Tag Archives: Nicole Kidman

London Film Festival 2016: Day 11

LION

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

So, now that the structure of having daily press screenings in a morning and afternoon has been taken away from me, allow me to tear down the glamourous artifice of the London Film Festival and explain to you how Rush Tickets work.  Now, at a film festival, there are a lot of films being shown throughout the 12 day period, 245 to be precise, both big and small.  Many of them play opposite one another at different venues, and the smaller films can often be dwarfed by the bigger ones.  This means that there can be a surplus of films with unsold tickets that aren’t being snapped up at the usual festival prices – which range from a standard film ticket in London, read: a lot, to the price of a 3 course meal back home, read: a hell of a lot.  As a result, these tickets will be re-sold as Rush Tickets where, 45 minutes before a film, audiences can queue up to buy these tickets at a significantly reduced price, letting them take a chance on films they may otherwise have avoided.

How does this affect film critics?  Well, as critics, we get special press and industry screenings separate from public screenings, so we can see many of these films before everyone else.  If we want to get into public screenings for whatever reason, mainly due to scheduling ensuring that we missed the press screening, we can do so through one of two methods.  The first involves putting in for a set-aside press ticket two days beforehand, guaranteeing you a screening if it’s approved, but these come with the risk of having your requests and choices approved or denied seemingly at random with no explanation, so you may only get your 3rd or 4th choice if you even get one at all.  The second is to head to the Press & Delegate booth at the cinema screening the film about 15 minutes beforehand and trying to blag a spare ticket that way, but these come with the caveat of the cinema only handing these out if the film isn’t busy, as they understandably prioritise paying customers over your vulture-like self, and you may turn up too late to just buy a ticket like everyone else.

Dev Patel and Rooney Mara star in LIONPhoto: Mark Rogers

There’s a lack of permanence or certainty to getting into public screenings, basically, which is why I’ve been quietly dreading this final weekend as somebody who likes having guaranteed structure.  It’s also why I didn’t trust my nerves and instincts enough to hold out for a leftover free ticket for Lion (Grade: C- (barely)), and instead plonked down £16 cash money for the privilege of watching a textbook example of Weinstein Oscar Bait.  Unlike with, as previously mentioned for example, costume dramas, my cynicism alarms do go a-blaring whenever a film that I’m about to watch, especially one released around this time of the year, has The Weinstein Company in its studio credits, home of the most blatant and cynically-calculated Oscar Bait around.

Take a drink whenever you spot an awards-movie cliché in this synopsis: based on a true story, Lion follows Saroo (“and introducing” Sunny Pawar), a young Indian boy in a tiny village separated from his older brother and mother when he insists on tagging along for night work to help support his family.  Trapped on a discontinued train, he is spirited away to Kolkata and spends the following 2 months as a street orphan, constantly avoiding child traffickers and child molesters, before ending up in a nightmarish government centre for forgotten children and, soon after that, being adopted by a nice White Australian family (David Wenham and a spectacularly miscast Nicole Kidman).  They become his new family, along with a difficult fellow adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa) who is implied to have been sexually abused prior to living with their new family – and the way the film treats and characterises him is so dreadful and offensive that I’m not going to touch it with a 10-foot pole.  20 years later, once Saroo (now Dev Patel) goes to university, he finally decides to try tracking down his former home via this new-fangled contraption known as “Google Earth.”

Bladdered yet?  Look, my problem with Lion is not that it’s clichéd, real life can oftentimes be a cliché if you’ve experienced enough stories.  No, my problem with Lion is that it is completely soulless filmmaking that has been precision-calibrated to at least rack up awards nominations, if not awards statues themselves.  Every beat and “tear-jerking” scene can be predicted right down to the second, half the movie in advance because it is far too cynically designed to distract the viewer from the artifice of it all.  There are no characters here, none whatsoever.  Saroo meets and falls in love with an American exchange student whilst at university (Rooney Mara) and she does absolutely nothing in this film beyond trying to encourage and support Saroo; we never once get a look at her wants or desires or personality or really any indicator at all that she’s not just some animatronic on a particularly weepy fairground ride.

In fact, on that subject, we never really come to learn much about Saroo, either.  What is he like outside of that desire to rediscover his home?  Why has he gone to university to study hotel management?  Hell, what was he really like as a child before he got lost, outside of the very minor glimpses in weirdly-placed flashbacks late on in the film?  Lion has no idea.  “Look at Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel!” it instead yells fruitlessly, “Aren’t they adorable and so you immediately sympathise with them and stop asking so many questions!”  Whilst, yes, Patel and Pawar both carry genuine amounts of screen charisma and expressive youthful eyes that makes you instantly sympathetic to their plight – Pawar is a genuine find, and Patel really deserves to be a Movie Star already – they are not Gods.  They can’t paper over massive holes in their characterisations, like “there not being any.”  They’re also not helped by a narrative that tries to cover every last second of Saroo’s life, consequently creating a film that undermines its own dramatic pacing every time it finally starts picking up steam with a random time-jump – the massive “20 Years Later” one at the hour mark particularly drew judgemental intakes of breath from my fellow audience members.

Yes, the ending is powerful stuff, but of course it was going to be.  You’d have to be a completely incompetent imbecile to muck up this story’s ending, and lord knows that Lion really tries to.  It just doesn’t work in the slightest, not in the first half when Saroo is wandering around India lost and alone – and manages the uncomfortable unintentional insinuation that India is a savage and unsafe place for a child in any capacity and that they all need saving by nice White families from more developed nations – and definitely not in the second half where it completely fails to make Google Earth browsing a dramatic and emotional act.  One could argue that maybe this story just isn’t suited for Film, but I’d disagree.  It’s just not suitable for this film.  If it were more focussed, crafted actual characters whose personal dramas and conflicts were treated with respect, came up with a decent structure, and was made with soul and a desire to do more than win awards and self-consciously bring attention to how much of A Good Thing everyone involved was doing by tangentially addressing A Serious Issue – never mind that Saroo never once feels like he’s in actual danger once he gets lost, thanks to some terrible directing – Lion could have been worth something.  Or it could have at least dropped the jarring Best Original Song submission by Sia from the end credits.

women_who_kill_01

Having tried twice prior to today, the third time turned out to be the charm for getting into a Women Who Kill (Grade: B+) screening, and thank heavens my luck came good this time because Women Who Kill is brilliant.  The feature directorial debut of writer Ingrid Jungermann, the film follows two women, the lesbian Morgan (Jungermann) and the bisexual Jean (Ann Carr), who used to be lovers and co-host the titular podcast together, a true crime podcast where the pair interview famous female serial killers and debate which female serial killer is the hottest.  Despite having broken up a while back, the two still do basically everything together, which is making some of their fellow lesbian friends like Alex (Shannon Patricia O’Neal) openly question if the two are finally sleeping with each other again.  But then, one day, Simone (Sheila Vand) walks into the Co-Op that Morgan works at, and Simone’s mysterious allure irresistibly draws Morgan towards her.  Everyone else, however, has their doubts about Simone, like how Simone doesn’t appear to be her actual name, how she’s very evasive about her life before moving back to New York, and how she’s bordering on the verge of psychopathic behaviour.

In essence, it’s an “is my partner a murderous psycho?” movie, albeit one executed in the drollest and most New York way possible.  There’s an undercurrent of genuine menace that Women Who Kill is able to tap into when it wants to, but it mostly doesn’t want to.  Instead, the film acts as a very dry and satirical commentary on self-involved New Yorkers.  “Yawn,” I can already hear you vocally expressing, “we already have a hundred thousand of those.”  But the film situates itself in the Now thanks to both its send-up of the recent podcast boom – Women Who Kill manages to walk the line of being just stupid enough to register as fake, but is also niche enough and self-involved enough to be somewhat believable as a potential real podcast made by 2 New York women – and by being hella gay.  Almost every character in this film is a lesbian, and that simple fact leads to a genuinely diverse cast of characters that avoid falling into the realm of reductive stereotypes thanks to that diversity of personality.

That gender and sexuality flip to a concept as well-worn as “is my partner a murderous psycho?” provides a spark of life to the film that makes it feel new and unique, a breath of fresh air in a played-out genre despite the beats being mostly what you’d expect.  The podcast part even ends up being more than just New York quirk, allowing the film to explore the idea of what we consider socially acceptable psychopathy and paranoia, and feeding that back into examining Morgan especially.  Women Who Kill is also bolstered by great performances across the board, particularly from Jungermann and especially from Vand, who some of you might remember from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and is able to be almost equally unsettling here in an entirely different way.  It carries the same issue as the similarly delightfully-offbeat dark comedy Prevenge from earlier in the festival in that it kind of abruptly sputters out with its ending rather than climaxing spectacularly, but Women Who Kill is otherwise a really entertaining and fresh take on a worn-out premise.  A modest little treasure.

dog_eat_dog_01

The exact opposite of a modest little treasure, and a film I didn’t think I’d even be able to get into, was my final film for the day, Dog Eat Dog (Grade: D+), an incredibly loose adaptation of an Edward Bunker novel by Paul Schrader.  Once the writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and the director of American Gigolo and the 1982 version of Cat People, Schrader has been on a decades-long cold streak for a good while and Dog Eat Dog does not represent some kind of miraculous turn-around in that form.  A very nasty, disposable film about absolutely nothing at all, we follow ex-cons Troy (Nicholas Cage), Mad Dog (Willem Defoe), and Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) as they work their way through the criminal underworld taking on low-paying jobs in the hopes of eventually making enough to escape Cleveland and fly to Hawaii or some place.  That dream may have a strong chance of turning into reality when they get one last big job to kidnap the one year-old child of a deadbeat who owes their client a hefty sum of cash, but there’s just the slight problem of all 3 of our protagonists being absolute idiots with hair-trigger tempers.

The film, meanwhile, has the slight problem of just being absolutely no fun to watch whatsoever.  There’s style coming out the wazoo – as Schrader and his filmmaking team go through every last possible transition effect, shoot a strip club sequence in black-and-white for (as Schrader himself admitted in a remarkably candid post-film Q&A) no reason whatsoever, and go overboard on the drug-trip-representation effects – but it’s all in service of a trio of incredibly unlikeable and unentertaining protagonists.  Unlikeable protagonists aren’t an inherent problem, we’re going to talk about a certain film tomorrow that I absolutely have not already seen that has nothing but unlikeable protagonists, as long as they’re interesting or entertaining enough to watch, and Dog Eat Dog’s idea of entertaining dialogue is for the f-word to be sputtered out like a machine gun throughout the whole length of the movie.  It’s all really forced and strained offensiveness – Mad Dog throwing around the n-word like it’s going out of style, sudden extreme violence and gross misogyny, the constant drug sequences – that’s both played-out and never feels genuine, which is why the film never crosses over into being a guilty pleasure in any way.

It’s what American readers might refer to as A Redbox Movie: a nasty low-budget masculine crime movie that’s too shambolically made and instantly forgettable to go to cinemas, despite having once-name actors, and so is sent straight-to-DVD to live out its days as a $5 impulse purchase or a rented movie that entertains a certain audience for as long as it lasts before being instantly discarded.  Dog Eat Dog could have used its premise to examine the criminal cycle, where ex-cons simply re-enter a life of crime once they get out because they have no other options open to them, that Bunker writes about in his novels, but instead Schrader has just created a nasty and instantly forgettable crime movie that’s just unpleasant to watch, albeit one that features Nicholas Cage busting out his best Humphrey Bogart impression for reasons that have already escaped me.  If you’re particular to seeing Cage and Defoe ham it up in bad crime movies, though, you may want to bump that score up a point or two.

Day 12: The festival draws to a close as Ben Wheatley brings Free Fire, a film I most definitely have not already watched.

Callum Petch spent a life-span with no cellmate.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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Paddington

Although it’s lightweight and its effects are awful, Paddington gets by on charm, sweetness, some decent laughs, and a strong personality.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

paddington 2Paddington never looks quite right.  There are a few angles and distances where he looks appealing enough, although never quite as cute as the film would like for him to be seen as, but from pretty much everywhere else he looks… off.  His face creeps rather than enchants, his top half seems slightly more animated than his bottom half, his eyes frequently give off this unnerving thousand-yard stare, and any movement that requires some semblance of haste is covered up with several dozen slabs of motion blur to hide the jerkiness and general low-quality nature of his CG.

Paddington, relatedly, never looks quite right.  I’m not referring to the live-action stuff; that looks great – there’s a dynamism to proceedings and a real sense of visual splendour, a desire to impress and engage the eyes with surreal sets that still recognisably exist in our world.  I’m referring to the CG.  The copious amount of CG and, good lord, does it ever look awful.  Whether it be Paddington himself, or the jungles of Peru, or a flock of seagulls that terrorise any unsuspecting prey that holds sandwiches, or any flames whatsoever, none of the film’s vast amounts of CGI ever manages to convince.  This isn’t like in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah where the CG creatures are not supposed to fully convince, these are just incredibly low-quality CG effects and they almost serve to destroy the whole film.

Their incredibly low-quality ends up catching the eye, demanding its attention and focus, and sticking in the brain for far longer than they’ve been on screen for.  They threaten to overtake the whole film, to direct attention away from the film they’re attached to and to simply be too ugly for events on screen.  Fortunately, miraculously even, they don’t end up sinking the film, despite being a large part of it.  Paddington instead manages to get by on sheer bloody charm.  It’s low-key, knows this, and therefore plays to those strengths.  This is a family film in the truest sense of the word, of the kind that they simply just don’t make anymore.

Our plot, then, follows Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), a rare species of bear that resides in Darkest Peru and acts very human-like.  Years before, his kind had been discovered by an Explorer and Paddington’s Aunt and Uncle have nursed a desire to visit The Explorer in London ever since.  When an earthquake takes Paddington’s home and claims the life of his uncle, his Aunt sends him to live in London.  There he is taken in by the Brown family: consisting of the uptight safety-freak Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), the charitable but out-of-touch Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins), the permanently-mortally-embarrassed daughter Judy Brown (Madeline Harris), and the daredevil and resourceful son Simon Brown (Samuel Joslin).  Paddington, however, is also now being hunted by an evil taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who wishes to add him to the Natural History Museum.

The film goes pretty much as you’d expect from there.  Paddington has a hard time fitting into London life, the Browns slowly warm up to him and grow closer as a family as a result, the taxidermist is comically psychopathic and single-minded in her pursuit of Paddington…  It’s all very obvious, but in an earnest and likeable way.  The film is rarely mean-spirited – I mean, there’s the apparently-now-obligatory prison rape joke, but that’s about it – and has a lot of love for all of its cast.  Everything is light, everything is low-stakes, the villain’s punishment is really rather tame, the film’s one big chase scene only lasts about 5 or 6 streets, the pacing is calm and measured.

It reminds me very much of films like The Borrowers, or MouseHunt, or early Harry Potter – not coincidentally, Harry Potter producer David Heyman is a producer on this – that kind of gentile mid-90s/early-00s family film.  That same earnestness, that same joy, that same way of distorting our reality through extravagant and colourful sets that don’t always call attention to themselves.  Hiring Paul King, of The Mighty Boosh fame, to write and direct ends up being a clever choice.  He knows how to frame shots, how to make places like The Brown’s home feel recognisable and relatively attainable without losing a sense of wonder.  The Geographer’s Association headquarters, in particular, feels a hell of a lot like Gringotts in terms of scale, filming style and overall feel.

There’s a lot of charm, here.  A lot of charm and a full-on genuine personality bursting out from every corner of the frame.  Everything is silly, everything is fun, everything is clearly loving, everything is slightly different to what else is on the market right now.  There’s no real big action setpiece, a lack of pop culture references – aside from one blatant and wholly unnecessary call-out to the bit in Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol where Tom Cruise climbs the Burj Khalifa – and there’s a real care in the visual presentation of the film.  Shot compositions and camerawork are very deliberate, very staged to heighten the unreality of the events in our very real world.  There’s also a very nice recurring dollhouse visual with the family members that I want to call attention to but can’t find any way to smoothly integrate into this paragraph.

The film does occasionally tease touching on or tackling important and weighty themes – immigration, environmentalism, our broken economic system that forces those of us without access to fall-back resources to have to live on the street in a constant state of judgement with no help – but Paddington backs away from these subjects just as soon as they’re brought up; their appearance coming built into the source material and story rather than from, any conscious effort.  Instead, the film concerns itself with messages of acceptance, tolerance, and loving one’s family – y’know, obvious stuff that every other family film ever has used as their thematic backbone.  Again, though, it works because the film is so damn earnest and charming.  It knows what it wants to be and it’s proud of that fact.

That, ultimately, is why Paddington gets a pass from me: charm and personality.  Its laughs are minor but relatively constant, its heart is proudly displayed on its sleeve, and it is very good at being the nice lightweight trifle of a film that it aims to be.  If it had a few more big laughs and if its CG effects weren’t so utterly abysmal – inexcusable for a film that cost between $50 million and $55 million – then I’d be offering a full-blown praising, similar as I did to The Love Punch back in April.  As it stands though, and especially considering how much I expected it to suck prior to the film rolling in front of my eyeballs, Paddington is a charming delight that’s worth a look.

Callum Petch is ready to show himself to you.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: The Return of the Fat White Duke

The Guest Dan StevensThat’s right ladies and gentlemen; just two weeks after saying some emotional goodbyes and handing over the keys to Failed Critics Towers, James has come crawling back begging to help out. Luckily for him, Steve’s holiday presented the ideal opportunity for a coup d’état and a triumphant return as guest host for one night only.

Luckily for you, Owen and Carole are on hand to keep the ego in check, and provide some much needed analysis of the week in film, including the launch of London Film Festival 2014. Elsewhere we review new releases Before I Go To Sleep and The Guest, and Triple Bill sees the team discuss Movie Recasting Decisions.

Next week we’ll be back to normal with Steve in charge and James banished to the forbidden zone until Christmas. Basically it means more puns and less French cinema.

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Before I Go To Sleep

There’s this film that exists in the real world that tells the story of someone who, each day, forgets everything that has happened to them. A form of amnesia that’s rife for basing a mystery-movie around. A twist here, a shock there, a revelation half way through that changes everything that’s gone before; it was an ambitious project that was both original and very entertaining.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

IMG_0124.CR2But enough about Memento. (See what I did there? They’re both about.. ah, never mind.) The lazy and obvious comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s award winning hit from 2000 (and currently the 40th most popular film of all time according to the IMDb ‘Top 250‘) pretty much end here.

Rowan Joffe’s movie, based on the S. J. Watson best seller of the same name, stars Nicole Kidman as the lonely amnesiac ‘Christine’ (as her doctor (Mark Strong) refers to her. Or ‘Chris’, as her husband Ben (Colin Firth) calls her. Or Chrissie, as her only friend calls her. Depends on which character you like most, I suppose?) Christine suffers from anterograde amnesia, which affects her short-term memory. Every night, Christine’s mind erases everything she’s learned that day. She will always wake up the following morning with absolutely no recollection of anything that has happened to her since she was involved in a traumatic event several years ago. She’s now forty years old and has no memory whatsoever of meeting Ben, never mind marrying him. With the aid of a daily morning routine consisting of her spouse explaining her condition, reading post-it notes with her name on stuck to photographs in the bathroom and answering the phone to a doctor claiming to be treating her without Ben’s knowledge, she slowly begins to unravel the mysteries of her past. Both recent and distant.

A common pitfall for psychological dramas is often the over-reliance on putting all of its eggs into a shock-twist basket, delivered approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through, that suddenly changes how you see everything that’s gone before it. A frequently used example of how to do this successfully would be the Darth Vader reveal in Star Wars. Not only is it timed to perfection, but it changes character dynamics and their motivations, greatly impacts the story and comes as a massive surprise (ignoring the fact that it’s pretty well known these days). Just take a look at YouTube for some of the reactions kids have had to that scene. That is how a good twist should make you feel.

There are some notable down sides, though. Focussing too much on a twist can also detract from the overall quality of a film. If the build up is too weak or obvious, meaning you see it coming from a mile away, then it loses the shock value thus leaving the viewer quite rightly thinking “so what?”. If the twist turns things around too far, it becomes ridiculous, unbelievable and nonsensical, in turn removing that vital suspension of disbelief. Tease the twist too much and the audience will start to suspect that what’s happening on screen is little more than filler and thus get bored of waiting for the inevitable. There’s a very fragile balance to be maintained that few great psychological thrillers manage to tread.

However, what if the entire film was a series of twists? What if all that the main character knew about herself – about the situation she’s in, her back story, about who the other people in her life are etc – what if that was the same as what you (the viewer) knew? That is to say, virtually nothing. From learning about her family, to receiving a phone call from Dr Nash informing her that she’s sneaking around behind her husband’s back to receive treatment; these are all revelations for the main character, as well as for the audience. You learn as she learns with each progressing day with only the benefit that you can remember this information, rather than requiring a video diary every 5 minutes.

Of course, in a film like this, some of these revelations hold a much greater significance than others. Unfortunately, Before I Go To Sleep does have issues in maintaining interest in each new piece of information that it bombards you with. Some of which are (as you would expect) red herrings and others do not seem to hold any importance to what’s going on at all. Whereas some of the seemingly more relevant disclosures are definitely worth waiting for. They mix things up, creating new angles to the relationship between doctor/patient, or husband/wife. Details of which were apparently spoiled the other day live on the BBC Breakfast during an interview with Nicole Kidman. Obviously I’m not going to tell you what was revealed! That would be completely unfair of me. Wouldn’t it, BBC?

How many viewers do you reckon watch that show gets? A million? Two million? I bloody hate spoilers.

I digress. There’s very little fat to trim from this short 90 minute movie, but there are elements that are very repetitious. By its very nature, they are issues that there’s no getting around. Spanning approximately two weeks of Christine’s life, there will be days where she has to repeat certain actions. The majority of these are tucked away very cleverly in overlay narration, but occasionally it gets irksome. It’s also too uneventful for a thriller, with most of the major events in the plot occurring through conversation or exposition. In addition, it’s too light-weight for a serious drama. The dialogue in particular leaves a lot to be desired. Nicole Kidman is a good actress. If she’s scared, we’re going to know she’s scared from the way she’s behaving. Was it really necessary to make her exclaim “I’m scared” so often? Superfluous dialogue like that has no justification and patronises those who are watching the movie.

Whilst I’m on the topic of Nicole Kidman, she plays Christine in a very plausible way. It is easy to believe she is genuinely suffering from this illness and is an emotional wreck because of Kidman’s ability to convincingly portray that high level and range of emotion. She doesn’t overdo (nor underplay) her role. Essentially, she makes the most of a rather wishy-washy script. There’s dashes of humour throughout the film, but they’re few and far between and quite possibly the weakest aspect of her performance. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are pretty much the only other two main characters who are given any worthwhile screen time, save for a late appearance from Anne-Marie Duff. They are, on the whole, decent. Firth, playing the tired and manipulative husband, hides some dark truths from Kidman that gradually begin to seep out as her relationship develops with the uncharacteristically non-menacing Mark Strong. We’re not talking The King’s Speech or A Single Man heights for him, but of the two main support characters, he probably has the most complex role to play and does it to a good enough standard. Firth and Kidman have a similar level of on screen chemistry to that which they achieved together in The Railway Man earlier this year, but it’s nothing special.

The saving grace for this welterweight whodunnit is the fact that, for at least 60 to 75 minutes, it will keep you guessing. You forgive any moments of boredom or sillyness (and there’s plenty here that is utterly ridiculous, by the way) because there’s always a “what happens next” waiting for you around the corner to peak your interest. It establishes its premise quickly and without any wasted time, barely leaving pause for thought about just how absurd the plot is. But as shaky foundation after shaky foundation is built upon, it does wobble towards the end like a Weeble without totally falling down. It’s a fine one time watch that won’t pull up any trees. But, a bit like rain on your wedding day or a free ride when you’ve already paid, you’ll probably have forgotten most of it by the time you get up for work the next day.

Before I Go To Sleep is out in cinemas nationwide right now. You can find Owen ranting and raving about whatever film he’s seen lately over on Twitter.

Failed Critics Podcast: New beginnings, and the same old shambles

22 Jump StreetBetter late than never (probably), it this week’s Failed Critics Podcast! And please welcome our latest full-time member of the team… Carole Petts! In honour of this momentous occasion, James managed, with textbook precision, to do something dumb to the recording. Don’t worry though, as it only means there’s less of him this week.

And what a week? We review 22 Jump Street, discuss the latest news in Marvel’s Ant Man omnishambles, and Carole lets us know which is the bigger car crash (get it?) out of Diana and Grace of Monaco.

Join us next week for a World Cup Special (including free audio wallchart).

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Failed Critics Podcast: Glasgow Film Festival Special

The ThievesHello Scotland! This week’s Failed Critics podcast sees James head north of the border to report back from Glasgow Film Festival. With the reluctant blessing of the rest of the critics, he is joined this week by two special guests; Dave McFarlane from our ‘sister podcast’ Born Offside, and Paul Fisher from our new upstart rivals on the Write Club podcast. They review South Korean heist movie The Thieves, as well as documentary Men at Lunch and the microbudget feature Breakfast with Curtis.

James is also joined by the excellent film writers Steven Neish and Amy Taylor at the first UK showing of Stoker, and they discuss that as well as their thoughts on Cloud Atlas, Citadel  and Songs for Amy, the new film starring Sean Maguire (ask your parents, or the weird old guy you make podcasts with).

Finally we have a Scottish-themed Triple Bill where James does his best not to upset his guests.

The pod is back to normal next week (thank God!), where the usual lot will be back with the films they’ve seen that week and their favourite movie car chases in Triple Bill.

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Stoker

stokerSo, Stoker. Hmmm. I’m just going to have to start writing this review, and hope I have something to say by the end of it. I know that doesn’t seem very professional, or even sensible, but it’s incredibly difficult to find things to say about a film that has so little to say itself.

Park Chan-wook‘s first foray into English-language film-making was one of my most anticipated films of Glasgow Film Festival, and indeed the whole of 2013. I couldn’t wait to see what the director of a masterpiece like Oldboy could do with what appeared to be a Hitchcockian psychological thriller, with a dash of American Gothic, and possibly even a hint of something more supernatural. The film tells the story of India Stoker (Mia Waskikowska); a girl who loses her father and best-friend (Dermot Mulroney) on her eighteenth birthday. Her father’s brother, Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) appears at the funeral, and moves in with India and her increasingly fragile mother (Nicole Kidman). Uncle Charlie clearly has dark secrets and hidden motives, and while India is suspicious of the man she never knew existed, she finds herself increasingly infatuated with him.

I am desperately looking for positives here. The direction is very stylish at times, and the use of sound is brilliant (India has a skill that allows her to hear things other people cannot, and the viewer is drawn into this aural soundscape in a very satisfying fashion). We are also ‘treated’ to some shocking set-piece scenes, with some images as indelibly burned into our retinas as the octopus scene from Oldboy. The problem is that the film amounts to little more than a few excellent scenes and disturbing images.

The story is threadbare, with not much in the way of action to propel the narrative. What little does happen feels forced and convenient, rather than believable. Characters just don’t do what they’re supposed to do. In some films this could be seen as a brave attempt at ‘anti-storytelling’, but in a film which clearly cites Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt as a major influence, this is unforgivable.

The central performances aren’t bad, it’s just that they don’t get the opportunity to show any great development. Matthew Goode does a reasonable ‘creepy uncle’, but the lack of depth to his character means there is no real twist; nothing to really catch us by surprise. The shocks are all telegraphed, and anyone who has seen one of the slew of ‘sensual psychological thrillers’ from the early 1990s (think The Hand the Rocks the Cradle or Malice) will have a pretty good idea how this plays out in the opening few minutes. The way in which the film plays with vampire mythology (from the title, to India’s attack on a student with a sharpened pencil/wooden stake), and then forgets about these set-ups is frustrating, and symptomatic of a script that feels like a first draft.

It’s not a bad film, it just isn’t good. And from a director who has delivered so much in the past, that is hugely disappointing.

Stoker is released in March

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 18/02/13

Glasgow Subway System - open at normal times today, not that's you'd know
Glasgow Subway System – open at normal times today, not that’s you’d know

Today was the day I really felt I was covering a film festival. I had tickets for back-to-back showings, in the middle of the afternoon, on a Monday. There’s just something glorious about watching films when you’re ‘supposed’ to be at work.

I tweeted that I was prepared for an uncomfortable afternoon in Cineworld Screen 18, as I’d chosen to watch Compliance and The Paperboy in quick succession. What I wasn’t totally prepared for was how horribly my prediction would come true.

Compliance is inspired by true events [BEWARE – HERE BE SPOILERS], and is a study in authority and, as the title suggests, compliance. It is a technically well put together film, with a few excellent performances (particularly Ann Dowd as the restaurant manager, who essentially allows the events to happen). However, this was not an enjoyable film; watching it felt like a violation of my own body. If it actually had anything new or original to say on the subject of people unquestionably following orders from authority figures, then I might be able to admire the emotions it elicited. Instead, the story feels as if it is told purely to shock us, the cinematic  equivalent of the stand-up comedian who tells a rape joke. Yes, some humans are abominable shits, but all Compliance feels capable of doing is confirming this fact without further understanding of what drives people to such behaviour. As it is, all that’s left for this movie to be is a piece of entertainment and, like The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, I genuinely worry about the mindset of anyone who enjoys a film like this. Compliance: sometimes the story is better off staying a Wikipedia article.

The Paperboy was a little less shocking, but equally sordid in its tone. Set in 1960s Florida, it tells the story of sibling reporters (Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron) investigating the conviction of a cop-killer played by John Cusack. Luckily this film just about holds it together, largely due to its impressive cast. McConaughey continues his recent career renaissance here, and Zac Efron proves to be more than a pretty face. Most entertaining though are Cusack (in a greasy, malevolent role that is his finest performance in years), and Nicole Kidman, whose turn as an Alamaba sexpot is the dark heart of the film. The film still contrives to be a bit boring at times, but the last 20 minutes are phenomenally tense and well executed.

Pick of the day for Tuesday 19th Feb – Breakfast with Curtis

If you fancy watching a film made by a unique writing/directing talent, filmed in the director’s house over a few weeks and starring their friends, well, you could try and blag a ticket to one of the sold-out screenings of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, or you could watch Laura Colella’s heart-warming Breakfast with Curtis.

Five years after an incident that caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his neighbours, online bookseller and care-free bohemian Syd asks their 14-year-old son Curtis for help recording a video blog. What follows is a beautiful coming-of age film about one of those seminal summers where rifts are healed, old secrets emerge, and boys finally become men.

Breakfast with Curtis is showing at 7pm at the CCA Cinema.

BD_Logo_White

The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

Glasgow Film Festival preview

stoker

This Thursday (14th February) sees the start of the ninth annual Glasgow Film Festival. Growing in size and stature every year, the 2013 festival is the biggest yet, with over 360 events, 57 UK premieres, and 6 world premieres.

The great thing about the GFF is that, as well as being able to watch highly anticipated films from the likes of Joss Whedon (with his lo-fi take on Shakespeare’s anti-rom-com Much Ado About Nothing), Michael Winterbottom (The Look of Love, starring Steve Coogan as porn baron Paul Raymond), and Chan-wook Park (with his first English-language film, Stoker), film fans can also watch cinematic classics in entirely different surroundings (including Jaws on a boat, and The Passion of Joan of Arc in Glasgow Cathedral with live accompaniment).

As well as film, the festival features live musical performances, Q&As with the stars and creators of TV shows like A Game of Thrones and Fresh Meat, and even a live review of the new Aliens: Colonial Marines video-game (followed by a 70mm screening of Aliens on the big screen.

While most films and events are priced at a very reasonable £8.50, there are also a number of free events including the opening of the latest BFI Mediatheque on Friday 22nd February at Bridgeton Library.

Failed Critics will be in Glasgow during the festival to report back on the films not to miss, as well as exploring the cinematic history of this wonderful city. We’ll also be recording a special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, and maybe even getting a special guest or two on to talk to us*.

*By special, we mean Dave MacFarlane from Bornoffside.net and Paul Fisher from TheWriteClub.co.uk. They’re special, in a way.

For those of you lucky enough to be in Glasgow next week, here are our picks of the festival:

The Final Member
Destined to become one of the surprise hits of this, and many other film festivals; The Final Member is one of those documentaries where it seems all the film-makers need do is show up and point their camera at the subject. Siggy Hjartarson is the curator of the world’s only Penis Museum, in Iceland, and although he has thousands of mammalian specimens he is missing one vital object. A human penis. Believe it or not, the race is on between a 95-year-old Icelandic explorer/womaniser and an younger American who is prepared to go to great lengths (if you think that pun is bad, wait until our full review) to make his penis famous.

The Final Member is showing on Friday 15th February at 3pm, and on Saturday 16th February at 7pm.

Breakfast with Curtis
If you fancy watching a film made by a unique writing/directing talent, filmed in the director’s house over a few weeks and starring their friends, well, you could try and blag a ticket to one of the sold-out screenings of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, or you could watch Laura Colella’s heart-warming Breakfast with Curtis.

Five years after an incident that caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his neighbours, online bookseller and care-free bohemian Syd asks their 14-year-old son Curtis for help recording a video blog. What follows is a beautiful coming-of age film about one of those seminal summers where rifts are healed, old secrets emerge, and boys finally become men.

Breakfast with Curtis is showing on Saturday 16th February at 5.20pm, and Tuesday 19th February at 7pm.

Stoker
The first English-language film from Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is the art-house equivalent of a new Star Wars film. One of the most unique directors working in film today presents a twisted midnight-black tale about young India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) infatuation with the creepy uncle (Matthew Goode) who comes to stay after the death of her father. Nicole Kidman continues her career renaissance (you can also see her in The Paperboy at Glasgow Film Festival) as India’s fragile mother.

This is one film where we have no idea what to expect, but except to be entertained.

Stoker is showing on Saturday 16th February at 8.30pm, and Sunday 17th February at 4.30pm.

GFF13 Surprise Film
The surprise film has become a staple of the festival circuit in recent years, and Glasgow Film Festival usually delivers in spades. Recent choices for this slot have included David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and last-year’s mumblecore delight Jeff, Who Lives At Home. We’ll be recording our GFF Podcast Special directly after this screening with our instant reactions.

The only disappointment will be from those who miss out on a ticket for a screening that will almost certainly sell out.

The GFF 13 Surprise Film is showing on Wednesday 20th February at 8.30pm.

A Hijacking
Scandinavian drama has never been held in higher esteem than it is right now, and The Hijacking is another example of the excellent film-making coming out of Denmark. This is a taut and ultra-realistic film about the hijacking of the Danish cargo ship by Somali pirates, and the ensuing stand-off and negotiations.

A Hijacking is showing on Wednesday 20th February at 8.45pm, and Thursday 21st February at 4pm.

A full list of films, including online booking facilities, is available on the Glasgow Film Festival website