Tag Archives: rene russo

The Intern

the intern 2015“I feel like everybody’s uncle.”

You know that feeling when you’re in the middle of a conversation with a group of people and, I don’t know, your mind wanders thinking about last night’s dinner or that episode of The Walking Dead you watched earlier and all of a sudden, you’ve got no idea what’s going on, the subject has changed, everyone is laughing and you’ve got absolutely no idea why? Yep, that’s pretty much how I felt coming out of the screening of The Intern tonight. A packed (and I mean PACKED – Not an empty seat in the house that was only half full for Sicario) cinema filled with people laughing themselves stupid at what may be the least funny thing I’ve seen this year. If THIS is the crowd that comedies are being made for from here on out, sweet baby Jesus, we’re all going to hell.

The Intern is a comedy film. That’s it, it’s a film. It’s two hours of Robert DeNiro being Ben, a retired pensioner with far too much time on his hands and not enough to do. Apparently the laundry list of pastimes he lists in the opening scenes that include learning languages and doing yoga just don’t fill the hole that used to be filled with work. And so, after spotting an ad for “Senior Interns”, Ben applies for a job as a bottom rung lackey at an internet clothing company working for its owner, Anne Hathaway’s Jules, a workaholic nut case.

After several “you’re old” jokes, Ben stumbles into the news that Jules is being pushed into hiring someone to run her company and tries his best to help out by befriending her and lending his advice and years of experience. But what starts as lending a helping hand turns into a friendship that’s not only vital for Jules to figure her way through the next phase of her company’s life, but vital for Ben as well to help him feel like he’s part of something. Ben becomes such a big part of Jules’ day-to-day life that he becomes a part of the family and together, the unlikely pair will help each other through these completely different, but equally difficult stages of their lives.

I’ll be blunt. The Intern really pissed me off. I mean, I saw the trailer and knew it was going to be a bit rubbish, but holy shit! I sat for two hours without the film getting so much as a single laugh, not even a smirk from me. I watched for two hours as De Niro made a complete tit of himself, seeming to revel in the awfulness of a million old people jokes and sitting gleefully having the piss taken out of him for wearing a suit in a business filled with new-age, hipster douchebags who don’t seem to be able to tuck a fucking shirt in. Every single scene in this film angered me. From Anne Hathaway’s idiotic, workaholic imbecile who cycles around the office on a bike to save time and get some exercise in; to the other people in her office that don’t appear to have ever spoken to a pensioner before and acting really awkward around De Niro’s character seeming to think he’s just going to drop dead in the next few minutes. Oh, and the company has a bell they ring to announce pointless shit like the amount of likes their latest Instagram photo got! JUST FUCK OFF!

Among all the cringe worthy “jokes”, a working mum struggling with her work/life balance and a romance between Ben and the company masseuse, Fiona (a just as awful turn from the usually great Rene Russo), have been shoe-horned in for no reason other than the jokes about workaholic women and old men getting erections wouldn’t work without them being there. Not only do they feel jammed in to fill time, but no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t give less of a shit about them!

De Niro’s acting credibility can never be questioned, but his decision to get involved with this embarrassment of a movie absolutely can. We’ve all seen the man’s comedy skills, I still go to the Analyze… films every now and again because of how genuinely funny and self aware they are. I also believe Hathaway has a great comedy presence, the silly slapstick nature of films like Get Smart have me in bits and she’s great in it. But here, she’s just an awkward hipster twat who’s steering the douche canoe of other hipster twats on screen and I absolutely felt bad for her.

Friends, please, heed my words. If you want to watch a De Niro comedy, do the right thing; go find Analyze This on your VOD vendor of choice. Do not do what I did and go watch The Intern. It’s an abortion of a film that should never have been greenlit, it’s about as funny as having your pubes plucked out one by one by an angry monkey with paws made of fire and to call it a comedy is to redefine the word to include chemical gas attacks on animal shelters and dry prison rapes! It’s a fucking embarrassment of a film and I guarantee, GUARANTEE, that if you watch it, like me, you’ll spend the entire run time trying to figure out how to get out of the cinema as quickly as possible, possibly by faking your own death.

Advertisements

Half A Decade In Film – 2014

So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.

Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.

Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…


Kundo: Age of the Rampant

kundoToday, those who serve the people, serve only their own interests, and neglect their sworn duty. Isn’t that shameful?

Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.

I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.

The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.

He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.

The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.

Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.

It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.

There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.

But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.

A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Pride

prideI’ve had a lot of new experiences during this strike. Speaking in public, standing on a picket line. And now I’m in a gay bar.

Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!

We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.

The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America The Winter SoldierBefore we get started, does anyone want to get out?

As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.

For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.

Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!

Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.

My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.

It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nightcrawler

NIGHTCRAWLERYou can’t win the lottery unless you make the money to buy a ticket.

Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.

Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.

It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Guardians of the Galaxy

gotgHe said that he may be an… “a-hole”. But he’s not, and I quote, “100% a dick”.

Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.

James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.

The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.

Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #10 – #6

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

141.  That’s the number of films released in 2014 that I have seen. That is a lot of films.  To put that into perspective, I have been attempting to critique films on the Internet for five years now and that number is more than the combined total of films I had seen in all four of those prior years when it came time to do some list making.  Of those 141, 131 were eligible for appearances on my lists.  That is insane.  To tell you the truth, I have no idea how on earth I’ve managed it, especially since I spent much of this past year despairing at movies in various forms.

Except that, as the year has come closer to its end and I’ve reflected more and more upon what I have seen, the problem is not that films were worse in 2014 (although there have been some atrocious pieces of tripe, as we shall see in a few days’ time).  The problem is that I have seen more films in 2014.  Whereas in prior years I would have to pick and choose what films I could and could not see, therefore sticking with safer bets and actively avoiding crap, this past year I have been able to see damn near everything that came my way, which has meant flinging quality control out of the window and exposing myself to films I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten-foot pole.

In some cases, this has meant extended bouts of self-flagellation.  In others, this has allowed for major surprises that I would not have typically tried to burst through to the forefront.  In some cases, this has meant that the frequency of films that I was looking forward to disappointing me in some way this year would get me down somewhat.  In other cases, this has meant that I can see the films I love multiple times and allowed them to really stick out in my brain for days, weeks, even months on end.  It’s a double-edged sword is throwing out the personal quality control barrier and seeing whatever comes your way, but I honestly can’t think of my cinema-going lifestyle now in ways that don’t involve voluntarily seeing everything that I can.

It also means that constructing my Top 10 list this year was both incredibly easy and unbearably difficult.  I’ve had to do this three separate times over the past month for various different things and each time it’s gotten progressively easier and harder, as certain films remained steadfast in their appearance and placements whilst others jumped around and dropped out.  Seeing so many films has made the absolutely cream more apparent but has also made filling the bottom end of the list that much harder, as certain entries are way too close in quality to others.  The list is actually a Top 20, but it’s been abbreviated to Top 10 as I am pretty sure that Owen would like back his website at some point this week.  I am, however, incredibly satisfied with it, the most satisfied with any Top 10 Movies of [x] list I’ve so far had to make, so take that for what it’s worth.

Now, before we begin, a brief set of pointers.  This list is strictly limited to films that have seen a UK release in 2014, so the awards season films that have yet to cross the pond (Foxcatcher, Wild, Inherent Vice, Whiplash, Birdman) or just films that don’t have the common courtesy to turn up on time (Big Hero 6, Top Five) aren’t eligible.  I am also limiting the list to 2014 films, awards season films that saw an American release in 2013 (The Wolf Of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, The Wind Rises) aren’t eligible.  Finally, even though I have seen a ridiculous amount of films in 2014, I haven’t seen them all and, naturally, this list can only include films that I have seen.  Blue Ruin, Belle, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nymphomaniac may be outstanding, and I tried so hard to get around to seeing them, but I unfortunately ran out of time and so they can’t be featured.

Lastly, I mentioned that I did arrange a Top 20 so I might as well share 20 to 11 with you before we get started on part one.  In reverse order (starting at 20, ending at 11): St. Vincent, Locke, Pride (which was my favourite surprise of 2014 and would have taken the #10 slot by default if this were any other year), Mistaken For Strangers, Lucy, 22 Jump Street, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks, The Lego Movie, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians Of The Galaxy which was pushed out of the Top 10 at the very last minute.  It’s a testament to the Top 10 that these films, all of which I love, are the ones that just missed out.

So, no more pre-amble faffing.  Today, we go through entries 10 to 6.  Are we all ready?  In that case, TITANS, GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


edge of tomorrow10] Edge Of Tomorrow

Dir: Doug Liman

Star: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

Edge Of Tomorrow is something that 2014 surprisingly lacked: a damn fun, pure blockbuster.  Much of this past Summer consisted of films that either took themselves way too seriously, were majorly flawed in some way, or severely underwhelmed and disappointed.  That’s not including those films that were desperately trying to force a franchise out of thin air, or were so busy trying to set-up pays-offs in practically guaranteed later films that they did nothing and told no stories in their current films.  Blockbuster filmmaking nowadays frequently consists of nothing but po-faced seriousness, loud noises and delayed gratification.

Then in swaggers Edge Of Tomorrow, wide-eyed with optimism, confident in what it wants to do, aviator sunglasses proclaiming it to be the coolest motherf*cker in the room at that moment in time, and looking for some fun.  It takes one look at the dreary and dull way that everybody else is doing things, sees how the general public is lapping up that crap, then swiftly turns around and marches back out that door.  Edge Of Tomorrow wants nothing to do with the modern blockbuster.  It wants to be fun, it wants to smarter than just loud noises, it wants to tell a full and complete story, the kind that only a $178 million budget can provide, and it does not give one f*ck if anybody else cares or not.

By the time that Edge Of Tomorrow had arrived in cinemas, I was in rather low spirits for 2014 film.  I had come off a string of disappointments and was all prepared for this film that I had heard good things about and seen advertised majorly to similarly underwhelm me.  Instead, over the course of 113 brilliant minutes, I was rejuvenated and reminded of why I love the movies.  Sometimes you want to sit down and be challenged, be pushed, be confronted and to experience something very serious.  But sometimes you just want to sit down and watch something fun, and Edge Of Tomorrow delivers that in spades.  It takes its central premise – the day resetting every time that Tom Cruise’s Major William Cage dies – and goes for broke, exploiting it for drama, comedy, black comedy, character work, and a tonne of incredibly awesome action moments.

But it’s also smart, it has a brain going on up in its head.  Edge Of Tomorrow is fun and spectacle, but grounds that fun and spectacle in excellent character work and committed performances.  Tom Cruise sheds his usual charm and movie star charisma to play a slimy cowardly ass and he is equally as strong at that as he is when Cage slowly becomes braver, more in control, more heroic; his excellent performance adding onto the extremely well written character.  Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is a goddamn revelation as Sgt. Rita Vrataski, absolutely commanding the screen in a performance of such intensity and skill and quiet emotion that, in a decent and deserving world, would catapult her to A-list superstardom.  Vrataski, too, is one hell of a character, a strong capable woman who has been hardened by trauma but is not emotionless or humourless or relegated and degraded by the film.  In other words, the kind of female character that blockbusters almost never bother to create.

It’s not perfect, it’s not thematically heavy, and I do wish that it ended about two minutes earlier, before the bittersweet ending is turned into a completely happy ending, but those flaws only serve to raise Edge Of Tomorrow as a whole.  They are the flaws and rough edges of a scrappy individualistic film, a film that does its own thing and remains steadfast against studio interference and focus grouping as much as possible.  They throw what Edge Of Tomorrow does right into sharper relief and Edge Of Tomorrow gets so much right.  It’s a reminder of what blockbuster filmmaking is capable of if it would get its head out from its ass, stop purely focussing on profit margins, quit focus-testing everything, and stopped sucking the teat of serialisation and franchising.

In a decade or so’s time, we as a film-going audience, along with a generation of filmmakers with studio budgets, are going to look back at Edge Of Tomorrow and go, “Yep, we should have done more of that.  We should be doing more of that.”


09] Starred Upstarred up

Dir: David Mackenzie

Star: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend

Forget the trailer.  Ignore the trailer.  That is not Starred UpStarred Up is not a dark, gritty, lads’ “C’MON, YOU SLAAAAAGS!!” prison flick with nothing going on aimed solely at the lowest common male denominator.  Starred Up is actually a bleak, unflinching, realist melodrama about masculinity, fathers, and the self-perpetuation of the modern prison system.  It is not a film that asks you to like any of its characters, it is not a film that revels in its bursts of violence or nastiness, it is not a film that is interested in fulfilling anybody’s fantasies of how cool prison is.  Starred Up is an angry film and you are damn well going to pay attention to what it wants to say.

Much of the plaudits thrown Starred Up’s way are for Jack O’Connell’s central performance as Eric Love, and it’s hard to argue against that.  O’Connell – in the first of what turned out to be three outstanding performances from this past year, I really hope that this momentum keeps up because he deserves to be a star – plays Love with such barely restrained intensity that perfectly fits his livewire tendencies without going overboard into ham and cheese.  He’s also able to reach down and find the sadness, the wounded nature at the heart of Eric that powers his angry violent lashings out at the world and which makes them hurt that much more.  Eric Love could have been a cartoon character in the wrong hands, but O’Connell mixes that intensity, that vulnerability, an air of mystery and his own natural likeability as an actor to create a profoundly complex lead.  It really is a powerhouse performance.

But to focus solely on O’Connell would be to do the rest of Starred Up a disservice.  The script, for example, by newcomer Jonathan Asser, grounds its more melodramatic tendencies in a low-key rather realist way.  The tropes that you expect to show up in a prison drama – corrupt officers, shankings, prisoners running the show, lots of swearing – turn up here, but they’re executed in a low-key way.  Big deals aren’t made of them, they’re just everyday facts of prison life and their appearances tie back into character work, with Eric’s crazed alpha-male desire to make a name for himself both disrupting the delicate nature of this broken system and re-enforcing his worst impulses, and the film’s bleak overall message of the self-perpetuating cycle of prison.

Nobody in Starred Up is clean or fully good.  There are only shades of grey and even darker shades of grey.  Even the closest thing the film gets to a fully sympathetic character, in Rupert Friend’s tired and ceaselessly loyal prison therapist, is still strongly hinted to have some kind of superiority complex powering his actions – his adamant claim of “I need to be here” can be taken so many ways.  Eric’s been raised with the belief that self-destructiveness and violence is the only acceptable form of masculinity, and he can’t realise that all it has done is destroy his life.  It’s also so deep-seated that all of that hard therapy work can be instantly discarded the second his dad turns up and tries to make up for lost time by steering him the wrong way and completely misreading his son.  Not to mention the fact that the actual prison staff view the people they are assigned to look after with nothing but contempt; deep-seated beliefs that all of their charges are irredeemable and not worth even trying to reform.

The film’s more melodramatic moments – shower attacks, the final 10 to 15 minutes – benefit from that realist nihilism and strong character work.  Such effort has gone into fashioning a portrait of our broken prison system that the moments where more blatantly fictional touches break through still fit within the previously established world and nature of the film, acting like cappers to its overall point.  Couple that foundation with extremely well-handled themes, great supporting performances (Friend’s increasing desperation in protecting his little group is especially well-conveyed), an excellent script, and a thunderous central Jack O’Connell performance and you get a film as commanding and fiercely memorable as Starred Up.  It is bleak viewing, but it is vital viewing and it is so much better than the trailer suggests.


grand budapest hotel08] The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dir: Wes Anderson

Star: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, a lot of others

My first viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel underwhelmed me somewhat and I am willing to chalk that up to two things.  The first was trailer overexposure – this thing was relentlessly trailed before films for months on end, a lot of its best laughs were featured in it, and most everything stops being funny when you’ve seen it for the 20th time – the second was personal overhyping – I really liked that trailer when it dropped and was really bloody excited for the finished film.  I still thought it was a very good movie, but overexposure (the catalyst in getting me to just walk out during trailers now) and my weird belief that I was going to get a more monumental film than what I ended up getting lead to my questioning of whether this was it, as it were.

A second viewing later in the year proved me to be majorly and totally wrong on every negative account.  See, Grand Budapest is my first proper Wes Anderson film – I had seen Fantastic Mr. Fox in late 2012, but that was it – and so I wasn’t properly prepared for what was in store, expecting something different than what I got (I don’t know what it was I was expecting, but there you go).  I think the rather low-key nature of Grand Budapest caught me off guard.  It’s a film whose scale is large – encompassing tonnes of characters in a wide range of locations across multiple time periods and several different aspect ratios – yet whose stakes are rather small and its central character relationships tight knit.

And it’s that closeness that actually makes The Grand Budapest Hotel resonate and stick.  This is a very funny film – good lord, is it ever a very funny film, especially pretty much anything that comes out the mouth of an absolutely dynamite Ralph Fiennes – but what sticks with me after watching this film, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks after, is the sadness that runs throughout the entire film due to that closeness.  This is a sad film, a melancholy film, a film that never lets that sadness get buried under too many layers of whimsy or raucous jokes.  It is a film that is sad for days long since passed, both in terms of humanity – with barbarism and self-interest corroding decency and respectability – and filmmaking – there’s genuine love coming from Anderson’s insistence on using virtually every aspect ratio ever used in a commercial cinema release.

Yet the irony is that none of its characters are from the time it’s so wistfully nostalgic for.  Gustave H. is a man of some level of respectability and civility stuck in a time that slides further into greed and fascism the longer he sticks around.  Zero is a man who is clearly wounded and saddened by a world that would reject the actions and principles of a man like Gustave, and whose life is marked by constant loss and the encroachment of old age.  The Author is fascinated by the stories of Zero and Gustave H. but remains removed and emotionally distant due to both his profession and the fact that he doesn’t get the true feeling of that time due to having experienced nothing close to it.  The Young Girl who reads the book that starts off our film similarly can only paint a picture in her head of those times, to escape the miserable looking world that she is currently a part of, and it’s unlikely to resemble anything close to reality.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is very much about people trapped out of time, even Inspector Henckles who tries to deal with proceedings in a civil manner despite the force that he is a part of being of the barbaric type.  That wistful nostalgia does not really exist for many of its characters, as the time they are nostalgic for frequently ended long before they were born.  Yet, it’s what bonds them, it’s what brings Zero and Agatha together, it’s what makes Gustav and Zero such fire-forged friends, and it’s what ultimately proves their downfalls; their inability to let go.  Yet, they are respected and admired by the film and by Anderson for that commitment to their nostalgia – why should holding onto a time when people weren’t being violent fascist pigs be considered a bad thing? – and that’s why the film’s gradual reveal of its incredibly bittersweet ending feels so poignant.

It’s a film that is sold on its laughs and its quirkiness, but stays with me thanks to its deep-rooted sadness and melancholy heart.  It’s an incredibly clever and impeccably well-balanced film and pulls off that tightrope walk – sentimental without being sappy, riotously funny without drowning out the melancholy or becoming too bawdy – with aplomb.  I should really make the time to watch more Wes Anderson films, already.


07] NightcrawlerNIGHTCRAWLER

Dir: Dan Gilroy

Star: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

First things first, Nightcrawler contains my single favourite film scene in all of 2014.  I am referring to “Horror House”.  Not the bit where Lou Bloom is filming the sequence, nor the bit where he utterly unnervingly shreds Morning News Director Nina over negotiations for the tape (although that is close), the bit where it goes to air and the film makes you sit through every last agonising second as a whole studio full of ratings hungry opportunists exploit the misery and suffering of others for profit.  It’s the way that it twists the knife and turns the screws and keeps going, and going, and going, forcing you to sit through the whole segment, making you complicit in their work, and being written and presented in such a way that the scene stopped being a sequence from a movie for me and became something uncomfortably close to our reality.

It’s a magnificent scene and it also hides the true target of Nightcrawler’s venomous anger in plain sight.  Nightcrawler is a takedown of sensationalist 24-hour cable news networks, but it’s also a blisteringly angry screed against Capitalism, encapsulated in “Horror House” by having the news crew exploit the suffering of others to further their own hunt for money and success, especially hammering home the idea that a wealthy white suburban family was murdered by lower-class possibly Hispanic (at the time it’s unclear, not that that stops any of the anchors from pushing down hard on this button) gang members.  After all, nothing’s more likely to keep the broken system of Capitalism in place than by terrifying those with the power and success that the unworthy lower classes are coming to take everything away from them, whilst simultaneously profiting off of that fear.

The film’s thoughts and views on Capitalism can be best summed up by the character of Lou Bloom himself, a walking encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the system.  Lou is a complete sociopath purely interested in his own self-gain.  He is somebody who has been told time and time again that he deserves success and that he can win at The American Dream if he just works hard enough, and when that doesn’t happen he resorts to crime and petty theft to claw his way up.  He speaks near-exclusively in sound-bites ripped from corporate handbooks, justifies everything he ever does in cold, calculated business terms and is incapable of treating people like humans – later revealed to be down to his contempt for them.

Then, he stumbles into a field where his sociopathy, lack of morals and complete disregard for social decency and the law are rewarded.  His desire to stay one step ahead, by any means necessary, in the Nightcrawling business gets him the money, the car, the recognition and the in to start climbing up the corporate ladder.  And when he doesn’t get what he wants, he manipulates, blackmails, threatens, sexually exploits, and even near-outright murders to get his way.  But not once is Lou punished.  Not once does he truly hit a setback, because Capitalism is broken and those who are willing to cross the moral line are the ones who will successfully make it, whilst the rest will be left in the dust to be exploited by those who go too far.  [BRIEF SPOILER BIT, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU’VE YET TO SEE THE FILM] That’s why Lou gets off scott-free in the end.  Sure, the police technically have enough evidence to put him away, but to do that would be to undermine the message: Lou has won Capitalism because of his complete sociopathy and lack of a moral code.  Even his new company logo is ripped straight from that of the rival he killed earlier!

Jake Gyllenhaal puts in the performance of his career as Lou Bloom, always keeping the viewer at a distance yet forcefully commanding their attention at all times.  He’s clearly relishing the opportunity to sink his teeth into such a detestable yet complex role, and his total commitment to making Lou this utterly abhorrent and frightening monster is a major reason of why the film works.  Rene Russo also puts in her best performance in years as a similarly repulsive but slightly more socially acceptable female counterpart to Lou, Dan Gilroy’s direction for his debut feature is confident and assured, I have already talked about James Newton Howard’s quietly genius score, and the film is also tightly paced and expertly structured.  Nightcrawler is an outstandingly relevant and captivating film that features a villain protagonist for the ages, and satire and venom that deserves way more analysis and conversation than it has sparked.  A film for 2014 if there ever was one.


the guest06] The Guest

Dir: Adam Wingard

Star: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Lance Reddick

Holy hell, is this one ever fun!  Dumped into the beginning of September with precious little fanfare and left to fend for itself, The Guest is one of the biggest gems I have stumbled across all year.  Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s, previous of You’re Next, demented genre hybrid thriller is just pure good old fashioned fun.  That’s it.  There is nothing deeper to The Guest, no giant thematic core or major emotional centre, and no huge twist to it.  The Guest is just pure, undiluted fun and, as mentioned back in my entry on Edge Of Tomorrow, fun is something that I put a very big price on due to its growing rarity in the modern filmmaking landscape.

So, what is The Guest?  After all, I spent pretty much all of September doing nothing but praise the ever-loving crap out of it and despairing when, unsurprisingly, nobody saw it.  Well, The Guest is hard to categorise for people who haven’t seen it, partially because it hops around between genres like an indecisive driver coming up on a line of toll booths, but mainly because the fun of The Guest is watching it slowly reveal its true colours.  In the most general terms, it’s a throwback to trashy 80s B-Movies, mashing together elements of psychological thrillers, gory low-budget action films, the works of John Carpenter, and a nice sprinkling of camp.  It sounds like a mess, but Barrett’s script is airtight, Wingard’s direction is so confident, and the pair are so learned in what they are trying to emulate that it works perfectly.

It also helps that they have an outstanding central performance to hang proceedings onto.  I’ve raved about Dan Stevens in my review of the film, so I’ll let you go back and re-read that to save me from repeating myself, but I cannot stress how absolutely note perfect he is here – switching between charming, terrifying, and utterly hilarious (in a deadpan way) effortlessly whilst keeping David a consistent character throughout.  He’s also matched beat for beat by Maika Monroe who expertly embodies the determined Final Girl archetype whilst making it her own.  The film visually is wonderfully stylish, the soundtrack is one of the very best of the entire year, and it is by far the coolest film of the year thanks to the way it completely owns and openly embraces its campy tendencies – the finale is absolutely hilarious and unbearably tense without one ever undermining the other.

Look, I want to write a giant (attempted) intellectual deep analysis of this film like I have everything else so far on this list, one that gets to the root of why this film works and why I love it so, but I just can’t because The Guest is not that kind of film.  The Guest actively resists that kind of analysis because, quite frankly, its start and its end can be summed up with “it is a hell of a lot of fun” which it very much is.  It is also damn near flawless at what it aims to do, it’s an immaculately constructed film that I can’t find a single wasted second, dropped pacing or glaring flaw in.  Sometimes, a film sticks out as excellent purely because of how much fun it is and The Guest is the single most amount of fun I have had in a cinema all year.

Or, to put it another way, I saw it opening day and went back for a second go-around seven days later.  I would likely have kept going every Friday if the film hadn’t been pulled from cinemas in near-record time.  Whilst you are reading this, I will be watching it again on the Blu-Ray that I picked up on the first day it was available, and my writing for this is being fuelled by the film’s soundtrack.  This is just a straight shot of pure smile-inducing fun, for me, and you are officially out of excuses to not give it a shot.


That’s the first half of the countdown done.  Tomorrow, we’ll tackle numbers 5 to 1.  In the meantime, let me know in the comments on whether you agree with my picks or not and what some of your favourite films of 2014 are!

Callum Petch’s letters are returned to sender.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Nightcrawler

Twisted, dark, intense and full of brilliant performances. Is Nightcrawler the best thriller released this year? Maybe.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

nightcrawler 2October seems to be the time of year when all the big-hitter films come out to play. They’ve had most of their international film festival runs by now, gearing up for Oscar season, and the summer blockbusters have all had their fun and dispersed for another 6 months. Fury and Gone Girl have started off this pre-Academy Award season, both of which were very promising beginnings for this period, but Nightcrawler quite possibly tops them both. The comparison may be unfair given the relatively modest budget of an estimated $8m, and the dark, sinister tone is probably more in keeping with the Failed Critics’ favourite suspense-thriller The Guest, but it is no less hard hitting than any of them.

It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a bit of a ne’er do well who is looking for his calling in life. Eventually, through a rather fortunate encounter, he finds his purpose – his defining moment, an epiphany – as a crime scene videographer. After being rejected from yet another job opportunity, Louis chances upon an encounter that will change his life. Pulling his car over at the scene of a very recent motor-accident whilst on an aimless drive through the street-light brightened roads of late-night L.A., a van suddenly pulls up behind him. Rushing out, film camera and assistant in tow, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) videos everything going on around him; from the police pulling a bloodied woman from the wreckage, to the rising flames of the vehicles engine. Fascinated by this, and being something of a self-confessed fast learner, Louis watches, observes and questions what Joe is doing. Revealing that he sells the footage to news channels, Louis becomes obsessed with this idea and in his best top-knotted entrepreneurial spirit decides to pursue a line of work in the same field. The only thing is, he gets so caught up in it that he begins to get more and more involved in the crimes themselves as his drive for success, his ambition to be the absolute best, requires the generation of bigger and better news stories.

I’m sure to some people, rather understandably, that sounds like a rather ridiculous story. Think of it like the TV show Dexter; a forensics cop who is also a serial killer? Give me a break. Wait, actually, you know what, Dexter turned out pretty damn good (well, up to and including season four in any case). And just like Dexter, Nightcrawler takes a silly premise and turns it into something golden. It may very well be one of my favourite films of the year.

For a start, it’s a bizarrely funny film. In places, it induced full-on belly-laughs. However, those laughs are not entirely guilt free. A more dark and twisted story this year, that is actually better, you’re unlikely to see. Without the film explicitly stating as such, Louis appears to be basically a high-functioning autistic; he doesn’t really understand the way people interact with each other and ambiguity seems to confuse him. He also appears to have a touch of OCD too. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know his motto is “you can’t win the lottery unless you make the money to buy a ticket”. This gives you a very clear indicator of his self-driven personality and narrow vision of success.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is absolutely superb, by the way. He’s beginning to realise some of that early promise that suggested he could potentially become one of the finest and most versatile actors working in Hollywood. Think about it, just within this crime-thriller genre alone, the roles he plays are all so varied. Whether it’s the nerdy intelligent guy in Zodiac, or the rough somewhat renegade detective in Prisoners, or even just the hard as nails skinhead police officer in End of Watch; they’re very different characters but also consistently very good performances.

He’s supported by some quality performances as well in Nightcrawler. Paxton I’ve already mentioned as Louis’ inspiration and main professional rival, and he puts in another fine shift (as if you’d expect anything less). But Rene Russo as the TV news producer plays off Gyllenhaal very well. There’s some genuine chemistry between them. In fact, I’d say the same about his relationship with his intern, Rick; a man so desperate for a job he’ll do anything for a wage and is also played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed. Some of the interactions between Rick and Louis are darkly amusing. I assumed intentionally? I don’t want to say too much about their development over the course of the film, suffice to say it’s done in a not necessarily believable way, because it really does feel like a movie, if that makes sense, but it’s developed in a way that you genuinely are interested in them.

Away from the actual characters, Dan Gilroy (writer and director) apparently has a lot to say about the media. Particularly TV news. Not all of it complimentary! A phrase that’s used at one point by Bill Paxton’s character is “if it bleeds, it leads”. A message that is hammered home throughout the entire movie. Just why is ethical journalism given such short shrift, pushed to one side in favour of viewer ratings? Is it really because that’s what people what to see? Exploitation, gore, blood and guts on breakfast news whilst they munch down on their cornflakes? It appears to be a damning indictment of the pressures that are placed on them. Although, here in Britain, we don’t have quite as severe a problem as they have in the US. Just look at their coverage of the Ebola crisis for example to see how ridiculously overblown and scaremongering it can be. It’s also where similarities with David Fincher’s Gone Girl can be drawn as they both lay into television media reporting. Yet it’s still relevant to UK viewers because it talks about the constant need to have to have something, anything, to report on and compete with other news channels 24 hours a day to get higher ratings. Obviously not exactly the same as our news channels, but still has some commentary on that drive for big news stories at any expense that can be related to wherever you are in the world.

The most notorious scene from this film, and one that will probably help establish it as something of a classic for years to come, is the “horror house” section. For fear of giving anything away, I will not be discussing it in detail. However, later this week you can expect an article on this one particular scene from Callum. Yep, a whole article about one scene. That’s how good it is.

As much as I enjoyed the whole film, as intelligent as it can be at times and as biting as the satire is, there are a few negatives worth mentioning. It takes a teeny tiny dip in quality around a third of the way in. Virtually from the moment Gyllenhaal steps into the newsroom for the first time with Russo and gives a little speech. It’s not so much the dialogue that’s a problem; as it happens, I thought the dialogue and script throughout the film was one of its stronger aspects. What lets it down, and indeed many other scenes, is the choice of soundtrack. There are some completely weird and out of key choices here. Just when this ambitious but deceptively violent man is explaining what exactly drives him, in the background is a very distracting and cheesy 80’s-esque backing track. It’s honestly like something out of Big or The Mighty Ducks. A very odd sentimental choice that didn’t fit at all. It happened a few times with various other scenes. The only assumption to be made is the music is an artistic choice. What’s playing is how Louis would imagine it, and not what the actual tone of the film demands.

Also, I’m sorry to have to point it out as it shouldn’t matter at all, but some of the CGI used (which was sparse anyway) was very cheap looking. Think the aeroplane crash in Knowing. Yes, that bad. It’s not a huge problem as there weren’t really many scenes that called for the use of CGI. Most of the action scenes that we do see are actually incredibly sophisticated, complex and most of all, exciting. One fantastic car chase as the police hurtle through L.A. traffic lights is unreal. Best of all, it doesn’t have (as much as I could make out) any CGI! It’s just that, I can’t escape it, the CGI that is used on occasion is utter bollocks.

Despite all of this, as mentioned at the top of the review, Nightcrawler is incredibly enjoyable. The first half of the film that introduces Louis and his quirks was excellent, setting itself up well for the remaining 60 minutes. A slight dip in quality 45 minutes in is nothing to quibble about as it picks up again rapidly. By the end, I flat out loved it. If you’ve any interest in seeing a tense thriller that tells an intelligent story, that’s as darkly-comic as often as it is sickeningly disturbing, then I’m sure you will enjoy Nightcrawler as much as I did.

Nightcrawler hits UK cinemas this Friday, 31 October 2014.