Tag Archives: Man of Steel

Wonder Woman

In an ugly, grey and corrupted world, Wonder Woman impresses Owen Hughes to be one of the best comic book movies we’re likely to get this year. Read his full review below.

Continue reading Wonder Woman

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

This isn’t the film you wanted, but it’s the film you deserve.

I’ve seen that line totted out recently in relation to Zack Snyder’s latest offering in the newly established DC cinematic universe. Often by folks that I’m dubious as to their claims of having actually seen the movie yet.

Nevertheless, to quote Steve Coogan’s fantastic fictionalised autobiography I, Partridge, as an adolescent Alan is called ‘Smelly Alan Fartridge’ by his school tormenters, it’s a line that is “about 3% as clever as it thinks it is”. Or I guess maybe it’s 1%. But if there’s a 1% chance, then it should be taken as an absolute certainty, right?

It’s mainly a statement repeated in relation to the bleak, cold, depressing realisation of the world that Superman – and now also apparently his nemesis Batman – inhabits, where humour, warmth and vibrant colour are secondary to moody, dreary greys, suspicion, paranoia and snarling teeth.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t an AC/DC soundtracked flash of electric-blue, pyjama-clad heroes, comic-book niceness. Nor does it ever try to be anything but what it is. Nor should it even try to be anything else.

This is a place, as established in 2013’s divisive blockbuster Man of Steel, where an alien descended from a dying world to be raised amongst us, as one of us, to love us and protect us until he was old enough to decide whether to make the ultimate sacrifice to save us from ourselves/angry aliens. By, er, destroying half of the largest city in the US during a fist fight with said angry alien that resulted in thousands of collateral deaths. Deaths that an angry billionaire human dressed in a bat costume now wants to avenge. As does another psychotic billionaire by the name of Lex Luthor, with slightly more suspect motivations.

If the unremittingly desperate and sullen tone for this first live-action, big screen clash between DC’s iconic superheroes is what we deserve, then I’m OK with that. It sure as Hell is exactly how I wanted it to be in a number of different ways.

That isn’t to say the whole movie is exactly what I wanted from Snyder’s second foray into the often unforgiving spectrum of comicbook fanboy elitism. Just as Man of Steel left millions of steaming big blue boy scout fans loudly exclaiming “that’s not my Superman”, as if that was at all relevant, then just wait until the masses get ahold of the virtually unrecognisable character traits of their beloved caped crusader. If the internet could be fitted with a blast screen, now would be the time to assemble it.

The Dark Knight has always been, well, dark. Cracking bones, smashing skulls, practically crippling criminals for the rest of their life, all in the name of justice as he carefully tiptoes along the delicate line of his moral conscience, never straying into the territory that there’s no coming back from. But here, there are some rather extreme and remorseless attacks by the Bat that will please fans wanting a more grown up comic book film, as well as pop a few pulsating veins on the temples of outraged viewers.

Personally, I think it’s precious to perceive only one possible interpretation of a character that has seen hundreds of writers and dozens of actors portray him. Who’s to say that the kooky Adam West version is not the definitive creation? Or what about Tim Burton’s criminal-burning take in Batman Returns? Why not use Frank Miller’s portrayal of a grizzled old Bruce as the only measure?

The best versions of Batman in the comics in recent years have been, to my mind, when he went insane during Grant Morrison’s series that began a decade ago this year, and in writer Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run – when it wasn’t even Bruce Wayne who was Batman, it was Dick Grayson. So really, it just doesn’t matter which you prefer, or what you think makes Batman the character he is; there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of representations of the character that are as valid as each other. This movie is no exception to that rule.

However, I feel like I’m explaining myself around the issues with this movie, of which there are plenty. Much like when George Clooney put on the cape and cowl (and nipple-plate), it’s hard to separate Ben Affleck from Bruce Wayne. Maybe that’s an unfair criticism as it’s a fine performance, but whenever he’s out of the mask, it’s hard to see past Ben Affleck. He also acts the chops off of his opposite number, with Henry Cavill caught in the headlights of a crash-bang-wallop barnstorming Batman movie where he is playing second fiddle in what should be his sequel. His story. His character’s atonement.

Ignorance is not the same as innocence, or so we’re told, which leaves the film to question how the red-caped Übermensch can continue to separate his private life from that of his heroic exploits. A hole was ripped through the centre of the planet not 18 months ago thanks in no small part to his own quest for knowledge, yet here he his saving children from burning buildings and being heralded as a messiah. I would not be the first person to scratch my head at the hypocrisies of the DC universe, but it at least tries to answer some of the questions it poses. Admittedly, Democracy v Superman would probably not have been a snappy title for the film.

And therein lies its biggest issue. I do like Man of Steel. Very much. In fact, Thursday evening, I saw a double-bill of it followed by a Batman v Superman midnight screening, and quite happily endured it. The dialogue is blunt, to the point and often without ambiguity, but the narrative structure combined with the character development of the wandering drifter Clark Kent, discovering his true identity as Kal-El, and subsequent trial by fire at the hands of Michael Shannon’s exceptional performance as General Zod; the more I see it, the more I like it. The religious symbolism is perhaps heavy handed as he floats off into space in his Jesus Christ pose to save the Earth, but there’s depth beyond merely a superhero smashing a villain’s face in. Zod’s pitiful plea and loss of identity, or his “soul” as he claims, at a time where a triumphant Clark struts across a city blown to smithereens to victory-snog his girlfriend; its complexities are frequently lost in a tide of criticism because it just happens to take place during a mass of CGI destruction. I hesitate to make further comparisons between the two, but compared to some of Marvel’s third-act fight sequences (The Incredible Hulk, Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World to name but a few) which serve absolutely no narrative purpose other than “beat-the-baddie”, it just further increases my opinion that it is a vastly underrated movie.

Now, Batman v Superman, as you might expect, spends forever building towards a climactic fight sequence between (you guessed it) Batman and Superman. By contrast, yes it looks cool and yes Snyder’s fingerprints are all over it, but it is as shallow as a paddling pool during a hose-pipe ban. It merely gives the fans what they think they want and not what they deserve.

I’m not going to spoil who wins the fight for you! Needless to say, the victor was inevitable. And yes, the allegories to religion, domestic and international terrorism threats, and playing God, are all there. But they are in much broader strokes than seen previously.

As for the rest of the 2.5 hour run time, a huge proportion of it is a confusing, sprawling mess that I kept trying to pretend was still good, like a buttered piece of toast that had fallen on the kitchen floor. Alas, you could probably scrape it off and it’d still be edible, but why would you? There’s bound to still be a mystery hair or unrecognisable piece of grit to crunch sickeningly between your teeth. What I’m getting at with this confused, sprawling metaphor, is that you can dust off all the crap from Batman v Superman and see just the delicious slice of warm toast underneath, but as you chew, you will secretly feel a little ashamed and embarrassed.

There’s just one dream within a dream sequence too many for my tastes. There’re more Easter eggs littering this film, distracting from what should be an interesting concept of man vs God, than you will find in the Sainsbury’s Petrol Station reduced isle next week. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is a passenger whose presence merely exists to pay fan-service for the Trinity and set up future Justice League movies so the other two can get on with battering each other.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the fault with Batman v Superman is that they didn’t follow the blueprint so successfully laid out by Marvel. I do not subscribe to that theory at all. The Marvel blueprint was laid out to make the audience more susceptible to expanded movie universes, that doesn’t mean DC, by not copying the exact format of individual introduction movies building to a crossover event, have failed. What will make Batman v Superman a relative failure is the cramming of about seven different story strands (that I counted) into one single film. It’s convoluted and each one (or maybe two or three together) would have been better served if held back for individual movies.

That, plus Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was either incredibly poor casting, or the right casting for the wrong film. His twitching peculiarities and eccentric ranting about his father only weaken what should make a menacing focal point for the story. He’s a raving lunatic with an unoriginal fiendish plot to, I don’t know, get in the way, or something. He shouldn’t have been in this film. Or, rather, it should have been Batman or Lex Luthor.

The rest of the supporting cast are as expected. Laurence Fishburne returns as Daily Planet head-honcho Perry White to probably the highest degree of competence out of the lot. Folks worried about Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s casting as Thomas Wayne, concerned it might mean yet another origin story, need not panic as his role is squished into a Watchmen-esque opening segment. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is not as integral to the plot as she should be, although her performance is slightly more assured this time around. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is just Jeremy Irons. No more, no less.

Batman v Superman is bloated, convoluted, full of inconsistencies and lacking in focus. As many suspected might be the case, Superman is reduced to merely a concept rather than a character as Batman takes centre stage.

But Affleck does do a great job carrying the burden of this movie. On more than one occasion, his skulking in the shadows alluded me for a few moments, which gave me a giddy thrill when I spotted him (mind you, it was nearly 2am by this point). Make no mistake, when you read articles online about the actors and creative people behind this movie claiming that it is not designed to win over critics, they’re not lying. This is a Superman movie designed for Batman fans.

Arguably self-sabotaging in typical DC fashion by trying to introduce Batman to what is perceived as a flagging franchise or series, it might simply be too much, too soon. Yet, I still kind of got a kick out of it on some base-levels and I’m sure plenty of others will see through its many foibles too.

Failed Critics Podcast: Episode 202 – AND IT’S LIVE!

202 live stream printscreen

Firstly, thanks to everyone who joined in on our live broadcast of episode 202 on our YouTube channel on Monday. We’re considering it a success – whether it was or wasn’t isn’t really up to Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker to decide! But people chatted to us during the show, we received messages via Twitter, and the live stream didn’t crash once. Huzzah!

This week’s podcast is pretty much a rip of the YouTube video edited into a more audio-friendly format. Jingles have been edited in, whilst the majority the references to stuff that happened visually that wouldn’t have made sense on an audio only podcast have been edited out.

What has been left in is our chat about this week’s film news, including another new Netflix movie acquisition starring Will Smith, directed by David Ayer, plus a set-top box that could potentially change the way we view cinema releases forever.

We’ve also got our round up of what we’ve been watching. Steve talks us through the generic but decent action film London Has Fallen; Owen discusses the first five episodes of the second season of Daredevil; and Brooker does his homework ahead of Batman v Superman by re-watching Nolan’s trilogy plus Man of Steel. Our new release reviews saw the team take in the safe-for-work porcelain doll horror The Boy, Ben Wheatley’s latest weird class-war narrative High Rise, and the thematic sequel to 2008’s monster movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane.

There’s even room for our regular film quiz and Steve’s reaction to Pudsey the Dog: The Movie, his booby-prize for losing last week’s quiz. Oh, and Owen’s mad rapping skills. Wiki-wiki-wild wild west…

Join us again next week as things return to normal for a review of DC’s newest blockbuster.

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Watch the full un-edited live broadcast of the episode (with webcams an’ all) on our YouTube channel.

The Dark Knight of the Long Knives

DaredevilEarlier today we discovered that Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel sequel, where the rumour is the long-awaited onscreen battle between Superman and Batman will finally be realised. There was a storm of protest over the decision, followed by a backlash to the backlash, followed by the rest of civilisation laughing at two groups of people arguing over a casting decision. The Failed Critics have happily jumped on the Batwagon of debate, and here are their reactions to the news:

James Diamond: Site editor who stands by his assertion that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was better than Man of Steel

Don’t like Ben Affleck being cast as Batman? In the words of Alan Arkin’s character in Affleck’s Oscar/Bafta/Golden Globe-winning film, Argo fuck yourself.

I was genuinely surprised by the level of the backlash to Warner Brothers/DC’s announcement this morning. My wife happened to mention to me that Affleck had been cast as Batman, and I replied “yeah, I can see that” (I’ll be honest, it’s a sadly very rare incident of my wife and I discussing comic book adaptations and their casting before breakfast). When I stumbled onto Twitter I was taken aback by the level of abuse being aimed at Affleck, with everyone throwing Daredevil and Gigli back in his face as if the last 10 years haven’t happened.

I’m grown-up enough to admit when I am wrong about an actor, with my increasingly uncomfortable man-crush over Matthew McConaughey being just the most recent example. The fact is, Affleck has grown and matured into a very fine actor, but even more importantly for me, an excellent director. This level of experience on the set of the next Superman film will be vital in my opinion, especially with Christopher Nolan apparently taking a back-seat in the day-to-day side of the production. As someone said a little cruelly, at least it means there will be one director on set.

I believe Affleck will be a great Bruce Wayne, and I am excited about seeing if he can pull off Batman. There were similar scenes of fan annoyance when Michael Keaton was cast as the Caped Crusader, and again when Heath Ledger landed the role of The Joker. They didn’t turn out too badly.

Armageddon really annoyed with the Domga-tic opinions of everyone with no Good Will (Hunting) towards this upstanding resident of Hollywoodland. [That’s enough terrible puns – Ed. Wait, that’s me]

Owen Hughes: Podcaster, film addict, and resident neeeeerrrrd

It was going to be the film that fans have wanted for the longest time. To finally see the caped crusader, the dark knight, the world’s greatest detective, coming up against the big blue boy scout, the man of tomorrow, the last son of Krypton. Batman vs Superman. The nerdgasm to end all nerdgasms.

Not only that, but director Zack Snyder hinted that the clash of these comic book titans would resemble their encounter from dark, edgy, 80’s game changing graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. We were going to see a grizzled and older Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl before coming to blows with the Man of Steel. It opened up a world of possibilities over who would be cast as Bats.

Would they go all out to bring Christian Bale back? Maybe try to shoehorn some semblance of continuity into the series following the Nolan trilogy and bring in Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Or would Warner Brothers start looking at actors like Bruce Greenwood (who has played Batman in an animated film already), Josh Brolin, Max Martini or even Karl Urban? I’ve even seen Russell Crowe linked with the role, which would’ve been brilliant if not for the awkward plot twist that would’ve endured when Kal-El finds his father running around Gotham City in spandex.

Well the answer has finally arrived, and it seems to be a rather uninspiring ‘Ben Affleck’.
I don’t have a problem with Affleck as an actor, he was excellent in Argo. But with all the exciting avenues that could’ve been explored, of all the names linked with the role, it’s… OK. I’m sure he’ll be a competent Batman, probably a better Bruce Wayne, and with Snyder at the helm I’ll probably enjoy the film on some level. It’s just something of a safe choice which is disappointing.

Steve Norman: Podcast host, and real-life crime-fighting vigilante

So Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman for the 2015 crossover movie Batman vs Superman and sweaty nerds worldwide seem to be up in arms about the decision.

Bloody hell nerds, calm down.

Their main issue appears to be that Affleck once made a film called Daredevil and it was a bit rubbish. In fact it was very rubbish. It is that bad that I cannot remember much about it after seeing it many years ago.

However this film was made ten years ago. We all make mistakes, I make them almost daily, and in ten years a lot can change. You can grow as a person, you can improve and develop your craft.

Since Daredevil, Affleck has starred in some good films while starring in and directing The Town and the Oscar winning Argo.

I would go as far to say that Affleck should have been allowed to direct the film as well seeing as Zac Snyder’s attempt at Superman was pretty average while Affleck’s directing has been impressive and his career has had somewhat of a resurgence.

Gerry McAuley: Podcaster, Batman fanatic, and phoning it in from sunnier climes

This is total bullshit. Affleck directing = win. Affleck as Batman = epic fail.

I’m very disappointed by that news. I think he would’ve made a more than competent director (and indeed we talked about him as a potential director for Batman, Star Wars and others on the podcast last year) but I just don’t think he has the charisma or the right attributes to be a good Batman. Daredevil was garbage, we all agree on that. Bale is going to be a very hard act to follow but Affleck will have a lot to do to convince me – and hordes of others – that he is a suitable replacement for the cowl. I really, really hope he does though. I bloody love Batman. I want him to be good!

What do you think? Let us know below, or tweet us at @FailedCritics

Blockbusted?

iron-man-downey-jrWe’ve been hearing reports that the summer blockbuster is on life-support after the last few months served up a number of badly under-performing (box office-wise) flops. We asked the Failed Critics team what they thought of this summer’s releases.

James Diamond – Editor and reluctant cynic

I really do hate to say what I’m about to say. Some of us don’t enjoy being cynical, and I am a lot more comfortable with feelings of pleasure and optimism. That said this has been the Sum-meh of Blockbusters for me.

It all started so promisingly, with Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr giving us the Iron Man film that we all hoped and prayed they would make. It was funny, gripping, and bombastic in all the right places. It set a tone that, unfortunately, the rest of the big budget summer films failed to live up to.

Man of Steel was two and a half hours of Nolan-lite cinema from Zak Snyder that bored the pants off me (worn on the outside of course, unlike this modern Superman), while Star Trek Into Darkness also disappointed with a script full of holes and crowbarred-in references to  far superior films (well, mostly one far superior film). Oblivion looked wonderful, but suffered from similar problems of plotting and dialogue, while the relatively warm reception for World War Z was mainly due to fact that everyone was convinced it was going to be a disaster.  Pacific Rim was an absolutely brilliant film for large sections, but utterly atrocious for others.

Fast 6, GI Joe: Retaliation, and Pain & Gain received mixed reactions, but at least offered something the summer’s other blockbusters were missing; a sense of fun and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Mixed reviews for Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium have severely dented any hopes I had for a upturn before the autumn season begins with its mix of late-season blockbusters, award-seekers, and those awkward films that no one seems to know how to market.

That’s not to say it’s been a poor summer overall though, just that other areas of the film ecosystem have stepped up to the plate. I’ve seen three great mainstream comedies this summer (This is the End, The World’s End, and Alpha Papa), which is three more than last year), and Only God Forgives and Much Ado About Nothing are also likely to find spots in my Best of 2013 list come December.

Owen Hughes – Podcaster and a lover, not a fighter

With still a few more weeks to go yet and the likes of Kick Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and one I’m particularly excited for, Elysium, still to be released, it might be a bit premature to form a judgement yet. Whilst some might say the summer has so far been disappointing, I disagree.

Kicking off the summer was Shane Black’s venture into the Marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man 3, which got us off to a good start. Big budget sci-fi actioners were obviously the order of the day as over the next few months we’ve seen everything from the stunning but shallow Tom Cruise flick Oblivion, to enjoyable films like JJ Abrams’ Lens Flare Into Darkness and Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Man of Steel was another triumph, although some critics disagree. Even The Wolverine was a fun way to spent a couple of hours.

We’ve also been spoilt with some good drama films this year. The Place Beyond The Pines is my favourite film of 2013, never mind the summer. Soderbergh signed off with his elaborate biopic of Liberace in Behind The Candelabra. The Look Of Love starring Steve Coogan was also enjoyable.

Although Coogan’s biggest success is not only the best comedy of the summer, but probably the best comedy for years, Alpha Papa. How can any summer be considered disappointing when we’re presented with this gift to mankind? Enough to induce tears of laughter, it’s ruddy excellent. Somehow it topped the years other major successful comedy in Pegg, Frost & Wright’s latest ‘The World’s End’.

The biggest ever zombie flick was released to some critical acclaim and much financial success as Brad Pitt adapted Max Brooks novel World War Z. Evil Dead and Dark Skies have also been decent but the years stand out in the genre is James Wan’s The Conjuring. A Field In England gave us something, erm, different too.

Speaking in general terms, I enjoyed the vast majority of this summer’s releases. There have been stinkers (After Earth, Monsters University) and Dwayne Johnson hasn’t quite given us all that we’d hoped for with Fast & Furious 6 and Snitch both being disappointing. Whilst we’ve not had an Avengers Assemble or Dark Knight Rises to wow us either, it’s been a more consistent summer than most.

Gerry McAuley – El Northern Podcaster

Alpha Papa delivered, as did Pacific Rim, two of the main ‘could be shit but I really hope it’s great’ films for me. Kick Ass 2, Pain & Gain, and Elysium are all yet to come (some of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year) so it may well be too early to tell. The awesomeness of Despicable Me 2 is a personal highlight, particularly as it did so well at the box office. Man of Steel and Monsters University were good without being great which was a slight disappointment but otherwise I think it’s been just that as a summer: good, but not particularly great. Given the amazing quality of 2012 though, it was always going to struggle to match such standards.

Matt Lambourne – Contributor exiled in a cultural black hole

My hopes for summer were somewhat ‘constrained’ as there was little there to wet my appetite with the exception of Pacific Rim which did an excellent job of re-igniting the Kaiju fan laying dormant for many years. So much in fact I went and watched the latest Godzilla Millennium series in tribute, but needless to say Pacific Rim takes the tried and tested formula and does it much better. It’s easily been my stand out movie of the summer.

Another highlight for me was Fast 6. Needless to say, I’ve found limited appeal in the series (Jordana Brewster provided much of that appeal) prior to Fast 6, and whilst this latest addition to the series won’t win much on technical merit, my goodness did it ever deliver on entertainment! Another film falling into that category is Hangover PT III. I’m a massive fan of the original and have a significant aversion for the 2nd, but I really found part III going back to utter silliness that made the 1st so likeable and when you watch it in a good crowd at the cinema, as with any good comedy movie, you really get a great sense of communal satisfaction.

Then comes the lowlights… Oblivion was adequate distraction if nothing else although is a very crisp and attractive looking piece, but the big downer for me was ‘The Wolverine’. I’m a huge fan of the character, from comics, to animated television and for the most part all of Jackman’s outings as Weapon X to date, but this really bombed for me. It was certainly the lamest Wolverine incarnation to date, I was furious that the Silver Samurai turns out to be a robot (of sorts) and that Logan has become far to hospitable in general. I hope that the next X-Men movie really gets him back on track, but can’t help but think that Jackman has become too big of a star to be cast as the ultra-aggressive and socially incapable anti-hero type depicted in early Marvel writing.

Mike Shawcross – On first-name terms with the ushers at Cineworld

What a fantastic time I’ve had at the cinema this summer with most of the films I’ve seen so far. I’ve seen cities brought to rubble by starships, giant robots fighting giant aliens, and of course a couple of super strong aliens slugging it out in my favourite film of the summer so far; Man of Steel. I’ve seen a car chase with a tank and an aeroplane; car’s racing around London with stunts to gasp at, all in the 6th film of the Fast and Furious franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness was superb as was Iron Man 3, while World War Z was a great zombie action flick. Pacific Rim was visually stunning but I was dismayed by the woeful script and acting, and Wolverine wasn’t the train wreck I expected.

Looking past the big hitters, and Stuck in love and Mud were both excellent. Behind the Candelabra was also very good. Now ou See Me had me guessing to the end, Populaire a film about speed typing was a joy, while Before Midnight was a fitting end to a great Trilogy. James Franco’s party to end all parties was a great laugh but Pegg’s pub crawl was a little flat. 2 Guns and Stand up Guys were great fun yet Alan Partridge made my belly ache. I had fun with The Heat, along with the antics of Mike and Sully at Monster’s University. I’ll finish on a couple of excellent horror films Byzantium and The Conjuring. There may be more to come as well with Kick-Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and Elysium left for me to see.

What do you think about this summer’s offerings? Have the good films outweighed the bad? Are we focusing too much on a few big budget films at the expense of some great films made for peanuts? Let us know…

Failed Critics Podcast: Superman/Man of Steel Special

christopher-reeve-supermanIs it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s three nitwits holding court on all things Superman! In this week’s extra-special bumper podcast (weighing in at over two hours) we celebrate the release of Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman series, Man of Steel. Prepare for it to kick off as two of the team nearly come to blows over their experience and expectations of the movie.

As well as a review of the film, we look under the bonnet and get our hands dirty in an extended Spoiler Alert look at Man of Steel. Not only that, but we discuss every Superman film ever made in What We’ve Been Watching, and choose our favourite performances by the Man of Steel main cast in Triple Bill.

Join us next week as we review new releases World War Z, Now You See Me, and This is the End.

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A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1983

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1983

. 5. Superman III

Superman3“Well I hope you don’t expect me to save you, ’cause I don’t do that anymore.”

Often disregarded by fans of the ‘Reeve Quadrilogy’, Superman III is in fact my favourite of the series. At the heart of the story is computer programmer, Gus (Richard Pryor) who is taken under the wing of Lex Luthor stand-in, Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) who is keen to utilise Gus’ more unscrupulous computer skills for financial world domination.

To do so, Gus hacks into a US weather satellite to create storms in Colombia to destroy their coffee crop, however this is thwarted by Superman early in proceedings. Webster, realising he must remove Superman from the equation, instructs Gus to create a synthetic Kryptonite using computer analysis of its core elements.

The movie deals with some darker themes not seen previously in the series. The synthetic Kyrptonite not only weakens Superman but, due to its corrupt Earthly ingredients, makes Superman become evil. Christopher Reeve is excellent at playing the ‘Dark Superman’ and the film features a particularly violent battle between the Dark Superman and Clark Kent who is attempting to break the harmful grip the Kryptonite has on our hero.

The film is most memorable for the climatic battle where the villains hide out in a base at the Grand Canyon, armed to the teeth with missile defenses and a powerful computer designed by Gus that has taken on a mind of its own. The machine takes captive one of the villains and forcibly entangles her in metal and wire creating a powerful cyborg adversary for Superman, a very graphic and shocking scene for a family movie and one that certainly leaves a lasting impression, even if she does look like a zombie Dot-Matrix from Spaceballs!

Pryor doesn’t get to unleash the more effective adult nature of his comedic genius, but he does provide suitable comic relief to the movie. Reeve shows some diversity in the role by being able to portray a sinister side to his nature as the Dark Superman in a very enjoyable performance. A much grittier rendition of the classic Superman adventure, this is a more than sufficient warm-up for the fanboys awaiting this summer’s ‘Man of Steel’.

4. WarGames

MSDWARG EC001“How about a nice game of chess?”

Continuing with the theme of mis-use of computers, WarGames is a tale of a curious teenager whose skills in computing lead him into big, big trouble with the US government and the potential launch of World War III.

The main protagonist is David (Matthew Broderick), the one and only person who knew how use command-based operating systems to do anything remotely interesting back in the early 80’s. In fact he’s clearly a genius, as we see him hacking his high school network to alter his grades and book flights to Paris to show-off his skills to love-interest, Jennifer (Ally Sheedy).

Unfortunately David’s curiosity leads him to unwittingly dial into an anonymous computer offering him the opportunity to play games such as Black Jack and Poker, but David naturally is more interested in the option for ‘Global Thermonuclear War’ and assumes the role of the Soviet Union. After being summoned by his parents to do some chores he exits the game, however when he awakes the next day he is startled to see that the US military responding to an actual threat of nuclear attack from the USSR.

Where this film really shines, particularly in hindsight, is that it was way ahead of its time. The movie prominently features hacking, phreaking and dial-up remote access; all subject matters that few would have believed would have existed in 1983. I can imagine seeing WarGames as an 80’s kid it must have seemed incredibly far-fetched, yet time has proven that the techniques used in the movie were entirely legitimate and have become incredibly common-place.

Yep, the antics in WarGames would be an InfoSec worker’s worst nightmare. It’s easy to see how this has influenced films that have come after it, particular 1995’s ‘Hackers‘ and 2001’s Swordfish but it does so in such a manner that it will appeal to a family audience, not just those who are fascinated by the technology. Broderick presents the cool persona that he later repeats as Ferris Bueller and is a wholly likable lead for the film. How did someone with so much 80’s cool end up marrying SJP?

The film spawned a low-budget sequel, yet it’s the modern reboot continually hinted at that will garner the most interest in the legacy left by this excellent thriller.

3. Return of the Jedi

ReturnoftheJedi“You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.”

Following along nicely from my 1980 movie of the year, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ROTJ is the final piece of the original trilogy, as the all-star cast return to stop the Empire’s construction of an all new Death Star.

Originally titled as ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ the film deals with much darker tone than the previous 2 movies. This is best illustrated by Mark Hammill, returning as the now fully trained and qualified Jedi, ‘Luke Skywalker’. He is entirely confident, almost somewhat arrogant in his abilities and manipulation of ‘The Force’.

His personality is somewhat chilled following his first encounter with Darth Vader; the loss of his hand and Vader’s revelation have removed some of the positive aura that surrounded the hero. He seems more steely, colder, calculating and I think this makes him a much more believable handler in the art of death than he has ever depicted at any point during the trilogy.

However, ‘Jedi’ is probably often most criticised for its use of (often annoyingly) peripheral characters, such as the Ewoks which was a clear warning shot from George Lucas for what we’d see in the modern prequel trilogy.

That said, all the ingredients that make the previous movies so successful feature again here. There are some more sinister cords in the score from John Williams, particularly whenever the Emperor is on screen, that are used to dramatic effect.

The action set-pieces are fantastic, the battle between the rebellion and Imperial forces on Endor is highly satisfying, particular when that Ewok is crying over his dead comrade!

Jedi wraps up the trilogy in fine fashion, it’s not the strongest part of the series but it does feature the most appealing incarnation of Luke Skywalker. However it is a great shame that Mark Hammill was never able to shrug off the shadow of this character for the rest of his career.

2. The Fourth Man

The Fourth Man“The essence of my writing is, I lie the truth”

The inner circle behind Failed Critics are all too aware of my admiration for the direction of Paul Verhoeven. ‘The Fourth Man’ is Verhoeven’s final piece made for Dutch cinema before venturing off to Hollywood and my goodness it is some piece to sign off with.

The film starts off as it means to go on. The main protagonist, Gerard, awakes with his hands shaking due to the effects of his alcoholism. He stands up, wearing only a t-shirt to greet the audience to a full frontal male-nudity scene. You could be forgiven for thinking this is a little unnecessary and distasteful. It’s merely a means for Verhoeven to inform the audience of what they are letting themselves in for; a fully adult-orientated psychological experience.

This is why I love Verhoeven films, he makes films strictly for adults, there is rarely a silver lining or any inkling of morality in his movies. Gerard is an alcoholic, bi-sexual and a writer. Everywhere he goes he sees metaphors for death. He constantly battles against those which are meant for him and those that are meant for others but he struggles to interpret what he is seeing and what it truly means.

Gerard travels by train to host a lecture on his writing and meets a handsome young man at the station, whom he is instantly attracted to. He is frustrated at not being able to talk to this man as he watches him depart on a train to Cologne. Gerard travels to his destination where he meets the beautiful Christine, a widow who is a fan of his writing, and they spend the night together.

At Christine’s home, Gerard discovers a picture of Hermann, the man he saw at the train station, and realises he is Christine’s lover. He plots a means to bring the three of them together so he can seduce him for himself, but in doing so discovers that Christine is actually a three-time widow and that she is offing each of her husbands. Gerard struggles to find the meaning of the premonitions he has been seeing of late and how they relate to this bizarre love triangle and if it is he, or Hermann, who is intended to be Christine’s ‘Fourth Man’.

Jeroen Krabbé is sensational as Gerard, he is as charming and playful in character as he is sadistic and desperate for that which he desires. Renée Soutendijk plays the simply luscious Christine and I’m regretful to see that she has done little outside of Dutch Cinema, other than a little known Sci-Fi film ‘Eve of Destruction‘ which I remember seeing on Sky Movies a very very long time ago.

The film is classic Verhoeven and much of it is repackaged for Hollywood in 1992’s ‘Basic Instinct‘. It’s humorous, it’s intelligent, and sexy. Yet, its perverse undertones will seriously challenge the comfort zone of most mainstream cinema goers, this is very much one for the serious world cinema fan.

Speaking of which, the film ranks in Empire magazine’s top 100 films of World Cinema, and earned the 1983 International Critics’ Award at the Toronto Film Festival as well as the 1984 Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Foreign Language film.

I wanted so very badly to put this as my number 1 movie for 1983, however there is a very special film to top it… barely. The Fourth Man is a diamond of a movie that will sit anonymously on your DVD shelf, a dirty little secret for yourself to enjoy that has escaped the attention of the masses for 30 years. The fact it has done this makes it all the little bit more special.

1. Scarface

Scarface“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women”

I did say it would be a very special movie to top ‘The Fourth Man’, I do hope I did not disappoint. Brian De Palma’s Scarface is a remake of a 1932 gangster movie, re-badged and re-packaged for the 80’s in spectacular style.

It follows the exploits of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee who struggles to make a life for himself in America, cleaning restaurants and committing petty crime until his big mouth earns him the attention of some local big-time gangsters. From petty criminal to the king of the drug trade in Miami, Tony’s rise to the top is as violent and brash as it is meteoric, but it is only a matter of time before Tony’s greed and constant yearning for more power results in his undoing.

Beautifully shot with constant contrast between 80’s Neon and the bleak reality of life on the street and the criminal sub-culture, Scarface is not only highly decadent entertainment but it lives on with a strong legacy on modern pop-culture. This is most notably evident in the Urban/Rap music culture, whereby the movie is often used as a source of inspiration for those trying to escape their mundane lives, and often those seeking to ruin it.

Pacino is remarkable as Tony, the maniacal underdog that you know you shouldn’t root for, but cant help getting attached to. It is no doubt equal to his most famous role of Michael Corleone in its grandeur. It also features some excellent supporting roles from Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio to provide some female balance to what is otherwise a very male dominated movie.

The film is primarily driven by male characteristics, love, lust, money, greed, power, betrayal, and they all feature in abundance. Scarface sets the template for the popular anti-hero and any crime epic that has followed it.

One of my very favourite films and featuring at a very respectable number 128 in the IMDB Top 250, Scarface is a must see for all film-fans, and my movie of 1983.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting to go to the Cinema in 2013: Part 2

With nearly a quarter of the year already a distant memory, James Diamond presents the notable releases and hidden gems in UK cinemas from April through to June.

April

Dwayne 'The Rock' Jonhson in Snitch
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Jonhson in Snitch

Spring is turning into the new Summer in terms of the big studio blockbusters, and getting the jump on your rivals this early in the year can work out heavily in a film’s  favour if it’s good enough (Avengers passed the $1 billion mark before The Dark Knight Rises even saw the inside of a multiplex last year). Marvel has opted for a repeat of that strategy with the release of Iron Man 3 on 26th April, and they’ll be hoping for similar success from Shane Black’s take on Tony Stark. Personally, I just think it’s great to see Shane Black getting the kind of backing that Joss Whedon received last year. It genuinely seems like the age of the blockbuster auteur.

Iron Man 3 isn’t going to have it all its own way in terms of the sci-fi blockbuster landscape though, with the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion getting its UK release on 12th April. Cruise plays one of the last remaining drone repairmen, looking after the surface of Earth which was deserted by humanity decades before, following a brutal war with an alien race. From its Wall-E-esque beginnings, it’s clear that the film soon descends into an all-action shoot-em-up and conspiracy thriller, also featuring Morgan Freeman and Andrea Riseborough.

This really is a month of action, with ‘Die Hard in the White House’ thriller Olympus Has Fallen (17th April) stealing a march on a very similar looking White House Down (released in September) and making the brave choice to be a violent adult  action film in a world where the Die Hard and Taken franchises have chosen to appeal to a child audience. We also get our second glimpse of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in as many weeks as he follows up GI Joe: Retaliation with Snitch; a film apparently based on the true life story of a father who went undercover for the FBI to get his son out of trouble.

I wish The Rock was my dad.

Also released this month is the unnecessary, but potentially great Evil Dead remake, as well as the latest Michael Winterbottom /Steve Coogan collaboration The Look of Love, which has been impressing audiences at Sundance and Glasgow Film Festival.

May

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Fast 6
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Fast 6

Another month, another highly anticipated sci-fi blockbuster sequel. Star Trek Into Darkness (no colon there? Really? Sounds like a film about hiking) arrives in the UK on 9th May, and first impressions have all of us at Failed Critics very excited. The first instalment of the reboot series was impressive, but things look like getting a whole lot bigger, darker, and Benedict Cumberbatchier in the sequel.

The following week the UK will get its first look at another big budget, 3D and CGI’d beast of a blockbuster in the shape of a screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Wait, that can’t be right. I have a feeling that The Great Gatsby in 3D is either going to be incredible, or one of the worst films of the year. Baz Luhrmann doesn’t tend to do shades of grey.

This month also sees the release of a couple of sequels, with their respective franchises suffering very different fortunes at the moment. While The Hangover Part III (24th May) looks like being another experiment in ever decreasing comic returns in a series that started reasonably well and then went off a cliff, Fast and Furious 6 looks like being the biggest and most utterly bonkers instalment of a franchise that people had written off as irrelevant years ago.

How did they do it? Two words: The Rock.

Also out this month is a foreign language film to get those of you who don’t mind reading your movies excited. A Hijacking was one of my favourite films of Glasgow Film Festival, and it finally gets a UK release on 10th May. Written and directed by one of the creators of Borgen, it tells the harrowing story of a Danish freighter hijacked by Somali pirates in quite harrowing and ultra-realistic style.

June

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Pain and Gain. It's not out until August, but who's going to argue with him?
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Pain and Gain. It’s not out until August, but who’s going to argue with him?

Every year we see films with a similar narrative start point going up against each other. Years ago it was Armageddon and Deep Impact. A few years later we had Melancholia and Another Earth, while last year we saw two excellent ‘cops trapped in apartment block’ movies in The Raid and Dredd. This summer a couple of ‘deserted Earth and the fight for humanity’s future’ blockbusters coming out within a few months of each other. I’ve already written about Oblivion, but 7th June sees the release of After Earth, the latest film from the crossword wrapped in a Sudoku that is M. Knight Shyamalan. It’s got plenty of star power though, starring Will Smith in one of his rare screen appearances, and his son Jaden Smith.

The big release this month is the return of Superman in Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel. Clunkily billed as ‘Produced by the Director of The Dark Knight Trilogy’, the early trailers suggest that Snyder may have toned down the visual style that made 300 and Watchmen so great to look at. I’m looking forward to this, but I have a nagging suspicion that this might be Snyder doing a Nolan impression, and that’s a worry.

World War Z starring Brad Pitt is out on 21st June, and it seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the kids today just aren’t scared by shuffling zombies any more  It’s a shame, as I really enjoyed the book and I think it may have been better produced as an HBO miniseries, rather than a bog-standard zombie flick that is World War Z in name only. We shall see.

A far more entertaining look at the end of the world could be found in Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s This Is The End. The setting is a party at James Franco’s house, and a variety of celebrities end up facing the apocalypse together. While there is definitely the potential for this to be horrifically self-indulgent and only funny to those on set, the trailer holds up very well and the cast list is a veritable who’s who of US comedy. Fingers crossed.

Rounding off this preview is Joss Whedon’s new film. Considering his last film was a near 3 hour epic that made over $1 billion at the box office and resurrected the superhero ensemble movie, it’s typical Whedon that his next release is a black and white Shakespeare comedy that he filmed in his house with his close friends over a couple of weeks. Much Ado About Nothing got rave reviews at Glasgow Film Festival last month, and word is that it could be one of the great adaptations of the Bard’s work.