Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

Failed Critics Podcast: Silence is Golden (Globes)

SILENCE

Bad episode titles, published at 3am, and two miserly gits moaning about the world? It can only be the return of Failed Critics Podcast in 2017!

Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are on their Todd for the first podcast of the new year to talk about Scorsese’s latest drama, Silence, as well as supernatural hocus pocus shenanigans in The Invitation. The pair also end up chatting about the iconic Steven Spielberg after Steve’s first ever watch of The Color Purple – and perhaps more surprisingly, Owen’s first ever watch of Schindler’s List.

In the news, there’s a chat about Carrie Fisher’s passing, which leads to a discussion about the use of CGI to replace actors in movies. We also quickly skim through the winners and losers of the recent Golden Globes and the speeches that were worth paying attention to.

Join us again next week for reviews of La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

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Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ this was a tough film to watch!

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

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

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

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

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

Life Itself

Life Itself is a beautiful love letter to, well, life itself.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

life itself 2Full Disclosure: I owe Roger Ebert pretty much everything.  If it weren’t for him, I would more than likely not be sat here right now talking to you – through the medium of text – about movies.  I was about 10/11 years old when, one random day, I stumbled upon the now defunct At The Movies website.  I don’t quite remember what brought me there, but I remember the site housing an archive of nearly every single review that the show had broadcast in the 15 or so years that that particular version had existed.  I also distinctly remember losing many days after school to that archive.

As a child, I had a fondness for film but a majorly strong one.  I mean, how could I really?  I was a kid and hadn’t yet figured out what exactly I was interested in, besides videogames and cartoons (not much changes, I know).  Ebert was one of the first to really change that in me.  The way that At The Movies was structured and presented, mixing the formal with the casual near-effortlessly, hooked my attention and seeing Ebert and Gene Siskel – and, eventually, Richard Roeper – trade strong opinions about a medium I didn’t realise meant so much set off some kind of light bulb in my head.  “These people get paid to talk about movies!”

This is not to discount Ebert’s written work, of course.  The man had a way with words that managed to convey this wonder about films that I had previously never heard of or would not normally have sought out, and made them things I needed to see or avoid.  He was able to do this for 10 Year-Old Me, reading articles and reviews intended for an audience way older than I at the time; a testament to the sheer power he had with words, both written and spoken.  His was the voice that pushed me a bit deeper into the world of film and his was the first voice to awaken a desire in me to try writing critically.  His influence is so great in me that I can’t imagine a version of me that made it to this point without that initial tangible moment as a kid.

When I heard the news of his passing on April 5th of 2013, via Twitter as is so often the case nowadays, I closed the door of the bedroom of my house – to ensure that none of my family members could come in and ruin the moment with their casual insensitivity – and I cried.  I cried for a good 5 minutes and I was miserable for a good hour or so afterwards.  Roger Ebert was a goddamn hero to me and the loss of his life hurt like nothing else had hurt me before.  After wallowing for a while, however, I chose to watch a film.  In my mind, that was the only true way to react to the news, to re-immerse myself in the medium that had inspired him in the way that he inspired me.

I ended up watch The Fast And The Furious, in my attempts to get caught up in time for Furious 6Apparently the man would have approved.

Now, before you ask, yes, there is a reason why I told you all this.  Personal bias disclosure is only one of them.  I wanted to get across why a documentary about Roger Ebert cannot solely be about Roger Ebert.  The reason why he was so beloved, why he remained at the forefront of film criticism right up until his death, and why his passing was mourned by so many is because of the different ways he affected us, the people who paid witness to his various works.  To make a documentary solely focussed on Roger Ebert, one that looks purely at his life, his accomplishments and legacy in a dry, laser-focussed way that leaves “Roger Ebert was a swell guy” as the sole thematic thread for proceedings, would be to do the man a disservice and to misrepresent precisely why he was so important.

Life Itself, then, doesn’t do that.  Its director, Steve James – whose 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams was fiercely championed by Ebert throughout his life – recognises the futility of such an endeavour.  Instead, Life Itself is a documentary about love, life, sickness, death, film, culture, television, art, relationships, and so much more with Ebert himself as the focal point around whom the film pivots.  This is not just a film about Roger Ebert, although he is its central figure, and that is the thing’s stroke of genius.  This is the kind of film, I firmly believe, that really does have something for everyone, where anyone can view it regardless of their preferences or prior knowledge on the subject and get something strong and something different out of it.

On the surface level, as a documentary about the life and times of noted film critic Roger Ebert, it more than does its job.  As expected, James interviews a whole bunch of people that Ebert had a strong connection with – from colleagues at The Chicago Sun Times, to filmmakers, to his wife Chaz, to the owner of a bar that Ebert would frequent in his early days – and the film goes into varying amounts of detail on the things worth noting about the man – At The Movies, his relationship with Gene Siskel, the time he wrote Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls for Russ Meyer.  All very standard and how you do.

What sets it apart is the presentation.  I’m not referring to the visual style – talking heads, file footage, a very good impression of Ebert by Steven Stanton who quotes from Ebert’s memoir frequently – I’m talking more about the tone, the mood.  This is a joyous film, a celebratory film, and that infectious spirit and energy fuels the film for its two hour runtime.  It’s not a hagiography, and it’s not free of heartbreak and scenes of great sadness, but that celebratory nature underlines the effect its subject had on those who came across his work and adds up to this genuinely inspirational aura that emanates from it.  I had a great big smile on my face for the vast majority of the length of this film, and learnt a tonne about the man and what made him tick, too – specifically the lengthy segment dedicated to his yearly patronage to the Conference Of World Affairs.

But, as previously mentioned, Life Itself is not just about what Ebert has done.  It’s also just as much about the impact he had on those he interacted with, and the film touches on these in a number of small-scale case studies.  Martin Scorsese relates just how important Ebert’s first review of Who’s That Knocking At My Door? was to him, Ramin Bahrani goes into detail about his friendship with Ebert and how vital that was in aiding his career artistically, Werner Herzog explains why Ebert is the only person he has dedicated a film to.  It would have been easy to go wide with this, to look at his influence on a wider scale and interview tonnes of people with their own short little stories, but that would downplay the human element and the fact that the film minimises the number of these stories – and giving the ones that do come up time to breathe – makes them connect that much more strongly.

Then, of course, there is his relationship with Gene Siskel, which provides its own narrative and thematic thread – one of rivalries and friendships.  Seeing the beginnings of their relationship, their simmering contempt for one another, and watching it defrost and blossom into this competitive yet friendly rivalry where begrudging respect gives way to playful teasing is a genuinely joyful thing to behold.  The way it contrasts a set of outtakes from an earlier episode of their show – where their bickering is very much mean-spirited and openly-hostile – with a later episode of their show – lighter, more tongue-in-cheek, affectionate – is masterful.  Even those who aren’t already familiar with their dynamic should be clued in with exactly how close their bond ended up by the time that the film has to address Siskel’s untimely passing.

Which brings me to the film’s focus on sickness and death.  The mostly chronological telling of Roger’s life is infrequently broken up by scenes shot with Roger in the hospital just a few months before his death, and Life Itself does not pull a single one of its punches here.  Quite simply, a hell of a lot of this footage is excruciatingly hard to watch as Ebert – without a lower jaw, surgically removed to help slow down the spread of his cancer, and the ability to speak – soldiers on towards a death he knows is coming, although unsure of exactly when, and of which he is powerless to do anything to stop.

These scenes are brutal, especially the further into the documentary we get as even Roger Ebert fails to muster up the energy required to put on a brave face for the camera the worse his condition gets.  Yet, they represent an incredibly frank and truthful look at the process of sickness and slow debilitating death.  Heartbreakingly miserable one minute, uncomfortably hard-to-experience the next, surprisingly funny every so often.  In one of the film’s stand-out scenes, Ebert has Steve James film the process that he has to go through to ingest food and water.  It legitimately affected me in this deep, personal way – seeing somebody I look up to and respect the hell out of in this vulnerable reliant state dredged up memories of seeing my Granddad in hospital before he finally succumbed to cancer – but Ebert is the very first to lighten the mood, almost proudly declaring that they have filmed something that nobody else has likely ever filmed before.

I spent at least the last half hour of Life Itself in near-non-stop floods of tears of various kinds.  When I noted that the film doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to depicting Ebert’s final few days, I damn well meant it.  Seeing the last of his resolve fade away, so soon after the film had covered Gene Siskel’s death, really hit home for me.  But it is not manipulative, or exploitative, or anything that connotes poor taste.  What it is is honest.  It is honest and genuine in a way that I have yet to experience from any other movie that I can recall.  And yes, part of that is due to my prior stated admiration for Ebert and part of that is due to my own personal baggage, but for a film to so masterfully and so frankly look at death in a way that brings up my personal baggage without it feeling crass astounds me.  In a good way.  It’s genuine and it provides a fine compliment and counterpoint to the celebration of life that fuels the rest of the film.

No film this year has touched me, affected me, and spoken to me in the same way, the same style, or the same quality as Life Itself has managed to.  This is one of those films that can offer something for pretty much everyone, even though its appearance seems like it will only appeal to a hyper-specific group.  It is a celebration of life, an honest look at death, a punishing look at sickness, an uplifting look at the effect that one person can have on those who interact with him directly or indirectly, an inspirational reminder of the power of film, and a fitting tribute to one of the most important men in film criticism.

It is all of those things but it is also, for me, an intensely personal document of the things I love, the people I aspire to be even a hundredth as good as, the things and concepts that terrify me most in life, and a pure shot of feel-good inspiration.  Life Itself is an indescribably beautiful film that speaks to me in a way that few films do.  Everybody should see it immediately.

Life Itself is available to buy and rent on iTunes.  It will be released on DVD on February 23rd 2015.

Callum Petch lived for a year, in a bed by the window.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Shark Tale

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


shark tale09] Shark Tale (1st October 2004)

Budget: $75 million

Gross: $367,275,019

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%

Oy vey.

Ever since I started this little project, I was dreading the moment when I would have to do Shark Tale.  Its presence on the “To Watch” list hung over the entire venture like a dead rotting albatross, never letting me forget its existence even whilst I was really enjoying myself with DreamWorks Animation’s other, really very enjoyable films.  Shark Tale, you see, has a reputation.  Despite taking $367 million worldwide and being the 9th Highest Grossing Film of 2004 Worldwide, you will find nobody who is willing to admit to liking Shark Tale.  It is widely seen as one of the worst animated films of the decade, a distillation of everything that is wrong with animated movies and DreamWorks Animation, and would have faded into total obscurity if it weren’t for obsessive asshats like my good self dredging it back up every so often to ensure that nobody forgets it, lest they end up making the same mistakes and subjected a new generation to unspeakable horrors.

Yet, though I approached my task with wary and weary resignation, I entered with a good sense of curiosity overriding everything else.  If you’ve noticed a common thread with regards to this series by now, it’ll be that this endeavour is just an excuse for me to take an in-depth look at animated movies and spend multiple A4 pages explaining why they do or do-not work, why they were or were-not successful at the time, and to go on for hours about the history of animation, a subject I know much less about than you think I do.  And let’s not short-sell it, Shark Tale was a giant success at the box office with the public.  It was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (2004 was not a good year for the medium, granted, but this over The Spongebob Squarepants Movie?!).  Obviously it must have done something right.  I even had the DVD and watched the film a few times as a kid.  Seeing as I remembered nothing about it, I decided to go in with the hopes that it couldn’t be as bad as it had been made out to be, and that I was going to try and figure out why this movie became so successful yet faded into memory.

Below, you will find my reaction to Shark Tale whilst it was running and for a good half hour after it finished.

double facepalm

Shark Tale is one of the worst films that I have ever seen.  This is not an exaggeration, one made for comic effect and to flanderize my true thoughts on the movie.  Shark Tale is one of the worst films that I have ever seen in my entire life.  At the 22 minute mark, I genuinely paused the film with the intent of shutting it off and never returning to it.  I have only ever (metaphorically) walked out of a film once due to it being absolutely dreadful (read: no outside circumstances, like power cuts or needing to be elsewhere), said film being Disaster Movie, and Shark Tale came this close to joining that club.  I don’t even know how I’m going to touch on everything wrong with this movie within my usual allotted space.  This is a total failure on every single level and there are no redeeming qualities anywhere.  That sentence should probably give you a strong indicator as to why I was all set to just quit at barely the 1/4 mark.

But, I persevered, for I set out to watch every single DreamWorks Animation film and over-analyse them like a nit-picky internet jerk.  Plus, it would look really bad if I missed a week and just moved onto Madagascar without saying anything about this.  So, with the remainder of our allotted time together (because you are busy people with places to be and better things to be doing than watching a 19 year-old man complain about Shark Tale for an eternity), I will attempt to explain what is wrong with Shark Tale.  The result will likely end up covering just a fraction of the problems with this film.  Be grateful this isn’t a video or audio-based series, as the end result would probably be about 90 minutes long and have at least 40% of the runtime consist of me sputtering futilely like an enraged-yet-despairing Looney Tunes character.

Let’s start with something easily tangible that we can all notice together: the animation and, most specifically, the character designs.  The animation itself is mediocre to poor: there’s a lack of detail pretty much everywhere, the water doesn’t look or feel like water, colours are muddied instead of decently shaded, and movements are pretty dreadful.  Whenever character movements aren’t being too jerky, less the artistic decision to make it “pose-to-pose” (like in the TV series Clone High) and more “this character needs to be in this position from that position, but lunchtime is coming up and I can’t be arsed, so I’m only going to do, like, half of the frames the job needs,” they’re instead being way too smooth and lacking in weight; it never feels like anyone’s actually in liquid of any viscosity, let alone the sea.  It’s bad and, yes, it does come off even worse considering the fact that Finding Nemo came out 18 months earlier.

But the animation is not the main issue with the look of Shark Tale.  That would be reserved for the character designs.  Now, there is a reason why one does not try and accurately make animated characters look like the people voicing them.  Actually, make that two reasons.  The first is that you’re going to look very silly if you design a character to look like Brad Pitt and then Brad Pitt doesn’t show up to play him.  The second is that a more cartoony and stylised art design for the rest of the film and a really accurate facial likeness of a celebrity don’t mix, meaning that your character is going to look hideous, terrifying, and completely ill-fitting with the rest of the world.  Apply the knowledge that you’ve just learnt, then, to answering this question: why do you not try and design a cast of fish to have faces that resemble the people playing them.

Answer: because you get Jellyfish Christina Aguilera.

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This is more terrifying than anything that Annabelle will cook up

That’s the most extreme example, but the rest of the cast are honestly not much better.  Oscar’s face is noticeably off-looking from a good majority of angles, due to his eyes being too wide and his facial features trying to resemble Will Smith.  Lola’s lips are stuck in this weird halfway house between fish and human, like they desperately tried to capture the effect of Angelina Jolie wearing lipstick and failed miserably, and just end up distracting as a result.  Sykes, meanwhile, is basically the result of copying a photo of Martin Scorsese’s face without glasses, circa 1978, and pasting it onto a puffer-fish, with the unholy result being what you spend 90 minutes viewing.  And the way that their fins move like human arms and hands is just unnervingly creepy.  These are bad, ugly character designs; the kind that makes even the film’s nicest character, Lenny, look like a knock-off tie-in toy for the real character rather than anything loveable or even bearable to look at for 90 minutes.

I’m probably not going to get any better of a segway than that last paragraph, so let’s transition over to the voice acting.  Now, stunt casting in animated films was absolutely nothing new in 2004.  Hell, Shrek 2 heavily indulged in it about six months prior to Shark Tale, and let’s not forget the all-star cast lists of other DreamWorks films.  And whilst I will sit here and grumble irritatingly about how professional VAs never get any chances in big budget cinema-focussed films nowadays, I will cease my complaining if the cast are really good or fit their parts well.  Basically, as long as they were cast for reasons that amount to more than “they’re big now, right?” then I don’t have a problem.  You’ll notice that this is why I didn’t moan about the overabundance of big-names populating Shrek 2, they may have been given garbage material but they were all at least trying to make it work.

As you may have guessed by that entire preceding paragraph, I am building up to the earth-shattering revelation that almost none of Shark Tale’s cast are any good or even trying at all.  There are those in paycheque-collecting mode (Robert De Niro who almost reaches the depths he plumbed in The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle just 4 years earlier), those who are flatter than Flat Stanley (Angelina Jolie who, goddammit, is supposed to be playing a sexpot, for crying out loud), those who are trying but being directed poorly (Jack Black is the only one of the main cast who actually tries putting on a voice, but he can’t stick with it the whole way through), and then there is Martin Scorsese.  Before watching Shark Tale, I firmly believed that I could listen to Martin Scorsese talk about anything for hours.  The man is just so excitable and passionate about pretty much anything that he could probably read the phone book and hold my interest.

Then, about 11 minutes into Shark Tale, this happens.

Look, maybe there’s a way to make that exchange funny.  Scorsese did not know how.  That was my first indicator that my long-held belief with regards to Scorsese was going to be put to the ultimate test.  The man, quite simply, is out of his depth (he he, sea puns) and I realised that he would not be able to elevate garbage material.  That, incidentally, is the only clip of Shark Tale that I can find on YouTube with Sykes prominently featured in it, which is a pain for me trying to illustrate my point, but a blessing for you, the reader.  See, that means that you don’t have to see or hear Martin Scorsese attempting fist-bumps, gangster lingo, dreadful mafia movie references, or “that one dance move where you lick your finger, place it on your butt and hiss like steam is going off” and you get to go through life without having those images permanently seared into your subconscious because DEAR GOD WHY!?

So it probably won’t surprise you to find out that Shark Tale was written by white people, yet keeps attempting to work in references to hip-hop, gangster, and lower-class New York life.  It also probably won’t surprise you to find out that their every attempt to tap into those sub-cultures is embarrassingly cringeworthy and gives off the strong impression that their only experience of primarily black culture was The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.  Fitting seeing as Will Smith is playing the lead, but it leads to this continual feel of people trying to tap into sub-cultures that have become popular without actually understanding them.  Or, in fact, knowing anything about them at all beyond a ten-second Google search and an afternoon watching MTV Base.  It’s like if your Granddad tried to prove that he is “hip” and “down with the kids” by using those very phrases earnestly.

Plus, those references don’t gel with the gangster movie that Shark Tale also wants to be.  In fact, Shark Tale is a confused and aimless movie with no general point to it.  It keeps trying on all of these different hats, all these different plot threads, all these different thematic threads, but it never settles on one.  Not once does the film seem to know what it’s trying to be.  Is it a mafia story about a father who is passing on his empire to his sons?  Is it a rags-to-riches story about a lowly schmuck who has dreams bigger than his current standing in life?  Is it a cautionary tale about how lying will only make things worse for everyone or about not letting success go to your head?  Is it a film about grief?  Is it a film about social standing?  Is it a film that uses the thinnest of metaphors for homosexuality and coming out to your parents?

Truth is that Shark Tale is about every single one of these and none of them whatsoever, because it tries to do them all at once and schizophrenically hops between them from scene-to-scene doing absolutely none of them justice.  As a result of this indecisiveness, the film lacks a thematic core, a central reason as to why all of its events are happening.  Of course, I’m pretty sure the problem is not indecisiveness.  The entire vibe that Shark Tale gives off, more than any other, is a desire to earn a quick buck.  A light bulb moment from everyone involved higher-up at the company: the realisation that Shrek may be a winning formula and a desire to milk that “edgy kids’ animation” udder as hard and as fast as is humanly possible.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the film was greenlit after somebody walked up to a man in charge one day with a list of A-list actors and a note saying that rap culture was in right now, with everything else just being made up on the fly after the fact.  It would explain the total over-stuffed mess that we ended up getting.

It would also explain how we ended up with one of the most inadvertently unlikeable heroes I have ever met in an animated movie.  Seriously, Oscar is a giant jerk-ass.  He is selfish, manipulative, a compulsive liar, gambler and overall degenerate, lazy, uncaring of his friends, and only helpful when it serves his own personal interests.  Now, I get that this is supposed to be the point, he starts a jerk and then gets better when character development kicks in, but there are two stumbling blocks to this.  1) He begins too unlikeable.  There is a difference between “a jerk who is entertaining to watch” and “a jerk who I would like to see flambéed immediately” and he is most definitely in the latter category, despite Will Smith’s natural likeable charisma.  2) His big heroic act near the end, rescuing Angie and revealing his lie, is still being done out of selfish desires, a desire to pork Angie, so he’s actually learnt nothing.  His making amends with the sharks feels crowbarred in purely to try and make that complaint hold little weight, instead of anything natural.

That “pitch” that I mentioned two paragraphs back would probably also explain why the film’s “jokes” are so utterly non-existent or just-plain-terrible.  As a little mini-case study, let’s all watch the fake shark attack sequence together.

Notice how most of this sequence is not built on broad physical comedy, character work, or at least contrasting the fake performance with how it looks to the bystanders.  Notice instead how it primarily attempts to get its laughs from random pop culture references.  Yes, references.  Lenny singing a bastardisation of the Jaws theme to himself (which is not a call-back, despite the joke having already been used with a different character earlier in the movie, because it’s the same joke), the battle taking place in a very-thinly veiled version of New York, and then there’s that bit where Oscar just starts shouting phrases from classic movies.  None of them have any reason for being said in the context of the scene, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to their delivery or choice; the lone exception being “YOU HAD ME AT ‘HELLO’!” because, hey, Renée Zellweger starred in Jerry Maguire so ha.

The scene has no actual jokes.  Lenny eating Oscar could have been a funny sudden gag, but it’s dragged out too long, leads into an overly-tangential rant by Oscar, and the animation is too low-quality to truly sell it.  Otherwise, it’s just pop culture references and a performance that’s too absurd and too long to be funny.  When concocting a scene where two characters are putting on a fake display of some kind, you need it to be absurd enough that it’s funny for the viewer, but not dragged out too long as to make them start wondering why nobody in the film’s world has cottoned on.  There also need to be jokes.  Shark Tale’s is absurd, but it goes on for way too long and lacks in jokes, making one wonder how anyone could be buying this.  (For an example of how to do this kind of thing right, I point you towards this scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender.)  Instead of there being actual jokes, Lenny gets punched through a billboard for Jaws.  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

And that kind of quote-unquote joke abounds everywhere throughout Shark Tale.  From its casting (hey, look, it’s Michael Imperioli who is here because he was in Goodfellas and The Sopranos), to its billboard parodies (more on those in a sec), to brick jokes that should be funny (a shrimp that Lenny spared earlier in the movie returns in the climax quite literally so that it can say “Say hello to my little friends!”), to pretty much any usage of music.  What do I mean by that?  When Oscar seems to have outsmarted the sharks, he immediately gets up on the table and sings Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer, complete with doing the dance (which was the moment I realised why Oscar’s character design was the way it was).  When Lola is introduced (and I could write something like 20 paragraphs on this film’s usage and treatment of women, so be glad we’re near wrapping-up time), the soundtrack plays Gold Digger by Ludacris, to just ram that point home as hard as is humanly possible.  And then, there’s this.

Oy vey indeed, Robert De Niro.  It’s all just so goddamn lazy, completely devoid of skill or effort, and done with a near-total contempt for the audience the result ends up in front of.  Then, much like in Shrek 2, there are the jokes aimed only at children, because attempting double-coding properly like in the first Shrek was just too much work for everyone involved at DreamWorks Animation in 2004.  You know: fart jokes, inherently funny words being repeated endlessly for no reason, wacky comic relief that pops up with a joke any time that a scene gets in danger of being too serious (funny that the first Shrek lampooned this Disney trope and yet DreamWorks couldn’t stay away from it, isn’t it), more fart jokes, wacky comic relief based around racial stereotypes that everyone involved hopes that children are too young to realise are racist, something gross occurring, even more fart jokes, poorly-done physical humour, and sudden music cues because WACKY!  Wanna take a guess how this all turns out?

One last thing and then I will let you leave.  I get that Shark Tale is supposed to be set in an underwater equivalent to New York City.  I get that that means that there will be a temptation for the animators to create parodies of famous brands and advertising billboards and the like, littering them around the set.  When the parodies are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, to such a degree that I spent a good half of the movie thinking that there was genuine product placement going on for Coca-Cola until it got a close-up, though, you have failed at your job.  There are not-100%-intrusive places for product placement in movies.  An animated film aimed at kids’ about undersea life is not one of them.  This should have been cut down immediately in the concept stage of the film’s lifespan, especially since it’s one of the quickest ways to figure out exactly when the film came out and the culture it spawned from.

Well, we’re out of time.  I hope you enjoyed this systemic breakdown of just a small percentage, about 14% tops, of the ways that Shark Tale is a complete and total failure, a blight on DreamWorks Animation, the animation industry as a whole, and the world in general, and a completely creatively-bankrupt exercise in cynical cash-grab movie-making.  Fortunately for us all, despite being one of the year’s highest grossing films, we have been spared any further adventures in the world of Shark Tale as, apparently, it didn’t play well overseas.  Which is demonstrably false, but I guess is better for business than just admitting that everyone at DreamWorks done f*cked up and would prefer that we never speak of this again.  A sentiment that I will be happy to oblige…

…right after I subject you all to The Dance Party Ending.

See you next week, folks!


2004 was the year that DreamWorks Animation forcefully staked their claim to the feature-length animation landscape.  Two giant financial successes, one of which also being a critical smash, will do that to your standing.  The company would spend the next few years solidifying its position as one of the major players in that field, albeit mostly at the cost of the critical acclaim that stood them out from the pack of pretenders at the beginning of their career, keeping up a steady output of two films every year for almost the entire remainder of the decade.  Next week, we enter 2005 and look at the beginnings of their second mega-successful franchise, Madagascar.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch might not ever get rich, but it’s better than digging a ditch.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Week In Film – 29 August 2014: From Dickie Attenborough to Martin Scorsese

Welcome… to the Week In Film! No Steve this week as he was too busy trying to edit the latest Failed Critics Podcast into something that resembled coherent chat. Instead, stepping in at the last minute is Owen Hughes, rounding up what’s been happening in the world of film.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Richard AttenboroughRichard Attenborough: A Tribute

Sad news to start us off this week as BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar winning actor/director Richard Attenborough passed away. Whether he was breaking out of POW camps in The Great Escape or saving Christmas in Miracle on 34th Street, his roles have become synonymous with iconic cinema. His delivery of lines was second to none and he’ll go down as a true legend.

He has been the star of many of the Failed Critics’ favourite films too, from 1947’s British gangster classic Brighton Rock to Spielberg’s dinosaur epic adventure movie Jurassic Park.

For that, we’d like to thank him for brightening up our lives 90-120 minutes at a time.

Another successful FrightFest

Onto more light-hearted news now as Monday saw the close of the 15th annual FrightFest held at the Vue cinema in the West End. A total of 64 films were screened over the extended weekend’s festival of all things horror.

No matter how big or small the budget, it is as much of a chance for indie film makers like Jessica Cameron [whose interview with us will be on the site soon] as it is for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller to get their film seen by die hard fans. From Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, to Bad Milo! (a film about a monster that lives inside a man’s arse) the range of films on show catered for every kind of fan and the vast majority left FrightFest satisfied.

This year we even had our own inside man, Mike Shawcross. You can check out his opinion on the festival from the venue changes to the films screened.

Hanks, Howard and popular literature

Following news last week that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg will be unexpectedly reuniting to make a new film so shortly after it was assumed their Cornetto trilogy had been completed, this week we learned that Ron Howard and Tom Hanks will be getting together again.

They will be combining once more to adapt another Dan Brown crime-mystery novel, Inferno. Whilst on paper the plot sounds interesting, like a mix between the Liam Neeson thriller Unknown and the recent Channel 4 series Utopia, expectations are low.

Both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were massively popular mystery novels yet the films drew little critical praise, despite Da Vinci Code earning huge amounts in the box office. A bit like the books themselves, they were both very popular with their readers, but panned by critics.ashecliffe

Shutter Island: Ashecliffe

Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller from 2010, Shutter Island, is set to be made into a TV series. Set in 1954, the film saw a US Marshall investigate a missing persons case at a home for the criminally insane as his own sanity is called into question.

Few solid details about the show have been confirmed, save for the fact that the title will be Ashecliffe, the name of the hospital, and that Scorsese will direct the pilot episode and Dennis Lehane will pen it. With Fargo‘s recent translation from the silver screen to the LED one, it seems a trend may be developing.

Next week, Steve will return to give us another round up of the latest in film news. 

Failed Critics Podcast: Oscars, the McConaisance, and the Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall StreetThis week’s podcast is less than half the length and features hundreds fewer F-bombs than our main review this week, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Don’t worry though, we were all massively doped up on ludes.

We also look at the Oscar nominations, discuss the incredible rebirth of Matthew McConaughey, and look ahead to the Glasgow Film Festival. Owen reviews The Last Temptation of Christ, Steve finally watches The Impossible, and James’ journey around the world in 80 films sees him in Denmark, with Lars Von Trier’s The Boss of it All.

Join us next week for reviews of Inside Llewyn Davis, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (if we can be bothered).

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A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1990

A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Kate has chosen to relive the nineties, because she’s old enough to remember them in their entirety  This week she revisits 1990.

5. Pretty Woman

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“I think we both know she’s not my niece.”

Bridging the gap from the big hair and leather boots of the Eighties to the sleek bobs and kitten heels of the Nineties is Pretty Woman. Hot off the heels of the female-barbershop-quintet-renal-failure-romp Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts smashes it, teaches Hollywood Boulevard a lesson, and basically makes us all want to become a hooker.

I’ve written before that I first saw this film in primary school. Over twenty years on, it stands the test of time. Roberts is adorable and exquisite – the need to exclaim how much nicer her real hair is once she loses the wig never tires. I generally don’t see the appeal of Gere, though his brooding business man (a precursor to Sex and the City’s Mr Big)  is endearing. However it’s Héctor Elizondo as the kindly hotel manager who steals the show. And his real life love story with director Garry Marshall is even cuter than Edward & Vivian.

 

4. Home Alone

“Kevin, you’re such a disease!”

After defining teen movies throughout the Eighties, John Hughes enters the new decade with a new protagonist, and children everywhere respond by attempting to bunk off their family holidays. As is the John Hughes grown up hating way, eight year old Kevin is smarter, more socially aware, with better woodworking skills than his adult counterparts, and defends his house accordingly.

Watching this as a kid around the same age as the star was pretty exciting, and a great way to diminish a fear of burglars. Just don’t say it launched Culkin‘s career, because he was brilliant in Uncle Buck the year before. It stands up to repeat viewings, and the great Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s forgetful mum becomes more infuriating each time. I’m a sucker for a good Christmas film, and you can’t beat a bit of Carol of the Bells. Home Alone 2 is miles better, though.

 

3. Ghost

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“Molly, you in danger, girl.”

The highest grossing film of the year, nominated for five (winner of two) Academy Awards, and perpetually dismissed as a chick flick. The ghost of a murdered banker enlists the help of a usually phoney psychic to save the life of his lover. A potter’s wheel and The Righteous Brothers also star. That Sam and his colleagues conduct their multimillion dollar deals on VDU green screens shows the leap in technology about to take place. By the end of the decade we were watching The Matrix.

A love story, no doubt, but the relationships both Sam and Molly have with psychic Oda Mae Brown are the important ones. Goldberg plays cynical and hysterical to perfection, and this role sets her up nicely for a career as a nun. The late Patrick Swayze offers up some serious emotional acting, after spending the previous few years typecast as a face kicking dancer. He still manages to take his top off quite a bit though, which is no bad thing.

 

2. Edward Scissorhands

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“Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did.”

Tim Burton‘s surprise follow up to Beetlejuice and Batman chronicles the discovery of an inventor’s unfinished creation in weird suburbia. The film is said to be largely autobiographical for Burton. Except the bit where he has scissors for hands. A tragic love story about society, reality and hedge-trimming. Beauty and the Beast for the Nineties, but without the happy ending.

An angsty teen staple, I watched my VHS copy until it died. Even the trailer makes me well up. Depp is stunning as our Gothic hero, in the first of many collaborations with Burton. And the always good Dianne Wiest, is the nicest Avon lady you could ever hope to procure eye shadow from.

 

1. Goodfellas

“One day some of the kids from the neighborhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect.”

Spanning three decades in the life of a gangster and, after the economic slump of the Eighties, showcasing a lifestyle we could all aspire to. A contender for the greatest film of all time (until we reach 1994, at least) and certainly one of Scorsese’s greatest achievements (not counting his Curb Your Enthusiasm cameo).

Ensemble cinema at its best, marred only by the fact that our original DVD copy had to be flipped over halfway through the film to accommodate the 146 minute running time. From the pitch perfect soundtrack, to that tracking shot, Goodfellas is perfect every time. And then we got to relive it the following decade, when half the cast showed up in The Sopranos.