Tag Archives: Liam Neeson

Silence

“They’re not dying for God. They’re dying for you.”

Holy shit, where to begin. I really didn’t want to watch Silence.

A film centred around the persecution of Christians and Christianity in Japan during the 17th century doesn’t really float my boat the way it would a lot of others. Scorsese’s latest or not, I’m not the kind of guy that likes being preached at for nearly three hours.

Silence interests me on an historical level, but I’d prefer a documentary on the subject rather than the film, thanks very much. But there I was, in my comfy seat ready for a few hours of sermons hoping for the best.

Volunteering to make a pilgrimage to Japan, Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, respectively) are searching a country in which their religion is outlawed for their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). With no word from their old teacher bar a years old letter reporting on the state of the country before his reported conversion to Buddhism, the young idealists walk into one of the most dangerous places to be a Christian with the hopes of getting answers and spreading the word of God.

In a harrowing time to be a Jesuit, the pair are forced, along with the persecuted Japanese Christians, to hide from a country determined to wipe them out, with a man known as “The Inquisitor” hunting out as many of them as he can. The priests and their country-wide congregation have an uncertain future filled with humiliation, torture and possible death if they are caught.

Jesus Christ this was a tough film to watch!

I mean, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, as you would expect from a film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. It looks beautiful and its leads (a pair I don’t really care all that much for) are very good together on that screen. Both Driver and Garfield are very convincing as the priests facing the ultimate test of their faith under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Their story is a predictable one and plays out almost exactly as you imagine it will once you realise just what kind of film you are watching; but that in no way stops either of them, nor the slew of actors supporting them, from putting their all into their performances and convincing me just what an awful time the Christians living in Japan had.

Much to my surprise, I found myself engrossed with what I saw on screen. As dozens of indigenous Christians are hunted out and brutally tortured for your viewing pleasure, you can’t help but to try to will them to denounce their faith from your seat. You can’t help but get angry when they don’t. And you can’t help but want to scream at them when the logic of the devout is to believe that no answer to their prayers is indeed it’s own answer. It’s a purposeful lesson in annoyance for people like me who need logic in their lives. While the film tries desperately to convince me that these people were strong and devout, certain less friendly words were rolling around in my head after the first couple of times these people refused to save their own lives. I know, that’s the whole point, but it’s a point lost on me almost completely.

And don’t even get me started on the arsehole that repeatedly fucks everything up for everybody only to believe that he’ll be forgiven time and time again – then he is! It’s a recurring theme across the entire film that beggars belief and makes you truly wonder as to the logic some of these people live by.

Narration is provided, for the most part, by Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodrigues as he writes letters back to the church in his homeland. It sets the tone as the story continues rather well. Unfortunately, toward the final act, narration is complimented with voice over from sources that interrupt the flow of story telling. On more than one occasion I mistook a voice in the head of a mentally and physically tortured priest for that of continued narration and completely lost the plot of what was going on because the voice sounded so much like an additional narrator that it became genuinely difficult to keep track of the story.

Silence has been a passion project of Scorsese’s for a lot of years, and that love and respect shows in the film I saw today. But it’s not the second coming of Christ as some may be preaching it to be. There’s no doubt that it’s a brilliant film, but it’s one I don’t think I need to watch again. I wouldn’t even necessarily suggest it be seen in the cinema. The big screen experience is all well and good, but you’ll miss nothing from watching it at home and you’ll gain the ability to pause the film and go take a piss without missing anything.

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A Monster Calls

“You must speak the most simple of truths.”

This time last year I was rolling out of a preview screening of Room decimated at what I’d just seen. I walked out of that film a complete wreck. This early in the year, I didn’t expect to have a movie comparable if not to the film, at least to the way it left me and the entire audience of screen 11 as we all walked out puffy eyed and blubbing at what we’d just witnessed.

12 year old Connor (Lewis MacDougal) is a boy teetering on the edge. His entire world is crumbling around him: His mother is deathly ill; he’s being bullied daily at school and; he and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) most certainly do not see eye-to-eye. When he’s at his lowest and he can’t confide in his mum (Felicity Jones), he finds himself with a new friend. An ancient friend. A monster who finds his way to his bedroom window and introduces himself to the not-quite-a-teenager.

The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) promises the boy three stories. Three tales to teach him the way of the world and by the end of them, the disillusioned kid will have a story of his own to tell; a “truth” that he’s too afraid to speak out loud. The monster is here to give Connor the strength and courage to face what lies ahead, no matter how hard a road he has coming.

No messing around, no silly shit. Go watch this film today.

While it might not be as emotionally affecting as the aforementioned Room, this tale of a young boy searching for courage is definitely up there when it comes to heartbreaking stories. The Orphanage director J. A. Bayona has created a beautiful film that has to be seen to be believed. Set in the grey and melancholy north of England, the only place to showcase your ideas is through the titular Monster and his stories.

Neeson’s monster is a thing of beauty. A giant, walking, talking tree that looks like Groot’s scarier older brother, who engulfs Connor’s house with his spreading branches. He is a magnificent creation. Between the excellent computer work, Neeson’s motion capture and voice performance, the towering beast that appears to wreck everything in its path is an early yardstick for filmmakers to measure their creature work for this year.

The only thing to contend with the Monster, are his stories. Told to us through a series of watercolour paintings that come alive at his voice, the gorgeous artwork is absolutely mesmerising. By the time the first tale is finished, I’m desperate for the reappearance of the creature just so I can hear and see him tell his next story.

Of course, the computer generated monster would be nothing without the character he needs to interact with to bring this story to life; and absolutely nothing should be taken from Lewis MacDougall. The young actor sells his part to us with such conviction that I feel so sad for him at each step. Every single emotion the young boy goes through, we go through with him. He gives it his all from the opening frame to the final scene. Man, that kid drags the tears from you, kicking and screaming if he has to, to leave you in more of a mess than he ever was by the time those credits roll. Supported superbly by Weaver and Jones, what this cast do is nothing short of phenomenal.

A Monster Calls is a beautiful film, on more than just the superficial level where it already thrives. Its superb world is complimented beautifully by those that fill it. Its steady build to its predictable finale doesn’t make it any less gut wrenching. In fact, you knowing what’s coming gives you time to let that pit in your stomach settle in before the boy’s final tale is told.

I’d definitely give this film a watch. Maybe two. The creature alone is impressive enough to warrant a big screen visit. I’d love to carve out a couple of hours to go watch it again, but I genuinely don’t think I’ve got it in me to sit through it twice. I’m definitely lacking the balls for visit number two. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing the magical piece of cinema – just grab a few Kleenex on your way out the door.

Failed Critics Podcast: Fist-Fights Triple Bill

runallnightFor the first time ever (we think) there’s no Steve Norman on this week’s Failed Critics podcast as he’s still recovering from the pummeling he took at a recent charity boxing match. Rumours that it was Owen who sparked him out after a fracas over a cold dinner have neither been confirmed nor denied. Internal investigations are still ongoing.

Instead, taking over the hosting duties for one week only is Matt Lambourne, who is joined by Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker as they each pick their favourite three fist-fights in films in honour of their absent colleague’s exploits.

Before that, the trio also get around to discussing the news this past week that Bill & Ted 3 is closer than ever; they take a look at the first teaser poster for the new James Bond film SPECTRE; as well as mulling over both the latest Statham film Wild Card and the latest Neeson film Run All Night. Matt even manages to finally get the opportunity to talk about 90’s sci-fi thriller Eve Of Destruction in all its robot penis-munching glory.

Join us again next week as we’ll be looking ahead to this summer’s blockbuster season.

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Taken 3

A predictable but acceptable plot, with the always reliable modern action film icon Neeson performing well enough, belied by some dodgy direction decisions and insufferable action set pieces.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

taken 3 2Does anyone still remember 2012? It wasn’t that long ago. Back when times were simpler. Well, they were simpler for me anyway. Back then, James was still the site editor and I was just a lowly Brummie who accidentally joined his fledgling film entertainment podcast after covering for an incapacitated Gerry.

Nevertheless, it also happened to be around August of that year that I watched the original Taken film for the first time, almost two months prior to the release of its sequel. Like a lot of other people, I too loved it, as much of a latecomer as I was. As a throwback to classic Stallone-era action thrillers with its outright evil bad guy, cannon fodder in every scene and an escalating sense of dread, it was immensely entertaining. Not only that, but the European location, fast pace, brutal execution scenes and anti-hero character of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former CIA Agent hunting down the nasty non-American’s in Paris who’ve taken his daughter (Maggie Grace), it also meant it was the contemporary thriller for a new generation. It left behind the steroid-enhanced pectorals and biceps of the 80’s, the hair gel and smirking faces of the 90’s, and went instead for simply an ordinary looking (yet highly skilled) father tracking down his abducted daughter.

Each decade has its own action movies that defines it. Whether through the real blossoming of the genre in the 60’s in Where Eagles Dare, or a James Cameron blockbuster such as True Lies in the 90’s. There’s always at least one movie that seems recognisably “of its time”, yet still produces enormous amounts of satisfaction even today. I believe that the genre during the 2000’s is defined by three movies. Most notably, The Bourne Identity, Casino Royale and Taken. Not necessarily my favourites, but they’re the Die Hard‘s of their decade; the Rambo‘s of their time. At a push, in the first half of this decade, I suppose you could state that the defining action films so far would probably be The Raid and/or the comic book adventure actioners like Avengers Assemble; though there’s still plenty of time left for someone to pull a new classic out of the bag! Maybe this will finally be the decade that belongs to Van Damme? I can but hope.

As for Taken‘s sequels, they’re not quite so iconic or game changing. I’m not going to discuss Taken 2 in great detail. James made a stance back in 2012, and it seems only fair to continue to honour it. However, Taken 3 (or Tak3n as it is called by people trying to save a couple of characters in their Tweets) is fair game as far as I’m concerned.

It’s the first in the franchise to be set entirely in the USA. Immediately, that is cause for some concern. Part of what made Taken so distinguishable was that overriding Luc Besson European influence. The plot to Tak3n sees Bryan set up for the murder of his ex-wife. Using his very particular skills acquired over a long career, he is on the run from the law (led by Forest Whitaker making his debut in the series) whilst trying to get the person responsible… before they get to his daughter!

To say the previous film was great would be a lie. It isn’t. At all. The PG-13 (12A) rating held back on some of the violence and bad language, but it still had a grim ferocity underlining it. Murder was committed not in the name of justice, but revenge; and you were still somehow rooting for the guy doing it. The problem I had is that although the severity may not be as toned down as the majority of 12A movies, in most cases the more extreme moments are implied or happen off screen (which somehow makes it more acceptable to younger audiences?)

With Taken 3, this is still a problem. It too is a 12A in order to reach as wide an audience as possible, despite not actually changing the message of the film. It just has no blood and very little swearing, which suddenly means it’s fine for those under 12 to watch. Odd that, isn’t it? Best not to corrupt their mind with too many “fuck”‘s or “shit”‘s, eh? But let’s have this guy shoot someone in the face, that’s all dandy.

Sorry, went off on a bit of a tangent then. Anyway, it’s the use of jump-cuts during the action sequences that is absolutely horrendous to look at rather than the level of violence. It’s a bloody action film that, first of all, hides most of the action. If that’s not bad enough, the relentless jump-cutting during absolutely everything intended to be thrilling does little more than induce fits of nausea. I counted along with the more elaborate action scenes to see how long each shot was on screen for before it flicked to the next. Literally (literally literally, not figuratively literally) one second per shot. Whether it was Bryan first evading the police after finding Leonore’s (Famke Janssen) lifeless body in his apartment, or chasing down an aeroplane in a Porsche, there was barely any time to even register what you were seeing, nevermind make sense of it all. Bourne is often credited with originating this in the modern actioner. As per a discussion I had on Twitter recently, the word “frenetic” used to describe “a mess” instead of inferring “energy” in a scene can probably be attributed to the way the swarm of Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass copycats failed to emulate the Bourne films. But this really is a mess. Director Olivier Megaton apparently doesn’t even like action movies, yet was convinced to direct the series because he was told he was good at shooting them. Whoever told him that needs shooting.

That’s not to say the the film is entirely bad. The plot is quite a simple one, but then that’s always worked in Taken‘s favour. It’s an action-come-revenge thriller series. It has a few twists and reveals, a change of character here, an unexpected death there. It’s just that of the three so far, this is the most predictable. I don’t care what you think, nobody could’ve predicted using grenades as an impromptu sat-nav in Taken 2.

It’s not even the characters that let it down; Forest Whitaker’s introduction and dodgy police work was absolutely fine, all things considered. As were all of Neeson’s former CIA buddies, come to mention it, who I personally would’ve liked to have seen more of. Sure, the baddies are slightly generic, with their faux non-specific Eastern European accents, but they more than fulfill their role in the plot.

Liam Neeson is always watchable in these films (when you can see him in between the psychedelic jump cuts, that is). Whether it’s Unknown, The Grey or last year’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones, 7 or 8 years ago it would seem bizarre to say it, but he is now the archetypal modern action hero and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a good thing. It’s just a shame that Taken 3 is not a better platform for him to perform in.

The end of the film does suggest a Taken 4 (or T4ken) and that should be no surprise to anyone. The runaway success of the original, initially thought to be little more than a DVD-earner, suggests they will continue to make these movies until Neeson quits or Besson stops making a profit on them. With a better director, an improved script and (dare I say it) an 18 rating, there is still potential left in the series. Somewhere. Probably.

Taken 3 is in cinemas right now and you can hear Owen talk about it on the next episode of the Failed Critics podcast.

Failed Critics Podcast: BO(JCVD)GOF

marvellousWelcome all to this weeks podcast This episode has a bumper crop of new releases.. and new-ish releases..! A whopping four films out in the cinema right now receive the Failed Critics treatment. Whilst Carole reviews the latest Woody Allen movie Magic in the Moonlight and the upcoming zom-rom-com Life After Beth, Owen tackles the recent Liam Neeson crime thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones and the totes ruddy spiffing The Riot Club.

Amongst all that, the team also found time to talk about BBC’s latest Storyville season, the 1989 black comedy The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, and Steve even got in on the new-releases by reviewing the Toby Jones drama, Marvellous, shown on TV this week (and therefore still on iPlayer).

AND, if all that wasn’t enough, as a result of Owen’s quiz triumph last week, Carole & Steve’s forfeit was to watch the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Double Impact, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, that’s right! Two Van Damme’s for the price of one.

Join us next week for reviews of Denzel Washington’s new thriller, The Equalizer.

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A Walk Among The Tombstones

Although it’s a bit overly nasty at times, A Walk Among The Tombstones is a fine detective thriller.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

awattWhatever you picture when I say the words “Liam Neeson detective thriller” in that order is what A Walk Among The Tombstones delivers.  Sometimes when it comes to Liam Neeson vehicles, you get something different than what you imagined (The Grey, for example, was sold as “Liam Neeson fights wolves” and instead turned out to be a mediation on faith, humanity, death and masculinity, whilst Non-Stop revealed itself to be a deconstruction of the kind of film that you picture “Liam Neeson is an Air Marshall” to be), but here you get what you pay for.  Liam Neeson skulks around New York in a long coat, waving a fake police badge at people, gravelly asking questions and trying to figure out who the bad guys are in a town where everyone has a connection to someone and most have got something to hide.  Also, women fill the victim roles exclusively and a key factor of the identity of the killers is more than a little uncomfortable in its implications.

It’s a pulpy detective thriller that’s got shades of noir to proceedings, based on a book that I imagine, had it been released during such a time, would have been sold for about a buck fifty at a railway station somewhere.  I understand that marginalisation of women and bouts of nastiness come with the territory in a tale of manly men getting into horrible situations.  Plus, I get that they need to show the kind of stuff that they do in order to properly communicate to the viewer just how psychotic the killers are, but I still felt very uneasy during those moments and found them more than a little exploitative.  It doesn’t cross that line too often, often staying on just the right side of proceedings, but it goes full tilt when it does and, again, I felt way too uncomfortable during those moments.  You could spin this and say that the filmmakers have sufficiently done their intended job, but I’d still rather be spared it.

Outside of that, the film is pretty damn good.  I appreciate the fact that it basically gives up bothering to hide the killers in shadow after about 40 or so minutes, realising that the real tension and mystery comes from finding them before they strike again.  Liam Neeson is in reliably good form as the kind of unlicensed private detective that fits this kind of genre, and he has good chemistry with Brian “Astro” Bradley (from the underrated and under-seen Earth To Echo), here playing a street kid that Neeson ends up befriending and who, thankfully, ends up as more than just a slightly-less cartoonish version of Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch like I feared he would.  The pacing is slow but methodical, doing a good job of building the tension and giving out little pieces of plot and character development without feeling stingy.  Meanwhile, most of the film is shot with wide angles and a lack of close-ups which lends proceedings a very filmic and old-school feel, slightly cold and distant but not overly so, and it fits very well, even if the overall cinematography is still rather bland and forgettable beyond the wide shots.

I’m struggling to find other things to say, to be honest.  Again, there’s not much to A Walk Among The Tombstones that you couldn’t already guess from the premise.  It is what it is and I will cop to having enjoyed it, moments of nastiness aside.  It’s a Liam Neeson vehicle and a pretty good one at that.  There’s little else going on under the surface of that premise, not much spectacular residing in the film that sports the premise, and nothing that will cause it to cross my mind more than a week or so after having filed this review.  OK, Neeson, Bradley and David Harbour all add another great performance to their personal running totals, but that’s about it.  I got what I paid for and was pleasantly satisfied and fully engaged with what I got.  If you just want a decent detective thriller to pass two hours, then A Walk Among The Tombstones will suit you nicely.  It is what it is and what it is is pretty damn good.

Callum Petch will be running, running, running, running right back to you.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Episode CXV – A New Sound Quality

Edge of TomorrowWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast: now with added not sounding like we recorded it at the bottom of the ocean with only a drill and some bees for company. Steve, James, and Owen round up the week in film news, including the latest Star Wars rumours, and the joyous future collaboration of Nic Cage of John McTiernan.

We also review Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, and will James finally convert to Seth MacFarlane fandom after watching A Million Ways to Die in the West?

Join us next week for reviews of 22 Jump Street and (brace yourself) Grace of Monaco, and put up the bunting and get the good champagne out as we introduce our newest full-time member of the team..

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A Million Ways To Die In The West

A Million Ways To Die In The West is 30 minutes of genuinely funny material poorly and painfully stretched out over 2 hours.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-seth-macfarlane-02-636-380Full disclosure: I don’t hate Seth MacFarlane but nor do I think he’s a comedic genius.  I know that it’s the cool thing to despise the man now, and we all know that the Internet is all about that hive mind collectiveness, and he has done some questionable or just plain bad things (most of post-Season 4 Family Guy, helping to foist Dads upon a public that has done nothing to deserve such a thing, the 2013 Academy Awards), but I can’t hate him.  He worked on Johnny Bravo, Family Guy was genuinely revelatory back in the day, he has a great singing voice, he’s a super talented voice actor and, most importantly, he helped bring American Dad!, one of the best shows on television for the past decade it’s existed for, to mankind.  He’s a fallible human being who has made some gold and made some crap.  It happens to the best of us (even The Beatles made Beatles For Sale) and I happen to like the guy.

His first foray into filmmaking, 2012’s Ted, was MacFarlane at his best.  Genuinely funny, well-paced, heartfelt and mostly consistent; not every joke landed but enough did at a frequent enough rate to paper over the bum gags.  Ads for his new film have strongly played up the Ted connection, even going so far as to have frequent appearances by its title character to fully hammer home the point that “THE GUY WHO MADE TED MADE A NEW MOVIE!”  I was rather a bit confused by the move, like, I knew Ted was popular but I didn’t think it was a phenomenon or anything.  Turns out I missed the true reason why ads for this one were playing up Ted, they’re trying to coax people into the cinema based on residual good will because A Million Ways To Die In The West is disappointingly underwhelming from start to finish.

Set in 1882 Arizona, MacFarlane plays cowardly sheep-farmer Albert whose girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) has dumped him after he publically embarrasses himself during a gunfight.  Thrown into a funk when he spots her dating the supreme dickweed known as Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) and sick of living in a town where death is almost literally around every corner, he resolves to move to San Francisco.  Plans change when he saves a woman, Anna (Charlize Theron), during a bar fight, becomes friends with her and, in a moment of impulse, challenges Foy to a gunfight.  Oh, and Anna is actually married to a notorious outlaw named Clinch (Liam Neeson) who is a murderer, a wife abuser, is inbound to Albert’s town and is kind of a despicable person with no redeeming qualities and isn’t even entertainingly evil to make up for said fact.  One of these things is not like the others.

If Ted and A Million Ways To Die In The West share anything quality-wise, it’s the problem that the jokes dry up when the plot gets involved.  Ted had the crazed stalker plot that, thankfully, was mostly kept to the side-lines until the last third.  However, that still managed to sneak some jokes and heart by even when it ended up overtaking the film’s final third.  A Million Ways… has Clinch.  Clinch is much like the stalker from Ted in that he appears near the beginning and then makes himself scarce until he can show up in the last third, but here Clinch is completely unnecessary to the main plot.  Albert has basically completed his arc when Clinch shows up and all his appearance succeeds in doing is adding another bump in the road of Anna and Albert’s relationship, giving Albert a more traditional and infinitely weaker arc-capper; and dragging the movie out for another 40 minutes so that it can hit that two hour length that all comedies, apparently by royal decree at this point, feel the need to run for.  He feels extraneous to the film and his total despicable human routine isn’t even entertaining to watch, he’s just horrible and creepy which doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film.

Why do all comedies nowadays feel the need to run for two hours, whilst we’re close to the subject?  Like, what is gained by dragging the runtime into triple digits and dos hours?  All that usually ends up occurring is audience fatigue and a whole bunch of very obvious filler, jokes and scenarios that outstay their welcome or just plain aren’t funny to begin with.  Very few films are going to be The Wolf Of Wall Street, where the high quality of jokes and the pacing of the film are actually sustained throughout the entire runtime!  I mean, how hard is it to hire an actual editor or somebody to just say “no” to yet another over-long improv scene or extended piece of toilet humour?  Quality over quantity, people!

Anyways, Clutch isn’t the only time the plot gets in the way of the laughs.  A lot, and I mean a surprising amount of a lot, of scenes that depict the bonding of Anna and Albert are written sans jokes.  I mean, I’m going to assume that most of them are purposefully sans jokes, because there were a hell of a lot of scenes between them where nothing particularly funny was said or occurred in their general vicinity.  So, because of this and most of the Clinch stuff, that’s a fair amount of this supposed comedy that’s not being played for laughs.  It’s weird, I honestly don’t know if MacFarlane and his co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild understand how to make jokes out of or cram jokes into plot points.  So, again, there are long stretches of this film that don’t have any jokes and we end up with a film that has a man taking a dump into another man’s hat in one ten minute stretch, and in the next ten minute stretch has a scene in which Clinch beats Anna and all but openly threatens to rape her (again, for whatever it’s worth, that latter scene is played dead straight).  The tones don’t gel and the film never quite feels right because of it.

The other reason why A Million Ways To Die In The West never feels quite right is because it forgot to bring enough jokes to fill those two hours it runs for.  If Ted was more MacFarlane than his co-writers Sulkin and Wild (gags that are rooted in character work, genuine likeable characters, plot events that actually tied into furthering the characters instead of just going, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”), then A Million Ways… is more Sulkin and Wild (the people responsible for Dads, if you were wondering).  So we get pop culture references (not parodies) for the sake of pop culture references (say what you want about the Flash Gordon bit in Ted, it was at least rooted in the characters and served a plot-based reason for existing), gags that run for far too long and then run a bit longer for good measure (said aforementioned hat dump scene), gross-out gags that use their grossness as the set-up, delivery and punch-line (“Look!  Seth MacFarlane’s face is being peed on by a sheep!  That’s hilarious,” said people with questionably low standards in humour), and jokes about ethnic stereotypes (there’s an extended bit involving Native Americans that I still can’t decide as to whether it’s a parody of stereotypical depictions of Native Americans in film or just an offensive stereotypical depiction of Native Americans in film).

There’s little heart, here, little rhyme or reason to the gags and a very tiny amount of actual one-liners or funny exchanges.  It’s not just Sulkin and Wild, though, MacFarlane indulges in his worst impulses too.  Beating jokes into the ground (there’s a continual joke about how nobody smiles in old photos that officially stops being funny by the third, of at least five, time it’s brought up), constant smug knowing references to the setting and set-up of the film that fail to adequately masquerade as actual jokes, over-long action scenes that lack thrills (only the first of which, a bar brawl, contains anything close to resembling a joke or thrill worthy of its existence) and a musical number, which everyone is subjected to twice even though it wasn’t good or catchy or funny the first time (unless you find the word “moustache” inherently hilarious).

It’s all even more of a shame because there are some actually genuinely funny jokes here.  Granted, half of them were shown in the first trailer, but there are still some legitimately funny gags in there.  Jokes at Albert’s total ineptitude at his sheep herding job are almost always funny, the sudden deaths are great bits of physical comedy, as is most of Albert’s training montage, the prior mentioned bar fight has a very funny gag for Albert and his friend that almost smooth over the total ineptitude shown in the direction of the fight itself, and a montage of Albert’s crapsack of a life prior to the events of the film pulls a steady stream of legitimate laughs until it brings out a group of dwarves to laugh at.  Those aren’t all of the jokes, but they are the majority of the better ones (and you can probably also throw anything that comes out of Neil Patrick Harris’ purposefully-trying-too-hard mouth onto that pile too) and they total about 30 minutes of film.  And, yes, that is a problem for a film that runs just shy of two hours.  It also doesn’t help that the film is front-loaded with the best gags as hour two involves the return of Clutch and we’ve already touched on how well the film handles plot.

A Million Ways To Die In The West’s main saving grace, in addition to the fact that I actually laughed at it (unlike with, say, Blended), is MacFarlane himself in his first lead role on-camera.  He brilliantly nails the ultra-pathetic side of Albert and is fully committed to everything his script tells him to do.  He’s got a natural charm that he brings to his work, too, which keeps the character likeable instead of just plain pathetic.  It’s all best exemplified relatively early on with a sequence in which Albert flips out and starts ranting about how much he hates living in The West and just how dangerous the place is.  Neil Patrick Harris is the film’s other standout performer, although everybody proves themselves to be funny when the script actually lets them tell a joke or be funny, which is more of a rarity than one may think.  Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi are especially wasted as Albert’s friends, a devout Christian prostitute and her boyfriend respectively.  The film sets up an actual subplot with them, involving the pair wondering if they’re ready to have sex with one another, and they have a legitimately sweet chemistry together… but the film promptly drops both of them completely for the middle hour and then brings them back for glorified cameos in the last 30 minutes.  It’s a total waste of talent, if you hadn’t already guessed.

Sigh.  Writing this review is bumming me out.  I really wanted this one to be good, folks!  I’ve had a lot of disappointments ever since The Raid 2 went and blew all my expectations away.  Godzilla, X-Men, Maleficent, even The Wind Rises!  I’m supposed to be due a win, by this point.  To see a film that fully lived up to its potential or track record.  But unfortunately A Million Ways To Die In The West is not that movie.  It’s too long, too infrequent in quality laughs and lacking in actual gags anyway.  Humour is especially subjective, so you may enjoy it far more than I did, but I found myself checking my watch a lot during that second hour and wishing that everybody involved had tried harder.  Because MacFarlane can do better but he and his co-writers indulge in all of their worst vices, here, and a very funny 30 minute sitcom episode or TV special is instead stretched out into a mildly amusing but hugely disappointing two hour film.  Simply put, it doesn’t work and that’s a damn shame.

Callum Petch will give you want you want.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Khumba

KhumbaIt tries really hard, which is more than I can say for most kids’ films I’ve seen, but Khumba is still not a good film.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

My continuing quest to absorb all of the animation as it happens is one often fraught with feelings of despair and sadness.  Usually because the medium, which is one filled with possibilities in both the story-telling and artistic senses, is mostly used by film companies to pump out mediocre, by-the-numbers and, saddest of all, soulless products designed to strip money from kids who, presumably, don’t know any better.  And that bums me out.  Just because animated kids’ films almost always seem to make money, doesn’t mean that accountants should be in charge of their production in order to boost the bottom line at the end of the year.

Khumba, the second effort from South African production company Triggerfish Animation (previous of Zambesia), does not have that problem.  Whatever other failings it does have, they’re not caused by a lack of effort or interest in the project.  This wants to be a good film, it is trying to be a good film and that earnestness infects most every facet of the film, which is more than I can say for some other low-budget animated films I’ve had the displeasure of seeing.  Unfortunately, earnestness and enthusiasm can only carry a film so far and Khumba falls down on the whole “being a good film” side quite majorly.

Our story follows Khumba (Jake T. Austin), a zebra born with only half of his stripes much to the mockery of the rest of his herd.  He is raised by his father (Laurence Fishburne) in a gated community in the Great Caroo that hasn’t had any rain since he was born which the very superstitious herd blames on his birth, not helping his outcast nature.  One day, he meets a mantis who draws him a map that leads to a supposedly mystical water hole that may give him the rest of his stripes.  Tired of being different and spurred into action by the passing of his sick mother, Khumba ventures out into the wild, gaining two travel companions, a wildebeest named Mama V (Loretta Devine) and an ostrich named Bradley (Richard E. Grant), being pursued by an opportunistic leopard named Phango (Liam Neeson) and leaving the herd to decide on their future when the water runs dry.

It sounds messy and overstuffed (needless to say, Khumba and co. run into a whole bunch of other eccentric characters through the film’s svelte 85 minute run time) but the script does a good job at balancing proceedings.  It only asks the audience to invest in a few characters, the rest basically wander in and out of proceedings as a way to provide action or humour or one of the film’s overall messages of “doesn’t matter what species(race) you are, everyone is still a living thing at heart and we should come together in celebration of that fact”.  Honestly, I’m OK with that.  The film is very clear as to who we need to invest emotionally with and I prefer this approach to the kind of mess Escape From Planet Earth had where it tried to put stories and character arcs and the like to all of its characters in its 80 minutes and came off rushing things as a result.

A mostly interested voice cast also help truck along proceedings, even if some of them aren’t very good.  Chief among those not very good is Jake T. Austin as Khumba, he does seem to be interested in proceedings but his line readings are the definition of stilted.  Sometimes his line deliveries have passion and suit proceedings, other times they’re flat or the wrong direction for the scene.  Fairing much better is Richard E. Grant as the film’s main source of comic relief, he may not get anything funny to say but he nails the pompous theatricality inherent in the lines.  Loretta Devine exudes motherly warmth whilst Laurence Fishburne just about stays on the right side of the line between “gentle paternal authority” and “phoning it in”, ditto Liam Neeson but replace “gentle paternal authority” with “menacing villainy”.  Plus, littering about the film are professional voice actors in several of those supporting roles, like Charlie Adler as the leader of some Rock Rabbits and Dee Bradley Baker as a doting Meerkat father, which pleases me, a staunch supporter of giving professional VAs large-ish roles in animated movies, to no end.

The score backing this thing, by the way, is actually really rather interesting.  It does operate predominately in the same way that American-made animated films soundtrack proceedings, lots of orchestral bombast during action sequences and light bouncy music for most everything else, but it also infuses it with elements of traditional South African and country road-trip music.  It’s definitely unique and helps give Khumba its own feel.  Admittedly, it doesn’t always work, the addition of vocal wailing on the score over the fake-out death at the end of the movie only serves to push the scene into overwrought parody territory, but it is different and it fits the travelling scenes very nicely.

Unfortunately, that’s about it on the list of things that Khumba is good at.  See, enthusiasm and heart can only take you so far and Khumba has three key issues that keep it from being worth your time.  The first of which is the quality of its animation.  At best, it’s sub-par.  Character designs for the different species are nice and distinct, even rather good in some cases (a recurring wild dog voiced by Steve Buscemi in particular has a tiny stature, specific wide eyes, mangy quality to his overall being and yet is still rather cute in his own way), but individual character designs are neither of those things.  Despite how much time we spend with the zebra herd, I could not confidently tell you which one is supposed to be Khumba’s father if you put the lot of them in a line-up.  This is used as the basis for a joke with a gang of Springbok, but that only serves to call attention to the problem, not explain it away.

As for when things start moving, it’s all over the place.  Lighting and shading lack detail as does pretty much everything else in the film (a brief section set on a dusty plain during high winds just looks like an Instagram filter has been overlaid on the action).  Movement switches between unnaturally fluid and noticeably jerky between shots, the one constant being that all actions take a few frames less to perform than they should do which creates a disconcertingly fake and cheap feel.  There’s a frequent tendency, too, to underplay certain gestures.  Bradley gets a sudden musical number (the only instance of one throughout the whole film so it does awkwardly stick out) but his accompanying dancing is too restrained, too hemmed in and so the whole thing feels awkward.  Meanwhile, chroma-keying (the act of animating characters separate from the backgrounds and then digitally adding them in later) is very noticeable and disappointingly frequent.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a budget problem, more an issue of inexperience.  After all, you can do a lot on a little over this film’s $20 million budget (just look at most any feature-length Anime), and the issues mostly stem from problems that could have been avoided.  Don’t have the budget to animate all of the frames necessary to move Character A to Expression B in Position C?  Then work around that, find an exploitative loophole.  It’s animation!  You can use that bending of reality to your advantage if you do it well enough.  I got the constant feeling that a few more years of experience and practice under the animation team’s belt would have managed to make a pretty great looking film considering the budget.  But there are just a surplus of rookie mistakes littering the animation and it exposes the whole enterprise as cheap.

The inexperience similarly shows in a screenplay that liberally borrows from other, often resoundingly better animated films.  There are cribs and shout-outs from and to Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Fantasia, The Black Cauldron, Rio, Madagascar and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (hey, I said “often better” not “always better”) and those are the ones I actively noticed.  It’s not done in the way that more cynical animated kids’ films do it, there is a genuine love for the source material it cribs from and its aim is to use these references to further its own story.  The issue is that the non-cribbed material is not particularly engaging and the execution of the borrowed material never quite works, it hits those points without getting why they work.

It’s all stuff that I’ve seen before and better executed in those other places.  Khumba wants to use its borrowed material to help boost its own story but it only serves to highlight how… middling its own story is.  None of the characters are particularly unlikable but I didn’t feel an attachment to any of them, either.  The story beats are rote and uninspired, failing to put any new twists on them to justify their being trotted out for the hundred-millionth time.  There are some occasional mysticism and superstition elements thrown in to try and make things seem more epic but inadvertently only serve to needlessly clutter the finale and the villain’s motivation.  Again, none of this is to a lack of trying, but it means the film never rises above its pastiche of references to stand up with its own identity besides the enthusiasm.

One last issue is down to pacing.  Now, normally when I talk about pacing, I mean it in the sense of “this film is way too long/short” because that’s the most noticeable kind of bad pacing.  Khumba is the perfect length, it never drags and it never charges through things at 200MPH.  The issue is that the action on screen never seems to get out of first gear.  Action scenes are too gentle, too slovenly, there are no stakes and no danger because nothing feels deadly or intimidating because nothing particularly seems to happen in them.  There’s an early section where Khumba, Mama V and Bradley are surrounded and pounced on by a group of wild dogs but the whole sequence plays out with all the urgency of being harassed by a couple of rogue fleas.  The animation too stiff, the camerawork too static, the music remains sedentary.  Almost every action scene is like this and it kills a lot of investment because these characters are clearly not in any danger so why should I worry about what happens to them?

It bums me out to have to type this review, it truly does.  See, ripping apart a soulless bad movie is easy: it’s clear that nobody involved cared about the product other than the bottom line it generates so there’s precisely no reason to feel bad about treating it like a leopard treats its prey.  Having to dismantle a bad film that is trying really, desperately hard to be a good film is akin to kicking out Tiny Tim’s crutches as you walk past him, or deliberately performing an elaborate tap dance routine in front of people paralysed from the waist down, or going around to the houses of those who made the film and taking a dump on their front lawns whilst they watch.  You’re going to feel bad, unless you’re a monster, because the victim is so earnest and desperately trying to avoid being deserving of the sentence you’re flinging down on them.

And that’s Khumba.  It’s earnest, it’s got heart and it thinks that is all it needs to win because heart and good intentions can overcome poor execution, right?  It’s the scrappy underdog in the sports movie that’s not the best at the game but still triumphs in the end because believing in yourself despite your sub-par abilities conquers all, right?  Sadly, though, reality ensues in this metaphor and Khumba’s noble intentions and excitement to be here is negated by poor animation, stake-less action and an inability to rise above the influences it has a good deal of respect for.  Hopefully, Triggerfish Animation use this as a learning experience and come back with something better next time because there is clearly potential and love coming from that studio and it saddens me to see inexperience sink that.

Callum Petch wants you to know he’s a rainbow too.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Oscars Special

Oscars JmsIt lasts for hours, is achingly smug and self satisfied, and features drunk people making fools of themselves. But enough about the Failed Critics Podcast – this week we’re talking about the Oscars. Who deserved it, who can count themselves very lucky, and should any of us even care?

We’ll also be offering our advice to the Academy on how to fix the Oscars (as in mend it, not ensure that tripe like Crash never wins again), and even find time to review the new Liam Neeson film, Non-Stop.

We’re back next week at the normal time with reviews of Grand Budapest Hotel and 300: Rise of an Empire.

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Non-Stop

Non-stopYou should go and see Non-Stop.  It’s pretty good.

by Callum Petch 

Non-Stop works best if you go into it blind, as I did.  I knew nothing about this film going in, hadn’t seen a trailer, nor an advertisement, nor nothing.  Just the one vague poster of star Liam Neeson with his gun drawn in a John Woo-ish pose, an even vaguer tagline “The hacking was just the beginning” and a rare positive review from The AV Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.  That’s it.  I am glad that that’s all I knew because it meant that I had no preconceptions other than the hope that, at most, it would be an enjoyably dumb thriller; the kind that Liam Neeson has spent over half a decade re-inventing his career with.  You deserve to go in with that similar kind of sentiment, because you should see Non-Stop.  So, if you want to know more than that vague recommendation or you need selling on the film, because the best thing the film has going for it takes a while to become apparent and it is best to go in not expecting it, then continue reading.  If, on the other hand, an urging to go and see it by a cantankerous stranger is all you need, then stop reading now and go and see Non-Stop.  Your choice, incidentally, is the preferable one.

Are you gone?

Last chance.

I’ll take that as an “I’m gone” or an “I don’t care”.  OK, then.

Non-Stop works chiefly for two reasons.  The first is that it commits fully to its high-concept premise, keeping the focus on Neeson and his desperate attempts to find out who’s behind the threat throughout and wringing every last possible piece of tension from it.  The second reason is that, despite (or, hell, perhaps even because of) its suspension-of-disbelief premise, Non-Stop is actually a pretty brutal subversion and deconstruction of the kind of one-man-army loner-hero action-thrillers that have become Neeson’s bread and butter over the past few years.  Not as much as you’re probably thinking, but still more so than I was both expecting and thought that studios would allow in their mid-budget action vehicles.

But we shall get to that.  The premise: Neeson plays Bill Marks, a US Federal Air Marshall who is an alcoholic, paranoid and very irritable and unstable fellow.  He’s marshalling a non-stop flight from New York to London filled with a veritable who’s-who of character actors and “Hey, it’s that one guy from that one thing!” (Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Michelle Doherty, Lupita Nyong’o, Scoot McNairy among many others) when his phone is hacked.  Someone on the plane is threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into an account.  So, Marks is on a race against time to find the person responsible… except that said account is under Marks’ name and his prior history, as well as nearly everything he ends up doing on the plane trying to find the person responsible, makes him out to be the number one suspect to everyone except himself.

And that’s where the deconstruction comes in.  See, Marks behaves much like the hero of any other Liam Neeson vehicle (with the exception of The Grey, as anyone who actually watched that film will quite happily tell you).  He strides about in fury, he refuses to tell anybody else about what’s really going on, he’s invasive, accusing, he roughs up suspects if they’re not immediately co-operative, he trusts few and almost gleefully burns bridges with those he does the second that they appear to be hiding something.  What separates Non-Stop from, say, Taken is that Marks is uniformly punished for his behaviour.  Everything he does only riles up the other passengers, raises suspicion at himself and plays right into the villain’s hands.  In other words: reality, more or less, ensues.  It gets to the point where Marks arguably turns into a bigger villain than the one offing passengers and demonstrates just how much manipulation stories like these need to turn somebody like Marks into a guy that we root for.  It’s not exactly subtle, and people more familiar with this kind of deconstruction will likely find nothing particularly original here, but it adds a nice layer of depth that the film, quite honestly, didn’t need to have but is most definitely appreciated.

Because, undoubtedly, this is a great thriller in its own right and that’s because it commits totally to its premise.  The perspective is with Marks throughout, only occasionally cutting away to the other passengers voicing their legitimate concerns about Marks and even less occasionally (like, about 4 times after the plane gets into the air and before the finale kicks in) to a shot of the plane flying alone with no recognisable landmarks, just to re-enforce the fact that these people are alone and nobody else can save them.  There are lots of long takes where the camera dollies along the aisles or follows Neeson as he accusingly stares out for the next possible suspect.  Unless the action really heats up, Non-Stop does not particularly like quick cuts and that, combined with the almost singular focus on Marks (the film saves the unmasking of the villains until the finale; smartest choice it makes), helps keep the tension high.

In addition, director Juame Collet-Sera (who has worked with Neeson before on the not-very-good Unknown) and the film’s three writers (John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle) know how to turn the screws.  People more insistent on thinking through the overall plot will get hung up on how seemingly unbelievable it gets, but the constant plot turns and the wrong-footing of Marks (again, almost everything the guy does plays into the villain’s hands) kept me enthralled throughout because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.  How the villains would get one over on Marks, or which seemingly innocent character may actually have something to hide (or, more pertinently, is actually perfectly innocent but just happened to cough in the general direction of Marks) or when the villain would get in touch with Marks again.  If nothing else, this is the most dreaded I have been by the sound of a ringing bell (Marks’ message alert) since Season 2 of Breaking Bad.  It’s a pretty nerve-wracking film, is what I’m getting at here.

If I’m honest, the only things stopping Non-Stop from being the best thriller of the last five years are the last 20 – 30 minutes.  When the film’s deconstructive undercurrent should go straight for the jugular, it instead pulls back; decides that that’s good enough and settles for an action-packed and slightly uplifting climax.  I mean, it’s not a bad climax.  Not in the slightest.  It’s very exciting, basically encompassing everybody’s worst fears about being stuck on a plane, and contains the same stylish verve and tension that the thriller aspects demonstrated for the opening 70-odd minutes.  But it is kinda disappointing to see the film, which had spent the prior 70 minutes being above it, relax into being a silly Liam Neeson action vehicle.  Again, none of this is bad but it is a straight-forward climax that’s more crowd-please-y than what came before.

Oh, and I should comment on the motives of the villain: they’re dumb.  The reveal of who’s behind the threat is great, unquestionably, and it helps patch over what would otherwise have been several gaping plot holes.  But the reveal as to why they’re doing what they’re doing?  It’s ridiculous, even for a movie with this concept.  It didn’t derail the film too much for me, because almost as soon as their speechifying is done we’re straight into our silly action climax and the prior 70 minutes built up a lot of good will for me, but I know for a fact that it will be a deal-breaker for a lot of people who may have been lulled into believing they were watching a thriller with real brains beforehand.  The problem comes from the fact that it makes the film’s subtext (not the deconstruction of Jack Bauer-type heroes, the other one that I’ve opted not to mention for this very reason) straight text, in a last-minute attempt to be a film with something to openly say.  Your tolerance for this is going to depend on how much the destination on these kinds of things affects your overall enjoyment.

Because, make no mistake, Non-Stop is one hell of a ride.  A smart, unbearably tense thriller that’s well acted and stylishly directed.  A great deconstruction of the usual Liam Neeson action fare and a fun thriller in its own right.  It may wuss out on the deconstruction and subversion element when it should be time to twist the knife, and the motivations of its villain are dumb in a bad way, but the film has earned enough good will by that point to allow itself the opportunity to have its big action climax.  I went into Non-Stop with no expectations and was really impressed by what I saw and I see no reason why you can’t give it a chance, too.  I really enjoyed this one.

Callum Petch sits and waits for wasted time.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Yes, I like Love Actually. Do you want to take this outside?

A couple of months back my twitter timeline exploded with people dismayed to find themselves watching Love Actually. From what I could tell, they weren’t being held against their will. They couldn’t bear to switch it off, but needed to justify their actions with derision.

For a start, they’re doing it wrong. Everyone knows the official date to watch Love Actually is 20th November – exactly five weeks before Christmas, and the day on which the film commences. While watching a movie that’s so laughably bad you have to provide a running commentary of its failures is fun, if you honestly hate the fact that you’re doing so, I’m willing to bet there are a couple of other films out there you haven’t seen yet, and could watch instead. Besides, where’s your festive spirit?!

Richard Curtis continues his expedition into the world of romantic comedy in this all star Christmas extravaganza. Before the opening song titles (a nod to Four Weddings and a Funeral, his first foray into the genre) are over we’ve met Bill Nighy the aging rockstar; Liam Neeson the widow; Emma Thompson the harassed mum, and Keira Knightley the sickeningly beautiful bride. This is exactly how the world looks inside Curtis’s head: a bunch of attractive middle class people who say ‘fuck’ a lot, and Hugh Grant as Prime Minister

The plot is full of holes. I won’t list them all; watch it and pick your favourite. Mine is the fact that they schedule a concert, starring children from a number of different primary schools (even St Basil’s) on Christmas Eve. That would never happen! Which leads directly onto the whole airport debacle. But I’m not going to mention that, as I generally disregard the entire kid storyline on the grounds that it’s a bit shit. Nonetheless, it’s worth it. It’s worth it for Colin Firth‘s swagger when he walks out of the room post jumping in the lake segment. For the thought of Colin Firth learning Spanish for you. For his adorably slow typing. Colin Firth, Colin Firth, Colin Firth.

I love the Wisconsin storyline. And that was surprising starring, as it does, the dude from My Family, who I was predisposed to hate on sight. But it’s just the right kind of silly, the geeky guy from Basildon getting to have all the sex with Betty Draper, Kim Bauer, and other screen hotties. Plus actor Kris Marshall landed the BT love advert series off the back of his stint at the Richard Curtis school of romance acting. We may have grown tired of Adam & Jane at the time, but they were vastly superior to a bunch of filthy students posturing about their Infinity package we have now.

And beautiful Laura Linney. Bringing a slice of realism to proceedings, offsetting the Mr Bean nonsense entirely. In standard chick flicks, you either get your desired outcome or your comeuppance. You never see a good guy get a non happy ending. This is real life in action. Well, real life if your boss was a pervy Alan Rickman hell bent on getting you laid, if you lived in a gorgeous mews house in central London, and if you had the stoic dignity of Laura Linney. She is never once shown cry-sniffing until she chokes a bit on her own snot backwash, which I admit  is a teensy bit far fetched.

I could (and will, on request) write a whole other post on why the Ant & Dec cameo makes me proud, how I strive to parent like Emma Thompson, or why the end credit footage makes me want to move into Terminal 5.

Dear Love Actually. Ignore the haters. For now let me say, without hope or agenda. Just because it’s Christmas (And at Christmas you tell the truth). To me, you are perfect. And my wasted heart will love you until you look like this. [Insert picture of generic rom com flop, set in June and not starring Laura Linney]

Read the 12 Days of Christmas Films so far, or watch Love Actually when it’s next on TV. (Probably sometime in April.)

Why we will not be reviewing Taken 2

“It seems to me that more and more we’ve come to expect less and less from each other, and I think that should change” – Aaron Sorkin

If my life was an Aaron Sorkin TV show not only would I be funnier (and probably fitter from all the walking and talking), but today would be the day I made a principled and ultimately futile stand against something that is going very wrong in the industry that I love.

A small, and very deluded, part of me feels I am following in the fictional footsteps of Jed Bartlett or Will McAvoy today. Enough is enough, and someone needs to take a stand.

As we mentioned on this week’s Failed Critics Review, Taken 2 (the sequel to the trashy but entertaining Liam Neeson revenge-thriller Taken) has received a 12a certificate for cinema release in the UK. We were worried this would lead to a toning-down of the violence and bad language in a film franchise which previously relied entirely on violence and bad language.

Overnight the first reviews have started to appear online, and it looks as though things are worse than we feared. The language and violence has been cut, but in such a way that scenes now apparently make now sense.

Den of Geek have written a wonderful piece on Taken 2’s decision to seek a 12a certificate and the recent trend of studios to provide an ‘uncut’ version of films for home release. They’ve also reviewed the film, and have given their readers the full facts to make up their own minds.

But we will not be reviewing Taken 2.

Failed Critics is a very small blog run by me in my spare time and with contributions from people also giving up their spare time. We don’t get to see press previews of films weeks ahead of release. When we review a film on the podcast, it’s based entirely on the experience we had of paying to watch a film in a cinema.

And I am not going to pay a penny to watch Taken 2.

We’ve paid to see some pretty terrible films this year. I don’t begrudge spending my money on any of them (even the exceedingly lazy Dark Shadows) as I realise that the deficiencies in those films may not only be subjective, but will if they do exist they are caused by constraints of creativity, talent, money, or a misguided belief of ‘what the public want’.

The Taken 2 situation is different in that they have a cut of the film they know is better, but they would rather put out an inferior product that they know doesn’t work purely to get 12 year olds (and younger) to come and see the film.

Let’s look at that again. A company is knowingly putting out an inferior product, and they expect us to still pay full price for it. Then they hope we’ll pay again for the privilege to watch the ‘fixed’ product.

That naked greed and disregard for their customers shouldn’t be rewarded.

There’s also a moral issue here. Should we really be condoning a company that wants to market Death Wish-style films to children? Personally I have never seen a credible link between movie violence and violent behavior in children – but that still doesn’t mean that certain films are appropriate for children to watch. What happened to the divide between adult and family entertainment? The answer to falling cinema attendances is not to retool adult films to get more kids through the doors. Choose who your market is, and make the very best films for that market that you can.

Last weekend the top two films at the UK box office were Dredd and Lawless. Both very violent and stylized 18 certificate films. Dredd’s bravery in unfashionably going for an 18 certificate was rewarded, and will almost inevitably lead to a captive audience for sequels. If there’s any justice, Taken 2 will be the end of the Taken franchise as we know.

As consumers we don’t have many choices, but the choices we do have are powerful. Don’t give your hard-earned money to studios that show you no respect. I’m not saying that every film released should, or even can be a masterpiece. All I’m saying is that studios and distributors should do us the courtesy of releasing they very best products that they can.

That is why we will not review Taken 2 until we get access to the cut the director intended us to watch.