Tag Archives: Oblivion

Blockbusted?

iron-man-downey-jrWe’ve been hearing reports that the summer blockbuster is on life-support after the last few months served up a number of badly under-performing (box office-wise) flops. We asked the Failed Critics team what they thought of this summer’s releases.

James Diamond – Editor and reluctant cynic

I really do hate to say what I’m about to say. Some of us don’t enjoy being cynical, and I am a lot more comfortable with feelings of pleasure and optimism. That said this has been the Sum-meh of Blockbusters for me.

It all started so promisingly, with Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr giving us the Iron Man film that we all hoped and prayed they would make. It was funny, gripping, and bombastic in all the right places. It set a tone that, unfortunately, the rest of the big budget summer films failed to live up to.

Man of Steel was two and a half hours of Nolan-lite cinema from Zak Snyder that bored the pants off me (worn on the outside of course, unlike this modern Superman), while Star Trek Into Darkness also disappointed with a script full of holes and crowbarred-in references to  far superior films (well, mostly one far superior film). Oblivion looked wonderful, but suffered from similar problems of plotting and dialogue, while the relatively warm reception for World War Z was mainly due to fact that everyone was convinced it was going to be a disaster.  Pacific Rim was an absolutely brilliant film for large sections, but utterly atrocious for others.

Fast 6, GI Joe: Retaliation, and Pain & Gain received mixed reactions, but at least offered something the summer’s other blockbusters were missing; a sense of fun and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Mixed reviews for Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium have severely dented any hopes I had for a upturn before the autumn season begins with its mix of late-season blockbusters, award-seekers, and those awkward films that no one seems to know how to market.

That’s not to say it’s been a poor summer overall though, just that other areas of the film ecosystem have stepped up to the plate. I’ve seen three great mainstream comedies this summer (This is the End, The World’s End, and Alpha Papa), which is three more than last year), and Only God Forgives and Much Ado About Nothing are also likely to find spots in my Best of 2013 list come December.

Owen Hughes – Podcaster and a lover, not a fighter

With still a few more weeks to go yet and the likes of Kick Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and one I’m particularly excited for, Elysium, still to be released, it might be a bit premature to form a judgement yet. Whilst some might say the summer has so far been disappointing, I disagree.

Kicking off the summer was Shane Black’s venture into the Marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man 3, which got us off to a good start. Big budget sci-fi actioners were obviously the order of the day as over the next few months we’ve seen everything from the stunning but shallow Tom Cruise flick Oblivion, to enjoyable films like JJ Abrams’ Lens Flare Into Darkness and Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Man of Steel was another triumph, although some critics disagree. Even The Wolverine was a fun way to spent a couple of hours.

We’ve also been spoilt with some good drama films this year. The Place Beyond The Pines is my favourite film of 2013, never mind the summer. Soderbergh signed off with his elaborate biopic of Liberace in Behind The Candelabra. The Look Of Love starring Steve Coogan was also enjoyable.

Although Coogan’s biggest success is not only the best comedy of the summer, but probably the best comedy for years, Alpha Papa. How can any summer be considered disappointing when we’re presented with this gift to mankind? Enough to induce tears of laughter, it’s ruddy excellent. Somehow it topped the years other major successful comedy in Pegg, Frost & Wright’s latest ‘The World’s End’.

The biggest ever zombie flick was released to some critical acclaim and much financial success as Brad Pitt adapted Max Brooks novel World War Z. Evil Dead and Dark Skies have also been decent but the years stand out in the genre is James Wan’s The Conjuring. A Field In England gave us something, erm, different too.

Speaking in general terms, I enjoyed the vast majority of this summer’s releases. There have been stinkers (After Earth, Monsters University) and Dwayne Johnson hasn’t quite given us all that we’d hoped for with Fast & Furious 6 and Snitch both being disappointing. Whilst we’ve not had an Avengers Assemble or Dark Knight Rises to wow us either, it’s been a more consistent summer than most.

Gerry McAuley – El Northern Podcaster

Alpha Papa delivered, as did Pacific Rim, two of the main ‘could be shit but I really hope it’s great’ films for me. Kick Ass 2, Pain & Gain, and Elysium are all yet to come (some of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year) so it may well be too early to tell. The awesomeness of Despicable Me 2 is a personal highlight, particularly as it did so well at the box office. Man of Steel and Monsters University were good without being great which was a slight disappointment but otherwise I think it’s been just that as a summer: good, but not particularly great. Given the amazing quality of 2012 though, it was always going to struggle to match such standards.

Matt Lambourne – Contributor exiled in a cultural black hole

My hopes for summer were somewhat ‘constrained’ as there was little there to wet my appetite with the exception of Pacific Rim which did an excellent job of re-igniting the Kaiju fan laying dormant for many years. So much in fact I went and watched the latest Godzilla Millennium series in tribute, but needless to say Pacific Rim takes the tried and tested formula and does it much better. It’s easily been my stand out movie of the summer.

Another highlight for me was Fast 6. Needless to say, I’ve found limited appeal in the series (Jordana Brewster provided much of that appeal) prior to Fast 6, and whilst this latest addition to the series won’t win much on technical merit, my goodness did it ever deliver on entertainment! Another film falling into that category is Hangover PT III. I’m a massive fan of the original and have a significant aversion for the 2nd, but I really found part III going back to utter silliness that made the 1st so likeable and when you watch it in a good crowd at the cinema, as with any good comedy movie, you really get a great sense of communal satisfaction.

Then comes the lowlights… Oblivion was adequate distraction if nothing else although is a very crisp and attractive looking piece, but the big downer for me was ‘The Wolverine’. I’m a huge fan of the character, from comics, to animated television and for the most part all of Jackman’s outings as Weapon X to date, but this really bombed for me. It was certainly the lamest Wolverine incarnation to date, I was furious that the Silver Samurai turns out to be a robot (of sorts) and that Logan has become far to hospitable in general. I hope that the next X-Men movie really gets him back on track, but can’t help but think that Jackman has become too big of a star to be cast as the ultra-aggressive and socially incapable anti-hero type depicted in early Marvel writing.

Mike Shawcross – On first-name terms with the ushers at Cineworld

What a fantastic time I’ve had at the cinema this summer with most of the films I’ve seen so far. I’ve seen cities brought to rubble by starships, giant robots fighting giant aliens, and of course a couple of super strong aliens slugging it out in my favourite film of the summer so far; Man of Steel. I’ve seen a car chase with a tank and an aeroplane; car’s racing around London with stunts to gasp at, all in the 6th film of the Fast and Furious franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness was superb as was Iron Man 3, while World War Z was a great zombie action flick. Pacific Rim was visually stunning but I was dismayed by the woeful script and acting, and Wolverine wasn’t the train wreck I expected.

Looking past the big hitters, and Stuck in love and Mud were both excellent. Behind the Candelabra was also very good. Now ou See Me had me guessing to the end, Populaire a film about speed typing was a joy, while Before Midnight was a fitting end to a great Trilogy. James Franco’s party to end all parties was a great laugh but Pegg’s pub crawl was a little flat. 2 Guns and Stand up Guys were great fun yet Alan Partridge made my belly ache. I had fun with The Heat, along with the antics of Mike and Sully at Monster’s University. I’ll finish on a couple of excellent horror films Byzantium and The Conjuring. There may be more to come as well with Kick-Ass 2, The Lone Ranger and Elysium left for me to see.

What do you think about this summer’s offerings? Have the good films outweighed the bad? Are we focusing too much on a few big budget films at the expense of some great films made for peanuts? Let us know…

Cruising for a bruising

Tom Cruise Jerry MaguireWe were recently reviewing the sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion on the Failed Critics Podcast, when a reasonably good-natured chat nearly came to virtual blows at the subject of Tom Cruise. The sad thing is I wasn’t really surprised. If Tom Cruise has a super power, it is turning normally sane and reasonable film fans into rabid hate-filled balls of impotent rage.

A quick peer-reviewed straw poll on Twitter tells me that in the last hour alone people have proffered unsolicited opinions like:

“Am i the only one round here who thinks tom cruise is a tampon?”

“Shoot Me now, I find tom cruise attractive in Rock Of Ages… #embarrassed”

“He may only be 2ft tall, but Tom Cruise is actually quite sexy in Rock of Ages”

“F u Tom Cruise just f u for u movies! Urhh!”

“Jack Reacher: Clever enough for action fans and despite it being a Tom Cruise wankathon, it holds its own”

“They shoulda cast Keanu reeves instead of Tom cruise though. I’ve hated his face ever since vanilla sky” [I can’t work out which film should have cast Reeves instead of Cruise, so I’m just going to guess it was The Last Samurai’s Bogus Journey]

There are several criticisms here. Firstly, let’s deal with Cruise’s crimes against humanity that have absolutely nothing to do with his cinematic body of work.

Charge 1: He’s short

Yep, Tom Cruise is a shorter than average man, measuring in at only 5’7”. I’ve already touched upon his ‘controversial’ casting in the Jack Reacher film in my review last year, but he’s clearly too short to play an action hero, or to be an imposing physical presence. How dare he believe he could play that kind of role? What a complete narcissist.

It’s a good job that 5’7” Robert Downey Jnr isn’t currently starring as the one of the most iconic superheroes of modern times in Iron Man 3. Oh, and let’s not tell Javier Bardem that at 5’7” he’s too short to be taken seriously as a threat to James Bond in Skyfall (after all, the 5’10 Daniel Craig could easily kick his ass).

Charge 2: He’s a Scientologist

I’ll be honest; I’m more than a little freaked out by the ‘Church’ of Scientology. If Cruise wasn’t a Scientologist I think he’d get a lot less nonsense written about him, and I’d have an easier task of trying to convince you that he is probably the most impressive movie star of the last 20 years. Yep, he is probably the most famous disciple of L. Ron Hubbard and his bizarre teachings, but there are some double-standards going on here. I don’t see many people taking pot-shots at many other famous Scientologists, including the brilliant musician Beck, the terrible musican but great screen presence Julliette Lewis, or respected actors Jason Lee (My Name is Earl and most Kevin Smith films), Giovanni Ribisi (Ted and Gangster Squad), and Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men and The West Wing).

And what about the equally bizarre and dangerous Catholic beliefs that Steve Carrell and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) hold? Don’t even get me started on the fact that my beloved Michael J. Fox, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Arnie are card-carrying Republicans who believe in the obliteration of everything I politically hold dear. I can still enjoy their screen performances despite the fact I probably wouldn’t want to share a dinner table with them when the conversation turned to religion or politics.

Charge 3: He’s in the closet

This is the most disingenuous and frankly distasteful undercurrent regarding the public perception of Cruise. I have no idea if he’s gay, and frankly I really don’t care. It’s none of our business. On that subject, his marriages, children, and what he has for breakfast are equally irrelevant, and a sad indictment of a society obsessed with what people are, rather than what they actually do.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what really is important in this debate; his contribution to cinema over the last 25+ years.

Defence 1: He’s bankable

He is still one of the most recognisable and bankable movie stars on the planet. His appearance in a film not only guarantees it getting made, but more often than not results in a critical and commercial hit.

That’s right, critical.

Using movie review site Rotten Tomatoes (which collates the reviews of hundreds of established reviewers to establish if a film is ‘fresh’ or ‘rotten’) we can see that of the 33 films that Cruise has starred in since Risky Business, 22 of them have had a positive reaction from the critics. That’s a 67% ‘success’ rate, which compares pretty favourably to other more respected stars such as George Clooney (67%), Johnny Depp (61%), and Brad Pitt (68%).

Some haters profess to enjoy well-received Cruise films in spite of his involvement, at the same time painting him as a control freak whose narcissistic impulses are imprinted all over the film. This rather begs the question which parts did they actually enjoy?

Defence 2: He plays himself

Another criticism I hear levelled against Cruise is that he plays the same character in every film. Again, not only is this utter bobbins, but the same criticism could easily be aimed (more appropriately) at other less-criticised actors. Harrison Ford never really showed us any range apart from charming Ford, or angry Ford. Arnie was Arnie in literally every film he appeared in, and Denzel Washington is similarly limited despite the baubles thrown at him by the Academy.

In his blockbuster films Cruise does play a version of himself every time, because that is what audiences expect and want. But when he wants to he can really bust out some impressive acting chops. Take a look at his roles in Interview With the Vampire, Collateral, Magnolia, and Tropic Thunder and tell me that’s Cruise being himself. I know I’m a know-nothing bedroom film critic who couldn’t possibly know better than you, so why not listen to Dustin Hoffman who said Cruise on the set of Rain Man was the most disciplined actor he’d ever worked with. Or the fact that directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Cameron Crowe, and JJ Abrams have all praised his work ethic.

Defence 3: He’s Tom fucking Cruise

And that’s the final point I want to make. Whatever you think of his technical abilities or her personal life, Cruise always commits completely. He’s nearly 50 and is one of the few actors in Hollywood who still insists on doing all his own stunts. That man climbing the world’s tallest building in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol? Tom fucking Cruise. Whether it’s in his stunts, or in his acting work he leaves everything out there on the field. He even throws himself into the publicity tour every single time. Only a Grinch with a heart of stone could find something to bitch about when Cruise spends hours with fans at red carpet events, but that doesn’t stop some of you.

You’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Failed Critics Podcast – Oblivion

Oblivion Tom CruiseWelcome to the Failed Critics Podcast, where this week our main review is Tom Cruise-starring, sci-fi magpie Oblivion. Gerry and James nearly get into a fit over Tom Cruise (not quite in that way), and we play ‘I Spy Sc-Fi’ when discussing the film’s very obvious influences.

Also in the pod, we review what we’ve been watching this week, including Festen, The Odd Couple and The Man From Nowhere.

Join us next week for our First Birthday celebrations. We’ll be answering everything you’ve ever wanted to know about us and film, but were afraid to ask (because you didn’t want anyone finding out you listen to this shambles).

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting to go to the Cinema in 2013: Part 2

With nearly a quarter of the year already a distant memory, James Diamond presents the notable releases and hidden gems in UK cinemas from April through to June.

April

Dwayne 'The Rock' Jonhson in Snitch
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Jonhson in Snitch

Spring is turning into the new Summer in terms of the big studio blockbusters, and getting the jump on your rivals this early in the year can work out heavily in a film’s  favour if it’s good enough (Avengers passed the $1 billion mark before The Dark Knight Rises even saw the inside of a multiplex last year). Marvel has opted for a repeat of that strategy with the release of Iron Man 3 on 26th April, and they’ll be hoping for similar success from Shane Black’s take on Tony Stark. Personally, I just think it’s great to see Shane Black getting the kind of backing that Joss Whedon received last year. It genuinely seems like the age of the blockbuster auteur.

Iron Man 3 isn’t going to have it all its own way in terms of the sci-fi blockbuster landscape though, with the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion getting its UK release on 12th April. Cruise plays one of the last remaining drone repairmen, looking after the surface of Earth which was deserted by humanity decades before, following a brutal war with an alien race. From its Wall-E-esque beginnings, it’s clear that the film soon descends into an all-action shoot-em-up and conspiracy thriller, also featuring Morgan Freeman and Andrea Riseborough.

This really is a month of action, with ‘Die Hard in the White House’ thriller Olympus Has Fallen (17th April) stealing a march on a very similar looking White House Down (released in September) and making the brave choice to be a violent adult  action film in a world where the Die Hard and Taken franchises have chosen to appeal to a child audience. We also get our second glimpse of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in as many weeks as he follows up GI Joe: Retaliation with Snitch; a film apparently based on the true life story of a father who went undercover for the FBI to get his son out of trouble.

I wish The Rock was my dad.

Also released this month is the unnecessary, but potentially great Evil Dead remake, as well as the latest Michael Winterbottom /Steve Coogan collaboration The Look of Love, which has been impressing audiences at Sundance and Glasgow Film Festival.

May

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Fast 6
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Fast 6

Another month, another highly anticipated sci-fi blockbuster sequel. Star Trek Into Darkness (no colon there? Really? Sounds like a film about hiking) arrives in the UK on 9th May, and first impressions have all of us at Failed Critics very excited. The first instalment of the reboot series was impressive, but things look like getting a whole lot bigger, darker, and Benedict Cumberbatchier in the sequel.

The following week the UK will get its first look at another big budget, 3D and CGI’d beast of a blockbuster in the shape of a screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Wait, that can’t be right. I have a feeling that The Great Gatsby in 3D is either going to be incredible, or one of the worst films of the year. Baz Luhrmann doesn’t tend to do shades of grey.

This month also sees the release of a couple of sequels, with their respective franchises suffering very different fortunes at the moment. While The Hangover Part III (24th May) looks like being another experiment in ever decreasing comic returns in a series that started reasonably well and then went off a cliff, Fast and Furious 6 looks like being the biggest and most utterly bonkers instalment of a franchise that people had written off as irrelevant years ago.

How did they do it? Two words: The Rock.

Also out this month is a foreign language film to get those of you who don’t mind reading your movies excited. A Hijacking was one of my favourite films of Glasgow Film Festival, and it finally gets a UK release on 10th May. Written and directed by one of the creators of Borgen, it tells the harrowing story of a Danish freighter hijacked by Somali pirates in quite harrowing and ultra-realistic style.

June

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Pain and Gain. It's not out until August, but who's going to argue with him?
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Pain and Gain. It’s not out until August, but who’s going to argue with him?

Every year we see films with a similar narrative start point going up against each other. Years ago it was Armageddon and Deep Impact. A few years later we had Melancholia and Another Earth, while last year we saw two excellent ‘cops trapped in apartment block’ movies in The Raid and Dredd. This summer a couple of ‘deserted Earth and the fight for humanity’s future’ blockbusters coming out within a few months of each other. I’ve already written about Oblivion, but 7th June sees the release of After Earth, the latest film from the crossword wrapped in a Sudoku that is M. Knight Shyamalan. It’s got plenty of star power though, starring Will Smith in one of his rare screen appearances, and his son Jaden Smith.

The big release this month is the return of Superman in Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel. Clunkily billed as ‘Produced by the Director of The Dark Knight Trilogy’, the early trailers suggest that Snyder may have toned down the visual style that made 300 and Watchmen so great to look at. I’m looking forward to this, but I have a nagging suspicion that this might be Snyder doing a Nolan impression, and that’s a worry.

World War Z starring Brad Pitt is out on 21st June, and it seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the kids today just aren’t scared by shuffling zombies any more  It’s a shame, as I really enjoyed the book and I think it may have been better produced as an HBO miniseries, rather than a bog-standard zombie flick that is World War Z in name only. We shall see.

A far more entertaining look at the end of the world could be found in Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s This Is The End. The setting is a party at James Franco’s house, and a variety of celebrities end up facing the apocalypse together. While there is definitely the potential for this to be horrifically self-indulgent and only funny to those on set, the trailer holds up very well and the cast list is a veritable who’s who of US comedy. Fingers crossed.

Rounding off this preview is Joss Whedon’s new film. Considering his last film was a near 3 hour epic that made over $1 billion at the box office and resurrected the superhero ensemble movie, it’s typical Whedon that his next release is a black and white Shakespeare comedy that he filmed in his house with his close friends over a couple of weeks. Much Ado About Nothing got rave reviews at Glasgow Film Festival last month, and word is that it could be one of the great adaptations of the Bard’s work.