit, intelligence and fantastic insults make them a more than welcome addition to Failed Critics.
Together the team try to come to terms with the news of Gene Wilder’s passing breaking just minutes before recording started, as well as perusing the BBC Culture poll of the top 100 films of the 21st century, plus a quick glance at the latest figures around who earns what in Hollywood.
The main releases this week include: the latest Jason Statham action vehicle Mechanic: Resurrection; a barrel of laughs and a barrel-sized Jonah Hill in the “based on a true story” black comedy War Dogs; and dystopian thrills and not-much-bloody-spills with The Purge: Election Year.
There was even a teensy bit of room for us to chat about all the films we’ve been watching lately. Found-footage horror As Above, So Below crossed Owen’s path, whilst documentaries were the order of the day for the remaining trio. Daryl takes us through the insightful Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig, Ben was lucky enough to catch Weiner, and Tony spreads the love about the unambiguous Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four.
Join us again next week as the line-up returns to normal as Callum joins Owen and Steve. It’ll be a real Sausage Party………. what?
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Now I don’t know about you, but the thought of recasting a role that I love always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. When it happens, there’s never really a middle ground where the film or TV show is just okay; you almost always find your self at one of the extremes of the spectrum where the result is fantastic, or utter toilet. We’ve seen it a hundred times; from James Bond and Hannibal Lecter to John and Sarah Connor, so last year when news hit that Jason Statham was walking away from The Transporter Refueled and letting someone else take on the role of Frank Martin, I was horrified. Now, after a couple of release date shifts, we have a fresh faced Ed Skrein – a man I only know from his short stint on Game of Thrones before his role of Daario Naharis was handed to someone else – taking on the role of the contract transporter and looking to reboot the franchise.
But the question is, can he replace Statham as The Transporter? And if he can, can he make the role his own and bring enough to fulfil the new trilogy that Luc Besson’s Europacorp are hoping for?
As Frank Martin adds his name to a list of great characters to whom shit just seems to keep happening, the fourth instalment in the Transporter series sees Martin back behind the driver’s seat in France, doing shady things for shady people and getting paid well for it. This time around, he finds himself quickly embroiled in a revenge plot against Eastern European human traffickers a decade and a half in the making; as a handful of women who have managed to escape the clutches of greasy pimp in a nice suit Karasov, the women set about robbing the man and his associates and start in motion a chain of events that they hope will bring down the entire filthy operation.
Hiring Frank as a getaway driver for a bank robbery, the former sex workers make it personal by kidnapping Martin’s retired father – personal favourite actor Ray Stevenson – and threatening his life to force Frank’s hand and make him hang around long past the point of his contract being finished. Unwittingly and unwillingly, the father and son duo are now part of the team taking on this nasty prostitution ring and trying to keep the girls, and themselves, alive; a feat that they find pretty difficult when shit hits the fan and they start pissing off some scary guys who aren’t backwards in coming forwards and punching you in the face. If Frank and his dad, a man who has a few of his own skeletons in his closet, can come out of this in one piece, it’ll be nothing sort of a miracle.
The thing with the Transporter franchise as a whole, is that while in reality it isn’t anything special and it certainly isn’t flawless, it’s an absolute arse full of fun and they are surprisingly well made for a low budget bunch of films about a guy that drives really fast. I went in to The Transporter Refueled expecting all the fun and quality to be gone. With the stories of Jason Statham leaving the franchise because producers didn’t want to pay him and that they were going into production without a proper script, my this-is-gonna-be-shit-o-meter was going nuts as I sat in my seat this afternoon.
But to my complete surprise, I was completely wrong. Transporter Refueled is everything I’ve come to expect from the series. Great action, superb fighting and amazing car chases all strung together with a story put together at the last minute and just kind of thrown at the people acting it out on screen the day before it was being shot. I mean, the whole Eastern European sex worker story is starting to wear thin, with Liam Neeson recently taking three movies to eradicate it with the Taken series, we are seeing it come back with The Transporter, with all the rubbish stereotypes in tow. Not to worry, Ed Skrein is here to wipe them all out again and the guy is pretty damn convincing in Jason Statham’s shoes, and man does he know how to drive that car! Mmmmm. That car. An erection inducing Audi S8 that roars to life with a tap to the accelerator and just leaves me drooling like an imbecile at every rev. Forget Fast and Furious, ladies and gentlemen; this is the kind of car porn I like and boy is it good.
Mmmmmm. Cars. Mmmmm Audis. I feel like I’ve been subliminally pushed into buying an Audi by the last couple of films I’ve watched. I can’t afford a bloody Audi, you bastards! Anyways… Yeah, where was I? Oh right.
The story, and the film as a whole takes a little while to kick into a good gear while it lays the groundwork for the story and introduces us to the new Frank Martin. It’s definitely a bit of a slog to get through the first twenty minutes or so because as much as I tried to look past it, I couldn’t help but miss Jason Statham on the screen and kind of pined for him for a bit. But, by the end of the first fight, the first car chase and the first bit of back and forth with his old man, the story has ramped up and I’ve all but forgotten The Stath and accepted The Skrein as the new Frank Martin. Camille Delamarre, long time editor to Luc Besson, is on director duties and does a pretty good job in keeping the film running at a good pace and at a little over an hour and a half, has kept the film down to a run time that even those burning out on daft action films like this won’t be sat long enough to get bored.
At the end of the day, if you’ve stuck with The Transporter long enough to be going to see the fourth film, then you know exactly what you’re going to get and you’re sure to enjoy it. A new star and a slightly different direction aren’t going to stop The Transporter Refueled from being a shit load of fun and a welcome return for a Frank Martin.
Spy is the best comedy I have seen since 22 Jump Street.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
I assume that you have all seen the trailers, posters and such for Spy by this point and have this movie figured out. There will be a lot of swearwords, because swearwords are funny, Melissa McCarthy is fat and not twenty-something so therefore will fall over a lot and be the butt of ten-hundred jokes about how undesirable she therefore is, it’s two hours long and as such will be padded to hell and back, and it’s an action-comedy so the action will be cheap-looking, flatly directed and mostly just an afterthought to endless pointless sequences of characters riffing on one gag until it’s long-past being entertaining.
Well, you’re wrong. You’re dead wrong, primarily because you’ve been sold the wrong film. Writer-director Paul Feig, and his immensely talented mostly female cast, has actually crafted a brilliant, subversive, and hilarious movie that wastes not a second of its two hour runtime, is really intelligent in its silly comedy, and, thanks to its self-belief message and a whole bunch of conscious and unconscious design choices, is quietly feminist. What appears to be cheap and mean-spirited out of context builds up to make a heartfelt point in context, and what sounds sophomoric and juvenile out of context ends up quietly clever and character-driven in context.
To wit: Spy follows the exploits of Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a lowly analyst at the CIA who, despite making an incredibly effective team with ace field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) whom she has an unreciprocated crush on, is treated like complete garbage by almost everyone at the Agency, either willingly – in the form of loose cannon field agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) – or unwittingly – by Fine himself, mostly. When it turns out that Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), the daughter of a recently-deceased terrorist who has come into possession of a nuclear bomb, knows the identities of every single one of the CIA’s field agents, Susan steps up and volunteers to be sent into the field, aided back at the Agency by her only real friend, the anxious and slightly bumbling Nancy (Miranda Hart).
Again, this is probably the point where you’re expecting Susan to klutz her way through the operation, discovering leads by mistake, and generally proving Rick Ford right when he keeps insisting that “you’re gonna f*ck this up” to her face. In a lesser movie, this would be the case for all of Spy’s two hours. Here, though, that does not happen. Susan is an immensely capable field agent, as the film bold-facedly demonstrates before she’s even sent out when the CIA’s head (Allison Janney, who is exactly as brilliant at being alternately inspiringly nice and hilariously cruel as you’re thinking she’ll be) brings up footage from her training days. Susan is an excellent field agent, all of the skills are right there… she just doesn’t believe in herself because everyone, quite literally everyone, has told her that all she can be is a bumbling fat middle-aged woman.
Those demeaning cover identities? Provided to her by an agency that only sees her as an ugly middle-aged woman. Her directive to follow the targets and never directly engage? The agency refusing to believe that she is capable of taking the lead. Fine is a guy who can butter her up one minute by thanking her for her invaluable help and then, the next minute, treat her like a secretary and order her to fire his gardener for him; equal parts oblivious to his demeaning treatment of her, out of some misplaced fear as to what might happen to her, and perfectly aware, as he uses these stealth snipes to ensure that she can’t steal his glory by doing his job. And Rick… well, Rick is just Fine without the veneer of obliviousness, a walking pompous macho-man who brags excessively about his undoubtedly made-up accomplishments but in practice can barely make a dramatic entrance without falling on his arse.
So when the film does provide a fat joke, and I counted maybe three in the entire movie, or dresses Susan up in hideous clothes and has lecherous men ignore her totally, Susan is not the target of the jokes. The joke is instead on everybody else for being so unrepentantly awful towards her and the laugh coming from just how terrible they are. Susan herself is always treated with respect and always shown to be legitimately capable, with her early-film klutzes coming from nerves more than anything else.
Compare this with a Kevin James movie. In those, the target of the joke is nearly always Kevin James. There is no subversive intent to Paul Blart fat jokes. Paul is fat, he is doing things that he is supposedly not physically in shape for, and the punchline is always “fat man fall down go boom”, which is why the moments where he does display competence don’t resonate, because the film never asks you to take him seriously because he is always the target of the gag. In Spy, though, Susan is not the target of the joke, everyone else is, and her competency is just a fact of her character. And once she understands that she is, in fact, damn good at what she does, there’s basically no stopping her. She’s even better than her male counterparts who are either utterly useless, lecherous, or heavily reliant on her support.
Relatedly, then: the swearing. Believe it or not, there is actually a point to it, which may surprise you since that first Red Band trailer relied a lot on the idea that swearwords are inherently funny. As you might have gathered, the spy world is considered a man’s game so, in Spy, the men are obsessively masculine caricatures who fill most sentences with a vocabulary akin to that of a drunk pirate who’s just stubbed his toe. Susan and Rayna, though, are women in a man’s world, women constantly underestimated and not taken seriously by their male counterparts, so one of the ways in which they try fitting in is to awkwardly launch into sweary tirades over everything – Rayna taking to it better than Susan since she’s basically a spoilt child resentful of the fact that her father clearly wanted a son instead of her. It’s swearing with a point instead of swearing for swearing’s sake.
And yet these gender politics and messages don’t overtake the film. Susan’s tale of self-confidence is the primary arc and underpinning, but everything else is subtext that one doesn’t have to get to enjoy the film. After all, Spy is more than very enjoyable on its surface terms. It’s funny, for one. Incredibly funny. Paul Feig’s other similarly brilliant female-driven comedies, Bridesmaids and The Heat, were very funny but also seemed to creak under the weight of their 2 hour runtimes, unable to keep up the pace for their entirety. Spy is somehow able to remain consistently funny throughout, as Feig’s propensity for running gags and well-defined and established characters pays off a relatively slow beginning by mining endless material from the world and characters that he’s created instead of endless non-sequiturs and improv.
He’s even able to sustain the comedy in the film’s final third, the point where the plot should take over and the jokes normally vacate the premises. But because the script is so tight, and he does such a good job at building up the film’s various running gags and character quirks, the jokes work themselves seamlessly into the finale, as they do most other action scenes. Yes, this is an action-comedy in the truest sense of the word, where the action sequences are equal parts funny and thrilling. A pre-title prologue with Fine out on assignment is shot just like the action and staging in a spy thriller then contrasts that by cutting back to the mundanity of the CIA and their constant infestations, a chase to capture some would-be assassins is genuinely exciting but also knows just how much to undercut its seriousness with a joke without completely robbing the scene of tension. But the standout is undoubtedly a one-on-one fight in a kitchen that utilises excellent fight choreography and clear camerawork to create a fight that works brilliantly and equally on both the comedy and action levels.
Then powering the film is the exceptional cast. Jason Statham is going to get most of the attention, since he is going so against type by playing his excessive machismo for ridiculous comedy, and he does deserve that praise because he is phenomenal here, but that’s doing a disservice to the rest of the cast who are just as good and in some cases even better. Miranda Hart is delightfully charming as Nancy, managing to infuse a genuine warmth and personality into a role that could have just been stereotypical, while Peter Serafinowicz goes the complete opposite as the sex-crazed Italian agent Aldo, playing up the character’s deranged sexual deviancy to such extremes that he manages to cross from being offensive to just plain hilarious. Rose Byrne, meanwhile, is clearly relishing the opportunity to play Rayna and commits totally to being a stuck-up petulant child, and her dynamic with Susan is pure gold.
But the true star, unsurprisingly, is Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy is one of the comedy world’s fastest rising stars for a reason, not even Identity Thief and the underrated-but-still-mediocre Tammy could damage that, and Spy is where even her staunchest critics will have to finally give up resisting her charms. She seems to connect with the script in a way that goes beyond just ‘getting’ the character – which, since one can also read the film as a meta-commentary on how Hollywood sees McCarthy and other women like her, makes sense – and so every facet and every change in Susan Cooper works totally. McCarthy gets to stretch her range, going from timidly quiet and awkward to excessively boisterous and sweary to self-confident and self-accepting, and nails all of it, hopefully finally breaking out of any potential type-casting for good.
I’m five days removed from Spy as I write this, folks, and I’m still surprised that this film is this good. I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, Paul Feig has nearly always been at least great and the cast is so strong that it would have taken a minor miracle to turn in a mediocre or worse film, but I’m shocked that Spy is this good. That it has had this much thought put into it, that it would still work if you stripped out the “comedy” or “action” part of the “action comedy” equation but wouldn’t work as well as it does with both, that it bothered to have legitimate emotional and thematic through-lines propping up the comedy, that it is so well-paced, that it is just so goddamn funny…
Pessimists and cynics could see this as a damning observation on the state of the American feature-length comedy today. That wouldn’t change the fact that Spy is the real deal and the best comedy I have seen since 22 Jump Street. Do not miss this.
Spy is due for release on June 5th.
Although it’s a step down from Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 is still a tonne of incredible fun.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Watching the film critic community slowly come around to the Fast & Furious series has been almost as fun as watching the evolution of the Fast & Furious series or, in fact, watching these movies themselves. See, with the obvious exception of 2 Fast 2 Furious – which failed because, as the title alone probably tips you off to, it tried force its ridiculous cheesiness in a cynical way instead of with the sincerity that the rest of the franchise has – this series has always at least been good. The Fast and the Furious is a perfectly watchable movie, if a little self-serious, the strangely-maligned Tokyo Drift would still be the series high-watermark if it didn’t have the problem of Lucas Black being near-incapable of acting, and I like Fast & Furious shut up.
Fast Five was the moment where the rest of the critical world sat up, took notice and collectively realised that these are some damn fine movies worthy of legitimate appraisal, likely helped by the fact that it’s still one of the best action movies released this decade – a lightning-in-a-bottle moment where all of the unintentional hard work in constructing this world and these characters paid off in spectacular fashion, whilst still working as a brilliant action film in its own right. Also it’s a heist movie and, as science can prove, good heist movies are better than pretty much anything else ever.
Fast & Furious 6 couldn’t hope to match up, although it gave it its best damn shot by once again changing genres. In fact, there’s another reason why this series has been great. In addition to its knowing but completely sincere silliness – I mean, this is a series whose main emotional and thematic through-line is about the unbreakable power of a surrogate family of friends with no knowing winking or under-cutting of said, after all – and its surprisingly deep and well-drawn cast of characters, the series is never afraid to simply change genres at the drop of a dime. The Fast and the Furious was a Point Break riff, 2 Fast was a bad buddy-cop movie, Tokyo Drift was basically a coming-of-age drama, Fast & Furious was a good buddy-cop movie shut up, Fast Five was a heist movie, and Fast & Furious 6 was a gloriously ridiculous action movie.
So, following on from all of that, Furious 7 turns out to be… Fast & Furious 6 again, sorta. In its defence, save for space or trans-dimensional hopping – which are both gold ideas, you can have those for free, Universal – there really isn’t anywhere else left to take this series, except to make the ridiculous action movie even more ridiculous. With the change in directors, though, from Justin Lin to horror movie veteran James Wan, you’ll have to forgive me for hoping for more of a shift than “bigger and crazier”, an admittedly welcome injection of extra melodrama, and more camera tricks for certain action sequences.
That being said, though, the fact that Furious 7 is still an incredibly fun and surprisingly coherent film is a goddamn miracle considering its troubled and beleaguered production. In fact, let’s address that room elephant right now: it’s amazing just how well the film manages to work around the death of franchise star Paul Walker and the necessary requirement to write the character of Brian O’Conner out of the series. I even spent a lot of the runtime sat there in the cinema trying to figure out where exactly the re-writes and stand-ins had started occurring, expecting it to be really obvious relatively early, but the way they do it is so natural and so keeping in kind with what they had set up before – Brian is adjusting somewhat reluctantly to domesticated family life with Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his son Jack, missing the life-or-death adrenaline that came from working with Dom – that it gains this extra eerie undertone that adds to the subplot’s weight instead of distracting from it.
Admittedly, it goes overboard near the ending, as the film proceeds to send off Brian and Paul in the most openly manipulative, cheese-ball way, but I would be lying to you if I told you that was a bad thing and that I didn’t shed multiple tears as it happened. Open heart-on-sleeve affectionate sincerity is how Fast & Furious operates, so the really on-the-nose way that it waves goodbye to Paul Walker is still fitting even if it is admittedly excessively manipulative. Also helped by the fact that, with the exception of one fight scene late in the game and the last sequence, I honestly could not tell where the real Paul Walker’s scenes finished and his stand-in-CG-combo double started.
And whilst I’m not spending the rest of this review making worrying sounds that approximately translate to how much I enjoyed this movie, I must note that the film is more than a little overcrowded. In addition to having Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) crew relentless pursued by the brother of Fast & Furious 6’s Owen Shaw, Deckard (Jason Statham), who is looking for vengeance, the crew are tasked by a possibly-government-affiliated division, headed up by a guy who calls himself Mr. Nobody (a positively-beaming Kurt Russell), to recover a super-surveillance software called “God’s Eye” for them before it falls into the hands of an evil warlord (Dijimon Hounsou) with the promise of Dom getting to use it to hunt down Deckard when all is said and done.
Consequently, Hounsou’s warlord feels… pointless, to be frank, and he doesn’t even get any memorable material to make up for that fact. There’s a lot of relatively unnecessary flab to proceedings, characters that walk in and walk out as required without much to do. On the positive side, Kurt Russell’s visibly joyous performance is infectious and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) makes a nice addition to the crew if she’s sticking around. On the negative side, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is side-lined for too much of the film for my liking, although that does let the focus return to Dom and Brian which is fitting, and Rhonda Rousey shows up quite literally just so that Michelle Rodriguez has somebody to fight because, hey, why not try to recapture those brilliant Gina Carano fight scenes from number 6? Fast Five had a similar excessive nature but did a better job at juggling everything without giving many characters the short shrift.
So, with that negativity and elephant-addressing out of the way… HOHOHOHOHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, folks, words can’t truly express how much fun I had with this one! The Fast & Furious series just taps into a kind of primal adolescent joy for me, where everything to do with the action runs purely on Rule of Cool and a desire to be stupidly entertaining, which makes it one of the purest expressions of childlike imaginative fun on film today. I cackled with maniacal glee at this movie multiple, multiple goddamn times and every time I thought that they’d topped themselves, they proceeded to surpass that bar with ease. (Whether you agree depends on how much you like your glaringly obvious CGI, although I gave it a pass as I saw it as a stylistic choice.)
On that note, Deckard Shaw. Now, technically, he’s a victim of the film’s overstuffed nature, since he has to share screen-time with Hounsou’s uninteresting warlord and therefore suffers from alternating too often between being the primary and secondary villain. However, I honestly like the fact that he’s not really got much of a personality outside of the opening scene of the film – which, for the record, is fingertips away from Fast Five for me in “Best Opening Sequence of This Series” stakes – and I really like the way that he just keeps turning up randomly as our heroes are about to complete their objectives to throw a spanner in the works, like a one man army of TimeSplitters. He also gets a fantastic pair of fights with Hobbs and Dom, with the latter including a climax that is AMAZINGLY DUMB, so I’m satisfied.
Fight scenes are a lot of fun, even though James Wan and his team of editors have an unfortunate tendency to cut just a little too often. Tony Jaa is in this and gets to fight Brian with both instances delivering very nicely, the Rousey/Letty fight might not measure up to either Carano fight but is still pretty good and I once again appreciate a Hollywood film with a female fight scene where the aim is not primarily to be intentionally arousing, and the fight scene between Hobbs and Deckard is already a strong contender for the best of the year. Though he may cut a bit too often, Lin is also a man of style, employing 360° camera pans and a camera that keeps the person it’s shooting vertically-centred but spins the rest of the world around them as normal (I can’t describe it well but it’s self-explanatory in motion) to sparing but enjoyable effect.
You may notice that I’ve talked minimally about the film’s many gloriously deranged action sequences up to this point and, surprising no-one, this is intentional. I went into Furious 7 knowing pretty much next to nothing about what it would end up doing in said ridiculous action scenes. This is the optimum way to watch Furious 7. After all, why should I tell you how a last minute rescue made me laugh maniacally, how the end to one fight scene is officially the new “Most Wonderfully Dumb Thing to Happen In This Glorious Franchise”, how the Abu Dhabi payoff manages to overcome its CGI nature to still be one of the most entertaining setpieces I will likely see all year, or even allude to how the finale goes, when you can experience these things in glorious context properly? Why should I spoil them for you when I went got to see them near-totally fresh?
Don’t, however, assume that the character work has gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s all still here – Letty is still struggling with her amnesia, there’s Brian’s conflict with domesticity, and Roman wants to be taken more seriously as a part of the team – but the time delegated to just them is more reduced than it was in Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6. That said, these characters are all so strongly drawn and defined that any scene of them just bouncing off of one another is a joy to watch, and the action scenes take the time to put in multiple character beats instead of just being pure noise, the car skydive is a particularly great example. The new additions, again with the exception of the warlord, make great strong impressions and slide neatly into the world that screenwriter Chris Morgan – who has penned this franchise since Tokyo Drift – has created.
Most importantly, that silly heart-on-sleeve sincerity never leaves the film’s side. Not even for a minute. This is what separates the Fast & Furious movies from your lesser dumb blockbusters like, say, Transformers. Films like Transformers clearly hate their own existence almost as much as they hate the audience for turning up to them, so their dumbness is built on bitterness and cynicism, a desire to slap together a whole bunch of loud explosions in as lazy a fashion as possible to extract cash from an audience it reads as gullible walking wallets. The Fast & Furious series, however, has love for itself and love for its audience. It sincerely believes that your surrogate family is the strongest bond that one could have, that throwing cars at problems really is the best way to solve everything, and that the audience isn’t wrong for finding this all to be f*cking awesome because it correctly agrees that this is all f*cking awesome. So it puts effort into every scene, every stupid action sequence, every ridiculous pre-fight exchange, every character’s relationship with one another.
There’s love, genuine love and it doesn’t undercut that at any point. That’s why, when it comes time to say goodbye to Paul Walker and the character of Brian O’Conner, I proceeded to cry like nobody’s business, because it earned it. This is a series that earns its emotional release and its heart because it puts tangible love into every single frame. Yeah, it’s a dumb series about flinging cars at ridiculous problems until they stop being problems! It’s more f*cking sincere and heartfelt than the majority of last year’s so-called “prestige” pictures! And even though it doesn’t scale the heights of Fast Five and has its share of structural problems, Furious 7 is still a damn fantastic time at the cinema, another excellent instalment in the blockbuster series that all other blockbuster series should strive to reach for – not even mentioning its majorly diverse cast – and the perfect tribute to one of the series’ main stars.
Goddammit, I love this wonderful series.
For the first time ever (we think) there’s no Steve Norman on this week’s Failed Critics podcast as he’s still recovering from the pummeling he took at a recent charity boxing match. Rumours that it was Owen who sparked him out after a fracas over a cold dinner have neither been confirmed nor denied. Internal investigations are still ongoing.
Instead, taking over the hosting duties for one week only is Matt Lambourne, who is joined by Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker as they each pick their favourite three fist-fights in films in honour of their absent colleague’s exploits.
Before that, the trio also get around to discussing the news this past week that Bill & Ted 3 is closer than ever; they take a look at the first teaser poster for the new James Bond film SPECTRE; as well as mulling over both the latest Statham film Wild Card and the latest Neeson film Run All Night. Matt even manages to finally get the opportunity to talk about 90’s sci-fi thriller Eve Of Destruction in all its robot penis-munching glory.
Join us again next week as we’ll be looking ahead to this summer’s blockbuster season.
Welcome dear listeners to the Failed Critics podcast, where a hastily arranged ‘movie weddings’ triple bill is the main feature this week. Partly inspired by Steve’s drunken escapades at a wedding reception this past weekend, the team promise that they haven’t prepared an emotional speech that lasts for days. Although I can’t promise that everyone remained sober and civil without offending each other and coming close to blows over one or two selections.
Amongst the wedding chat, there was also time to review indie apocalyptic drama Goodbye World, last year’s Jason Statham action thriller Homefront, and even another discussion about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – this time in 2D!
There’s no podcast next week, but we’ll be back the week after.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
It’s fair to say that I’m a self-confessed action film nut. Give me a free 90 minutes and any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and I’ll smile and say “thanks very much”. It may be no surprise to learn then that I am also a Stallone fan; and with that, a fan of the Expendables franchise. Simon West’s light-hearted but immensely fun sequel to the more serious original (which was written by, directed by and starred Sylvester Stallone) is one of my favourite modern popcorn munching action movies.
Thursday saw the release of the third entry into Sylvester Stallone’s modern action franchise, the succinctly named, The Expendables 3. Whilst overall it’s perhaps not as impressive – in terms of critical success and box office success – as either of his Rambo or Rocky films of decades past, they do feature an impressive cast of 80’s and 90’s heroes as long as the protruding big blue veins in his large muscular arms. Amongst whom returning to Stallone’s side as he stops the latest megalomaniac (an incredibly intense Mel Gibson), are familiar faces such as the arse-kicking Jason Statham, knife-sharpening giant Dolph Lundgren and cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, a load of other recognisable members such as Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li pop up here and there.
Joining them are a bunch of young whippersnappers (Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz) whose careers are only just beginning. Whilst at the other end of the experience scale sees notable newcomers Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer join the crew. If nothing else, it shows how far the series has come when it can attract stars such as Gibson and Ford, as opposed to the early incarnations with the likes of Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke taking top billing.
However, a review of The Expendables 3 this is not. For that, check out Callum’s review from this weekend! Instead, I’m pitting the original Expendables cast against the latest big name additions. One film each, best of 5, let’s see who’s indispensable to the series and who is expendable.
1. Jason Statham vs Wesley Snipes – Crank vs Demolition Man
Often seen throughout this second sequel squaring up to each other with their knife skills (and knife puns) on display, they are arguably the two actors who have the most on-screen chemistry with our chief protagonist, ol’ Sly Stallone. But who has been in the best action movie? Crank is an exhilarating non-stop self-aware adrenaline-junkie of a movie. The entire cast appear to be pumping energy drinks directly into their bloodstream. None more so of course than The Stath, spending the duration of the movie keeping his adrenaline flowing in every possible way you can think of. But what about Snipes? Demolition Man, released at a transitional time for action movies from the over-the-top kill-em-all era of the 80’s to the smarter, cooler 90’s, is everything Expendables wants to homage. Snipes’ charisma may be mostly responsible for why this movie is still so enjoyable, but let’s face it, it’s no Crank.
Originals 1 – 0 Newcomers
To many, this won’t even be a debate. Arnie is arguably the greatest action hero we have ever seen. A genre is defined by his mere presence thanks to movies such as Terminator 2, True Lies, Total Recall and indeed the Vietnam jungle survivalist sci-fi horror, Predator. If the debate was “who is better in The Expendables 3“, then sugar-tits himself Mel Gibson would walk that contest. Unfortunately for the fresh-faced post-apocalyptic Australian Max, there is no comparison. Schwarzenegger can quite literally become an elected member of the Republican party and I’ll still turn up in the cinema to see whatever film he’s starring in these days. There’s still so much good will towards him thanks to films such as this all time classic of the genre. The man is a legend. Sorry, Mel.
Originals 2 – 0 Newcomers
3. Dolph Lundgren vs Antonio Banderas – Showdown in Little Tokyo vs Desperado
Yes, yes. OK. I am aware that Rocky IV is Dolph’s most iconic film and quite possibly his best – I won’t even entertain suggestions of Masters of the Universe or The Punisher. But we all know Rocky IV isn’t an action movie, don’t we. Never mind that, Showdown in Little Tokyo is massively underrated. Lundgren is as wooden as he ever was in these early roles of his, but there are some brilliant stunts, one liners and his final showdown lives up to expectations. Is it better than anything in Desperado? Well, no. That would be silly. Banderas is the epitome of cool in the film that really propelled him into the English-speaking public’s conscious. The direction from Robert Rodriguez is excessive, unrelenting and fantastic; Banderas is absolutely perfect as the sexy, dark and mysterious mariachi. Not only does he steal the show in the third act of The Expendables 3, he’s stealing a point for the newcomers.
Originals 2 – 1 Newcomers
4. Randy Couture vs Kelsey Grammer – Hijacked vs Transformers: Age of Extinction
Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the wrong reasons. Whilst you’d think the odds would be stacked against Grammer given the best action films he’s featured in outside of The Expendables 3 are directed by Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Michael Bay (Trans4mers), it should be a cake-walk for his opposite number. But looking at the best films Couture has starred in, one appalling The Mummy spin-off (The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior) and a straight to video revenge movie where he’s out-shined by a 5 minute Vinnie Jones cameo (Hijacked), it’s not all that straight-forward. At least Grammer was entertaining in some rather average movies. The comeback is on!
5. Sylvester Stallone vs Harrison Ford – First Blood vs Raiders of the Lost Ark
Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the right reasons. Saving the best ’til last was meant to make this challenge easier. Instead what I’m looking at is two of Hollywood’s legends, famed more for what they bring to the screen besides what is traditionally considered “great acting”, both duking it out until the 12th round. They have a swagger, a deserved arrogance, something unquantifiable that makes them both the iconic and charismatic performers we know them as today. Comparing First Blood (the beginning of the Rambo franchise and an action movie with real emotional depth) with Raiders of the Lost Ark (the beginning of the Indiana Jones franchise and an action movie with sophistication and undeniable amusement) is just as tough. Of the two, just edging it for me would probably be First Blood. I make no apologies for this either. As good as Indy is, he’s stilla nerd isn’t he? Rambo is just.. better.
Originals 3 – 2 Newcomers
And that’s the end of that! It seems the newcomers made a valiant effort but it’s the originals that have come out on top. We can only hope that if Jackie Chan, Nic Cage, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kurt Russell and Vin Diesel turn up in The Expendables 4, things might go a bit differently in the rematch!
Do you agree? Are you outraged by this outcome? Leave a comment below and wind Owen up.
Not great, not bad, The Expendables III is diverting entertainment for the over-long run-time it lasts for.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
There is not a whole lot to say about The Expendables III. It is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin and nothing more. You want to see some over-the-hill action movie stars and some up-and-coming would-be action movie stars blow stuff up real good in the cinematic equivalent of being subjected to a straight shot of testosterone for two and a bit hours? Do you mind that being done in a competent and not exactly stellar fashion? Congratulations, this is your movie. It is utterly passable and diverting filmmaking that knows its limitations and, as a result, sticks solely to what it wants to do. I hesitate to say “its strengths” because, much like the last two, it’s still not great at what it does and is far too long (this one busts through the two hour mark by the time the credits are finished and does it ever feel like it at points), but it is decent fun, although less overtly silly than the last go-around (you decide whether that’s a good thing or not).
Honestly, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about here. If you’ve seen an Expendables film before, you know exactly what you’re signing up for. It’s another one of those, it’s a bit more serious than the last one but the overall pros and cons are the same. Stallone and Statham still have inexplicably amazing buddy chemistry together, so obviously they don’t spend nearly enough time together on screen. There’s still a perverse joy in seeing these aging action stars, and up-and-comers who often deserve budding action careers (Kellan Lutz is the real surprise standout of the younger cast, especially so given that The Legend Of Hercules is barely six months old), kicking ass and taking names, but the film is still too overstuffed and therefore many people (including, yes, perennial “fill-out-the-numbers” members Randy Couture and Terry Crews) don’t get their big moment, let alone a character to play. The final action scene, which spans pretty much the entire final half-hour, kicks all kinds of ass but the film seems permanently stuck in third gear for the rest of its run-time. There is a good sense of fun throughout the production, but it’s still overwhelmingly macho and the equivalent of watching a raging boner projected on a cinema screen for two hours which, depending on how willing you are to turn off your brain, may be off-putting (although, thankfully, it’s a dumb action film in 2014 that doesn’t sneak a whole bunch of disgusting racism and sexism past everyone under the guise of “we’re a big dumb action film, it’s not like anything uncouth that we do or say matters, right?”).
Let’s talk minor differences, then, eh? First, that 12a rating. It means there is no blood. That’s it. Literally the only things stopping this from being rated a 15 are the complete lack of blood and an excessively shaky camera whenever knives get involved (otherwise known as “Hunger Games-ing it”). Swears are thrown about frequently, hundreds of people are violently gunned down, bones are broken… you know, the usual, just now with 100% less CGI blood-squirts and only one deployment of the f-word. This is still not a film that is suitable for anybody under the age of 10 (stop using the cinema as a babysitter, random parents who brought their two young children into the screening with them), don’t panic. It’s still violent, still brutal, it’s just cagier about the details. Also, none of this spoils the last extended action sequence; despite taking place across a large space and multiple floors, it’s nearly always clear where everyone is in relation to what and to what they’re engaged in.
Elsewhere, I found the way the film treated the younger Expendables to be really refreshing. See, the plot kick-starts when a routine mission for Expendables Classic that has them assassinating Mel Gibson (there really is no point remembering these guys’ names, better to just come right out and call them by their actors’) goes south. Gibson puts Terry Crews in the hospital and causes Sylvester Stallone to have to face the reality that his current crew (also comprising Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and a freshly-broken-out-of-jail Wesley Snipes) aren’t getting any younger and soon may end up in the ground. So he forcibly breaks up Expendables Classic and jets off with Kelsey Grammar to recruit Expendables Modern (Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey in the role of “Michelle Rodriguez Said ‘No’”) to try and take revenge on Gibson who, surprise, has a deep-forged connection to the Expendables crew. Oh, also, Antonio Banderas shows up as a mercenary cross between Charlie Chaplin and Doug from Up, and Harrison Ford is subbing for Bruce Wills and looking more interested and happy to be here than he has been in years.
What’s refreshing is that this “Damn these new kids, swanning in here trying to claim that our line of work is a young man’s game, now” plotline never actually demonises the new kids. Yes, they do get captured, necessitating a rescue and eventual team-up (which is not particularly a spoiler as a) all of the damn trailers have revealed this point and b) you saw this coming if you have seen almost quite literally any action film ever before), but that’s simply because Gibson is one step ahead of everyone, in typical movie bad guy fashion. Otherwise, the kids are shown to be exceedingly competent, their methods are proficient, their technology really useful, they get the job done. They even hold their own in the big chaotic finale without having to have their butts saved by the older guys. It’s a surprisingly embracing approach to this kind of plotline, one that’s often used simply to refute the young whippersnappers and remind everyone that the old guys are still relevant dammit (*coughcoughSkyfallcough*)! I mean, one may immediately want to retract this point due to the fact that none of the youngsters have a real character (Lutz apparently has a problem with authority, Powell is the tech guy who can climb stuff, Rousey is The Girl and derisively says “Men…” after every beatdown, and Ortiz… I’ll get back to you on that one) but I’d counter-argue that nobody in this franchise has a real character so it all shakes out.
Oh, and there’s also a really amazing dreadful one-liner near the end. Like, holy crap, is it hysterically terrible. It’s one of the best and worst lines I have ever heard. You have to hear this line, it is ridiculous. Not kidding, I burst out laughing at it, 100% unintentionally. We’re talking Mortal Kombat 4 levels of brilliantly bad, here.
Aaaand… yeah, that’s about it on my thoughts on The Expendables III. It’s another one. It drags too long in the middle, its final 30 minutes are the best kind of dumb popcorn fun, it’s lightweight, everyone seems to be having fun, there’s nothing particularly memorable, the dialogue still stinks to high heaven but in an endearing way. If you’re not sold on this franchise, this won’t change anything; if you are, this is another reliably decent way to spend two hours. I feel like I should be lauding it to high heaven for at least being a dumb action spectacle this Summer that’s actually good at what it does (heaven knows those keep getting rarer), but it’s still just a bit too forgettable for me to go overboard on the praising. It’s good at what it does, I had fun whilst it played. If what it does is what you want, go for it. If not, skip. Simple.
Of course, it does feature the image of a man entering the sixth storey of a bombed-out building by jumping a dirt bike up the tail of a destroyed airplane. Plus, that line. Holy crap, that line. So, there’s those.
Callum Petch is about to bloody this track up, everybody get back. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!
In this week’s episode the team are reviewing one of the most exciting films to come from the Disney animation studio in years (Frozen), Spike Lee’s return to some kind of form (the remake of Oldboy), and the archetypal Jason Statham film (Homefront).
This week also sees the return of Triple Bill, in which after a run of pretty mediocre remakes we count down our favourite remakes that are definitely worth a watch, and we also find time to discuss the British Independent Film Awards and Disney’s not very stealthy moves to resurrect the Indiana Jones franchise.
Join us next week for the last ‘normal’ podcast of the year, and our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Samug.
Welcome to what’s starting to feel like another daily edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. It’s our third outing in a week, and in this episode we are reviewing The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, as well as How I Live Now and The Great Hip-Hop Hoax.
It’s another short one this week due to James’ international jetsetter lifestyle, but there’s still room to discuss the batshit crazy Crank 2, the impressive Ip Man, and for Owen and Steve to fall out over a cult classic.
We’ll be back next week with reviews of Captain Phillips and, hopefully, The Escape Plan.
The podcast where Steve quite literally phones it in (due to technical issues, not a lack of enthusiasm). In this week’s episode we discuss the worst jobs from the movies, in ‘tribute’ to The Internship; the two hour Google advert that none of us can bring ourselves to go and see.
We also review new releases Hummingbird, and Despicable Me 2 which leads to a lengthy discussion on the current state of Hollywood animation.
Join us next week for the return on our TV Special.
Guest contributor John Fitzsimons tells us why IMDB Top 250 film Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrells turned him into a RIGHT FAHKIN’ MUG!
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a film that does strange things to people.
It prompted a chap in my class at school to phone me – twice – within an hour of finishing the movie to explain the plot. It convinced Hollywood that Vinnie Jones could act.
Most troubling of all, it led to me adopting the accent of an East End geezer.
This wasn’t an immediate thing. After all, the film came out in 1998 when I was still at school in East London, so had something of an accent anyway. But it was when I went to University in sunny Southampton in 2002 and sat my new friends down for a watch of the movie that it turned me into a tragic, bespectacled Ray Winstone tribute act.
The story itself is nothing revolutionary. A card game goes wrong. A group of friends end up hugely in debt to the sort of chap you don’t want to owe money to. And they only have a week to pay it off. Hilarity ensues.
But it’s the way that story is told. There’s a real swagger to the film, the sort of cocksure arrogance that was all over the place in the days of Cool Britannia. If ever a film smelt of Lynx Africa, it was Lock, Stock.
The film-making itself is very slick, with the sort of camera angle flourishes that – for better or worse – are synonymous of Guy Ritchie films.
And then there’s the dialogue. It’s punchy, it’s memorable, it’s funny. I’m a sucker for a film that’s quotable in everyday life, and lines from Lock, Stock very quickly became standard fare down the pub. Honestly now, who among us hasn’t seen a bargain down the shops or online and responded: “It’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s sale of the fucking century!”
The music also deserves a mention. There has rarely been a more perfect soundtrack. From the opening montage and Ocean Colour Scene’s 100 Mile High City to James Brown’s The Boss via Dusty Springfield’s Spooky, every song perfectly fits the characters on screen and the mood at that moment.
If Quentin Tarantino had been born in Bow he would have made Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
There are a number of stand-out performances in the film. Jason Statham was the epitome of gravelly cool – if I was Kelly Brook, I would have slept with him too. You’d never believe this Dexter Fletcher was the same guy from Press Gang and that awful spell hosting Gamesmaster, while Frank Harper’s Dog is a genuinely unsettling thief with a mean golf swing.
The cameos are great too: Rob Brydon’s parking attendant, Sting as a bar owner and Danny John-Jules (better known as Cat from Red Dwarf) in a fabulous scene spoofing the excesses of cockney rhyming slang.
But really, the movie is all about one man.
Vinnie Jones was an untalented hacker as a footballer, and he’s not much better as an actor. Yet he is by a distance the best thing in this movie as Harry the Hatchet’s debt collector Big Chris.
He oozes charisma and menace, bringing the pain to anyone who doesn’t pay their debts or dares to swear (or even blaspheme) in front of his son, Little Chris. It’s not just the violence though – Jones demonstrates some beautiful comic timing and is clearly relishing every second. It’s difficult not to get caught up in that.
Great films don’t just leave a mark on their audience; they also influence other filmmakers. Just as Blair Witch Project led to a flurry of handheld footage movies (which are still rife today), Lock, Stock also saw a revival in the British gangster movie.
Sadly, many of these feature Danny Dyer. But genuinely brilliant films like Layer Cake simply would not exist if not for Lock, Stock. That’s a fantastic legacy.
As for me, it didn’t take long to realise I sounded like an absolute berk. Besides, when I read the philosophy texts I was supposed to be studying, the voice in my head did so in a Cockney accent. Cogito ergo sum, you mug.
John Fitzsimons is the editor of personal finance website lovemoney.com and writes about things other than money to keep him sane. His wife still hasn’t forgiven him for subjecting her to Green Street simply for the chance to hear Frodo sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”.