Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

“No longer will their wretched flags stain the seas.”

Andrew Brooker grades Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge in the high C’s as one of the most unfairly written off adventure movies around. Read his full review below.

Continue reading Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

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Box Office Bombs 2015: Mortdecai

Failed Critics Podcast host and dashing gent, Steve Norman, returns to his Box Office Bombs series to tackle Mortdecai…

Starring: Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany

Budget: $60m

Global Takings: $47.3m

Loss: $12.7m

Johnny Depp is a good actor, there’s no denying it. But in the last few years or so, his film choices have been pretty woeful. Whilst the recent gangster movie Black Mass was a partial return to form, recently we have seen him in Dark Shadows, Transcendence, The Lone Ranger and he has also ran his excellent Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean into the ground, with more films in that franchise to follow.

Mortdecai continues that trend. I mean, was anyone really encouraged by the trailers? It played before every film I saw in the run up to its release and every time I met it with a sigh of exasperation, despair and an ‘oh f*** off’.

So the film is about an eccentric British art collector and aristocrat who becomes involved in an art theft and subsequent plot to steal Nazi treasure or some such nonsense. It’s essentially a rejected plot for National Treasure 4 with a few adjustments.

Everything in Mortdecai is a shambles. The accents of Depp, McGregor, Paltrow and Bettany come straight out of TalkSport adverts. Why is everyone in this film talking like its early 20th century when it’s set in the modern day? It really grates after a while. Depp sounds like he’s in a Fast Show sketch. Paul Whitehouse in his cameo clearly thinks he’s in one.

The action falls flat. They try to play it with a modicum of humour, kind of like what you see in Kingsman, but it is neither exciting, funny nor choreographed well. For actions scenes they are quite dull.

The humour is just awful. The running jokes about moustaches, or Paul Bettany’s ‘Jock Strapp’ (yes that is his actual name, if Mortdecai had a butler in this he’d probably have been called T Bagg) being some prolific lady’s man, were tiresome at best.

Paltrow has previously played the partner of an eccentric millionaire (ok, perhaps billionaire) when playing Pepper Potts in Iron Man. She can clearly do that well and have fun with it. Why she doesn’t bother here is beyond me. Ewan McGregor brings back his Obi Wan Kenobi voice but even the force couldn’t save this movie, it needs a death star to destroy everyone involved with it.

Mortdecai has the same kind of feel that Austin Powers had. It’s that kind of film. It’s trying to be a comic spy film with a central character out of place or out of touch. And while I suspect that Austin Powers has aged badly, at least at the time of release of perhaps even all three films in that trilogy, I found some enjoyment and some laughs in them.  Mortdecai lacks that.

All in all, there is nothing to like about this film. The jokes fall flat, the performances are annoying and the ‘action’ is dull.

Johnny Depp seriously needs to sack his agent.

Failed Critics Podcast: The Good Bridge of Dinosaur Spies

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We’re back to our normal routine today with Steve Norman and Owen Hughes joined by Callum Petch. There’s not a single professional comedian amongst them after the first episode of Paul Field and James Mullinger’s Underground Nights popped up in your podcast subscription software of choice this past weekend.

And what a bumper crop of new release reviews we have in store for you! Four new movies that have hit your cinema screens recently, including: The new Pixar dramedy, The Good Dinosaur; Black Mass, a crime biopic starring Johnny Depp; a film that Callum describes as “perfect” in Carol; and cold war drama Bridge of Spies, the latest Spielberg and Hanks collaboration.

All of this plus a look at the new Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers and a bunch of other stuff that we’ve seen this past week. Callum boldly goes where millions of others have gone before and inducts himself into the Star Trek universe via the original motion picture. Meanwhile, Steve talks us through a post apocalyptic horror like so many more before it with Hidden and rounds up this season of The Walking Dead. There’s also still time for Owen to talk about a film that very few have seen before after attending the test screening of The Comedians Guide to Survival, a movie starring James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) about the life of James Mullinger (yes, that guy from Underground Nights).

Join Owen and Steve again for more “film related nonsense” with returning guest Andrew Brooker.

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Black Mass

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“And just fucking like that, I was one of them. And I was a big fucking deal.”

So yeah, I’ve been falling out of love with Johnny Depp pretty hard this last few years. Outside of a couple of… let’s say interesting turns in films like Rango and The Rum Diaries, his appearances on the big screen have been lacklustre at best and just plain awful at worst. I mean, what in the name of Jesus beaten left testicle was going on in Tusk? It’s all good that you’ve got more money than God and you can take your pick of projects, but why the hell would you pick The Lone Ranger?

But… But, but, but! I do love me a good crime drama, the closer to true life the better and with 2009’s Public Enemies and 1997’s Donnie Brasco, Depp stars in two of my favourites. Stupid recent roles aside, I had high expectations for Mr Depp’s turn as James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass.

Directed by Scott Cooper – of Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace fame – and based on the biographical book of the same name, Black Mass is the true story of James Bulger, a small time crook that became the most powerful gangster in South Boston with the help of his gang, his politician brother and – to coin the subtitle of the book and the tagline on the film poster – his unholy alliance with the FBI.

Kicking off in 1975, we are told Whitey’s story from a police interview room as they question henchman Kevin Weeks, a doorman who impressed Bulger by standing his ground and taking a beating doing his job. Quickly becoming Bulger’s driver and playing the part of his muscle makes him the perfect guy to tell the story of the next twenty years to us, and the police. As Weeks spills the beans on Whitey’s past endeavours, we meet the man while he’s just a small time hoodlum working he way up to full blown gangster status; not far removed from a prison stint that included three years in Alcatraz, Bulger spends his days working his way through South Boston making sure everyone knows that he is the guys to be scared of. At the same time, James’ politician brother William is keeping himself busy protecting his sibling, keeping him safe from prying eyes and organising meetings with John Connelly, an FBI agent that really wants to be a dirty cop and sees the Bulger brothers as the best way to do that.

The twisting stories between gangster Whitey, politician brother Jimmy and terrible bad cop Connelly span nearly two decades. From the rise of his Winter Hill mob into organised crime and his rivalry with the Angiulo brothers of North Boston that eventually led to his conspiring with the FBI; to Bulger’s eventual fleeing Boston, the law, and his rivalries to stay alive and out of prison.

Black Mass is all about the performances. While the tale it’s weaving is great and Cooper’s direction and story telling style are amazing, it’s the stellar cast and superb acting from almost all of them that make this film stand out. First and foremost is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of local gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, his time on screen is almost flawless. Sure, his makeup is a little dodgy and he looks a bit like a 50 year old Draco Malfoy, but Depp is suitably evil in every scene he is in and has mastered the craft of the psycho eyes that make him just terrifying – one scene where he threatens a copper with “the last thing I’d do if I was planning to harm you, is fucking warn you about it” may be the scariest thing I see in a weekend that includes a Crimson Peak screening. It’s the role that has restored a little love and faith in Johnny Depp and may he pull performances like this one from here on in.

Depp’s support is almost perfect too. Joel Edgerton’s FBI agent John Connelly, the agent that comes dangerously close to being a bungling fool in the grand scheme of things but is just dying to be hot shit is great. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch for Edgerton, but he does the simple role very, very well. Jesse Plemons – a guy I only know from the excellent Friday Night Lights – essentially plays two parts; Kevin Weeks the big time gangster’s muscle and Kevin Weeks the informant driving the narration forward for us and in both roles he shines. Quickly erasing the teenage football player image I had for him and making him a bit of a bad ass. Maybe the biggest mis-step in casting comes in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch. Now I have a lot of time for the Sherlock actor, but his casting as Whitey’s politician brother Billy seems like stunt casting at its worst. Not because he’s bad or because he’s used to sell the film, but just to say “we got Cumberbatch in our flick” and it really wasn’t necessary; he just doesn’t seem to fit the role that he’s been given. With appearances from Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson and Rory Cochrane all running in support, Black Mass has more than enough acting chops on screen to keep almost anyone entertained.

Overall, Black Mass is excellent. It’s an interesting slice of time from the crime stories of Boston and while it comes across a little like a true story version of The Departed mixed with a slightly unhealthy dose of wanting to be Goodfellas, it is an amazing way to spend a couple of hours. It pains me to say it, in a year that had Tom Hardy starring in a Kray twins film, but Black Mass may be the best crime film you can see this year.

A.I. In Film

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

I’d love to say that’s a quote from a sci-fi action film such as Dredd, or a Japanese anime such as Ghost In The Shell, or any other iconic sci-fi movie dealing with the rise of the machines for that matter. Instead, it’s a direct quote from one of the greatest minds of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking, when speaking to the BBC last year. The crazy nut.

Essentially, it’s a theory that fascinates me, so to tie in with last week’s release of Ex Machina, this week’s release Big Hero 6, the soon to be released Chappie, and the next ‘Artificial Intelligence’ special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, I’ve decided to take a look at the role A.I. has played in a few famous films.

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Image courtesy of http://blushots.weebly.com/2001-a-space-odyssey.html

Artificial Intelligence is of course something that already exists in some forms in the real world; whether you’re referring to a Tamagotchi toy or even a digital Mario that can learn to beat its own game without assistance.That said, a sentient form of life created from wires and silicon is still something very much reduced to the realms of science fiction. Although the dictionary definition is somewhat oblique, what we generally mean when we refer to A.I. is the full, true, conscious self-awareness of being in an unnatural device manufactured by a person. A type of intelligence that we possess as humans, that we arrogantly claim does not (or cannot) exist in the same way in any other creature or mechanical computer. An automaton that is rather than simply does.

It is of course frequently used as the motivation of a terrifying baddie in a film, such as the killer androids on the loose in Westworld. But that’s not really an artificial intelligence. It’s more like a malfunctioning pre-programmed robot executing a series of commands. You know, if you want to get all nerdy.

Similarly, whilst there are some grey areas, such as in Paul Verhoeven’s sophisticated and ultra-violent film RoboCop, where you’re asked to consider if it’s a man inside a robotic body or robot with a man inside of it, A.I. doesn’t really refer to cyborgs either. They obviously cross-wires, so to speak, but a human brain inside of a tin can is still a biological entity. More than what we might consider A.I., which is a completely manufactured form of intelligence.

Of course, the very notion of a sentient mechanoid is enough to give even the most sensible minded person the heebie-jeebies. With that in mind, allow me to pick out five different – although equally terrifying – uses of artificial intelligence in film (albeit admittedly slightly predictable choices!)


terminator 2Skynet and the Terminators (first appearance: The Terminator, 1984)

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we. If the mere concept of an intelligent military computer causing a nuclear war based on its own logic isn’t something that sends shivers down your spine, then maybe the idea of being chased by an unstoppable shotgun-wielding motorbike-riding nightclub-crashing robot is. No? How about a relentless melty-man who can turn his hands into sword-like objects and stab you through the throat? Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. There are many incarnations of A.I. throughout the Terminator film series, but perhaps none are as chilling as that initial idea of a single sentient machine deciding to wipe out the human race and cause a full scale world war. The clever twist in the sequel, T2: Judgement Day, is that the A.I. is both the hero and the villain of the story, of course. But the lasting legacy of the series that James Cameron started over 30 years ago now is that spine-tingling chill of the first military owned A.I., Skynet, that will inevitably lead to the destruction and genocide of the entire human race.


HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

You and your fellow astronaut buddy are on a exploration mission through space, the rest of your colleagues safely frozen in their cryogenic pods. Everything is all hunky dory. Well, right up until the supposedly unerring on-board computer has the awareness to make a decision that you and your crew are expendable. halLogically speaking. That is exactly what the A.I., HAL, does in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science fiction 2001: A Space Odyssey. It doesn’t necessarily make HAL a villain in the sense that he’s wrong or evil, he’s simply decided of his own accord that ridding himself of the crew will make his mission more efficient and thus heightens the viewers insecurities. Just how necessary are we, really? Maybe that is why HAL is so scary. Not because of his unemotional, sterile voice, as he ruthlessly decides to do away with his crew, but because for the most part he’s an abstract tool; just a solid red light in a metal cube that makes us feel inferior solely by existing in the first place. He’s influenced virtually every version of A.I. in film since, from Ash in Alien to Auto in Wall-E.


TRANSCENDENCEDr Will Caster (Transcendence, 2013)

It’s fair to say that both Callum and I had a difference of opinion over last year’s summer sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence. While the quality of the film overall is not a debate I intend to bring up again any time in the near future, the idea that Johnny Depp’s character, Will Caster, could have his mind transported to that of a quantum computer is an intriguing idea. Is the piece of hardware simply simulating what the mind of its creator would do in a very pre-determined and programmed way; is it actually the mind or soul of a human controlling the machine; or is the computer acting completely of its own volition? Do these even count as artificial intelligence is also a debate I don’t want to get into. What makes it worthy of inclusion on this list is the suggestion that after your physical body dies, you could have your mind imported into a computer. It’s the whole “brain in a jar” scenario that’s been used so many times before, although without a physical biological brain. The film does have an inevitable consequence as it drifts towards being about love rather than anything particularly meaningful, but there’s still a neat little idea tucked away in there somewhere!


Roy Batty (Blade Runner, 1982)

Of course a list of sci-fi films about the use of artificial intelligence wouldn’t be worth its salt without the inclusion of this Ridley Scott classic, adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’. Whilst theroy batty role of Deckard, the bounty hunter played by Harrison Ford, is probably more synonymous with the movie, it’s the tragic story of the blonde android suffering from an existential crisis played by the charismatic Rutger Hauer that is arguably the most accomplished and well rounded aspect of the story. It begs the question, just because we can create an A.I., should we? Is it fair? It goes right back to science fiction 101 in that man wasn’t meant to play God, dabbling in sciences that we don’t truly understand. Not from a technical point of view; clearly within the context of the film, people understand how to create artificial intelligence, but perhaps not so much the consequences of gifting life and then taking it away. Perhaps the ease at which we’re ready to hit the ‘off’ switch is in turn something we should fear more than pressing the ‘on’ button in the first place.


aiDavid (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001)

All right, I’m aware that perhaps even more obvious than any of the other inclusions, a film literally called Artificial Intelligence worming its way onto my list is not particularly imaginative. Especially when I haven’t even mentioned characters like Robby The Robot, C-3PO, Fassbender in Prometheus or poor ol’ Johnny 5. Nevertheless, I had to include the little boy who will never grow up, abandoned by those who created him to replace their ill son and forced to spend the rest of his time with the creepiest looking sexbot ever and his bizarre teddy bear. It’s quite a sad film, with the whole idea of replacing someone you’ve lost (or are losing) with a Pinocchio-esque robot being a rather moving subject. David narrowly escaping destruction with all the naivety of a real human boy; the apparent genuine feelings of loss and abandonment that David experiences; as well the final 20 minutes of the film, it will make you completely empathetic towards what is essentially nuts and bolts. It’s a marvellous juxtaposition between life and non-existence. The ending to the Christmas special episode of the TV series Black Mirror, called ‘White Christmas‘, drew similar feelings of anxiety about existing forever as an artificial life-form. It’s not a faultless film, of course, but deals with the complexity of A.I. better than most other films ever have.


And that’s it! Look out for the podcast due out this week where I chat to both Steve and special guest Matt Lambourne on the same topic, as well as reviewing Ex Machina in full. Until then, cheerio.

Mortdecai

It stinks.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mortdecaiDo you remember when Johnny Depp was one of our most interesting and relatively exciting actors?  At home as a leading man but the kind of leading man who took chances and tried different roles, who was all about finding the characters beneath the eccentricities, and who knew exactly how far was too far and scaled back accordingly?  There will be an entire generation of moviegoers who only know of Johnny Depp as “That Guy Who Plays Weirdos” and that’s genuinely saddening, to me.  I still think he is a very talented actor when he shows up to work or when he’s given an actual character, and he deserves better than this stigma he’s gotten attached to.

That is how I felt before I saw MortdecaiMortdecai has managed to accomplish what Transcendence, what The Lone Ranger, what even Alice In Wonderland was unable to do: it has gotten me over Johnny Depp.  I am done with him.  As I left Mortdecai, I was filled with a burning desire to never see Johnny Depp again.  He needs to go away, for a long while.  Mortdecai marks the point where his hammy, character-less mugging has sailed way over the line of tolerability for me and now has made me wish for him to disappear for a good while.  He needs to just stop, take a year or so out, find better scripts, and then come back looking to impress instead of irritate.

Yes, surprising quite possibly nobody, Mortdecai is a bad film and Johnny Depp ends up being emblematic of everything wrong with it.  It’s a film that really wants to be a throwback to 60s British farcical capers – where every line of dialogue is a sexual innuendo of some kind, everybody is pompously self-involved, the actual plot itself is light on the ground, and most of the comedy involves slapstick – but one that lacks any of the wit, intelligence, charm or fun required to make that happen.  In an attempt to make up for that fact, everybody spends their time hamming the living daylights out of every line of dialogue – practically shouting in exaggeratedly exaggerated accents of whichever nationality their characters are supposed to be – keeping the register at that heightened level for what turns out to be a near-unbearably long 106 minute runtime.

It comes back to the script, written by Eric Aronson – whose only other credit is a 2001 Lance Bass and Joey Fatone (yes, of N*SYNC) vehicle titled On The Line – instead of director (and accomplished screenwriter in his own right) David Koepp.  See, the script lacks any particularly funny or original quirks, instead resorting to jokes about how women are just insatiable and/or disposable sexual conquests, how foreigners are funny, how Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) is very much whipped by his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) despite his best efforts, how Charlie is totally not gay not that he has any problems with gay people, you understand…  When it does try and come up with its own thing, it’s an endless rambling obsession with moustaches that feels forced and cynical, instead of natural and honest, like it’s trying to force the moustache thing into popular and meme culture.  Needless to say, it’s embarrassing.

Even more problematic is that nobody in the film is particularly likeable or entertaining to watch.  Charlie is a pompous self-centred asshat whose characterisation is rarely consistent save for the “irritating” part – especially since the film can’t decide just how much of a total nitwit the guy is – Johanna should be a fun foil to Charlie but she and Depp have the sexual chemistry of a rat and a bucket of rat poison, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor, oh god why) ends up being a humourless squib on the film instead of an entertainingly humourless squib – and whose relentless pursuit of Johanna never really comes off as convincingly sweet or believable – and the less said about Olivia Munn’s nymphomaniac Georgina Krampf – three guesses as to what the sole joke surrounding her character is and which side she ends up on, first two don’t count – the better.

I’m not saying that the problem is that the cast is unlikeable, a tonne of great comedies are filled from head to toe with awful characters, in the good sense.  The problem is that they are all really dull to watch.  Koepp normally has a speed, dynamism and fun that he brings to his features – Premium Rush was a very stupid film but damn it all if it wasn’t also a tonne of fun – but Mortdecai very, very rarely displays that kind of manic, passionate energy or anarchic sense of fun.  Where Koepp would normally seem engaged and entertained, he instead feels disinterested and bored, gliding through this incredibly cheap-looking $60 million film with a sense of obligation overriding everything else.  Consequently, what seemed entertaining on some level from the trailers grates over 106 minutes because he never varies that tempo or mood.

Mortdecai, therefore, is a film that seems genuinely irritated by its own existence.  A film that knows the script it’s working from is garbage, hates the fact that it’s garbage, but at no point shows any interest in bettering itself, almost out of spite, instead dragging itself, its cast, its crew, and the audience it holds with nothing but contempt through the mud for nearly two seemingly endless hours.  What very few good gags it has are drowned out in an endless sea of allegedly inherently funny accents and repeated usages of the phrase, “Open your balls.”  It has no heart, no entertaining characters, and no energy or desire to try and be some kind of fun.

And so we return to Johnny Depp, mugging his way through the entire film, indulging in all of his worst impulses, refusing to find a character underneath the eccentricities like he’s flipping off his growing critics.  “I’ll show them what ‘He doesn’t play characters anymore and hasn’t been bearable for nearly a decade’ looks like!  Wait, I don’t actually know who that is supposed to be making fun of.”  The film Mortdecai ends up being powered by Depp’s Mortdecai and that sheer concentrated Depp-overload ends up making the film even more of a slog than it might otherwise have been.  I was sick of him by the 15 minute mark, and 106 minutes with him officially got me over Depp completely.  Mortdecai managed to do what Alice In Wonderland could not, and this is saying something.

Jeff Goldblum pops up in this randomly for about 5 minutes – maybe he owed Koepp, who co-wrote Jurassic Park, or something – and his presence ignited a desire within me to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel again, a genuinely good farcical caper.  In fact, that’s what you should do: you should just watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and stay far away from Mortdecai.  Please.  Please do that.  I’m worried they’ll try and turn this into a series, otherwise.

Callum Petch is fantasising all the time, “move your body next to mine.”  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Into The Woods

Watered down for family viewing, this Brothers Grimm musical mashup sails a sea of mediocrity for two hours leaving you feeling that something is most definitely missing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

into the woodsIt’s a strange feeling to go into a Disney film with lowered expectations. It’s a weird mind-set to have knowing that the last few musicals you sat through knocked out any hope that you might ever enjoy one again. But hey, I grew up on old school Disney animation and can still to this day reel off the lyrics to all the songs in The Jungle Book and Aladdin. So if any film was going to restore my faith in family films I can sing along to with the kids like we used to back in the day, it’s got to be Disney, right? Sadly, I don’t think this is the movie my childhood needed it to be.

I confess, until very recently, I had no idea what Into the Woods was. I hadn’t heard of the stage production and I had absolutely no idea that it was almost 30 years old. When I did get through a detailed synopsis and understood the concept, my initial reaction was surprise. Not that it was being adapted to film, but that it hadn’t been done twenty years ago. Upon continued reading, I thought I discovered the reason for the film’s existence. The story has some quite dark themes. Themes that have been touched upon in a lot of the Grimm fairy tales, but that have never really come to life in the countless animated movies Disney have given us. With the recent success of Maleficent, a film with some very dark undertones, I thought I could see what was coming and I got quite excited about seeing more of the same from Disney’s latest.

Adapted for the screen by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the creators of the stage show and its music, Into The Woods is the story of a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are desperately trying for a family. Forced to take on a quest to search out items that an evil witch (Meryl Streep) needs for a spell. In exchange for these seemingly benign objects, the witch will remove the curse she herself placed on them to prevent them having kids. A spell she cooked up in revenge of the baker’s father stealing her magic beans.

Seems reasonable to me. You steal my rubbish beans, I curse all your children to an eternity of Brewer’s droop. A good, proportionate response, right?

Anyways. These items are the start of the recipe for a melting pot of fairy tales that plays out almost exactly as you would expect them to. The very good Emily Blunt and the pretty pants James Corden set off into the woods in search of a cow, a red cape, a slipper and a lock of blonde hair, inserting themselves into all your favourite kids’ stories to steal stuff and get in the way. Judging from its genre descriptions on IMDb, I’m almost positive that it’s here that hilarity is supposed to ensue.

What follows is a couple of hours of story with no real direction. Rob Marshall (the guy that made the very good Chicago, the boring Nine and the bland Pirates of the Caribbean 4) doesn’t seem to know where to go with each scene. Having not seen the stage production, I can only assume that this is how it plays out on Broadway, but it just seems aimless. Jack gets his beanstalk in lightning quick time but it takes Cinderella three days to lose her shoe. Red Riding Hood takes seconds to play out her story with the Wolf and we either have a massive decade long gap between scenes or Rapunzel is soaking her head in Miracle-Gro at night. It’s just all over the shop. Each scene comes with a new song and a new reason to roll your eyes. Aside from a couple of the musical numbers, none are delivered with any heart or passion. It’s difficult to describe what feels so wrong with the delivery considering the very point of a musical is to sing the script, but it just feels like the music has been shoehorned in and none of the cast are happy about it.

For the most part, the acting seems just as erratic. But a few, for better or worse, deserve special mention. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are excellent in their roles. Streep’s wicked witch routine is sublime. Her hag filmography is starting to fill out nicely with this and Maggie Thatcher vying for the top spot. The usually very good Anna Kendrick’s performance as Cinderella is, maybe ironically, best described as wishy-washy. She doesn’t seem like she’s having any fun in maybe the most recognisable role in the film. The film’s two princes are just embarrassing! Played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, they both seem to be channelling Errol Flynn, trying to swash and buckle their way through their respective tales and joining up for a very, VERY camp musical number at the top of a waterfall. Pine’s prince seems the more “Disney” of the two, if you can look past the fact that for his first five or so scenes, I thought it was James Van Der Beek with a bad accent. Nope, it turns out it was Captain Kirk, with a bad accent. But the relatively unknown (at least, to me) Billy Magnussen’s prince is completely out of place. Several of his key scenes have a slapstick element to it which while I expected a comedy, felt like I would find them as deleted scenes on the Robin Hood: Men in Tights DVD.

Finally, Disney have carried on their tradition of trying to sell you everything by having an appearance from Johnny Depp in a silly hat! You’d be forgiven for going in expecting more than the five minutes screen time he gets, but in those few minutes he does a spectacular job of proving that he’s become a real one trick pony. Looking like he’s just tripped and stumbled onto the set while he was on a smoke break from the latest Tim Burton film he’s in, Depp overacts his role as the Wolf clearly in the hope that one day there will be an Oscar for cameos!

Rob Marshall clearly set out with good intentions, and I have to believe that if the creators behind the original show were involved in its adaptation then at least a token show of intent was made to bring all the story’s themes across from the stage. The problem is, in an attempt to sell us a family friendly fantasy, Disney have diluted the second half of the film. Maleficent this ain’t. It’s not even that they appear to have changed things, I just got the feeling that large chunks of story have simply been removed. A whole lot of build-up sadly gives way to a rushed second half and an unsatisfying ending with none of the cautionary tale that I knew should have been there.

Overall, as far as films go, as far as musicals go, even as far as Disney adaptations go, it’s just there. Not as good as Chicago, not as pretentious as Les Miserables and not as crap as Sweeney Todd. It’s just forgettable, inoffensive, uninspired guff.

Into The Woods is in cinemas this weekend. Tune in to our next podcast to here Andrew make his debut and chat about Disney’s latest musical with the rest of the gang.

Tusk

After being put to the vote by listeners of SModcast, Kevin Smith gave the people what they wanted and created his latest movie, Tusk. Paul has seen it and retained the same expression as Justin Long has in our feature image throughout the entire film.

by Paul Field (@pafster)

lily_rose_tusksI know this story. I know it really well as it originated locally. But in case you don’t, here’s the condensed version:

Ad appears in Brighton Gumtree for a lodger. A free room in a nice flat in central Brighton if – and only if – well see for yourself, here’s the quotes from the ad direct:

“To take on the position as my lodger you must be prepared to wear a walrus suit for approximately two hours each day.” “Whilst in the walrus costume you must be a walrus – there must be no speaking in a human voice, and any communication must entail making utterances in the voice of a walrus.”

Hey don’t knock it, the rents in Brighton are sky high! This story was subsequently picked up and discussed on SModcast, the popular Kevin Smith chat / irreverent / stoner / news & nonsense podcast.

From that was born TUSK !!

And that’s where it all starts falling apart. Smith relocates the Tusk story from central Brighton, to a secluded large house in Canada. Gumtree is gone and replaced by a handwritten note pinned on a pub notice board. Then Smith pours in a gallon of references and in jokes from his podcast.

Casting, Justin Long is always good value, but Michael Parks being forced to deliver a dreadful script is floundering early doors. Haley Joel Osment turns up (that kid who could see dead people… but now he’s fat). But it’s up to Johnny Depp to deliver (in his mind) a wonderfully quirky performance as the slightly bumbling French Canadian, Guy Lapointe. The reality: a tragic and ridiculous Depp mucks about on screen with a silly accent and a crap false moustache, all on your dime and time. Smith and Depp are not finished yet though, they serve up their kids as some kind of ‘nod to Clerks‘ double act working in a Canadian convenience store. Utterly, utterly terrible. Go on say, “abooot” instead of “about” again, no go on… please, it’s hilarious… that’s the best gag in the whole film. No, really.

If you’re expecting a terrifying Parks slowly toying with Long.. not really. He tries to bore him to death. If you’re expecting a hilarious romp… no, definitely not. There’s no jokes (funny ones that is), there’s no scares. There is a horrific reveal, but it’s sudden, fully lit and completely matter of fact, no hints of what’s to come in the darkness. This feels like a horror made by somebody who’s never seen a horror film. That it fails on the jokes front too, from Kevin Smith, that’s unforgivable.

The call backs to his podcast and the original tale are really, really irritating. Characters called Bryton, Lapointe, Gumtree; it’s really jarring and dumb if you know the references, and just plain baffling if you dont.

I love Clerks, I love Clerks 2, I even like Jersey Girl! I’ve seen all his films, I own the lot, have seen him live, swapped banter, bought untold items from his Secret Stash store in New Jersey. Hell I even had a story included in SModcast. I was his target audience for this.

Its utter garbage, but cheer up, the whole cast is back for Yoga Hosers, where Depp returns as Lapointe and goes on an adventure with Little Depp and Little Smith. There’s a third part too, but I lost the will to live researching the second…

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

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

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

mike bassettFailed Critics: England Manager

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

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

The Viewing Dead

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

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

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

Where’s the News?

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

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

Why Are Pirates Called Pirates? Because They Javi-ARRGHHH

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

Superhero Section

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failed Critics Podcast: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Amazing Transcendence, The Amazing Love Punch

THE-AMAZING-SPIDER-MAN-2Welcome to this week’s podcast; the first one since James took temporary leave (of his senses in trusting the pod to this lot).

Callum Petch makes his return to the pod, and along with Steve and Owen reviews the latest blockbuster effort featuring the masked web-slinger, as well as Johnny Depp sans Tim Burton and white-face make-up in Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence.

Join us next week as we drag a stranger off the street to keep Owen and Steve company whole they try and find a new release to review that isn’t The Other Woman.

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Transcendence

TRANSCENDENCEWhatever potential Transcendence may have had is squandered by Stone Age gender and technological politics and overall nonsensical stupidity.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I have come to the conclusion that films don’t know how to use in medias res, anymore.  Transcendence opens 5 years after its story is supposed to start, in a post-apocalyptic America where the Internet is knocked out totally and technology seems to no longer exist.  Sorry, I’ve just spoiled the end of Transcendence for you but only because Transcendence all but flips every single one of its cards in the first three minutes.  That is not how in medias res is supposed to work!  You’re not supposed to just show your ending and then wheel back to the start!  This gives me no greater understanding of the plot at large, starting at the end does not hook me any more than starting at the beginning would and, most importantly, it’s still exposition!  In medias res is supposed to start with action, somewhere exciting, to hook the viewer!  Here, I’m just being told information I would have reached by the time the story catches up, anyway!

So, that’s how Transcendence starts.  It does not get better.  The film does have a great premise, which only serves to make the fact that it wastes it on rote and poorly executed technological scaremongering all the more disappointing.  Scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is shot with a radioactive bullet by a radical anti-tech terrorist group which will kill him in just over a month’s time.  Desperate to save his life, his grief-stricken wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) convinces their friend Max (Paul Bettany) to upload Will’s mind and consciousness into the form of a functioning AI program, a concept that Will has spent most of his entire life researching and working on.  Will and Max both agree and the trio set about trying to make it a reality.  Will eventually passes on but, miracle upon miracles, the plan seems to work and he wakes up as an AI.  Evelyn is overjoyed at reuniting with ‘Will’ but Max’s alarm bells are set ringing when the first thing the newly AI and self-aware Will asks for is more power…

What follows is nearly two hours of the same tone-deaf “all technology, regardless of the benefits, will DESTROY US ALL!!” message that I honestly thought we’d finally grown out of post-Y2K.  Hell, one character actually name-drops the Y2K concept at one point to let the audience know just how much of a threat AI Will is.  My issue is not the entire concept of the film, the “rogue AI” sub-genre of sci-fi is rife with realised potential, my issue is with the fact that the film never once lets up on its cynical nature.  Everything AI Will does, and I mean everything, whether it be clever stock trading or helping fix up a run-down old town or developing renewable energy sources or furthering nanotechnology, is constantly portrayed with a sense of dread.  That these are not things to be celebrated, but to be feared as they’re clearly being used as part of a larger scheme by an evil overload to take over the world!

The reason why this doesn’t work, and why it actually rather offends me, is down to the issue of tone.  Unlike other films of this type, and apparently the upcoming The Wind Rises, this is not a balanced portrayal.  It’s never “technology can be used for so much good, but it is also capable of being used for evil and destruction”, it’s always “anything that technology can provide, no matter how useful and helpful it may seem, is a time-bomb waiting to happen”.  Late on in the movie, AI Will manages to perfect nanotechnology, which enables human beings to self-heal and have unimaginable strength, and not five seconds after this development occurs does the film reveal that it’s only possible if the person receiving the nanotechnology is connected to AI Will and the film all but screams “THESE WILL BECOME AN EVIL TERMINATOR ARMY LATER ON”.  It never allows itself a moment to just show off the new technology in a positive light, it all has to be cloaked in this envelope of dread and fear for what will happen.

So, in the end, you’re supposed to side with the radical anti-tech terrorists.  You know, the ones who kill, kidnap and torture people, blow up buildings and speak near-permanently in soliloquies about how technology is going too far and is a total always-unspecified threat to everything.  Funnily enough, this didn’t take for me and such a sentiment only stayed with me when, surprise surprise, they’re proven totally right near the end.  And, no, the last-minute switch of motives to “but it only did these things for love” also didn’t take because it rang hollow, a last-minute attempt by the people involved to try and cover their arses from me making this very criticism at the film instead of an earned plot and character development.  You can’t spend 1 hour and 45 minutes bellowing one message as loud as possible and then turn around in the final 5 minutes and quickly shout something else.  It’s going to feel false.

Or, to put it another way, watching Transcendence is akin to a person acting like Billy in this clip from The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy for nearly two straight hours and it’s near insufferable.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, oh no!  See because a film in 2014 has pulled out that old chestnut of “women shouldn’t science because their emotions make them unstable and will DESTROY EVERYTHING!!” and played it dead straight.  Evelyn is given plenty of chances to shut down AI Will, is told repeatedly and explicitly that the AI is not the real Will and that it is a danger to everyone else (all by men, incidentally) yet constantly she refuses to listen with her entire counter-argument for about three-quarters of the movie being “It’s Will!  It’s my husband!”  If this were a film about grieving and learning to let go and accepting that loved ones are going to die, this tract would be acceptable and, hell, could even be handled well.  Instead, she’s the sole person who is shown to be wrong about their methods of going about things, she’s the one that allows things to get to an irreparable and irreversible state and she takes at least 90 minutes (3/4 of the film) to be successfully convinced that she’s wrong because she’s a woman and “women and their emotions, amiright lads?

And don’t even get me started with a late-game conversation that strongly posits the idea that AI Will’s code is this way because it more resembles Evelyn than it does Will and that she may possibly have inadvertently futzed around with the code and caused this whole mess.  It is maddening, absolutely maddening, to have to sit through a film in 2014 that still insists that women and their emotions are volatile things and that men are the only sane force in the entire film.  “But Callum, what about that girl in the anti-tech terrorist group played by Kate Mara?  She’s speaking sense, seeing as the film proves her and her cause right.”  That’s a good point you raise and one that can immediately be dismissed by the fact that she, along with everybody else on the anti-tech terror team are not characters.  They are blank slates, not people, their entire character is their cause, the rhetoric they spout in support of their cause and their youth.  That’s it.  Hard to help buck the “women shouldn’t science” message template when you’re the barest definition of a character.

Fact of the matter, though, is I would not be fixating so much on these message issues if the actual film housing these messages was in any way interesting or well-made or less ponderously self-serious about everything.  (Well, I mean, my 300: Rise of an Empire review clearly indicates otherwise, but still…)  Yet, it is.  A slew of likeable actors who otherwise should know better line-up to collect paycheques and nothing more, giving barely passable performances with the lone exception being Johnny Depp who is awful.  He just does not seem to give one single crap at any point during this, constantly mumbling and staring off into space and seeming completely disinterested throughout.  You could do a thing with this when he becomes an AI, make it seem creepier and uncanny and off-putting that way… except that he’s like that from frame one, WELL BEFORE HE’S BEEN SHOT AND DYING, LET ALONE UPLOADED!  I haven’t seen Depp this checked out in nearly five years, he is just dreadful here.

The pacing is poor, both in terms of getting through it (the middle hour seems to drag on for ages) and in terms of story urgency and agency (there’s a two year time-skip in the middle of said aforementioned middle hour that basically makes it seem like R.I.F.T., the anti-tech terror group, spent the time sat on their arses twiddling their thumbs despite insisting that AI Will is a huge danger just moments ago).  The scale is preposterously tiny with literally nobody outside of maybe 10 people being at all concerned or at all aware of the evil sounding self-aware AI that may or may not be building up an army.  Despite costing $100 million, Transcendence looks cheap as all hell and no more so during its bafflingly stupid final 30 minutes, despite being an allegedly serious film.

And that extreme self-seriousness is the film’s major downfall here.  It’s so serious and joyless, like it’s offering up some kind of cautionary tale, imparting some kind of wisdom that only it has ever gotten and which will blow our minds when it tells us!  Except that its supposedly majorly smart wisdom is “science is scarewy” and its finale involves lots of explosions, Terminator-people and dreadfully rendered data bytes that act like vines.  It thinks it’s Ghost In The Shell or something similarly smart about the nature of humanity, but it’s actually more Surrogates.  If it didn’t have the feel of a big important serious treatise about big important serious things, it’d be easier to just write it off as a terrible dumb movie.  Instead, it’s a terrible dumb movie that has pretentions of being a smart movie and those are smug, highly irritating sh*tfests to sit through.

You could have made something great out of Transcendence.  A tight-knit relationship drama about coping with loss.  A satire about how dependent we are on advancing technology.  A thriller about an evil sentient AI that explores the worldwide consequences of such a thing and doesn’t demonise all technology on the straight-faced basis of the usually sarcastic quip “THIS IS HOW SKYNET STARTED!!”  We got none of those films.  Instead, first-time director Wally Pfister (previous of being the Director Of Photography for all Christopher Nolan films from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight Rises) has turned in a dumb piece of crap that thinks it’s got the key to the safety of future civilisation.  A film that’s terrified of science, dismissive of women and women scientists and also a poorly acted, poorly paced, cheap mess.  I felt insulted as I left the cinema, feeling like I had both had my time wasted and my intelligence stamped all over.

To think Wally Pfister turned down working on Interstellar to make this…

Callum Petch has cloned a human being, it is now a member of his band.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Monsters Double-Header

Pacific RimIt’s a first for the podcast this week and we have a double main review. First we discuss Pixar’s latest sequel/first prequel Monsters University, and try to figure out if Pixar are getting lazy, or if everyone else has simply upped their game. After that we talk gigantic bad-ass robots and aliens in our review of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

Also this week, we discuss Sam Mendes’ return to the Bond franchise (Yay!) and Johnny Depp’s return to the Alice in Wonderland franchise (why?!), James has a rant about films from The Asylum, particularly the so-bad-that-it’s-fucking-terrible Sharknado, and the other lads watched some films as well. Guess which forgetful old bastard wrote this.

Join us next week as we review the final film in the Wright/Pegg/Frost Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End.

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A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1990

A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Kate has chosen to relive the nineties, because she’s old enough to remember them in their entirety  This week she revisits 1990.

5. Pretty Woman

image

“I think we both know she’s not my niece.”

Bridging the gap from the big hair and leather boots of the Eighties to the sleek bobs and kitten heels of the Nineties is Pretty Woman. Hot off the heels of the female-barbershop-quintet-renal-failure-romp Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts smashes it, teaches Hollywood Boulevard a lesson, and basically makes us all want to become a hooker.

I’ve written before that I first saw this film in primary school. Over twenty years on, it stands the test of time. Roberts is adorable and exquisite – the need to exclaim how much nicer her real hair is once she loses the wig never tires. I generally don’t see the appeal of Gere, though his brooding business man (a precursor to Sex and the City’s Mr Big)  is endearing. However it’s Héctor Elizondo as the kindly hotel manager who steals the show. And his real life love story with director Garry Marshall is even cuter than Edward & Vivian.

 

4. Home Alone

“Kevin, you’re such a disease!”

After defining teen movies throughout the Eighties, John Hughes enters the new decade with a new protagonist, and children everywhere respond by attempting to bunk off their family holidays. As is the John Hughes grown up hating way, eight year old Kevin is smarter, more socially aware, with better woodworking skills than his adult counterparts, and defends his house accordingly.

Watching this as a kid around the same age as the star was pretty exciting, and a great way to diminish a fear of burglars. Just don’t say it launched Culkin‘s career, because he was brilliant in Uncle Buck the year before. It stands up to repeat viewings, and the great Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s forgetful mum becomes more infuriating each time. I’m a sucker for a good Christmas film, and you can’t beat a bit of Carol of the Bells. Home Alone 2 is miles better, though.

 

3. Ghost

image

“Molly, you in danger, girl.”

The highest grossing film of the year, nominated for five (winner of two) Academy Awards, and perpetually dismissed as a chick flick. The ghost of a murdered banker enlists the help of a usually phoney psychic to save the life of his lover. A potter’s wheel and The Righteous Brothers also star. That Sam and his colleagues conduct their multimillion dollar deals on VDU green screens shows the leap in technology about to take place. By the end of the decade we were watching The Matrix.

A love story, no doubt, but the relationships both Sam and Molly have with psychic Oda Mae Brown are the important ones. Goldberg plays cynical and hysterical to perfection, and this role sets her up nicely for a career as a nun. The late Patrick Swayze offers up some serious emotional acting, after spending the previous few years typecast as a face kicking dancer. He still manages to take his top off quite a bit though, which is no bad thing.

 

2. Edward Scissorhands

image

“Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did.”

Tim Burton‘s surprise follow up to Beetlejuice and Batman chronicles the discovery of an inventor’s unfinished creation in weird suburbia. The film is said to be largely autobiographical for Burton. Except the bit where he has scissors for hands. A tragic love story about society, reality and hedge-trimming. Beauty and the Beast for the Nineties, but without the happy ending.

An angsty teen staple, I watched my VHS copy until it died. Even the trailer makes me well up. Depp is stunning as our Gothic hero, in the first of many collaborations with Burton. And the always good Dianne Wiest, is the nicest Avon lady you could ever hope to procure eye shadow from.

 

1. Goodfellas

“One day some of the kids from the neighborhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect.”

Spanning three decades in the life of a gangster and, after the economic slump of the Eighties, showcasing a lifestyle we could all aspire to. A contender for the greatest film of all time (until we reach 1994, at least) and certainly one of Scorsese’s greatest achievements (not counting his Curb Your Enthusiasm cameo).

Ensemble cinema at its best, marred only by the fact that our original DVD copy had to be flipped over halfway through the film to accommodate the 146 minute running time. From the pitch perfect soundtrack, to that tracking shot, Goodfellas is perfect every time. And then we got to relive it the following decade, when half the cast showed up in The Sopranos.