Tag Archives: nicholas lay

Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…


Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.

Hello Destroyer


Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.


In a Valley of Violence


Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.



Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.



Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.

Under the Shadow


Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.



Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.

Vancouver Short Film Festival 2016

Red Handed

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

The Vancouver Short Film Festival took place a couple of weekends ago at downtown’s Vancity Theatre, showcasing both rising and established filmmaking talent within the great province of British Columbia, Canada.

Present during the Friday night screenings, I was fortunate enough to catch the ‘Dark Deeds’ segment, featuring two particularly twisted reels that deserve all the accolades coming their way…

Red Handed

Dir: Edward Andrews

Red Handed is a black comedy about an unfit, self-conscious jogger who, in an effort to get fit, stumbles across a dead body deep in the woods.

A joyfully dark examination of humanity’s overly awkward manner of dealing with the unfamiliar – in this case, extreme self-preservation – British director Edward Andrews’ quick-fire flick succeeds in maintaining that all important element of ongoing, multi-layered surprise. Visually driven, the film inspires the perfect amount of reactionary cringe and assumed empathy from an audience no doubt aware that they certainly wouldn’t fare much better if placed in the same scenario. The cryptic narration and minimal character dialogue doesn’t detract in the slightest from Brook Driver’s witty writing, instead only encouraging Andrews’ eye for comedic revelation of the black variety. Edited with an intriguing, yet uneasy style reminiscent somewhat (in my mind) of Jonathan Glazer’s cross-format filmography, the conclusion in particular produces a seamless sense of dreadfully mirthful satisfaction.

Currently doing the rounds on the North American short film circuit, Red Handed has won numerous awards spanning direction, cinematography, editing, and score. Catch it if you can!

More information: www.redhandedshortfilm.com

Vehicular Romanticide

Dir: Andrew Rowe

Desperate and alone, Jennifer begins looking for attractive men to hit with her car as a means of starting conversation. It doesn’t really work, but it does land her face to face with the unconscious man of her dreams.

Described as “a darkly comedic neo-noir examination of female loneliness”, writer/director Andrew Rowe’s Vehicular Romanticide delivers a fresh, feminist-inspired thematic take on the much recycled realm of creepy-stalker-accidently-goes-too-far. Dripping with 1980s-tinged stylistic throwbacks – from static low angles and creative cuts, to the synth-heavy, Drive-inspired score – the picture’s technical side is undoubtedly set to take the festival circuit by storm. Leading us deep down into something more however, is the wonderful, frighteningly subtle performance of Lauren Donnelly. Juxtaposing Rowe’s ticking downward spiral of a character piece, Jennifer’s oblivious, vacant acceptance of her rapidly-disagreeable actions doesn’t deter from the idea that, somehow, she’s rather likeable. What Rowe throws down, she pulls back up, inspiring something bordering on the type of unnerving audience sympathy that only a masterful piece of cinema can achieve.

Andrew Rowe won the 2014 MPPIA Short Film Award for Vehicular Romanticide, with the film itself premiering last month at the Whistler Film Festival. It is set for an online release sometime this year. Look right, look left, look right again, and maybe it’ll soon hurtle into view…

The trailer for Vehicular Romanticide can be viewed here.

Pre Vis Action


by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

From the minute I saw the debut trailer for The Raid back in 2011, I knew Welsh director Gareth Evans was on to something. Follow a stagnant decade on the Hollywood action front, it was a British filmmaker working in Indonesia who finally broke substantial new ground. The result was the finest cinematic action experience since The Matrix, propelling Evans, his stars, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and the Indonesian fighting style of pencak silat into the global spotlight. The 2014 follow up, Berandal, whilst arguably even more spectacular in action-based execution, demonstrated perhaps that Evans still has some way to go when it comes to truly rounded filmmaking. Indeed, the final version felt more like a shoehorned mish-mash of theoretically cool ideas, many of which didn’t necessarily translate as well on screen as they had done during the more tightly focused definition of edge-of-your-seat intensity that was The Raid.

With the trilogy’s final installment still somewhere over the horizon, Evans this week whet our appetites by releasing, out of the blue, a stripped back, dialogue-free, black and white action short, Pre Vis Action. Set during the time of the Samurai, the basic plot consists of two assassins attempting to stop a messenger getting from A to B…

Filmed on location in rural Wales, the production consisted solely of Evans – shooting on a Sony NEX-7 – and his cast; once again featuring the ever-dynamic Ruhian (who had a hand in the scene’s overall design and fight choreography) alongside Hannah Al Rashid and Cecep Arif Rahman, the latter of whom also played a part behind the scenes.

Meticulously crafted, the picture comes across as a kind of Gareth Evans shot catalogue, positively overflowing with his trademark visuals, and a stark reminder of his ability to create atmosphere using nothing but spectacle. Whereas his feature films have proven him a master of camera placement within frantic action sequences – an underestimated, under-appreciated skill in the world of martial art movie making – here we’re given a gloriously unrestrained tour of Evans’ equally impressive understanding of camera movement, and how it can be used to make the most of a frame when shooting an action scene. Flowing with the action, up close and personal, the intrusive steps forward, jumping pull-backs and sweeping camera pans feel wonderfully natural, designed with a clear understanding of editing and pacing that plays to the cuts present in the final reel. The well integrated, traditional percussion-heavy score helps tie everything together.

The fight itself may not be the star of the piece when compared to the technical aspects, but it is of course the main beneficiary, and is highly enjoyable as a result. Having previously excelled in hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and vehicular stunt work, it was only a matter of time before Evans tried his hand at swordplay. Well put together, with call backs to both Japanese and Hong Kong cinema (those bendy swords produced an overpowering flashback to the Shaw Bros. and Golden Harvest eras – think Jackie Chan’s temple fight in The Young Master), it’s a graceful affair utilised in the form of a successful experiment on Evans’ part. Whether or not The Raid 3 will be the full steak and chips remains to be seen, but, either way, it could well be time to once again get excited.

Though it certainly has the look of a sequence shot over a mere three days, a completely polished article was never likely to be the intended end game for Pre Vis Action. Nonetheless, from an action fanboy point of view, it’s charming in a thoughtful, sort of high-grade amateur fashion, and a more than welcome reminder of what Evans is capable of going foward.

Failed Critics Podcast in 2015 Recap

As 2015 draws to a close, let’s take a look back over some of the best podcasts we’ve produced over the past 12 months.

JANUARY – The Pod In The Machine

ex machinaIn tandem with the release of Ex Machina, Matt Lambourne joined Steve and I for a special ‘Artificial Intelligence’ themed episode. On top of reviewing Alex Garland’s movie (which would go on to be voted the best British film of 2015 in our Failed Critics Awards this past month) we each chose our favourite movies featuring A.I. in honour of both this and the upcoming releases of Big Hero 6 and Chappie.


FEBRUARY – Your Unconventional Desire

50 shadesAs Fifty Shades of Grey hit the big screen in February, we invited Matt Lambourne and (for the first time ever) Paul Field onto the podcast to review the not-so-erotic erotic-thriller. It was almost left up to Paul to review the movie on his own as both Steve and I welched and Matt did his best to ruin Valentine’s Day. The podcast also featured reviews of two other new releases, with Will Smith’s con-film Focus and the sci-fi indie movie Predestination.


MARCH – Don’t Laugh, We’re Being Cool

?????????????????Quickly becoming one of our favourite guests on the show within just three months, Andrew Brooker was invited back onto the podcast again to discuss Neill Blomkamp’s latest action thriller, Chappie. Also joining us that week was Jack Stewart – then of Not This Again fame, but now one part of the Wikishuffle trio. It’s fair to say that there were some mixed opinions about this new release!


APRIL – Episode 150 and as shambolic as ever

New LogoIf you’re actually a fan of the Failed Critics Podcast, then April 2015 was quite the month for you as we put out 15 individual episodes, including a five-hour long triple-triple bill podcast with Matt Lambourne, Andrew Brooker and Paul Field, to celebrate reaching a pretty incredible milestone of 150 episodes. It was also the episode where we debuted our new logo and theme tune, which was a remix of the old tune by professional musician James Yuill.


MAY – Mad Critics Fury Podcast

mad max 4Andrew Brooker was back on the podcast as we reviewed the film that would go on to win first place in our Top 10 of 2015 list at the awards, Mad Max: Fury Road. From the way Brooker and Jackson Tyler reacted to it back then, it’s hardly surprising it had such a lasting impact. This was also the podcast that saw us change our opening quiz format for the first time to some degree of success, as I made up a few Albert Pyun film descriptions.


JUNE – Jurassic World & Christopher Lee

Jurassic-World-1With the legendary Sir Christopher Lee passing away, it seemed somewhat fitting that we had our resident horror expert on the podcast that week in Mike Shawcross. We paid tribute to the iconic film star, as well as reviewing the biggest film of the year, Jurassic World.


JULY – Small, Bald, Jaundiced Critics

illuminationIn our first podcast of the second half of 2015, Callum Petch joined us to review one of the highest grossing movies of the year, Minions. We also had some-time guest writer Nick Lay join us for review of yet more low-budget indie movies. We also ranted once again about another Spider-Man reboot news.


AUGUST – Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer

dyerAfter much persuading by Paul Field, the ‘slice’, he convinced us to dedicate and entire episode to the work of British actor Danny Dyer … and it turned out to be our most downloaded podcast of the entire year! A lot of work went into it, with Paul watching every Dyer film in existence. We even got professional stand-up comedian James Mullinger to appear on the show, as well as an interview with film producer Jonathan Sothcott, who co-authored the book The Films of Danny Dyer with Mullinger.


SEPTEMBER – Legend, The Visit and Award Winning Comedy

legendWith Steve on a week’s break, Jack Stewart was back on the podcast – but this time in the host’s chair. Phil Sharman (also from Wikishuffle) appeared on this episode, fresh after the pair of them won Best Comedy Podcast at the UK Podcaster Awards. Andrew Brooker also helped join in the collective sigh of disappointment at Legend, starring Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy.


OCTOBER – In SPECTRE, It’s Columbo

spectre1208141280jpg-398894_1280wInadvertently spawning a new catchphrase, my review of a Columbo TV movie (that Steve forced me to watch) led to ‘it’s Columbo’ causing a few chuckles amongst our guests. Both Tony Black (of Pick A Flick and The X-Cast fame) and Brian Plank helped us to review the latest James Bond film and somewhat underwhelming SPECTRE.


NOVEMBER – Ronaldo, World Cinema and Listener Questions

NocturnaIn a re-hash of an idea we tried out in 2014, we invited listeners to send questions in to us and our guests for the episode (and world cinema aficionados) Liam and Andrew Alcock. We also discussed the new Cristiano Ronaldo documentary that had just been released, as well as lesser known international movies Nocturna, Green Butchers and Train of Life (yeah, I hadn’t heard of them either!)


DECEMBER – Winterval Special 2015

gremlinsEvery October, we have a Halloween special podcast. In April, we celebrate the “birthday” for Failed Critics. In December, of course we always have a Christmas special episode. It was the last of the year that both Steve and I were on (as he missed the end of year awards and I was booted off the Star Wars: The Force Awakens episode) so why not listen to both of us (plus Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank) spread some Christmas cheer!


Some others not mentioned above:

Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights: Fred’s Pocket – Although I didn’t appear on this podcast, I am its Producer and Editor! Paul Field and James Mullinger started off their new podcast series with a look at their favourite Canadian films and interview WolfCop director Lowell Dean.

Avengers Minisodes and Age of Ultron – Gerry McAuley, Brian Plank, Leighton, Callum Petch, Tony Black, Carole Petts, Andrew Brooker, Matt Lambourne and Mike Shawcross each joined us for ten individual 15-20minute long “minisodes”, re-evaluating the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to and then including Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast and The Failed Black Hole Word of Friction Wikishuffle Critics – After we hosted the first ever quiz-only edition of the Failed Critics Podcast – dubbed a ‘Quizcast’ – featuring both Black Hole Cinema and Wikishuffle, back in April, it fell to Tony Black to host the second rendition which also added Word of Nerd and Fan Friction to the mix.

TV Specials: 2.5, (S3, Ep1) and (S3, Ep2) – In 2016 we’ll be hosting our first Netflix Original podcast, but earlier this year we hosted three TV specials, including episode 2.5 with Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, which reviewed Entourage: The Movie, and then again with episode 3 split into two parts. James Diamond (founder of Failed Critics) and Matt Latham (creator of The Bottle Episode) joined us in part 1 for a chat about the Emmy’s and in part 2 to talk more generally about our favourite TV shows.

The Blair Witch Project (Commentary) – Less of an actual film commentary and more like a watch-along (as I tried to explain on my blog), Steve, Matt, Brooker and I all watched cult 90’s found-footage phenomenon The Blair Witch Project and released our running dialogue as an episode people could either listen to whilst watching the film themselves, or just as a stand alone podcast. We’ll be trying it again at some point in the new year. If there’s any suggestions as to what we should watch next, leave a comment in the box below!


2016 is already shaping up to be another successful year for us. The first three months of podcasts have been scheduled and we’ve got two Corridor of Praise episodes lined up, our usual Oscars special, a world cinema triple bill, episode number 200 (!!) and of course all of the big releases including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Hateful Eight, Creed and loads of others too.

Thanks to everyone who has downloaded or listened to any of our podcasts over the past 12 months. We’re ending the year on a high, having once again made it onto the iTunes Film Fanatics list on their podcasts page, sandwiched between Mark Kermode and the Barbican. You could help make it an even better end to the year by visiting our iTunes page and leaving us a review and/or a rating: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/failed-critics-film-podcast/id522507819?mt=2

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed listening to these podcasts almost as much as I’ve enjoyed making them and you will continue to listen to us throughout the next 12 months too.

Happy New Year all and see you in 2016!


by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 23.38.11A young couple, stripped down to their undies and suspiciously underage in appearance, engage in some overly gaping lip locking via the medium of extreme close-up. Then, they fuck. During said fucking, our man comments, by way of narration, that his lady friend is a virgin – he likes virgins. A little-known musical project named Deluxx Folk Implosion’s rusty-raw punk fusion proceeds to spin overhead as the opening credits finally roll. Larry Clark’s Kids is four minutes old, and already your eyes are shifting a little uncomfortably as you debate switching it off and pretending the last few moments didn’t happen, content that you’ll never see or hear from Mr. Clark again. But you don’t. You watch it. Don’t worry; we’ve all been there.

Larry Clark’s divisive art house flick has been labelled many things since its initial 1995 release, ranging from “a wake-up call to the world”, to outright “child pornography”. It maintains an almost 50/50 split amongst critics, with many continuing to deplore its frank, graphically disturbing material and heavily sexual nature. Whilst undeniably brutal however, it’s very watchable, a testament to the stylistic and technical achievements of Clark and his team, on what was his debut picture. Whilst his direction has never come even close to scaling such engrossing, high quality heights again (2001’s Bully is an outside shout – everything else should be avoided at all costs), his hectic, down to earth day-in-the-life depiction of New York’s mid-90s youth is a tragic tale well worth revisiting during this, the month of its 20th anniversary.

I myself maintain a weirder-than-average relationship with the film, due primarily to the unconventional manner in which I first viewed it. Though my geeky mid-teen lust for classic cinema meant my 15-year-old-self was no stranger to 18-rated movies, usually the process of watching one was dictated strictly on my terms. After all, when you need to borrow Pulp Fiction from your mate’s brother and sneak a few hours with your sister’s VHS player in order to witness Jules and Vincent shooting the shit without your parents knowing (they probably knew, I think they just wanted me to work for it), you know when to take risks and when to be patient. In short, rather than being sought of my own free will (I’d never even heard of it at the time), Kids was shown to my entire class and I by our almost certainly loopy GCSE Media Studies teacher – for no real reason, I might add. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that particular lesson was an experience.

While, of course, it is not advisable to show Kids to, er, kids, seeing it through a child’s eyes, unlike most critics, provided me with a sense of relatable perspective. After all, the majority of the actors cast were around my age, meaning the peak of life’s first stage of discovery portrayed on screen, re: sex and drugs, was certainly part-tangible, but also still very much part-wonder in real life. The film’s example of youth culture is a rather extreme cluster fuck of literally everything a young person could get up to in one day, but many individual aspects here and there will relate to different people in different ways, more so if watched when you yourself are at that exact stage in your, so far, rather clueless life.

Telly, Jasper, Jennie and co. smoke, they swear, they drink, they fuck, they steal, they fight, and they party. They’re confused, ill informed, and casually aggressive when it comes to issues such as sexuality, sexual health, contraception, rape, and race. Kids doesn’t want or try to make real life teens do anything extraordinary. Rather, it sums up and reaffirms what’s painfully normal, bringing all the little pieces that usually fly under the radar together in an orgy-like, warning-laden crescendo of, in theory, how one’s young life could be effectively destroyed if you don’t keep things in check. Basically, it’s a film that should be viewed by everyone, and no one through ages 15-18.

The themes may be darker than dark, but what stops it from being purely an example of grimy indie exploitation is the part played by practically everyone involved in the production. The kids in front of the camera were virtually all newcomers – real life local skaters whom Clark encountered in Central Park and elsewhere around New York. It’s pretty much a perfect cast, with Leo Fitzpatrick and the late Justin Pierce owning their cocksure roles with easy bravado, and future Hollywood successes Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson showing how and why they went on to big things in spite of their amateur status at the time. Harmony Korine’s streetwise screenplay is smart as hell, giving the impression of constant ad lib sessions when in reality the entire thing – bar one or two scenes – was scripted. The soundtrack is hazy, in your face, hazy, repeat; creating and maintaining tone throughout.

Holding everything together of course, is Larry Clark. Considering he’s a certified screw ball, as his later films prove (again, DO NOT watch anything post-Bully), and had no prior filmmaking experience – certainly in terms of a feature film – he really pulled it out of the bag on this one. Using an eavesdropping, handheld documentary-esque style of shooting, Clark utilises angles and scope alike to create a world that’s up close and far away all at the same time. Bright, intriguing; claustrophobic, frightening – he rarely lets your eyes rest, leaving indie-type iconic imagery burning for a while after, from the aforementioned opening scene, to Jennie’s revelation, to four very young lads crammed on a sofa, sharing a spliff and chatting shit, to Telly and Casper’s respective final conquests.

Clark’s cinematic technique and subject matter go hand in hand, but the sex, drugs, violence, and related range of raw emotions on show aren’t there for the sake of it. Instead, Clark ties the numerous everyday aspects of being young together in a compact (and, granted, over the top) timeline, summing up the dreams and nightmares of the average city-dwelling western youth (and their parents); images that are still relevant now, but that were one hundred perfect in need of attention in 1995. It’s perfectly shocking, lightning in a bottle stuff from Clark, something that no one will likely repeat anytime soon. Him most of all.

Failed Critics Podcast: Small, Bald, Jaundiced Critics

spidermanWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where the team are at their most despicable.

No, we haven’t brought back Brooker and Paul!! I’m talking about the prequel to Illumination‘s Despicable Me franchise, all about those little yellow goofy sidekicks. Joining Steve Norman and Owen Hughes to review Minions is our animation expert Callum Petch. The team also take a look at action thrillers Everly (starring Salma Hayek) and Eli Roth’s Knock Knock (starring Keanu Reeves).

There’s even some news for the group to discuss this week as Tom Holland is named as the new (yes, NEW) high school age Spider-Man (they’re really making another Spider-Man film!) (Really!)

We also have a special guest débutante to the Failed Critics podcast in Nick Lay, author of our articles on We Are Many, Dish & Dishonesty and Kung Fury! In a pre-recorded review, he joins Owen all the way from Canada to discuss the micro budget British thriller Through The Lens. Meanwhile, Steve reveals the startling news that prior to this week, he’d somewhat unbelievably never seen The Terminator before, whilst Callum takes over the b-movie duties from Owen to review 80’s cult classic Hard Ticket To Hawaii.

Join Steve, Owen and Callum again next week as we review Terminator: Genisys and Magic Mike XXL.



Kung Fury

Of course we watched Kung Fury.  We had to. It’s our job. But, as writer Nicholas Lay finds out, this Kickstarter backed 30 minute long 80’s parody is also pretty awesome!

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 23.33.59Ah the 1980s action movie parody/homage, always a more than welcome distraction from the daily grind of non-80s action movie-related real life. Having seen and heard a plethora of excited keyboard mashing regarding a certain Swedish short, Kung Fury (neat), the latest incarnation of the genre to sweep our fair world wide web, I owed it to my Sunday afternoon to chill the fuck out and give it a watch. It was a good decision. Dropping free-to-stream a few days ago, seemingly out of nowhere, writer/director David Sandberg’s action/cop/martial arts b-movie piss-take is exactly what you want from thirty minutes of mindless entertainment. I wouldn’t say I completely lost my shit over it – like most people online seem to have done – as it’s all been done before, with various aspects even appearing as recently as the video game spin-off Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and soon to crop up again in the upcoming, no doubt step-too-far Iron Sky sequel. Having said that, it’s impossible not to appreciate the hell out of Sandberg’s larger-than-life creation.

For starters, the film is incredibly well made, with seemingly every penny of the $630k Kickstarter cash pledged being plunged into the production, and then some, to create a technical masterpiece of indie filmmaking. Unfazed by the scale of his vision versus the budget available, Sandberg utilises green screen and props with perfect balance, resulting in a look that’s part epic, part comical, and altogether full-on 80s. The opening flippin’-skateboard shot sets the tone for the countless outlandish action sequences that follow, peppered with old school Verhoeven-style head explosions, never-ending firearm clips, and highlighted throughout by increasingly insane superpowers, ridiculous weaponry, and mass kung-fu duels. Shot smartly and edited seamlessly, particularly the raw footage against the vast, varying green screen projected backdrops, and complete with a smile-inducing scratchy VHS-style overlay at times, such a well coordinated mish-mash – backed by a classic, synth-heavy score of the era – demonstrates that Sandberg, technically, is riding the crest of a wave that most bedroom-ridden keyboard warrior fanboy wannabes can only dream of.

Giving the action its relevancy by way of helping to emphasise its wholly ridiculous nature is a quality blend of writing, characters, and, here and there, performances. The plot is total and utter nonsense, as one would expect from this sort of crazy spoof-laden capering, with the usual 80s-influenced coming together of Nazis, dinosaurs, time travel, gods, guns, and gore more than present and correct. Anyone can mix this sort of stuff up in a script and hope it comes out funny, but numerous projects, from low budget YouTube clips to motion pictures are proof, more often than not, that this is not always the case. Sandberg certainly has a few moments of ‘meh’ present within his writing (the Viking-era scenes especially are fairly humdrum), but for the most part the premise, individual scenarios, and particularly the dialogue are nothing short of fucking hilarious – and I mean that in a good way.

So many little moments inspire genuine mirth, from the evil arcade-transformer-bot lasering with middle fingers raised and fumbling with a parking meter in order to salvage more quarters, to an overly camp Hitler screaming ‘Fuck you!” and opening fire at the police through a back-in-the-day brick mobile – the latter of which had me in the biggest fit of practically crying movie-related laughter since god knows when. Completing the 80s checklist is one of my favourite sequences, Kung Fury’s anime/superhero drawn encounter with a lisp-wielding, justice obstructing cobra, complete with subtle butt clenching/flexing on the part of our hero and a great bit of voice work by Frank Sanderson.

When it comes to the characters and their depictions, Sandberg himself – who somehow manages also to star in the titular role – leads the way with a downright hysterical deadpan performance, delivering each of his wonderfully clichéd one-liners and sketchy exposition with all the stereotypical macho bullshit of every 80s action star that ever lived. The fact that a fair old bunch of the other actors involved aren’t all that great doesn’t matter too much, as the consistently amusing nature of the characters themselves (including a half-man, half-triceratops with a British accent called, wait for it, Triceracop – for fuck’s sake) more than makes up for it. And that goes for the non-human characters/beings too, of whom, from the get go, you don’t even think about questioning in terms of either existence or motive.

Cutting so deep into fanboy action culture that it practically bleeds 1980s throwbacks, Kung Fury is a textbook example of the sort of entertainment the internet was made for. Slick, funny, and enjoyable from beginning to end with only a few minor hiccups, this shameless thirty-minute flick is an ideal way of killing that end-of-the-day office countdown on a dull midweek afternoon. Or you could just, you know, get really high and whack it on. Either way, Sandberg’s loving enthusiasm for his pet project shines through, and for that he is to be commended. In the end the whole thing turned out far better than expected thanks to his efforts to make damn sure it was all worth it, even getting period hero The Hoff onboard to complete the circle of 80s life.

So watch and appreciate it while it’s fresh as, no matter how funny it is for half an hour, this sort of thing can get real old, real fast. By that I mean, in my opinion, the production benefitted massively from the fact that Sandberg and his team didn’t manage to raise enough money to make a full-length feature film. Over ninety plus minutes the novelty tends to wear off around the thirty-minute mark (see Iron Sky for reference), meaning Kung Fury got it spot on. As a follow up of some kind already seems inevitable, however, I’ll make the case right now, if it has to be made, for a sequel/prequel/whatever to be shot in the same short format. I’m happy to be proved wrong of course, but with the deserved success the film is currently courting online, the more-than-likely difficult to sustain original concept of a feature length version could realistically be green lit, to which I say…

…I got your permit right here!

Kung Fury is available to watch for free over on YouTube:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5P_LAqiVg]

We Are Many

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

A3044022-0064-4D14-AEEB-73667FD7D2A9To my politically naïve fourteen-year-old-self, the invasion of Iraq by the United States and her allies, including the United Kingdom, essentially passed in a flash of news bulletins, uniformed discussion, and a general lack of understanding. 20 March 2003 was just another day in my rowdy teenage life, as was the month prior, during which, on 15 February, the largest coordinated global concentration of human assembly in all history took place. Spearheaded and centralised by crowds topping 1.5 million on the streets of London, people the world over joined forces en masse in a peaceful, controlled outcry of protest against the possibility of war with Iraq.

The motivations, construction, execution, and legacy of these gatherings are the primary focus of British-based producer/director Amir Amirani’s new documentary, We Are Many. A study of the ever-developing power of protest, the film centres on the original catalyst for such action in modern times, as well as its enduring results up to and including the 2011 Arab Spring and the recently rejected proposal of western military intervention in Syria.

What could certainly be called a ‘definitive’ discussion on the topic of protest during the opening decades of the 21st century, We Are Many welcomingly encapsulates and conveys a moment in time that deserves to be remembered and passed down through this generation and the next. The impressive scale of verbal and visual coverage conveyed is unprecedented for a major film or documentary dealing with the Iraq War. Working firstly through the build up to the 15 February protests, Amirani then proceeds to delve down into the fascinating, somewhat disturbing manner in which the overwhelming public reaction was somehow lost amongst the mixed political response, resulting in any and all protest slowly melting into the inevitable countdown to war.

Never overbearing and consistently interesting, the film is well edited, paced, and scored. Amirani relays the history beautifully, whittling down his countless hours of interview footage and extremely thorough research to produce a concise, well-reasoned, sometimes genuinely emotional work. An array of diverse techniques is employed to spread out and reel in varying levels of audience engagement, all of which actually come together with remarkable consistency. There’s the constant, subtle development of tension via the ticking calendar, a range of interesting side note anecdotes used to break up the main arc (Antarctica/Mandela/NO WAR), and a simple, brutal juxtaposition between the stark reality of war and the joking, dismissive reception given to it at times by the powers that be. Sometimes the smart, contextual use of a basic raw recording or clip is all that is needed, as is the case with the inclusion of the late British MP Robin Cook’s protest-based resignation speech to the House of Commons. A powerful, emotion-rousing piece of anti-war rhetoric that deconstructs the government’s argument to the point of ironic absurdity, it’s the sort of dormant political moment within mainstream culture that is more than worthy of widely distributed preservation.

It’s formidable stuff from Amirani, who – without getting drawn into celebrity name checking – assembles a bordering-on-epic group of talking heads to help paint vividly the increasingly intense nature of proceedings. There’s researchers, journalists, politicians, musicians, event/committee/association organisers, commentators, veterans etc. etc., with plenty of unique, fascinating insight prevalent throughout, and genuine passion evident in those relaying how events unfolded from the ground up. Unlike some documentaries released twenty, thirty, forty years after the event, We Are Many benefits heavily from being so fresh in the minds of those involved. Rather that simply pressing play on everything at his disposal, Amirani uses this interviewee energy, intercut with his superb archive footage, to weave an immersive, but always-startling true tale.

A great documentary should never assume that its audience is in the know regarding the subject of discussion. On top of this approach there should generally be a healthy level of provocation toward research/analysis-based thoughts and reactions on the part of the audience, outside of what they’re specifically being told. We Are Many does this brilliantly by way of its historical and social commentary, and overall coverage. As someone from my generation – too young to really understand or participate in Iraq-related events at the time – I was not only left with a strong sense of pride in the sheer willingness of my fellow man to project views I now consider myself firmly aligned with, but also found myself in complete awe of how focused and peaceful the whole thing was. Now an adult contemporary of an age in which protests throughout the west are frequently inundated with clashes between rival gangs and political groups, anonymous rioters, kettling and other forms of police aggressiveness, it’s both tragic and inspiring to see how easy it seemed to be once upon a time.

Not exactly life changing, but certainly very necessary at a point in time when protest exists at the forefront of global opinion, and numerous questions concerning the true motivations for the Iraq War remain unanswered, We Are Many is a moving, thoroughly engaging journey through one of the chief high-profile social and political chapters of the early 21st century. With political interest and participation steadily rising amongst young people, a well-made, relatable documentary feature such as this is definitely a useful, welcome shot in the arm. In no way pretentious or deeply complex, but, due to the subject matter, not a piece to be taken lightly either; time set aside to allow full immersion, however you choose to view it, is highly recommended. Timeless in nature, I have no doubt it’ll go on to have a productive future as a pertinent reminder to future generations of the interchangeable, very real themes of war, peace, power, politics, and, ultimately, freedom of speech in the form of protest.

We Are Many will have a live satellite link-up Premiere with very special guests on 21 May, beamed to cinemas around the UK, followed by a nationwide cinema release on 22 May.

Dish and Dishonesty (S3 Ep1)

In the latest entry to our 100 Greatest TV Episodes series, we’re introducing Nicholas Lay, a new guest writer to the site, who’s inducting one of the most intelligent episodes from the BBC classic comedy, Blackadder.

by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)

dish and dishonesty 1In the spirit of the frantic general election that last week, as per usual, made a mockery of the political and social system in the UK, it seemed only natural that my contribution to Failed Critics 100 Greatest TV Shows should be the timeless send up of British politics that is the opening episode of the late 80s sitcom, Blackadder the Third. While II and Goes Forth are arguably stronger seasons, certainly in terms of consistency, and are no doubt more popular, I find it difficult to hold any single episode in higher favour than Dish and Dishonesty. Set during what could perhaps be considered a ‘brave’ time period selection – the turn of the 18th/19th century British Regency (a historical period lodged primarily in further education compared to the primary school-taught, everyone-knows-a-few-facts-about-them Elizabethan and WWI periods of II and Goes Forth respectively) – the episode features some of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s finest, altogether smartest writing, terrific performances and comic timing across the board, as well as probably my favourite Blackadder sequence of all time.

Right off the bat there are jokes aplenty regarding the rather backward electoral structure of the age, with facts presented that could essentially produce the humour out right due to the almost tragic nature of their genuine existence. Curtis and Elton of course sprinkle their delicious sense of exaggeration on virtually everything, but as is the case throughout Blackadder the comedy stems from the reality that, while ridiculous, each social and political aspect ridiculed to the extreme isn’t actually that far away from the truth. Within the first five minutes or so we’re treated to a brief history of the unfair manner of voting procedure (“Look at Manchester…population, sixty thousand; electoral roll, three”), an introduction to the running joke of an overly adolescent Pitt the Younger, and the outrageous class divide as depicted by Blackadder himself, who describes MP Sir Talbot Buxomley’s interests as “flogging servants, shooting poor people, and the extension of slavery to anyone who hasn’t got a knighthood”.

Although helped by the fact that period pieces tend to stand the test of the time with greater success than their contemporary cousins, Curtis and Elton were evidently masters of the sitcom set up of their day. Immediately punching out lines and gags of this ilk over and over again, they really allow the old day BBC studio audience to get their teeth into things from the off, thus pulling the whole thing off spectacularly well throughout. Incidentally, the episode is a fine example of a time when a live audience laughter track genuinely did drive and enhance the comedy, from the perspective of both the working actors and the end user, so to speak, in the form of the audience at home.

Working in tandem is the superb delivery provided by the cast, led by Rowan Atkinson’s legendary title character, whose bitter sense of both curiosity and utter loathing alike manifest themselves marvellously with each straight close-up of his subtle, completely apt facial expressions. His calm, permanently sarcastic demeanour in the face of complete buffoonery, both above (Hugh Laurie’s elite thicko, Prince George) and below him (Tony Robinson’s ever-present dogsbody, Baldrick), results in punch line after spot on punch line. Laurie excels opposite as the brain dead Prince, the non-state related concerns of whom remain consistently at the forefront of the comic proceedings (“Socks are like sex…tons of it about and I never seem to get any!”). The nauseating guest characters are as close to perfection as one is likely to find in sitcom history, with Dennis Lill’s grotesque, flushed elitist Buxomly’s brief cameo matched by the depiction of two-time Prime Minster Pitt the Younger, played wonderfully by Simon Osborne. Like the “Darling” gag during Goes Forth, the joke that the PM is a mere teenager is simple but genius in both subsequent connotation and all round execution, as he continuously spars with Blackadder in fantastically immature, highly patronising fashion.

The highlight of the episode is the development of the by-election held in the fictional corrupt rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold, discussed first by Blackadder and the Prince (in no other context could the lines “a small hen, its late forties” and “window tax” be delivered with such understated aplomb and work so damn well), before culminating in the eventual election declaration. One of the all time great moments of British television, the fourth wall-breaking election result – presented as a BBC-type event with contemporary political commentator Vincent Hanna speaking directly to the camera/audience – is a masterpiece of witty political satire. From start to end it precisely dissects the sometimes seemingly insane practice and nature of politics in the late 18th/early 19th century, alongside modern day politics and the ugly, concurrent themes of power, wealth, and corruption. The sight of Prince George holding Colin the dachshund and approving Mr. Hanna’s acknowledgement of the beast sets the tone for a scene in which each scenario, portrayal, and line is pure, side splitting gold. Baldrick’s old timey version of political “gagging”, Pitt the Even Younger crying to his mother in defeat, the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party’s policy of the compulsory serving of asparagus at breakfast, and Mr. Hanna’s Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette media outlet are just some of the standout moments, all held together by Blackadder’s treacherous, completely transparent rigging of the vote. Never again did a single scene have my heavily inebriated weeknight YouTube-watching first year history university student-self on the floor quite as long as this.

A momentous, everlasting piece of British comedy, Dish and Dishonesty opened a season that deservedly won the BAFTA for Best Comedy Series in 1988, with the episode itself a cornerstone of its success. The blend of quirky, restricted staging and cynical writing forever associated with the series is at its absolute strongest here, a factor from which the cast rose to the occasion to produce a practically flawless thirty minutes of television. To any fan of history, comedy or political satire who may have missed it, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. If you still don’t wish to give it a try, then I say, in the words of Mr. Pitt the Younger, poo to you with knobs on!

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.