Tag Archives: Russell Crowe

Front Row with Owen and Paul: Nice Guys?

Front Row Logo

It was a podcast that began just like any other podcast. Two guys, Owen Hughes and Paul Rutland, sat around a microphone, speaking into it. They opened the show with an intro. It recapped what was in the upcoming penultimate episode. Everything was there, as normal; a sports round-up, roll the dice, the latest film reviews. You name it. If you wanted it, they had it.

It was then that I began to get suspicious. Where was the music? What happened to last week’s roll-the-dice section? Why was I talking as if in the opening segment of a noir movie?

And then it hit me.

This was the week that Owen finally got to review the eagerly awaited Shane Black crime-noir comedy, The Nice Guys. And boy, did he love it!

Paul, on the other hand, had no idea who Shane Black was or why Owen was so excited about it, so instead led the sports round-up, including: A short tribute to the late, great Muhammad Ali; Andy Murray’s French Open failure; as well as a brief introduction to Friday’s European Championship kick-off in France.

In other news, with Bucks101 Radio over for the term and still experiencing technical issues, this week’s podcast (and next week’s final episode in the series) was not originally broadcast on the radio. Therefore, there’s no playlist for this episode. Sorry.

However, Owen and Paul now have a new email address that you can contact them on at OwenAndPaulProductions@gmail.com – and in more exciting news, you can check out the latest trailer for their documentary on the YouTube clip below. You can look forward to seeing the full documentary when it’s released on Friday.

After you’ve listened to Front Row, of course…

Right click to download the episode as an mp3

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The Nice Guys

the nice guys

“Hey man, that girl in your trunk? She was in that car.”

Almost three decades ago, Shane Black all but invented the buddy comedy when he wrote Lethal Weapon and unleashed Riggs and Murtaugh on the world. One of the most famous – and most infamous – action-comedy duos would propel Black into a string of writing jobs where he would hone his craft.

When it finally came time to make the jump to directing, his debut would of course be one of his own scripts – and it was going to be a buddy comedy. In 2005, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang was almost universally adored and with Marvel tapping the man to helm Post-Avengers set Iron Man 3, he is as close to a household name as a cult film screenwriter has ever been.

Not one to rest on his laurels and take it easy, Shane Black is using his new-found status to get some of his own writing on the big screen to be noticed. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Nice Guys.

Los Angeles, 1977. Days after the death of a well known porn star, hapless private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired by the actress’ aunt, convinced that she’s seen her alive, to track her down. When he finds himself on the trail of young activist Amelia (The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley) he also finds himself on the wrong end of paid enforcer Jackson Healy’s (Russell Crowe) uncanny skill for violently persuading people off of whatever course they happen to be on.

When Amelia suddenly disappears, the unlikely pair find themselves forced to work together and wade through the seedy underbelly of LA to find her; unravel the truth behind the growing collection of bodies that seem to be following them around and try desperately not to end up at the top of that pile of corpses themselves.

Now, some films like to think they’re funny and fail miserably. Some films want to tell a story and never quite seem to keep me interested enough to have me care about it. The beauty of a film like The Nice Guys is that it hits a perfect sweet-spot of really cool story, told brilliantly; and a perfectly paired up couple of polar opposites that get a steady stream of laughs as one hapless detective becomes two.

Headlining our fun little noir crime caper, in unlikely comedic turns for both, are all-but-typecast hard-man Russell Crowe as investigator/leg-breaker Healy – the stereotypical tough guy loner who may (or may not) have a heart of gold – along with his unwitting partner, Ryan Gosling’s equally unlikely funny-turn as the stumbling, bumbling, private eye who moonlights as a single dad to a mouthy, attitude filled teenage girl.

Supported by a pretty stellar cast including Matt Bomer as the hired clean-up guy; Keith David just being Keith David as a long-in-the-tooth heavy sent to beat on Healey; and Kim Basinger popping in for a few scenes and getting to play a high up police official for a bit. All of them come together to give an outstanding overall performance, but are almost completely outshined by relative unknown Angourie Rice as March’s teenage daughter, Holly; a girl whose smarts equal that of any of those she shares the screen with, but has more balls than any of them. She’s just outstanding and a ton of fun to watch.

70’s Los Angeles has been created beautifully, with plenty of subtle – and not so subtle – things to say about the way the world is today. The nuts political landscape in the States, climate change, and I’m sure if I actually understood how the entire city of Detroit went bankrupt a couple of years back, I’d get the point that was being made about the American auto industry. But as it is, I know our writer is poking at someone or some thing. I just don’t get what or who. What makes it great though, is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to get all the little nuances to thoroughly enjoy the film.

To say that Shane Black has found a nice soft chair right in the middle of his comfort zone would, without context, seem a little damning. But the fact is, he has long been the master of the buddy comedy, so he’s throwing the big punches that brought him to this fight and he’s throwing them perfectly. All those years hanging around the pros has given Mr. Black all the experience he needs and in only his third outing as a director has more than proven his ability to stand with the big boys. He delivers The Nice Guys with a precision of pace usually reserved for much more seasoned veterans, without compromising the story or the dialogue that once made him the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood.

The film doesn’t break any new ground, certainly not for its director. When you see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘s noir crime setting, The Last Boy Scout‘s ballsy teenage daughter and, frankly, every great buddy cop movie since 1987 – to name just a couple of the more obvious nods – The Nice Guys feels like you’re watching Shane Black’s greatest hits in one two-hour film.

But man, if you’re going to watch the best bits of someone’s Hollywood career, there aren’t many better to watch than his. I went in expecting a great film, well made, with a clever script and plenty of laughs – and that’s exactly what I got. A thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable film that I’ll gladly pay to go watch again.

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

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Happy New Year, everybody!  Over the last two days, I have shared with you the 10 films that stuck with me the most throughout 2014 for the right reasons.  Plaudits were thrown about, praises were slathered, and good times were had.  If you missed those articles, you can find them located here and here.  Today and tomorrow, though, I share with you the 10 films that stuck with me the most throughout 2014 for the wrong reasons.

I have never actually done a Bottom 10 list before.  As mentioned in the first of my Top 10 pieces, prior to this year I had to carefully select what films I went to see, but this year I could toss quality control out of the window and see everything.  Therefore, in the name of film criticism, I have seen a lot of total sh*t this past year.  However, this is not a list of the absolute worst made films of 2014.  Some of them are on here, but that is not what the list is about.  It’s too easy and not particularly interesting, especially since many of them are akin to shooting fish in a barrel with a blunderbuss machine gun.  I mean, are any of you at all surprised that Pudsey The Dog: The Movie turned out to be horrendous?

No, this list is a Bottom 10 and encompasses the films from 2014 that made me angry.  To get on this list, a film had to have left me with a strong negative reaction that did not go away after a short while.  These are the films that drew my anger, swallowed me in disappointment, offended my being in some way shape or form, or also represent everything that is wrong with filmmaking and the film industry today.  How much do these films deserve to be on this list?  Transcendence, Annie, Blended, and 300: Rise Of An Empire missed out on placements.

So, same rules apply here as they did for the Top 10, and same presentation style applies too – today, we count down #10 to #6.  If we’re all set, don your bile protection gear, don’t look directly into the films that are listed here, and ONWARDS, AOSHIMA!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


boyhood10] Boyhood

Dir: Richard Linklater

Star: Ellar Coltraine, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Again, this is not a list of the worst films of 2014.  I can name you at least 20 or so films that I saw that are worse than Boyhood.  No, Boyhood is on this list because, more so than any other film released in 2014, it annoyed me.  It confounded me, it irritated me, it baffled me, it enraged me, it majorly disappointed me, and these feelings have remained with me ever since I saw the film because people won’t shut the hell up about the goddamn thing and because we might as well FedEx all awards ever to its undeserving doorstep now to save time and money on postage.

Look, my seething distaste for Boyhood is very much equal parts it not being a very good film, and my own personal feelings and baggage.  Boyhood purports to be a look at the coming-of-age of a white, suburban, straight, middle-class male throughout the 2000s but does so in a way and tone that feels like it’s putting down the final word on the matter.  That this is how it was for everybody, that it’s making some giant statement about it all, especially since the film keeps throwing out philosophical sound bites and barely tolerable bullsh*t about how “the moment seizes you” and stuff.  It looks down from upon high and decrees “THIS IS WHAT BOYHOOD WAS LIKE IN THE 2000s” with absolutely no self-awareness or analysis of what it actually means to be that kind of privileged white, straight, middle-class male, which makes its declarative nature all the more insufferable.

“Oh, but Boyhood is a character piece!” I imagine many are trying to counter with right about now.  Problem with that argument is that the film fails at that, too.  Mason, Jr. is a non-entity.  I spent two hours and forty minutes in his company – watched him go through 12 years of life – and the most I learnt about him is that he possibly has a interest in photography, and that his actor grew up to resemble Ethan Hawke so much that I’m honestly not 100% certain that he’s not just a clone of Ethan Hawke.  I don’t know what makes him tick, I don’t know what his aspirations are, I don’t know how he progressed from his six year-old self to his eighteen year-old self.  He feels less like a character and more like a blank slate that either you’re supposed to project your own self onto or who is supposed to stand in for every white privileged guy ever.

“But the whole point of the movie is that your adolescence cannot be boiled down to big standout moments!  That’s why it skips Mason, Jr.’s first kiss, first job, rambunctious teenager phase, etc.!”  OK, so why does the entire first half of the film concern itself with the theme of being too young to truly understand how the world works?  Much of the film’s first half dedicates itself to the lives of Mason and Olivia, Mason, Jr. and Samantha’s parents, and the complicated nature of their various relationships, living arrangements and procession of step-parents as viewed through the eyes of children who will never truly understand why these things are happening.  That’s why there is this ridiculously cartoonishly delivered sequence where Olivia bolts with the kids away from her alcoholic and abusive new husband.  That is a major standout moment of somebody’s life, and its grand theatricality – not helped by Marco Perella swinging for the fences with his playing of that scene – goes against the low-key nature of the rest of the film.

Yet the film drops that theme at about the halfway mark and just ambles about aimlessly for its remaining runtime.  It’s maddening to see a film wilfully waste its potential and possible avenues of storytelling and thematic resonance at damn near every opportunity.  Patricia Arquette has been getting major praise for her role as Olivia and understandably so, she does great work, which makes it all the more infuriating that, despite being Mason, Jr.’s primary parent and guardian, the film repeatedly side-lines her in favour of even more screen time with Mason, Sr. in a bunch of scenes that eventually reduce themselves to just hitting the same beats over and over again.  Olivia gets an outstanding scene near the end where she breaks down as an uncaring Mason, Jr. gets the last of his stuff from her house about the passage of time, and of heavily implied regret for giving her life to him instead of living it for herself.  That scene is outstanding, which only makes it all the more infuriating that the film isn’t about her – the one character in the film with an arc, thematic resonance or f*cking something going on.

That’s ultimately what annoys me most about Boyhood, is the fact that it has nothing going on besides its “shot over 12 years” gimmick.  It is a film with no central character, no consistent thematic arc, and nothing interesting to say because it actively steers itself away from having anything interesting to say.  I get the feeling that Linklater started this project with a real passion and desire, only for that to fade away from him as the years progressed, eventually becoming more of an obligation than anything he was seriously interested in working on – the film gets lazier and lazier, just drifting through its last forty minutes with no drive except for some half-assed pseudo-philosophical rambling (very much like a teenager).  Linklater is better than this, he has consistently proven over the last 12 years that he is a better filmmaker than this, and that’s why Boyhood disappoints me so.  It’s a pointless, muddled, dreary slog of a film that also touches on something real and honest infrequently enough to make its bungling of everything even more irritating.

Also, its last scene is one of the worst and most aggravating that I have seen all year, and the film managed to make me hate Arcade Fire for a good two hours after I left the cinema.


09] Let’s Be Copslet's be cops

Dir: Luke Greenfield

Star: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr.

Let’s Be Cops is not the worst comedy of 2014 – that honour goes to Sex Tape, since that barely qualifies as a film, let alone a comedy.  It is not the most offensive comedy of 2014 – that honour goes to Blended.  It is also not the most disappointing comedy of 2014 – A Million Ways To Die In The West – or the most pointless – Horrible Bosses 2 – or the biggest pile of evidence that we should stop allowing British people to make comedies – Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie.  What Let’s Be Cops is, and why it is on this list instead of the far more deserving Sex Tape, is the most perfect encapsulation of everything that is currently wrong with the American feature-length comedy movie.

2014 has been a pretty miserable year for out-and-out comedies.  Of the many, many, many comedies released these past 12 months, only two were actually any good – Bad Neighbours (which came this close to cracking my Top 20) and 22 Jump Street (which had a very good chance of actually cracking the Top 10 if I had managed to watch it again before list-making time) – the rest were either diverting but pointless, or just plain torture to sit through.  I realise that every year has maybe two great straight comedies – a number that’s bumped up to four if you include comedy-dramas or black comedies – and a whole load of tripe surrounding them, but you’ll have to forgive me for being disappointed that an increased number of releases this year led to the same number of hits compared to misses.

The American comedy is currently stale, and Let’s Be Cops is such a grab-bag text of all of its worst impulses that I’m honestly still not sure that it wasn’t intentional – a desire to make a comedy I can point to for all aspiring comedy filmmakers and go “You see that?  Don’t do that.”  A loose rambling structure that sacrifices these things we call “set-ups” and “punchlines” in favour of dropping talented comedians with decent chemistry into scenarios and praying that they can improv up enough gold to fill out the runtime, direction and scene set-ups that are dull and interchangeable, editing that doesn’t know when to stop a scene, a needlessly stretched out runtime that gets way too close to two hours, genuinely funny material being beaten into the ground or stretched so thin that the entire enterprise feels endless, a casually tossed off sexist attitude towards women, a final third where the jokes are dropped completely because apparently only Phil Lord & Chris Miller know how to make plot funny anymore…

Let’s Be Cops also has the extra dead albatross of being released in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri which have sparked off an additional nationwide conversation about police brutality, racism and militarisation of the police force, adding an extra layer of awkward tastelessness to jokes like our two leads playfully brandishing their loaded guns at each other in a public restaurant.  But, honestly, that’s the least of its problems.  Let’s Be Cops could have used its premise to explore and ask tough questions about the current state of the police force in 21st century America, but it didn’t have to and it’s not automatically lesser for not doing so – there’s nothing wrong with a silly comedy and at no point did either of the Jump Street movies use their cop-comedy premises for social satire.  What is inexcusable, though, is the sheer laziness and half-assery of the film’s entire construction.  This is soulless, paint-by-numbers filmmaking where the only people trying are its two stars, which only serves to make them look desperate.

Again, Let’s Be Cops is not the worst comedy of the year – holy hell, is Sex Tape ever an appalling train wreck – but it is a perfect distillation of everything that is currently wrong with the comedy genre.  This trend of foisting near-laugh-free scripts on talented actors with lightning chemistry and expecting them to do all the heavy lifting with endless improv needs to stop.  I don’t care that the majority of today’s movie star comedians and comediennes come with an improv background; there is a never a better substitute for tight editing and a raucous script stuffed to the brim with proper jokes from start to finish.  Bad Neighbours got that, 22 Jump Street got that, why can’t anything else get that?


new york winters tale08] A New York Winter’s Tale

Dir: Akiva Goldsman

Star: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown-Findlay

That’s right, folks.  A film that I declared back in February to have been “one of the worst films that I have ever seen” is only #8 on my Bottom 10 of 2014.  And, honestly, it’s really only here out of some sort of obligation.  Oh, sure, A New York Winter’s Tale is pure garbage of the highest order, but it’s a film that I have warmed to since then, probably because it, unlike a lot of the tripe populating this list, at least is completely sincere in its attempts to be good.  Therefore, although I hated it at the time, I don’t hate it with the same ferocity that I once did.  Not anymore, I feel like I have moved on from it.

Again, though, that doesn’t stop A New York Winter’s Tale from being a complete and total failure on every single conceivable level of filmmaking.  The dialogue is atrocious, the plot is nonsense, it looks dreadful in both the practical sense – of set design, shot composition, costumes, hairpieces and such – and the computer-generated sense, it boasts atrocious performances from everybody involved, it is paced like a marathon populated by narcoleptics, its attempts at thematic resonance and foreshadowing are quite literally laughable…  I’m honestly not sure what’s more inadvertently hilarious, the movie or the fact that a former Oscar winner convinced Village Roadshow Pictures to give him $60 million and several talented high profile actors to give several weeks of their lives to filming this piece of guff.

The plot powering this guff – based on a novel I haven’t read but is apparently, by all accounts, nowhere near as rubbish as this – centres around Colin Farrell as a potential miracle maker who was raised and then hunted by a demon, played by Russell Crowe, legitimately named Pearly Soames (real name, not the gender-flipped version of Pearl from Spongebob Squarepants), who works for Lucifer, played by Will Smith (an incredibly sleepy and checked out Will Smith, before you get excited and, yes, it is problematic that the one major black guy in the film is playing Satan).  It turns out that Colin Farrell’s miracle is to apparently cure a young woman’s terminal tuberculosis through the power of love, whilst Pearly (real name) hunts the pair down with murderous intentions cos Lucifer don’t like any sunshine or kittens getting out into the world, thank you kindly.

See, this all sounds like the most enjoyable nonsense, a “So Bad, It’s Good” of epic proportions.  Yet, whilst I was watching the thing, I didn’t find it funny because it is so po-facedly earnestly serious about its stupid endeavour that any fun to be had at its ridiculous awfulness was lost.  This was a film with a Pegasus, a ridiculous pace-killing near-century time-skip, and a sequence in which somebody is quite literally f*cked to death, and all I could do was check my watch, yawn and question whether walking out would be preferable to continuing to submit myself to the thing – although I did laugh at the reveal of the Pegasus, mostly because it looks like what you’d get if you asked a 5 year-old to recreate the Tri-Star logo in MS Paint in the next 30 minutes.

But I no longer hate A New York Winter’s Tale.  I did, once upon a time, enough to write a long-winded and pretty funny review (if you’ll allow me one of my five annual tootings of my own horn) tearing the thing to shreds, but no more.  I have made my peace with this film’s existence.  If I were to ever see it again – preferably in the company of friends, drunk on soda of various kinds, during a Bad Movie Night – I’d probably be able to crack wise at the thing effortlessly and have myself a gay old time.  It is still one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my 20 years of existence, but as previously mentioned this is not a Worst Movies of 2014 list.  Therefore, A New York Winter’s Tale stalls out at #8.  The bile saved from this can instead be deployed on other, more deserving films, such as…


07] Transformers: Age Of Extinctiontransformers 4

Dir: Michael Bay

Star: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci

This one is just as much my own goddamn stupid fault as it is the film in question.  I stupidly – and it is stupidly, there is no other word or reasoning to make this alright – let a part of me become somewhat hopeful that this time things would be different.  The Transformers series, under the creative direction and influence of these people, gave me absolutely no reason to believe that it could produce anything great or even worth my time.  Yet, a part of me was allowed to be quietly optimistic.  After bottoming out with Revenge Of The Fallen, Dark Of The Moon took the series’ first tentative steps towards being a good movie – it wasn’t one, but it was on the path to at least being entertaining – and 2013’s underrated Pain & Gain proved to me that Michael Bay hadn’t forgotten how to make movies.  So a part of me got a little hopeful; this time, things were going to be different.

They weren’t.  They weren’t at all.  Age Of Extinction is a regression back to all of the same toxic sh*t that Transformers, Revenge Of The Fallen and to a lesser extent Dark Of The Moon had peddled beforehand, only now even more bloated and expanded and epic-ised (which isn’t even a real word but was likely a direction used for scene prep at some point during this thing’s production) to levels that make the resulting product an endurance test instead of anything that anybody could find entertaining.  Casual racism, creepy paedophilic undertones, an actively hateful bordering on misogynist view of women, product placement – including product placement for The People’s Republic of China despite current world events making that one of the most tone-deaf things one could do – abysmally directed and incomprehensible action, active wasting of interesting themes, and an utterly awful Imagine Dragons song – which is a step down from Linkin Park.

And in other news, the sun rose today, the sky is blue, and George Clooney is an incredibly sexy man.  Look, I get that we have all collectively realised that the Transformers movies are abhorrent pieces of trash and that their continued financial success will be one of life’s big mysteries.  Age Of Extinction’s appearance on this list is that barrel full of fish that I mentioned earlier, but sometimes really obvious fish need shooting for a reason and this metaphor has broken down.  Point is, Age Of Extinction is a reminder that there are people out there who have nothing but contempt for the movie going audience.  Who believe that they can push out thoughtless, stupid, toxic crap and that people will show up to buy it because the explosions are big and shiny and purdy.  There is always room for big dumb action films – the Fast & Furious franchise is beloved for a reason, after all – but those are films that do so with glee, joy and smartness, as crafting a good big dumb action film takes actual effort.

Age Of Extinction is not that film.  It is a cynical, joyless, mindless exercise whose sole reason for its existence is to line Paramount Pictures executives’ pockets with more money.  And I went into it stupidly thinking that it wouldn’t be.  People went to see this and not Edge Of Tomorrow, and, thanks specifically to China, we will be suffering through two more of these sh*tfests.  Well done, everyone.  Sterling job.


906429 - The Amazing Spider-Man 206] The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Dir: Marc Webb

Star: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx

We are in the middle of a full-on comic book boom at the cinema.  Now, admittedly, we’ve been in one since the early 2000s when Spider-Man, X-Men and Blade were ruling the box office, but we’re really in the midst of one.  Every studio has, or is attempting to cultivate, their own comic book empire out of the materials that Marvel Studios hasn’t already swallowed up, everybody is trying to serialise everything, and Marvel this year dictated the exact days in which I need to sit my ass down in a cinema for the next five years.  This boom will bust out eventually, but things are looking good for now.

They won’t look so good for very long, however, if studios keep pumping out films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  This one was a time-bomb, folks.  As you may have gathered from my original review, I strongly disliked the film but I didn’t hate it at the time – I thought I’d found a couple of redeeming factors and let the potential of the series dilute some of my venom for it.  But then it sat in head.  And sat.  And sat.  And, for at least three months afterwards, it wouldn’t leave because myself and my friends kept finding more and more wrong with it the more we let it settle.  We found new problems – like the incredibly poor pacing and structural mess that robs anything of any resonance – whilst old problems – the incredibly creepy and borderline sexist crap with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, Peter’s problem of him being a giant dick – were found to be even more systemic and problematic.

In the end, though, it all comes back to this simple fact: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a film.  It is a commercial for the next film, and also a Sinister Six film that literally nobody was ever asking for.  This is not a film that was made by a cast and crew with a vision, a story to tell, and the drive and passion to pull it off.  This was a film ham-fistedly dictated by a studio for the sole purpose of forcing a franchise and making a lot of money because, “Yo!  Those kids loves them some Spider-Man!  I spies dollar signs, boys!”  There is no narrative reason for this film to exist, there is no thematic reason for this film to exist; this is a film that exists because Sony saw that Marvel Studios have made Scrooge McDuck-money with their franchises and shared universe continuity and wanted that green without actually having to do the work necessary to earn it.

Do you know why Marvel can unveil concrete dates for a five-year plan of films and the only negative thing it does to us is make us contemplate our own fragile mortality?  It’s because they, first and foremost, tell stories.  Each film so far, despite this shared-universe thing and their franchising and sequelising and such, works as a film on its own.  They tell complete stories, have effort and craft put into them, and each of them exist because, or give a good enough illusion, somebody wanted to tell a story, first and foremost.  Are they often still safe, less groundbreaking and risky than they appear, and mandated by the producers at the studio?  Well, yes, undoubtedly, but the films are great and satisfying and fun and have real effort put in that I really don’t care.

Marvel Studios, essentially, have earned my trust, and near everyone else’s trust, in this grand experiment because they have proven first and foremost that their movies are worth the commercial avenues that they will be taken down.  Sony don’t want to wait for that trust and have forced the Spider-Man license through the most cynical, money-driven, bereft-of-ideas ringer they could get their hands on, and practically every problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can be traced back to a studio wanting their money now and not thinking through, or putting any effort whatsoever into, a single one of the film’s creative decisions.  When people disparage comic book movies and serialisation of movies, this is what they are referring to and I shiver at the possibility that I will be seeing more Amazing Spider-Man 2s in the coming future.

Sony, just torch the franchise and negotiate with Marvel.  Please?  It’s clearly been more trouble for you than it’s worth.  Just wash your hands of this game and move on.  For all of us.


Well, we’ve made it halfway through the list.  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I was being too harsh/not harsh enough on some of these?  Let me know in the comments below!  Tomorrow, we wrap up this week with the absolute bottom of the barrel.  Brace yourselves…

Callum Petch only dreams in black and white.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Snowpiercer, Noah, and Ray Winstone’s Floaty Head

Noah Ray WinstoneWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, where once again Carole Petts has stepped into the rather large James-shaped breach at the last minute.

Join us as we discuss Darren Aronosfsky’s biblical epic, Noah, as well as the long-awaited Korean sci-fi classic-in-waiting Snowpiercer. Owen and Steve also come close to tearing out their own eyes as they remember watching Movie 43 like it was ‘Nam.

James promises he will return next week, and considering we’ll be reviewing The Raid 2 we wouldn’t bet against that.

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A New York Winter’s Tale

ANewYorkWintersTaleCroweA New York Winter’s Tale is a prolonged piece of deadpan anti-comedy.  The problems being that it’s not supposed to be and that it’s achingly, miserably dull.

by Callum Petch

A New York Winter’s Tale is fucking awful.  It is so fucking awful that I feel justified in using the phrase “fucking awful”.  Not “f*cking awful”, in my continuing attempts to keep my work at a PG level, not “frakkin’ awful”, in my continuing attempts to keep that PG rating and basically scream “LOOK AT ME, I AM SUCH A NERD ON THE INTERNET, NOTICE ME” at the top of my lungs.  No.  It is fucking awful.  At the 1 hour mark, which is just over the halfway point of this near two hour exercise in unbearably earnest philosophical romanticised wank, I strongly considered leaving the cinema.  I have never walked out of a film playing in the cinema and only once turned off a first-time-viewing of a movie because it sucked horrendously (Disaster Movie, if you’re wondering), and A New York Winter’s Tale came this close to beating me.  I didn’t, more due to the principle of the thing, but the thought was seriously rattling around my brain.  I could have left, snuck into another screen and saw The Lego Movie again instead, but I didn’t because I wasn’t going to let fucking A New York Winter’s Tale be the film to beat me.

And yet, even with that knowledge and the possibility that it may already be the year’s absolute worst film (although we do still have Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie to come, so it’s early days on that front), my task of reviewing A San Diego Summer’s Story is one fraught with difficulty and peril.  See, under no circumstances should you see this film, but the problem is that I will have to describe the story, a story so batshit insane that people have been incarcerated in mental institutions for less, and I can almost guarantee that you will be compelled to give it a shot after hearing it; whether that be due to ironic appreciation for its dumbness, bile fascination or legitimate interest and excitement.  And I am here to tell you, from the bottom of my heart and with the utmost sincerity, that to act on that compulsion and pay the people involved in the creation of this film money would be a really fucking dumb thing to do; almost as dumb as this film is.

The fact of the matter is that I could happily sit here and tear this film a new one for all manner of things that don’t revolve around the story of the film.  The acting, for example, is atrocious across the board: Colin Farrell looks permanently lost and confused, Russell Crowe delivers the majority of his lines like he’s suffering from the onset of a stroke, Jennifer Connelly seems to be 10 seconds away from firing her agent, and Will Smith (yes, Will Smith is in this fi-STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE AND KEEP READING) does an excellent impersonation of Will Smith on the other end of a phone call at 3am in the morning.  Oh, and there are at least three precocious child actresses running about the place delivering the abysmal dialogue in as precisely a melodramatic “I AM ACTING, LOOK AT MY ACTING, CAN YOU TELL HOW HARD I AM ACTING COS I AM ALL THE ACTING” fashion as you’re imagining.  Oh, sorry, my mistake.  There are only two precocious child actresses running about the place.  The third is Jessica Brown Findlay but she’s acting at the kids’ level, mind.

Oh, there’s also the CGI and effects in general!  Fun Fact: this film cost $60 million to make.  You wouldn’t be able to tell, mind, considering the fact that the film’s Pegasus (yes, this film has a peg-SIT THE FUCK DOWN AND FINISH READING) looks like it was ripped straight from the music video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” with wings that look like someone got bored halfway through implementing the CG and somehow successfully passed off their laziness by going “But it looks so much cooler that way!” to their superiors.  And do not get me started on the exceedingly cheap and fake lens flare.  We’re talking JJ Abrams levels of egregious lens fares, here, except that he actually works to make it look like they’re coming from the scene; instead of being inserted in post-production and looking like somebody spilt caramel all over various parts of the film.

There’s also the overly-maudlin and manipulative score that strains so badly to tug on at least one of your heartstrings that Keane are, as I type these words, working out a way to incorporate parts of it into their next album, but it’s time I stopped beating around the bush.  I have to talk about the story and the plot and the first hour of this film.  And, yes, I have to talk about the first hour of this film here because it’s near impossible to talk about the film otherwise.  See, the marketing has positioned A Nottingham Spring’s Folly as a tale of forbidden romance that somehow transcends two centuries.  Except that they’ve hidden a key element and, again, I guarantee that, when I tell you what that element is, you will abandon all common sense and try to see this film despite mounting evidence that you really, really shouldn’t.

Therefore, I am throwing up the Spoiler Warning and the “Have Common Sense and Don’t Go See This Movie No Matter What You May Read About It After This Warning” Warning now.  I will not spoil anything outside of that first hour but the rest?  Fair game, but that’s only because A Scunthorpe Fall’s Urban Legend is a slow burner.  A really, really slow burner and it takes a full hour for it to fully reveal its setup, like it thinks it’s some kind of big mystery worth preserving.  Again, unfortunately, the film is impossible to talk about otherwise.  So, again, Spoiler Warning and Don’t Be An Idiot And See This Movie No Matter What You Think Of What You’re About To Read Warning are in effect.  Proceed with caution.

So.  The story.  A Cape Town Autumn’s Blood-Writing-On-The-Walls Warning follows Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) who we first meet as a baby when his family get turned away from immigrating to Manhattan.  Determined to leave their child behind in New York (for… your guess is as good as mine), they sneak him back into Manhattan on their boat ride out by stuffing him into a tiny model ship and pushing it towards the docks.  This, by the way, occurs whilst the film spoils its other twist for you and a voiceover dumps out pseudo-philosophical bullcrap about how everything is connected and destiny and fates and all that.  But, in any case, the film then jumps ahead 30 years to 1914 and we meet Peter again.  He’s a thief, on the run from a gangster played by Russell Crowe called Pearly Soames (no, really, that’s his name) for reasons that… you know, I think the film just goes “because he’s evil” and leaves it at that.  Other than an alleged betrayal by Peter, the film never seems to give a reason why Pearly (again, that’s his real name) has this extreme vendetta against him.

Anyways, Peter escapes by commandeering a horse that actually turns out to be a guardian angel disguised as a Pegasus.  See, it turns out that Pearly (again, real name that people signed off on in an allegedly serious film) and his gangster associate underlings are demons.  Agents of chaos working for Lucifer (played by… sigh, yes, Will Smith) who have made it their eternal life’s mission to kill off potential miracle makers before they turn into angels because they’re demons what you want more of an explanation?  Anyways, Peter finds himself drawn to, by the universe, a dying woman by the name of Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) and it seems like the miracle that the universe has insisted he perform is that of saving her life.  By falling in love with her.  After she catches him breaking into her house, as all great love stories begin.  Of course, this being a tale of forbidden love, Pearly (again, actual name that graced a best-selling book) and his goons are hot on their heels.  And by “hot on their heels”, I mean “there’s like a 35 minute window straight after the conflict is set up where nothing happens and Russell Crowe grimaces a lot”.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Callum, I saw The Adjustment Bureau and I thought it was alright, but the romance was a waste of a golden concept.  Nevertheless, I am more than willing to stomach another tale of forbidden romance for the chance to see angels and demons fighting each other and also WILL SMITH IS LUCIFER HOW CAN I PASS THAT UP?”  Well, firstly, there are no fight scenes between angels and demons, sorry to get your hopes up.  But, I admit, the premise sounds like prime “So Bad, It’s Good” material.  The kind of terrible film you love to watch to snark at repeatedly and violently.  This, again, is a film that, in the first five minutes, has two characters smuggle our lead into the country in a model ship for no discernable reason.  Except that there’s one thing keeping this from being some kind of Andy Kaufman-esque piece of deliberate, straight-faced anti-comedy: it’s dull.  It is endlessly, crushingly, miserably dull.

Oh, sure, it’s not to start with.  Again, I guffawed like a madman at the image of a baby in a model ship floating towards the New York harbour.  I tried really hard to suppress my tittering when Beverly started earnestly talking about her belief in light connecting every living being.  I reflexively let out a huge laugh when Pearly (again, his real name, not a cross-gender version of Pearl from Spongebob Squarepants) murders a waiter for no reason other than to reveal to the viewer that he’s a demon.  And, of course, there was some kind of strange noise meant to represent disbelief that emanated from me at the Pegasus reveal.  Here’s the problem: that’s where the film stops being funny.  Like, it’s so committed to its world and so committed to being this big grandiose statement about the power of love, goodness and righteous virtue and so committed to being so po-faced serious about the whole ordeal (even when it has a scene in which Will Smith as Lucifer rants about being stuck in a mortal body and how he hates sunshine and lollipops and new-born babies and all that jazz) that it stops being fun to laugh at.  It’s so committed that it just becomes sad.

And if you were coming to this film seriously, as in you were looking for a grand old inspiring tale of romance for the ages, well I’m afraid that you’re shit out of luck in that department.  Despite the film stopping to a halt for about 30 minutes so that it can truly sell you on the romance that Peter and Beverly have, it doesn’t work at all.  Farrell and Findlay have no chemistry, the dialogue between the pair is atrocious (Peter genuinely says, when he’s questioned by Beverly as to what the favourite thing he’s stolen is, “I’m beginning to think I haven’t stolen it yet”), and both of them decide they love each other totally despite only having known each other for about 48 hours by the time Pearly (again, real name, not an alter-ego on Match.com) catches up to them.  Peter tries to cure Beverly’s tuberculosis (sorry, consumption) by teaching her his super-special-safe-cracker-breathing rate tricks.  Beverly’s irritating kid sister showcases a greenhouse decked out to look like the glass coffin from Snow White in what is one of the more subtle pieces of foreshadowing and symbolism in this film.  They dance.  They have sex.  There, that is everything this whirlwind romance for the ages encompasses.  No, literally, that is everything that happens before the final 30/40 minutes kick in.

And OH GODS, THOSE FINAL 30/40 MINUTES.  The only reason I don’t tell you what happens in them and how they are, somehow, even stupider, even duller and even more poorly paced than the preceding 70 is because this is a review, and some people may be using it as consumer advice on whether this film is worth seeing or not and it is bad form for me, as a reviewer, to spoil the end of a film for the uninitiated.  Rest assured, however, that weren’t that unwritten entry into the code of reviewer ethics there, I would be gladly telling you everything that happens in there.  Both because it would complete my goal in giving you absolutely zero reason to watch this film, seeing as you’d already know what happens, and because I still can’t quite believe I actually witnessed it.  Like, I expect to wake up any second now and find that I slept through the entire thing.  No studio-based film is this relentlessly crazy, this relentlessly bad and this relentlessly, miserably dull about its craziness and badness, right?

Alas, I think it might be.  The realisation is finally setting in that I did not, in fact, imagine A New York Winter’s Tale.  This film actually happened, was completely serious about what happened and it is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.  Unfortunately, I also know how people act and there will now be some of you salivating over this film: eager to add it to your future Bad Movie Night marathons or to go and pay money and/or devote two hours of your life to seeing if it really is as terrible as I am making out.  From the bottom of my heart, I implore you to eject those thoughts and go about your daily life.  You have one life to live and the two hours you would end up spending on this god-awful piece of utter shite in a 99p burger would be interminable and could be spent so much more productively or doing things that would make you happy.  Folks: it’s not even fun to make fun of.  Doing so is equivalent to picking on the kid who likes to imagine he’s flying a spaceship all the time, until you find out that he’s got genuine mental health problems and he genuinely thinks he’s flying a spaceship all the time.

To reiterate: A New York Winter’s Tale is fucking awful.  End of debate.  Stay the hell away.

Callum Petch is looking for salvation in the secular age.  He normally writes film reviews and box office reports for Screened.com.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Worst Movie Jobs

The Thing KRThe podcast where Steve quite literally phones it in (due to technical issues, not a lack of enthusiasm). In this week’s episode we discuss the worst jobs from  the movies, in ‘tribute’ to The Internship; the two hour Google advert that none of us can bring ourselves to go and see.

We also review new releases Hummingbird, and Despicable Me 2 which leads to a lengthy discussion on the current state of Hollywood animation.

Join us next week for the return on our TV Special.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Superman/Man of Steel Special

christopher-reeve-supermanIs it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s three nitwits holding court on all things Superman! In this week’s extra-special bumper podcast (weighing in at over two hours) we celebrate the release of Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman series, Man of Steel. Prepare for it to kick off as two of the team nearly come to blows over their experience and expectations of the movie.

As well as a review of the film, we look under the bonnet and get our hands dirty in an extended Spoiler Alert look at Man of Steel. Not only that, but we discuss every Superman film ever made in What We’ve Been Watching, and choose our favourite performances by the Man of Steel main cast in Triple Bill.

Join us next week as we review new releases World War Z, Now You See Me, and This is the End.

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A guide to Les Mis on dvd

lesmisI wrote the obligatory Les Mis review back in January, after its (Leicester based) premiere on the big screen. Since then, I’ve been to see it more times than I went to the cinema in the whole of 2012. Which, admittedly, was only about four times. But still, what a loser.

Today it is released on DVD. No longer must you attempt discreet silent sobbing into a single Kleenex Balsam while sharing an arm rest with a stranger. Instead you can watch it the privacy of your own home, clutching a loo roll in the fetal position on your sofa, the way Victor Hugo would have wanted.

It’s about 3 hours long which, I agree, is quite a commitment. So here are my must see moments, in their painstaking, obsessive, chronological entirety.

1. Enter Colm Wilkinson (0:07:14)
The first few minutes of the film are a little disconcerting, even for a hysterical fan such as myself. I was still reeling from the fact that Hugh Jackman was Irish and Russell Crowe couldn’t sing, when suddenly Colm Wilkinson (who originated the role of Valjean in the West End AND Broadway, so he knows his shit, people) turned up as the kindly Bishop, brandishing those candlesticks, and reassured me that it was all going to be ok.

2. Fantine nods (0:16:03)
At this point she’s still part of the factory chorus. Though she stands out a mile off because she’s a) the only one wearing pink and b) Anne Hathaway. “Pay the landlord, pay the shop. Keep on working as long as you’re able.” she sings, with the steely determination of someone who knows she isn’t going to be in a job much longer. Not that job, anyway.

3. The sniff that won the Academy Award (0:29:40)
This performance is perfect for many reasons, not least because it represents the moment everyone stopped associating the song with a reality TV contestant. I Dreamed a Dream is filmed as one continuous tight shot of Hathaway’s Oscar winning face. But my favourite sniff in particular occurs here.

4. When Jackman gets it (0:37:37)
These songs have been performed on stage for 18 years. Those are some big boots to fill, and at the beginning Hugh’s shoe size waivers. But it’s in the gathering up his belongings (candlesticks, mainly) section of Who Am I? when he suddenly makes the role his own. Glancing up at the heavens during his surprisingly subtle utterance of the line “my soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago”, he nails it.

5. Valjean stealth failure (1:00:32)
Jean Valjean is many things; world’s strongest man, Mayor, bread thief. But he certainly isn’t an expert when it comes to stealth. This is showcased earlier in the film, when he attempts to steal some silver platters from the Bishop by drop kicking them out of an open door (0:08:39). However he surpasses this moment when stumbling into the church yard, whispering “we need to disappear” and then immediately launching into song at the top of his lungs. Brilliant.

6. Size zero Eponine (1:07:45)
We get a few glimpses of Eponine mooching around in the background, batting her grubby eyelashes at Marius. But this is the first time we see a full length shot of her, and her eye watering corset. My official scientific calculations put her waist at half the size of a Cadbury Creme Egg. Or something. I couldn’t be bothered to get off the sofa to measure it.

7. Vacuous Cosette (1:08:10)
Cosette is a bit of a nothing character. Her main purpose is to sing the really high twiddly notes that no one else can hit during the group numbers. Aside from that she just stands around looking dead eyed to the point where you wonder if her bonnet isn’t tied a bit too tight. It’s kind of a testament to Amanda Seyfried that she pulled this off to perfection.

8. Marius & Enjolras walk into certain death in order to save face (1:34:48)
You know when you’re on a night out with your mates and an elaborate drunken plan is hatched to go to Blackpool for the weekend, and then the next morning you all play cancellation chicken, because you don’t want to be a spoilsport, but you really don’t want to drive to Blackpool? That’s essentially what Marius & Enjolras do at this moment.

9. The shit barricades (1:35:56)
Books rely entirely on your imagination to create a vivid picture. Theatre relies on basic set and a suspension of disbelief. Films are supposed to do all that for you. On stage, the barricades are an all singing, all dancing, revolving masterpiece. In the movie, which had a not insubstantial $61 million budget, the barricades are built from a couple of old chairs. 

10. Enjolras’s death back-flip (1:57:50)
There are multiple deaths in this movie, from the tragedy of Fantine saying goodbye to her daughter, to the exquisite crunch of Russell Crowe’s vocal chords snapping in the sea. But Enjolras hanging backwards out of the window, red flag in hand, is a wonderful chest punching nod to the theatre goers in the audience. 

11. The Shawshank Redemption homage (2:00:38)
After dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. Liquid cinema, in every sense.

12. Grandpa Marius crashes the party (2:09:21)
Alright, so they gave Marius a bit of a back story, made that sacrifice all the more poignant. And, fair enough, Grandpa and his bucket-loads money put on a pretty fancy wedding for the kids. But that does not give him the right to muscle his face into A Heart Full of Love reprise. Dude, wind your wrinkly neck in.

13. The Jackanory bit (2:10:21)
Marius is a sweet kid. When Valjean settles down to have what is obviously a serious important discussion with his new son in law, Marius reacts with an excitable grin, like he’s about to get a bedtime story.

14. The making of Marius (2:11:57)
Moments ago he was grinning like a loon. Then suddenly Marius understands that Valjean is doing a runner, and he’s going to have to pick up the slack. Never mind all that revolution nonsense, this is the moment Marius becomes a man. His voice suddenly and inexplicably breaks, and he practically growls the line “for the sake of Cosette, it must be so”. HOT.

15. Do you hear the people sing? (2:15:30)
Basically, the second the film cuts to the convent (beginning of chapter 19), it’s time to brace yourself for the big finale. It’s a stunning scene, but the bit where Valjean stands up out of the chair with Fantine (2:21:20) is particularly well done. Then the whispered singing, a proper set of barricades, and all the clapping and crying I can muster. Marvellous.

Shall we watch it again?

Failed Critics Podcast: Les Miserables

Do you hear the critics sing?

Podding the thoughts of angry men,

They are the musings of a people who won’t watch Rock of Ages again,

When the bleating of the fool,

Echoes the bleating of the drunk,

There is podcast about to start when tomorrow comes!

That’s right, James has finally managed to persuade the critics back into the cinema to see another musical, and hopefully this time they won’t want to kill him afterwards. Also on our big return we review new releases Gangster Squad, The Sessions, The Impossible, and Quartet.

Join us next week as we review Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The D is silent, the podcast won’t be…

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The obligatory Les Misérables review

les mis anne hathawayLes Misérables is my Lord of the Rings. I’ve been anticipating this film for a long time, simultaneously excited and worried they’re going to balls it up.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first of all. And no, I don’t mean the actual Elephant of the Bastille monument that the students lark about on in later scenes. I mean Russell Crowe‘s really shit singing. Here’s a little tip for any other theatre producers thinking of transferring their global phenomenon stage musical to the big screen: if there are rumblings about one of your leading actor’s singing not being up to scratch, don’t give him the opening line of the sodding film! My first thought was ‘oh god’. My second thought was ‘I can’t work out what he sounds like and it’s going to bug me for the next 157 minutes’. And my third thought (don’t worry, I’m not going to document every thought that entered my head throughout the film, that would be terrifying) was ‘oh yes, I’ve worked it out’.

The first few minutes are all a bit random really. Crowe’s Javert is great at riding a horse, and being downright menacing, so long as he isn’t carrying a (nasal) tune. Hugh Jackman‘s Valjean looks as rough as someone who’s spent 19 years in prison lugging boats around has every right to and, when he speaks, he sounds like he has a mouthful of spoons. That, coupled with the fact that they’re doing this weird sing/talk hybrid, and I can see why newcomers and reluctant viewers might have been a little put off. I struggled to enjoy it at first, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Les Mis fan. Ideally, they should have swapped it around a bit, and started the film with one of the more solid performances. But I guess they felt that telling the story out of chronological sequence, Pulp Fiction style, was unbecoming. Bloody theatre snobs.

Luckily, while I was still wondering whether this was actually going to be any good, Anne Hathaway turned up, had all her hair chopped off, sang a song, won an Oscar, and promptly died, all within the space of about 15 minutes. Nailed it, Hathaway.

By now, eight years have passed and Valjean’s had a chance to have a wash and remove all those spoons from his mouth, and scrubs up pretty nicely indeed. Hello Mr Mayor! It’s like that bit in Friends where Monica & Rachel mistake some guy for a yeti, but then he cuts his hair and he’s really hot. Or, you know, a reference to something far more highbrow. He sets off to rescue little Cosette (neatly skimming over the fact that he was kind of responsible for her mother’s untimely death) and give her a better life. Which means that she’ll get to wear pretty bonnets and no longer have to fetch water from that scary well, but she’ll never have any mates ever, and will always have to be ready to abscond at a moment’s notice, because her dad’s in some kind of unexplained, self imposed witness protection scheme.

At this point you should insert a new song, which we all know was crowbarred in to add one more Oscar nomination to the haul. The lyrics should be reminiscent of something Westlife would sing, while perched atop stools on a Top of the Pops stage.

Another nine years pass and, while the French revolution rumbles away in the background, Javert is still hunting for Valjean. Tip: he’s the one lugging the giant candlestick wherever he goes. Meanwhile Cosette falls in love, Valjean prepares to do another runner, and some students get pissed and shout ‘red’ and ‘black’ over and over again. This is all leading to the most rousing, and my absolute favourite, song of the stage show, One Day More. On screen I’m not entirely sure it meshed perfectly, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At the theatre, this juncture would be your interval. But there’s no time for a gin & tonic at the cinema, people. The bleakness is unremitting as we immediately plough on with act two.

The thing is, I don’t actually find it all that gloomy. Within the context of 19th century France, I’d say they’re quite a cheery bunch really. Nonetheless, the Thénardiers are important for the purposes of comic relief. You would have thought that noted comic actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would have pulled this off with aplomb. But I’m sad to say they did not. Master of the House felt like a dress rehearsal of something that could have, eventually, been great; while other killer lines are lost in the direction altogether. Shame, really.

While I don’t want this review to be entirely about Russell Crowe’s singing (I only want it to be 95% about that), his performance of Stars cannot go unmentioned. Stars is Javert’s big moment. His Anne Hathaway, if you will. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that the director was more concerned with having him balance along the edge of a really tall building than hitting some/any of the big notes. But Stars has been dumbed down so much it is rendered almost meaningless. And I know these songs, let me tell you. I’ve seen Les Misérables probably five times on the West End, plus a couple of school/college performances, and have driven the length of the M5 listening to the CD on more than one occasion.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be gained for fans of the show. The always ridiculous runaway cart becomes the fallen cart, seemingly because they couldn’t even be arsed to push it down a hill this time. The obligatory Cockney kid screaming ‘Vive le Francais!’ is good for a wry smile. And Enjolras pulls off a very fine version of the barricades death back-flip. There is also the amazing moment where, after dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. It’s brilliantly horrific.

I’m a fan, I’m predisposed to like it. There is good (outstanding) and bad (embarrassingly disappointing). But, ultimately, Les Misérables is more than the sum of its parts. Even if one of those parts is a New Zealand-born Australian actor who sounds like he’s making a three pints down attempt at “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears on Sing Star.

One final note of thanks to the impeccably behaved audience of the completely sold out 8pm showing at Leicester Showcase on Friday night, who watched the film in total silence and applauded at the end. You restored my faith in cinema-going.

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.