Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

Failed Critics Podcast: Stephen King Triple Bill

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.

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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

“Welcome to the moment.”

Oh for fuck’s sake!

When I said that I like popcorn flavoured junk food movies, what I MEANT was that I like fun films that don’t necessarily have something big or important to say. Daft action flicks that don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s how I can watch the early Fast & Furious films without rolling my eyes to the point of agony. It’s how I can watch The Expendables without feeling the urge to push a biro through my ear. It’s how I can watch films like 2002’s xXx and 2005’s xXx: State of the Union and see them for the beer and pizza films they are and forget about them ten minutes after I’ve had a blast watching them.

I’m sitting down three nights after I saw Xander Cage return to write this review. I’m still furious at the insult to my intelligence I paid to sit and watch.

Years and years after Ice Cube saved the world, the Triple-X program is no longer a clandestine agency. It’s a full strength government funded organisation taking the most extreme people with the most fearless attitudes towards danger and turning them into super spies.

While on a recruiting missing, Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the agency’s founder and leader is killed when a bad guy, with a weapon that drops satellites out of orbit, drops one on him. Not long afterwards, a team of highly trained agents (that includes legendary martial artists Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen and British Cage fighter Michael Bisping) break into a government meeting being led by big wig Jane Marke (Toni Collette) and steal the device.

Going straight to their last resort, the program hunts out and re-recruits the long thought dead Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) and send him and his team of reprobates to find the device and save the day.

So, yeah. I repeat: For fuck’s sake!

This film has two very clear, very distinct sides to it. Its first part is the cast. This is the part worth focusing on if you’re going to sit through this two hour cabbage fart. It’s the part where you see Donnie Yen kicking ass in spectacular fashion. It’s the part where Tony Jaa continues his amazing life-long audition to be the next Jackie Chan. Honestly, it’s even the part where Michael Bisping doesn’t make himself look like a complete tit and puts on a half decent show.

It’s these moments where the guys on screen are clearly having fun, and you get to have fun. For want of a shittier, more overused term: All those on screen have a chemistry that really shows when you watch them. Action stars doing action star things and having a damn good time doing it. Jaa and Bisping have an on screen bromance similar to Lundgren and Li in The Expendables, while Vin Diesel, the man that has become a Tesco Value Dwayne Johnson with this film, has a blinding time with relative newcomer Ruby Rose. This is absolutely because she is the one and only woman in the film he doesn’t awkwardly flirt with like a dog with three cocks; and these moments are much better for it. Even the surprise cameo that isn’t a surprise by the time it happens is a reason to grin like a fool.

Unfortunately these genuinely fun parts don’t make up for the shit show that is part two.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is so insulting to its audience, so unwilling to admit that those of us happy to watch them and give them the benefit of the doubt have more than two brain cells to rub together. In the space of less than two hours, this film managed to drop so far in my estimation that words simply cannot describe how insulted I felt as a fan of the series and how angry I was at how stupid it made me look. I’m willing to give most films a chance and I try so very hard to see them for what they are and enjoy them as such. But this film with its unforgivable jumps in logic and its inane, dried up dog shit excuse for a story take swings at my good nature every. Single. Second. It pretends to have something interesting to say.

As the thoroughly embarrassed Toni Collette tries her best to persuade herself of the legitimacy of the script she’s wasted valuable brain space memorising, she does nothing but put across the same brave face you’d expect to see on a kidnapped journalist trying to blink her way into a rescue, shitting herself as her captors threaten to end her but keeping a stern, straight face the whole time.

The film as a whole displays a level of stupidity that I simply can’t comprehend. Super-duper signal jammers find themselves a prime location in the film’s plot. Yet, every time one of them is switched on, everyone’s phone still fucking works. The latest recruit to the program is apparently a real life soccer star, so desperate are these people for soldiers that they stole a dude who can kick a ball in a straight line. But, it turns out, this was after they recruited a DJ in an Assassin’s Creed hood and an imbecile that likes to crash cars into things for a laugh. I mean… a super spy disc jockey? Really? What is he gonna do? Drop the bass on the twats with guns? Just please stop treating me like a fucking moron and put a little fucking effort into your film.

I was fully prepared to watch a mildly rubbish film, come out and review it saying it was fun but it’s one that’s to be watched with friends and beers and not taken too seriously. Having seen it, my tone has changed dramatically. There is no need to watch this film at all; I can’t recommend it to anyone, at all. I wouldn’t wish it in my worst enemy. It should be cast into the bowls of hell, along with La La Land and The Absolutely Fabulous Movie and forgotten about entirely, only ever to be brought up if you meet director D J Caruso as the reason you punch him in the dick.

FrightFest 2016 – Day One

“The World is not round. Not from where I stand. It’s warped. Contorted.”

I’ve always wanted to come to one of these festivals. A few days surrounded by like-minded horror fans watching new and interesting stuff made to make your skin crawl, your heart race and stain your pants.

As tickets for this year’s festival went on sale, I wondered and waited and couldn’t decide whether or not this was something I should actually do. “Fuck it” I thought. I’m jumping in.

Ok, so real life is getting in the way (as it does) and as such my FrightFest experience this year is three days out of five. I struggled through a long shit week at work, loaded up on Red Bull and Lucozade and hit the motorway for opening night. And there I was. Tired, grubby, and only just making it in time for the opening film of the festival. But I made it. Won’t you join me for a couple of days of horror?


My Father, Die
“Come on. Make me proud.”

Starting the show off with one hell of a bang, Sean Brosnan’s feature debut film blew the roof off the Horror Channel Screen. With a little chat from star and super bad guy Gary Stretch afterwards.

After watching his father beat his older brother to death, leaving him deaf from the same attack, Asher has waited years to avenge his brother’s murder. He gets his chance when his father, Ivan, is released early for good behaviour and he rolls himself back into town. Asher tracks his old man down and lays a vicious beat down to the murderous bastard, leaving him for dead.

But this monster of a man isn’t even close to being done. A brutal and bloody cat and mouse game ensues as Ivan tears the little town apart looking for his son.

My Father, Die set the tone for the rest of the weekend with its visceral violence wrapped up in an excellently made story. With no flab to the film anywhere, it’s as near perfect a film as you’re likely to see.

Gary Stretch’s Ivan is a terrifying monster of a man. Walking a fine line between scary and cheesy-funny, he walks the darker side of that divide brilliantly. I certainly don’t remember him being that big in Dead Man’s Shoes, but the man definitely bulked up for his role as the biker turned killer.

Joe Anderson’s turn as the deaf and voluntarily mute Asher was great. He was convincing as the scared boy in a man’s body, stepping up to protect his family; with a fun and surprisingly effective added touch of the film being narrated by young, pre-mute Asher.

The FrightFest listing for this film describes it as “The Southern Gothic progeny of CAPE FEAR, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and OLDBOY” and I can’t agree more. If you let Rob Zombie remake any of those films, you are going to get this nasty little flick. One of the best films I’ve seen in a while. The rest of the weekend has some work to do to keep up!


Cell
“Stay off your phone. They didn’t.”

Sadly, there was never going to be a good way to follow up Hillbilly Cape Fear back there, so the festival threw out the “Also Ran” of the night. The film that had to be shown on Thursday so it could be called the UK premiere before the cinema and VOD release the next day.

Cell is the latest adaptation from a Stephen King book. Starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson (henceforth know as “The 1408 Team”) it sees graphic novel writer and estranged husband/father Clay Riddell (Cusack) teaming up with grizzly Tom McCourt (Jackson) when the world is mysteriously zombified through untimely use of their phones. Instantly turned into violent psychopaths via their attachment to the iDevices, the monsters created by the strange signal are ever-evolving and ever-more dangerous as the pair struggle to survive on their way to Clay’s wife and son.

Aside from a couple of relatively interesting ideas, Cell doesn’t really offer anything worth watching. Team 1408 seem to enjoy their time together and it’s nice not to have a shiny happy ending, but besides that, you’ll probably do better with 28 Days Later. There’s a lot that could have been great here – but in fairness, the book isn’t one of King’s best – and there’s plenty of potential that’s been squandered. But this is nothing new, especially when it comes to King adaptations.

Just watch Team 1408 in their previous roles together.

Like I said, there was never any chance of a film keeping up with what My Father, Die this evening. Hopefully this is the night they just needed to flash a few mainstream stars around and we can get back to the goodness of great horror afterwards.


And that’s a wrap for the day.

Sadly, my time with opening night ended here. Struggling to stay awake during Cell and the prospect of a two-hour drive home meant I had to call it a night. It meant I missed the world premiere of one of my more anticipated films, Let Her Out, but that’s life. From all accounts, it went down an absolute storm and blew everyone away.

There’ll be no Friday wrap up for this year’s festival. I have to work to pay for the tickets after all. But I will be rooted to my chair all day Saturday and Sunday where I get to see really anticipated films like Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir and Rob Zombie’s 31.

Stay tuned…

Failed Critics Podcast: The Hateful Bolshoi Bowie Overdogs

labyrinth

With the tragic passing of one of British music’s most iconic people earlier this week, our latest episode features a touching tribute to the pioneer that was the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Jareth the Goblin King or just simply ‘David Bowie’. Failed Critics founder and Bowie super-fan, James Diamond, returns for a short emotional farewell to one of the most inspirational figures of this and last century.

We even dug up a clip from an episode we recorded back in 2012 when James went to the inaugural Bowiefest in London and have edited into the post-credits of this week’s podcast.

Elsewhere, Steve Norman hosts with Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne back for reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, The Hateful Eight, starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and more. Loads more. More than eight others.

Owen also reviews the fly-on-the-wall documentary Bolshoi Babylon, from the producer of Man On Wire and Searching for Sugarman, about the historic ballet theatre company in Moscow and all of its recent scandals. Meanwhile, Brooker indulges himself with the surfer-cop-classic Point Break in preparation for the imminent remake’s release.

We even took a few minutes to scratch our heads over the Golden Globe categories, never-mind the winners that were announced this past weekend.

Join us again next week for reviews of Creed, Room and The Revenant.

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Barely Lethal

Despite a whirlwind charm offensive from Hailee Steinfeld and some decent moments, Barely Lethal is a wasted opportunity.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

barely lethal 1Pro-Tip for all aspiring teenage/high school comedies: NEVER invoke the names of Mean Girls, The Breakfast Club, 10 Things I Hate About You, et al during the course of your film.  Just don’t.  Ever.  Do not bring them up, either as homages or having characters mention them by name for whatever reason, as all it does is make you look worse off by comparison and leaving the viewer, myself in this case, wondering why they’re not just watching those frequently-much-better films.  The DVD cover of Mean Girls is prominently displayed at one early point in Barely Lethal and I strongly considered turning off the latter to watch the former again, even though I already re-watched Mean Girls exactly one month ago!

That’s actually being rather unnecessarily harsh on Barely Lethal, which isn’t as bad as its godawful title and trailer suggests it will be.  It’s just the kind of film that can’t stop making really obvious, really amateur, and really easy-to-avoid mistakes no matter how hard it tries.  And it keeps making them over and over and over, like a parent who still cannot operate a DVR despite having had the same one for 8 goddamn years.

So, for those not aware, Barely Lethal follows Megan (Hailee Steinfeld) who, orphaned at a young age, has spent her life being raised by a secretive branch of the US government that turns little girls into stone-cold killer assassins, headed by Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson).  She’s top of her class and the first of them to be activated, much to the irritation of her rival Heather (an utterly wasted Sophie Turner), but disagrees with Hardman’s “no attachments” policy and, whilst on various assignments, finds herself drawn to and desiring a normal teenage life.  When a mission to capture evil arms dealer Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) goes wrong, Megan takes the opportunity to fake her death, relocate to a quiet American town, and attend high school, posing as a foreign exchange student for a nice family.

From there, things proceed exactly as you’re expecting them to, which is the first big shame.  The spy/assassin elements never quite gel with the high school elements, you see, with the former just kinda walking in and out of the film whenever it pleases, leaving the majority of the film basically being another “fish-out-of-water high school” movie but with an unnecessarily complex backstory to that “fish-out-of-water” part.  The tone is also wildly unsatisfying, not committing enough to the dark comedy and more unsavoury implications of the spy/assassin part, but also not committing enough to the high school tone to be sincere and genuine, occupying a middle-ground that leaves everything feeling weak: the spy stuff too toothless, the high school stuff too underdeveloped.

Incidentally, I could tell that this was written by a man even if I hadn’t seen the titles and done my research, such is the utter disdain the film shows for high school and especially for teenage girls.  Even the most utterly blistering takedowns of high school culture, like the aforementioned Mean Girls, have some semblance of caring for its targets, usually out of a desire to want the place and people to be better and much less sh*tty.  Barely Lethal really doesn’t, and so every last cliché in the high school movie book – bitchy girls, arsehole teenagers who are cruel to everybody for no real reason, lecherous and/or painfully uncool teachers, hunky yet vapid and self-centred boy (Toby Sebastian) who our lead is inexplicably all over instead of their equally as attractive yet slightly dorky best friend (Thomas Mann) who acts like a petulant child when she doesn’t crush back on him – gets trotted out and abused with no substance or wit or subversive intent.  It’s basically Baby’s First High School with extra bitter vitriol.

Or, to put it another way, this is a real exchange in this movie that caused me to genuinely and involuntarily groan out loud.

“There is an army of highly trained murderous psychopaths out to get me!”

“Hey, you survived high school.”

It’s a really lazy and underdeveloped movie, basically.  How lazy?  It has a montage set to “Bad Reputation” just like EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF HIGH SCHOOL-SET MEDIA IN HUMAN EXISTENCE.  Nothing feels natural, nothing feels paced, it just blazes through everything at 200MPH.  The point when Hardman inevitably tracked down Megan should be where the last third kicks off but I had a sneaking suspicion that the film wasn’t even halfway done, a suspicion that was promptly confirmed when I checked my watch and saw that we were only 40 minutes in.  The pre-high school stuff encompasses the film’s opening 10 minutes.  10.  Out of 105.  With the rest of those minutes instead being dedicated to trotting out every cliché in short order.  Surprising nobody, this means that the cast aren’t so much characters as one-note archetypes/stereotypes that their actors and actresses are supposed to fill in through sheer force of personality.

To her credit, this is something that Hailee Steinfeld manages to pull off.  Megan’s character, on paper, very much reads as a walking “Chloë Grace Moretz said ‘no’”, which is how it could have turned out in lesser hands.  Yet Steinfeld makes it her own in a number of ways.  She carries herself and convinces near-totally as somebody raised to become something they don’t really want to be, and who just wants to be normal; somebody who is genuinely out-of-their-comfort-zone at high school.  She’s also convincing at kicking ass when required, but not to the extent where I sit and wonder why she’s upset over the evil high school clichés instead of tearing through them like a hot knife through butter.  Then there’s her natural goofy charm, which is just so easily endearing and ultimately makes it hard not to like and enjoy time with Megan.  Between this and Pitch Perfect 2, which utilised said goofy charm way better but hey ho, Steinfeld very much seems to be in the part of her career where she’s a one-woman charm offensive, which is something I am not at all complaining about.

Unfortunately, her co-stars’ attempts to do the same are hampered by the simple fact that they don’t get enough screen-time to do so.  Sophie Turner is asked to do absolutely nothing besides be the film’s alpha bitch, not helped by the fact that she just walks in and out of the film at random points, giving no weight to her inevitable final showdown with Megan.  Jessica Alba seems to be trying to turn Knox into a witty and snarky yet legitimately dangerous villain but she gets maybe 10 minutes at best and her entire existence is just for perfunctory finale fireworks, whilst Samuel L. Jackson just kinda Samuel L. Jacksons for a bit, now seemingly at the part of his career where he will appear in quite literally anything that’s willing to provide him with money.  OK, more so than usual.

As for the action sequences…  Well, you know how Spy just proved than an action-comedy can and, in fact, should be just as proficient at the action sequences as the comedy sequences?  Turns out that Kyle Newman, who also directed 2009’s should-have-been-better Fanboys, is not Paul Feig.  The film’s low-budget radiates from how incredibly small scale the very few action sequences are, and all of them are shot abysmally and edited haphazardly.  The stand-out awful action sequence though is undoubtedly Megan and Heather’s big throw-down which, despite needing to be this big payoff, is near-incomprehensible due to excessively gratuitous camera shaking and unnecessarily tight framing.  Rule #1 of fight scenes in movies: the viewer needs to be able to see what’s going on!

And it’s little amateur mistakes like that which sink Barely Lethal.  I wanted to like this movie, and I do like certain parts of it – Hailee Steinfeld is a bona-fide charmer, there are the occasional funny lines, and the eventual bond that Megan makes with her ‘foster sister’ Liz (Dove Cameron) is kinda sweet and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing – but it’s one of those films that seems to believe that openly acknowledging its awareness of high school movie clichés gives it Carte blance to indulge in them anyway.  It wastes its premise on excessively trod ground and, unlike The DUFF, it’s too lazy (and rather vindictive) to come up with good enough material to make up for that fact.

Hailee Steinfeld is clearly destined to become A Star, regardless of whether it’s Serious Actor Steinfeld from works like True Grit or Charming Movie Star Steinfeld from this and Pitch Perfect 2, and she deserves films that are willing to work as hard and be as good as she is.  Barely Lethal is just not that film, and pure charisma alone can’t prop up a boring, disappointing, lazy waste of a movie.

Callum Petch is ready to do the Bus Stop.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 6 – Avengers Assemble

In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

The longest episode in our Avengers Minisode series sees us clock in at a bumper 30 minutes! But it’s worth it for Avengers Assemble, the film that truly cemented Marvel Studios as the groundbreaking film company they are today. The third highest grossing film of all time, earning over $1bn in ticket sales alone, The Avengers was an unstoppable juggernaut of a film that earned almost as much critical praise as it did in box office revenue.

It was the final stamp on a project that began all the way back in 2005 and closed out Marvel’s Phase 1 in style. The heroes we’d seen develop in the five preceding movies finally got together on screen for the first time under the direction of Joss Whedon.  To see Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), finally together alongside Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD as they tried to thwart an alien invasion, led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the movie was the massive pay-off that the franchise so richly deserved.

Long time listeners to the podcast will recognise our retro review here has been taken from the second ever episode of the Failed Critics Podcast with James, Steve and Gerry, back when the film was first released in 2012. Joining Owen for a brand new retrospective look back on the film is our special guest – and former podcast regular – Carole Petts to assess whether or not the film still holds up considering all that’s come after it in Phase 2.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

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Half A Decade In Film – 2014

So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.

Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.

Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…


Kundo: Age of the Rampant

kundoToday, those who serve the people, serve only their own interests, and neglect their sworn duty. Isn’t that shameful?

Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.

I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.

The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.

He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.

The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.

Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.

It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.

There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.

But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.

A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Pride

prideI’ve had a lot of new experiences during this strike. Speaking in public, standing on a picket line. And now I’m in a gay bar.

Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!

We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.

The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America The Winter SoldierBefore we get started, does anyone want to get out?

As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.

For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.

Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!

Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.

My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.

It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nightcrawler

NIGHTCRAWLERYou can’t win the lottery unless you make the money to buy a ticket.

Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.

Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.

It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Guardians of the Galaxy

gotgHe said that he may be an… “a-hole”. But he’s not, and I quote, “100% a dick”.

Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.

James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.

The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.

Turbo

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.


turbo-sq1000_s8_f122_cc-2_rgb27] Turbo (17th July 2013)

Budget: $127 million

Gross: $282,570,682

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!

Callum Petch’s God in him saw the Devil in you.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is not particularly intelligent, mature or able to fully escape the shadow of a certain other Matthew Vaughn film, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

kingsman 2Matthew Vaughn is now one of the best action directors working today.  That feels really weird and kinda wrong to type and say, but it’s honestly true by this point.  The guy who got his start producing Guy Ritchie crime films and directing Layer Cake is now one of the best action movie directors working today.  It all, however, becomes more than clear when one actually watches Kingsman: The Secret Service.  In stark contrast to the typical way of shooting action films, Vaughn doesn’t shake the camera around like a drunkard who is sobering up, he doesn’t keep it tightly zoomed in on the characters in a misguided attempt to make the viewer feel like they’re there, and he doesn’t rapidly cut between sixteen different shots to mask any violence in incomprehensibility.

Instead, Kingsman is fond of actually showing you stuff.  He prefers longer takes with slightly steadier cameras, although they do shake, that keep enough distance from the people that it’s filming without losing the impact of the various hits.  In addition, Vaughn is a man of style, flinging himself into the comic book world of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ source material with gleeful abandon.  Choreography is wild and exaggerated – many unnecessary flips, highly impractical moves, and operating on rule of cool more than anything else – and he plays with speed to great effect.  There are instances of the obvious Zack Snyder super-slo-mo-then-speed-up-then-slow-down-again school of filmmaking, but most of the time things are more subtle, employing brief doses of hyper-speed to enhance the kineticism of the fight scenes as well as purposefully jarring usages of CG’d environments and stitched together shots.

This all ends up creating action scenes that feel very reminiscent of the Lucas Lee fight from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the entirety of The World’s End, like Matthew Vaughn saw what Edgar Wright was doing and, instead of merely taking notes, lifted pretty much the whole aesthetic for himself.  It really, really works, though.  When Kingsman does get into its action scenes, they end up being a tonne of glorious fun.  Much like when he directed Kick-Ass, Vaughn displays a gleeful rather teenage enthusiasm for action sequences, prioritising fun and coolness over logic, reality and good taste.  In its standout sequence, Vaughn ends up crafting an utterly ridiculous brawl that starts off feeling like slightly uncomfortable wish-fulfilment bad taste, but becomes so gloriously deranged – aided by a perfect music cue – and so impeccably staged and shot that I ended up revelling with the film in its excessive line-crossing mayhem.  It’s the kind of action scene that films don’t have the balls to make nowadays.

That’s what Kingsman has going for it.  Pure glorious debauched fun, where you can also actually make out what’s going on, which is an incredibly nice change of pace from humourless incomprehensible dreck like Taken 3, The Equalizer and their ilk.  I mean, it’s not the only thing going for it, but it is the main thing going for it and the thing that powers it through most of its problems.  Vaughn’s direction is always pacey and stylish, the performances are all excellent – in particular, relative newcomer Taron Egerton really nails lead character Eggsy’s innate goodness without losing sight of the fact that he’s a mischievous young adult, whilst Colin Firth legitimately (and surprisingly) impresses as a halfway convincing action movie star – and there are many legitimate belly-laughs to be found within.

This all being said, Kingsman does have many problems.  For one, at two hours and change, it is too long and that sustained energy eventually starts feeling a bit tiring at many points where the film isn’t going full-tilt.  For two, whilst I do give the film points for a female lead character, in the shape of competing Kingsman candidate Roxy (Sophie Cookson), I do take those points back for the film not really giving her much to do, despite making a big deal out of her existence.  This is actually a problem with the film overall, lots of time is spent on certain characters and plotlines – the main ones involving chav Eggsy beings groomed by Colin Firth’s Harry Hart to become the latest Kingsman, a member of an elite and highly secretive spy organisation, whilst tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) puts into play an evil plan that threatens the world – and that split can, at times, leave the film feeling unfocussed and underdeveloped in parts.

More of an issue than those, though, is the simple fact that Kingsman is not Kick-Ass.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s the same people who made Kick-Ass the film (Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman) adapting work by the same people who made Kick-Ass the comic (Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons).  Kingsman has that same anarchic tone, that same gleeful desire to revel in immaturity, that same stylish nature, the same attempt at melding action and comedy, that same irritating self-conscious insistence on having characters refer to the type of movie the film is trying to be in-dialogue, that same shock death of [REDACTED] at the two-thirds mark…  I think you see what the problem is.

Kingsman ends up hitting a lot of Kick-Ass’ beats only without the surprise impact that Kick-Ass had back in 2010.  It’s also kinda just a lesser movie in general.  It’s nowhere near as funny, most of its cast isn’t as developed, its pace over the runtime isn’t as well managed, and I rarely found it as giddy and grin-inducingly brilliant as I found, and still find, Kick-Ass to be.  It feels less vital, less like a shot in my movie-going arm, and less brilliant than that film, basically.  When it’s going full-tilt, pushing itself well past the typical limits of immaturity and backing utterly ridiculous extended displays of violence in sync to “Pomp And Circumstance”, that lower-quality Xerox feeling rescinds completely and the film is a delight to watch.  When it slows down from that, though, my personal being was filled equally with enjoyment for what I was watching but also a desire to just watch Kick-Ass again.

That all being said, Kingsman: The Secret Service is still a delight and a far better film than its last minute delay and eventual January release date would have you believe.  In its lesser moments, it’s a less-great version of Kick-Ass.  In the moments when it’s on fire, and those do eventually come and my word are they glorious, it sets a high bar for the rest of 2015’s action films to clear.  Superbly directed, very well acted, and a great deal of fun, Kingsman is very much a delight that, although it never overcomes the shadow of Kick-Ass, is another excellent entry into the filmography of Matthew Vaughn: one of the best action movie directors working today.

Still feels weird saying that.

Kingsman: The Secret Service will be released in UK cinemas on January 29th, and in US cinemas on February 13th.

Callum Petch is as free as a bird now.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Listen Up Hollywood – Die Hard 6

A new series where Steve takes a semi regular bash at planning some movies for the Hollywood bigwigs.

by Steve Norman (@stevepn86)

diehard1

I have a theory about the Die Hard films. Not only do they get worse with every film made but the quality also dips the larger area John McClane covers during the movie.

In the original, and the best, McClane is confined to a single skyscraper. The movie also has the best villain of the series in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber but the relatively small area it takes place in helps make the film what it is.

The second instalment sees our hero tackle terrorists in an airport. A sizeable area but again still quite confined. In Die Hard with a Vengeance McClane teams up with Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus in a movie that spans most of New York City.

Then the franchise went away for a bit and everyone thought we had ended up with an excellent action trilogy. However it was bought back and in Die Hard 4 (I’m not bothering with ridiculous taglines) where we yippee-kayayed around most of the East Coast of the USA. This was the first Die Hard that was not good. It was OK though and in my opinion receives more flack than it deserves. It did sacrifice the 18 rating to get a larger audience which made the film suffer. Number 5 did the same with the rating and seemed to span an area of Eastern Europe that Vladimir Putin would envy. It sucked.

I do not like to see film franchises I love go out on a low. This is why I am optimistic that the new Star Wars films will be immense and this is why I want more Die Hard.

And I have a plan for the film.

It needs to be set in a confined(ish) space and only have one main hero, John McClane. No Samuel L. or Jai Courtney offering support. Just the former cop ass kicking and wise cracking throughout the movie.

You also need a reasonable ‘in’. In the first two movies he was picking up his wife. In the rest it was a bit more elaborate to get him involved.

Die-Hard-Square

So with this in mind my film starts in the White House. Ok, I know we have had White House Down and that other one with Gerard Butler but they were pretty mediocre.

Why is McClane at the White House? Maybe he is taking his grandchild (his kids in the film are old enough to have kids about seven or eight, right?) and their class on a tour along with a teacher. Maybe he is collecting a medal or award for his heroics during his life.

Either way he is there and some terrorists turn up. Part of me wants to introduce a third Gruber brother but it seems a bit stretched. Basically pick a bad guy/group. Their motive and origin is of little consequence to the story. The main bad guy needs a bit of psychological menace and their needs to be a henchman in a vest. Preferably Nordic looking.

Of course the President is kidnapped and held hostage in the Oval Office. McClane’s only help, other than ineffectual and ‘by the books’ jobsworth police and CIA officers is White House security guard Al Powell who was annoyingly absent from the last three movies.

There you have it Hollywood. Die Hard 6.

Failed Critics Podcast: Captain America, Major Spoilers, and General Shambles

Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Robert Redford and Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Welcome to this weeks Failed Critics Podcast, and in this episode we’re reviewing two of the most anticipated films of the early blockbuster season. Marvel Phase Two continues apace with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while another sequel in the shape of Muppets Most Wanted also comes under the spotlight.

James is away this week, but we’re joined by our friend Carole Petts as the team not only review Captain America 2, but also delve into what it means for the MCU in Spoiler Alert. Owen also gives us a sneak preview of another highly anticipated sequel after he was lucky enough to gaze upon the brutal spectacle of The Raid 2.

We’re hopefully back to normal next week, with James back in the saddle and reviews of Noah and The Double.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

By Carole Petts

 

I liked the first Captain America. I mean, I really liked it. The attempt at welding a war film onto a modern superhero popcorn flick was appreciated because they got so much right – capturing the essence of Steve Rogers and summoning memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark into the bargain. But I fully appreciate that this isn’t a view shared by everyone. If you’re one of those people, the good news is that we’ve got the obligatory origin story out of the way now. The better news is that this film replaces the war component with an espionage thriller, with largely successful results. The even better news is it may well be the most important Marvel film to date.

Captain America was a little underused in Avengers if I’m honest. Maybe that was because he was the last Avenger to get his own standalone film, but I felt he was often relegated to comic relief for not understanding present day references. If you’ve seen the deleted scenes you’ll know that there was originally a lot more focus on him having to adjust to modern life, and that these were cut for pacing but with a promise that the theme would be expanded in Winter Soldier. The problem with that is, he’s been in the modern world for a while now – long enough that he greets every new popular culture recommendation with a weary smile and a fresh entry in his notepad.

Not long enough, however, to fathom the extent to which liberty itself has been devalued. The film wastes little time in getting to the crux of the story – freedom has a high price, and S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t prepared to pay it in the present climate. Of course, this directly conflicts with the very notion of what Cap was created for, and it makes for an effective analogy in these NSA-monitored times. But this is nothing compared to what happens next – a betrayal of enormous proportions rips the organisation apart, and Cap must decide who of his new-found compatriots he can trust.

The main issue facing anyone writing a Captain America film is the same as that facing a Superman writer – the character is cinematically boring, someone who will never have a moral dilemma because you know he will always choose the right path. Winter Soldier sensibly averts this problem by pairing Rogers with a strong ensemble cast who bring a moral flexibility – and therefore a welcome uncertainty – to proceedings. Even if we know he will always do the right thing, the same can’t be said of Black Widow or Nick Fury. Alongside the regulars is Falcon, a character familiar to Captain America readers and one who, I must confess, I wasn’t sure would work in this setting but absolutely does. This is due in large part to a winning performance by Anthony Mackie who brings a healthy dose of humour and sarcasm to proceedings.

There’s no getting around the fact that the less you know about the film, the more you will enjoy it. There are certain items that stuck in the craw a bit – the villain reveal was a bit silly to my mind, and its daftness will almost certainly be chalked up to being in the original comic storyline (it isn’t). Happily the ramifications are much, much greater than the mechanism itself, and this is swiftly forgotten in the ensuing political melee. There is a box-ticking final 20 minutes of fighting. Cap’s new helmet makes his ears stick out and he looks stupid. And his discovery of the Winter Soldier’s identity is dragged out a little long for my liking, despite the actor and character being prominently displayed in advertising up to this point and also the fact that this is a faithful translation of the story arc (I should point out that my non-comic reading partner thought this was well-paced though, so this may have been impatience on my part).

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this film. That’s not the case. I loved it. But I can’t tell you why, because it would spoil the myriad twists and surprises that Winter Soldier has in store. If you’re not a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might enjoy it anyway for the mix of action and espionage. If you are a fan, you can’t afford to miss it because the reverberations from this film will echo around the MCU for a good while…and you should definitely not leave before the lights go up.

 
Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

Failed Critics Podcast: Django Unchained

Django Unchained Waltz FoxxThe Failed Critics are back, and we’re here to SHUT YOUR BUTT DOWN! This week we review Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood-soaked and highly controversial (no change there) epic, Django Unchained.  One of us wasn’t that impressed. We’ve got your curiosity, but do we have your attention?

Also this week; James reviews a history lesson with exceedingly high production values in Lincoln, Owen talks (but not much) about The Village, and Gerry finally gets round to seeing Magic Mike (the horny devil).

We’re back next with reviews of Zero Dark Thirty, The Last Stand, and we induct a very special Austrian ass-kicker into our Corridor of Praise.

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The Failed Critic Podcast – Episode 2: Avengers Assemble

Critics assemble! They have an army – we have the Failed Critic podcast, featuring Steve Norman, James Diamond, and Gerry McAuley.

This week the Failed Critics review the first BIG blockbuster of the summer Avengers Assemble, and discuss this weeks Triple Bill theme – Child Protaganists. We also have their thoughts on recent releases Lockout, and The Kid With a Bike, and a little-known gem called The Third Man – starring some up-and-comer called Orson Welles. There is also scintilating chat about frame rates, more Mighty Ducks chat, and one of the contributors gets all tongue-tied when proposing to Cobie Smulders. Also a little bit of bad language right at the end. It’s worth it though.

Spoiler Alert! If you want to avoid the Avengers review, then skip 6 minutes through to 31 minutes. Also, completely avoid the podcast if you’re desperate to avoid the endings of The Sixth Sense and My Girl.

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