Tag Archives: Park Chan-wook

Failed Critics Podcast: London Film Festival 2016 Special

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Before writer Callum Petch had even got his foot through the door upon returning from Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire last Sunday, he was answering a telephone call from Failed Critics to let us know exactly how it – and the rest of the BFI London Film Festival – had been this year.

This special bonus podcast is the result of that call, as Callum kindly rounds up five of the best, and a few of the rest from the 60th LFF. If you’ve been following his posts on the site, you’ll have a good idea of which movies came out top, as well as those that flattered to deceive.

Did Paul Verhoeven’s latest feature, Elle, make the cut? What about the new Denis Villeneuve sci-fi, Arrival? Was it as good as Sicario, Prisoners and Enemy? How was Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden received?

Listen to or download the podcast below to find out!

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London Film Festival 2016: Day 13

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

And that’s that.  I’m back home now, in Scunthorpe, got in last night after 2 full weeks away in London.  My experience of gallivanting around the nation’s capital for 12 solid days as a professional film critic all by myself with no backup if anything went wrong has come to a close and, aside from traumatising the neighbour of the man I was Homestay-ing at on the first night by mistaking her house for his, the whole thing went off without a hitch.  I didn’t get lost, I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t run out of money like I was terrified would happen, I didn’t get robbed, I didn’t make an ass of myself in front of anybody.  No, it all went fine.  Hell, it went better than fine, it went near-perfectly.  I saw 40 films overall (41 if you count my seeing Free Fire twice) within the span of 12 days, I got into most all of the screenings I wanted to, and I managed to crank out a full-length article for each one of those days, all without my enthusiasm or energy dropping once – aside from that final night where I finished my work, collapsed onto bed, and then slept for an uninterrupted 9 hours.

I did it, in other words.  I really did it.  I had so many fears and anxieties prior to this trip that everything was going to go wrong and that I wasn’t good enough to deserve this trip and what if I hated the experience and what if I wasn’t inspired to work, and none of those mattered in the end because I did it.  Nothing went wrong, I turned in some of what I feel is my best work yet, I loved every second of the whole thing, and, once I’ve taken a day or two to recuperate, I feel fully re-invigorated and ready to start bashing out new pieces left, right, and centre – there’s the Christine/Kate Plays Christine piece I already have plotted out, and I’m finally going to tackle that “Lost Cels” entry I’ve had on the backburner for a year just for starters.  In a rarity for my life, everything was just as I had hoped and I actually pulled it off instead of falling flat on my face.  This fortnight, as previously mentioned, has been the greatest and I currently feel better than I have done in a long time.

But enough about me.  You want to know what the best films of the festival were out of the 40 that I managed to see.  Well, if you are too lazy to go looking back through all my prior articles from the festival in order to figure that out for yourself, then you’ve come to the right place.  I saw a lot of great films during this festival, 2 of which I would especially feel comfortable putting in the upper echelons of my Top 20 of the Year list if both of them come out to the general populace in time, but these are the crème-de-la-crème, so to speak.  They’re also arranged in alphabetical order rather than order of preference both because you should go and read my other articles, and because I’m lazy and really cannot be bothered right now to stamp them into a definitive ranked order.  So, without further delay, here are Callum Petch’s 10 Best Films of the London Film Festival 2016 (That He Managed To See)!

V63A9899.jpgA Quiet Passion: I usually despise costume dramas, and a torturously long and dull pair of Awards Seasons these past two years have turned biopics into a tainted genre for me, but I sincerely could not get enough of Terence Davies’ costume drama biopic of acclaimed-after-her-time poet Emily Dickinson.  Equal parts witty and tragic, Davies manages to walk the fine line between communicating to the viewer how sappingly dull Emily’s life was despite her hopes and wishes without boring the viewer, as he and a tour-de-force Cynthia Nixon performance paint a complex, sympathetic, and all-too-relatable picture of an independent, undervalued, and increasingly bitter woman forced to sit back and watch life happen to everyone but her.  A stunning film.

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Arrival: Nothing came close to Arrival at the London Film Festival, this year.  Many films tried, one almost succeeded, but nothing else was remotely on the level of Denis Villenueve’s instant sci-fi classic that offers something for everyone – hard sci-fi, existentialism, edge-of-your-seat tension, sincere sentimentality – but still has a singular identity of its own.  Containing many of the best scenes of the entire year (I am still in total awe of the phenomenal first contact sequence), Amy Adams’ best work in a long time, gorgeous cinematography from Bradford Young, an essential score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, and all masterfully handled by Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villenueve’s impeccable directing, Arrival is one of those films that really does remind you of just how powerful cinema can be.  Smart, heartfelt, astoundingly beautiful, more adjectives that express positive emotions!

chasing_asylum_01Chasing Asylum: Created with the intention of “shaming” the Australian government over their abhorrent and damn-near illegal immigration policies, Chasing Asylum has found itself more vital relevance given the current state of the Western world and our constant dehumanisation and discriminatory rhetoric towards refugees.  An absolutely horrifying glimpse into the brutal and inhuman detention centres purposefully designed by the Australian government to convince those desperately needing help to turn back or stay locked in as prisoners, Eva Orner manages to create an incisive and righteous condemnation of the kinds of policies a worrying amount of other nations are believing to be the gold standard in immigration control without losing touch of the fact that these are human beings being affected by countries who see them as nothing more than statistical parasites.  Mandatory viewing.

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Christine/Kate Plays Christine: OK, so this is now technically a Top 11 list, but the two Christines are so inseparable from one another to me – both inadvertently complimenting and contrasting, justifying and negating each other’s existences – that I can’t talk about one without mentioning the other.  Both tackling the live on-air suicide of local news journalist Christine Chubbuck in July of 1974 in different ways – Christine via an empathetic and highly-accurate depiction and communication of living with depression, Kate Plays Christine via examining the acting method, finding a meaning in an act that none of us can fully understand, and questioning the quietly sadistic reason why we’re all interested in Christine’s story in the first place – the two films are exceptional watches that have refused to leave my brain ever since I saw them.  And, for the record, Kate Plays Christine is the better film, but Christine has resonated with me more, especially with its career-best Rebecca Hall performance.

elle_02Elle: Yeah, this one really grew on me.  Partially because I saw two other films this festival that demonstrated in great detail just how badly this could have gone wrong, and partially because further discussion about it with other people has made the words coming out of my mouth not sound absolutely horrible.  Elle is button-pushing cinema made by the master of button-pushing cinema, but it also never feels exploitative or offensive, the provocations coming out of a desire to make the viewer examine and re-examine their attitudes towards sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny – thankfully in ways that cannot be reduced to, and never even get close to, “maybe these are good things.”  Paul Verhoeven directs with assured determination, Isabelle Huppert commandingly keeps things on track at all times with a fascinatingly complex performance, and it’s honestly refreshing to watch a drama about a middle-aged woman for a change.  Plus, like I said before, it’s never ever dull.

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My Life as a Courgette: Incredibly sweet, moving, and taking full advantage of the medium of Animation, My Life as a Courgette is a wonderful drama about life in a group home for orphaned, “damaged” children.  It could stand to be longer than the 66 minutes it runs for, but that’s out of a desire to spend more time in its world and with its characters rather than any rushed storytelling issues.  Crowdpleasing but powered by a melancholy undercurrent that doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the harsh reality that these kids are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to find a new home, and at turns very funny and quietly heartbreaking, Courgette is reminiscent of The Story of Tracy Beaker and is similarly a brilliant piece of work.

nocturama_01Nocturama: At the risk of sounding like every clichéd lad’s mag writer whenever they review a particularly nasty piece of work, Nocturama really does not give a f**k what you want it to be.  It is bleak, confrontational, provocative, seemingly-pointless filmmaking that could lend itself to being called “punk rock” if it weren’t so intentionally detached in its direction, even when it is indulging in stylistic touches.  But Bertrand Bonello’s near-masterpiece, if you get it, eventually reveals itself to a searing indictment of youthful arrogance, egocentrism, and pointless rebellion, a repudiation of materialism and indulgence, and a giant middle-finger to any act of authority-bucking born out of boredom.  It is nasty, compulsive, angry, gripping, callous, essential viewing – Spring Breakers as delivered through the medium of domestic terrorism and without any of the sympathy, and just like Harmony Korine’s own near-masterpiece is gonna divide audiences like there’s no tomorrow.  You’ll either get it or you really won’t, but those that do are in for one hell of a film.

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The Handmaiden: The most pure fun I had at the entire festival, Park Chan-wook’s latest is the Park Chan-wook-iest film ever made, and all the better for it.  The Handmaiden is the trashy psycho-sexual drama that Chan-wook was born to make and he puts on one hell of a directing masterclass, here, effortlessly jumping between tones, genres, and a pile-up of twists with skilful aplomb.  Phenomenally acted, gorgeously shot, and refreshingly gay as all get out, The Handmaiden balances being ludicrous fun with a surprisingly insightful condemnation of misogynistic erotica and the patriarchy.  It does feel about 15 minutes too long and is a little slow to get going, but even as the end credits were rolling I knew that the film was one that will only grow on repeat viewings, as prior knowledge of where things will end up shine a light on elements I missed the first time around.  Plus, it’s a fantastic reminder that Park Chan-wook is still one of the very best directors in the business.

« VOIR DU PAYS » Un long métrage de Delphine et Muriel COULINThe Stopover: French film really cleaned house at this year’s festival, as you can probably tell.  The Stopover is an uncompromising drama about PTSD, misogyny, and toxic masculinity, all brought to boil in the military, and all on the verge of bubbling over during a mandated “decompression” weekend in a 5-star Cyprus resort.  Viewed through the eyes of the 3 women in a regiment otherwise entirely filled with men, The Stopover draws attention to just how tiring, draining, and menacing being exposed to this kind of rampant casual hatred from your ostensible comrades-in-arms can be, building up a surprisingly tense head of steam that pays off in a deeply disturbing way during its finale.  This is one hell of a calling card for The Coulin Sisters, who have very bright futures ahead of them if they can make further films even half as good as this.

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Women Who Kill: I had a very hard time deciding between this and Prevenge for the final slot, but in the end I gave the edge to Women Who Kill purely on the basis of Prevenge being basically guaranteed to get its due with the world when it gets a proper release, and Women Who Kill being hella gay.  Sardonic, witty, very New York, but also capable of an unsettling streak when it aims for it, this twist on the “is my partner a murderous psychopath?” subgenre is super-entertaining viewing.  Writer-director-and-star Ingrid Jungermann’s script is on-point, the performances are all spot on, and its specific immersion in the lesbian New York scene provides a refreshing perspective and a diverse and non-stereotypical collection of lesbian characters in film who all feel lived-in and somewhat real.  A real discovery, Women Who Kill deserves to find a wider audience than it inevitably will.

Callum Petch won’t play your hide-and-seek game.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

London Film Festival 2016: Day 2

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

The Picturehouse Central is a wonderful cinema.  I love the designs of cinemas, their layouts and décor, their seating arrangements, whether the screens have draw-curtains to signify the start and end of a film, their lighting… it all tells you something about the cinema, and the place and time of their creation.  My VUE back in Scunthorpe, for example, you can tell has been around for over a decade with no significant changes by virtue of its low-hanging ceiling in the walkway to the screens, the fact that there’s a significant gap in seating between the two halves of the screen, and the attempt at vintage typography in the screen numbers and “Now Playing” poster holders.  Also by virtue of the seating arrangements giving you actual legroom as standard rather than at a premium.

The Picturehouse Central in London really is a marvellous work of cinema design, though.  Setting aside the fact that it has two floors dedicated to two separate bars (one with an actual restaurant that you’d better believe I will take advantage of at some point), the building seems tailor-made to create a sense of opulence and class in the act of watching a film, that your ticket price is completely justifiable for a change.  Seating is tiered but in a way where every viewer, in every screen, gets an unobstructed view even if someone is sat in an equivalent seat number the row in front of you.  Lighting is low but in a classy, old-school Hollywood way that doesn’t distract the eye whilst the film is playing.  The seats themselves are super comfortable, and even slide forward at an angle slightly if you’re uncomfortable but don’t want to lose the optimal viewing position.  And the screens have draw-curtains!  I’m a major geek for cinema screens having draw-curtains.

I know this may not be of interest to the vast majority of you reading these pieces, but I thought I’d espouse words on it since about 80% of my screenings are going to take place in this one cinema, and because I want to make it clear that I really don’t mind dragging myself into this place in time for 9:15am every day for the next week and a bit in order to start catching press screenings.   That’s good because it means I’m seeing the films in the best possible scenarios and that, barring occasional bouts of tiredness that come from Moving at 7am, I am fully attentive and appreciative of the films that I am reporting on for you, the good readers of Failed Critics.  So, with that all mentioned, my first press screening of the day was Apprentice (Grade: C-), a film that’s really good right up until it frustratingly isn’t.

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A Singapore drama, Apprentice follows prisons officer Aiman (Firdaus Rahman), an ex-Army officer who followed up his service by enlisting in Prisons and has been transferred to Malay’s maximum-security, where he finds himself drawn towards its aging Chief Executioner, Warder (Wan Hanafi Su), who is looking to take on an apprentice.  Much of the brisk 96 minute film then ends up revolving around the questions of whether legally justified murder is still morally justifiable and whether or not Aiman will be able to reconcile the two and do the job he’s being groomed for.  Its best moments are the ones where it clinically and bluntly deals with the realities of a practice that still occurs in many countries, one that many people privately support, but that society is still reticent to acknowledge its part in – semi-covert trips to fishing warehouses to buy hanging rope, detailed conversations about the processes involved in planning a hanging, the efficiency of a hanging itself in a scene that is genuinely disturbing to witness.  The film also tries to relate the issue to Singapore at large, when Warder complains that the country’s new generation isn’t being bred with the fortitude required to continue his position, a potentially quiet admission that the country has moved past this line of work altogether.

But then the film, in its misguided attempt at objectivity, proceeds to piss away all of its goodwill by copping out on taking a side with a frankly embarrassing attempt at an ambiguous ending.  I honestly briefly thought the projector had eaten up the last 10 minutes of film, such is the suddenness and unfulfilling nature of this so-called ending, deciding that actually paying off dramatic conflict is too much work and opting instead to cut-to-black.  Even if Apprentice had bothered to craft an ending, though, I would still have hesitated to call it “great” as there is a twist here, revealed early on but I’ll refrain from mentioning it anyway.  It’s meant to provide an additional conflict-of-interest in Aiman’s apprenticeship, but in practice all it does is create false drama that the film doesn’t need, and muddies the main conflict by adding prior personal baggage that detracts from the more interesting struggle of reconciling something that civilised society has deemed acceptable but which you know is morally wrong.

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Hanging also featured in the second film I saw that day, Park Chan-wook’s gloriously trashy The Handmaiden (Grade: B+), albeit with its most prominent scene being the funniest attempted-hanging in a work of fiction since Paranoia Agent.  If you’re surprised that an attempted-hanging could be played for near-literal gallows humour, then you must be new to the works of Park Chan-wook who seemed to have set out here with the intention of creating the Park Chan-wook-iest film it is possible to make.  There are even two separate instances where the camera focusses on an octopus in some way!  That complete releasing of all inhibitions, and perhaps as a response to having to tone down some of his more openly provocative tendencies for his criminally-underrated English-language debut Stoker, has led to Chan-wook finally making the lurid, openly-trashy psycho-sexual drama he has clearly spent his entire career wanting to make.

All of this, of course, makes it very hard to talk about The Handmaiden in great detail.  Being a Park Chan-wook film, the story is filled with more twists than a whole season of Lost, in particular dropping a huge one at the halfway mark from which point the film shoots off into the stratosphere and never really returns back home to Earth until 15 minutes before the end.  Then, there’s the fact that this is a family publication, and so talking in specific detail about what often turns into a full-on erotic thriller is going to be a fast way to get this place shut down.  In as vague terms as I can manage, then, The Handmaiden follows the appointment of a new Korean handmaiden (Kim Tae-ri) to a mentally-unstable Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee) as she prepares to be forcibly wed to her elderly Korean uncle who desperately wants to be Japanese (Cho Jin-woong) and finds herself wooed by a Count (Ha Jung-woo).  Unsurprisingly, nobody is who they really say they are, everybody has their own agenda, and that collection of gambits, allegiances, relationships, and double-crosses all end up colliding with each other in joyously entertaining fashion, just like most all of Park Chan-wook’s other movies.

Chan-wook is still one of the best directors in the business today, able to be visually exciting and pacey without becoming distractingly showy, and The Handmaiden lets him apply all of these tricks to the production design of a classy period drama, which provides the perfect juxtaposition for all of the sex, violence, and meticulously-timed black comedy that the story provides.  There’s an excellent critique of erotica in here, and more specifically of how mid-30s erotica provided men with misogynistic ideas of consent and what constitutes sexual pleasure, whilst the predatory nature of oppressive sexuality ends up explored through a quietly disturbing character beat that only grows more disturbing the more the story has to return to it, and the eventual conflict goes all-in on the suffocating influence of the hetero-patriarchy for those who do end up under its thumb.  There’s even an active attempt to shoot the sex scenes in a way that doesn’t come across as exploitative or Male Gaze-y – I’m not sure it completely succeeds, but props for trying.

I hesitate to bust out the unconditional rave reviews yet, however, as I didn’t feel that same spark that I got when I watched Oldboy or Stoker for the first time.  For one, I definitely think the film is 15 minutes too long, with it having basically wrapped itself up by the two hour mark but proceeding to spend another 15 minutes tying up even more loose ends and dragging itself out for seemingly no reason other than for Chan-wook to indulge himself in some good-old-fashioned Park Chan-wook violence.  Whilst for two, I feel the film doesn’t really start running until the end of Part I (the film is split into 3 parts), just before the hour mark – although it is still entertaining prior to then, a lot of Part I is groundwork-laying and that didn’t gel well with a slightly tired Me.  That said, I can already tell that the film will grow upon repeat viewings, especially now that I’m attuned to its rhythm and structure, since I know I missed so much this first time around.  So whilst that “Instant Classic” spark may not have been there for me, The Handmaiden is still an excellently trashy time nonetheless.

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The joys of a festival schedule means that you can often be shuffled into a totally different film tonally than the one you just got out of with basically no chance to catch your breath.  Such was the case as my screening of a fun lurid psycho-drama was almost immediately followed by Tower (Grade: B), a harrowing and powerful documentary about the Austin University shootings of 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the campus’s tower with a bunch of rifles and proceeded to open fire on the crowds below, killing 14 and injuring 35 more.  The film opts to primarily depict the massacre to the viewer through the medium of rotoscoped animation, utilising actors to play younger versions of the various featured subjects, in a way that calls to mind Waltz with Bashir.  The animation can occasionally be off-putting, as you often get by nature of rotoscoping, but for the most part it works, particularly through the decision to depict much of the shooting in grayscale and stark whites, whilst any anecdotes outside of that get a vivid full-colour treatment.

Indeed, the intent of the animation and the film’s structure is about putting the viewer in the middle of that chaos and unflinchingly showing you just how terrifying it would be to experience it for real.  It also puts the human element back into the story by purposefully limiting its focus to the viewpoints of a few key players – the pregnant woman who was the first one shot and lay bleeding out in the open for hours, the first officer responding to the scene, one female student who spent the whole time hiding out, etc. – in order to work through events in a step-by-step manner, where you learn the facts and specifics at the same time as they would have.  This lets the film zero in on themes of survivor’s guilt, bystander syndrome, those everyday heroes who risked their own lives to help whomever they could, and those fleeting connections made during the terror that were never pursued afterwards.

Tower is often powerful, particularly with that conceit – since one of my favourite films of the century is Cloverfield, I really appreciated that ground-view “this is what it was like and how terrifying is it to be here” design – but it also just misses out on greatness.  A topic like this demands tying back into modern culture at large, what with an event like this feeling eerily prescient of today’s American societal culture where mass shootings are a near-daily occurrence, and that’s just not something that Tower is interested in doing.  Save for a soundbite of a report from America’s Newsman, Walter Cronkite, set to a brief montage of news reports of recent mass shootings, Tower doesn’t tie itself into the modern climate enough, content instead to stick to that human element.  That is fine, because the story it tells is still powerful enough and told well enough for this to be affecting viewing, but it does keep it from becoming something truly special.

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A lack of tying into modern culture at large was not a problem that afflicted the other documentary I saw that day, however.  Chasing Asylum (N/R) is an absolutely vital and horrifying piece of cinema, investigating as it does Australia’s hard-line immigration policies and its utterly inhumane procedures for dealing with refugees.  Director Eva Orner piles on the failures one after another with absolutely no mercy and no letting up – smuggling cameras into the refugee detention centres in Manus Island, talking with aid workers who are given no direction to help these refugees who have risked their lives for nothing and won’t be leaving any time soon, relaying intimidation threats that those who wished to speak up against abusive guards received, showing images of tin shacks stacked from front-to-back with hundreds of bunk beds in tropical weather.  Every time the bottom appears to have been found, social workers detail allegations of child molestation, some refugees sew their mouths shut to protest their draconian treatment by guards who won’t let them wear caps in the mess hall, or Australia will waste tens of millions of Australian dollars setting up a voluntary resettlement program in Cambodia.

None of this feels exploitative to watch, though, because Orner is constantly finding the humanity in the situation, focussing on those refugees that are being mistreated for their desire to receive the human rights they have a claim to when Australia signed The 1951 Refugee Act with the rest of the United Nations.  Families talk about how they were ripped apart, former inmates recall their first-hand experiences of the various riots they were stuck in the middle of, aid workers and camp staff express their defeating frustration at not being able to help those they’re in charge of helping get through the day without self-harming.  And throughout it all, the same rhetoric rings out from the mouths of Australian governmental officials, “We stopped the boats.”  But that’s not really true, since the refugees keep trying to make that futile journey anyway, and Orner effectively and correctly responds with, “OK, but look long and hard at the cost.”

It’s furious filmmaking, and though Orner frequently stated throughout the post-film Q&A that she made this film with the intent to “shame Australia,” she clearly knows the added resonance that Chasing Asylum will take on for the rest of the world.  Given Brexit, the slow and insidious mainstreaming of rampant xenophobia and racism thanks to the mainstream media, and an American Presidential Election being fought with this kind of dehumanising rhetoric, Chasing Asylum has the power to shame most every developed country.  I feel weird giving something like this a rating – hence why I haven’t – but it is a film that needs to be experienced by everyone.  We need to be reminded that these people we reduce to statistics or lesser beings out of reckless patriotism, whether that be through open xenophobia or propagating the myth of the “economic migrant” (as one man did in the Q&A), are human beings, and Orner’s film does that exceptionally.

Day 3: Damien Chazelle follows up his outstanding breakthrough, Whiplash, with an ode to the Hollywood musical, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Callum Petch won’t call it a fight when he knows it’s a war.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Blair Witch or Killer B*tch

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast. Proving that they’re not just a pair of losers with no friends, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are back again but this time Paul Field and Tony Black join them.

As ever the podcast kicks off with a quiz, this week hosted by Steve, that puts the Failed Critics’ soap knowledge to the test, before they move on to What We’ve Been Watching. Paul makes a bold declaration that Park Chan-wook’s Handmaiden is the Oldboy director’s best film yet; Steve also takes a trip to Korean cinema with zombie-thriller Train to Busan; Tony reaches peak noughties teen melodrama as he continues his run-through of Smallville; and Owen laments ever letting Paul know his address after receiving a copy of British gangster-exploitation flick Killer Bitch in the post.

The big new release this week for the team to chew over is Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s eagerly anticipated Blair Witch, the sequel to the iconic cult classic, The Blair Witch Project in case you were wondering. It also leads to the second quiz of the week, with Paul surprising the other three with a game of ‘Bitch’ or ‘Witch’!

Join us again next week for a special triple bill of our favourite westerns as The Magnificent Seven remake hits the silver screen.

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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.

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

Oldboy (2003)

It’s looking like Park Chan-wook’s tremendous revenge-thriller, Oldboy, is set to be remade in 2013 by American film-maker, Spike Lee. I’d go on to say how disappointed I am by another needless remake, but frankly, it’s not going to detract anything from the original, however disappointing or surprisingly good Lee’s rendition turns out.

Oldboy is a film that caught me by surprise. I’d seen the film recurring on lists of ‘best foreign films’ and the like, but didn’t pay attention to the curiosity-catching plot and quite how much it appealed to me. The story follows Oh Dae-su, a man imprisoned for 15 years, with no knowledge of his captor or the reasons behind the new life he lives.

His room has a bed, a desk, a television and a bathroom cubicle. The door contains a slot, large enough for a food tray to slide through. But no slot necessary at eye-level. Daily, an incapacitating gas is released into the room and upon Dae-Su’s awakening, the room has been cleaned, his clothes changed and a new batch of dumplings delivered. He scribbles writings into a journal, ferociously beats his fists against the walls that contain him and uses television to stay connected to humanity in what diminutive way he can; it is simultaneously ‘a clock and a calendar. It’s your school, your home, your church, your friend… And a lover’.

Until one day, a news-piece reveals that his own blood and fingerprints have been found at the scene of his wife’s murder; that he has become a wanted man.

Oh Dae-Su is soon released from his prison and equipped with money, a phone and expensive clothes. He is given five days to seek his revenge. At a sushi restaurant, he meets Mi-do, who offers her sympathy, cares for him and joins him on his search for meaning.

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.

While staying with Mi-do, it quickly becomes apparent that Oh is out of touch with the subtleties of human nature, and immediately desires Mi-do; a much greater lover than he previously considered his room’s television. But his physical infatuation does not deter him from finding his former captor. Years of disciplined physical repetition has left Oh Dae-Su’s body strong, but his mind is focused only on vengeance and a quest for answers, regardless of what brutality it takes to get them.

Oldboy is not violence for violence’s sake, but it is brutal. Punishment is in the film’s core and it is shown with a gritty style that won’t be to everyone’s taste. However, the film is also very authentic. Choi Min-sik plays Oh Dae-Su and is mesmerising; portraying slips into madness and the need for a human connection, as a result of his tormented, cut-off past. Oldboy has many shocking scenes that aren’t in for shock value, but regardless how believable or ‘justified’ it feels for Dae-Su’s savage character, watching and hearing the claw-end of a hammer go at another man’s set of teeth is hard to stomach.

However violent it seems, the film remains artistic at its core. A scene where Dae-Su fights off several of his former jailers, with a knife thrust into his back, is extremely well choreographed to show the overpowering rage and determination that fuels him, while also remaining stylish and fast-paced.

Watching Oldboy, I was caught up in the mystery of the plot and the style of the film, rather than letting the violence take a front seat. The film offers many moments of humour and humanity, which make it feel completely genuine. Oldboy is powerful, not just for the impact of the visceral violence, but more-so because of the depths of human depravity it portrays. Unlike a lot of recent thrillers, this is a film whose stylish, gritty violence feels like it is serving the equally dark plot, rather than vice-versa.

My name is Jonny Stringer and I’m a journalism student in Sheffield with a growing interest in film. I’m no expert, but know that I’d love the chance to write about film for a living, so I’m hoping practice makes perfect.

I’m a big fan of thrillers, dark humour and the odd bit of stylish violence, but that’s not to say I don’t watch the occasional Disney film from time to time.

Like many, I’m aiming to get through the IMDb Top 250, while also keeping up-to-date with upcoming releases but on a student budget, I do tend to lag behind.

I occasionally write about film on http://jonnystringer.wordpress.com/ and can be tweeted at https://twitter.com/jonnyzomg