Tag Archives: Michael Pena

War on Everyone

“Whose money? Our money.”

I tell you what this year has been missing: a good black comedy. We’ve had a never ending conveyor belt of churned out shit when it comes to comedy in 2016 (and 2015, and 2014) but while some of those might have been worth a laugh or two, none have really done anything worth talking about. Until now.

And if the negative reaction of the majority is anything to go by, the latest from director John Michael McDonagh – the man responsible for excellent jet-black comedies The Guard and Calvary – is his most rude and most offensive yet. Whether or not this is a good thing, is completely up to you.

Holding the world by the balls, less-than-completely-honest cops Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) have it made. Getting through life on a steady stream of bribery, blackmail and general crookedness, the guys live the life of Riley. Seemingly uncaring when it comes to their jobs and the list of complaints against them, the lads are happy to dance down a very fine line between good guys and bad as they fleece every criminal that they trip across.

But things take a nasty turn when the pair come across someone worse than than them: James Mangen (Theo James). A phoney looking “lord” who has all ten of his filthy fingers jammed deep into some even filthier pies. When the dirty cops try to man handle the career criminal into his latest big bag of stolen cash, the Brit takes it upon himself to makes the policemen’s lives hell!

Now, you might think that me telling you this is a comedy means that you’re in for some light hearted buddy cop bullshit that desperately imitates classics like Lethal Weapon hoping to garner a laugh or two and create themselves an audience with silly pop culture references and self referential crap. Much like we’ve had for a scary portion of this year – and last. But you’d be mistaken.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure this film, or its creators, cares if it has an audience such is its brazen attempt to offend pretty much everybody in its short 98 minutes.

And that is this film’s beauty. While it’s busy pissing off absolutely everyone – the reactions I saw online after the screening was done were nothing short of hilarious – I was sat, red faced, struggling to catch my breath as I laughed constantly from the opening vehicular assault on a mime (“I wonder if you hit a mime, if it makes a noise”) to the closing credits hinting at previous laugh out loud jizz jokes. While others were grimacing at possibly the most non-politically correct jokes to be put on screen in a couple of years, I was in absolute bits, with tears rolling down my face.

Story-wise, I can’t say the quality is as good as the comedy. The flimsy, paper-thin plot revolves more around Terry’s stereotypical loner drunk trying to force himself a family to imitate his equally stereotypical partner Bob – a family man who treats the drunk like his brother – than it does the actual bad guy and the partners’ attempt to extort him. While it’s not difficult to follow what passes for a story here, to try would be a waste of time. It makes absolutely no sense and seems almost scattershot in its execution.

It’s nowhere near as nonsensical as Killer Bitch, but it is all over the shop. The cool part is, that it doesn’t really matter, you’re too busy laughing at the latest bit of hell-worthy racism that’s gonna keep you feeling guilty for laughing at it for ages.

Peña and Skarsgård have amazing chemistry together, and their buddy-buddy routine is a real thing of beauty. Not since Riggs and Murtaugh have an unlikely looking pair of friends had such a great onscreen presence. Having seen his previous work, I’m sure that director John Michael McDonagh got exactly what he wanted out of his American debut, whether or not everyone was happy with the result.

To try and see this as anything but a blacker than black comedy in the spirit of films like In Bruges would be futile. But for me to try and recommend it to anyone, considering the overwhelmingly negative reaction it’s gotten would possibly be just as silly an idea. So I’ll leave it at this: War on Everyone is one of the most grossly offensive comedies I’ve seen in a while. I loved every single racist, sexist, and whatever other “ist” you can think of minute of it, but it definitely won’t be for everyone.



Ant-Man is a heist movie AND a father-daughter relationship movie, so it’s alright in my book.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

ant man 3OK, that’s exaggerating a little, but it gets at the precarious little platform that I am currently stood on.  Unlike most people (that I hang around with), I am still all aboard the Marvel Studios train.  I have liked or loved every film they’ve put out to various degrees, except Iron Man 3 which is just garbage save for The Mandarin twist, and I will continue to like them until they start putting out multiple bad movies in a row.  That said, I am nearing the verge of burnout and plain old cynicism about superhero movies as a whole.  The Marvel movies are formula, I know and understand that, which will one day soon wear out its welcome, whilst everybody else seems to be on a mission to drain every last strain of fun out of the genre with an even stricter adherence to rote formula, deathly seriousness, and blatant franchising during the initial birth stages.

It’s a recent occurrence, but it’s not one that I’m particularly happy with.  Even though I don’t read comic books, I love me some good superhero movies!  But most of them nowadays aren’t good, and the sheer number of them on the horizon is now, for the first time, genuinely daunting to me.  I love this genre, but it needs to try new things or it risks losing me.  Of next year’s load of superhero flicks to come, Deadpool is the one I’m actually looking forward to most because, even though the trailer isn’t particularly funny by most metrics, it looks different instead of more of the same, or needlessly and endlessly miserable.

Which, with that context out of the way, brings us onto Ant-Man, a heist movie wearing the clothes of a superhero movie.  In stark contrast to most every other movie released during Marvel’s Phase Two, and this includes Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is a very small-scale film that focuses in on a tight cast of characters, withholds basically all of its action until the last 30 or so minutes, and has stakes that only really affect our immediate cast more than anything else.  In fact, there’s something that rings false whenever anybody tries to insist that the central technology that everyone is fighting over would cause untold chaos if released into the public, like saying so is just a reflex that everyone involved can’t kick.  The truth is that the stakes are small, the pacing is deliberate, and the focus is on the characters more than the plot.

Said plot, and the characters that populate it, follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a recently freed convict who was arrested for robbing from a powerful company and handing out its funds to their employees.  He wants to do right by his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), but is drawn back to crime when his attempts at finding a job go as well as you’d expect for an ex-con.  Fortunately, this time he’s being secretly swept into the world of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who is trying to recruit Scott to pull off a daring heist.  Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the head of Pym Technologies and Hank’s ex-protégé, has managed to crack the formula and technology required to shrink human beings down to insect size – the same technology that allowed Pym to become the first Ant-Man back during the Cold War – and Hank is very worried about the effects that selling the tech would cause.  So, rejecting the help of his more-than-capable daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank tasks Scott with using his old Ant-Man suit to break into Pym Technologies and destroy Cross’ research and prototypes, with both Hank and Scott possibly earning their shots at redemption as a result.

So, immediately, Ant-Man is pressing two of my major weakness buttons: heist movies, and films about father-daughter relationships.  The latter ends up being the emotional and thematic backbone of the movie, as Hank and Hope try to reconcile things after a life of Hank not being there for Hope, whilst Scott tries to become “the hero [his daughter] already sees [him] as”.  Hank and Hope’s strand has issues that I’ll come back to shortly, but Scott and Cassie’s relationship works gangbusters primarily because the film doesn’t belabour the point.  Their on-screen interactions are minimal, but they, coupled with the genuine remorse that Scott shows throughout the movie, already clue the viewer into just how much they both mean to each other.  Plus, in a rare turn-up for the books, her new soon-to-be-step-father, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), is not painted as a douchey hateful nuisance we’re supposed to despise.  The film understands that he’s a good guy just trying to do his job and never treats him as some kind of villain to wish death upon, a nice change of pace compared to usual.

Meanwhile, the heist side encompasses all of the traits that you expect from a good heist film: extended training montages, detailed step-by-step plans that are slowly put together (often in montage), the smaller heist to build up to the real heist, the moment where certain failure is just avoided, the moment where everyone has to improvise, the bit where everything goes to hell in a handbasket.  I’m a sucker for heist movies, basically, and the standard heist mechanics get a nice shot in the arm from the fact that we’re watching this take place in a superhero movie, allowing for more inventive ways of executing acts like frying circuitry or making an escape from a hairy situation.  What’s most impressive is the way that the two elements balance so smoothly, although there are times when the superhero part of things takes over, as the addition of the Ant-Man suit and the power to control ants shifts sequences like desperately trying to hide plans or briefing new last-minute team members in slightly different yet distinctive ways.

On the note of “new team members”, Ant-Man spends a lot of its time developing its cast, either through character arcs or just letting them hang out.  I bring this up not to mention that Scott Lang is wonderfully charming, or that I really like Hope despite most everything attached to her character, or that Darren is a surprisingly menacing and sadistic villain who is one of the few genuinely good MCU villains that have come along so far.  No, I bring this up to make reference to Scott’s friends, headed up by his ex-cellmate Luis (Michael Peña).  They are, to be blunt, racial stereotypes whose ethnicities are played up at every opportunity, yet they still feel like three-dimensional characters because their actors (which also include Tip “T.I.” Harris as Dave and David Dastmalchian as Kurt) commit totally to them and the film cares enough for them to give off the impression that they actually do have real lives outside of the times where Luis gets all motor-mouthed or Dave plays up his blackness to try and get out of trouble with the police.  It’s a very fine and tough line to walk, but the film, in my opinion for whatever that’s worth, just manages to pull it off.

Again, that smaller-scale is what helps here.  Characters like Luis would usually be lost in the shuffle in a giant world-ending stakes movie, like most Marvel movies are, but because the film commits to that smaller scale, to building its stakes out of personal legacies and character relationships, it allows for a deeper emotional connection than most typical Marvel films.  Sure, there are multiple characters that just get shunted to the sidelines – which is the kind way of saying that Judy Greer is in this movie and we are all currently part of 2015: The Summer of Completely Wasting Judy Greer – but the central relationships get time to properly develop and blossom.  Plus, the film finds time to invest in some more idiosyncratic relationships: Scott ends up taking a fancy to one particular ant, whom he dubs Anthony, in a way that’s pretty funny but gains genuine resonance because the film is always completely sincere about how much Scott likes it.

It would also be remiss of me to not mention the film’s final third, the point where one would expect the film to expand its scale for those big action setpieces that all superhero movies apparently must close with by law.  Instead, once again, Ant-Man remains committed to keeping those stakes small and personal, with the main conflict coming from Darren’s inferiority complex towards his former mentor, his rapidly deteriorating mental state, and his desire to punish Scott for being everything he wanted Hank to see him as.  That also extends to the final setpiece, one of only three times in which the film really lets loose with the suit, which utilises the size-changing mechanics to allow for a big pyrotechnic battle to take place in a little girl’s bedroom.  It’s a load of fun and more inventive than any other Marvel setpiece I’ve yet seen, where the fusion of the superhero and comedy aspects works to brilliant effect.

As much as I do really like Ant-Man, though – and that’s not even mentioning Peyton Reed’s stylish direction or the across-the-board-excellent performances – it does have several notable flaws.  For one, although this is one of the most stand-alone Marvel movies yet, there are moments where the broader universe intrudes itself on the rest of the film.  Now, I am not opposed to this concept, when pulled off right it can excellently give off the feeling of this universe existing outside of each hero’s individual movies, but it’s very hit-and-miss here.  Scott immediately asking aloud why Hank doesn’t just contact The Avengers is an example of it working, since it’s an acknowledgment that these films don’t exist in a bubble and provides justification as to why they wouldn’t work on this kind of story.  An extended setpiece about midway through the film with a surprise cameo (that I won’t spoil) is one that doesn’t.  Oh, sure, it is pretty fun, but it still feels a little clunky, like it was forced in there either because somebody panicked and feared that holding off on proper action until the last third would bore the audience, or somebody just thought it was a really cool idea and threw it in there regardless of whether it fit the film or not.

More of a problem is Hope van Dyne.  Now, I like Hope – a combination of Evangeline Lily’s winning charm offensive and my natural love for women who can get sh*t done made sure of that – but her existence in this movie is part of a meta-text that I am not really comfortable with Marvel making.  See, Hope is clearly the one best suited to donning the Ant-Man suit and undertaking the heist – she’s tougher than Scott, a fair bit smarter than Scott, more accustomed to the labs and technology – but Hank keeps refusing to let her for personal, ultimately unfair reasons.  It’s played as this meta-commentary on how Marvel seem similarly resistant to making a female superhero movie, instead constantly trading on white guys cos if one fails, in the words of Scott in this very film, “[they’re] expendable”.  It’s a nice acknowledgement of a genuine problem, and builds to a promising payoff, but that doesn’t change the fact that Marvel still aren’t actually doing anything to fix the problem and ultimately just made me even more annoyed that we still won’t get a fix to this problem until November 2018.

(For more on this, keep an eye on the site over the next few days, I have an article about this in the ideas oven as I type these words.)

That said, I do still really like Ant-Man.  For every moment it adheres to the standard Marvel formula, there are many more where it tries something completely different or twists the familiar into something that’s atypical for these kinds of films.  It’s still recognisably a Marvel Movie, but its commitment to keeping things small and personal provides a shot-in-the-arm and a nice change of pace for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s not massively different, so those completely averse to Marvel/superhero movies are unlikely to get much from this one, but it is a positive step in the right direction.  As stated up top, I do still like these kinds of movies, but I need them to be trying something different if I’m going to stay a fan of this stuff.  Ant-Man is a good start.

Callum Petch feels like he’s living at the edge of the world.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!


A very good war drama, replete with fantastically well shot action sequences and brilliant performances, that’s just shy of greatness.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

furyWar is hell. That much we know. According to the cast, who have stated many times during various interviews this past week or so, making a war film with (writer & director) David Ayer is also hell. Three months of strict training regimes, rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal, sitting inside a tin can for hours on end with the smell of another man’s body odour forever burnt into the inside of their nostrils; Ayer used all of his personal experiences of serving in the armed forces (on a submarine, no less) to convey as realistic an experience as possible. It was all worth it in the end though as it has resulted in a strong character driven drama with five fantastic performances.

Along with its gala screening closing the 2014 BFI London Film Festival and various previews around the UK on Sunday, and an already high box office taking in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this pop up on many peoples watch-lists in the coming few days, if it’s not there already. You’ve probably seen the trailer a hundred times. Or, at the very least, on more than one occasion you’ve had the annoyingly-still-handsome Brad Pitt’s face fly past you as it’s plastered all over the side of a bus. The marketing for this two and a bit hour movie has been relentless.

Shot mostly in Hertfordshire (and a bit in Oxfordshire) in the UK, the plot actually takes place in and around Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is the sergeant in command of a tank unit comprised of Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf). The four of them, along with their recently deceased comrade in arms have been together since the war began, fighting their way through Africa to Europe. Their close-knit group is about to have a spanner thrown in the works as they’re forced to recruit a new gunner, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has no previous combat experience and appears to be reluctant to pull the trigger. As they march across Germany, capturing and killing the last of the Nazi soldiers, they’re bent, twisted and forced into the shape of something resembling a family.

And that really is the key word to describe the main theme of Ayer’s movie. It’s about family. As much as the film carries with it messages about the horrors of war, about the trauma inflicted on those who participated in one of the most horrendous events in modern history, ultimately what’s being conveyed is how people can find solace in the unlikeliest of places. Almost every war film made has to deal with the concept of good versus evil and how to presents this; either with anti-war messages such as those in the immediate post-war era of the 50s; or glorifying and honouring those who served with propaganda films funded by the military and government; or even just stating things in as matter-of-fact manner possible. It’s as pronounced as it’s ever going to be with a World War II based film, with the allies on one side (the good) and the axis on the other (the evil). However, the good here is clearly defined by the warmth and sometimes brutally honest home that the group find together in their heavily-armoured mobile-weapon, an M4A3E8 Sherman tank. It’s not in Ayer’s interests to educate you about right and wrong.

fury 5

As others have mentioned (including Carole in her LFF diary article), Fury hinges on the performances of its main cast. If they had failed to convince you to see the characters as a family, with all their camaraderie, banter and friction that comes with it, then nothing else around that would’ve worked at all. As it happens, Pitt really gets into and perfectly suits his position as the father of the dysfunctional family, whilst his relationship with the youngest member (Lerman) grows naturally throughout. Peña and Bernthal add a little humour to their roles that is so desperately required in juxtaposition to the bleakness and grim realities of war. A big surprise for many is the multi-layered performance from Shia LaBeouf as the man of faith. Not me, I hasten to add. I’ve been a fan since his role in Lawless. Probably even more so since he started to go a bit crazy. The main point is that they all work as well as individual, well-rounded and realistic characters who develop and grow over the course of the runtime, as much as they all work well together. There’s a certain tenderness displayed during the quieter moments that allows the viewer to see these men as human beings rather than just soldiers doing their job.

If it sounds like I’m gushing too much, then that’s just me avoiding the issue of one or two criticisms I have. Let’s get them out of the way!

What is there left, really, for world war films to tell us? Hasn’t it all been done before? World War II dramas from a soldiers perspective are so few and far between these days. Excluding Inglorious Basterds, which I hasten to call a World War movie, pictures like Band of Brothers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and of course Saving Private Ryan, these are all approximately a decade old now. Surely all that this tells us is that this particular well has run dry. In many respects, Fury is absolutely nothing new. However, this doesn’t seem like much of a criticism in and of itself. Who cares how original it is, if it’s actually done well enough, right? There’s enough here for it to feel worthwhile telling this story, even if there isn’t a whole lot to learn about that’s not been seen previously.

Saying all that, if you’re going into this expecting to see Saving Private Ryan, only newer and flashier, then you won’t be too disappointed. It’s absolutely not a sweeping war epic with bloody battles on the beaches of Normandy. There are many, many bloody battles as they traverse Germany, but they are on a somewhat smaller scale. What is similar to Spielberg’s iconic movie is that there are plenty of exceptionally well shot action scenes. Battles between soldiers and tanks that take place in tiny rubble covered streets, or large open fields, or narrow country roads, they all command respect for their meticulous design and unwaveringly brutal execution. As Wardaddy leans out of the top of his tank, leading his men into fight after fight, not a single one disappoints. Despite the brooding family drama, you’re never far from the next ricocheting shell or flashing tracer round. One particular tank-on-tank clash is simply sublime. It’s intense, exciting and even harrowing at times.fury 3

At two and a bit hours long, the pace isn’t fast enough for it to zip by unnoticed, but it’s not a chore to sit through by any stretch of the imagination. The dialogue did induce a cringe or two on occasion, as if it was written for a melodrama but acted like a deeply serious Carl Theodor Dreyer film. However, mostly, the script and performances went hand in hand. Whether the team are sitting around a dinner table or cooped up in a tank on the brink of what may be their last stand, regardless of whether or not the dialogue can be occasionally cheesy, you’re guaranteed to be totally engrossed in what they are saying to one another.

The biggest compliment that I can pay Fury is to say that you definitely do get a sense of that family atmosphere between the quintet that Ayer wanted to instil. These men, these soldiers, they are entirely believable and Ayer has shown that if you can put a bit of personality into a World War film, then there is still something worth watching in the genre yet.

Fury is released in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow, Wednesday 22nd October 2014.

Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad Emma Stone Ryan GoslingYou wanna know how to make The Untouchables for the so-called MTV Generation? They cast double Oscar-winner Robert De Niro as the bad guy; you cast double Oscar-winner Sean Penn. They have a dreamy Latino marksmen in the shape of Andy Garcia; you cast Michael Peña as a dreamy Latino marksman. And fuck it; get Ryan Gosling in as well. That’s the Hollywood way!

Back in our 2013 preview I asked if Gangster Squad was going to be “this generation’s The Untouchables or Dick Tracy”. Well, I didn’t expect them to answer so literally in the former. This film is essentially a remake in all but name. The city may be different, and under threat from a different historically-inspired gangster, but the main elements are all here.

Sean Penn stars as Robert De Nero Mickey Cohen, a ruthless mob boss determined to run Los Angeles as his own private empire. The film opens on him torturing one gangster, and ordering another to tell Chicago what happened. It’s almost as if director Ruben Fleischer is flicking two-fingers at Chicago-based The Untouchables. This film is going to be bigger, better, and down-right nastier he seems to say. And it’s a bold statement.

Josh Brolin is Kevin Costner AND Sean Connery Sgt. John O’Mara, one of the few good cops in the city, and the man chosen by Nick Nolte’s police chief to bring down Cohen’s Empire. Luckily at this point the film does strike out on its own a little. As O’Mara puts his team together, and they embark on their mission, this does appear to be a slightly different gangster movie to those that have gone before. O’Mara’s Gangster Squad don’t carry badges, and they don’t make arrests. This is guerrilla warfare played out on the streets of LA. And it’s actually a lot of fun.

A major element that sets Gangster Squad apart from its predecessors is its use of humour. The film has very funny moments, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering Fleischer’s previous work (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less). The comic relief does help to break up some pretty brutal scenes of violence, and stops it being as unremittingly bleak as Lawless was last year. Sadly though, the plot is inevitably drawn back to its inspirations, and far too often I watched events on screen thinking “oh, that’s just like in The Untouchables”.

One thing The Untouchables didn’t have though is Ryan Gosling. Once you get past his character’s name (Jerry Wooters) he is everything that is good about this movie. He oozes charm, and has great comic timing. His transformation from laid-back, ‘looking after number one’ cop to avenging angel may be a little unbelievable plot-wise, but he sells the hell out of it up there. His love interest is played by the always delightful Emma Stone; who, like Gosling, is yet to put a foot wrong in her Hollywood career. The film genuinely lights up when these two are on screen.

Fleischer has made an enjoyable and stylish film. It may lack the gravitas and emotional punch of L.A. Confidential, and is a little too derivative of previous portrayals of this fascinating era at times, but there’s enough humour and great set-pieces to make it worthwhile.

Gangster Squad is released on 10 January.

Failed Critics Review: End of Watch

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña in End of WatchThis week on the Failed Critics Review we look at the cop film that French Connection director William Friedken described as the “best movie about cops ever made”. Can James get over the found footage angle? Can Steve suggest a way he would have done it better? Can Gerry get around to seeing it? (No).

Also on this week’s podcast we look at James’ future wife Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, and discuss films as varied as Network, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and The Devil’s Backbone.

Next week’s episode is the launch of the Failed Critics Hall of Fame, where we award some poor Oscar-less schmuck with some award I’ll try and rustle up on Photoshop.