Tag Archives: Ron Howard

Failed Critics Podcast: Trilogy Trashing Triple Bill

matrix-revolutions

The Earth still spins, the sun still shines and Hollywood still makes trilogies that nobody in their right mind wants, with Ron Howard’s third Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno, hitting cinemas last weekend.

Rather than expend any amount of energy reviewing the Tom Hanks led mystery thriller, the Failed Critics instead run through a triple bill of film franchises that should have ended before getting to the trilogy stage. Boy, were there plenty to choose from!

With regular host Steve Norman off celebrating his birthday, we drafted in Matt Lambourne to swivel on the comfy high-backed armchair and guide Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Tony Black through another podcast. There’s no quiz this week, but a discussion about the new Star Wars: Rogue One trailer arose, as did a short summary of this year’s London Film Festival.

In What We’ve Been Watching, the team cover Netflix series Luke Cage and half of their newest feature-length comedy, Mascots. There’s even time for a chat about HBO’s latest smash hit, Westworld, up to episode three (spoiler free!)

Join us again next week as we’re back with a Halloween triple bill, resurrecting the dead… Spooky!

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In the Heart of the Sea

HEART OF THE SEA

“The tragedy of the Essex is the story of men. And a Demon.”

It’s been a long year; a year that seems to have been filled with more guff films than decent ones. Of course, you may disagree; you may not enjoy the same things I do and I may think what you like is complete toilet. The subjective nature of films aside, I think In the Heart of the Sea may be the film that finally killed my 2015. And I was hoping to end it on a high note, too.

Inspired by the true story that inspired Moby Dick – we’ll get to THAT in a bit – In the Heart of the Sea sees Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), an author looking for inspiration for his next book, tracking down and persuading Brendon Gleeson’s Thomas Nickerson; a deckhand and last surviving member of the crew of the doomed whaling ship, The Essex; to tell the story of the ship, its crew and their encounters with the demon that tried to send them all to the bottom of the ocean.

Spinning Melville (and us) a yarn about his time as a teenager upon the Essex at the height of the lucrative whale oil trade of the early 1800’s, Thomas tells us the tale of a ship, captained by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) a man who shouldn’t be captain and has instead been born into the position; with a first mate (Chris Hemsworth) who really should have got the job but has been nudged back because his surname isn’t Pollard. This man, Owen Chase, is the perfect man to run a ship like this, on a mission like this, but has instead been shunned because of his lineage and now we have a ship with the two people in charge already at odds with each other. This doesn’t bode well for our crew that includes the adolescent Nickerson (Tom Holland) and a sailor trying desperately to stay sober (Cillian Murphy).

As the weeks go on and the whale sightings dwindle, the crew catch word of a part of the ocean far from any known fishing area where the sea is brimming with the giant mammals to hunt. With promises of enough oil to fill their hold twice over, the crew set to these uncharted waters with hopes of a fortune ahead. The problem is, almost as quickly as they find what they are looking for, something finds them; a monstrous whale that dwarfed all those around it takes umbrage at the sailors’ presence there and proceeds to obliterate the whaling boats, the sailors, and eventually the Essex using nothing but its size and strength. The whale – let’s call him Moby – then taunts the survivors for an hour and a half as they Jerry-rig a life raft and try to float home via desert islands, cannibalism and intense beard growth.

In the Heart of the Sea may be the most disappointing Ron Howard film that I’ve seen to date. It acts as if it has something to say but doesn’t even come close to telling me anything of note. The film is about as plain, and by the numbers, as it could possibly be, substituting characterisation for celebrity – hoping that casting Thor will be enough to carry the film – and storytelling for nice special effects. Sadly, neither do their required job and about the only thing I got from my trip to the flicks to see this was a comfy seat for two hours and an excuse to eat popcorn. In truth, the only reason I stayed until the end of the film was the fact that I had already bought my popcorn and didn’t want to leave it, or my Starbucks, behind.

Make no mistake, it’s a very pretty film. The CGI looks great, the boat and its movement on the water look amazing and I’d even go so far to say that a lot of the scenes, especially the underwater ones, look spectacular in 3D. But this doesn’t save the film from being a dull, lifeless two hours where the only thing it serves to tell us is that both Chris Hemsworth and Brendon Gleeson can’t do a Boston accent very well and that humongous fish are not to be trifled with when all you have is a rowing boat and a large cocktail stick to stab it with! Much has been told of Hemsworth’s transition from muscle man to starving survivor. Unfortunately, I have seen Christian Bale do it three times now and I find myself unimpressed when you put yourself through that for a lacklustre film.

Finally, I promised I’d bring this up, but I am really getting a little sick of this “inspired by true events” shit. Every other film is “inspired” by some true story or another and In the Heart of the Sea is the most heinous of these films. The trailer tells us “inspired by the true story, that inspired the legend, Moby Dick”. Forgetting for a second that a trailer filled with huge fuck-off whales knocking seven shades of shit out of boats didn’t need to tell me it was Moby Dick; but this whole “Inspired by…” shit just screams “I wanted to tell this story, but couldn’t make it interesting enough without changing it”. But to do that to Moby Dick? That, Mr Howard, is arrogance of the highest order and is absolutely inexcusable from a veteran director. Shame on you.

Half A Decade In Film – 2013

The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.

It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew  McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.

It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…


Rush

Rush Chris HemsworthHappiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.

Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.

Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.

There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.

The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.

Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempo (aka The House of the End Time)

house at the end of timeThere’s no turning back

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.

I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.

A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.

Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.

The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.

We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.

It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.

The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.

If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.

Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


A Field In England

A072_C001_1001IE“Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right?
Whitehead: Is that not usual?
Friend: Not in Essex.

Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.

Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.

I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!

Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.

The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIMFortune favours the brave, dude.

Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?

So why were we watching this again?

I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.

You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.

So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!

Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.

If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Matterhorn

matterhornYeah

This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.

Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.

We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!

The Week In Film – 29 August 2014: From Dickie Attenborough to Martin Scorsese

Welcome… to the Week In Film! No Steve this week as he was too busy trying to edit the latest Failed Critics Podcast into something that resembled coherent chat. Instead, stepping in at the last minute is Owen Hughes, rounding up what’s been happening in the world of film.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Richard AttenboroughRichard Attenborough: A Tribute

Sad news to start us off this week as BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar winning actor/director Richard Attenborough passed away. Whether he was breaking out of POW camps in The Great Escape or saving Christmas in Miracle on 34th Street, his roles have become synonymous with iconic cinema. His delivery of lines was second to none and he’ll go down as a true legend.

He has been the star of many of the Failed Critics’ favourite films too, from 1947’s British gangster classic Brighton Rock to Spielberg’s dinosaur epic adventure movie Jurassic Park.

For that, we’d like to thank him for brightening up our lives 90-120 minutes at a time.

Another successful FrightFest

Onto more light-hearted news now as Monday saw the close of the 15th annual FrightFest held at the Vue cinema in the West End. A total of 64 films were screened over the extended weekend’s festival of all things horror.

No matter how big or small the budget, it is as much of a chance for indie film makers like Jessica Cameron [whose interview with us will be on the site soon] as it is for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller to get their film seen by die hard fans. From Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, to Bad Milo! (a film about a monster that lives inside a man’s arse) the range of films on show catered for every kind of fan and the vast majority left FrightFest satisfied.

This year we even had our own inside man, Mike Shawcross. You can check out his opinion on the festival from the venue changes to the films screened.

Hanks, Howard and popular literature

Following news last week that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg will be unexpectedly reuniting to make a new film so shortly after it was assumed their Cornetto trilogy had been completed, this week we learned that Ron Howard and Tom Hanks will be getting together again.

They will be combining once more to adapt another Dan Brown crime-mystery novel, Inferno. Whilst on paper the plot sounds interesting, like a mix between the Liam Neeson thriller Unknown and the recent Channel 4 series Utopia, expectations are low.

Both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were massively popular mystery novels yet the films drew little critical praise, despite Da Vinci Code earning huge amounts in the box office. A bit like the books themselves, they were both very popular with their readers, but panned by critics.ashecliffe

Shutter Island: Ashecliffe

Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller from 2010, Shutter Island, is set to be made into a TV series. Set in 1954, the film saw a US Marshall investigate a missing persons case at a home for the criminally insane as his own sanity is called into question.

Few solid details about the show have been confirmed, save for the fact that the title will be Ashecliffe, the name of the hospital, and that Scorsese will direct the pilot episode and Dennis Lehane will pen it. With Fargo‘s recent translation from the silver screen to the LED one, it seems a trend may be developing.

Next week, Steve will return to give us another round up of the latest in film news. 

Failed Critics Podcast: Rush, Insidious 2, and killing hookers

RushStart your engines for this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, as we review the first of the serious award-bait movies this autumn in the shape of Ron Howard’s Rush, the true-life story of the F1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Owen also reviews Insidious 2, while James and Steve take time out of killing hookers and punching pedestrians in the face to review a new computer game. And then they might play Grand Theft Auto 5.

Boom, boom!

In honour of Rockstar’s latest opus, we also talk to Jackson and Calum from The Pupcast about the relationship between games and movies, and talk about our least favourite video game to movie adaptations.

Join us next week for a worryingly bad looking line-up of films, including Diana, RIPD, and The Call.

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Rush

Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda in Rush: 'Niki is very sharp and honest, he never repeats himself.'The events depicted in Ron Howard‘s latest film, Rush, took place long before I was born. I’ve only existed on this mortal plane since 1986, and never had an interest of my own in Formula One. I still don’t. However, my dad loves it. I grew up occasionally having to watch Senna, Mansell, Schumacher, Brundle etc on TV, but knew very little about the history of the sport. At that point in my life, I doubt I’d have even heard of British racer and playboy James Hunt or his constant feud with his equally talented but much more reserved rival Niki Lauda. As I grew older, I’d come to learn a little bit about their rivalry, but never really found the story that fascinating (probably because I didn’t really know that much about it, in fairness.)

That might partly explain why I had no great interest in watching Rush initially. I’d seen the trailer countless times on my various other excursions to the cinema. As far as the story of this historic rivalry goes, I was convinced all I needed to know was in the trailer. Laid out in exactly the same way as the plot would progress in the movie itself, showing you the beginning, the middle and the end. Basically, it was like an animated storyboard of every major step Rush takes. Despite not necessarily being something I was excited about watching, I was still quite furious about the 2 minute long spoiler ridden showcase – and yes, it is spoiler ridden, regardless of it being based on a true story.

Admittedly, the actual full movie was slightly different, in so much as the trailer made it look like the story of James Hunt, but it was actually slightly more fair to describe it as the story of Hunt from Niki Lauda’s perspective and how their rivalry drove them to become the men they were.

Never mind the fact that it was all laid out in the trailer then, I found Rush a surprisingly very exciting watch. Initial reaction from both my wife and I as we came out of the cinema was one of being incredibly impressed. I was rerunning all the tense races through my mind and remembering how Howard somehow managed to make even formula one seem quite exhilarating. I reflected on how I thought the more dramatic moments of both main characters lives were told in a not entirely sympathetic light, but in a very controlled way. At the time, it’s safe to say, I loved this movie.

The more I’ve thought about it since, the more little things there are that annoyed me have started to creep into my consciousness. Not anything that’s completely changed my opinion of the film, I’m just recounting some of the rather melodramatic moments. The scenes that I’m sure will be parodied endlessly in future. The camera focussing on Lauda in his car looking toward Hunt, panning over to Hunt who looks back at Lauda, then the camera is back on Lauda who waves, back to Hunt who waves, back to Lauda who nods, then back to Hunt who nods etc. It was a bit silly actually, but at the time I was caught up in the moment and loved it.

Whilst I’m talking about Hunt and Lauda, the best thing about the film is definitely the performances of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl respectively. They have the appropriate amount of humour blended into their portrayals but also the right amount of seriousness and weight too. Bruhl captures that ratty look and pernickety / pedantic nature that the Austrian was famed for, but he’s never once the villain of the story. In fact, there is no villain here. There’s no heroes either, as Hemsworth’s performance as the larger than life, long haired, party guy may appear to be the most likeable, but through a combination of the writing and the acting, you understand how deeply tragic and lonely his life could be at times. The ego of the two men and how they are more alike than they realise in many respects is what keeps you compelled right through the finish line.

Contrasting with that are the support characters made up of a mostly British cast. I think half of the cast of the hospital sitcom Green Wing are in here in one guise or another. A lot of the support characters are somewhat peripheral in the sense that once their part in the story is done, then we move on and never get the chance to understand their overall part in the proceedings, what role they play in shaping Hunt and Lauda in the latter stages of their story. But the main two are at least Oscar nomination worthy. Bruhl perhaps more than Hemsworth, but either getting a nod for lead would not be a surprise at all.

It still has some very cool racing scenes, though. I’m not a fan of F1 (as I mentioned) and even though some of the races take place in a montage style, it was still fun and tense. Enough to earn the film an Oscar? We’ll see. It’s definitely set up that way, though. To compare it to last years dramatic true story that came out around the same time and was primed for many Oscar nominations, Argo, I can see Rush achieving a similar level of attention. I’m not sure it will do quite as well as Argo did in the States, but for my money, Rush is the far superior film.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Good Grief (s2, ep4)

arrested development good grief peanutsCult US sitcom Arrested Development returns to our screens this Sunday and, rather than the harsh and unforgiving world of network television, it has found a new home on Netflix. It would be unfair to blame Fox for the show’s failure to gather an audience during its original three season stint between 2003 and 2006. The network gave it a fair crack, but this idiosyncratic comedy couldn’t attract more than the proverbial handful of dedicated followers.

It wasn’t that the show was too clever or highbrow, just that it required commitment. Most popular sitcoms allow you to dip in and out casually, with the majority of the jokes being explicitly and verbally expressed; ‘there’s the uptight one getting annoyed by the lazy one, then the one with the great one-liners is about to deliver a great one-liner’. On AD, Ron Howard’s title-sequence narration spelt out the basic premise of the Enron-style downfall of a family-run construction firm (“And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together”), but the myriad of inter-related storylines were far from simple.

Arrested Development’s greatest triumph, and ultimately its downfall, was the abundance of call backs, in-jokes, pop culture references, and visual gags that required some serious concentration and, at times, remarkable recall from the viewer. I can’t think of a greater example of this interweaving than in the second season episode ‘Good Grief’. In fact, I’m going to have to assume that you’ve already seen it, as to try and explain the set-up of this episode would take 5000 words alone.

The episode opens on G.O.B (Will Arnett) asking Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) “Did you see the new Poof?”. Michael thinks G.O.B is referring to the company’s new homosexual employee Gary, rather than the magician’s industry magazine. G.O.B didn’t even realise Gary was gay (which makes the flashback where he tells Gary he would “kill for that ass” seem like a come-on), and is instead jealous of rival magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) making the cover of Poof by baking himself into a loaf of bread and then popping out of the resulting sandwich to feed the troops.

What makes this particular episode so strong though, is the way the entire Bluth family spend the majority of the episode in the same plot strand. Ice (who bounty hunts to support his real passion of party planning) arrives with news that George Snr has been killed in a Mexican jail. That this is proven by a political cartoon showing George being lowered into a ‘cornballer machine’ shows how deep the call backs go. The corn baller is a deep-fat fryer that George marketed in Mexico despite the US government banning it as hugely unsafe. To really find this funny you would need to have seen a particular episode in the first season, and that’s the point you realise why the casual viewers didn’t stay.

George Snr’s body hasn’t been recovered, but G.O.B spots an opportunity to “get in this Poof” declaring “I will be my father’s body”. His fake burial at George Snr’s wake is one of the crowning moments of the series. Standing atop a mound of earth, he dismisses the rest of his family, ”the speeches we have heard today are nothing more than words, but I will prove I loved my father more than anybody”, and proceeds to dance and pose to a gothic version of Europe’s The Final Countdown’. Again, hilarious if you’ve seen G.O.B perform magic before, but probably slightly bewildering if not.

In Good Grief we also get Michael in a less-than perfect light. In most episodes he is the grounded character, a beacon of sanity in a world populated by magicians, analrapists (Tobias Funke, the world’s first analyst-therapist), and Carl Weathers. However his son’s relationship with Ann Veal brings out the worst in him, frequently referring to her as Egg (after he once saw her eat an egg) and at one point telling George Michael that the love they share is “as Ann as the nose on plain’s face”.

I could reel off a whole list of brilliant moments from this episode. Buster telling the family that “Army had half-a-day” while trying to hide the fact that he hasn’t actually joined the army; George Michael’s eulogy to the man that he’s hiding in the attic; Maeby trying to set her mum up with Ice so that she can get divorced from her parents: “All Pop-Pop ever wanted was to see you with another man besides Daddy”.

But it isn’t just the funny lines, it also has the subtle details that are sometimes only spotted during (numerous) repeat viewings. Since this is the Peanuts episode, most of the male characters do the Charlie Brown head-down walk to ‘Christmas Time is Here’, while a Christmas Tree and a kennel with a dog lying on top can be spotted in the background of one scene. The Bluth Banana Stand has a sign saying “The Frozen Banana Maker is…OUT” in exactly the same format as Lucy’s psychiatrist stand.

Love this show with all your heart, and it will love you back.

Hopefully Arrested Development has found the perfect home on Netflix. It won’t need to worry about ratings, and people can discover it at their leisure. Then inevitably binge on an entire season over a weekend once they get obsessed with it.

Taste the happy!

Arrested Development Season 4 is available to stream on all Netflix regions from Sunday 26th May. 

A Decade In Film: The Noughties – 2001

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

As this is podcaster Gerry’s own idea, he’s nabbed the noughties. In this article, he talks about his favourite films from the year we were supposed to have a Space Odyssey, 2001.

5. Donnie Darko

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I’m going to make an admission before we get started. This one made the list to annoy James, because he hates it and was disgusted that I didn’t like Amelie enough to include it on here (spoiler alert). On this last point by the way, I intend to watch it again as it’s a number of years since I watched it as a teenager and I suspect I might think differently on it now.

Anyhoo, the film that launched Jake Gylenhaal’s career is a moody 80s teenage tale about a young lad who imagines (or does he?) a 6 foot bunny rabbit called Frank, which adds to his already complicated life. Donnie, you see, is already seeing a psychiatrist and struggles to get on with his family, as well as struggling (like we all did) to get things moving with fellow oddball Gretchen who he has somehow managed to date. Richard Kelly explores time travel and mental illness with this cult classic debut, whose success he has never managed to match since either as a writer or director. This is the part where James rants about how deliberately indie this film is but it’s a bit more thoughtful than most teen films and, as a young teen, really hit a chord with me. It straddles genres and tones but somehow makes it work in my eyes – plus it has a deliciously creepy turn from Patrick Swayze. Captures the 80s vibe brilliantly as well as the stifling nature of suburban life which makes it a winner already but the outstanding soundtrack rounds things off nicely.

4. The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo)

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Guillermo Del Toro’s chilling ghost story is apparently inspired by his own experiences of his uncle’s reincarnation as a ghost. How true this is remains to be proven, but it is certainly filled with a sense of history and realism that adds to the thrills. A dream combination for me in terms of cast (Marisa Paredes, one of Spain’s finest actresses of all time) and crew (Del Toro directing, the Almodóvar brothers producing), this film has all the makings of a classic on paper. It duly delivers. Spine-chillingly brilliant, it tells the story of 12 year old Carlos as he settles into a remote orphanage in the closing stages of the Spanish Civil War. The Nationalist forces are closing in on them although the only signs of this are an undetonated bomb sticking out of the ground and Carlos’ being there at all – his father died in the conflict – as the film eschews portrayal of the conflict itself, instead using it as a backdrop, a pervasive feeling of dread and impending doom that permeates every scene.

Podcast regulars will know of my passion for this period in history (the subject of my Masters), this director and particularly his film Pan’s Labyrinth, which Del Toro describes as the ‘sister’ to this film, the ‘brother’ in the sibling relationship. Indeed, this is an exploration of a young boy’s grappling with how horrendous the real world is in much the same way as Pan’s explores a young girl’s struggles in this regard. To the filmmakers’ credit, the ghost story is often rather secondary to the very human drama and this is most certainly a far cry from the average Hollywood horror. Utterly tremendous. So tremendous in fact that just writing this article has made me decide to watch it again tonight.

3. A Beautiful Mind

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Russell Crowe was number one in my last list and he is outstanding again here as John Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician whose brilliant intellect is unfortunately coupled with rather fragile mental health. Beginning with Nash enrolling at Princeton as an implausibly old-looking student and following his life and career, this is more than a simple biopic. Ron Howard manages to craft an engaging and exciting drama to go alongside excellent examinations of the characters and mental illness in general, as John’s grip on reality becomes less and less firm. There is a sense of genuine care and affection for the material throughout and the cast, including excellent performances from Ed Harris and Paul Bettany, keep the film grounded and engaging. Crowe is absolutely outstanding though and his keenly observed depiction of John Nash, who he met during filming, is consistently wonderful. This is no doubt in part due to the fact that the film was shot sequentially, so Crowe could maintain a sense of steady decline and progress further and further into Nash’s mental illness.

This film speaks to something in me that I can’t quite put my finger on, with Crowe’s emotional turmoil and despair often really affecting me (something films don’t do all that much to me to be honest – I’m half dead inside when it comes to celluloid). The recurring theme of love is dealt with in an even-handed way, building to a deeply emotional ending. A thoughtful exploration of mental illness from a big Hollywood director with a big Hollywood star (who the year before was iconic as Gladiator Maximus, let’s not forget) – who’dathunkit? Yes I know that lots of unsavoury elements of Nash’s life were left out (including homosexual affairs, which were left out to avoid mistaken connections between homosexuality and schizophrenia) but this remains an outstanding film. Even Roger Ebert says so.

2. Monsters, Inc.

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I didn’t get round to watching Monsters Inc until a few years ago, largely because I was at that stage where you feel too old to watch kids films and can’t appreciate them in the same way you do as an adult. What an error. The story of Mike and Sully, two monsters whose job is to scare children to generate power, and Boo – a child who wanders back into Monstropolis, where the monsters are in fact terrified of her thanks to their fear of being contaminated by a child. Pete Docter, the bizarre-looking genius who would later direct Up and write Wall-E, stepped up to directing this having written the first two Toy Story films. He got it bang on.

Visually stunning and setting new standards in animation (frames with Sulley in took around 12 hours to render due to his 2.3 million individually animated strands of hair), Monsters Inc is also brilliantly written. The most outstanding feature however is the voice talent. Unusually, John Goodman and Billy Crystal recorded together, as did Steve Buscemi and Frank Oz – see what I mean about voice talent? Crystal, as an aside, lobbied for this part after turning down a part in Toy Story, calling it the biggest regret of his career. Equally fascinating and reflective of the dedication to innovation at Pixar, the actress who played Boo was so authentically young that she would wander around rather than stand at a mic and perform her lines. Pixar simply followed her around with a microphone as she played, giving her speech a joyfully authentic feeling.

That joy and enthusiasm for childhood, evident in all Pixar’s films, saturates every frame of this. We’ve come to expect the attention to detail and cool trivia (numerous Toy Story references feature, as does Nemo two years before that film was finished. Oh and the pizza planet truck is in the shot of the trailer at the end, the same trailer from A Bug’s Life. METAOVERLOAD) but this really confirmed that outside of Toy Story, Pixar still had a genuine talent for identifying what it feels like to be a kid and to depict that in such a way that the viewer can’t help but be drawn into a world of nostalgia and happiness. I am massively excited about the sequel currently in development and yet simultaneously terrified it will be shit.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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You knew this was coming. Don’t act like you didn’t. Peter Jackson’s epic saga kicked off with this and it was so outstanding, so visually lush, so joyously nerdish and cherishing of the source material, and so dramatically powerful that it seemed a certainty to clean up at the Oscars. As it was, despite thirteen nominations, LOTR won only (ONLY) four in technical categories, losing out to A Beautiful Mind for Best Picture and Best Director. That said, I prefer this film because despite its length, I feel it offers the most immersive cinematic experience since Star Wars. Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood weren’t big names beforehand but they certainly were after this, along with most of the cast. Ian McKellen is positively iconic as Gandalf and even Orlando Bloom manages to not be annoying for one of only two times in his film career (the other being Kingdom of Heaven). I’m reviewing this as if it’s the entire series because it is the basis for the two even better films that come after it and, despite being the ‘worst’ of the trilogy, was still the best film of the year.

I know a lot of people find it too long or boring or nerdy or whatever but frankly, I don’t care. This is an epic journey in the same tradition that stretches back through human history, a thoroughly British tale about fantastical worlds that is still universal (and helped boost New Zealand’s profile and economy considerably) thanks to its deeply human core. I have my reservations about The Hobbit but there is no doubting that this film is the beginning of a trilogy which sets the benchmark for epic drama. Plus, had this not been made in this way, would we have Game of Thrones on TV in a grand scale? I think not. And Game of Thrones is fucking awesome. So there.