Tag Archives: Naomi Watts

The Bleeder (aka Chuck)

He went 15 rounds in the stunning 1975 heavyweight world championship against the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, and ultimately inspired the billion-dollar Rocky franchise. No, not Andrew Brooker, but the guy in the film he’s written about…

Continue reading The Bleeder (aka Chuck)

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Demolition

Demolition

“The man’s wife just died. Show some compassion you little shit!”

I’ve eaten my words previously when it has come to Jake Gyllenhaal; a cynic towards his work in a previous life – one before my time with Failed Critics – I have become quite the fan of the man that once bugged me just for having a surname I couldn’t spell. His acting prowess is such that, a film that would be average without him *cough* Southpaw *cough* is elevated to great just by having him in it. In a way, the latest effort from Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée is subject to the same equation.

{mediocrity} + [Jake][Gyllenhaal] = Brilliance

Okay, in this case, “mediocrity” is a little unfair. But my point still stands.

Having just lost his wife in a car accident, banker Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) doesn’t know how to deal with the loss. Seemingly unable to properly mourn, Davis instead directs his energy in writing what starts as a simple complaint letter to the owners of a vending machine in the hospital him and his wife were treated at. When the letter quickly turns from complaint to confession, Davis finally seems to find his catharsis not just in his constant letter writing, but in his new found honesty and need to deconstruct his life and everything around it.

His letter writing soon grabs the attention of the vending company’s customer services agent Karen (Naomi Watts). When she takes it upon herself to give him a call and make sure he’s alright, the pair form an unlikely connection; one where Davis gets to have a peek at a different life and maybe start to heal his wounds a little. With help from Karen and her 15 year old son Chris (relative newcomer Judah Lewis), Davis starts to take control of his life, by demolishing everything around it, with their help. Literally and figuratively.

There have been some fantastic films in the past that centre on people and how they cope with the death of someone close. Three Colours: Blue always jumps to the front of my mind when I think of really powerful films like that. On the other side of the coin, we’ve had some pretty ghastly films that touch on the subject too; I’m looking at you, Meet Joe Black!

Demolition plays the ground somewhere in between these films. It has moments where its power and its emotion are strong enough to drag a lump into the throat of even the most hardened bad ass, but at the same time it never takes itself too seriously. It’s a strange balance to keep, but this film manages to walk that line very well for the most part.

Demolition is all about Davis, his relationships and the effects they have on him as he tries to grieve. When his father-in-law (a magnificent Chris Cooper) advises that the widower starts to take apart his life, he takes the business owner far too literally and does so. To the detriment of fridges, coffee machines, toilet doors; you name it, Davis is taking it to bits and using it as a proxy for his real problems.

Karen and her son are the stars of Mitchell’s little show, and in a way, the film we have here. Their relationship with each other is as important as their relationship with the man that has fallen into their lives. Moody teen Chris, having already decided to hate Davis for no other reason than because he’s a moody teen, finds himself in a real battle of wits. Duelling with the investment banker who seems impervious to his mardy routine and just bashes him back with his own moodiness with often funny and heartwarming results. But Chris’ mum, a woman who is in as much need of help as Davis is, seems to relish her new found position as informal head shrinker to this damaged man. Karen finds as much relief in her relationship with Davis as he finds with her and together they make an unlikely couple that gravitate towards each other in their shared insanity.

Over for last couple of years, Gyllenhaal has chosen some pretty taxing roles, in a few different ways. From his Taxi Driver-esque performance in Nightcrawler to his insane transformation for previously mentioned boxing drama, Southpaw, with quite a few in between. So to take on what looks to be a pretty run-of-the-mill comedy-drama seemed a little strange for the man that appears to be pushing himself with every role. The thing is, whilst this isn’t the kind of role that’ll leave you stunned at the change the star has made, I do think it is the kind of role that is much deeper than a lot of people will give it credit for.

The truth is, it’s a genuine pleasure to watch Davis Mitchell unravel and take his world down with him. Vallée’s beautifully subtle direction allows for Bryan Sipe’s screenplay to do the majority of the heavy lifting. There’s a teary moment here and there, but Demolition isn’t about dragging all of your feelings out of you like some crappy sitcom finale, it’s all about watching the madness that is Davis’ life splat out across the screen as he tries to squeegee it up.

It’s a film made for the heartwarming chuckles and knowing smiles, not one that makes you feel bad for enjoying it. And while it might not be the best film you’ll see this year, it’ll certainly leave a bit of an impression by the time the credits roll.

Insurgent

A step-up from Divergent, if nothing else, Insurgent still isn’t compelling or really any good.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

51587.cr2I can remember nothing about Divergent.  I remember that it was terrible and boring, and that a character in it voluntarily calls himself “Four” which makes any scene in which somebody calls out to him resemble that of an overly emotional balloted deli counter, but I don’t remember any specifics about the film.  I couldn’t tell you any character names besides Tris and Four – and, look, I’m sorry, I really did try taking his name seriously this time, but I just can’t, I can’t – I couldn’t tell you any plot points, I couldn’t tell you any personality traits of any of the characters, I couldn’t tell you anything that happened in the finale that, direct quote from my review, “is practically the film ticking off the last free spots on its [genre] bingo card in quick succession”.  Nothing.

That, I think, might be the biggest problem with Divergent.  It’s a bad boring movie, but it is so utterly blandly forgettable that I cannot remember a single damn thing about it besides its bizarrely strong cast and the feeling of having had my time wasted.  It didn’t even have the decency to be interestingly or entertainingly bad, with the exception of the ridiculous and mostly inexplicable nature of the Faction system that its world is based around, because it was too busy blandly cribbing from every single successful, and even some of the non-successful, Young Adult franchise ever in the hopes that money will magically fall from the sky and into the studio and filmmakers’ laps.  Unfortunately for all, it did (sorta) and so now here’s Insurgent, soon to be followed by Allegiant, Parts 1 & 2 because, hey, why not also steal the “unnecessarily split your last book into two separate films for twice the cash money” part too, eh?

Actually, I’m being unnecessarily mean.  If nothing else, Insurgent is a far better movie than Divergent ever was.  Where that movie plodded and dragged onwards with no end in sight, Insurgent moves with some semblance of a pace and clearly builds to a logical end game that doesn’t feel like it takes multiple goddamn days to reach.  The scope expands – which stretches the already thin narrative credibility to beyond breaking point – which managed to keep me somewhat engaged, even whilst the film mostly just loops back on itself constantly, and with the exceptions of Kate Winslet – who was already checked out in the first film and who is acted off the screen by Ansel Elgort in a sentence I never thought I would ever type – and Shailene Woodley – whose patience for this series visibly drains the further into the film we get – the cast is still trying their damndest to make the crap they’re given work.

I mean, it’s still not a good film, I cannot make that more abundantly clear, but it’s not offensively boring, this time.  You know when you’re watching something on TV and you’re not bored but you’re also not completely engaged?  Like, you don’t connect emotionally in the slightest with what’s going on and you’re really not bothered about what happens, but you also have absolutely no urge to change the channel or check your phone excessively or what have you?  That’s the level that Insurgent is operating on, which is at least a step up from Divergent’s mind-numbing boringness, even though it’s got so little going on and is spread so narratively thin that it’s basically the final third of Divergent that was withheld because DOLLA DOLLA BILLS, Y’ALL!!

The big problem, the thing that continues to kill this series the further along it goes because it becomes more and more apparent, with its refusal to even attempt fixing it feeling even more like a deliberate act of pure laziness, is that Insurgent still has no characters.  None of its cast have any definable personalities, nobody goes on any real arc, and most beings (which is the best way that I can describe these lumps of mould) have no consistency at all.  Characters hot-foot between allegiances as the plot demands with no adequate explanation, many characters are excessively angsty for no particular reason, and the finale of the film occurs as if Tris is being told off-camera in-universe that she needs to do something real stupid because otherwise the film won’t have an ending.

It’s all best encompassed by Tris herself, our nominal protagonist, who is less a character and more a blank slate who has a whole bunch of emotional problems that the story’s target audience might have thrown onto her.  Unlike, say, Katniss Everdeen, Tris’ near-total lack of agency, with the exception of maybe two instances late on in the film, has no narrative or thematic reason other than lazy-ass storytelling, that only serves to call attention to the fact that I have no idea what she wants or who she is as a person outside of the plot pushing her forward.  I have spent two films and nearly 4 and a half hours in her company and I still have absolutely no idea what makes her tick or what makes her so special – the film’s constant repetition of “She is the one!  The special one!” feels more and more like attempted indoctrination the further and further on it goes.

She is a cipher, nothing more.  This is especially problematic as the final third of the film, which is where Insurgent’s big and incredibly cheap-looking CG action sequences reside, is all about her working through her emotional baggage, her insecurities and fears.  Not one moment of it resonates, though, because it’s all artificial, conflict thrown onto a character without any true grounding through prior character work or actions.  Tris has survivor’s guilt from the last film but it only manifests when the specific sequence of film calls for it, compared to Katniss’ survivor’s guilt which informs her entire character, ditto her desire to not be Divergent and “special” which literally only comes up in one extremely ham-fisted sequence during the film’s first climax before being unceremoniously punted off-screen.

When a character does manage to make an impression, it’s either down to themselves being the equivalent of Saturday morning cartoon villains – Miles Teller, who is better than Hollywood, has a noticeable blast indulging his inner-Draco Malfoy, whilst Sam Worthington Jai Courtney is well-cast as an entertainingly smug prick that the film shuffles off Stage Left way too early – or the actors and actresses just happening to be actors and actresses who have inexplicably decided that this is where they want to pick up their paycheques for a year or two – notable newcomers this time are Daniel Dae Kim as the leader of Candour, Naomi Watts as the leader of the Factionless and also Four’s long-thought dead mother (because OF COURSE), and Octavia Spencer who is the leader of Amity and is third-billed despite being on-screen for about 428 seconds max.  Otherwise, it’s just people-shaped husks doing stuff that’s apparently important but that I never once truly cared about.

Incidentally, if you’re coming to Insurgent in search of more of that sweet insipid stupidity that powered Divergent, then you will get more than your money’s worth by the finale.  It’s the kind of finale that purports to explain things, specifically why The City is ran in the idiotic faction system and why the Divergents are such a big deal, but doesn’t actually explain anything, instead offering the illusion that answers and explanations are being given whilst actually skirting around everything in favour of a separate reveal that is unbelievably stupid.

It also poses the exact opposite problem of Divergent’s ending: where that left more loose ends than a police corruption investigation headed by a corrupt cop, this one leaves no loose ends.  This is An Ending, in the most definite sense one can manage, where everything is tied up and there is really nothing else to do.  The final shot of the film even does what should have been done in the finale of the first film, for crying out loud!  Like, I do not know where Allegiant could go for barely 2 minutes, let alone two 2 hour films!  I also can’t really say I’m excited by this prospect either cos, well, I really don’t care about any of these non-entities masquerading as characters that I’m supposedly supposed to give a crap about.  So, all we’re really going to be doing is coming back to line Summit Entertainment’s pockets with even more cashola.

Again, I don’t strongly dislike Insurgent.  It’s OK.  In its best moments, I could sit and pretend like I was watching a better Young Adult adaptation or sci-fi film – Teller’s Malfoy impression calling to mind Harry Potter, Tris’ occasional extremely unconvincing (can we launch a Kickstarter to rescue a genuinely miserable-looking Shailene Woodley from this franchise, please) rage against the machine reminding me that Mockingjay, Part 2 is out in just 8 too-long months, the simulations being a bargain-basement Matrix – than this Frankenstein’s Monster of a series, and shaving off 20 minutes and having a clear end goal does wonders for the film’s pacing.  However, the plotting is still a mess, the world is still stupid, and there are still no characters, which makes being emotionally invested in anything that goes on a completely fruitless endeavour.

It’s a baby step forward and nothing more, is what I’m getting at.  Making the presentation less drearily dull without actually fixing the underlying problems that caused that symptom.  The equivalent of putting a child’s Band-Aid over a gaping shotgun wound.  The Divergent Series still has given no adequate reason as to why it should exist, other than to give some studio execs, a seemingly creatively-bankrupt novelist, and otherwise talented actors a nice large steady paycheque for four-or-so years, and Insurgent gives no evidence of that changing any time soon.

But, hey, I wasn’t bored stiff this time.  That’s progress, I guess?

Callum Petch will kiss the ground where you kneel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Bonkers, brilliantly acted, funny, completely absorbing plus other labels.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

_AF_6405.CR2For most of the latter part of last year, I had to put up with only being able to hear about and read other reviews of Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). You see, in the UK, sometimes we get films much later than in the US, excluding press/festival screenings and so on. Most of the time, that doesn’t bother me so much. But when a film like Birdman comes around, and every other review is declaring it one of the best of 2014, with as interesting a premise as it has, then that kind of sucks.

Come the 1st of January 2015, a little worse for wear with an aching hangover, I began my plans to find a cinema near me showing this existential comedy. And I did, on Friday 2nd. Since which time I have been processing, re-thinking and trying my damned hardest to work out exactly what I think of Birdman beyond simply “that was bloody brilliant.” I will endeavor to describe it – and my feelings towards it – as best I can.

It’s directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, a critically acclaimed Mexican filmmaker who is arguably best known for his first feature film, the award winning, compelling, intelligent Amores Perros. Although, virtually all of his films are just as highly regarded by the majority of people. Biutiful (starring Javier Bardem), 21 Grams and Babel too were all very well received upon release and have each been nominated for and won many different prestigious awards. It’s fair to say then than Iñárritu had a fair bit of pressure on his shoulders to produce yet another groundbreaking drama of as equally high quality.

In which case, surprising as it is, his response to this weight of expectation was to produce what is his effectively first foray into the comedy genre. In saying that, it’s not what you might describe as a typical, gag-a-minute, Airplane!-esque joke-reel. Straying away from conventions, as he did so stunningly with Amores Perros, it’s… a bit odd. Bloody brilliant. But odd.

Unlike the title probably suggests to anybody unfamiliar with exactly what Birdman is, it’s actually not a superhero film at all. It’s about an aging actor, played by Michael Keaton in a career-best performance, who used to be in a trilogy of blockbuster superhero films 20 years ago, playing the character Birdman. Obviously considering Keaton’s rise to fame playing the caped crusader Batman in Tim Burton’s series of films, it’s probably the most apt piece of casting you’re likely to see for, oh, I don’t know.. all of 10 minutes? Right up until Ed Norton appears as the most arrogant actor known to man, clearly playing on his exaggerated reputation.

Much as Keaton is now a lot older, so is his character Riggan Thomson. For the sake of Michael Keaton’s mental well-being, hopefully unlike the real actor playing Riggan, the sleep-deprived movie-star constantly hears the sarcastic voice of Birdman in his head, patronising him and making snide remarks at every turn in his desperate attempts to get his career back on track. Ploughing his own money into the production, Riggan claws at his last moments of sanity and languishes on his reputation as he pushes himself to adapt the Raymond Carver story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love as a stage play on Broadway. Gradually the toll it takes on him being writer, director, producer and starring in the lead role begins to wear him down. He notices how his own relationships to his ex-wife and rebellious daughter, as well as his co-stars and longing for adoration/attention from fans and critics alike, mimic those of the character in his play.

From the way I’ve described it above, it doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of film to make you laugh out loud as frequently as it does. In fact, I’m well aware that by putting it in black and white like that, I’ve made it sound kind of boring. The genius in the film lies with the way the story has been told and the way it has been made. It’s almost two hours long in total, however, it’s all filmed as if the whole movie is just one continuous single shot. This isn’t a completely unique concept for a film to attempt; indeed the Director of Photography on the film, Emmanuel Lubezki, was praised for very similar shots during Gravity. The twist is that the plot takes place over the course of about three days. From the early scene re-casting of one of the characters in the play at the last minute, to the disastrous preview show and Keaton’s breakdown, all the way through to the morning after the opening night; it appears as if all you’ve witnessed is one camera on record for two hours solid. The pace of the film, the way it’s been stitched together, even just little things like keeping the lighting right, it’s seamless. A remarkable achievement by all involved. I’ve read a few reviews and articles and I still cannot fathom how some of the scenes were even created.

Honestly, it is absolutely bloody brilliant from start to finish. Even something so simple as the soundtrack is, well, not so simple. Just one bloke who improvised some drum beats, banging away on his kit in a rather jazz percussion sort of way (who occasionally pops up on screen himself) fits the organised-chaotic tone.

I’ve already mentioned Keaton and Norton, but I’m still struggling to decide who was better. I genuinely, hand on heart believe this tops any performance of theirs in any other movie. And yes, even better than American History X, by the way. It’s just a joy to watch two actors simply be that good. If someone put a gun to my head (you’ll get why that’s a funny reference after you see the film), then I’d lean slightly more towards Keaton who really is sensational. He’s extremely funny, manic, completely absorbed in his role and it’s like finally seeing that guy who showed such promise in Beetlejuice just completely fulfilling his potential. And that makes me happy. It isn’t just those two, though. The entire ensemble cast, including the likes of Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis; they’re all fantastic too.

To be a bit of a dick for a minute and put a label on something (or rather take it off), I suppose it isn’t ‘perfect’. The dialogue is not always its best asset. Although I did really like Emma Stone’s performance as Keaton’s recently out of rehab daughter-turned-Personal Assistant, it’s just that some of the role her character plays seems a tad out of place. A scene on a rooftop shared with Norton starts out really well, as a chemistry between them begins to fizzle, but ends up with a rather cringing game of truth or dare. A scene later on in the dressing room between Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough was.. well.. meaningless beyond simply giving in to what the audience supposedly want.

It doesn’t detract really, it’s still overall an absolutely amazing movie. It’s so deliberately and anarchically hypocritical. One minute it’s slagging off blockbuster movies and the kinds of people who throw money at the likes of Michael Bay to make shitty Transformers movies, and studios who churn out superhero flick after superhero flick. And then in the next moment, it’s subtly mocking the pretentious, holier than thou snobs who sneer and turn their nose up at things they’re ignorant of in order to appear superior. There’s rants, there’s tirades, there’s beautifully delivered put downs and some more emotional aspects that almost catch you unawares. Yet Birdman is totally self aware, fully prepared to poke fun at itself all whilst maintaining something spectacular.

The more I’ve thought about it since leaving the cinema earlier this month, the more I’ve wanted to go and watch it again. It was the first new release film that I watched in 2015 and already it’s going to have to be a hell of a film to top it at some point during the rest of this year. I urge you to see it before it leaves cinemas!

You can hear Owen talk about Birdman plus other new releases Unbroken, The Theory of Everything and more with Steve, Gerry and Matt on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast.

Failed Critics Podcast: Prisoners, Diana, and the Autumn Preview

PrisonersWe would like to offer our deepest apologies for the fact that this podcast is coming to you a week late. The Failed Critics hamster gave up the ghost, and we had a bit of a technical Armageddon. Still, but late than never…

This week’s installment of the pod sees Owen reasonably impressed by Prisoners, Steve surprisingly impressed by The Call, and James utterly, utterly depressed by Diana. We also discuss the films and television we’re most looking forward to this autumn, and things escalate rather quickly in an impromptu discussion on the state of British TV networks.

Later this week will see the release of the Studio Ghibli special…

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Failed Critics Podcast: Great Performances in Bad Films

nic-cageWelcome to the latest Failed Critics Podcast, and this week we’ve hastily arranged a last-minute Triple Bill after Owen turned us down for a sleepover.

We discuss our favourite ‘Great Performances in Bad Films (with Nic Cage somehow escaping everyone’s list), and show exactly how far our fingers are from the pulse in reviewing 21 Grams, Billy Liar, and the hit new television show Frasier.

We off next week recuperating, so join us in a fortnight as we choose our favourite movie dads for Fathers’ Day.

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The Impossible

The-Impossible

By Mike Shawcross

This review may contain spoilers.

Films depicting real natural catastrophes can be very hit or miss, and mostly they miss. Hollywood disaster movies often descend into melodrama and over-produced stylised action to raise the tension, and flesh out their simple survival plots. When these events are as recent as the tsunami of 2004, which cost the lives of over 200,000 people, and the images are still so vivid in our memories due to the large scale media coverage, is a film what we really need?

Maybe not, but the fact that this is a Spanish film with Juan Antonio Bayona (director of The Orphanage) in charge gave me some hope that the tragic events might be told in a more honest way. It also bodes well that Bayona decided not to specify the nationalities of the main characters, so as to create a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot. I can understand the reasoning in casting an English-speaking cast, as if this had been a subtitled film a vast majority of people wouldn’t have bothered to see it. Of course this would lead to the inevitable American remake and the overproduction of the disaster.

Bayona centres his film on one family; a happy, normal family. If there are any tensions we are unaware of them; this isn’t a film about reconciliation or forgiveness. This is a simple story of survival, courage and hope against the odds that the members of the family are still alive. The fact that the film keeps them central throughout  makes it work even more for me. This is their story, their ordeal. It makes no difference that they are not locals, or even that they are Westerners; at the end of the day they were still part of this disaster. They were just lucky enough to survive it.

Maybe that’s why Bayona wanted to take this family’s story, because it is remarkable and it is worthy of being told. I think the director has done an excellent job. It’s an extremely sensitive subject and will invoke quite a few negative feelings and naysayers. I have no idea how survivors will react to it either, but I hope some commend Bayona for his efforts. The scenes of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the aftermath are extremely powerful. I really got an understanding of the force of the water, the speed the wave was travelling, and how helpless people would have been as it hit the land. The aftermath was devastating to look at as well, as Bayona shows us graphic scenes of the victims and the harrowing distress of the survivors from the family’s view point.

Naomi Watts (Maria) in a physical demanding role really delivers. Her emotion never seems false, and she is just superb. Her scenes in the wave are excellent; and we can really see the fear in her eyes. Alongside her, Tom Holland (Lucas) as the eldest son gives a solid performance for such a young actor. This is also the best I’ve seen McGregor (Henry) recently (he was ok in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but here he really impresses). The score is quite simply beautiful, with pieces of music composed by Fernando Velzquez whose previous works include The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. He’s also composed the score for the forthcoming Mama, which is released in February.

My final thoughts are about the emotional connection I had with the story. I’m a family man with three kids, and maybe that’s why I was so emotionally moved by this film. That said, I suspect I would still have been moved by this tragedy if I was single. This is an uneasy watch about a disaster of massive proportions, but it is ultimately a powerful and uplifting story.