Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

Failed Critics Podcast: Panning Pan, Suffering Suffragette & Walking The Walk

suffragette 2015In this episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by guests Andrew Brooker and Callum Petch to take a look over the latest film releases, review what else they’ve been watching in the past seven days, and to cast their beady eyes over recent news.

With the score tightly poised at 1-1, Steve’s ground breaking, Earth shattering, cataclysmic quiz kicks off this week’s episode, swiftly followed by some news close to home [INSERT ‘NEW WEBSITE’ KLAXON] and some a whole (cinematic) universe away. The team also discuss the trailers for the first ever Netflix original movie, Beasts of No Nation, as well as the upcoming Coen Brothers film, Hail, Caesar!.

We also feature a look back at The NeverEnding Story, a look ahead to Hotel Transylvania 2, and a look… now… at the Fright Night remake. Callum retains his dignity when Owen and Steve shrug in unison at Sicario, before delving into some returning TV shows, including The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and Z-Nation. Unfortunately, they haven’t been seen on a new SONY BRAVIA TV. Ahem.

Of course the podcast wouldn’t be complete without a review of the latest films to hit the cinema screens. Callum can’t quite fathom the ‘who’, ‘how’ or ‘why’ Pan was made, whilst Steve explains why we’re all bad people for not watching it. Brooker and Owen reveal why Suffragette might just be one of the films of the year, but may also be a difficult watch for some people. There’s even room for a final grab at the popcorn bucket as the new Robert Zemeckis movie, The Walk, proves to be a success.

Join Steve and Owen again next week with more new guests for a Halloween triple bill and a review of Crimson Peak.

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Suffragette

image“We don’t want to be law breakers. We want to be law makers.”

Back when I was in school and trying to figure out my “options” for my GCSE years, the one subject I wanted to do without a moments doubt, was history. We’d spent the few years previous learning about the world wars, ancient Egypt and all kind of interesting guff in between so I was instantly sold. Day one of year 10 (more or less 9th grade for those in the States) I regretted my decision instantly. No more wars and politics, no more Egyptians or Tudors. Women was where I would be spending the next two years. Women at work, women’s votes, the whole nine yards. I was livid. I’m not, and wasn’t, anti-woman or anti-feminism or any of that primitive, Neanderthal bollocks. What I was, and still am, is anti-bored off my ass reading about shit that I don’t find interesting.

Luckily, and happily, a few weeks in and it turns out that women in history, and women’s fight for equality and the vote in particular, may be some of the most interesting parts of history that I’ve ever spent time reading about. An impossible struggle that women would certainly never win, made possible by sheer force of will and determination.  It is maybe one of the most impressive feats in history and now, finally, we get a film that promises to tell the story of England’s “Suffragettes” with respect and dignity and what better name for it? Suffragette.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette takes place in 1912 London, just as the movement was hitting its peak and the working class women fighting for the vote are beginning to escalate from the peaceful protests that have failed miserably for so long, to the strong-arm tactics that made the movement famous and eventually got them the vote. It’s at this turning point that we meet Maud, a woman who has worked in an industrial laundry since she was a little girl and is sitting on the sidelines, watching the movement from outside of it and keeping her head down and out of trouble. When the government offer to hear arguments from the women who work in London, Maud is the only person to step up in support of her friend and fellow laundry worker Violet, a proud suffragette who will be speaking at the Houses of Parliament and hoping to garner support from David Lloyd George – the then Chancellor of the Exchequer who would go on to be Prime Minister a few years later – and maybe give the movement some well needed and well deserved traction in government.

On the day of the visit to London’s centre of government, Violet arrives quite badly beaten up and unable to stand in front of the men of the government. Taking her place at the Palace of Westminster, Maud tells her story to a room full of MPs who don’t necessarily agree with her stance or that of the suffragette movement and unwittingly finds herself hip deep in the movement she tried so hard to stay away from. Things get progressively worse for Maud when her usually supportive husband takes a dislike to the path she’s found herself on and begins to resent her for what she is becoming and the ideologies that she has begun to fight for.

As the campaign of not-so-peaceful protesting heats up, so does Maud’s struggle both with her conscience and her family. With odds, and the law, always against her and the suffragettes and the struggle seeming almost impossible at every turn, it’s only a matter of time before something has to give and this long-fought endeavour for women’s equality will come to a head.

I went into Suffragette with very high expectations. The story of these women that put everything on the line to get the most basic of rights that we take for granted nowadays is one that’s always needed telling and it ended telling well. With today’s climate being the way it is, and women’s rights being almost as fragile now as they were back then, there was a lot riding on this film being something of a beacon for women’s rights and equality. Thankfully, the film does a splendid job in almost everything it does and tells its story with a level of class and decency that most films would only dream of getting to, stumbling into clichés all the way through.

Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Maud, the long-suffering laundry worker whose priority is her family over her wanting the vote, is stunning. This woman who fell into becoming the film’s unwitting poster child for the movement led by world famous names like Emmeline Pankhurst and whose biggest challenges come after she starts to fight for her rights. Anyone that doesn’t feel for this woman as her family falls apart and her life is torn to pieces after being pushed to become part of a movement she doesn’t necessarily believe in is completely heartless. Pushing her into the movement are the two most prominent people in Maud’s life outside of her family. Firstly, her friend Violet, a great turn by Anne-Marie Duff; a woman who, along with Maud, is the epitome of the working class woman who were woefully under-represented at the beginning of the last century. Second is local pharmacist Edith Ellin, a woman quite literally scorned by her lack of rights not only to a vote, but to an education as well and has become the de facto leader of the East End’s suffragettes who is willing to put everything on the line for what she believes in. Helena Bonham-Carter (an actress who continues to impress me after all these years, so long as she isn’t in Tim Burton films) takes the part of Edith and owns every scene she is in with a presence that most of the cast can only dream to have one day. You feel the pain and anger with her as she leads her charge into unwinnable battles time after time, unrelenting in her convictions and unrepentant in her actions. She’s simply outstanding.

Supporting these great, great actresses is a stellar cast bringing up the rear. Brendan Gleeson’s detective Steed, a copper clearly conflicted and struggling himself between his commitment to the law and his dislike of the way that these women are being treated is a great fit for this brilliant actor. It’s tough enough to keep the sympathies with the women who deserve it, but his flashes of conscience and compassion make you think twice about out-and-out hating him for what he’s doing. Turning the world famous Emmeline Pankhurst into a cameo role was an interesting decision, skipping past the risk of turning it into a full-blown biopic, Meryl Streep’s Pankhurst is spoken of more than she is seen in this film about a movement for which she was the champion; used as motivation for both the law and the suffragettes, Pankhurst’s walk-on part of Suffragette is as powerful a statement about the fight for women’s rights as any made during the film. Much more time is spent on Natalie Press’ Emily Davidson; the suffragette who – if you don’t know who she is, I won’t spoil anything, but safe to say that a history book or two never hurt anyone – brought worldwide attention to the suffragette movement and the time we spend with her in the film portrays her as a desperate woman who’s running short on patience and time and wants the voices of these women to be heard as loud and as far out as possible.

In certain dark and nasty parts of the internet, places that I sadly find myself passing near far too often, the idea of women’s equality is still a dirty thought and as these horrible notions find their way into more mainstream areas of life, Suffragette may be the most important film made this year. Nearly a hundred years since the first positive legal steps were taken towards equal rights for women, there is no better time than now for us all to step back and take the 105-minute journey with East London’s suffragettes and realise that while plenty has changed for the better, far too much has stayed the same.

Some historical inaccuracies aside, Suffragette is a masterpiece. Powerful, poignant and, from here on out, should be required viewing for everyone.

Into The Woods

Watered down for family viewing, this Brothers Grimm musical mashup sails a sea of mediocrity for two hours leaving you feeling that something is most definitely missing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

into the woodsIt’s a strange feeling to go into a Disney film with lowered expectations. It’s a weird mind-set to have knowing that the last few musicals you sat through knocked out any hope that you might ever enjoy one again. But hey, I grew up on old school Disney animation and can still to this day reel off the lyrics to all the songs in The Jungle Book and Aladdin. So if any film was going to restore my faith in family films I can sing along to with the kids like we used to back in the day, it’s got to be Disney, right? Sadly, I don’t think this is the movie my childhood needed it to be.

I confess, until very recently, I had no idea what Into the Woods was. I hadn’t heard of the stage production and I had absolutely no idea that it was almost 30 years old. When I did get through a detailed synopsis and understood the concept, my initial reaction was surprise. Not that it was being adapted to film, but that it hadn’t been done twenty years ago. Upon continued reading, I thought I discovered the reason for the film’s existence. The story has some quite dark themes. Themes that have been touched upon in a lot of the Grimm fairy tales, but that have never really come to life in the countless animated movies Disney have given us. With the recent success of Maleficent, a film with some very dark undertones, I thought I could see what was coming and I got quite excited about seeing more of the same from Disney’s latest.

Adapted for the screen by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the creators of the stage show and its music, Into The Woods is the story of a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are desperately trying for a family. Forced to take on a quest to search out items that an evil witch (Meryl Streep) needs for a spell. In exchange for these seemingly benign objects, the witch will remove the curse she herself placed on them to prevent them having kids. A spell she cooked up in revenge of the baker’s father stealing her magic beans.

Seems reasonable to me. You steal my rubbish beans, I curse all your children to an eternity of Brewer’s droop. A good, proportionate response, right?

Anyways. These items are the start of the recipe for a melting pot of fairy tales that plays out almost exactly as you would expect them to. The very good Emily Blunt and the pretty pants James Corden set off into the woods in search of a cow, a red cape, a slipper and a lock of blonde hair, inserting themselves into all your favourite kids’ stories to steal stuff and get in the way. Judging from its genre descriptions on IMDb, I’m almost positive that it’s here that hilarity is supposed to ensue.

What follows is a couple of hours of story with no real direction. Rob Marshall (the guy that made the very good Chicago, the boring Nine and the bland Pirates of the Caribbean 4) doesn’t seem to know where to go with each scene. Having not seen the stage production, I can only assume that this is how it plays out on Broadway, but it just seems aimless. Jack gets his beanstalk in lightning quick time but it takes Cinderella three days to lose her shoe. Red Riding Hood takes seconds to play out her story with the Wolf and we either have a massive decade long gap between scenes or Rapunzel is soaking her head in Miracle-Gro at night. It’s just all over the shop. Each scene comes with a new song and a new reason to roll your eyes. Aside from a couple of the musical numbers, none are delivered with any heart or passion. It’s difficult to describe what feels so wrong with the delivery considering the very point of a musical is to sing the script, but it just feels like the music has been shoehorned in and none of the cast are happy about it.

For the most part, the acting seems just as erratic. But a few, for better or worse, deserve special mention. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are excellent in their roles. Streep’s wicked witch routine is sublime. Her hag filmography is starting to fill out nicely with this and Maggie Thatcher vying for the top spot. The usually very good Anna Kendrick’s performance as Cinderella is, maybe ironically, best described as wishy-washy. She doesn’t seem like she’s having any fun in maybe the most recognisable role in the film. The film’s two princes are just embarrassing! Played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, they both seem to be channelling Errol Flynn, trying to swash and buckle their way through their respective tales and joining up for a very, VERY camp musical number at the top of a waterfall. Pine’s prince seems the more “Disney” of the two, if you can look past the fact that for his first five or so scenes, I thought it was James Van Der Beek with a bad accent. Nope, it turns out it was Captain Kirk, with a bad accent. But the relatively unknown (at least, to me) Billy Magnussen’s prince is completely out of place. Several of his key scenes have a slapstick element to it which while I expected a comedy, felt like I would find them as deleted scenes on the Robin Hood: Men in Tights DVD.

Finally, Disney have carried on their tradition of trying to sell you everything by having an appearance from Johnny Depp in a silly hat! You’d be forgiven for going in expecting more than the five minutes screen time he gets, but in those few minutes he does a spectacular job of proving that he’s become a real one trick pony. Looking like he’s just tripped and stumbled onto the set while he was on a smoke break from the latest Tim Burton film he’s in, Depp overacts his role as the Wolf clearly in the hope that one day there will be an Oscar for cameos!

Rob Marshall clearly set out with good intentions, and I have to believe that if the creators behind the original show were involved in its adaptation then at least a token show of intent was made to bring all the story’s themes across from the stage. The problem is, in an attempt to sell us a family friendly fantasy, Disney have diluted the second half of the film. Maleficent this ain’t. It’s not even that they appear to have changed things, I just got the feeling that large chunks of story have simply been removed. A whole lot of build-up sadly gives way to a rushed second half and an unsatisfying ending with none of the cautionary tale that I knew should have been there.

Overall, as far as films go, as far as musicals go, even as far as Disney adaptations go, it’s just there. Not as good as Chicago, not as pretentious as Les Miserables and not as crap as Sweeney Todd. It’s just forgettable, inoffensive, uninspired guff.

Into The Woods is in cinemas this weekend. Tune in to our next podcast to here Andrew make his debut and chat about Disney’s latest musical with the rest of the gang.

Failed Critics Podcast: Philip Seymour Hoffman. RIP.

PSHWelcome to this week’s podcast, one in which we celebrate the work of one of this generations finest actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman. You’ll get no ghoulish speculation of judgmental nonsense here, just heartfelt appreciation of a master of his craft.

If you need cheering up after that, we also have reviews of I Frankenstein, August: Osage County, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as well as a much needed review of Nic Cage’s Knowing.

Join us next week as we review the remake of RoboCop, as well as the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club.

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A film couples special

In honour of this commercialised cliché of a Thursday, here are five film couples we’re rooting for. 

brief encounterCouple: Laura Jesson & Alec Harvey
Film: Brief Encounter (1945)
Background: Noel Coward’s poster child for adultery, the stunning Celia Johnson, plays a married with two housewife, whose only real excitement comes from her Thursday afternoon trips to Boots and the pictures. Her kids are bratty and her husband is a dull crossword obsessive, so when she meets a hunky doctor (Trevor Howard) on a train platform, she falls for him understandably hard.
Relationship: The clue’s in the film title. The pair have a handful of meetings, and a couple of furtive kisses. Although they get a room at one point, it doesn’t quite come off. Ultimately, marital commitments, family responsibility, and the lure of earning the big doctor bucks in Johannesburg win out over larking about on the boating lake together. Since Laura does the right thing, despite it condemning her to a life of misery, it’s shame she is denied the dramatic and emotional farewell she deserves. Bloody Brits and their stiff upper lips.
After the film: It being the forties, Laura & Alec aren’t privy to the same levels of constant communication we’re used to today. (One time, he misses their scheduled rendezvous due to a hospital emergency and she has to just wait until the next week to hear from him. Imagine!) This means that, sadly, they probably never spoke to each other again. They’d never pull that off today. He’d be stalking her on Facebook within five minutes of leaving the platform. After the obligatory ‘I’m on a train’ tweet, obviously.

jerry maguireCouple: Dorothy Boyd & Jerry Maguire
Film: Jerry Maguire (1996)
Background: After sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) has a crisis of conscience and distributes a mission statement that gets him summarily fired, accountant Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) is inspired enough to become his only employee.  Dorothy is a single mum, and Jerry has recently broken off his engagement with another woman. Their lack of office space, long working hours and general dire financial straits inevitably bring them closer together.
Relationship: ‘I’ve got this great guy. And he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot.’ Ok, so he shoplifted the pootie. And their subsequent marriage is more for tax purposes than anything romantic. But Jerry does eventually realise how much Dorothy means to him and, like the true salesman that he is, wins her back with a single word. He always was good in a living room.
After the film: Cynical as I am, I’d like to think these guys were just dysfunctional enough to make it. His share of that $11.2million Cardinals contract would surely reduce some of the stress, and give Dorothy the taste of First Class she deserved. And, with Rod & Marcee Tidwell (frankly the perfect couple) as their BFFs and relationship mentors, just maybe they did. At least long enough to take Ray to the fucking zoo, anyway.

fantastic-mr-foxCouple: Mr ‘Foxy’ Fox & Mrs Felicity Fox
Film: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Background: Young, in love and on a routine squab raid, Fox (George Clooney) & Felicity (Meryl Streep) get caught in a fox trap. Felicity reveals that she’s pregnant and makes him promise that, if they get out alive, he’ll find a safer line of work.
Relationship: 12 fox years later, the husband & wife are living a happy life of domesticity with their son Ash, but Fox still desires more. It isn’t long before his animal instincts drive him to risk everything in the pursuit of apple cider and poultry. It’s only when his nephew Kristofferson is captured that he realises the error of his ways. Though Felicity rolls her eyes and proclaims she never should have married him, it isn’t long before they’re dancing together over the end credits.
After the film: Their eventual underground home is safe enough to satisfy Felicity’s maternal instincts, with night time access to a supermarket to supply Foxy with the finer things in life. Plus, they’re going to have another cub. You’ve got to give them a fighting chance. Until he’s exhausted the supermarket’s extra special range, and gets a taste for foie gras again.

chasing amyCouple: Holden McNeil & Alyssa Jones
Film: Chasing Amy (1997)
Background: ‘Quickstop? My best friend fucked a dead guy in the bathroom!’ Holden (Ben Affleck) & Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) meet while appearing at a comic book convention in New York. Both hail from New Jersey and, as they soon discover, share a number of acquaintances. While Alyssa is gay, the pair soon become close and begin a relationship, which mainly consists of having sex, hanging out, and exchanging the usual Kevin Smith angst-ridden dialogue.
Relationship: The pair engage in lots of frantic sex, deep and challenging discussions about virginity and fisting, and some pretty killer arguments. Alyssa’s friends are distinctly unimpressed by the gender of her new beau, while Holden’s comic partner Banky goes out of his way to highlight her flaws. Holden freaks out when he learns more about Alyssa and her ‘Finger Cuffs’ history, and calls off the whole affair. One person who is rooting for them, however, is Silent Bob, who startlingly breaks his quiet in order to drop a relationship wisdom bomb and almost save the couple. Until Holden starts banging on about threesomes again.
After the film: Though the movie ends with Holden & Alyssa apart, there is definitely a glimmer of hope. Holden has learnt his lesson, lost his best friend, and written an apology comic, for crying out loud! It’d be nice to think that lovelorn Holden didn’t end up like Silent Bob – ‘A tubby bitch crying like a little girl to Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits’. (So says Jay. Personally I think he’s kind of hot.)

slumdog-millionaireCouple: Jamal & Latika
Film: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Background: Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) meet as children in the aftermath of the Bombay Riots. Taken by a gangster and trained as beggars, the two are separated by his meddling brother when they try to escape. The film tells the tale of Jamal’s life as he never stops looking for her, even while appearing on Indian quiz television.
Relationship: Jamal eventually tracks down and rescues Latika, only to have her stolen away by his older brother once more. Years later he finds her again, but she has to send him away to keep them both alive. It’s admittedly not the smoothest of couplings but, having experienced such a shitty start to life, you can understand his determination to make this work. After risking everything, and taking quite a few beatings, to save Latika, it’s his knowledge of cricket which eventually gets him the girl. And a the big stinking pile of cash.
After the film: D. It is written. Duh, of course they end up together! And I bet they have loads of cute kids. And all dance around to Jai Ho every single day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, love from Failed Critics x