Tag Archives: Robert Zemeckis

Failed Critics Podcast: Panning Pan, Suffering Suffragette & Walking The Walk

suffragette 2015In this episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by guests Andrew Brooker and Callum Petch to take a look over the latest film releases, review what else they’ve been watching in the past seven days, and to cast their beady eyes over recent news.

With the score tightly poised at 1-1, Steve’s ground breaking, Earth shattering, cataclysmic quiz kicks off this week’s episode, swiftly followed by some news close to home [INSERT ‘NEW WEBSITE’ KLAXON] and some a whole (cinematic) universe away. The team also discuss the trailers for the first ever Netflix original movie, Beasts of No Nation, as well as the upcoming Coen Brothers film, Hail, Caesar!.

We also feature a look back at The NeverEnding Story, a look ahead to Hotel Transylvania 2, and a look… now… at the Fright Night remake. Callum retains his dignity when Owen and Steve shrug in unison at Sicario, before delving into some returning TV shows, including The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and Z-Nation. Unfortunately, they haven’t been seen on a new SONY BRAVIA TV. Ahem.

Of course the podcast wouldn’t be complete without a review of the latest films to hit the cinema screens. Callum can’t quite fathom the ‘who’, ‘how’ or ‘why’ Pan was made, whilst Steve explains why we’re all bad people for not watching it. Brooker and Owen reveal why Suffragette might just be one of the films of the year, but may also be a difficult watch for some people. There’s even room for a final grab at the popcorn bucket as the new Robert Zemeckis movie, The Walk, proves to be a success.

Join Steve and Owen again next week with more new guests for a Halloween triple bill and a review of Crimson Peak.

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The Walk

maxresdefault“I whisper so the demons won’t hear me. It’s impossible. But I’ll do it.”

The story of Philippe Petit is as amazing as it is insane. A man who fell in love with the idea of doing a tightrope walk between the towers of New York’s World Trade Centre years before they were even built and spent every waking minute in the pursuit of this dream. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that a few recommendations and the announcement of this film pushed me to watch Man on Wire, the documentary inspired by the same autobiographical book as the film, I’m not sure I would have ever believed anything I saw on screen this weekend.

Determined to become a tightrope walker from a young age, Philippe Petit (an amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I’ll come to that in a bit) devoted his entire life to performing after watching a circus tightrope act and finding himself to have a bit of a talent for it. Spending all his free time and money learning the secrets of his chosen craft from circus veteran and high wire family patriarch, Ben Kingsley’s Papa Rudy, Philippe soaks in everything he can from his mentor and sets about making his name.

Following Philippe from his days as a street performer, to his discovery of a news article talking about the World Trade Centre plans and how tall the towers will be. We see him go from his first public failings to the moment he is inspired by the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and wire walks between them. Explaining his process in getting his wire across and how this will be infinitely more difficult at over a hundred floors up and god knows how far away the other tower is, this small-scale trial run for Philippe’s “coup” is a heart stopping look at how the man pushed himself to not fail.

On to New York and Petit and his accomplices, an Ocean’s Eleven style collection of misfits that he and his street artist girlfriend have assembled on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, set about pulling off the most elaborate and illegal street performance in history. As the daredevil wire walker edges closer to his big day, he has to battle through countless obstacles; from the security around the unfinished buildings to the fears and doubts building up inside him as the day he tries to conquer the world’s tallest buildings gets nearer.

The Walk is, without a doubt, a spectacle piece. Designed for the 3D IMAX experience that this week’s previews have been offering and it delivers, completely. Robert Zemeckis’ biopic is as beautifully directed as any in his filmography, with the added factor of being able to give us all a stomach churning look over the edge of the Trade Centre towers, staring at the abyss of the 415 meter drop to the streets of Manhattan. Every gust of wind and every shake of Philippe’s wire are quickly followed up with stomach churning imagery of the impending fall that, for those that don’t like heights, would be vomit inducing. The further up the film’s lovingly recreated Twin Towers we are taken, the more we are treated to sweeping New York vistas and plunging views of the streets below the performer. The direction and cinematography is so striking, that every time Philippe Petit arrogantly flutters around on the edge of the building or screws around on his rope, it instantly puts your heart in your throat and has you clinging on to your seat for dear life.

And speaking of Philippe Petit, we really need to spend some time on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s performance as the crazy daredevil. Because if you ever had doubts about JGL’s acting abilities, and you really shouldn’t have by now, then this should clear things up for you. Anyone that has seen Man on Wire, a film that is almost required viewing before watching this film so you can get a feel for the guy, will know that Petit is a wacky, wacky dude. I mean, most performers like this have their quirks, but this guy absolutely lives in his own little world; unicycling around the streets of his home town and mucking around on ropes at stupid heights are evidence to this. He’s such a great, interesting character and I was really interested to see how he would be brought to the screen. I wasn’t disappointed. From his opening lines to his final words, Levitt’s incarnation of Philippe is spot on. As he narrates the entire film from the torch of the Statue of Liberty with the The World Trade Centre towers standing behind him the entire time, Levitt IS Petit. The way he moves his body, his eccentric way of describing everything and his generally weird and wacky overall persona is right there for all to see. JGL does a wonderful job of bringing those of us that might not necessarily watch documentaries an amazing insight into this kooky little dude. With excellent support from Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge-Dale and Ben Kingsley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has brought a legend to the screen with superb results.

The Walk‘s two hours don’t fly by, but you won’t be bored either. It’s split pretty much evenly between getting to 1974 New York and making the titular walk. Its moments of story telling are deep and interesting, whilst its time on Philippe’s wire, the streets below and all the space in-between are brilliantly intense. Robert Zemeckis has made the true story of a genuinely interesting guy into a genuinely interesting film and the only people that should be avoiding this flick, are those with a crippling fear of heights.

Into ‘stellar?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Ever since man has first looked up at the stars, the question has been asked: What do you do when you see a space man? Yes, of course the correct answer is “you park in it, man” (please, please, hold your applause, you’re too kind).

However, for thousands of years, man has written Christmas cracker jokes looked up and wondered what lies beyond the blue skies of our planet’s atmosphere. For most people, it’s only led to further questions. How can “space” exist? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? From religion and faith, to science and theory, everyone seems to have their own opinion on what they like to imagine fills the vast expanse of the Universe and beyond. It takes people way smarter than this bozo to fully comprehend the question, never mind the answer. Luckily, it’s not just people cleverer than me who have thought about this question. There have been people with far more imagination who have been able to put their thoughts and ideas into film and literature.

Most recently Christopher Nolan did so with the terrific Interstellar. Which prompted me to create this article. What other movies are out there that deal with man’s exploration of space and time that are worth watching? Well, here are ten films that I would recommend you start with if you too are into ‘stellar (geddit?!) This list is by no means comprehensive, by the way. I’m fully aware big names such as the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises are missing, as well as this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is just 10 films I’d suggest watching if you enjoyed the adventure into space that was Interstellar!


event horizonEvent Horizon (1997) Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film, it tells the story of a crew comprising of captain Laurence Fishburne, doctor Sam Neill, (plus others) who investigate of a spaceship that went missing some years ago called the Event Horizon. It miraculously returned with no crew left on board. It transpires that what happened was not quite as simple as they might’ve first thought. Next to Alien, it’s the perfect example of how to create an intelligent, atmospheric, space-horror. Quotes seemed to be almost directly lifted from Event Horizon in Interstellar (particularly the discussion around wormholes). It also raises interesting questions around what Hell is (or could be?) Complete with great performances, especially those of Fishburne and Neill around the descent into madness. Think of it as Hellraiser meets Alien. A real gem of a movie.


Contact (1997)contact In 1994, Robert Zemeckis released what will probably be the film he is remembered for, Forrest Gump. Well, with the exception of Back To The Future, perhaps. But one film of his that seems to have directly inspired the story of Interstellar is Contact, with its daughter grieving for her father and potential contact with another as yet unidentified life form. Using the relationship between father and daughter, it tries to bridge a gap between science and religion, life and death, between hope and reality. The concept behind Contact and how / what that will be like with other dimensions or lifeforms is handled with grace, whilst Jodie Foster gives a performance worthy of a movie such as this. The cast also features Matthew McConaughey, the star of Nolan’s epic! It’s a shame the ending lets the film down a little, but the rest of Contact is well worth a watch.


europa reportEuropa Report (2013) After a crew are sent on a fact-finding mission to one of Jupiter’s moons (that would be the one called Europa…) they end up finding a bit more than they bargained for. I almost feel like I should disclaimer this movie to people as besides being a sci-fi set mainly in space, it’s also a found footage movie. If you can name another found footage movie set in space that’s better than this (Apollo 18 shouts will not be recognised) then congratulations, but I probably won’t believe you. It takes its time to find its feet, as the crew (Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist etc) slowly grow into their roles, but for a film that takes place mostly inside a tin can, there’s a fair amount of tension and drama to be found. The structure is slightly unsatisfactory and non-linear, but the ending will be what determines whether or not you’ll like this movie. Personally, I found the slightly existential journey surprisingly entertaining.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)2001 I couldn’t really let the opportunity to recommend one of the greatest ever movies – not just sci-fi movies – pass me by without at least name-checking it. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, shot one year before the actual moon landings (that if you believe some conspiracy-nuts, the man himself shot in a studio) is more of an exploration of life and being than it is about space travel, but if there’s a sci-fi movie released post 1968 that isn’t at least in some minor way influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’d be very surprised. Cerebral, contemplative and exceedingly beautiful. If you want to hear me rave about this film yet again, check out our Stanley Kubrick Corridor of Praise podcast.


solarisSolaris (1972) For the more cultured film fan, Tarkovsky’s very – very – art-house science fiction film about a living planets attempts to contact a man orbiting it will be one of your favourite sci-fi movies. The problem is, of course, how do you communicate with something that you have no way of understanding? In my Decade In Film article for 1972, I mention Ludwig Wittgenstein who proposed that “if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand it”. If our frames of reference are so far apart, so completely different, how could we possibly hope to even know when an alien species is attempting to communicate, never mind actually understand what it’s trying to say? The Fermi Paradox suggests that if aliens exist, why haven’t we heard from them yet? Well, perhaps they do try to contact us, but we don’t realise it. This is one of the driving principles behind Solaris, and beyond its 167 minute run time including lingering shots of ponds and motorways, and absolutely astonishing cinematography, it tries to answer some of these philosophical quandaries.


Moon (2009)moon A breakthrough semi-indie production in 2009, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a worker on a lunar station coming to the end of his three-year stint. I suppose he has what can be described as a crisis of personality as his shift draws closer to an end. Atmospheric and remarkably well written, if at times a little bit silly, Moon is a very entertaining movie. Similar to one aspect of Interstellar, it deals with being in space and having no reliable means of contact with Earth. Whilst there’s a heck of a lot more to Duncan Jones‘ relatively low budget British BAFTA nominated movie than simply isolation, it would seem almost rude not to suggest fans of Interstellar give it a go. 


this island earthThis Island Earth (1955) The 1950’s heralded a new age in sci-fi movies. The likes of Don Siegel and Jack Arnold probably led the pack with films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space (in 3D no less!) However, This Island Earth by Joseph Newman was an incredibly ambitious project. It had a somewhat turbulent production history, which resulted in Jack Arnold himself being brought on board as an uncredited director. The sections of the film set on distant worlds and intergalactic battles became a bit too expensive and was shorter than planned, but it’s still admirable for the intention behind the film as well as its anti-war messages. It’s also a lot of fun in that cult-50’s sci-fi movie kind of way.


A Trip to the Moon (1902)trip to the moon There’s a huge amount of things one could say about this wondrous, imaginative, inventive and wholly original fantasy story made over 110 years ago by the inspirational Georges Méliès. From a technical point of view, Le voyage dans la lune is splendid. Suffice to say, it’s very impressive; from the special effects of the exploding moon people, to the incredible! science!-exclamation!-mark! The illusions Méliès crafted required true imagination and creativity. He was one of the first to create a movie such as this, of course! Even now, this short film is fantastic – in every sense of the word.


loveLove (2011) After writing my car off in February this year, I began the long commute to and from work via bus. During this time, BBC iPlayer kept me from grinding my teeth to stubs on my journey. I downloaded a lot of movies and documentaries to my tablet from iPlayer, some I’d heard of, some that were completely new to me, such as this mixed bag. I read the premise via the app, thought it sounded like it could be a really neat little indie sci-fi… and in part, it was. There’s strands that run throughout about isolation, human connection and indeed love, that are thought provoking and unique as an astronaut finds himself stranded on a spaceship. But, at the same time, it comes across as a meandering, dull, bewildering mess. You will either love or hate the soundtrack by Angels & Airwaves. It may have worked better as a short film as it does feel like a pop video, but it is atmospheric and definitely unlike a lot of other movies on this list.


Gravity (2013)gravity I’ve purposefully left Gravity until the end of this list for a couple of reasons. One, you’re probably sick of seeing comparisons between Gravity and Interstellar by now. They were after all released by the same studio (Warner Bros) on the same date (7 November) and are both about space and gravity. The other reason is, just about everybody interested in seeing Gravity has by now seen it. However, the second best film of 2013 (according to Sight & Sound’s readers poll) in many ways laid the foundations for Interstellar. A sci-fi story that was taken seriously by critics, particularly at the big award ceremonies, and features some mind-boggling special effects. The story may be pretty simple, threatening to hold back what has the potential to be an all-time classic, but it is one of the best modern sci-fi’s and if you get a kick out of Interstellar, then Alfonso Cuarón’s film (clocking in at just ever so slightly over half the run time of Nolan’s blockbuster) should tick a few boxes for you. Oh, and watch it on as big a screen as possible. In 3D if at all possible. Honestly. 3D.


And that’s that! If you have any suggestions of your own or think I’ve missed some vital inclusions, or even if you have any recommendations for me, just post them below. You can find Owen’s Interstellar review here, and he will also be talking about it with Carole and Steve on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast!

Flight

flight-denzel-washington

In recent years, cinema audiences have been scared out of flying by terrorists in United 93, the spectre of death in Final Destination, and by motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane in a film I forget the name of. Then, just when you thought it was safe to go back on a plane, you get Denzel Washington piloting your flight. Not that nice, charming, good Denzel; but the naughty, irresponsible Denzel most recently seen in the underwhelming Safe House.

Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker; introduced to the audience in an opening five minutes which see him wake up in a hotel room with a naked woman surrounded by empty bottles, arguing with his ex-wife on the phone, and snorting a generous line of cocaine. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain descending into self-destruction. Once aboard his plane, Whitaker gets his head straight with a mixture of vodka and pure oxygen from his emergency mask, which is just as well since moments later the plane suffers a catastrophic failure resulting in a nosedive and imminent death to all on board. Whitaker then pulls off a manoeuvre only a drunk or desperate man would even attempt. Luckily Whip is both, and he manages to save many lives in the resulting spectacular crash landing. The film then concerns itself with the resulting investigation, with our ‘hero’ having to face up to personal demons and the legal ramifications of his actions on the day of the crash.

Washington has received an Oscar nomination for his performance, and I can only imagine it’s for his ability to be the most odious on-screen presence in a film that features Piers Morgan. The main problem with the film is that Whip is so unrepentant, arrogant, and downright unlikeable that long before the end I’d lost interest in whether or not he would gain redemption. The film is also flabby and over-long, with the pacing after the exciting opening 20 minutes making my time in the cinema feel like a long-haul flight without refreshments. Director Robert Zemeckis also seems to have turned up at the editing suite with only his iPod shuffle to choose the film’s soundtrack from. Need to introduce an edgy character? Use Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. Need to show the break-up of a relationship? Use Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Need to introduce another edgy character? Use Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones (again). This predictability and cliché permeates the entire film.

Aside from an entertaining John Goodman cameo, and the aforementioned plane crash, there’s very little to recommend about a film which collapses under the weight of its own melodrama and religious overtones. As studies of addiction go, it’s also very shallow compared to the likes of Steve McQueen’s Shame which was mysteriously overlooked at last year’s Oscars.