Tag Archives: Sam Mendes

What I won’t be voting for in 2015

As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2015, I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before midnight tonight.

Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6, Transporter Refueled, Lost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.


Foxcatcher

steve_carell_foxcatcher1Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.


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Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age-of-Ultron-0003Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.


Southpaw

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I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.


SPECTRE

spectre-daniel-craigThis might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.

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SPECTRE

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Sam Mendes is back in the hand-stitched, luxurious leather driving seat of the 007 series as the next instalment of British espionage kills and thrills reaches the US shores this weekend.

by Owen Hughes @ohughes86

Celebrating fifty years of James Bond, Eon’s twenty third film in the series, Skyfall, was released back in October 2012 and became an enormous runaway success. Accolade after accolade was poured over it – and rightly so, as it was a thoroughly entertaining action film. Our readers and listeners certainly thought very highly of it, voting it above the likes of Amour, The Intouchables, Argo and The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012’s Failed Critics Awards.

It might be fair to say then that the weight of expectation on SPECTRE couldn’t have been higher. Skyfall ably dealt with the notion that James Bond, the suave British super spy, just wasn’t suited to the modern world. That he was too old. Too outdated. Much like Casino Royale did in 2006, it found a way to make him relevant again.

Surely then, SPECTRE wasn’t going to go over the same old ground, right?

Well, not exactly.

Facing a new Orwellian threat that takes Bond across Europe to track down a secret organisation, whilst also under pressure back home with MI6 under scrutiny for its actions, it crosses almost every box on the 007 checklist. Trains, snow, Bond-girls and Aston Martins; if you’re planning on playing a drinking game with SPECTRE, you will be inebriated within half an hour, having your stomach pumped before you’re even half way through the enormous 148 minute run time, and dead before the film has finished.

But it’s not just regular tropes of the series that make a re-appearance. Again, the idea that the secret agent is an outdated practice is continued from the previous movie. Whilst Skyfall focussed primarily on James Bond being too old, this time around it’s expanded to examine the methods employed by MI6 as a whole.

Although SPECTRE is mostly entertaining, one of its biggest problems is that by asking you to consider a world where we have surveillance drones, billions of mobile devices and CCTV cameras on every corner, why do we persist with a man in a tuxedo sneaking into a party to seduce the crime-bosses wife for tidbits of information. The ultimate conclusion is of course a combination of “the old ways are the best” and “nobody does it better”, but unless the audience are well read on their 1984’s and Brave New World’s, what exactly is the problem with information gathering in the way that’s proposed? Why is it so menacing? Is your freedom more valuable than your safety? Whatever your opinion, SPECTRE never fully addresses the issues with this “newer” method beyond showing you that the guy collecting the information is evil.

Speaking of the bad-guy, Christoph Waltz plays the latest Bond villain with relish. His softly spoken, quietly sinister performance is easily the best in this modern era against Daniel Craig’s all action hero. I’m a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen and Javier Bardem (let’s just pretend Quantum of Solace doesn’t exist, as SPECTRE seems to do as well) and they both bring something different to the series, but Oberhauser is perhaps the most nuanced opposite to James Bond thus far. It’s the age-old battle of brains and exploding-gadget-and-fast-cars-braun.

Craig may be getting sick of playing the role, with this possibly being his last appearance as Bond, but he once again seems entirely comfortable at being the rugged interpretation of Ian Flemming’s character. One who doesn’t mind getting his shoes scuffed and suit ruffled in the pursuit of his nemesis. Just watch him during the absolutely incredible opening scene set in Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. He has the swagger, the charisma and perfect timing to please fans of the series, no matter who your favourite version of the character is. Prefer the goofy Roger Moore take? Craig is more then able to match the comic timing Moore offers. Enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s confidence and cheekyness? Bingo. It’s all there in that opening 15 minutes.

The support cast are all decent enough too. Léa Seydoux as Madeleine – the closest the film gets to having the staple Bond-girl – does a good job at modernising the role. She’s not a floozie there only to fall under the charms of 007 and provide the audience with a bit of eye candy. One scene in particular on a train journey draws us back into the narrative of old-versus-new as she shows she doesn’t need Bond to show her how to use a gun. It’s a subtle development of a role that in the past has been reduced to little more than a damsel in distress that needs the big rugged man to come and save her.

Ralph Fiennes adds his own take on M, whose relationship to Bond has a lot more animosity and begrudging respect than when Judi Dench was in the role previously. Q (Ben Wishaw) is also given a lot more exposure this time around. His quirkiness will either annoy you or feel like a welcome break in the pace of relentless, non-stop action scenes and (£24m worth of) exploding vehicles. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), C (Andrew Scott), Hinx (Dave Bautista) and Lucia (Monica Belluci) are reduced to minor supporting roles which seems a shame, but they all do well with what they’re given.

Overall, for such a long film, it doesn’t ever feel boring or stretched. It suffers from a Skyfall hangover as it will constantly be compared to its predecessor, and in that regard, it is the lesser film. The way it retrofits itself onto the rest of the rebooted franchise is contrived at best and just nonsensical at worst, but it doesn’t detract too much from its own plot. Effectively, it hinges on the relationship between Craig, Seydoux and Waltz (whose appearance really could have come sooner on in the movie) which is well developed across the course of the film, but is not quite enough to elevate it to the delirious heights of Mendes’ last feature.

So no, I don’t expect the Bond revival to die with SPECTRE. Bond (James Bond) is bigger than one film, but as to where I see the film heading next? I honestly have no idea – but I am excited to find out.

You can listen to Owen, Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank review SPECTRE as well as induct James Bond into our Corridor of Praise on the podcast released back in October.

Failed Critics Podcast: In SPECTRE, It’s Columbo

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The name’s Critics. Failed Critics. Should you expect us to die during our James Bond special episode? No, you should expect us to talk!

And that’s exactly what we do for about 90 minutes, as hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guests Tony Black (from Pick A Flick) and Brian Plank. The main review this week is of course the latest adventures of Britain’s (worst kept) secret agent in SPECTRE. Sam Mendes is back in the director’s seat after his record breaking success with Skyfall, and Daniel Craig faces yet more peril with the rise of a shady organisation threatening the safety of the British people.

To tie into the release of SPECTRE, we have a miniature version of our Corridor of Praise episodes as we induct 007 himself. Starting with Ian Fleming’s original novels, right through to Daniel Craig emerging from the sea in Speedo swimming trunks, we cover the character’s history from beginning to the modern day.

There’s also time for us to squeeze in Owen’s review of the Columbo TV movie that Steve made him watch after last week’s quiz, before this weeks Bond-themed quiz takes place. We also react to a few news items that have crossed our paths over the last seven days, including: Indiana Jones 5 and potential re-casting issues; why the Steve Jobs movie is tanking in the US; and one of Hollywood’s Golden Age actresses, Maureen O’Hara, passing away.

Join us again next week where we’ll have more guests, more films and less Columbo.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Monsters Double-Header

Pacific RimIt’s a first for the podcast this week and we have a double main review. First we discuss Pixar’s latest sequel/first prequel Monsters University, and try to figure out if Pixar are getting lazy, or if everyone else has simply upped their game. After that we talk gigantic bad-ass robots and aliens in our review of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

Also this week, we discuss Sam Mendes’ return to the Bond franchise (Yay!) and Johnny Depp’s return to the Alice in Wonderland franchise (why?!), James has a rant about films from The Asylum, particularly the so-bad-that-it’s-fucking-terrible Sharknado, and the other lads watched some films as well. Guess which forgetful old bastard wrote this.

Join us next week as we review the final film in the Wright/Pegg/Frost Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End.

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Best films on TV: 22-28 April

The best films each day on free-to-air TV as chosen by site editor and self-confessed John Hughes obsessive, James Diamond.

LA ConfidentialMonday 22nd April – Revolutionary Road (BBC4, 9pm)

Sam Mendes may have hit the commercial and critical jackpot with last year’s Skyfall, but some of his finest work is in portraying the minutiae of family life, and the struggles to save a relationship rather than the world. American Beauty is a modern classic, and Away We Go is an underrated gem of a movie. That’s why I’m recommending Revolutionary Road without having seen it myself. Mendes directing Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as an American couple in the 1950s is all I need to hear.

Tuesday 23rd April – LA Confidential (ITV4, 10pm)

More fantastic period drama from an Oscar-winning writer/director, this time it’s Curtis Hanson (who won the Oscar for this co-written screenplay) and the elegantly brutal L.A Confidential. A noir thriller set in Los Angeles in the decade after the Second World War, it confirmed the status of Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey as Hollywood heavyweights, and proved Kim Bassinger also had something left to give. That’s before even mentioning brilliant performances from Guy Pierce, James Cromwell, and Danny DeVito. Film-making at its best.

Wednesday 24th April – The Naked Gun (Film4, 9pm)

From one end of the movie cop spectrum to the other. While some may argue that Airplane is one of the funniest movies ever, I have always preferred this Zucker/Abrahams franchise, with the brilliant Leslie Neilsen as Frank Drebin. Let’s just hope that recent rumours of a reboot turn out to be false.

Thursday 25th April – Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Film4, 10.45pm)

You may have noticed that if I see a John Hughes movie showing during the week, it invariably gets a spot on my list. This week is no exception, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of his best. The story of Steve Martin and John Candy as a mismatched pair of strangers struggling to get home for Thanksgiving. It doesn’t do anything clever or original with an admittedly derivative premise, but is carried to brilliance by great central performances, and a heavy dollop of John Hughes heart.

Friday 26th April – Rear Window (Film4, 4.45pm)

Despite Vertigo’s place at the top of the most recent Sight and Sound poll, Rear Window is the film I most often hear people pick when talking about their favourite Hitchcock pictures. It certainly has a less creepy performance from James Stewart, backed by a brilliantly simple plot that allows the Master of Suspense to work his magic to perfection. For those of you after a late-night choice, why not catch Withnail & I on Film4 at 12.20am. Though you’d be wise not to start the drinking game at that hour of the day.

Saturday 27th April – Notorious (BBC2, 2.05pm)

Recommending two Hitchcock films on consecutive days is possibly the height of film blogging laziness. I just can’t help it though, especially when you can spend Saturday afternoon watching the great Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in another of Hitch’s perfect films. The fact that it’s on BBC2 means you don’t even have to worry about adverts. Bliss.

Sunday 28th April – Hot Fuzz (ITV2, 9pm)

One of the reasons that we at Failed Critics are so excited about The World’s End this summer is because whenever Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost produce something, its guaranteed to be another slice of fried gold. This 2007 follow-up to Shaun of the Dead is an ambitious buddy cop action film set in Gloucestershire, with touches of Point Break and The Wicker Man thrown in for good measure. The brilliant support cast includes classic British thespians like Edward Woodward and Timothy Dalton, as well as a number of the new guard including Paddy Considine and Olivia Coleman.

Whine On You Crazy Diamond: Don’t fuck up Bond!

Friday saw the release of the much-anticipated new Bond film, Skyfall. You can get the Failed Critics take on it in tomorrow’s Bond Special podcast – but so far critical and commercial consensus is that this is one of the best of the series.

So now that Bond is back on top, I can’t help but worry that Hollywood is going to fuck it all up in the way they did during the later Roger Moore films, and even more unforgivably with the piss-poor Die Another Day.

So here is my advice, gleaned from years of imaginary film production experience, on how not to fuck up the next Bond film.

1. Get a world-class director

Sam Mendes was a very interesting choice for Skyfall. The Oscar-winning director of suburban dramas American Beauty and Revolutionary Road hasn’t exactly got a track-record for the type of ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ action required and expected from a Bond film (although Road to Perdition and Jarhead had their moments). It didn’t matter though, as Mendes (with cinematographer Roger Deakins) produced a sensational-looking film, and coaxed brilliant performances from the entire cast. Skyfall’s quiet moments definitely benefited from having someone like Mendes at the helm.

But with Mendes unlikely to direct the next Bond film, who should the producers turn to? Whoever it is, please don’t return to the days of the jobbing director whose role is more managerial than artistic. Bond is a premium brand once more, and it should be a job for the best directors currently working.

My choice would be one of Christopher Nolan (unlikely), Paul Greengrass (whose future with the Bourne series seems to be over), or Matthew Vaughn (currently one of the most talented directors working, and has shown he can handle a big studio film with X-Men: First Class).

2. Set the tone, don’t respond to it

What was so refreshing about Skyfall is that it had something to say about the way intelligence agencies operate in this new era of counter-terrorism. It offered us a camp, maniacal villain – but made it clear that ‘we’ created him. This was blurring-the-lines stuff, with moral ambiguity everywhere.

Bond needs to continue in this vein to remain relevant. A modern Bond should be dealing with issues like drone killings and illegal rendition – not returning to the dark days of ‘one-off man mentals’ (© Chris Morris) conjuring plans to destroy the entire world from their underwater bases.

3. Get the theme tune right

I know this might seem silly, but a Bond film can live or die by its theme. Die Another Day had a promising pre-credit sequence, but the moment the Madonna snoozefest of a tune kicked in you just knew the film was going to go downhill quicker than Roger Moore on skis chased by Russians.

Adele was a safe, yet credible choice for Skyfall – and the tune itself is as much homage to Bond tunes gone by as the film is to its predecessors. But please stay away from any future attempts to modernise the Bond theme. It should be classy, orchestral, and above all keep it well out of the hands of anyone who has appeared on a TV talent show.

This week’s suggested viewing:

DVD – This is a recommendation for those doing their best to avoid Halloween. Although I was more charmed by it than my Failed Critics colleagues, we all agreed that The Five-Year Engagement (out on DVD today) was a thoroughly decent modern rom-com, with some lovely chemistry between stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.

TV – Let the Right One In (2008), Film4, Wednesday 31October. I cannot recommend staying up for Tomas Alfredson’s debut highly enough. This Swedish horror is more than a blood and guts vampire film, it is a fine study of the alienation of a young boy growing up in a Stockholm suburb in the 1980s. This film will stay with you.

Lovefilm Instant  – Who Saw Her Die (1972). The story of an estranged English couple in Venice recovering from the death of their daughter, and who get dragged into a murky underworld when they investigate the circumstances surrounding her death. No, this isn’t Don’t Look Now – in fact, this Italian giallo film was released a year before Nic Roeg’s horror classic, and is clearly (alongside other giallo films) a big influence on it. Ennio Morricone’s score is probably the scariest thing you will hear all Halloween

Netflix UKTucker and Dale vs Evil (2010). Those who enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods’ deconstruction of the horror genre will surely enjoy this reworking of the classic ‘teenagers murdered by weird hillbillies’ theme. Tucker and Dale are two quite lovable hicks who are planning to enjoy a weekend away at their new cabin, but some smart-mouth teens nearby get the wrong idea and, well – chaos and hilarity ensues.