Tag Archives: Ryan Pope

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!

United We Fall

Frequently funny, United We Fall is kept from greatness by a lack of structure, weird editing choices, and an uncertain attitude towards its cast.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

united we fallUnited We Fall is one of those movies where it is very abundantly obvious that somebody came up with an idea one day and then went straight to filming no more than three days after the fact.  In fact, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.  The film was apparently wholly improvised – which explains the lack of any credited writers – and shot on a shoestring budget over the course of four days.  It shows, but much less than one might think.  In fact, let me make this abundantly clear, despite anything that I am about to say, I got a very good number of laughs of varying levels out of United We Fall, especially surprising since I had literally no expectations for it whatsoever.  It’s just that the film’s various faults are more interesting to talk about than explaining when and why I laughed.

So, with that in mind, our conceit is an alternate reality in which, in 2010, Manchester United were on the verge of winning The Treble (Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League) before cocking it up spectacularly.  Four years later, five members of the squad – posh self-obsessed pretty boy Olly Hunter (Jack Donnelly), working-class Manchester-native Danny Keegan (Ryan Pope), disruptive practical joker Stevo Fallis (James Rastall), superhuman and super-earnest German goalkeeper Kurt ‘Kurtzie’ Kurtz (Johnathan Broke), and late-season addition and extremely poor rapper Kwasi ‘Modo’ Amoako (Matthew Avery) – are reunited together by a documentary film crew, why they picked those five specifically is the film’s best joke and I will not even allude to it here, to tell that story in their own words.

In simplest terms, it’s The Class Of ’92 as fed through This Is Spinal Tap but on a miniscule budget.  How miniscule?  The majority of the film is quite literally just the five players talking to the camera with the same background.  This isn’t a problem most of the time, but it becomes one when it comes to describing events on the pitch during those three crucial games.  Watching players watching the footage back as they pull faces is the order of the day and, whilst this works for the finale (which, again, I am not spoiling), it feels awkward.  The more ridiculous instances make creative sense, as one’s imagination amplifies whatever the cast are describing, but the more mundane ones, like a successful free-kick or a goal save, end up having their impact robbed somewhat.  I understand that it’s a budgetary thing that can’t be helped, but it does affect the film to a degree.

Admittedly, though, that doesn’t hurt the film anywhere near as much as its incredibly poor editing does.  Despite having a very clear structure for it to follow – backstory on the team members, the three games, a reunion dinner at the end – United We Fall still hops about madly like Rippa Roo from Crash Bandicoot, jumping from segment and topic to segment and topic with little rhyme or reason.  Some segments get started and dropped only to be picked up later, some just get dropped completely, some have no reason for existing.  There’s a part of me that wants to read it as a clever satire of amateurishly and aimlessly edited real documentaries, but the film is a bit too stuffed full of filler and too sloppy in said editing for me to give it a pass like that.

Speaking of, despite running a lean 89 minutes, United We Fall still barely gets far enough to justify this being a film instead of a one-hour BBC special or the like.  So, to pad out the runtime, we get filler segments.  Scenes of the players practicing or hanging out or the like make sense, they help deepen their characters even if they are often just really awkwardly shoved into the film at random points, but the film also has frequent cutaways to the Prime Minister (Robert Portal) – whose presence at least crosses into the main story at one point – and “Unofficial FIFA Ambassador” Farhad ‘Frank’ Farougi (Dana Haquoo) who specifically adds… absolutely nothing.  Seriously, I have absolutely no idea what he was going on about half the time, his various scenes have that little correlation to the narrative of the film.  It’s like he’s here purely because everybody thought they needed to parody corrupt FIFA execs, but had no idea how to integrate him into the film and never really got a handle on his character.  I’d forgive such a thing if he were funny, but he’s just really boring so his presence sticks out as pure filler or an excuse to go on holiday for a day.

More damningly, and ultimately the main reason why my recommendation for the film is a soft one at best, United We Fall can’t ever seem to quite decide whether it views its cast with affection or contempt.  To put it in simple terms, you know how This Is Spinal Tap always knew exactly how it felt towards its protagonists?  Affection but still calling them out on their stupidity and arsehole behaviour?  United We Fall keeps flipping between deserved derision and desperate attempts to make us sympathise with them.  The latter is when the film really falls down because, well, its cast are terrible people.  They’re really entertaining, which is why spending 90 minutes in their presence isn’t an exercise in self-flagellation, but they are terrible people.  Casually sexist, racist, homophobic, childish, petty, and a whole other bunch of words that express negative personality traits.  You can probably tell why attempting to make them sympathetic is a terrible idea.

The problem isn’t so much their characterisation – they remain terrible people right up to the end with the only redeeming aspect of them being their continued inexplicably strong friendship bond with one another – it’s that the film can’t decide if it’s on their side or not.  For a lot of the film’s runtime, the mishaps that ruin their games come from outside factors that have nothing to do with the characters – only the Champions League game commits to how ridiculously crappy the cast are – which gives off the impression that film wants you to genuinely feel sorry when these terrible people fail miserably.  Similarly, all of its cast are sexist, racist and homophobic, where the jokes are about how sexist and racist and homophobic they are (read: you’re supposed to laugh at them, instead of with them), but the film sometimes ends up siding with them in service of a quick laugh.  As an example, the film’s lone female interviewee, a PR at the club who contributes pretty much nothing to the film, is introduced with a secondary job descriptor of “Slapper”.

Again, that’s ultimately why my recommendation for United We Fall is rather soft instead of nice and secure, or something.  I must restate, though, that despite all of its flaws I got a lot of laughs out of the film.  The cast are all really damn good improvisers, it turns out, as there was rarely a prolonged stretch of time where I wasn’t laughing to some degree and there has been some genuinely great character work put in here to keep them from just feeling like five interchangeable shallow parodies of the public’s perception of footballers.  United We Fall brushes up against genuine greatness enough for me to be disappointed that it’s not better than it is.  If it had a few more days of filming, a bit more of a handle on its overall tone and much better editing, then it would undoubtedly have been my favourite surprise of 2014.

That being said, it’s a damn sight better than the majority of comedies I’ve seen so far this year, and those had scripts and actual full-on budgets.  So, if you’re starved for comedies, then you should give United We Fall a shot.  It is pretty damn funny, enough to be worth the ticket price and enough to make one wish it could have instead been really damn funny.

Callum Petch is like Billy Elliot and this is his ballet.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!