Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes do not podcast with their microphones; he who podcasts with his microphone has forgotten the face of his father. They podcast with their friends, Maaya Brooker and Liam, as the each pick their three favourite Stephen King movies for this week’s triple bill episode, in addition to a review of the sci-fi / horror / fantasy author’s latest big screen adaptation, The Dark Tower.
All hope abandon, ye who download this podcast as Steve, Owen, Brooker and Liam invite you into one of their seven circles of Hell for a special religious movies themed triple bill, just in time for Easter.
It’s just gone midnight on Christmas Eve, which means those of you who have managed stay up past your bedtime and wait for Father Christmas can officially open one of your presents early! I’ve got the perfect one for you, right here…
This brand new episode is a three and a half hour long ‘best of’ the Failed Critics Podcast from the past 12 months, all cobbled together into some kind of Christmas TV type compilation episode. There’s all of our favourite bits, including Paul’s famous quizzes, reviews of Mob Handed and Killer Bitch, every single booby-prize that Owen and Steve put each other through, all of our pre-titles and post-credit stingers, and loads more.
It’s not gift wrapped. It’s not store-bought. There’s no receipt so you can’t go and exchange it for any other podcast during the Boxing Day sales. But hopefully it’ll keep you company should you be enduring any agonisingly long car journeys over this festive period.
Merry Christmas all and a happy new year from everyone here at Failed Critics!
As the 36th Cambridge Film Festival nears its conclusion, we round-up and preview some of the best independent and international movies that you still have a chance to see!
In this episode, Owen Hughes guides you through our pick of the bunch as he’s joined by our world cinema experts Liam and Andy (who you may remember contributed to our World Cinema Special podcast back in January).
From Romanian and Greek, to Ecuadorian and Colombian films. From docu-dramas to short film compilations. On topics as diverse as incest and the Russian avant-garde movement. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just off the beaten track from the usual mainstream cinema, then we’ve got you covered.
In the podcast, we chat about:
Cloudy Sunday – Showing Wednesday 26th October, 4pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Next Generation Tiger Shorts 2016 – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Cinemobile)
Wonderland – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Between Sea and Land – Wed 26th 8pm (Arts Picturehouse) & Thu 27th 12.45pm (cinemobile)
Alba – Thursday 27th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Illegitimate – Thursday 27th, 6.15pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Plus the Dutch Scottish drama Bodkin Ras, high-brow documentary Revolution – New Art for a New World, and Andy’s favourite from the festival, Austrian drama One of Us. All of which you’re too late to catch at the festival, but are worth digging out if you can find them!
Yeehaw, listeners! It’s a darn tootin’ mighty fine show we’ve got for you this week. Hosts Steve ‘the kid’ Norman and Smilin’ Owen Hughes are joined by pardners The Liam With No Surname and Django Brooker for a special westerns triple bill episode.
Their pistols are cocked and ready to fire on each of their favourite three westerns in honour of this week’s big new release, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun amongst others.
A ‘west’ inspired quiz opened the podcast with the score delicately poised at 2-2 between Owen and Steve, who was just one loss away from watching the abhorrent Killer Bitch. There was also time for a short chat about the furore over the latest images from the Jumanji sequel.
Join us again next week for reviews of Deepwater Horizon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Influenced by this week’s triple bill, getting ideas above their station and blowing a huge amount of money on an extravagant holiday because they didn’t quite know what else to do with it, Steve Norman and Owen Hughes return in a feature-length edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. With the help of their good friend Liam, the trio ramp things up to 11 and have a great time doing it!
I mean, that’s what you do when you turn an otherwise weekly serialised show into a big-budget production, right? Send all your mates on holiday to piss about in the sun whilst blowing huge wads of cash on a subpar (albeit much, much longer) episode of what you normally do?
Well, at least this episode isn’t subpar, even if it is longer than usual, as the Failed Critics each choose their three favourite movie adaptations of TV shows and/or characters.
Everything was up for grabs, from “much loved” family flicks like The Simpsons Movie (nobody chose it), PopEye (not a chance) and The Flintstones (you must be kidding), to big-budget Hollywood re-inventions like Mission:Impossible (not a sausage), The Man From UNCLE (close but no cigar) and The Equaliser (I hate to break it to you, but…). It really could have been anything. The Sweeney! (nope), Dad’s Army (nuh-uh) or even The Last Airbender (absolutely not, no way, not a snowflake’s chance in hell!)
As mentioned, this was a pretty full-on episode. Not only did we pack in all of the triple bill choices, but we even found time for Owen to review 1960’s classic horror The Innocents on Liam’s recommendation, for Steve to dissect modern-war drama Lone Survivor, and for Liam to scratch his head over the documentary Spellbound. The news this week also saw the team look back on the work of the recently departed Caroline Aherne and Michael Cimino as well as Chris Evans stepping down from Top Gear.
Join us again next week as something strange happens in our neighbourhood. Where’d I put that phone..?
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics Podcast. With Steve Norman away on holiday, it was up to Underground Nights‘s host Paul Field to sit in the driver’s seat and lead Owen and Liam through one hour and 45 minutes of film chat, reviews, discussions and old-man-misery.
The show begins as it always does – with a quiz! – before moving on to the latest news including The Passion of the Christ 2 (yes, it’s getting a sequel) and Kevin Smith’s long-awaited sequel-turned-TV-show Mallbrats.
In What We’ve Been Watching, Paul kicks-off with a review of Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz’s exceptional and chilling documentary, Credit For Murder, as he tracks down members of Russia’s notorious Neo-Nazi party N.S.O. who have claimed ownership of a brutal beheading video that appeared on YouTube in 2007. Meanwhile, our resident obscurist international-film fan Liam reviews the Shakespearean tribal-love story Tanna, filmed entirely on the remote South Pacific island of Tanna. Lastly, Owen has a few choice words for a documentary that popped up on Netflix recently, the Resurrection of Jake the Snake.
Finally, we end the show with our usual round-up of the latest films to hit the cinema: Owen defends The Conjuring 2 as James Wan ruffles Paul’s feathers; Liam just about finds some nice things to say about Learning to Drive; Paul has a new favourite Michael Moore documentary with Where to Invade Next?; and there’s a very mild disagreement between the trio over Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy, The Boss.
From quirky Bulgarian movies to Jordan’s Oscar nominations. From 1931 in Germany to 2013 in Hong Kong. From the poetic realism of France to the period dramas of Afghanistan. This week’s Failed Critics Podcast is taking a truly global slant.
We could think of no better guests for our second ever World Cinema Special than aficionados Monsieur Liam and Herr Andrew Alcock. Along with regular hosts Signore Steve Norman and Señor Owen Hughes, together the team take a look at films from all over the world in both What We’ve Been Watching and this week’s triple bill. The caveat this time is that the Failed Critics had to pick three films each from three different countries, with some surprising – and some not so surprising – choices from our crew!
Join us again next week as Steve and Owen are joined by Failed Critics founder, grandmaster, and all round spiritual leader, James Diamond, as we prepare to induct another great of cinema into our Corridor of Praise.
As 2015 draws to a close, let’s take a look back over some of the best podcasts we’ve produced over the past 12 months.
In tandem with the release of Ex Machina, Matt Lambourne joined Steve and I for a special ‘Artificial Intelligence’ themed episode. On top of reviewing Alex Garland’s movie (which would go on to be voted the best British film of 2015 in our Failed Critics Awards this past month) we each chose our favourite movies featuring A.I. in honour of both this and the upcoming releases of Big Hero 6 and Chappie.
As Fifty Shades of Grey hit the big screen in February, we invited Matt Lambourne and (for the first time ever) Paul Field onto the podcast to review the not-so-erotic erotic-thriller. It was almost left up to Paul to review the movie on his own as both Steve and I welched and Matt did his best to ruin Valentine’s Day. The podcast also featured reviews of two other new releases, with Will Smith’s con-film Focus and the sci-fi indie movie Predestination.
Quickly becoming one of our favourite guests on the show within just three months, Andrew Brooker was invited back onto the podcast again to discuss Neill Blomkamp’s latest action thriller, Chappie. Also joining us that week was Jack Stewart – then of Not This Again fame, but now one part of the Wikishuffle trio. It’s fair to say that there were some mixed opinions about this new release!
If you’re actually a fan of the Failed Critics Podcast, then April 2015 was quite the month for you as we put out 15 individual episodes, including a five-hour long triple-triple bill podcast with Matt Lambourne, Andrew Brooker and Paul Field, to celebrate reaching a pretty incredible milestone of 150 episodes. It was also the episode where we debuted our new logo and theme tune, which was a remix of the old tune by professional musician James Yuill.
Andrew Brooker was back on the podcast as we reviewed the film that would go on to win first place in our Top 10 of 2015 list at the awards, Mad Max: Fury Road. From the way Brooker and Jackson Tyler reacted to it back then, it’s hardly surprising it had such a lasting impact. This was also the podcast that saw us change our opening quiz format for the first time to some degree of success, as I made up a few Albert Pyun film descriptions.
With the legendary Sir Christopher Lee passing away, it seemed somewhat fitting that we had our resident horror expert on the podcast that week in Mike Shawcross. We paid tribute to the iconic film star, as well as reviewing the biggest film of the year, Jurassic World.
In our first podcast of the second half of 2015, Callum Petch joined us to review one of the highest grossing movies of the year, Minions. We also had some-time guest writer Nick Lay join us for review of yet more low-budget indie movies. We also ranted once again about another Spider-Man reboot news.
After much persuading by Paul Field, the ‘slice’, he convinced us to dedicate and entire episode to the work of British actor Danny Dyer … and it turned out to be our most downloaded podcast of the entire year! A lot of work went into it, with Paul watching every Dyer film in existence. We even got professional stand-up comedian James Mullinger to appear on the show, as well as an interview with film producer Jonathan Sothcott, who co-authored the book The Films of Danny Dyer with Mullinger.
With Steve on a week’s break, Jack Stewart was back on the podcast – but this time in the host’s chair. Phil Sharman (also from Wikishuffle) appeared on this episode, fresh after the pair of them won Best Comedy Podcast at the UK Podcaster Awards. Andrew Brooker also helped join in the collective sigh of disappointment at Legend, starring Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy.
Inadvertently spawning a new catchphrase, my review of a Columbo TV movie (that Steve forced me to watch) led to ‘it’s Columbo’ causing a few chuckles amongst our guests. Both Tony Black (of Pick A Flick and The X-Cast fame) and Brian Plank helped us to review the latest James Bond film and somewhat underwhelming SPECTRE.
In a re-hash of an idea we tried out in 2014, we invited listeners to send questions in to us and our guests for the episode (and world cinema aficionados) Liam and Andrew Alcock. We also discussed the new Cristiano Ronaldo documentary that had just been released, as well as lesser known international movies Nocturna, Green Butchers and Train of Life (yeah, I hadn’t heard of them either!)
Every October, we have a Halloween special podcast. In April, we celebrate the “birthday” for Failed Critics. In December, of course we always have a Christmas special episode. It was the last of the year that both Steve and I were on (as he missed the end of year awards and I was booted off the Star Wars: The Force Awakens episode) so why not listen to both of us (plus Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank) spread some Christmas cheer!
Some others not mentioned above:
Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights: Fred’s Pocket – Although I didn’t appear on this podcast, I am its Producer and Editor! Paul Field and James Mullinger started off their new podcast series with a look at their favourite Canadian films and interview WolfCop director Lowell Dean.
Avengers Minisodes and Age of Ultron – Gerry McAuley, Brian Plank, Leighton, Callum Petch, Tony Black, Carole Petts, Andrew Brooker, Matt Lambourne and Mike Shawcross each joined us for ten individual 15-20minute long “minisodes”, re-evaluating the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to and then including Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast and The Failed Black Hole Word of Friction Wikishuffle Critics – After we hosted the first ever quiz-only edition of the Failed Critics Podcast – dubbed a ‘Quizcast’ – featuring both Black Hole Cinema and Wikishuffle, back in April, it fell to Tony Black to host the second rendition which also added Word of Nerd and Fan Friction to the mix.
TV Specials: 2.5, (S3, Ep1) and (S3, Ep2) – In 2016 we’ll be hosting our first Netflix Original podcast, but earlier this year we hosted three TV specials, including episode 2.5 with Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, which reviewed Entourage: The Movie, and then again with episode 3 split into two parts. James Diamond (founder of Failed Critics) and Matt Latham (creator of The Bottle Episode) joined us in part 1 for a chat about the Emmy’s and in part 2 to talk more generally about our favourite TV shows.
The Blair Witch Project (Commentary) – Less of an actual film commentary and more like a watch-along (as I tried to explain on my blog), Steve, Matt, Brooker and I all watched cult 90’s found-footage phenomenon The Blair Witch Project and released our running dialogue as an episode people could either listen to whilst watching the film themselves, or just as a stand alone podcast. We’ll be trying it again at some point in the new year. If there’s any suggestions as to what we should watch next, leave a comment in the box below!
2016 is already shaping up to be another successful year for us. The first three months of podcasts have been scheduled and we’ve got two Corridor of Praise episodes lined up, our usual Oscars special, a world cinema triple bill, episode number 200 (!!) and of course all of the big releases including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Hateful Eight, Creed and loads of others too.
Thanks to everyone who has downloaded or listened to any of our podcasts over the past 12 months. We’re ending the year on a high, having once again made it onto the iTunes Film Fanatics list on their podcasts page, sandwiched between Mark Kermode and the Barbican. You could help make it an even better end to the year by visiting our iTunes page and leaving us a review and/or a rating: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/failed-critics-film-podcast/id522507819?mt=2
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed listening to these podcasts almost as much as I’ve enjoyed making them and you will continue to listen to us throughout the next 12 months too.
Happy New Year all and see you in 2016!
Bonjour, guten tag, konnichiwa, hola, namaste, aloha, salve, an-nyong, olá, goddag, ahalan, shalom, nei ho… and hello!
Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast as Owen and Steve take a break from reviewing new releases (sort of) to draft in special guests and world cinema aficionados (and podcast débutantes), Andy and Liam.
Whilst it may be the first time on Failed Critics for the cultured duo, this episode does see the return of a feature from earlier this year called ‘Listener Questions’. Through our Twitter and Facebook pages, we invited listeners and previous podcast guests to send in any question at all that they wanted to ask us – and they did! We’ve done our best to answer as many as we could but as ever, it’s all a bit shambolic from the get go!
There’s also reviews of some lesser known movies from around the world; from the Danish black comedy starring Mads Mikkelsen called Green Butchers, to the charming Spanish animation Nocturna, via a stop over in Romania for some tasteful holocaust comedy with Train of Life. We do manage to sneak in one quick new release review though as Steve reports back on sports documentary Ronaldo, executive produced by James Gay-Rees and Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy, etc).
Join us again next week for a Hunger Games special episode with guests Callum Petch and Chris Haigh! Who will survive?? (Hopefully everybody. It’s only a podcast.)
So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.
Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.
Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…
Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.
I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.
The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.
He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.
The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.
Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.
It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.
There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.
But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.
A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!
We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.
The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”
by Paul Field (@pafster)
As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.
For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.
Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!
Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.
My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.
It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.
Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.
It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.
James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.
The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.
The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.
It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.
It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…
Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.
Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.
There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.
The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.
Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.
I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.
A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.
Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.
The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.
We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.
It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.
The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.
If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.
Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.
Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.
I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!
Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.
The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?
So why were we watching this again?
I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.
You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.
So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!
Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.
If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.
Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.
We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).
I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!
To bastardise a famous Eric Cantona quote: 2012 was a great year for film. Failed Critics was born.
Yes, this humble, modest, unassuming (what?) and shambolic film blog and podcast had its inaugural year less than a third of a decade ago. Beginning life as James Diamond’s personal blog, The Failed Critic, as he attempted to watch through the entire IMDb Top 250 list (and, suitably enough, failed to do so), it quickly expanded to include a weekly podcast and half a dozen other writers and contributors. Almost three years later and here we still are, if a little
podgier larger than we were back then…
As we continue our quest to bring you the Failed Critics’ favourite films of the first half of this decade, it’s to 2012 that we look back on. A year when a James Bond film grossed over $1bn worldwide; when Peter Jackson introduced HFR to the mainstream with his first return to Middle Earth since The Lord of the Rings ended; and when people suddenly started to take Ben Affleck seriously again.
There’s a thing I do when I write something that someone else might read. If I’m reviewing anything, be it a film or a game or whatever, before I start writing I watch the trailer for it. Mainly so I know how far I can go with spoilers. If it’s in the trailer, it’s fair game to talk about. I do it when I’m spit-balling ideas on what to write and I can fully load my notes with stuff before I watch or play whatever I’m reviewing.
When I watched the trailer for Dredd to get the ideas flowing before I watched it that night, all the shivers I got the first time I saw it came back and I realised I’d made the right choice in my pick of 2012.
Judge Dredd was the only comic book I read as a kid. I still have my dog-eared copy of The Dark Judges on my bookshelf. So when I saw that trailer on a trip to the flicks, the teenager in me screamed! 13 year old me still hasn’t forgiven me or Sylvester Stallone for the abomination that was Judge Dredd. Stallone and his damn ego ruined the one comic book I love and seeing the trailer for Dredd showed me hope!
Turns out, that was pretty well placed hope. Dredd‘s story of a Judge and his rookie taking down a drug ring based in an apartment block is uncomplicated, brutal and just outstanding. Forget that awful “The judges are good guys really” thing from Sly’s film, Dredd is single-mindedly lethal and 100% the judge that fans wanted in the film adaptation of Mega City One.
Karl Urban’s Dredd is excellent. You can finally forget that terrible moment you saw Judge Dredd’s face (and it was Stallone) and place your faith comfortably on Urban’s gruff, uber-masculine chin and its outstanding acting ability. I had to fight against every fibre of my being wanting to stand and cheer when he says the iconic “I am the law”. Lena Heady is terrifyingly brilliant as the brutal head of the drug empire in the Peach Trees tower block. Going up against Dredd needs balls and smarts and Heady’s “Mama” has both, in spades. The two going at each other is a sight to behold for Dredd fans. Now, if we could only get a sequel.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
2012 was the year of the documentary feature for me and I’m going to give them some love in this week’s Half A Decade In Film. Jackie Siegel in The Queen of Versaille, she had me shouting at the screen and holding my head in my hands. Joyce McKinney told her ‘Mormon in Chains’ story, in Errol Morris jaw-dropping and sleaze fuelled Tabloid. Things got even weirder by the time The Imposter hit our screens… this actually happened, really and truly. I’ve seen the dramatised version of this and they tone it down to make Frederic Bourdin’s tale even vaguely believable. Right there is a mind blowing triple bill, but its another triple bill that tops 2012. The West Memphis Three.
Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelley & Jason Baldwin and their tangle (understatement of the decade dropped in there) with the Arkansas justice system. In three ground breaking and truly eye-opening films we follow their story in Paradise Lost (1996), Paradise Lost 2 – Revelation (2000) and finally Paradise Lost 3 – Puragtory arrives to conclude matters. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky had no idea how this project would pan out and even if you’d told them, they’d never have believed you. If you don’t know their story, then it has to be seen to be believed, don’t go Googling though – go in knowing nothing and you’ll take away so much more. If you’re curious, but not convinced by investing 7 hours of your time to watch all this, Peter Jackson (yes, that one) & Amy Berg put out another film West of Memphis in 2012; this covers everything in a couple of hours, but the reality is, that simply doesn’t do their story justice.
Incredulity, rage and many, many tears is what awaits you here. Two decades of story telling warrants seven hours of your time.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
The recent “Best Film” Oscar for Birdman will, hopefully, result in interest being shown in the back catalogue of Armando Bo, co-writer of Birdman and the writer/director of this wonderful drama from Argentina.
Despite the name, this is NOT a film aimed at Presley fans. I don’t, knowingly, own any Elvis records and yet absolutely love this film; it’s a story about fandom taken to levels that far exceed what most people would class as obsession.
Carlos “Elvis” Gutiérrez is a Buenos Aires based Elvis Presley impersonator. Other than the fact that he is a fat, sweaty, bloke crowbarred into a sparkly jumpsuit, he doesn’t much look like Elvis but he most certainly does sound like him. The problem is Carlos isn’t content to just sound like him, he’s focused on being Elvis.
He spends the day working in a washing machine recycling factory with headphones clamped to his ears. When he visits his, understandably hostile, ex-wife he constantly calls her Priscilla, her name is Alejandra. His daughter and his car are both, naturally enough, named Lisa-Marie.
When Alejandra is badly injured in a car crash, Carlos has to put his “big plan” on hold to look after his daughter. The bulk of the film follows the relationship he attempts to build with Lisa-Marie and his spiralling, deeply damaging, obsession starts to change the way you feel about him. Is he a harmless crank, to be allowed his passion, or is he a selfish jerk?
Carlos is played by John McInerny, an American professional Elvis impersonator. The producers initially hired him to coach an Argentinian actor for the live performance segments of the film, apparently he won them over to such an extent they gave him the part instead. Considering he is not an actor by trade, his performance throughout the whole film is nothing short of wonderful. He is completely believable in the part. He plays the numerous emotional scenes superbly and, needless to say, the musical performances are of a very high quality. The only part of his performance that is hard to judge is his speech. I do not speak Spanish so am not qualified to comment. It sounds authentic to me but could well be a Dick Van Dyke abomination to a native speaker, and we all know how horrific that is.
Infuriatingly, the polish of this jewel gets a little rubbed by the horribly heavy handed direction of the end of the story. There’s nothing wrong with the writing or the acting, but the way the climax is handled visually really does grate. That most dreaded of Crime Against Film-Fan Humanity, the montage, gets a pretty full work out, the accompanying music takes a distinct turn for the worse too.
It’s nowhere near enough to spoil the film but it’s an annoying feeling to take away with you at the end of a great watch.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
During this year I had noticed a film advertised at the cinema, a French film called The Intouchables, yes even Cineworld were showing it. Yet the poster didn’t really inspire me to see it, just a standard promo shot of Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, it really was quite lacklustre. I remembered Cluzet from Tell No One back in 2006, but had no idea who Omar Sy was, I couldn’t even be bothered to look him up on IMDB; I was that unimpressed with the one-sheet.
During the films second week a friend turned to me and said “have you seen Intouchables?” I said I hadn’t. He just said “you really need to see it, it’s fantastic.” I had to take the next afternoon off to go and see it on this recommendation. I’m so glad I did. Intouchables ended up being one of my favourite films of the year, in a year which included Avengers, Skyfall, Amour and Rust & Bone, it really was a good year for French films.
Aside from the recommendation, my expectations were still very low. I really wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this film. From the opening sequence as Sy drove Cluzet through the streets of Paris, the stunning cinematography accompanied with a fantastic score; a wonderful piano piece from Ludovico Einaudi. I was hooked. The sombre opening the scene changed as Sy’s explosive personality coned the local police after been caught for speeding that they were in an emergency and needed to get to the hospital, the whole mood changed. Cue September from Earth Wind and Fire and Sy and Cluzet singing along in the car escorted by the police, from sombre to comical effortlessly. I was then taken back in time and to the story of Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy) first encounter together and how the relationship between these two people turned into a truly remarkable friendship. I really want to be coy about the circumstances of both men, how they become friends because I really don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it. Also I don’t want to put people off either, I know people are not interested in films regarding certain conditions or situations, or even the poster…
Cluzet is remarkable as Philippe, it must have been one of his toughest acting jobs. I really did believe him, a sombre man due to his condition, the life sucked out of him. Then Sy as Driss is equally as good, filling the film with his personality, his fun and bringing life back to Philippe. There are scenes which make you howl with laughter, and scenes which make you want to cry, in both happiness and sadness. The emotional range I went through watching this film was incredible, with a perfect ending which always makes me smile.
The direction and writing from both Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano is assured, they never over cook the drama or under cook the comedy, the balance is perfect. Along with one of my favourite mixed soundtracks of all time, the Einaudi score pieces are sublime and with a good mix of songs as well. A remarkable film and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do watch it.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
Marvel’s The Avengers. The Avengers. Avengers Assemble. “That film with Ironing Man and Captain USA and Thaw and that green dude Bulk.” Whatever you want to call it, the Marvel juggernaut finally hit full steam (if juggernauts are powered by steam?) crushing lesser comic book films in its path. It is actually one of four 2012 releases to have grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide (Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit being the others) and currently sits at 3rd in the all time highest grossing films list. Regardless of your opinion on comicbook movies, if you didn’t see Avengers, then I haven’t done the maths but I believe that means you simply weren’t on this planet upon its release.
Indeed, as voted for by listeners of the podcast way back when, it came out top of the pile in our first ever Failed Critics Awards. Whilst time and a rewatch has slightly softened my initially held incredibly high opinion of Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up blockbuster, it’s still a movie that I thoroughly enjoy. After leaving the cinema, thinking about what I’d just witnessed, I couldn’t think of a similar type of movie that I had seen done as well as this, nor one that was more fun. It had it all. Whilst the likes of Nolan and Snyder had tried to make superhero films that were gritty and a touch more realistic relatively speaking, Marvel had decided to stick more closely to what their readers and film fans wanted; a cartoony, humorous, ludicrously over the top actioner. Not only that but with Whedon at the helm, they had a guy who knew how to write light-hearted and entertaining characters. And who knew that he could direct action scenes involving multiple heroes, aliens and giant multi-dimensional worm things so well?
So, as mentioned, over the past couple of years, I’ve come to perhaps enjoy a couple of other movies released in 2012 slightly more, such as Looper and The Raid, yet none have ever topped that experience I had of walking out of the cinema believing I had just seen “my generations Star Wars“. The child-like excitement, the satisfying buzz and relief I felt that they had finally nailed what a comic book film should be has never left me and it still remains one of my favourite movies of its kind.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
And there we go, another year down, and only two more to go! As with previous articles, we’re more than happy to debate the relative merits of all the films above, or if you just want to contest our decisions entirely, simply leave a comment below and tell us where we’re going wrong. We’ll return next week with (yes, you guessed it) our 2013 article.
2011 seems so long ago now. It’s hard to imagine films even existing back then. The fields were all green, the sky unpolluted and movies were just a figment of the imagination.
That’s clearly not true. But certainly Failed Critics didn’t exist until the following year, so anything that went before it was obviously just practice until our arrival. Film criticism in particular wouldn’t reach its zenith until 2012 with the inception of this website (……)!
OK, so that might not be true either! Nevertheless, Liam, Paul, Mike, Andrew and Owen all return for another entry to our Half A Decade In Film series as they cast their minds back all those years and each take a look at their favourite film of 2011 as we continue with our Decade In Film spin-off series.
It seems insane to say it now, but I wasn’t always a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Not least of all because just typing his name for this article brings up that obnoxious squiggly red line that tries to convince me that I can’t bloody spell!
I liked his earlier films. Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are great. But for the most part they are great in spite of Mr Gyllenhaal’s inclusion. I tended to judge him more on rubbish films like The Day After Tomorrow and stuff I just didn’t like, like Donnie Darko and with those in mind I just never saw the appeal of Jake and his performances. Until I saw Source Code that is.
The weird thing is that Gyllenhaal’s performance wasn’t anything special! It wasn’t crap, but it was one of those times when you could name any number of half decent actors that do the role just as well. But the direction, was absolutely superb and anyone in the role of Gyllenhaal’s Army Pilot would have been great as Duncan Jones (the guy that made the excellent Moon) dragged the best out of everyone involved.
Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an Army Pilot who’s last memory is of being on mission in Afghanistan. Suddenly waking up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) he takes a few minutes to figure out what is going on and where he is. In those minutes, his train explodes and kills everyone on board.
Waking from the explosion like a bad dream, Stevens is told he is part of an experiment called “Source Code” and he is being used to stop a terrorist attack that is due to happen in the next few hours having already blown up a commuter train. He is being sent back to relive the last few minutes on that train and find the bomber.
Annoying and silly tacked-on “Hollywood” ending aside, what should be a so-so plot to an average screenplay (written by the guy that wrote Species 3 and 4, for Christ’s sake) is brought to brilliant life with Duncan Jones’ direction as Gyllenhaal thrillingly races against the clock time and time again in a sci-fi Groundhog Day with a shorter memory span, for a generation that’s grown up with The Matrix!
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
After the success of JJ Abram’s Star Trek, there was a buzz about Super 8, a creature-feature which many now consider to be Abrams homage to the Spielberg films of the 80’s. There are some similarities that’s for sure; it uses the same heartbeat, the same suspense and creates a great character dynamic that some of Spielberg’s films have used. Yet it never really reaches the dizzy heights or emotions that those kinds of films hit. E.T broke your heart, The Goonies made you really care about a bunch of misfit kids, and Close Encounters left you in awe. Super 8 never gets there for me, yet that said it is still a great film and one which really does entertain me.
Abrams doesn’t just follow one Spielberg film, he amalgamates a collection of them. A group of friends: not as misfit as the Goonies but pretty close. The broken home: here the family is ripped apart by tragedy and the husband left to bring up his son in a haze of grief and loneliness. Friendships torn apart and rebuilt, romance and of course let’s not forget about the alien. The alien is along ET’s path, while it’s a bit more ferocious then ET, Abram’s alien is just as lost and alone has the little planet loving alien we all cried over (well some of us) back in the 80’s. Being held in captivity and under constant scrutiny and testing, all the alien wants to do is go home.
Once the alien escapes after the rather over-the-top yet quite spectacular train crash, the hunt is on, a town in fear, the military spinning the truth and we are back to Close Encounters. Objects going missing, strange sounds in the distance and of course we need one of the kids to go missing as well. Abram builds the tension from the train crash slowly and surely to he finally reveals his alien in all its glory. While I do like the final third of the film, the ending seems a little flat after everything which has come before it. I was just lacking a real connection to the alien, the kids or even the grieving father and son, and it just feels a nice and satisfactory end to the film, but it doesn’t really spoil it for me.
There isn’t really that much I dislike about Super 8 (except the end). It has a superb score from Michael Giacchino, some wonderful cinematography from Larry Fong and a really solid cast of kids and adults. Kyle Chandler is superb as the father, along with the gang of kids led by Joel Courtney and the wonderful Elle Fanning, they all give solid performances from a decent script. Visually the look of the film is stunning, the train crash without doubt one of my favourite scenes of the whole film. As I said Abram’s is channelling Speilberg but never really pulls it off completely but even so it’s a rather brave attempt and one of my favourite films of 2011.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
I’ve written and talked extensively about my fondness for the Planet of the Apes films, book, comics, TV show and remakes. Most recently in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I explain a little about the time I first saw Rise of… in the cinema upon its release (coincidentally on my birthday!)
At the time, I absolutely adored it. After the terrible trailer showing apes leaping off bridges onto helicopters, I half expected a dreadful, CGI filled blockbuster with less redeeming qualities than Tim Burton’s attempt to tell Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet tale. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this clever little sci-fi began to carefully tell a story of an old man with dementia, a potential cure being tested on an ape (Caesar) that begins to grow in intelligence, learns to communicate and, er, leads an uprising.
I’ve since watched it a couple of more times and although that surprise is obviously no longer present, it’s still no less entertaining. It’s everything that’s required of a sci-fi blockbuster. It’s got heart, a great story, decent performances (brilliant performances in the case of Andy Serkis and John Lithgow), an epic climax and it looks utterly breathtaking.
The fact that director Rupert Wyatt and his writers got the tone so absolutely spot on that it completely fits in with the Planet of the Apes franchise, yet felt fresh and modern in a way that some of the dated original sequels don’t any more, is testament to not only their ability, but also to the source material. Quite simply, as much as I loved Conquest of and Escape from, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the series since 1968. And probably the best science fiction blockbuster released between District 9 and a certain Marvel movie a year later.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
One of my favourite Korean films is The Chaser (2008), the tale of a cop/pimp and a serial killer, which as the title suggests, has an awful lot of chasing. The team behind it, director (Na Hong-jin) and stars (Kim Yun-seok & Ha Jung-woo) team up again for The Yellow Sea. That the phenomenal The Chaser was a debut effort put The Yellow Sea top of my ‘to see list’ for 2011.
It’s a simple set up, gambling debt ridden cab driver is offered a way out of his problems……..go to Korea and kill someone. It takes a while to get going, and I can’t deny the simplistic plot is then burdened with a sub-plot about his wife and a small army of characters that you don’t care about or are just not fleshed out that well. So why do I love this film so much…?
…A good Korean gangster caper needs the following ingredients. A completely inept Police force, people being hit around the head repeatedly, ridiculous melodrama, no guns, the main protagonist being outnumbered to a ridiculous degree in fights and chase scenes and of course, close combat involving knives.
The Yellow Sea does all of this. It’s very, very stabby…..and axey….and er…large unidentified animal boney…if it can be used to beat, stab and kill people, it will be. Rivers of blood, things being chopped off, lots of screaming and of course….lots of chasing. This is to The Chaser, what The Raid 2 was to The Raid. All the fun of the first film is there, but they’ve shoe-horned in a proper film too.
I’ve seen this 3 times, this was my first look at the slimmed down directors cut for US audiences. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the main characters, and that alone made this my favourite film of 2011.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre is a wonderfully karmic comedy drama set in the titular French port.
Marcel Marx is a financially struggling shoeshine who comes across a young Gabonese boy desperately trying to hide. The shipping container he and his compatriots stowed away had been delayed & diverted from its intended destination of London and opened by heavily armed immigration authorities. The boy, Idrissa, is the only member of the party to make a bolt for the door and get away.
The film follows Marcel’s struggles to help the boy evade capture and make his escape across the Channel to join his mother in London.
They face numerous obstacles; Marcel’s wife’s seemingly terminal illness, the media frenzy about immigration issues, the government authorities’ high profile crack down and the local police have Marcel marked down as chief suspect.
Those familiar with Kaurismaki’s work will recognise many of his signature touches. It’s a simple story about the basic, human decency of ordinary people. All his usual trademarks are present, the constant cigarette smoking, the dog, the importance of music and the wonderfully wry, deadpan humour.
One of the most interesting characters is Monet, the local Inspector. His morals and motives are far from obvious, you are kept guessing right to the end of the film. His encounters with Marcel are so uncomfortable. Is he speaking “Off Duty”, as he claims? Is he genuinely warning Marcel that the net is closing in out of compassion? Or is he slyly trying to wheedle out information by putting Marcel at ease? He brings to mind a slower moving, morose version of Columbo. Hardly surprising, as both are clearly inspired by Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich.
A highlight, maybe not entirely for the right reasons, is the Charity Concert performance of French recording artist Little Bob, making a cameo appearance. Imagine an elderly Ewok dressed in 1980’s biker leathers and you’re on the right lines.
The only slight disappointment in the whole film is the performance of Kati Outinen as Marcel’s wife Arletty. A truly superb actress, she is somewhat restricted by her character’s illness, but this is still far from the level of performance she’s given in any of Kaurismaki’s other films.
A hugely enjoyable film, with compassion and decency as its main themes.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Five films there that span a few different genres and continents but are all equally as excellent as each other, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or, maybe you don’t agree and think we’ve erroneously overlooked an obvious choice? Let us know in the comments section below. Otherwise, you’ll have to stew in your own angry juices until we return next week with five of our favourite films released in 2012.
During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween. It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.
The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.
By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.
“Listen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.”
A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.
I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.
Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.
I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.
In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.
Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.
The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.
The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.
It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…
Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.
Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.
Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.
Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?
Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.
There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.
This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.
It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.
The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.
Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.
The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.