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Failed Critics Podcast: Ghostbusters

ghostbusters

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, where the traditionally entirely-male line-up has been replaced, with hosts Stephanie Norman and Olivia Hughes, and their guests Andrea Brooker and Brianna Plank – and if anything, it’s an improvement over the originals.

The re-imagined, re-booted, re-failed foursome review the comedy film that seemingly hasn’t been able to escape public opinion over the past fortnight (for both good and bad reasons) – that is Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth.

The Ghostbusters appreciation doesn’t stop there for one of the guests, as prior to our main review, Brooker enthused over fan-doc Ghostheads, which is available on Netflix. As, coincidentally, is the latest Netflix Original, the sci-fi fantasy drama Stranger Things, which receives heaps of praise from both Steve and Owen. We’re all about the praise on this episode apparently as Brian also lavishes some on Guy Ritchie’s spy-comedy from last year, The Man From UNCLE.

There was even room this week for the group to discuss the Emmy nominations and for Steve to not mess-up the quiz!

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Ghostbusters

“Welcome to the good old days of New York.”

I’ve just walked out of my local cinema in one piece. I survived the latest trip to my local Cineworld thinking that this might be my final act. For the last few months we’ve been bombarded with basement dwelling imbeciles trying to convince us that the remake/reboot/reimagining of bonafide 80’s classic Ghostbusters was going to ruin our childhoods, destroy the ozone, melt the polar ice caps and bring about the apocalypse with its evil plan to replace all the ghostbusters with ladies. With lady parts. Who have the audacity to have boobs, and lady periods, and god knows what else. Leg wax perhaps?

This isn’t to say I went in hopeful. It is a remake after all, and if there’s something I really crave with my cinema going, it’s something original. But… Well, you gotta try everything haven’t you?

Years after going their own separate ways, paranormal investigators Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) find themselves working together again. Joined by nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), the team soon find themselves digging around haunted houses and God-knows-what as reports of ghost sightings around the city of New York need looking into. When subway worker and local historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) gets the shock of her life coming face to face with a ghost in the tunnels under the city, she quickly joins the girl ghoul hunters and the four become the Ghostbusters.

Wouldn’t you just know it? Turns out that the increased ghost sightings have been done on purpose. Someone is out to release generations of angry, trapped spirits, and with them begin an apocalypse. With the world against them, the team must spring into action and stop the maleficent ghosts and the end of the world.

Let’s get this out of the way early. It’s ok to be a bit hesitant about this film. A 50/50 reboot/remake of Ghostbusters was never going to garner much in the way of good vibes. It’s not ok, however, to act like an entitled, selfish, sexist asshat about it. Watch it, don’t watch it, I don’t care. Just don’t be a dick about it.

Now that’s out of the way, a little positivity.

Ghostbusters is great. It’s more than great, I loved every second spent watching it and I can’t wait to go watch it again. That’s not to say it’s perfect, of course it’s not. But it’s absolutely worth your time, in my humble opinion.

Paul Feig, the guy behind films like The Heat and Bridesmaids has modernised this classic and given new life to it; in turn bringing a few of the best comedic actors – of any gender – into the limelight and letting them have a bit of fun with the characters they are playing.

The originals had a real sense of fun and adventure in them. Their tone was never serious and still gets laughs out of me to this day. This lovely little reimagining of their story keeps all of those feelings there for you. You never feel like you’re not having a ton of fun, and it even manages to whip up a surprise or two along the way; for both us and for the New York natives hunting beasties.

The beauty of this film lies in the chemistry of its stars. In absolutely no time at all, the leading ladies have gelled together not only as a fresh-faced ghostbusting team, but as an awesome little comedy troupe. With a steady stream of one-liners and physical gags that hit the mark almost every time, it’s evident in every scene that our new ghostbusters are having a great time in front of the camera.

Maybe my favourite part though, is how no one thought it necessary to have analogue representations of the previous team. There’s no lady Peter Venkman, there’s no female Egon. All of the previous characters’ traits are represented (more or less) but there’s no one person filling each role; and considering how easy it would have been to have a selection of carbon copies, that’s possibly the bit that impresses me the most.

In fact, Jones’ Patty Tolan is the closest to a direct comparison there is, being the non-scientist of the group and more or less tripping into the job; she’s almost the mirror image of Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zedmore. But even then, as the historian of the group, she definitely shows more purpose than the classic character in it for “the steady paycheck”. Also getting the gender reversal treatment is the Ghostbusters’ receptionist; out is Annie Potts’ feisty Janine and in is the gorgeous but dumbass Kevin Beckman, with Chris Hemsworth having a whale of a time in the role.

And I tell you, considering how much of a fan of her I am, I was surprised to see the awesome Melissa McCarthy upstaged and out-laughed at almost every step by the little known – at least here in the UK – Kate McKinnon. Her Holtzmann is laugh-a-minute brilliance that will get her an army of insta-fans with her role here. Me included.

If we can step away from the controversial stars for a few minutes though, I’d love to chat a bit about the film.

I would comfortably say that Ghostbusters is probably the most well put together and well-paced comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. Feig’s films – as I’ve said plenty of times before – have been pretty hit and miss for me and his pacing is definitely one of his biggest problems. He doesn’t always know what to keep and what to cut; something very obvious with this film. With four Saturday Night Live improvisation specialists in your bill, there’s going to be times when you have to cut something you love to help the pacing.

Luckily, this time around, the comedy hits the right notes so frequently that you don’t feel the film sagging and you can happily enjoy your two hours without so much as a boring scene or a bit of dead air. In a twist from the usual “all the best bits are in the ads”, somehow, we got all the worst bits in the marketing leading up to the film’s release. The flat jokes aren’t any better in the film, the jokes that fall on their face in the trailers still fall on their face in the film, but they’re 90 seconds of gags in a two-hour movie. If ever there was a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a film on its trailers, Ghostbusters is it.

Of course, you can’t have a ghost film without a few ghosts, and here’s where I had a bit of a tough time. The ghosts look great, they really do. They’re beautifully detailed and once you’ve gotten used to them, they’re a great addition to the film. Unfortunately, and I am very aware this is just how I saw it, they reminded me far too much of the awful spooks in the even worse The Haunted Mansion; not a good film to be bringing into the minds of your audience when you’re trying to get them to enjoy your flick!

But, they do fit into the film nicely. Their aesthetic is eventually important to the film and you know what? If I have to reach for the style of ghosts you chose for your film in order to drag out a negative, you ain’t doing that bad a job.

Is Ghostbusters perfect? No, of course it’s not. It’s a sci-fi action comedy about ghost hunting in New York. But it’s a barrel of fun. There’s never a dull moment, even in the early half hour while the film finds its footing and you’re not sure if this is going to work. But with enough cameos to embarrass your average Kevin Smith production and a solid job done by everyone on both sides of the camera, in Ghostbusters we have the year’s first proper summer blockbuster. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Failed Critics Podcast: An Unexpected Listener and The Desolation of Steve

The Hobbit TDOSWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics podcast, please excuse us if our heads were a little bigger, and our chests puffed out a little more after finding out that our download figures have gone through the roof (well, the roof of a kennel perhaps). We’d like to welcome all of our new listeners, and hope you’ll stick around.

This week sees us review the latest installment of Peter Jackson’s latest sojourn to Middle Earth, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. James gets emotional (obviously) watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Steve gets festive watching Arthur Christmas, and Owen gets scared watching The Host (the Korean creature feature, not the Twilight-style alien thing from earlier this year).

We also discuss the Golden Globe nominations, as well as taking it in turns to plead for votes for our favourite films in this years Failed Critics Awards. Don’t forget to vote!

This is the last regular podcast of the year, so have a good Christmas, and we’ll be back on New Year’s Eve with our review of the year, and the results of the poll.

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2013 in Review: A Soundtrack

I’ve always loved film soundtracks, but ever since I’ve been film blogging they have pretty much replaced radio and MTV in being my primary channel for discovering new music and previously undiscovered classics. So, just as l did last year, here is my ‘Cinematic Soundtrack of the Year’, starring my favourite musical moments from film in the last twelve months.

Cuddly Toy by Roachford – Alpha Papa

Unfairly overshadowed by another Oscar-winning, tightly shot close-up musical performance (more on that later), the sight of Steve Coogan lip-syncing to forgotten 80s ‘classic’ Cuddly Toy while driving to work in his sponsored car let me know that everything was going to be okay with the one film I was desperate not to fail this year. It stayed true to the spirit of the TV show (in fact it’s very reminiscent of Alan’s air bass guitar to Gary Numan’s ‘Music for Chameleons’ in series 2), while laying down a marker for how this very British sitcom was going to expand onto our cinema screens by spending 3 minutes on one joke, which would have been unthinkable in a 27-minute programme.

Silver Lady by David Soul – Filth

Filth’s soundtrack is one of my favourites of the year, featuring a great Clint Mansell score as well as a number of interesting covers and rediscovered classics. However, the pinanacle of the film’s marriage of bizarre imagery and 70s soul comes in a scene where David Soul arrives in a car, picking up Shauna Macdonald (playing the wife of James McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson). The ensuing car journey has Soul singing his own ‘Silver Lady’, complete with glamorous backing singers in the back seat. Utterly bizarre and hilarious.

I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix) by Lykke Li – Blue is the Warmest Colour

This must have been a huge hit in France, not only featuring on the soundtrack to Rust and Bone (my film of 2012), but even more memorably in this year’s Palm d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour. In a picture notable for its lack of a conventional score, the party scene where Adele finds some much needed familiarity with her friends and family comes to life with this brilliant track.

Can’t Forget by Cliff Martinez (feat. Mac Quayle & Vithaya Pansringarm) – Only God Forgives

Like Nicholas Winding Refn’s last film Drive, Only God Forgives is scored superbly by Cliff Martinez. The highlight for me being the karaoke performance of a softly spoken, samurai sword-wielding police office played with an unearthly grace and calm by Vithaya Pansringarm. The scens of him singing his heart out to a room of impassive stony-faced colleagues was unnerving and almost Lynchian in its banal nightmarish qualities.

Space Oddity by David Bowie (and Kristen Wiig) – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Pipping the films use of the brilliant Arcade Fire track Wake Up is the moment where Kristen Wiig enters a bar in Greenland, dressed in winter clothing and with a guitar slung over her shoulder, and starts to sing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. A wondrous collision of incredible music and Ben Stiller finally seizing the day as my cinematic proxy made this one of my favourite moments in a cinema all year. Seriously, it was like porn to me.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite by Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, and Emma Thompson – Saving Mr Banks

Any film featuring the near-perfect songs from Mary Poppins was always going to end up on this list, but even I was surprised by how affected I was by this film’s exploration into the themes and motivations behind the creation of Disney’s finest film. The moment that PL Travers (Emma Thompson) and the song-writing Sherman Brothers (BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman) finally reach a moment of understanding and conciliation over the climactic Mary Poppins is a joyous scene.

Let It Go by Idina Menzel – Frozen

This Disney musical is huge return to form for the animation studio that has struggled in Pixar and Dreamwork’s shadow over the last decade. But while other studios stagnated this year, Disney produced their best film since the renaissance of the early nineties. Frozen, based on a classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, looks absolutely fantastic and features songs comparable to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but with a post-Wicked twist. Idina Menzel’s (who has history as a Disney princess from Enchanted) performance as Elsa at the mid-way point of the film is the perfect marriage of stunning animation and incredible vocals.

I Dreamed a Dream by Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables

I simply couldn’t look beyond this as my choice for musical moment of the year. I’ve been a huge fan of the original musical ever since my wife persuaded me to grow up and forget my preconceptions about musical theatre, and it has been a long wait to see the musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel finally make it to the big screen. Luckily, the film didn’t disappoint (let’s just pretend Russell Crowe didn’t happen) and Tom Hooper’s film gained Oscar nominations and a place in my films of 2013 list.

The moment of the film that most sticks in the mind though is that incredible sequence where Anne Hathaway rescues one of theatre’s great songs from the hands of Susan Boyle. The close-up, the impassioned vocals, and the sobbing endeared Hathaway to a legion of new fans, and rightfully won her an Oscar.

These tracks, and more, are available on this collaborative Spotify playlist. We’d love you to add your favourite soundtrack music that we missed.

Despicable Me 2

despicable-me-2-gru-edith-agnes-margoThere’s something you should know before we get started. I liked the original Despicable Me quite a lot, but nowhere near as much as my girlfriend does. The fact that she is currently on her second Despicable Me message tone should tell you all you need to know about that. Accordingly, while it is held in high esteem in my household and was one of the more unexpected successes in recent animation, I don’t even consider it the best animation of 2010 (Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon are superior).

Enter the sequel. Gru is (spoiler alert) now on the straight and narrow and turning his talents (and minions) to the manufacture of jams and jellies. Meanwhile, his ‘girls’ and his neighbours are encouraging him to go dating. Gru seems more concerned with grappling with parenthood and fruit than with women, but his life gets disrupted when, without spoiling too much, he ends up on the other side of the super-villain/forces of good battle.

On the plus side, the trailers that have been infiltrating my cinematic experience for what seems like aeons haven’t told us all this already, being instead dominated by the unlikely stars of the original, Gru’s minions (a standalone Minions film is in the works). Disappointingly though, the trailers turned out to be entire scenes from the film, leaving regular cinema-goers like myself unexpectedly disengaged at a couple of points simply because you have already seen what’s unfolding at least 25 times before.

That’s one of my only criticisms though and, fortunately, the trailer scenes were far from the ‘best bits’. Unlike many sequels, the charm of the original is ever-present here and the quality is consistently high. Agnes is one of the most impossibly cute characters in cinematic history and melted even my usually cold, dark heart. Her siblings, likewise, provide their own attributes to give some variety to the child characters. This is in fact one of the more refreshing aspects of Despicable Me 2: there is more development of the contrasts between Fairy Princess party-loving Agnes and teenager Margo, experiencing the flourishing sentiment and excitement of adolescence. And we have Edith, an all-action tomboy who rejects the classic ‘girly’ stereotype, criminally underused because Kristen Wiig’s secret agent Lucy is covering the action girl side nicely.

For all the plaudits of Brave’s ‘alternative’ princess, this shows a more rounded view of the different identities modern girls can take. Lucy neatly combines the three siblings’ features: at times innocent, at times arse-kicking, at times emotionally vulnerable. It’s nice to see a female lead who isn’t simply a masculine action hero or just a vulnerable, soft-centred romantic, but both. Beyond the females, there is an excellent supporting cast and enough variety to give everyone in the audience something to relate to.

As good as the characters are though, it’s the humour that sets the film apart. Despicable Me 2 is not only funnier than its predecessor, it’s funnier than most of the comedies I’ve watched recently (yes, The Campaign, you especially). It doesn’t have the originality of the first film of course, so there is less reliance on gags around Gru’s villainy. Thankfully, the creators have chosen to find comedy from a wider range of sources rather than mining the same resource to the point of overuse.

There are jokes for all ages too, with knowing nods to parents and a plethora of references alongside more slapstick and child-centric gags. Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment seem to be forging a path here amongst titans like Pixar and Dreamworks, thanks largely to their ability to do what those two do so well: create films that are funny enough to make the entire audience laugh and touch us emotionally too.

A quick note on the visuals. I watched the 2D version (obviously) so I have no idea if the 3D is any good, but there is a definite step up in quality from the first. Some of the final scenes in particular are absolutely gorgeous and there is an attention to detail reminiscent of Pixar, particularly in terms of the nods to other films. That said, there is nothing quite at the level of the first’s Lehman Brothers gag or the priceless masterpieces hidden away in the girls’ bedrooms and I want to manage expectations: this isn’t as good as Pixar at their best. Having had the trailer for Planes before watching this though, I think it’s safe to say hopes are pinned on Monster’s University providing a return to previous standards (and, dare I say it, artistic integrity over merchandising sales).

More than anything, going to the cinema to watch this film was an enjoyable experience. Sometimes you are reminded why we go to the cinema in the first place. Whether it’s an all-out action film like The Raid or a film that genuinely caters to the entire family like this, we pay to go to the cinema to be entertained and have a good time. Yes, the prices are steep. Yes, other people are really annoying. Yes, Odeon Premiere seats are an appalling example of capitalist greed. But when a film is this good, all that gets forgotten. I recommend catching this on the big screen as watching it with a backdrop of little kids’ laughter enhances the experience (kudos to the little girl behind me who kept shouting ‘NEE-NAW-NEE-NAW’ at inappropriate points for making us chuckle too).

Charming, funny and pretty nice to look at, I walked out of Despicable Me 2 with a big smile on my face that stayed there for a long time. Frankly, if you go to watch this film at the cinema and don’t walk out smiling, I’d get to the nearest hospital and ask them to check your vital signs. You might be dead. Even a super-villain like Gru was charmed by it all, for God’s sake.