Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes do not podcast with their microphones; he who podcasts with his microphone has forgotten the face of his father. They podcast with their friends, Maaya Brooker and Liam, as the each pick their three favourite Stephen King movies for this week’s triple bill episode, in addition to a review of the sci-fi / horror / fantasy author’s latest big screen adaptation, The Dark Tower.
“You’re playing with it like it’s your buddy.”
I almost feel sorry for Life. As I sit down to write this review, I have just perched my arse on the sofa and started my binge on the holiest of space-based horror franchises. I’m sat, feet up, tapping away at this review as the one and only Alien plays out on my television.
And I say “the one and only” on purpose. Because Life, this most derivative of sci-fi scarers, takes so much from Ridley Scott’s seminal movie that its tagline could quite possibly be “In space, everyone can see you steal”.
After retrieving a capsule filled with samples from Mars, a six man team of scientists aboard the International Space Station become the first to prove the existence of life on the Red Planet. Things aren’t as simple as they first seem when, what starts off as a single-cell organism, quickly evolves into a tiny monster intent on not being so tiny anymore.
To succeed in that goal, it’s going to need to eat everyone!
Horror ensues as the jellyfish looking beastie starts to pick off scientists one-by-one, making itself bigger and badder than the people that brought it to life. Now the crew are in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with higher stakes than any of them imagined when they started this trip.
This film is Alien. Ok, it goes to the 1979 Classic by way of a lot of other films. Event Horizon, Pandorum, The Thing, Virus, Species; it even steals more than a little from space-based survival horror game Dead Space. Life is so unapologetically derivative of all of these movies that if it didn’t come to you after months of advertising that plastered Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson all over big screens everywhere, it would have definitely premiered on the SyFy channel, probably after the next Sharknado instalment.
As well as the trio mentioned above, we also have Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada. The five roles are pretty interchangeable; not a single one is fleshed out enough to make you want to care about them. Pilot, doctor, toilet repair astronaut, it matters not; the crew could be any of a million people – one of them just happens to be super-handsome and one was in a Mission: Impossible film. The only exception, in my opinion, is Ariyon Bakare.
As the chief scientist, he has the most interesting of the interactions with the alien – whose name is Calvin, I shit you not – and gets to be the one that shares the scene with it when its true intentions are revealed. This is easily the best and most tense scene in the entire film. Sadly, if you were at a screening of Get Out in the last week or so, you’ve seen that moment in its entirety already, because someone thought it best to have a mini preview instead of a trailer in cinemas this week.
Director Daniel Espinosa (the man behind the fun, silly Safe House and the boring, lacklustre Child 44) has delivered a sci-fi that fulfils none of its promises. It looks like it’s trying (and failing) so very hard to be the new Alien – although hilarious rumours that it’ll be the origin story for Sony’s recently confirmed Venom movie have kept me giggling since I walked out of the screen his afternoon.
I can’t blame Espinosa for trying. That’s his job. But if you’re going to borrow from every sci-fi horror you can name, then the very least you can do is pick one or two and keep your film consistent. As it is, between him and Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (which accounts for Mr Reynolds’ recycling a joke from last year’s masterpiece) they’ve half-inched the blueprints from a dozen movies, ran them all through a shredder and tried desperately to make something worthwhile from the bin bag of rubbish left over.
It’s not all bad though – ok, it is mostly bad – but it does have a redeeming feature or two. Life has some impressive set-pieces to show off and a fair amount of imagination has gone into the monster and how it behaves. Its final form looks a little like a floating, bodiless version of the aliens from Independence Day and behaves like it took acting lessons from The Abyss‘ extra-terrestrials; but Calvin is fun to watch and a delight to look at.
Sadly, these minor flashes of fun don’t distract enough from a film that will forever be overshadowed by the much better genre pieces it is trying to imitate. As I watch the final scenes of Alien on the TV, I can see why someone would want to make this again. Maybe next time they won’t schedule its release a month and a half before an ACTUAL Alien movie is due out where, like this time, your mediocre copycat is eclipsed even by the Covenant trailer that was shown before it.
Another week, another Bucks101 radio show complete and resultant podcast of said show…!
On this fourth episode of Front Row, hosts Owen Hughes and Paul Rutland bond over Bond, review the R-rated box office smash Deadpool, and mull over some rather curious superstitions in the sports round-up. The rules of the ‘roll the dice’ section are broken, just four weeks in, as the topic of conversation chosen by the random roll lands on ‘music’ yet again – three weeks out of four! Nope. Re-roll, please.
As always, Front Row will be back on Bucks101 Radio next Thursday at 6pm, where you can hear all of the lovely chat (…well, lovely-ish…) as well as that week’s music. A playlist of all the tracks you missed out on this week is below.
- Nirvana – I Hate Myself and Want To Die (Owen)
- The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love (Paul)
- Pixies – I’ve Been Tired (Owen)
- Muse – Feeling Good (Paul)
- Weezer – Tired of Sex (Owen)
- Queen – Hammer To Fall (Paul)
- Plumtree – Go! (Owen)
- New Radicals – You Get What You Give (Paul)
Welcome to the Failed Critics Podcast, where hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by both Andrew Brooker and Paul Field to put their collective expert (ha!) minds together to predict who will win what at this year’s Academy Awards on Sunday 28th February. You too can take part! Simply leave a post in the comments box on our website to tell us which films you think will pick up the award in each of the categories listed below. The winner will pick up some DVD’s and blu-rays! OOooohhhh exciting.
Also in this episode, we feature a few new release reviews. Brooker, our residents American sports fan, finds Concussion is not all it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, Paul calls Steve’s heritage into question whilst reviewing British zom-rom-com Nina Forever. And then we all get together at the end to slightly gush over Deadpool‘s expletive-laden fourth wall-breaking comedy capers.
Join us again next week as Owen and Steve take part in our first ever Netflix special episode.
“Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my very own movie?”
Let’s get this out the way quick and easy; I don’t read comic books, I don’t care about comic books and I certainly couldn’t care less about how faithful comic book films are to their source material. I just want a good film out of whatever I’m paying to see this week. That being said, no matter how aggressively average X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, its depiction of Deadpool may have been one of the worst things I have ever seen put to film. Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson was funny, but the Deadpool character he was mutated to, played by Scott Adkins – an entirely different actor – was just fucking awful.
Thankfully, after years of threatening to give fans exactly what they wanted with a real, true to the comics, Deadpool; Reynolds and first-time director/long-time video game effects producer Tim Miller have vowed to do us all proud and brought the “Merc with a mouth” to the big screen in not just the best comic book film that Fox has put out, ever; but maybe a challenger for my favourite comic book film ever.
Chasing after the man that left Wilson a scarred, deformed mess under his red spandex, Deadpool sees our hero cutting a path through anyone that gets between him and his new worst enemy; a man who has made a career creating mutants from desperate people. Having offered Wade Wilson escape from the multiple cancers that riddle his body, his cure comes at far too high a price for ‘Pool who loses far more than he gains from his “treatment”.
Story wise? That’s pretty much all you need. Deadpool isn’t a film that lives and dies on its story telling. It is a film whose sole existence is to make you laugh harder than you’ve laughed at any comedy in the last year or so. Making no bones about the fact that this film isn’t supposed to exist, Deadpool is a beautifully self aware film that shows far more genius than anyone expected. Within a couple of minutes of the opening titles, the fourth wall is broken as the red-suited nutter addresses his audience and drags us kicking and screaming into a world that so many of us thought we would never get to enjoy.
The real surprise with this flick, though, is the emotion at its centre. Most of Deadpool’s motivation comes via the girlfriend he proposed to just before his cancer diagnosis; Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa is the perfect emotional core for a film that I wasn’t expecting to have one. They bring us some weighty, heartfelt moments that serve not only to help us connect with the pre-mutated Wade Wilson; but they also amplify the already pretty out there, balls to the wall comedy to insane levels.
The laughs and the action are where Deadpool‘s greatest strengths lie. Razor sharp humour that takes aim at some of the most unexpected targets with a few politically incorrect and just flat out wrong digs at some that clearly wronged the writers in a past life. Genuine laugh-out-loud moments that had me wishing I could pause the film to wipe the tears from my eyes before the next joke came along. With action scenes as sharp as its humour; every fight, every explosion, every set piece looks absolutely gorgeous and feels bone-crunching. When your film’s fights include people with super-powers, the only way to go is completely ridiculous and that, is Deadpool‘s bread and butter.
With impressive and surprisingly good support from his bad guys, Deadpool has as much fun with its bad guys as its hero. With fun turns from Ed Skrein, a man who has finally embraced his budget price Statham image and enjoyed his time with it; and the always fun to watch Gina Carano in as his henchman (henchwoman? Henchperson?) doing all his heavy lifting. We’ve had a couple of X-Men imported into our film but even when the over the top Colossus and the delightfully stupid Teenage Warhead come on screen, nothing feels out of place or overpowered. Everyone compliments everyone else and at no point, even when we are eyeballs deep in insane superhero jousting tournaments, do any of these characters feel stupid or out of place.
Everything about this film screams that it’ll be filled with in-jokes and meta humour that will quickly become irrelevant and in a couple of years simply won’t we worth watching anymore. Thankfully, that’s nothing like what we get here. On its surface, Deadpool is a childish, silly flick for those looking to giggle their way through a couple of hours. But in reality, its sharp humour, superb cast and great action make this a film that not only blows away most of what Marvel have been putting out over recent years, but will still be fun to watch without losing any edge for years to come. In his fifth comic book movie appearance, Ryan Reynolds has finally given us an almost perfect film and an almost perfect performance. I can’t recommend it enough.
Inviting you to listen to this podcast may make you uncomfortable. Not because we’re walking around naked, but as one of our longest episodes for a good while (at nearly one hour and three-quarters long), you may get something of a numb-bum if you listen to the whole thing in a single sitting! Unfortunately there are no ways to montage your way out of it either.
Nevertheless, in this bumper episode, your hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Tony Black to wag their fingers in the direction of the recent Oscar nominations, celebrate the life and work of Alan Rickman, and discuss a petition to actually lower the rated R status for the upcoming comicbook movie Deadpool.
As well as this, there’s room for Room, time for Creed, and for us to revel in The Revenant as we spend the latter part of the podcast discussing the three big new release reviews of this past weekend. We even take a look over what else we’ve watched in the past seven days. Brooker apologises to James Cullen Bressack for not getting on with White Crack Bastard; Steve, in tribute to Alan Rickman, revisits Kevin Smith’s 90’s classic Dogma; Owen reviews the recently released My Nazi Legacy documentary; and Tony is impressed with Ryan Reynolds after his surprising resurgence after seeing The Woman In Gold.
And that’s still not all as we start (as ever) with a quiz and Owen suffers through the first episode of Rob Schneider’s latest TV series, Real Rob, as penance for losing last week’s quiz.
You can see why it’s such a long episode!
Join us again next week as we bring back Liam and Andrew Alcock for a World Cinema triple bill.
In the penultimate entry to Owen’s 2015 in review series that has been looking back on all of the movies he’s watched during each month of the year, he discusses a few of the films he’s seen in November.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
If October was my busiest movie-watching month of the year, watching at least one horror film every single day, then November was something of a respite period. When I wasn’t writing stuff for my University assignments, then I was writing a new blog post every single day, or occasionally even finding time to review movies on here.
What I apparently didn’t find time for is actually watching more films. I think this past month is possibly the first time since around 2011 that I actually went four days in a row without watching anything at all. Not only did that happen once, but twice! What kind of behaviour is that for a man who supposedly runs a film podcast?
Although, some of that time that I didn’t spend watching films, I did spend productively. I appeared on the pilot of The Bottle Episode‘s new podcast, talking about my TV genealogy, which was a lot of fun. I also drove down to Wikishuffle HQ and interviewed Chris Wallace and Phil Sharman about their show and Best Comedy Podcast award, which you can watch on my YouTube channel.
Anyway. Back on topic, I suppose I better get on with discussing a few films that I’ve seen lately, starting with…
Week 1: Sunday 1 – Sunday 8 November 2015
Sunday – The Blair Witch Project (1999); Monday – The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Batman (1966), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994); Saturday – Iris (2015), HUDSON HAWK (1991); Sunday – Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (2015)
I’ve already moaned about this on the podcast, but I honestly don’t think I can fully portray just how bad I thought Hudson Hawk was. For those that don’t know, Bruce Willis plays a cat burglar recently released from prison, who is set up with a new job to steal various Da Vinci inventions from museums. Hidden in said items are special diamonds required to power an alchemy machine, turning lead into gold. I said it at the time and I stand by it now, even after the steam has stopped blowing from my ears, but Bruce Willis (credited as a story writer) is absolutely appalling in what is one of the worst movies I have seen all year. Possibly even ever. From the eye-rollingly bad premise that’s too absurd to contemplate, to the lamentable performances and sickeningly smug comedy skits, it’s just horrendous. I’m sure it was probably a lot of fun to make, as Danny Aiello, Richard E Grant, Andie MacDowell etc all seem to be enjoying themselves in what I think is supposed to be a throwback to old fashioned goofball comedy capers; it just doesn’t translate into anything even remotely associated with the word “fun” for the viewer. It’s definitely one to avoid.
Week 2: Monday 9 – Sunday 15 November 2015
Monday – He Named Me Malala (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Green Butchers (2003)
Going right back to where this blog series all started with last October’s Horrorble Month, where I watched one horror film every day in the build up to Halloween, the very first review I wrote was for Witchfinder General. I don’t remember when I first watched Michael Reeves’s English folk-horror, starring Vincent Price as the infamous Matthew Hopkins. What I do remember is that it was then – and still is now – one of my favourite horror films of all time. It might possibly have been my first introduction to Price, kick-starting my love-affair with his movies. It’s atmospheric, dark and uncomfortable to watch as you might expect. Whether it’s because the charismatic witchfinder himself is asserting his influence to sexually assault and murder women, or from the sheer brutality of the violence, it’s a chilling historical drama. I think this time around, one thing struck me more than any other, which was the fact that you never understand Hopkins’ motivation for doing what he does. Not properly. You don’t know whether or not he believes he’s actually on a mission from God, or if he’s just a sadistic killer who is after fame and fortune. It’s odd that I’ve never really noticed that before. It seemed like a glaring omission at first, but the more I thought about it, the more clever I thought it was. Hopkins (the real Hopkins who was responsible for around 60% (nearly 300) of ALL the women killed in the 17th century accused of witchcraft) was a monster. Leaving the film character’s motivations as clouded as the real man’s were, it’s entirely fitting. And, more to the point, doesn’t matter. Price’s subtleties in the role are more than enough to keep you interested in the character – and again, credit to the young director for winning Price’s respect and forcing him to tone down his occasional tendency to perform with a certain… vivaciousness. Excuse the plug for a moment, but I wrote up a piece on Witchfinder General for my blog, Films As News, which you can read here.
Week 3: Monday 16– Sunday 22 November 2015
Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – THE VOICES (2015); Saturday – X-Men: First Class (2011); Sunday – Don’t Look Now (1973)
I think I owe Callum a certain degree of gratitude for being so insistent earlier this year that The Voices was one of the best films of 2015. If it wasn’t for his continuous recommendations for this psychological horror comedy, starring Ryan Reynolds as a delusional psychopath whose dog and cat talk to him (both of which are voiced by Reynolds), it might have passed me by entirely. As it happens, I’m inclined to agree with his assertion that it genuinely may be one of the most underrated gems of the entire year so far. It’s almost guaranteed to make my top 10 list when I submit it for the Failed Critics Awards (ahem, please vote in them this year as soon as you’re done with reading this article!). As Callum also pointed out in his review, to say too much about The Voices would be to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. Suffice to say, it’s a plot that escalates in its complexities as Reynolds’ character, Jerry, stops taking his meds. Whilst I’m positive there’s a message behind the film about not-so-much perhaps mental illness and how it affects people, but more about a general social conscience and how we, the mentally well, perceive them, the mentally unwell. With Jerry more contented to live in a fantasy world as it makes his grim situation more easy to digest, there’s a sadness in what feels like an uncomfortable truth. Marjane Satrapi deserves to take credit for the way she portrays Jerry’s dreamlike existence with its vibrant colours that fade or get stronger, depending on what stage his mental wellbeing is at, but I also think that Michael R Perry’s script is incredibly detailed and it just seems like the perfect combination of style and substance that’s so very rare. So if Callum’s recommendation wasn’t strong enough for you, let me add my weight behind it too. Go see it! It’s on UK Netflix right now so you have no excuses. Unless you don’t subscribe to Netflix, I guess.
Week 4: Monday 23 – Monday 30 November 2015
Monday – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Event Horizon (1997); Friday – The Warriors (1979), Zardoz (1974); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Force Majeure (2015); Monday – Cartel Land (2015), THE COMEDIAN’S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL (2016)
I’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games again. I made my feelings quite clear on the podcast that week that it’s just not a series of films I’ve particularly enjoyed. In fact, I am struggling to think of a series of movies that I’ve invested so much time into and got so little out of with each passing entry in the series. Especially as I didn’t even enjoy the first bloody one! Instead, I’m going to talk about (and not review) a film that I went to see the test screening of in London that’s due for release sometime next year. It’s called The Comedian’s Guide To Survival and stars James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) as the struggling stand-up comedian, James Mullinger. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Mullinger is not only an actual professional comedian with his own TV show, but is also (and more importantly, I’m sure) the co-host of the first Failed Critics spin-off podcast, Underground Nights, along with Paul Field. The movie about his life (which he wrote along with director Mark Murphy) had an audience test screening that Paul, Carole and I went along to see at the Courthouse Hotel. It’s a bit weird going to see a film about the life of someone you kind-of know. Mostly, as Paul and I discussed on our way there, what happens if the film turns out to be.. well.. shit? Do you lie about it? Do you not say anything at all? As it turned out, it wasn’t an issue, because the film was thankfully very funny. With support from various British comedy actors such as Paul Kaye, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap and so on, I think it could go on to be a success next year. Word of warning, though: don’t buy a round of drinks at Soho hotels. £28 for three drinks! What a rip off. (Cheers for that by the way, Carole. I’ll buy you one next time….)
And that’s it. Only one more of these to go that I will be scrabbling around to write in the following few weeks. If you’ve any thoughts about the reviews above, or if you disagree and want to tell me why I’m wrong, leave a comment in the box below or message me over on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you all in the new year!
Welcome one and all to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are this week joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne to review big-budget pint-sized Marvel superhero movie Ant-Man! There’s both a spoiler-free discussion on the film and a return of our ‘spoiler alert’ right after the end credits where we go into more specific details.
Also featured on this week’s podcast: Owen discusses the 1970’s Werner Herzog movie Stroszek; Brooker finally manages to get his hands on The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds; Matt is back to say a few things to say about Terminator Genisys; and Steve puts him through the Danny Dyer film The Other Half ….with very good reason!
There’s even time for the group to mull over the Attack On Titan trailer, talk about our latest celeb Twitter follower after the very first Failed Critics meet up and we “react” to the as yet unreleased Spectre trailer.
Join us again next week for the return of our TV Special in honour of the biggest new release this week. No, not Southpaw. No, not Inside Out either. No, not even Maggie.
“Oh no. Oh Hell no! Surely you don’t mean… it’s not….. it can’t be… no way….??”
Yes way. It’s the eagerly anticipated release of Sharknado 3!
The Voices is tonally messy, sporadically funny, and more than a little uncomfortable… these are all very good things.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Stop. If I had my way, this review would consist solely of one sentence that reads “You should go and see The Voices immediately” and then you would go and do exactly that. See, The Voices is a film that is most definitely not for everybody’s tastes but one of the main reasons why it was very much to my taste sort of constitutes a spoiler. Further than that, I feel that the full impact of The Voices is best appreciated if you go in, not only with no plot knowledge, with no expectations or pre-conceptions. Basically, you should really see The Voices. I won’t tell you why, but you really, really should.
Unfortunately, this site requires a bit more critical reasoning in their film reviews than that. So, this is your out. After this paragraph, I will start talking about The Voices and why it is brilliant. This will also involve spoiling a key plot point that occurs a little over half an hour into the movie but has been plastered all over the trailers anyway. If you want to heed my advice, then stop reading and go and see The Voices. Otherwise, we shall commence the act of reviewing in 3… 2…
I have made peace with the fact that Marjane Satrapi is never going to surpass Persepolis. I mean, how can she? Persepolis is practically an autobiography, and that kind of personal investment and candid openness in a project is something that one can’t really replicate after that first instance, especially when that instance is as emotionally draining as Persepolis is. Therefore, at no point in this review will I be comparing The Voices to Persepolis. They’re from the same director – well, co-director in Persepolis’ case – but they’re not in any way comparable to each other. Well, also except for the fact that they’re both brilliant.
Yes, in stepping way out of her comfort zone – this is her first English-language feature and it’s a black as all hell horror dramedy hybrid – Marjane Satrapi has only gone and made quite possibly the best film that I have seen so far this year. Folks, I adore The Voices. From its opening sequence showcasing just how much of a rural dead-end nowhere that the film’s location, Milton, is, backed by an excessively jaunty theme tune for said town, to its self-consciously pathos-destroying and out-of-place final scene, this film had me in its vice-like grip and refused to let me go. It’s about as consistent as its protagonist, but, dammit all, I was enthralled and left the cinema in high peppy spirits.
Who is the film’s protagonist? That would be Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds), a man in his late-20s/early-30s who works at a bathtub factory and who just wants to fit in, be loved, and be kind to others. Jerry, however, suffers from really bad schizophrenia that causes him to be very socially awkward and self-conscious, alienating most of his co-workers and especially his crush Fiona (Gemma Arterton), and, more importantly, to hold lengthy conversations with his pets. The dog, Bosco, is basically a kindly and supportive cheerleader who tells Jerry everything he wants to hear; the cat, Mr. Whiskers, is the one that constantly re-enforces Jerry’s worst fears and anxieties, as well as filling his head with violent fantasies. Jerry’s therapist (Jacki Weaver) would like for him to start taking his pills, but the pills reveal to Jerry just how lonely and miserable his life is which for him is even worse.
Then, one night, after a series of unfortunate events, Jerry accidentally stabs and then mercy kills Fiona.
From that scene on, The Voices reveals itself to be a serial killer – although whether Jerry will agree with Mr. Whiskers’ assessment that he likes killing and kill again forms the brunt of the movie’s conflict, the police waste no time in pegging their suspect as a “serial killer” – horror movie from the perspective of the serial killer. Satrapi stages scenes like the accidental killing of Fiona near-indistinguishably from the real thing, but they gain a different tone and different lease of life thanks to re-focusing our point of view on the guy committing the killings and his inner struggle with reconciling whether he’s really a good or bad person. Instead of having the tension be one-sided or even non-existent, every instance of Jerry digging himself deeper into his hole has sympathetic tension both for those caught up in it and Jerry himself, a sincerely likeable man who I just wanted to reach out and hug and tell him that everything will be fine.
Naturally, this all runs the risk of going very, very wrong. For some viewers, it undoubtedly will have. The tone lurches wildly and often without warning from horror, to comedy, to drama, to romance, to some combination of the lot and, although the inconsistency is sort of the point, this is not going to be to everyone’s tastes. The actually funny moments are relatively rare and major laughs are near-non-existent, the film can be legitimately creepy and disturbing but it’s not exactly ‘scary’ in the traditional sense, the constant unease and fear over Jerry’s sanity undercuts any legitimately romantic sequences, and the constant whiplash between genres may dilute the drama for viewers who can’t keep up with or wrap their heads around the chaotic tonal shifts.
For me, this never happened, and for three specific reasons. The first is that the script, from Michael R. Perry who also co-wrote Paranormal Activity 2, is rock solid. The film has to pivot around Jerry and Perry never loses sight of Jerry and his inner conflict. He never makes Jerry a monster simply for dramas-sake, there is always a deep-rooted character reason for anything that Jerry does, and he keeps Jerry somewhat sympathetic right up until the very end. But he also doesn’t skimp out on the other cast members either, especially in the case of Jerry’s co-worker Lisa (an unreally adorable Anna Kendrick) whose relationship with Jerry forms another backbone throughout the film and gets a surprisingly emotional payoff thanks to Perry developing her just as much as he does Jerry.
The second is in Ryan Reynolds’ utterly outstanding performance as Jerry. From the outset, Jerry is clearly… off, but not in the offensive or parodic way that such an idea runs the risk of being, and that’s because Reynolds gets the character. Jerry is clearly different and a bit disturbed, but Reynolds never loses sight of the humanity and kind-hearted nature at the root of him, pitching his performance in such a way that that side of him is amplified or de-emphasised depending on whose point of view the scene is taking but never completely lost. He’s clearly relishing the part, and especially having the time of his life providing the voices of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, which is what helps sell it. There is not one trace of smugness or cockiness in his work here; he is Jerry and he is phenomenal.
And third is Marjane Satrapi’s direction. Separate from her work here, those prior pluses could very quickly be turned into negatives. The script’s tonal hot potato could have under or over-cooked certain aspects in a lesser director’s hands and caused the film to go completely off-the-rails, whilst Reynolds’ performance could have been totally squandered by a director who isn’t working in-sync with him and tried to force him into something he’s not. Satrapi, however, wrangles the film’s various tonal shifts into something approaching some semblance of coherent, and seems to actively encourage Reynolds’ performance, building the core of the film around it.
She is also one hell of a visual stylist. Such an observation shouldn’t be surprising for those that managed to watch or read Persepolis, but she throws herself, and her Production Designer, Udo Kramer, into the task of getting us into the head of Jerry through visual and stylistic cues. Scenes are over-and-under-lit accordingly, alternately resembling a shiny sitcom set that is at least somewhat close to ‘normal’ and a dingy disrepaired hell-hole depending on Jerry’s state of mind. A crime scene is set up like a fairy tale landscape, butterflies seem to follow Fiona wherever she goes, Milton itself is drowned in a sea of depressing greys. There’s also a legitimately horrifying sequence when Jerry actually takes his meds that gains its uncomfortable nature through exceptional set design. Satrapi’s dedication to telling the story just as much visually as she does everything else turns out to be the extra ingredient needed to make this film soar.
Again, make no mistake, this could have gone so, so wrong. In fact, for many people, it probably will still have anyway. The Voices really won’t be for everyone, its utterly schizophrenic and dark as hell nature will make sure of that. For the people who do or can get with it, though? Those people are in for a fantastic character study that’s visually dynamic, smartly written, impeccably acted, sometimes rather funny, and utterly weird. It worked for me, I’ll tell you that, and right now it might be my favourite film of the year so far. There’s plenty of time left in the year for other films to knock it from that perch, but I’ve got a very good feeling that I will still be thinking about this one long into 2015’s twilight days.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Last year, DreamWorks Animation celebrated its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Callum Petch has been going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment. Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.
Budget: $127 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
I really couldn’t have planned this better, folks. Turbo really is the perfect note to send the Retrospective home on – film-wise, in any case, we still have two weeks left – because it not only perfectly demonstrates why DreamWorks Animation are currently struggling at the box office, but also excellently embodies the evolution of “The DreamWorks Movie”, the type of film that animation fans like to deride and flanderize DreamWorks as only making, which, as this series should have proven, is mostly patently untrue. In a perfect world, I’d have the time to look at the film in-depth from both angles, but word counts are word counts, so we’ll speed through the box office stuff and then dive into the true meat of the matter: the film itself.
Turbo bombed. Turbo bombed. It didn’t cost DreamWorks Animation as much as Rise of the Guardians did, but it was still the second write-down that the company had to take in as many years – not to mention that Mr. Peabody & Sherman would force them to take yet another write-down not 9 months later. Two straight bombs for an independent studio sure as hell rattles investor confidence, although confidence in Turbo’s TV spin-off – Turbo: FAST on Netflix, one of the shows that we’ll be looking at next week – may explain why Katzenberg broke the news by basically going, “Well, at least it was ONLY $13.5 million this time!” (Plus another $2.1 million later once the film finished underperforming overseas.) Turbo failed to break $100 million domestic, becoming the lowest-grossing CG DreamWorks film domestically ever – until Penguins of Madagascar managed to sail under even that low bar – and you don’t even need to adjust for inflation as it grossed even less than Antz!
Unfortunately, for those of you looking for a giant point-by-point breakdown as to precisely why a film like Turbo failed, much like I did for Rise of the Guardians a fortnight back, the reasons as to why Turbo failed are extremely simple and honestly rather justified. The first is that release date: July 17th 2013. It is like 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks were trying to kill the film before it had the chance to get started! That is a release date that came a month after Monsters University, two weeks after juggernaut Despicable Me 2 – which actually beat Turbo in the latter’s opening weekend, which is sorta tragic – and two weeks before Planes dropped. Not to mention the fact that Summer 2013 was, erm, CROWDED, to say the least. Animation fatigue, coupled with the fact that all of those other films are connected to already-liked franchises and DreamWorks’ prior-discussed problems with oversaturation, undoubtedly lead to a belief in the general public that they could give Turbo a miss and have no protestations from their kids.
The other problem stems from Turbo looking incredibly, kinda insultingly generic, unoriginal, and rip-off-y. I mean, look at this goddamn trailer.
Does anything about that trailer scream anything other than “Generic DreamWorks Film #278”? It’s a talking animal movie (check) about impossible dreams (check) where the message is that you can totally achieve those unachievable dreams if you wish hard enough (check) with an all-star cast providing the voices (check), including some prime A-grade stunt casting (big check), all set to a licensed soundtrack (check) and a whole bunch of jokes that come from pop culture references, animals doing and saying non-animal things, and silly catchphrases for the kids (check, check, and WHITE SHADOW!). Oh, and that DreamWorks smirk (checks the size of George Clooney’s starring fees).
By this point in time, “The DreamWorks Movie” had bled over into popular consciousness. No longer just a derogatory thought process held by film critics and snarky animation buffs, it seems that the mainstream audience were now tired of the DreamWorks schtick. What was once a fresh, original voice in a stale animated feature landscape is now itself the stale voice in a fresh, original animated feature landscape. As previously mentioned, DreamWorks were still trying to party like it was 2007 and they were the only names on the block, so people would have to turn up to their films. Unfortunately, nowadays, animation is very competitive and one needs to have a new, exciting voice to stand out. Pulling the same trick out with seemingly no variation makes you seem disposable, and parents don’t have time for disposable films in today’s ultra-competitive animated landscape.
No, seriously, look at this upcoming slate of animated features of the next 22 months. It is ridiculous in the best possible way!
And DreamWorks’ constant returning to that “The DreamWorks Movie” formula, even whilst they tried to re-invent their image with more dramatic, emotionally-engaging, and (for lack of a better word) prestige pieces – said returns coming from films like Megamind, Puss In Boots, and now Turbo – can lead to backlash, as people return to the Shrek series and Shark Tale and realise that they weren’t as good as they thought they were. This is why Shrek Forever After did badly by Shrek standards, yet Madagascar 3 shattered box office records for its series. The former refused to adapt sufficiently, making tentative steps towards a newer, less pop-culture focussed identity but pulling back to safety at every opportunity, and was punished for it, whilst Madagascar actively found its own voice, as a wild silly cartoon, committed to it, and was rewarded forty-fold because it was something different.
Hence why Turbo was probably doomed from the start, even if it wasn’t released immediately after two guaranteed monster hits. It looks like the kind of film that DreamWorks should have stopped making by this point. Christ, it even has Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, who had just come straight from DreamWorks’ own The Croods from back in March, using the exact same voice as the one he used in The Croods! Now, I know what you’re expecting, by this point. You’re expecting me to now turn around and refute this entire assumption, reveal the film to secretly be some kind of pro-feminist piece or secret satire of the kinds of knock-offs that the studio had spawned and indulged in since their success or something. That’s pretty much been my thing with this series, after all, going far deeper than most people are willing to go to when looking at and analysing these films, finding new angles and such.
Well, not this time, because they were right. Turbo is “The DreamWorks Movie”. Those trailers and awful aggressive pun-based taglines – “He’s fast, they’re furious”? Oh, God, just kill me already – were not setting up some kind of Bee Movie-style refuge in audacity bait-and-switch. Turbo is the movie that you’re being sold. It’s a film with pop culture references as the primary source of humour in a landscape where the most successful films get their jokes from physical comedy and character work. It’s a film that casts Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson as snails whose roles are basically “Snoop Dogg” and “Samuel L. Jackson”, in a landscape that casts Idina Menzel in a big Broadway-style musical and gives her an actual character to play. It’s a film with an unnecessarily large budget in a landscape where non-Disney-affiliated outlets aim to produce quality at a sustainable sub-$100 mil budget.
It’s a film that stops for a full minute to poke fun at annoying auto-tuned YouTube remixes of stupid stuff, long after those stopped being entertaining prospects in their own right, by doing its own annoying auto-tuned YouTube remix of stupid stuff, and it is exactly as awkward and unfunny as it reads on paper.
So why do I really like Turbo?
I mean, from everything that I’ve written about the film so far, I should hate the damn thing, and that YouTube remix really should have murdered the entire film by itself. So why, despite setting off every single goddamn alarm bell that I have, do I really like Turbo? Well, much like every other answer in this article, it’s quite simple: there’s heart here. There’s heart in the film’s central dynamics – it’s a tale of two sets of brothers, Turbo & Chet, the snails, and Tito & Angelo, the humans who end up spiriting them away and looking after them, and the film does a good job at playing with the parallels – but that’s not what I mean when I say that there’s “heart”.
What’s the typical mode of attachment with “The DreamWorks Movie”? Does it have genuine affection for its characters, set-up, mechanics, and general existence? Or is it distant, snarky, and dismissive about all of that? Well, if it was the latter, then I imagine that Shreks 2 and The Third, Shark Tale and, arguably due to its occasionally cruel tone, the first Madagascar wouldn’t be so reviled. Formula is rarely noticed so readily and so dismissively by the general public if the film itself is happy to be here and happy to be doing what it sets out to do; once again: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of the lower-quality DreamWorks films – again, the first Madagascar is only included here because of those occasional moments where it forgoes its own voice in favour of sticking to formula – feel cynical from frame one, a conscious decision to just redo the Shrek formula for money instead of telling the stories they want to tell.
Turbo almost never gives off this feeling. This doesn’t feel like a film by formula because Katzenberg wanted to guarantee a profit, this feels like a film by formula because the people making it genuinely seem to love working from it. They recognise that it’s not perfect, hence the injection of genuine heart to ground proceedings, but they love it anyway, and that shot of love and energy is what proves to be the revitalising spark required to make the film work. That’s why the pop culture references inspire some genuine laughs and chuckles instead of just sighs of derision, they’ve had full-on thought put into them: for example, Turbo’s radio problems received genuine laughs from me because the songs fit the situation, the animation has a field day, and each instance of the joke doesn’t outstay its welcome, in contrast to the Pied Piper from Shrek Forever After.
That’s why Samuel L. Jackson playing Snail Samuel L. Jackson works, because the love for that idea means that the film commits to it. Robert de Niro playing Shark Robert de Niro in Shark Tale was lazy, never fully committing enough to the idea and instead just having him say vaguely Robert de Niro things in a kid-friendly manner, as if the film is constantly stopping to remind you of its joke. Turbo, though, commits and so we get a snail who has the same kind of attitude, authority, and gravitas as Samuel L. Jackson, but who manages to still feel like a distinct entity because the film doesn’t bend over backwards to remind you that, “No, guys! It’s Samuel L. Jackson as a snail!”
That’s why the extremely generic nature of the entire film – it’s basically a pastiche of A Bug’s Life, Antz, Ratatouille, Toy Story, Cars, and at least a dozen other animated films that have slipped my mind right now – works, because it cribs and borrows from so many elements yet the Frankenstein’s Monster hybrid still feels uniquely Turbo thanks to a focus on a more Latino viewpoint with the human cast. That’s why the constant licensed music cues work, because they’ve been carefully matched for optimal strength – OK, “Jump Around” is majorly on-the-nose for its scene but it’s still a great drop, and the mashup of “Eye of the Tiger” and “Holler If Ya Hear Me” is both frickin’ genius and the best usage of “Eye of the Tiger” in years. That’s why that DreamWorks Smirk works, because its deployment in-film is legitimately awesome!
It’s a laundry list of DreamWorks tropes, yet almost every one of their usages works, even having Angelo’s character design heavily resemble that of his voice actor, Luis Guzmán. Therefore, it might come as both a major and not-at-all surprise to discover that the Turbo’s director and co-writer (from an idea of his own), David Soren, has been a mainstay at DreamWorks for most of its history. The “not-at-all” part coming from the fact that this is a film that could only have been made by somebody who has been a long-time member of DreamWorks and who is determined to remind the viewing public that formula and tropes are not necessarily bad things. The “major” part coming from the fact that David Soren was the Head Of Story of Shark Tale and, as we already know, Shark Tale is one of the absolute worst films ever released.
Yet, here, he is energised, he is happy, he is heartfelt, a man with something to prove. The idea was his own, the result of DreamWorks holding an internal one-time only competition for a one-page film pitch that he won by pitching exactly what you’re thinking Turbo would be pitched like, and it had been gestating for years before finally getting made. Soren is clearly in love with his idea, he’s also in love with the formula – I don’t know why I don’t put quotation marks over every instance of that word, this series has hopefully shown you that DreamWorks didn’t really have a pre-ordained formula and it’s a common misconception – and he’s clearly excited to be making this film. That’s why nearly everything works!
In fact, I’d argue that Turbo is actually a better Cars movie than the original Cars. There are distinct Radiator Springs feels towards the Starlight Plaza strip mall that our human characters reside in, a corner of Los Angeles that nobody visits and who just want people to patronise their businesses. Then, in flies this hotshot racer, by accident, who may just be what they need to save their forgotten part of town. Where Turbo surpasses Cars in this department is in characterisation. Cars clearly sketches its supporting cast in a way where they are solely defined by their one character trait – the hippie, the drill sergeant, the sassy black female – and where it’s hard to imagine them as anything else.
Turbo barely features and characterises those non-Tito good humans, which kinda begs the question as to why you’d hire Michelle Rodriguez but hey ho, but that makes them contradictorily much deeper. By not defining them as anything specifically, besides the most minor of glimpses that we get, then they feel less stereotypical, less rigidly defined. I find it easier to see them as full-on people instead of walking stereotypes, who have lives outside of the plot of the film, whereas I just find the secondary cast of Cars to be, well, the secondary cast of characters in an animated movie. I can’t really explain why, but it just works and that makes me care more about them as a result.
Of course, this all being said, Turbo is not a particularly great movie. By its design, the most it’s aiming to be is a fun way to spend 95 minutes whilst telling a story with heart and proving that formula is not necessarily bad. It’s a fun time with a nice heart-lifting centre and climax, but nothing that connects on an especially deep level. Penguins of Madagascar aims for a similar thing but its deviations from formula and the sheer surprising extent of its heart make it ascend past the level of fun, diverting entertainment. Turbo doesn’t quite manage that, although it really tries, especially by having a lead character who is just the definition of “lovable determined underdog that you can’t help but root for”.
More problematic is the film’s gender issues. This is resolutely a boy’s tale, which means that the three female characters with speaking lines are shunted to the side-lines; not inherently a bad thing. The problems set in with the characterisations. The lone female snail, played by Maya Rudolph, is an aggressively flirtatious being whose sole defining trait – hence why I praised the purposeful malleability of the human cast earlier – is that she is stalker-obsessed with Chet, recalling the purposeful marginalisation of female cast members in at least half of DreamWorks’ filmic output. Michelle Rodriguez’s character mostly just exists, but the real problem is Kim-Ly, an elderly manicurist played by Ken Jeong.
Yes, really. Her character is fine – again, malleability – but it’s the fact that Ken Jeong was hired to do the voice. On its own, in the context of this film with the rest of DreamWorks’ history put to one side, it’s a bit of slightly racially insensitive stunt casting but mostly slips by fine on the strength of Jeong’s committed performance. In context with the studio’s history, it’s those things and also a perfect encapsulation of their typical depiction of women in their films: love interests, or barely there non-entities whose existences will be undercut at every opportunity for gags; gags like, “Ha! That woman is being voiced by a man!” Let’s not forget, this is a company that released two Shrek sequels where their interpretation of The Ugly Stepsister was that she looked like a transsexual and was voiced by Larry King and “Eeeeeewwwww!!!”
Again, this isn’t really a knock against Turbo, per se: the film is very good and I really like it. But Turbo is also a walking embodiment of DreamWorks The Studio and its evolution from Shrek 12 years earlier to near-enough now. DreamWorks The Studio has nearly always had a problem with the female gender and Turbo, by pure accident, demonstrates why. DreamWorks The Studio is rarely the most original studio on the block, and Turbo ends up being a collage of nearly every animated film released in the previous decade. DreamWorks The Studio, due to its multiple films a year production model, doesn’t aim for the stars with every film, and Turbo shows that that’s perfectly fine when the film is really good but also explains why many of the studio’s films are underperforming: it’s not essential, which doesn’t cut it so well in today’s landscape.
Turbo, essentially, is a film made like it’s still 2007, like its mere existence guarantees that it will be a success because DreamWorks are on a roll and why would anybody watch anything else over this? Again, this is not to disparage the film which is a very good film that I really like, but it is as perfect an encapsulation as any as to why DreamWorks are not doing so hot right now. For example, that budget means that the film looks damn great, but I think that the art style and colour scheme are strong enough on their own that the excess detail is unnecessary gloss that over-inflates the budget – I think you could get a film that looks close to as good as how this one looks for about $30 million less if the excess detail were stripped out.
But I feel there’s no better indicator as to where DreamWorks currently are in the animated feature landscape than this comparison. Turbo is a film that teaches viewers that you can follow any dream and succeed with a whole lotta belief and little bit of luck. In the same twelve month period that Turbo came out, however, Monsters University and Wreck-It Ralph taught viewers that there are, in fact, limits as to what you can achieve, but that that’s OK and that giving up on your dreams in favour of finding something else you’re good at that can bring you joy is not necessarily a bad thing.
Disney had begun re-inventing itself by offering more modern messages, stories and ways of communicating both, re-establishing themselves as must-see viewing. DreamWorks were still doing what they were known for doing nearly a decade ago. Their successes came from divergence from that, but their inability (and I mean they literally cannot afford to) to move away from an efficient factory-like release and production schedule means that those get hobbled as they are still not truly must-see viewing. Feature-length animation is leaving DreamWorks behind; they need to adapt or die.
Next week, we take one last detour into the world of television to look at the studio’s various televised spin-offs of their successful (and not so successful) movies, as we try and figure out why the studio seems to be having more luck in television at the moment than they are film.
A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!
Failed Critics Podcast host and secret superhero, Steve Norman, is taking on his most dangerous mission to date…
The list contains the biggest box office failures of all time. Through my extensive list of contacts and a combination of brown envelopes changing hands and top executives being slept with I have unearthed this damning list. (okay, it’s actually on Wikipedia). It is my intention to watch and review these flops for you.
Green Lantern – 2011. Losses $105,000,000.
Ryan Reynolds stars in this big budget origin story of Green Lantern Hal Jordan. One from the DC Comics stable and a member of the justice league (more on that later). The problem is that while the Green Lantern has a pretty impressive power (here’s a ring, put it on, imagine stuff, it happens) the film still feels boring. It just plods along for just under two hours.
In the film an alien crashes to Earth and before he dies passes his ring and lantern to Hal, a fighter pilot who, rather unsurprisingly, is a maverick and plays by his rules and no-one else’s. He then has to prove himself to the Green Lantern Corps. To save his planet and maybe the galaxy. I’m unsure of the latter, I wasn’t paying much attention. Definitely Earth though.
The film has three problems:
Firstly, Ryan Reynolds is just bland. Now usually I like Reynolds. He isn’t fantastic by any means but he was charismatic and likeable in the sitcom ‘Two Guys, a Girl and…’ which was a decent watch sandwiched in between Hang Time and Saved by the Bell on Trouble. He has also put in good turns in the likes of Buried and a couple of OK but forgettable films. In Lantern he doesn’t get going. He lacks the wit or coolness of Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man or the character depth of Christian Bale’s Batman.
He isn’t helped by a boring plot or poor dialogue though.The bad guy isn’t menacing enough, or scary enough, or both. You get the idea that he is a formidable foe that has been a problem for millennia but when you see him on screen, hear his backstory and have his plot revealed you’re all a bit ‘so what’. The enemy needs to really hammer home threat of danger, harm and destruction he or she poses and this one fails.
And finally, the effects look dated even though the film is barely 18 months old. A new film simply cannot get away with this.
Overall a poor film and instantly forgettable, especially considering the volume of superhero movies being released. This certainly ranks somewhere toward the bottom.
It does ask the question about where this film ties in with the Justice League movie announced for a few years time. Reynolds is undoubtedly a box office pull but the Green Lantern franchise has been tarnished with this poor effort. It leaves the studio with a dilemma; should they include Reynolds as the Green Lantern or should they reboot the character either before or after the Justice League movie is released?