Ooga-shaka, I’m hooked on a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise and it keeps getting better. Owen Hughes reviews James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Normally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.
However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.
I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.
It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.
Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.
It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.
Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…
Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015
Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)
I know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:
“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”
At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.
Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015
Monday – Tabloid (2010); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015); Sunday – The Hunted (2003)
Ordinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:
“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.
“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.
“You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]
Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015
Monday – L’eclisse (1962); Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015); Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994); Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015); Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997); Sunday – EVEREST (2015)
To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.
Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015
Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978); Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986); Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)
I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:
Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.
There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.
Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015
Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)
Ah, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.
And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!
Hello and welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, released slightly earlier than usual to try and push it out just before the end of International Podcast today (that’s today for the next couple of minutes, anyway!) As such, we recommend you check out our fellow podcast comrades Wikishuffle, Black Hole Cinema and Diamond & Human; all of whom are deserving of your time during your commute or whilst peeling the spuds, or whatever you do whilst you’re listening to us.
Joining Mexican assassin Steve Norman and intergalactic failed critic Owen Hughes for this week’s episode is Andrew Brooker, undertaking his unpaid work placement, as they review three new releases. They’re so new, in fact, that they are not even out in the UK yet! First up, Owen reviews new Ridley Scott sci-fi The Martian (which doesn’t feature any aliens – xenomorphs or otherwise) before Brooker seethes over the new Anne Hathaway / Robert De Niro comedy The Intern. There’s even room for a review of the much anticipated crime-thriller Sicario, starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent working with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro on the trail of the Cartel in Mexico.
Before any of that though we have our quiz (which Steve helpfully explains in detail) and news section where the team react to Sam Smith’s Bond theme replete with improv poetry, The Simpsons opening Smithers closet, and the Prometheus sequel details. This is followed by our usual what we’ve been watching section, which sees: Owen review cult 80’s horror From Beyond as he pleads for your HP Lovecraft recommendations; Steve runs through three first watches of Beverly Hills Cop, Cooties and Cop Car; and Brooker reminds himself of a time when De Niro could do comedy well with Analyze This.
Join us again next week as we review ‘the Scottish play’, Macbeth, and have a very special guest in tow for our Scottish triple bill: It’s the acclaimed author of the Three Realistic Holes trilogy of novels, Escobar Walker!
“You’re asking how a clock works. For now, concentrate on the time.”
Every now and then, a director comes along that outshines most of the competition. Amongst a slew of films that all kind of meld into one giant movie when you watch as many as I do, it’s great when you find someone you can latch on to that guarantees quality, or fun, or whatever measure you use to find the ones you love. In recent years, names like Antoine Fuqua and David Ayer have risen up and given me a yardstick to measure my entertainment against. Now, following up his 2013 Jake Gyllenhaal double bill of Prisoners and Enemy, Denis Villeneuve has guaranteed himself a spot on that list for me with his latest film; drug war crime drama Sicario.
After a speedy rise through the FBI’s ranks, Emily Blunt’s bad ass door-kicker Kate Macer has made a bit of a name for herself. A tough agent who spends her days raiding drug dens and chasing the tail end of cartel bad guys trying to make even a slight dent in the war on drugs. After a particularly important raid that turns several shades of nasty, Macer and her partner are dragged in front of the director of the FBI; but instead of raking her across the coals for letting the shit hit the fan, she’s handed the opportunity to spend some time on the other side of the border with a joint task force chasing down an all but invisible drug lord buried in the war zone that is Juarez, Mexico.
Handed over to Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, a veteran of the war on stuff you can snort and the guy in charge of this little jolly across the border; Macer joins a colourful cast of soldiers, spooks and spies as they head into Mexico to get their hands on a man that can point them in the direction of the local Pablo Escobar wannabe and get the group closer to making a big play or two in the war on the cartels. Tagging along for the ride is Graver’s adviser Alejandro Gillick; a mysteriously quiet man in a suit, quite obviously haunted by his baggage and much more dangerous than he looks. Together, the group are going to do whatever it takes to get their job done and, all things being well, get everyone home in one piece having removed a major part of the Mexican-American drug trade.
Tension is the order of the day with Sicario, Villeneuve has honed his craft over the last couple of years and this film is the culmination of all his work. I mean, if you thought Prisoners was tense and edge-of-your-seat, this flick will have you slipping off of that edge in almost every scene as this tale of bad guys being hunted down by not quite so bad guys plays out along the badlands of the Mexican border. Emily Blunt’s tough chick proving herself in a men’s world has to tow the fine lines between legitimate and illegal, between doing good and doing the right thing, all while searching within herself for the conviction still be an agent on the right side of the law.
The story unfolds at an excellent pace. No sooner are we getting over the imagery of the horrific opening scenes that we’ve been subjected to are we heading into Mexico to start the shady agency’s assault on the drug traffickers. And shady is definitely the word; between Matt Graver’s antics on each side of the fence that doesn’t so much dance along that legal line as it does conveniently forget it’s there from time to time, and Alejandro Gillick’s reserved “consultant” who talks in riddles but, when things go south, shows glimpses of just how lethal he can be; we get to ride along as these men put their lives at risk to do the right thing, whether you or Kate Macer agree with their tactics or not.
To say much more would risk spoilers for a film that should be watched with as little exposure to the story as possible. Not that this films breaks much new ground with its story, but for me to reveal the key points of what isn’t available from watching the trailer would do a real disservice to the film. I would say though, that it’s difficult to pick a stand out part of the movie. Denis Villeneuve’s direction is amazing; the imagery he puts on the screen is as awe-inspiring as it is disturbing, his pacing has the film’s two hour run-time feeling good and brisk and his choices for casting are perfect. The film’s stars do a brilliant job of bringing some of the best performances I’ve seen this year. Ok, so I think Emily Blunt should be handed every role, for every film. I think while everyone is talking about a black Bond, we should actually be talking about a woman; and I think it should be Emily Blunt. Sicario does nothing to change my mind as she pulls out a great performance as the excellent but slightly naive agent trying to understand what’s going on while beautifully side-stepping the feminist/strong woman/we don’t need men argument that so many roles like this one bring up but simply don’t need to happen (just enjoy your films for shit’s sake, not everything needs to make a statement). In perfect contrast to Blunt’s Kate Macer is Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick; in my favourite role for Del Toro since The Usual Suspects, this man with a past is equal parts terrifying and awesome! By the end of the film I was ready to get up and cheer for this man that’d been carved out by his past and set loose on the cartels.
The bottom line, is that Sicario is a masterclass in how to build a great thriller. Every scene is oozing with tension, every performance is screaming for awards nods and every shot is beautifully directed. I went in hoping for a half decent flick to try and erase Traffic from my memory, I came out two hours later with a sure-fire top five film of 2015 for my list. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Sicario is a close to perfect, unmissable film.
Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast. As promised, Steve Norman is back in the host’s chair this week as the award winning duo of Jack and Phil from Wikishuffle depart to be replaced by Matt Lambourne from the award winning video-game podcast Retro Asylum, such is the quality of guest on our shows these days!
As ever, they are both joined by Owen Hughes for this week’s triple bill episode, where each member of the team pick three films made for one million dollars or less in a bid to prove that the quality of a movie is not always dependent on its budget.
Before all of that, the guys also take a look at the Primetime Emmy Award winners announced this past weekend and indulge themselves with the final round of our ongoing quiz – which, for once, isn’t as shambolic as you might expect! There’s also time for: Steve to tackle Everest, starring Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin amongst others; Matt blows the dust out of his Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie cartridge; and Owen joins him in continuing the video-game adaptation conversation by listing everything wrong with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
Join us again next week for reviews of Sicario, The Intern, and The Martian.
“Nancy: Looks like trouble..
Marv: Looks like Christmas.”
By Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Back in 2005, the world finally got an adaptation of the Frank Miller story that it didn’t even realise it was craving. Alas, it wasn’t a live action version of The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, but was instead the pulp noir crime thriller, Sin City. After his RoboCop sequel scripts were butchered back in the 1980’s, it seemed Miller was destined to remain known as a successful comic book writer (albeit one of the most important and influential of our time) and not a successful script writer.
Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City came at a time when only five short years before, comic book movies received a successful revival; thanks in no small part to Bryan Singer’s PG-13 X-Men. Two years later, Sam Raimi got in on the act as he turned Marvel’s biggest property, one friendly neighbourhood web-swinging wall crawler Spider-Man, into a PG-13 movie. As ground-breaking, box-office record smashing and popular as they were, fans knew that the market for more mature offerings was lagging behind somewhat. Why did they have to all be PG-13? The promise of Batman-to-come (allegedly based on Frank Miller’s seminal Year One) never truly broke that cycle. Batman Begins, also released in 2005, may have been darker and seedier than your average superhero flick, dealing with crime families, murder and that long wispy moustache of Liam Neeson’s, but it too found itself restricted to a PG-13 audience. In the 5 years between X-Men and Batman Begins, the only two major R-rated comic-book movies to come out of America were Blade II and The Punisher. That’s pretty much it.
To say Sin City was a gamble would be an understatement. Hiring a director to make an R-rated, somewhat arthouse thriller, who at the time had seemingly moved on from his over-the-top action movies (the brilliant Mexico Trilogy) and bloody sci-fi horrors (From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty etc) to create the family-oriented Spy Kids trilogy, it was a risk. Yet it paid off in more ways than one. It may not have topped the box-office charts in 2005 ahead of the likes of Star Wars Episode III, King Kong and another bloody Harry Potter sequel, but it still earned praise from critics and fans alike whilst being relatively commercially successful. It may not have been the catalyst in turning studios on to a wave of adult comic book movies, but it was seen as a triumph on its own merits.
Quite why it took Rodriguez and Miller nearly 10 years to allow us to return to the filthy stinkhole that is Basin City seems almost unfair. With its saloon bars every ten feet full of drunk criminal louts, sleazy prostitutes on every corner and corrupt officials turning a blind eye to every crook looming in a shadowy doorway ready to take every dime you own and leave you for dead, perhaps it was a place of mind that Rodriguez and Miller weren’t keen to frequent too often! Nevertheless, I, for one, am glad to have had the privilege of another peak into the loathsome lives of Sin City’s inhabitants.
The four stories that comprise the run time are equally as entertaining as each other. Beginning with a tale from Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he comes to after a brutal accident, hunting down some despicable youths, the tone of highly-stylised ultra-violence is set very quickly. This is continued as Johnny (played by the always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduces himself as the cocky young gambler taking on a game of poker that will only end one way, with his story intertwining with that of Jessica Alba exacting revenge for her lover’s (Bruce Willis) death. The atmosphere is continued in the next sequence, upon which Sin City 2 titles itself. Dwight (previously played by Clive Owen, now re-cast with Josh Brolin) sets out on a mission to save his nearly always naked femme fatale ex-wife (Eva Green) who is oppressed by her cruel husband. Feeling sorry for her, he agrees to help but as with everything in Sin City, it appears someone is manipulating the situation beyond his control.
Short snappy sentences that Billy Wilder would’ve been proud of litter the script, just as a classic crime-noir should. It’s immensely enjoyable, trashy and disturbingly fun. Shot entirely in black and white with colour only occasionally piercing the dreary shades of grey like a strike of lightning, it is a film with an abundance of style. Is it perhaps a case of too much style and too little substance? Debatable. There’s a chance that the co-directors may have papered over a few cracks in the plot with some pretty pictures – although, they are very pretty pictures. The cast and their performances are a step up from 2005’s effort, with returning faces Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and particularly Powers Boothe all revelling in their roles, as do the new additions. Eva Green especially steals the show as a siren-like Ava.
Whilst A Dame to Kill For has not followed suit with its predecessor, stuttering at the box office and picking up mixed reviews along the way, it still has plenty to enjoy for returning fans and new ones alike. You do not need to know everything that happens in the previous movie – in fact, some people seem confused by the chronology of both. Approaching it as a stand alone movie about some stuff that happens in this crime-ridden city may be the best method.
If Frank Miller’s stories have any message to tell, it’s probably a not very pleasant one. Everyone is corruptible, it’s just that some people are better at taking advantage of it than others. Yes the film’s morals and ethics are as questionable as the characters who entertain us; is vigilantism justified in a city like this? Is murder ever acceptable? Can you honestly have your strongest independent female character’s motivations bent around her love for a man? These are questions the film raises and leaves unanswered. But I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t half look cool as it poses them.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in cinemas nationwide right now in both 3D (not worth it) and 2D (totally worth it).
Labor Day is a saccharinely sweet, obnoxiously earnest piece of unromantic romantic tripe from a filmmaker who both can do better and is good enough to keep this from being truly awful.
by Callum Petch
Jason Reitman had an unblemished track record. He burst onto the feature film scene with 2005’s darkly hilarious Thank You For Smoking, followed it up with the moving and saddening (and also, for pretty much everyone except me, funny) Juno, succeeded that with the damn near masterpiece Up In The Air and then re-teamed with Diablo Cody for the subversive and real Young Adult. His films near-expertly juggled comedy and drama, presented lovable or relatable or, at the very least, entertaining and interesting characters and, and this is something that a lot of filmmakers seem to have forgotten how to do these days so it’s worth pointing out, he knew how to craft excellent endings. That unblemished track record was no joke, you could pretty much guarantee quality if you turned up to a Jason Reitman film.
The usage of the past tense in that previous paragraph is not an oversight on my part. See, Jason Reitman had that unblemished track record. Unfortunately, that unblemished track record had to grow its first zit some time, show me a filmmaker who has never made a below-par film and I’ll show you a way inside Fort Knox, and that time has finally arrived for Mr. Reitman. For Labor Day, based on a bestselling and critically acclaimed 2003 romance novel of the same name (in what must have been a really slow year for decent novels, if the evidence displayed here is anything to go by), is garbage. And yet, maybe it’s a testament to the skill of Reitman as a filmmaker that my predominate thought when leaving the cinema was not “that was dreadful and offensive sh*te” but instead “well, that could have been a lot worse”.
So our story is set in 1987 and we follow mother and son Adele (Kate Winslet who, if Divergent does end up as bad as it looks, is not having a great start to 2014) and Henry (Gattlin Griffith and, yes, that is his actual name, I checked). Adele has been suffering from depression, seemingly because her husband (Clark Gregg) left her but actually because of really stupid and misguided reasons, and this renders her practically incapable of leaving the house. Henry tries as best he can to make her happier, but it’s not working and he’s at a loss as to how to make things better.
Enter Frank (Josh Brolin, who I think has officially used up all of the goodwill he earned in 2007 & 2008 by this point), an escaped convict who was thrown in jail for murder that he insists is way more complicated than it sounds except that, no, it really is not. He forces Adele and Henry to shelter him at their place from the cops whilst his wounds heal over Labor Day weekend. Except that, whilst he’s recuperating, it turns out that good old Frank is actually a perfectly swell guy who fixes things up, talks politely, turns into the father figure that Henry never got, and Adele also ends up falling for him because, oh, have you seen his arms! And the way he broods! And he is just such an excellent baker! I want him inside of me, right now!
I apologise for not falling head over heels for the charms of Frank, the convicted and unrepentant murderer, but this is f*cking awful. No film relationship, no convincing and heartfelt film relationship, can or should ever begin with an escaped ex-con threatening to murder the female protagonist’s son. If you’re doing it as a complex drama, that asks you to sit and psychologically analyse the two people involved and how they would reach such a situation, a character study that never explicitly asks you to empathise with or root for those involved, go right ahead. That actually sounds really interesting; get on it, Hollywood! If you’re going to ask me to sit down and root for these two lovebirds for the course of two hours, to share in their intimacy and heartbreak and to be begging for them to somehow make it work for these crazy cats even whilst this cruel and heartless universe strives to keep them apart, I am going to snort derisively and consider you a little screwed up.
What part of this is romantic? Explain to me how any part of this scenario is supposed to get my heartstrings all tangled and tugged at. I am dying to know, here. Please, regale me with a thousand word essay on how this is comparable to Romeo And Juliet. They’re both doomed romances, because SOCIETY JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THEIR LOVE, but one begins with a chance meeting at a masquerade ball and involves two people falling for each other in a love at first sight type deal, whilst the other comes into being through the combined efforts of Josh Brolin’s smoulder and Stockholm Syndrome. It’s romance written by and for people who either have had no actual experience with romance and love or have unrealistically high and stupid expectations for romance and love. None of this is the fault of Winslet or Brolin and probably not so much Reitman too, this sounds like an abysmal launch point of material and they’re all trying really hard to make it work, but they’re putting in doomed efforts. The material isn’t romantic and, quite honestly, it’s kinda repulsive.
Not once did I buy into the affection that the pair shared for one another. Frank never seems to have a reason for why he’s so taken to Adele and Adele’s entire reasoning as to why she’s fallen for Frank can basically be boiled down to “she’s damaged goods” thanks to a horrifically misguided and melodramatic late-game reveal as to why she’s so depressed. I’m not saying that the plot point itself is the thing that should be off-limits, I am saying that it needs to be handled way better than it was here and, preferably, not used as provocative fuel for a romance weepy. And as for Frank, the convicted and unrepentant murderer? The film teases what he did by randomly strewing short, near-wordless flashbacks to his past throughout the film even though anybody who is aware that this is a romance film will have gathered what it is in about five seconds. Then the reveal comes and the film practically bends over backwards to make Frank seem totally justified, all but openly inviting viewers to join in in shouting “YEAH, TAKE THAT, B*TCH! YOU GOT WHAT WAS COMING TO YOU!” Funnily enough, I did not take this bait.
And yet, I can’t muster up the energy or the passion to maul Labor Day to pieces. Maker knows I have tried, repugnant stuff is being peddled here under the pretence of “Aw! Look at the couple in all the love! All the love! So much love!” But I can’t and that’s because the film is too competently made and too earnest for me to get angry at. It’s not like 300: Rise of an Empire where it’s sneaking by a lot of problematic subtext without even realising it because it’s competently made, and it’s not like A New York Winter’s Tale where it totally fails as a film on every basic level. No, this is a film that knows exactly what it’s doing and is completely sincere in what it is peddling in that decently-constructed product. And it’s that sincerity that makes it hard for me to get angry at this film.
Even when Henry stupidly engages the shifty-looking stranger with the bleeding wound in the store instead of running away (seriously, it’s not like Frank has him cornered, Henry all but walks up to and talks to the guy); even when Frank ties up Adele and feeds her tinned tomatoes, both in a manner that, yes, is supposed to represent sexual feelings being exchanged; even when Frank leads the pair through the steps of how to bake a nice pear pie in a sequence that would be more fitting a Saturday morning cooking show; even when the film trots out a mentally disabled and physically crippled child whose mother beats him when he gets on her nerves; even when the film juxtaposes Frank and Adele’s romance with Henry’s own sexual awakening and his growing closeness to The Most Annoying And Precocious Fictional Girl of 2014 So Far; and even when the film’s romance fully kicks in and asks us to root for their planned run for the border, I couldn’t get mad. I couldn’t elicit any strong emotions either way.
It’s all so… nice and pleasant. The film equivalent of wallpaper. I would have said the film equivalent of a nice warm hug except that a] I reserve that phrase for usage in reference to Studio Ghibli productions only and b] that would insinuate that I was touched by this film at some point. I wasn’t. I was mostly bored but I could at least appreciate the well-done technical side of the proceedings. The end sequence before the extended denouement is genuinely tense for a while (well, until stupid stuff resolve or complicate things), Rolfe Kent scores most of the film like a suspense drama instead of a romance flick which, if nothing else, adds a different spin to this kind of film than I’m used to, it’s very lovingly shot, Reitman keeps the pace from feeling languid, even if it never fully managed to excite or engage me and all of the cast are alright if not particularly great (the exception being Gattlin Griffith, who is just plain atrocious and could give Twilight-era Kristen Stewart a run for her money in the Dull Surprise stakes). If the romance at its centre was not predicated on f*cking Stockholm Syndrome, and instead on something, you know, romantic, I would give this a mild pass as a decent timewaster, even if it is rather dull.
But I keep coming back to that premise and I just can’t get over it. It’s not romantic and the film can’t compensate for the lack of romance in that premise by injecting some believability into proceedings, instead resorting to tired and manipulative melodrama. Here are three people who fall in love because the woman likes the way he smoulders, the man likes the way she loves him for his smoulder and the son loves him for being a man and stuff… despite the fact that the man coerced them into hiding his murdering arse from the police and repeatedly threatens to kill them if he is exposed. I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out exactly why 300: Rise of an Empire’s misogyny and racism irked me into a ball of white hot rage despite it being well-made disposable nonsense and yet this, with its toxic romanticising of murderers and escaped convicts and damaged women who need a good smouldering man to repair them, can barely get me to shrug my shoulders in disgust, but I’ve still yet to figure it out.
The best reason I’ve got right now is simply the fact that Labor Day is so well made that I can’t really feel the need to get exasperated about it or anything. It’s so well made, that if the romance at its centre were predicated on almost literally anything else, and even if the execution of that new romance was still as unconvincing and mediocrely done as it is right now, I’d probably be giving it a mild recommendation. But it’s not, and that’s what sinks the film. It’s not enough to get mad and angry and hollering and hooting in rage, but it’s not decent enough to be worth your time despite the premise. Jason Reitman has finally got a black mark on his directorial record. Let’s hope it’s his last for a long while.
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.
You wanna know how to make The Untouchables for the so-called MTV Generation? They cast double Oscar-winner Robert De Niro as the bad guy; you cast double Oscar-winner Sean Penn. They have a dreamy Latino marksmen in the shape of Andy Garcia; you cast Michael Peña as a dreamy Latino marksman. And fuck it; get Ryan Gosling in as well. That’s the Hollywood way!
Back in our 2013 preview I asked if Gangster Squad was going to be “this generation’s The Untouchables or Dick Tracy”. Well, I didn’t expect them to answer so literally in the former. This film is essentially a remake in all but name. The city may be different, and under threat from a different historically-inspired gangster, but the main elements are all here.
Sean Penn stars as
Robert De Nero Mickey Cohen, a ruthless mob boss determined to run Los Angeles as his own private empire. The film opens on him torturing one gangster, and ordering another to tell Chicago what happened. It’s almost as if director Ruben Fleischer is flicking two-fingers at Chicago-based The Untouchables. This film is going to be bigger, better, and down-right nastier he seems to say. And it’s a bold statement.
Josh Brolin is
Kevin Costner AND Sean Connery Sgt. John O’Mara, one of the few good cops in the city, and the man chosen by Nick Nolte’s police chief to bring down Cohen’s Empire. Luckily at this point the film does strike out on its own a little. As O’Mara puts his team together, and they embark on their mission, this does appear to be a slightly different gangster movie to those that have gone before. O’Mara’s Gangster Squad don’t carry badges, and they don’t make arrests. This is guerrilla warfare played out on the streets of LA. And it’s actually a lot of fun.
A major element that sets Gangster Squad apart from its predecessors is its use of humour. The film has very funny moments, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering Fleischer’s previous work (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less). The comic relief does help to break up some pretty brutal scenes of violence, and stops it being as unremittingly bleak as Lawless was last year. Sadly though, the plot is inevitably drawn back to its inspirations, and far too often I watched events on screen thinking “oh, that’s just like in The Untouchables”.
One thing The Untouchables didn’t have though is Ryan Gosling. Once you get past his character’s name (Jerry Wooters) he is everything that is good about this movie. He oozes charm, and has great comic timing. His transformation from laid-back, ‘looking after number one’ cop to avenging angel may be a little unbelievable plot-wise, but he sells the hell out of it up there. His love interest is played by the always delightful Emma Stone; who, like Gosling, is yet to put a foot wrong in her Hollywood career. The film genuinely lights up when these two are on screen.
Fleischer has made an enjoyable and stylish film. It may lack the gravitas and emotional punch of L.A. Confidential, and is a little too derivative of previous portrayals of this fascinating era at times, but there’s enough humour and great set-pieces to make it worthwhile.
Gangster Squad is released on 10 January.
In the first part of James Diamond’s preview of 2013 he takes us through a packed January to March…
The New Year kicks off with a number of Golden-Globe nominated films (and Oscar hopefuls) hitting UK screens. First up is Les Misérables, the screen adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. Reviews suggest that fans of the musical will be very satisfied, but is there anything here for anyone new or ambivalent to the source material? Well, any chance to see Russell Crowe trying to keep up vocally with the Jackmans and the Hathaways of this world has got to be worth a punt, and the film does look suitably epic.
In a jam-packed month, the following week sees the release of Django Unchained and Gangster Squad. Tarantino’s ‘Southern’ (simply a Western taking place in the South) is apparently his best work in years, with lashings of blood, violence, and a cast including Jamie Foxx, Christophe Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel Jackson. If the trailer is anything to go by, we can at least expect a welcome return to common parlance of the word ‘rambunctious’. Which is nice.
Gangster Squad was put back by a few months after the tragedy of the cinema shooting in Colorado, and we can finally see if it is going to be this generation’s The Untouchables or Dick Tracy on 18 January. It has a great cast (Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, and Sean Penn), but can director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) successfully move on from his ‘youth comedy’ background?
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has ‘Oscar-winner’ written through it like a stick of rock, and with a cast like Daniel-Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the story of America’s greatest President you would be a fool to bet against it. In a controversial move Spielberg appears to gloss over Lincoln’s vampire-hunting years though. Risky.
The final film we’re very excited about here at Failed Critics is the official return of the Governator in The Last Stand. A couple of cameos in the Expendables series aside, this is Arnie’s first leading role since returning to Hollywood. When a drug cartel leader busts out of prison and is racing to the Mexican border, a sheriff (almost certainly approaching retirement) and his inexperienced staff in a border town are the only thing in the way. If Arnie gets to show a little depth, and even vulnerability, as the lead this could be great. If the film tries to pretend he’s the same Arnie we knew and loved in the 80s and 90s however…
This month sees the release of a couple of films playing on our nostalgia in very different way. First up is Disney’s paean to computer games of our youth, Wreck-It Ralph. The film features the voice talents of John C. Reilly as the eponymous game ‘baddie’, and his journey through all the games in an arcade to become a hero. The key to the film’s success will be in whether it has the cross-over appeal between children and adults that is omnipresent in almost everything their Pixar subsidiary produces.
The second film of the month playing to our nostalgia gland comes with the tagline “Yipee-ki-yay Mother Russia”. That’s right, this year’s Valentine’s Day is A Good Day To Die Hard. Bruce Willis is back as John McClane, and this time he’s in Russia.
With his son.
For some reason.
Who cares when we’ve got Euro-trash bad guys, people jumping off of buildings, and a rumour of the awesome Patrick Stewart playing the main villain?
Also out this month is the adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, directed by Tom Twyker (of the brilliant Run Lola Run), and Andy and Lana Wachowski (of The Matrix. Just The Matrix. There were no other Matrix films. Leave it). Anyone who has seen the five-minute trailer will know, well, about the same as anyone who hasn’t seen the utterly bonkers and nonsense trailer. It looks fantastic though.
Anyone who has been to the cinema recently will have noticed an advert asking customers to turn their phones off apparently voiced by Alfred Hitchcock. Guess what – it’s not really archive footage of an incredibly prescient Hitch, but Anthony Hopkins in a sneak preview of his work in Hitchcock; the story of the master of suspense and how he made Psycho. Expect an pretty rosy portrayal of the type of behaviour that would have resulted in lawsuits and possibly criminal charges these days – Hollywood doesn’t tend to perform hatchet-jobs on its own people.
Stoker, the English-language début of director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) is out on 1 March, and it certainly sounds interesting. Written by Wentworth Miller (yep, that Wentworth Miller who starred in Prison Break) and starring Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, a young woman who becomes infatuated with the mysterious and charming Uncle Stoker (Matthew Goode) who comes to stay with the family after his brother (and India’s father) dies in an accident. Not likely to be too high on laughs.
At the complete opposite end of the cinematic scale we have the long-delayed GI Joe: Retaliation. Originally scheduled for release last summer, the latest GI Joe film was delayed for rewrites and the addition of 3D. Oh joy. Still, it’s got the Rock and Bruce Willis as the original Joe, so there’s a slight chance it might be better than anything Michael Bay has released in the last 12 years.
The final film we’re looking forward to in the first quarter of 2013 is yet another attempt to play with the mythology of the Oz universe. Not the HBO series about a prison, but the universe created by L. Frank Baum and brought lovingly to the screen in the classic Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz. Ever since then creative people have been drawn to this world and tried to create their own take on it, the the stage musical Wicked being the most successful of recent years. Oz: The Great and Powerful is Sam Raimi’s take on the Oz myth, and stars James Franco as a stage magician thrown into the world and using his wits and skills to survive the plans of three witches hunting him. I cannot help but feel this will either be brilliant, or contender for worst film of the year. Fingers crossed.
In Part 2 we will look at the releases scheduled for April to June, including Carrie, Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Man of Steel.