The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK. Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK. Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017
Firstly, apologies for the admittedly rubbish hatchet job on the editing this week. Long story short, after spending ages editing out the ums, pauses, yeahs, anyways, clicks, clacks, mic noises, talking over each other and insufferably bad jokes (maybe not so many of the latter), the project crashed. So much for recovery files. That just leaves a very (very) rushed edit – on the plus side, you get to hear for the first time in years just how an unedited Failed Critics podcast sounds!
Secondly, at least all the content that was worth listening to survived!
Hooray? Hooray! That means this episode contains our full preview of this weekend’s Academy Awards… of which you can also pick the films you think will win an Oscar in the 11 categories below to win super-cool prizes* by leaving a comment in the box below.
*not necessarily super-cool.
There are also reviews of a bunch of new releases in this week’s episode. The action-thriller John Wick: Chapter 2 has Owen and Brooker wondering if it really is the best film of the year. Steve most definitely did not wonder for very long whether he found the best film of the year with The Great Wall. Paul also thinks he may have found the most boring film of the year with The Founder.
Join us again next week as we round-up the winners and losers from the Oscars 2017.
1) Best Picture
Arrival – Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, and David Linde
Fences – Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, and Todd Black
Hacksaw Ridge – Bill Mechanic and David Permut
Hell or High Water – Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn
Hidden Figures – Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, and Theodore Melfi
La La Land – Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt
Lion – Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Angie Fielder
Manchester by the Sea – Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, and Kevin J. Walsh
Moonlight – Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner
2) Best Director
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
3) Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea as Lee Chandler
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge as Desmond T. Doss
Ryan Gosling – La La Land as Sebastian Wilder
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic as Ben Cash
Denzel Washington – Fences as Troy Maxson
4) Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert – Elle as Michèle Leblanc
Ruth Negga – Loving as Mildred Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie as Jackie Kennedy
Emma Stone – La La Land as Mia Dolan
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins as Florence Foster Jenkins
5) Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight as Juan
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water as Marcus Hamilton
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea as Patrick Chandler
Dev Patel – Lion as Saroo Brierley
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals as Detective Bobby Andes
6) Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences as Rose Maxson
Naomie Harris – Moonlight as Paula
Nicole Kidman – Lion as Sue Brierley
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures as Dorothy Vaughan
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea as Randi
7) Best Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
8) Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival – Eric Heisserer from “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
Fences – August Wilson from Fences by August Wilson
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi from Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Lion – Luke Davies from A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
9) Best Animated Feature Film
Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Moana – John Musker, Ron Clements, and Osnat Shurer
My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras and Max Karli
The Red Turtle – Michaël Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer
10) Best Foreign Language Film
Land of Mine (Denmark) in Danish – Martin Zandvliet
A Man Called Ove (Sweden) in Swedish – Hannes Holm
The Salesman (Iran) in Persian – Asghar Farhadi
Tanna (Australia) in Nauvhal – Martin Butler and Bentley Dean
Toni Erdmann (Germany) in German – Maren Ade
11) Best Documentary – Feature
Fire at Sea – Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety, and Hébert Peck
Life, Animated – Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
O.J.: Made in America – Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
13th – Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick, and Howard Barish
“Can a man like you know peace?”
Couple of years back, the first John Wick film came out of nowhere and blew those of us that knew about it away. Word of mouth quickly made it a surprise hit and soon enough it became the measuring stick for all modern action thrillers.
Watching the once uninteresting Keanu Reeves rack up an impressive body count with outstanding stunt work, and brilliant fight and gun choreography, John Wick was the action movie equivalent of great porn.
So of course we now have a sequel.
A few hours after the end of director (and stuntman) Chad Stahelski’s previous film, John Wick’s past appears to have caught up with him. The formally retired assassin is handed a contract that would be terminal to refuse, so heads to Rome to work on regaining his freedom.
As is always the way, things aren’t as simple as they seem and Wick finds himself a loose end in somebody else’s plan. Now, he’s worrying less about retiring and more about surviving the tidal wave of bad guys on his tail.
What? You wanted a more in depth story? Sorry, that’s not what John Wick nor its sequel are about.
What John Wick: Chapter 2 is about, is expanding and improving on almost every element of the original thriller’s already excellent pedigree. It’s about taking all the action, the gun play, the superbly cinematic fighting and turning them all up to eleven.
Let’s be honest: a plot which revolves around a retired hitman resurrecting his demons because some clueless yob killed his dog and stole his car, is simultaneously cliched and beyond ridiculous. What makes John Wick stand out is not only how ludicrously absurd it is, but how fully it commits to that absurdity. The choreography behind Reeves’s stunts and (what has lovingly come to be known as) “gun-fu” skills makes the martial arts shit that earned Cardboard Keanu all that praise back in his The Matrix days, look like kids playing at being Bruce Lee.
Chapter 2 of this franchise follows the standard sequel blueprint. From the opening scene (resembling the car-combat of a Twisted Metal game) through to the destruction of our main character’s home at the hands of an insane mobster with a grenade launcher; John Wick 2 ups the ante in almost every way that the returning directors are able. And that’s just the first quarter of an hour.
Quickly finding himself in Rome – one of my favourite parts of this film that isn’t the firearm based destruction of any and all bad guys – we get to glimpse into the underworld that John Wick inhabits. Needing a new arsenal for his new country, it’s an absolute delight to watch the assassin tool up for his latest job, picking and choosing weaponry and outfits like the rest of us would choose what aftershave to wear.
Now we get to see Mr. Wick plough through a never ending tidal wave of bad guy cannon fodder. Nameless, faceless goons with absolutely no stock in the story being told are here simply to up the body count. The only real downside is that the big bad guy of the piece (played by the supremely average Riccardo Scamarcio) kind of falls into this same category. He just doesn’t provide any real sense of threat, or even a little mild peril. He’s as generic an Italian mobster as you can imagine. Tony Soprano this guy ain’t. The poor guy didn’t have a chance.
Scamarcio is introduced to us not five minutes after we have been given a glimpse of greatness, as (the always amazing) Peter Stormare shows up as the Russian mob boss trying to make peace with the contract killer after the events of the first film. You’ve really got to pull out the big guns if you want to have your main bad guy be comparable to Stormare. But that is a minor niggle in such a great film.
Whilst on paper, John Wick: Chapter 2 seems almost generic in its averageness, this would be the worst book to judge by its slightly bland cover. It may look like it should be a straight-to-dvd action film, but it is in fact one of the greatest action films to be released in ages; possibly the best since Wick’s first outing.
A breathtaking, two hour-long, ultra-violent ballet of guns and hand-to-hand combat that is, even at this early stage of the year, in contention for the best film of 2017.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, where hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guest Paul Field to tackle a few new releases (and one not-so-new release).
One new release that isn’t reviewed (despite what was suggested on last week’s podcast), due to an administrative cock-up of gargantuan-Stay-Puft proportions, is Ghostbusters. Sorry about that. You’ll just have to tune in again next week.
However, instead, Owen and Steve strived to stay awake long enough during the slog that was The Legend of Tarzan in order to share their thoughts with you all, whilst Paul survived an 80-mile round-trip specifically to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest divisive feature, The Neon Demon.
Elsewhere this week: Steve takes a nostalgia trip all the way back to the mid-90’s for The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down or Speed Up Fast Enough To Escape the Simpsons Meme (aka Speed); Paul digs out the best fan-fiction he can find after watching Slash at the Munich Film Festival (and by “best”, he means “smuttiest”); and Owen endures the micro-budget Amish horror/thriller/mystery/psychological/thing, The Harvesting. Unfortunately for Steve and Paul, it didn’t come with a salad bar and free refills.
The quiz this week was utter chaos – this time thanks to Steve, not Owen! But topical chats were had about Sulu’s sexuality in Star Trek Beyond and the process of delaying or renaming films / TV shows after an unfortunately-timed national tragedy has occurred.
We’ll be back next week to definitely (definitely) review Ghostbusters. Definitely.
“True beauty is the only thing that matters.”
Like him or loathe him, Nicolas Winding Refn knows what he likes, knows how to put it on screen and doesn’t care if the audience shares his vision. This was evident with 2013’s Only God Forgives, a film that proved almost as divisive as the UK’s Brexit vote and still has people questioning what the hell was going on to this day. But Refn knew what he wanted to do and couldn’t care less if I liked it or not. The same can most definitely be said for his most recent effort, The Neon Demon.
Fresh to Los Angeles, aspiring model Jesse (Ellie Fanning) finds that her youth and natural beauty help her stand out from the overcrowded industry she’s trying to break in to and quickly gets her a deal with a local agency. Befriending make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and catching the eye of models and designers alike, the new face in the crowd is fast learning how to get what she wants and needs.
But, all this good stuff comes with its fair share of bad. Off of the catwalk and out of the designers fitting rooms, Jesse finds herself on a dark path. Living in a seedy motel with a creepy manager (Keanu Reeves) means she sees and hears things that literally becomes the stuff of her nightmares. With all her fame and beauty comes an army of women looking to take them both from her and leave her carcass for the wolves; and her struggle to keep herself safe and sane is quite possibly going to be her undoing.
Nicholas Winding Refn has definitely taken a step into Lynch territory for his more recent films. But where Only God Forgives felt aimless with very little to say, The Neon Demon most certainly has a point to make. As we watch Jesse simultaneously climb her ladder and lose her innocence, we get the feeling that we are supposed to loathe the people she’s surrounded herself with and the industry she is trying to break in to.
As always, Refn’s direction is absolutely superb. This time around – yes, I’ll keep making comparisons to Only God Forgives – we get a real balance between loud, flashy and neon scenes and those with a simpler palette. Refn’s matador levels of love for the colour red are toned down dramatically from the film’s predecessor, but it is still very much there; making you think you’ve just fallen into a Quasar arena! But it’s not as overpowering as it has been in the past and it doesn’t detract from the film this time around. Every scene makes some sort of sense and it doesn’t feel like it’s been shoehorned in to fill some bizarre fetish. There’s never been any denying Winding Refn’s skills when it comes to putting a gorgeous film together. The Neon Demon is the greatest testament to that.
The performances all-round solidify this film’s quality. From Ellie Fanning’s innocent newcomer transformed to Jena Malone’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing make up artist and everyone in between, Refn’s razor sharp script has been done proud by a cast of well known actors and “I’m sure I know them from something” performers alike.
Rounding all this off, Refn has reunited with Drive and Only God Forgives composer Cliff Martinez to put together a soundtrack that will stand out from anything else you hear this year. This synth heavy backing track is what makes The Neon Demon what it is and, I would go so far as to say that, while the film is almost as shallow as its subject matter – done on purpose, I imagine – the soundtrack is where all of the film’s personality lies. Outside of the film, it’s weirdly stimulating and haunting at the same time. I haven’t stopped listening to it since I left the screening!
Bottom line, love it or hate it (and I think there will be plenty of arguments either side) The Neon Demon is a brilliantly put together and scathing look at the LA modelling industry. It’s Winding Refn’s Maps to the Stars and it’s certainly a film that you should be doing everything in your power to watch.
No, we haven’t brought back Brooker and Paul!! I’m talking about the prequel to Illumination‘s Despicable Me franchise, all about those little yellow goofy sidekicks. Joining Steve Norman and Owen Hughes to review Minions is our animation expert Callum Petch. The team also take a look at action thrillers Everly (starring Salma Hayek) and Eli Roth’s Knock Knock (starring Keanu Reeves).
There’s even some news for the group to discuss this week as Tom Holland is named as the new (yes, NEW) high school age Spider-Man (they’re really making another Spider-Man film!) (Really!)
We also have a special guest débutante to the Failed Critics podcast in Nick Lay, author of our articles on We Are Many, Dish & Dishonesty and Kung Fury! In a pre-recorded review, he joins Owen all the way from Canada to discuss the micro budget British thriller Through The Lens. Meanwhile, Steve reveals the startling news that prior to this week, he’d somewhat unbelievably never seen The Terminator before, whilst Callum takes over the b-movie duties from Owen to review 80’s cult classic Hard Ticket To Hawaii.
Join Steve, Owen and Callum again next week as we review Terminator: Genisys and Magic Mike XXL.
Well, at least Keanu Reeves is still picking interesting projects?
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
WARNING: Minor-ish spoilers for Knock Knock, semi-major spoilers for the 1971 version of Straw Dogs, and possible Trigger Warning for discussion of rape scenes.
In the 1971 version of Straw Dogs – the good one, in case you need further distinction between the two films – there is a centrepiece sequence in which Amy, the wife of David, is raped by Charlie. The scene has become infamous, however, because of how ambiguous it is seen to be by many people for, at a certain point during the rape, Amy can be seen by some to enjoy it, indicated by her kissing and embracing Charlie, possibly turning the rape into consensual sex. It turns the scene into something much less clear-cut, that can distort or enhance the film’s subtext depending on how you view it, although it is important to mention that Amy has traumatic flashbacks to it throughout the rest of the movie, and that her second rape later on is clearly and unambiguously a rape.
Although it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, Knock Knock seemingly wants to use that principle to fuel its entire movie. Evan (Keanu Reeves) is a devoted and loving husband and father who, one night when his wife and children are away on a trip, provides shelter for two women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), who are stranded in the cold and rain lost on their way to a party. They then proceed to, whilst waiting for a cab, slowly start coming onto Evan, who frequently and firmly rebuffs their advances. Then, when the cab does arrive and it’s time for them to leave, they approach Evan, naked, unzip his trousers and, despite his pleas, give him a blowjob, eventually transitioning into full-on sex between the three of them.
The second half of Knock Knock chronicles their subsequent punishment of Evan for the sex, using the justification that Evan is completely deserving of this because he didn’t stop them. The fact that the sex kept going after the initial blowjob is treated, by the two girls and the film itself despite Evan’s constant pleas that he didn’t want to do it and is a loyal father and loving family man, as though it were consensual and that Evan should just have said “no”. Except that he did. Frequently and emphatically. And the film goes to great strides during its second half to show that, no, Evan could not have physically stopped them from overpowering him, because if he could break free and stop them at any time the film would be over. Evan was, at least from where I am sitting – and though I have talked with many people about this, I am still not completely certain or confident in saying this, so feel free to continue this debate in a civilised manner in the comments or on my Twitter – raped, yet the film treats him as if he could have just stopped it at any time.
That is an extremely privileged and rather reprehensible viewpoint that, if the genders were reversed, would be taken as being a rape apologist. But it’s what the entire film bases its moral compass on and, therefore, its second half on. And it’s so tone-deaf and just plain wrong, not to mention its marginalisation and discrediting of female-on-male rape, that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. “This can’t be the film’s entire message and point. There has to be a twist coming, a reveal that will change this whole thing completely.” But it didn’t, and there is no twist, which is just bewildering to me. After all, movies like this are basically morality plays and I cannot believe that this film’s message is “Don’t ever cheat on your wife, being raped is no excuse.”
By which I mean, I literally cannot believe it because, well, this film is too utterly ridiculous to be taken as a straight-faced erotic horror-thriller. The dialogue is utterly ridiculous – Keanu Reeves earnestly extolling the virtue of vinyl is something that really needs to be seen to be believed – the characters are paper-thin, the tension is nearly non-existent because the film gets really stupid the further in it gets, the acting is legitimately laughable – including a woefully miscast Reeves who spends pretty much the entire time purposefully giving the exact opposite of his John Wick-quality performance – and the payoff to this seemingly straight-faced tense and terrifying horror-thriller is… two full-on honest-to-god gags. Not of the unintentional kind, of which this film has plenty, but of the genuine intentional kind. One of them’s actually pretty damn funny, too.
So I’m having a hard time taking Knock Knock seriously because… well, I really don’t know if it wants to be taken seriously. It’s so ridiculous, so histrionic and melodramatic, that I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a ridiculous parody or is just so completely inept that it’s coming off like this. So is the film sincere in its primary message – and secondary message of “Bitches be crazy” – or is it just negligence brought on from nobody adjusting the film’s moral compass to be more firmly behind Evan or the girls? Is Keanu Reeves – because, good lord, he deserves every last Razzie that’s going to be thrown his way come end of year, and I say this as one of his absolute biggest fans – purposefully being so hammily terrible or is just hammily terrible?
What’s more… I don’t hate this movie. It is an incredibly bad movie with a reprehensible moral compass (if everyone involved is being serious) and nothing to recommend about it besides its unintentional hilarity, but I don’t hate it. I think I was honestly having fun at how utterly terrible this film was, like I was watching a future Mystery Science Theater 3000 candidate unfolding in front of my eyes, if that show were still with us. Like, the film is pure garbage, but it wasn’t the kind of garbage that causes me to sit and question why we as a collective humanity exist and why I am wasting my life watching the film in front of me. Knock Knock is almost, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, so bad that it’s good, even though it’s kind of an embodiment of every MRA douchebag “aren’t women so mean to nice guys” and rape apologist ever at the same time, somehow.
And yet I don’t hate it, and I’m afraid for what that says about me as a person.
With the fourth entry in his continuing year in review series, Owen casts a glance over the films he’s been watching throughout April 2015. As with each of the previous articles in the series, Owen will be breaking down the month by week, providing a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Oh boy. This is getting a bit embarrassing. I think I better just stop promising to catch up on my Werner Herzog films because yet another month has passed where I’m still so far behind on them. In fact, I’m so far behind on a huge pile of movies that it’s getting a bit ridiculous. I’m not even going to make excuses this time (Daredevil) as to the reasons why so many days (Daredevil) listed below indicate that I’ve seen “absolutely nothing” (Daredevil) on them. There’s no (Daredevil) point. I just haven’t seen anything (Daredevil) on those days. I’m sorry. (Daredevil) That’s how it is. The website itself has been a bit manic, as you can probably tell if you’ve been on here over the past 4 weeks. I doubt we’ve ever published so many podcasts in such a short period of time before!
What I did end up watching last month doesn’t seem to follow any rhyme nor reason. A lot of them were classic films I watched because I felt like I had to after Amazon kept posting them to me and I had little else important to do or things I’d rather be watching. I did squeeze in another couple of Albert Pyun movies during April, which I’m quite proud of. A shame that neither were exactly good; they certainly weren’t better than March’s Heatseeker, Cyborg or Adrenalin even. But there weren’t any specific themes I was chasing. No science fiction binges, no run through of a studios output. Just an assortment of stuff.
Anyway, enough waffling. On with the reviews…
Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 April 2015
Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Opera (1987); Friday – Little Norse Prince (1968); Saturday – MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
I haven’t always been the biggest Studio Ghibli fan. It took a long time before I came around to their work. The fantasy movies they produce, whilst spectacular to look at, just don’t hit me emotionally. Visually they’re unbelievably impressive pieces of art that absolutely deserve the admiration they get. However, there’s only so much that pretty pictures can do for a film to stop it from being boring. If the story isn’t all that great, then that’s where these films have faltered for me in the past. Their films such as Whisper of the Heart, Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday and Grave of the Fireflies, those that are more tightly based in reality, or playing on nostalgia, these are the films of theirs that I enjoy most. There are a few exceptions, such as Miyazaki’s story of two young sisters who find their new forest home has some unusual neighbours. The message of the film is to respect nature and look after your family, not forgetting where you come from, and as such the whole movie is just nice and fuzzy. It’s a sweet little story; at times sad, tense and perilous, but so sweet and fun. You can’t help but like every single character, from the two sisters, to their father, the dustbunnys and the cat bus, and of course the eponymous Totoro. It’s the first time I’ve watched it since learning of the supposed reality behind the story (seriously, do not click this link if you don’t want to ruin My Neighbour Totoro for yourself forever) which did have an overwhelmingly depressing effect on the movie, but it was still just as good as it was the last few times I’ve watched it.
Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 April 2015
Monday – Splash (1984), The Dark Crystal (1982); Tuesday – JOHN WICK (2015); Wednesday – Captain America (1990); Thursday – The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Callum actually wrote a really good review of John Wick for the site about why you should watch this film, and we did talk about it on the podcast earlier in April. But I feel like even that hasn’t given the film enough exposure, so I’m going to talk about it again here! John Wick is the least-American American-thriller I’ve seen for a long time. It’s clearly an action film heavily influenced by the ultra violent brilliance coming out of Asia in films such as The Raid, The Chaser, The Man From Nowhere, Drug War, etc more so than it is by anything Liam Neeson has done of late. When I say that John Wick is brutal – watching Keanu Reeves play an ex-hitman getting revenge on the idiot son of a mob boss who was stupid enough to steal his car and kill his puppy – then I mean it is brutal. Even though here in the UK it’s rated a fairly tame 15, do not be alarmed. It is hardly Taken 3 levels of softened, jump-cutting guff. It has a strong cast (Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, etc) all led by Keanu having something of a Reevesival (consider that term well and truly coined). I really enjoyed Man of Tai Chi, which was his directorial debut, but it’s good to see him doing well again in something like this. It’s a very entertaining, completely over the top, full throttle thriller. Again, as I said on the podcast and on Twitter shortly after watching it, John Wick bullseyed every target it aimed at. A thoroughly enjoyable wince-inducing actioner.
Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 April 2015
Monday – SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – The House by the Cemetery (1981); Friday – Cœur fidèle (aka The Faithful Heart) (1923); Saturday – Lost River (2015); Sunday – Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
I think I’ll avoid the wrath of Steve by not talking about Star Wars (which is still not very good, sorry!), nor repeat myself by sighing over Lost River, and will instead pick F.W. Murnau’s very highly rated silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It’s only my second ever watch of this film, although it was my first time watching my recently acquired shiny new Eureka ‘Masters of Cinema’ Blu-ray. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Sunrise is still an excellent film. Whilst previously I’ve always thought very highly of this, I always remembered the middle part of the film being substantially weaker than its opening and closing thirds. I doubt I could tell you why exactly now, as I feel like I’ve not only enjoyed the film overall much more on this second viewing, but I think I might even appreciate its structure more. The build up to the collapse of Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien’s marriage was fantastically well constructed in the earlier part of the film, right before O’Brien succumbs to the alluring Margaret Livingston and her promises of taking him to the city, if he can murder his wife and make it look like an accident. The despair and kooky frolicking that follows the dark and grim first 30 minutes or so didn’t come across half as disjointed as the last time I saw it. Instead having the opposite effect of being almost tragic, knowing how close they were to ending it all. Murnau does a truly brilliant job at showing you that love between two people can be a magical, binding and unbreakable thing, particularly through its portrayal in the ending of the movie. But I won’t spoil it! Suffice to say, if you’ve ever put off watching this because it’s in that slightly pretentious looking Sight & Sound list, don’t hold out any longer. Take the risk! It’s definitely worth a chance.
Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 April 2015
Monday – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930); Thursday – Master and Commander (2003), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – Gattaca (1997); Sunday – Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975), Infernal (2015), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Probably most notable for being the first film to ever win both Outstanding Production and Best Director at the Academy Awards, no I’m not talking about Age of Ultron. Christ. God no. All Quiet on the Western Front finally made its way into my DVD player last month. Last year, I got hold of a pre-release copy of the restored documentary Forgotten Men, which was released three years after Lewis Milestone’s award laden movie, but dealt with a similar concept. Whereas All Quiet… follows a group of young German soldiers who enlist to help protect “the Fatherland” full of enthusiasm and naivety, but soon learn the harsh realities of war in the trenches, Forgotten Men featured interviews with veterans of the Great War. What both share in common is strong anti-war messages, as well as being genuinely upsetting at times. The tragic loss of life, the impact war had on the lives of ordinary people all for a cause they don’t fully understand, living ‘between the wars’ as we now know it to be, it makes for an unsettling and uncomfortable story. Nevertheless, the direction and cinematography of Milestone’s movie (originally released as a silent film before being re-released as a “talkie”) make it stand out as one of the most important war movies of all time as well as one of the best.
Week 5 – Monday 27 – Thursday 30 April 2015
Monday – Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015); Tuesday – The Sting (1971); Wednesday – STREET FIGHTER: ASSASSINS FIST (2014); Thursday – Maps to the Stars (2014), Rocking Cambodia: Rise of a Pop Diva (2015)
I think it must have been back in 2013 when randomly on Twitter I was followed by an account that apparently represented a new Street Fighter series that was in production. Being a fan of the video games in my youth, as well as the animated films and even the live-action movie (ahem, JCVD), I have to admit it did peak my interest and I gave their website and YouTube channel a butchers. One thing that struck me fairly quickly was the sheer attention to detail that had gone into every single martial arts fight that they were working on, as well as the attempt to really make this a focused look at the relationship between Ryu and Ken. Having now seen the final product after its release on Netflix, it’s even more clear how devoted to the project that Joey Ansah, who directs and features in the film itself as Akuma, certainly was at capturing a story first and a video game tie-in second. Whilst it’s not a flawless victory (apologies for throwing in a Mortal Kombat reference) with much of the films generous run time of 150+ minutes taken up by work-out sessions, montage moments and plenty of training, it does look very impressive. British actor Christian Howard plays Ken Masters, but also coordinated and choreographed a lot of the fight scenes in this film and that’s where the movie shines. It looks exactly how a Street Fighter film should, with some exceptionally well shot action. It’s probably a bit long and a bit slow for anyone who’s not a fan of the games to stick with right through to the end, but I enjoyed it and have my fingers crossed that they’ll continue the series in some form or another. Whether it’s as another webseries or even another film, I’ll be back for more.
And I’m pretty much done for this article and actually releasing it within a few days of the end of the month for a change. It’s also probably the first of these monthly articles that all four films I’ve chosen are ones I’ve enjoyed as opposed to having a bit of a rant about some. I’m not sure how that happened, but there you go. As always, I’m happy to discuss any of the above in more detail or argue why I liked each of them, or even have a conversation about any of the others I’ve seen and not reviewed! Just leave a comment in the box below or message me on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you in a month’s time!
A breath of fresh air in the American action movie landscape, John Wick delivers on everything it sets out to do.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
The dog should not have any actual weight prescribed to it. It should just be a MacGuffin, a paper-thin excuse for yet another violent revenge flick, a self-parodying barrel-scraper that induces unintended/perfectly intentional laughter whenever it’s brought up for whatever reason. That’s how this should go. That’s how this is apparently supposed to go, if you purely subscribe to the American action movie way of doing things. The catalyst for the violence has long since stopped mattering to the majority of mid-level non-blockbuster action movies. Nobody really cares what motivates the (nearly always) grizzled white man to whip out their pistol and start painting the sets red, right, so why invest any meaning into it anymore? Just pick the most obvious tropes – usually involving the fridging or kidnapping of women – and away we go.
“F*ck that,” says John Wick, which gets into its head this crazy little concept that if you actually invest something into the world and characters and set-up for that violence, then the violence might carry legitimate weight beyond a reflexive appreciation for cool bloodshed. So the dog is still a MacGuffin – whatever is the instigator for the revenge in these films always is – but it’s one that carries legitimate emotional attachment for John Wick (Keanu Reeves) himself. It’s more than just a parting gift from his recently-deceased wife to him, it’s the last tangible evidence that he can and does deserve the better life he escaped his mob days for. That he can be actually be a good person and that the universe won’t rip his wife from him totally as recompense for his sins. That he won’t be alone.
That’s why Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) ordering its killing for no other reason than its being loud is such a blow to John. It’s his worst fears coming true, his hope being extinguished, a grizzly reminder that he cannot escape and does not deserve to escape, that he will be forever alone. And the film takes great pains to communicate this to the viewer. A relatively decent stretch of the opening of the movie is dedicated to demonstrating John’s solemn grieving and how the dog, and what it represents, is the thing that finally causes him to break that stoicism and grieve like a human instead of a force of nature. It doesn’t matter that he has Daisy for barely a day before she’s taken from him, it still f*cking hurts, as his rather terrifying mid-film monologue to Viggo Tasarov (Michael Nyqvist) demonstrates.
Plus, that dog is so f*cking cute it’s unreal.
That kind of attention to detail is why John Wick is so bloody good and such a wonderful breath of fresh air in the non-blockbuster American action movie landscape. This is not a film that simply slaps together the barest vestiges of plot, character and theme, attaches them either side of a rote series of action beats, stretches the thing out to an uncomfortably long time, and then calls it a day. This is a film that has real genuine effort put into everything, a film made by people who wanted to tell a genuine story, with a series of themes and characters they genuinely wanted to see through, and action that helps tell that story instead of simply marking time.
Specifically, the world of John Wick is a wonderful concoction. A seedy yet high-class and professional world of connected and business-like mob members, gangsters, and code-honouring hitmen and hitwomen. Everyone knows each other, all put up the veneer of being (or genuinely are) respectful to one another, and most hang out in a specially decked-out and designated neutral ground hotel in upscale New York called The Continental with its own bar, concierge (Lance Reddick), and a highly-trained medic on standby. Services are paid for in special gold coins, certain cops are acutely aware of what goes on and know exactly what the smart response is, and there are swift and severe punishments for breaking any rules or codes of ethics.
It’s extremely well drawn and sketched out, but it doesn’t overwhelm the film, it never overtakes the film barring a scene or two of loose end wrap-ups. This is all instead world-building that correctly sits on the sidelines in favour of Wick’s personal journey of revenge and Viggo’s seemingly mandatory attempts to prevent said revenge. The film does not stop for extended periods of time to explain the history of The Continental, how the cleaners work, and how everybody knows each other. These things exist and how they exist is told through actions instead of straight exposition. Most similar action films wouldn’t even attempt this level of world-building, let alone trying to integrate it this smoothly, and the fact that John Wick does so demonstrates just how much genuine effort and love went into this thing.
Following on from that, this movie looks amazing! The way that it plays with colours and the warmth of such to tell its story as well as add stylish flourishes during the rare instances in which a shower of red gore decorates a part of the scenery is subtly clever stuff, but it’s the action scenes that really stick out above all else. Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch – the latter of which is not credited because weird DGA rules – shoot their action scenes much like how Soderbergh shot Haywire’s action scenes: clean and clear where every shot has been carefully arranged to frame the action, and shaky-cam is very sparsely-deployed and never in such a way that the action on screen is obscured or hard to follow. It’s so controlled and thought-out in a way that most action films really aren’t nowadays; I’m reminded a lot of The Raid 2, in that respect.
But with that said, John Wick is still a load of fun. It takes itself seriously when it needs to, but knows when to kick back and just have some good old fashioned fun. Much of the world is played for wonderful deadpan humour, and the action scenes themselves are a tonne of fun thanks to clever staging and that stylish verve which cribs a lot from classic John Woo gun-fu films. There’s a kind of grace and balletic nature to proceedings, as John tears his way through waves of goons with a precision and rhythm that has the feel of an extended and tight dance number, a feeling helped by the way that Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richards’ score synchronises extremely well with the action. Any time the pacing is thrown off, like with a poorly-timed reload or if John ever takes a hit or if a knife is brought into play, it feels jarring yet far more alive than yet another scrappy brawl with a jittery camera would be.
Praise must also go to Keanu Reeves as Wick himself. On paper, the film wouldn’t seem to ask him to do much except glower angrily at things and be a walking badass, but Reeves also makes sure to keep John’s grief bubbling just under the surface, informing nearly everything the character does and letting it explode in a mid-film monologue that is some of his best work in forever and is quite possibly the most terrifying I’ve ever found him. He’s obviously given help by Derek Kolstad’s great script, but Reeves still works his ass off to imbue John Wick with a depth that most other actors in this role likely wouldn’t have bothered trying. He’s backed up on all sides by a uniformly excellent supporting cast – Michael Nyqvist is brilliant as the father who only seems to want to protect his son out of obligation, Alfie Allen is delightfully turd-like, Adrianne Palicki has a lot of fun as an overly-cocky femme fatale, among others – but he is the centre and he nails it completely.
When I first heard about John Wick a good 8 or so months ago, it was from that trailer and I was sold completely because it sounded like a dumb silly action film, and I like me a good dumb silly action film. But John Wick turns out to be way smarter than that. What plays as ridiculous in a trailer is revealed to be understandable in context, the work of a film that invests enough emotion and depth and attention to detail in its world to make the revenge rampage matter. This is a film that remembers that violence is more affecting and more gripping when affixed to actually interesting characters and worlds than when it’s just thrown up on screen with a minimal amount of context. That’s already enough to recommend John Wick, but the fact that the construction of those action scenes also has that same love and care and detail paid to it? Well, that causes this to be one of the best pure action films I’ve seen so far this decade.
I love this movie, do not miss out on it.
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)
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.
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.
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.
by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)
Casting news for the second series of hit HBO show True Detective has been drip fed to us this week. Colin Farrell is set to star alongside Vince Vaughn.
These are a couple of brave choices to pick for lead roles. Neither have the acting chops that stars of the excellent first series, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, have.
Both can be good on their day but both have had very hit and miss careers in the silver screen.
Vaughn was good in the likes of Swingers, Old School and Dodgeball but has been in a lot awful – just awful – comedies and the only serious role I can think of him in was the Jurassic Park sequel.
Farrell’s career has been better but he is still capable of a Miami Vice sized stinker.
The first series will command optimism for the second, the current cast may dampen it.
Where Batman’s From
The Batman prequel (I think) Gotham premiered in the US to mixed reviews.
The show tells the story of Gotham pre-Batman and features Bruce Wayne as a child and is more about the early careers of Commissioner Gordon and some of the most iconic villains from the comics.
From the sounds of it they tried to cram too much in to the first episode in terms of nods and references but hopefully it can develop in to a good series on par with fellow DC small screen show Arrow.
Men and Women Who Are Mutants
Bryan Singer is returning to the X-Men franchise to direct the next outing, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Singer directed the first two and Days of Future Past which absconds him from responsibility of the awful third and the standalone Wolverine films.
A Group of Mates
When researching this weeks column I found a quiz celebrating the 20th anniversary of Friends. 20 questions testing your knowledge on the much loved sitcom.
I scored 15 out of 20. Respectable. Does the fact that a programme that I would not rank in my top 10 in its genre is so ingrained in my brain show just how good it really was?
I actually scored 1.7% less on a 15 question quiz on Spaced, which I like much more than Friends.
Some guys have all the luck. Keanu Reeves has found a girl in his library and in his pool in the last few weeks.
Imagine that. Having a pool and a library. Some towns don’t even have those resources.
Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.
Although it’s nothing groundbreaking, Man Of Tai Chi is really good at what it does and is a very strong directorial debut by Keanu Reeves.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
I like Keanu Reeves. I know he always seems to get a bad rep by film lovers and movie-goers for frequently giving stiff and emotionally-restrained performances, but I really like him. There’s just something about him that makes me happy or comforted when he pops up in movies (that same “thing” I recently discovered, round the time of Chef in fact, is also possessed by one Scarlett Johannson, so it’s good company to be in). Plus, regardless of his performance, he frequently picks interesting films that end up far better than they should have been. Bill & Ted, Point Break, Speed, The Matrix, Side By Side, (for me, anyway) 47 Ronin. Say what you like, the guy’s interesting and, for me, his appearance in a film is cause for me to sit up and pay attention.
So when news breaks that Reeves has decided to make a martial arts film, his first directorial effort and partly financed out of his own back pocket, loosely based on his Matrix stunt team best friend Tiger Chen and starring Chen as himself and Reeves as the villain of the piece… yeah, you can consider all of my attention appropriately raised. My interest has been caught; and if the film itself is actually any good, that’s kind of a bonus, really. And the film itself is good, it’s really good. Although there’s little you won’t have seen in numerous other martial arts films, Man Of Tai Chi is a damn great one with good performances, strong fight scenes and confident direction.
Tiger Chen plays, well, Tiger Chen, a delivery courier and one of the last practitioners of Ling Kong Tai Chi. Tiger wants to demonstrate to the world its effectiveness as a combat martial art, instead of just as an exercise or a meditation technique, much to the disapproval of his master (Yu Hai). Opportunity comes in the form of the total sociopath known as Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) who offers Tiger the chance to come and fight for him in an illegal underground fight club whose matches are (what else) streamed to a secret uber-rich clientele. Tiger refuses, noting that using Tai Chi to fight for money is dishonourable, but his hand is forced when his master’s temple is branded a safety hazard and the repairs required are ludicrously expensive. Time passes and Chen starts to realise that he really likes fighting, and the freedom that fighting for Donaka gives him, ends up in the crosshairs of Hong Kong Detective Sun Jing Shi (Karen Wok) who has been relentlessly pursuing Donaka for years, and you can probably guess where things are going to go from here.
Yes, Man Of Tai Chi is rather predictable. If you have ever seen a martial arts picture involving an underground fighting tournament or any film about the corrupting influence of power, you will likely be able to call the film’s story beats down to the second. There is a very clever twist about exactly what Donaka is offering to his clients but you’ll probably still figure that out about 40-or-so minutes into the movie (I know I did, at any rate). That predictability isn’t particularly an issue, mind. In fact, it ends up making the film feel more like a loving homage than anything else. Tiger takes rather a bit too long to figure out that something’s up with the organisation he’s fighting in and that maybe there’s some semblance of a connection between the timing of the planning submission and the entrance of Donaka into his life, but it’s fine. It works for the genre and the reveal late in the game probably wouldn’t work as well if Tiger were less naive.
Besides, you’re not watching a film entitled Man Of Tai Chi for groundbreaking and original plotting. You’re most likely here for the fight scenes and, in that case, you’re going to get more than your money’s worth. The choreography is handled by Yeun Woo-Ping and he’s clearly not content to just coast on past successes, here. Every fight, no matter how short, tells a good story and they get a lot of mileage out of pitting Tai Chi up against various different styles of martial arts and showing how Tiger is able to best them. Choreography is kept predominately realistic with wire-work being a rare but noticeable (but not unwelcome) occurrence which keeps proceedings grounded and full of impact. Standout fights include Tiger’s “interview” for Donaka which gets a lot of mileage out of Tiger turning up in a suit and tie, a fantastic sequence in which Tiger has to fight two guys at once and is notable just as much for its lighting and set design as it is for the story told by the fight itself, a sequence where Tiger duels with his master, and the final fight between Donaka and Tiger which is protracted but very well-paced.
Reeves’ direction of the fights is extremely assured, obviously indebted to the Wachowskis and martial arts cinema at large. Takes are longer than average, shots are steady and clear at all-times but still dynamic when they need to be. There’s a very well-crafted sense of space and his camera constantly darts around in order to find the best possible viewpoint of the action. Close-ups and medium close-ups are deployed when necessary but aren’t limited to showing fighter reactions or individual strikes before cutting back to master shots, thanks predominately to the longer takes. Fight pacing is also well-done, longer ones definitely feel longer but they don’t drag, they’re always clearly building to either the next character beat or the fight’s climax. Reeves has learned well and the quality of the fight scenes really do disguise the fact that this is being made by a first-timer. The one exception is in regards to the usage of slo-mo which is mainly withheld until the final fight but is egregiously and distractingly deployed. Oh, and there’s one instance of super-slo-mo, during the otherwise excellent duel between Tiger and his master, and it in actuality just looks like normal-speed footage where everybody moved reeeeeeaallly slllooooooowwwwwllly; it’s campy in a bad way.
Outside of the fight scenes, things are still good but sometimes noticeable as the work of a first-timer. Reeves does have a decent grasp of pacing, but he’s not quite there yet. This is a film that runs 105 minutes but feels like one that stretches just over two hours; there are sequences where the film sags a bit, it’s pretty much all necessary but it still drags at points. The script is really on-the-nose which is fine, again let me refer you to Tiger’s duel with his master, so long as dialogue isn’t involved which is, at times, clunky and unnatural. Editing is mostly fine, with the stand-out being a montage where Tiger’s experience fighting in Donaka’s league ends up bleeding over into his fights in a professional martial arts tournament, but he occasionally makes some strange decisions (unnecessary shots, random jump cuts, momentary lapses in scene geography, the aforementioned super-slo-mo) that are more distracting than stylistic. Cinematography and music, however, are great and Reeves’ direction is never anything less than competent. It’s all very confident, very learned, if I hadn’t known that this was his first time behind the camera, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Oh, and whilst I’m nitpicking, there’s a car-crash late on in the film that is done with the cheapest CG money can buy. Considering how the rest of the film is so slick and sleek, in a way that’s more befitting a $30 million budget than the $15 million the film sports, it’s rather jarring and reduces the scene to something that’s, in all honesty, pretty laughable.
Finally, there are our two lead performances. Tiger Chen turns out to be a very capable leading man. A lot of the film’s narrative and character arc depends upon Tiger’s (the character) facial expressions and he’s very adept at them; going from kind-natured earnestness to hardened anger-fuelled rage and back again in a way that’s much subtler than that sounds (and should be) and relatively nuanced. Plus, you know, he’s got a very commanding screen presence during fight scenes. Keanu Reeves, meanwhile, is once again very stoic and reserved but, this time, it immeasurably helps his character, painting Donaka as a complete and total sociopath. His presence is creepy and exudes authority and Reeves seems to be having the time of his life sneering his way through such a thoroughly detestable character; it’s a really strong performance.
Man Of Tai Chi has been sent straight-to-DVD here in the UK, which commonly leads to the perception that the film in question is poor-quality tripe looking to rip you off of your hard-earned cash. And it’s a shame that people may end up thinking that because Man Of Tai Chi is better than at least 80% of the films I have seen in cinemas so far this year and deserves open minds and willing chances. It’s a very confidently directed, if a little formulaic, martial arts flick with great fight sequences and strong lead performances. I really enjoyed this one, folks, and highly recommend you seek it out. Don’t let the botched release put you off, this is absolutely worth your time.
Man Of Tai Chi is available now to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Callum Petch buried our heart in the attic of your daddy’s house. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!