Are we a podcast that exists inside your iPhone? Or is this an iPhone with the ghost of the latest Failed Critics Podcast inside of it? Hmm. Someone should make a movie out of that premise.
“Your soul, your ghost, is yours.”
Andrew Brooker speaks volumes about Rupert Sanders’ somewhat controversial remake of the classic 90’s anime. Read his full review below.
“You won’t be scared, once you get out there and sing.”
I wasn’t sure about Sing. When I saw the first trailer for it, after the Illumination Entertainment logo appeared, I was pretty underwhelmed. I remember looking at my wife and saying “where’s the jokes?”. I was so used to the films these guys put out, like Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets being all about the jokes. Whether or not the films turned out to be good was immaterial, I always chuckled at the trailers. This time around? Nothing.
But we’ve all heard good things about Sing, so I bundled up the wife and kid – also known as “the reason I get away with watching animated films on a Sunday morning at the cinema” – and headed off to last weekend’s previews with my expectations low.
Sing is the story of a down and out koala, Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), who’s theatre is on its last legs both financially and structurally. His business is flopping and he owes more than he has to his staff, his backers and the bank.
In a last ditch attempt to save his livelihood, Moon has auditions for a singing competition. With the entire city coming to his doors to try for the competition’s (accidental) $100,000 prize money, the entrepreneurial bear selects a handful of the best contestants to perform in his finale.
Putting together what could be the theatre’s last show, Buster tries for the best lineup he can. Pairing singing housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) with crazy German dancer Gunter (Nick Kroll) for his opener. Followed by a true variety show lineup with teenage rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson); Sinatra wannabe Mike (Seth MacFarlane); piano playing Johnny (Taron Egerton) and soul singer Meena (Tori Kelly). Each contestant comes with their own baggage and as the big day draws near and all their troubles descend on the Moon theatre, the group of performers must come together to make it a success.
While I went in skeptical, I admit I came out pretty happy with Sing. It’s a very well told family film that, while I do think it’s missing the humour from Illumination’s previous films – a situation compounded by the constant reminder that these guys invented the Minions in their logo before the film – there’s no denying the quality animation from this studio.
Everyone on voice work is outstanding. I couldn’t pick a best performance even if I tried. More surprising to me is when the cast start singing. Not everyone on this bill is known for their pipes and each of them puts in the work and it sounds excellent. I mean, I won’t be buying the soundtrack or anything, but I’ll gladly buy the film and let the kid bop along to it while it’s on.
You can’t deny the musical finale when it happens, no one will come out of it not smiling. Considering it’s filled with pop and R’n’B tunes, I can only imagine how someone who resonates with that style of music felt by the end.
I can’t not recommend Sing. It’s such a great, inspirational, family film that I just want to watch it again and again with everyone at home and sing along, cheering for everyone involved.
“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.
Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?
Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.
Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.
Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.
Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for
General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.
Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.
Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.
Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.
For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.
It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.
Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable
- Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
- Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
- Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
- Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
- Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
- Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.
Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind
- Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
- War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
- Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
- Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
- Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
- Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.
Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?
It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.
It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.
The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.
However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?
Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.
Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.
Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.
Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every
Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.
Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.
Remakes are a cause for concern in the world of cinema. Not many of them work, or can hold a candle to the original. An almost all CGI/digitally rendered version of the Jungle Book? Brave? Yes. Worth doing? No.
My thoughts until I saw the trailer.
It looked dark, exciting and very real, but that did not mean the film would be the same. Luckily it was.
Like most people who had a childhood, Disney films are remembered fondly. None more so than the 1967 version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The story, as I’m sure all the readers know: human child Mowgli lost in the jungle as a baby, raised by wolves and hated by the tiger Shere Khan. The movie is iconic for its characters and its catchy tunes.
The 2016 version, directed by Iron Man‘s John Favreau, is a darker and more grown up version but still retains its sense of fun. The plot is basic, but you don’t need something intricate; it is the performances, visuals and action that make the film a joy to watch.
It certainly is brave to make an almost exclusively CGI movie (I suppose it would have been braver to do a live action movie with a child acting with dangerous animals). We’ve all seen the flack that the Star Wars prequels and Hobbit movies got for excessive use of the green screen.
Here it works though. The jungle looks beautiful; from the muddy ravines and hillsides traversed by herds of wildebeests, to the wolf packs home and Baloo’s lush looking place of residence. The animals look amazing as well. Very real (I should know, I’ve been to Monkey World and Longleat) and you can see a lot of work has gone in to making both appearance and movement accurate. The only minor gripe is the smaller animals, which to me at least, looked very computer generated.
However, it is the voice acting that makes this film. Every single one is spot on. Idris Elba perhaps steals the show as the menacing Shere Khan, hell bent on killing Mowgli. He makes the character wonderfully menacing and intimidating. He really makes the tiger sound like someone to fear.
Of course, Bill Murray is great at as the fun loving Baloo. His singing voice might not be the best but if you cannot enjoy his rendition of the Bare Necessities then there is something wrong with you, you joyless misery. Sir Ben Kingsley is also wonderful as the wise protector of Mowgli, Bagheera.
You can almost run down the cast list and tick off every one doing a voice as top drawer. Scarlett Johansson in her brief appearance as Kaa is eerie and Christopher Walken puts in a great turn as the no-longer-an-orangutan King Louie.
Neel Sethi, as the only real thing in this movie, also does well. It seems a very natural performance and it looks like he’s having fun with it. Don’t forget this is a kid in his first major role working with, for the most part, things that are not there.
The best compliment you can give to the voice acting is that now, in my head, those actors and actresses voices are those characters whereas before seeing this I could still hear those from the 1967 version. Elba et al have over ridden those voices in my mind.
The Jungle Book is a beautifully crafted retelling of a classic story and well worth seeing. I only saw it in 2D but have a feeling it is one of few films where 3D works.
Oh and stick around for the end credits.
by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)
Let’s not mess around here – if you’re a Marvel fan, two things are all but guaranteed. Firstly, you will have likely loved Avengers (in the UK it was called Avengers Assemble, but my version just says Avengers, and AA is a silly name, so there) and rated it high in Marvel Studios’ output so far, if not top of the pile. Following on from that, you will go and see Age of Ultron regardless of what anyone says. That’s fine! But I need to say something straight away – you will not get the same giddy thrill from this film that you got from Avengers. Save for a shot (shown in the trailer) of the entire team flying towards an unknown enemy in the first two minutes – a nod back to the climatic battle of Avengers – this film is about moving the team and the universe forward, for better or worse.
The film opens with the afore-mentioned battle, a mission to retrieve a artefact we’ve met before in the series. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) realises the implications of this – the idea of Avengers has always been to eventually render them surplus to requirements by seeing off all threats. Throw in a little encounter with a pair of newcomers along the way – Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the need to protect the world before any of the team perish becomes more urgent. With the help of an unconvinced Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he creates probably his most impressive invention yet, but quickly realises he is out of his depth as his creation threatens the world. Thus the stage is set for an epic battle which takes in mind control (pitting Avengers against each other to divide and conquer) and some truly mighty action sequences.
And the sequences are huge. The action scenes in Avengers felt slightly small in scale until the climatic Battle of New York, but here they are amplified, taking in whole cities and towns at a time. The much-vaunted Hulk vs Hulkbuster smackdown is an excellent piece of fight choreography, never spilling into Transformers territory (“I don’t know what’s going on”, “Why can’t they fit the whole robot into the screen”, etc.). There’s a great sense of scale here – this is a global threat being realised globally, not funnelled through the metaphor of one city as shorthand. The action travels from the fictional Eastern-European city of Sokovia to South Africa, South Korea and rural America.
In between big fight scenes, however, we do get a decent amount of character development. This is especially concentrated around the Avengers who aren’t the subject of solo films – Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye all get significant amounts of screen time. Hawkeye benefits the most, making up for his side-lining in Avengers with a fully realised back story. This does mean that the big three of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor feel sidelined – there is a Thor sequence which sorely feels like it was chopped for running time, ultimately having no impact on the film but setting up Ragnarok instead. In a film with at least 15 named and principle characters, this is going to be an occupational hazard. It was managed well in Avengers, but that was with less leads – this can feel overburdened at times, with everyone from War Machine/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle, making the most of some very limited screen time) to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) popping up in slightly beefed-up cameos. This leads me to my main gripe with the film – Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch feel like the chips you still have to eat after you’ve finished your burger. It was a good idea when you ordered them, but now you’re looking at them and wondering if they were necessary. Scarlet Witch does redeem herself somewhat during the final battle, and provides a handy jumping-off point for the creation of Ultron, but these beats could have been allocated elsewhere.
Having said that, the best new character doesn’t even exist for the first two-thirds of the film. We’ve heard Paul Bettany as JARVIS for years, but he’s finally rewarded with a physical presence as Vision. I really like Bettany and it was a real delight to see him here – Vision could look a bit more ethereal, but he nails the tone of the character completely and again makes the most of a small amount of screen time. It probably helps that he gets the best “HELL YES!” moment of the entire film as well.
The main plaudits have to be saved for James Spader as Ultron. Created to protect the world, he quickly realises the best way to do that is to eliminate the Avengers. Spader’s crafty delivery is wonderful, and Ultron has the swagger of his motion-captured performance down – if you’ve ever watched Spader in anything, it’s easy to picture him instead of the menacing robot. His wisecracking delivery makes him the son that Tony Stark has never had, and is a real highlight.
There are parts that don’t work. A blossoming romantic subplot feels slightly unnecessary, and the whole thing at times feels overburdened by what it has to set up in context of the wider universe (the events of Civil War, Infinity War and the aforementioned Ragnarok are all foreshadowed here). But ultimately it’s lots and lots of fun, despite being much darker than the first outing. And that’s all we can ever really ask for from Marvel – it’s what they’ve done best for years, in print and now on film.
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.
Warning: our Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Welcome back to the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2014. If you missed Part 1, where we counted down entries #10 to #6, then you can go here to get caught up. Otherwise, we are going to get straight back down to business. So, without any further ado, GO GIRLS GO!
There may be spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Dir: Jonathan Glazer
Star: Scarlett Johannson
Under The Skin is not on the list because I enjoyed it. The rest of the films on this list are here because I enjoyed them; the commonly accepted barometer by which people typically measure the quality of a film. Under The Skin is not here for that, for I did not enjoy Under The Skin. I experienced Under The Skin, I endured Under The Skin, but I did not enjoy Under The Skin. Instead, Under The Skin is here, and is this high on the list, for two specific reasons.
The first – and honestly the more minor of the two, which is crazy to believe – is Scarlett Johannson’s performance as the lead character, which is the single best performance by anybody in any film released in 2014. Her performance of the main character is sensational, having to simultaneously keep them an enigma and yet clearly be able to give the audience some semblance of a clue as what is going on in their mind-set, and she is more than up to the task. Shedding all of her effortless movie star charisma, she positions herself in this very alien register, taking detached to new heights and playing each new revelation about her character – the discovery of a conscience, strange new emotions, exploring the form that it has taken, the reaction to its humanity – as major game-changers without bursting into a flood of emotion. She is on a whole other level compared to everyone else this year, and I spent so much of the film’s runtime in awe of her.
You know, when I wasn’t being made incredibly uncomfortable. That’s the second reason why Under The Skin is on this list, it got to me. It really got to me. If I were a hack writer and wanted to undermine the seriousness of that last statement, I’d make pun involving the film’s title right now. But, although I am, I don’t want to. Under The Skin really got to me. See, I am very sexually repressed, possibly bordering on asexual. I always have been. Nudity makes me uncomfortable, the concept of sex grosses me out, and having to witness sex or nudity causes me to want to reach for the exit as fast as possible. One of the main aspects of Under The Skin is all about sex, sexuality, and the body, but the film never shoots any of these aspects in an erotic way. It instead presents them coldly, clinically, alien, and explores how we are affected by each of those things.
Many of the film’s most disturbing sequences for me come from the depiction of nudity. The full-frontal shots of the men that return to the protagonists’ dark void of a room, the scene where the biker examines the protagonist, the sequence where they look at themselves naked in the mirror and inspect their body… all scenes that made me thoroughly uncomfortable because they contextualise themselves in the way that I often see the naked flesh, as something alien and strange. It’s not just that we are presented with these images, it’s the way that we are presented with these images as something unusual and slightly imposing. It taps very much into my psyche and pushes many of my buttons, confronting me with my fears in a presentation that visualises how I possibly see them deep down.
Not to mention how the film very much plays out its narrative as the visualisation of gender performance and gender awakening. The protagonist slowly identifying as female, putting on the airs required to be seen as acceptable in modern society, and being viciously punished the second it fails to keep up that act. If the film weren’t so deliberately abstract, Under The Skin could very much be read as a blisteringly angry clarion call against the way that our patriarchal society treats and views women. That hateful attitude – not to its protagonist, instead from how our world is presented through alien eyes, how our sh*tty attitudes towards women and our complicated relationships with nudity and sex can look to an outsider – seeps through the entire film and serves to further prey on my underlying fears and deep-seated issues.
No film this year has stuck with me and affected me in the same way that Under The Skin has. It’s not exactly a film I am clamouring to see again – I had to pause the thing three times whilst watching it because I just needed to stop and calm down – but it more than earns its place on this list.
Dir: Gareth Evans
Star: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad
It’s all about pacing. The Raid didn’t understand proper pacing; that was a film that started at 11 and tried to stay at 11 for all 90 of its minutes. That gets tiring and it means that your finale doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard as it should do, and in fact bores a bit. The Raid 2 gets pacing. It gets pacing very much so. It starts at about 2 or 3 and then slowly builds to its 11 finale, so the 150 minutes that the film runs for pretty much fly by and its excellent finale works gangbusters and never ever bores or drags.
The Raid 2 also has a plot, something that The Raid sort of hinted at having but ultimately cut most of because it got in the way of the fighting. It’s not a particularly original story – undercover cop infiltrates a criminal organisation to bring it down from the inside, son of criminal organisation wants to prove himself to his father but his impatience leads to temptation, and then everything goes to hell – but it is fascinatingly told with strong characters and excellent performances. There’s a real stylish cleanness to proceedings, where every single frame is immaculately constructed and every shot tells you a story of some kind – a care and love that’s frequently missing from other action films nowadays in their desire to “immerse” the viewer by simulating being stuck on a rollercoaster mid-barrel-roll-crash.
Then there are the action scenes. Oh, man, the action scenes! Again, the film benefits from understanding pacing. They’re doled out when they fit the narrative, there are no extended fight sequences just for the sake of 15 or so minutes having passed without a few dozen dudes being murdered, and they escalate. The film’s opening fight involves a good 20 or so guys against 1 but lasts barely 90 seconds, the introduction of important lieutenants get fight scenes to establish their gimmick and dangerousness but they never drag, the final string of action sequences have ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, and enough breaks between them to keep the plot going and not make the last 30 minutes feel like an endurance test. Plus, each sequence has enough variety and innovation to keep them from blending into one another.
And that final fight! Oh, man, that final fight! It is paced perfectly, the choreography is outstanding, the camerawork is beautiful, the story it tells is captivating and doesn’t require a single line of dialogue, and there is just this electric feeling to it that stands it above all other action scenes I’ve seen this year and maybe even this decade. It is a perfect six-and-a-half minute encapsulation of everything The Raid 2 does right and every single time I see it I am left short of breath with my palpable adrenaline running through me and a burning desire to fist-pump the air repeatedly.
Prior to seeing The Raid 2, I was excited but also very cautious and sceptical. After all, I was excited for The Raid and I have never been able to truly love that film. But The Raid 2 blew me away totally, surpassing my every expectation, fixing every problem with the first film, and being my favourite film of 2014 for the longest time. Gareth Evans is planning a third entry for some point in the future and I will be satisfied however it turns out. If it happens, I cannot wait to see how he tries to top what is almost the perfect action film. If it doesn’t, then I will still be satisfied thanks to this film kicking so much arse and that ending shot and line being almost the most perfect in all of 2014. This is what sequel-making should be like.
Dir: Richard Ayoade
Star: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn
When I saw The Double in the cinema, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the sound design. Everything about the way that The Double sounded just appealed to me. The way that the film balanced its score – its bloody, bloody, bloody brilliant score by Andrew Hewitt – with the various diegetic sounds of the film’s world that it handles in such a way as to draw direct focus to them in an almost drone-like repetitiveness. It does an outstanding job of getting the viewer inside the head of Simon James, conceptualising what it is like to be a spineless creep drifting through life making no impression, and I have done an appalling job at explaining and describing it. Watching the film is the easiest way to understand why it works for me, so props to the entire sound team for their work here.
In fact, watching The Double is one of the best ways to understand why it works so well. There have been many, many times this year where I think back on the film and question whether it is truly a comedy – the register it operates on being that black and the tone being that deadpan – only to re-watch it or certain clips from it and find myself laughing raucously along for pretty much every single one of its 93 minutes. The world that the film exists in is such a bleak and miserable place that there are sections of the police force set-up solely for the purpose of dealing with jumpers in a certain area, yet the officers’ matter-of-factness about their job and the open contempt they have for those they have to deal with somehow manages to make their existence darkly laughable. James is such a pathetic wet doormat when it comes to the world that it loops around from being sad to outright hilarious. And the world’s singularly gloomy and laser-focussed hatred of Simon skips straight past irritating and is instead a constant source of laughs.
The world of The Double, whilst we’re on the subject, is one of the most singularly focussed, believable and immersive worlds that I have seen a film construct in a long time. Even though it’s clearly not our world and many holes, specifically as to how this dystopia is like outside of the focus we get on Simon, are left unexplained, it still feels immersive. I sit down and I just get transported to this world and at no point do I question it or get dragged out of it. The sets do such a great job at filling in the details, the low-key lighting and claustrophobic camerawork paint the oppressive nature superbly, and little details like the glimpses of the in-universe TV series The Replicator, a look at their coins, and the usages of South Korean and Japanese artists on the soundtrack give an indication of life in this world outside of Simon James.
But The Double is about Simon James, and his physical doppelgänger, James Simon. Simon is such a spineless timid useless tool that he is incapable of spitting pretty much anything out. He walks around in life like he doesn’t exist and uses that to his advantage with his quietly obsessive stalking of his co-worker Hannah. It is quite clear that he wants to just say the words to her, but he glides through life so passively, and has for so long, that he is incapable of doing so. Crucially, the film recognises that James’ stalking of Hannah isn’t romantic and never endorses it – right up to the end, too; the last scene’s dreamlike ambiguity providing yet another fantastic ending for a 2014 film, a recurring thing with most every one of the entries on this list – but forces the viewer to have to get inside Simon’s head regardless and see why this has come to be. It’s a difficult balancing act, and the film pulls it off just about with surprising deftness.
James, meanwhile, is a detestable little shit. A weasely, conniving, smug prick whose slow absorption of Simon’s life is teeth-gratingly tough to watch. He is that rare character whom I hate for the reasons the film wants for me to hate him. As somebody who loves well-written and entertaining characters – and I mean properly loves, where I won’t sit there and demand their head on a pike because I juts enjoy their presence too much – it takes a lot to make me hate a character for the reasons that I am supposed to, but The Double pulls it off flawlessly thanks to an excellent script, by Ayoade and Avi Korine, and Jesse Eisenberg putting in the best male performance I have seen in a film all year. He’s always been good, and I have always liked him, but he is on show-stopping form as Simon and James, twisting performances that he’s given in Adventureland and The Social Network into something new and fresh and majorly compelling. The film hangs on his performances and he is more than up to the task.
Plenty of critics were tripping over themselves at the time of The Double’s release to throw plaudits in its direction, only for everyone to cool off and mostly forget it the further the year went on. I honestly don’t know why because it is the best British film that I have seen all year and one of the absolute very best films of 2014. Ayoade has had a fantastic directorial career so far, and I cannot wait to see how he tries to top this.
Dir: Steve James
Surprised? So am I. For the last month or so, I was quite certain that Life Itself was going to be my Film of 2014, such was the power, emotion and energy it stirred in me as I watched it. It touched me in a way that no other movie released in 2014, or even that I had seen in 2014, had been able to do. It sent me into floods of tears and re-invigorated my passion for movies. Yet, when it came time to set in stone my official list for 2014, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put it at the top. As it turns out, there is one other film that has stuck with me more and affected me more and that I just plain loved more than Life Itself.
That, however, is not to discredit Life Itself. Life Itself is a genuinely uplifting, interesting, and frequently heart-breaking mediation on movies, friendships, rivalries, the progress of society in the last 50 years, the power of criticism, death, and life. It’s a documentary that uses its supposedly restrictive set-up – a biopic about film critic Roger Ebert – to explore so many themes and ideas, without ever losing sight of its original subject, that even people who have no interest in Roger Ebert can watch the film and get something out of it. It is a vital documentary and the truest possible definition of a “feel-good movie”.
I will not, however, be writing any more about it. Not because there’s not enough happening in the film to be able to do so, lord no, but because I can’t. Fact is, I said everything I can say about Life Itself in my review from back in November. In it, I laid bare my feelings on Ebert, the ways in which the film touched me, and why it got me so and that took so much painstaking effort to do that I can’t go through it again. I can’t try and improve or re-state my thoughts on Life Itself because I said damn near everything I had to or could say about it back there, and I don’t want to have to repeat that or condense it to fit in the five allotted paragraphs that each entry in this list gets. So, if you want further explanations and reasoning as to why Life Itself is this high up on my list, go and (re-)read my review. But know that Life Itself deserves to be this high on my personal Top 10.
The only reason why it is not number one, is because of the following film…
Dir: David Fincher
Star: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon
NO, SERIOUSLY, MEGA SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GONE GIRL.
I sympathise with and root for Amy Elliott-Dunne.
The more that Gone Girl has been rattling around in my brain, the more that that realisation has stuck out in my brain. Amy Elliott-Dunne is a psychopath, somebody who uses and discards people as she sees fit, somebody who goes the extra morality-crossing mile to get what she wants, a woman who refuses to compromise, and who is willing to commit a man to death and outright murder another in order to get out on top. She forcibly inseminates herself with a kid she doesn’t really want to keep a loose end under her thumb, she fakes being a rape victim, she is a walking embodiment of everything that MRAs fear women to be.
And I sympathise and root for her.
Not completely, of course, there are lines that I won’t follow her across, but enough that I get why she does the things she does and quietly hope that she successfully pulls one over on everybody. Gone Girl is very much presented as a “He Said/She Said” narrative and I am very much more inclined to believe the “She Said” side, even after the reveal that the diary was faked and everything that Amy has ever revealed about her relationship with Nick is thrown into question. Nick, as presented in both Amy’s version of events and his own segments of the film, is a whiny, selfish, complacent ass who never fully appreciates what he has after he gets it, forces his life on others, bleeds his supportive wife dry, and doesn’t even have the spine to end things with her before moving on to somebody else. He does have redeeming qualities, and he is forced into situations and events where it is hard to not feel sorry for him, but when Amy states out loud, point blank, that Nick Dunne “took and took from me until I no longer existed. That’s murder,” I honestly find it hard to disagree with her.
Does this mean that Nick deserves the death sentence that Amy hands down to him? Honestly, the fact that I don’t immediately go “no” scares me a little bit.
The cold-blooded murder of Desi is seemingly more black and white: she murders him in order to return to Nick and complete the fabricated cover story that paints her as a victim who managed to escape from a crazed ex-boyfriend. She lies, and therefore she is not to be trusted – incidentally, brief side bar, I absolutely agree with those who interpret Gone Girl to be misogynistic as pretty much every female character in the film is a walking embodiment of a negative male viewpoint of a woman, but I find the dualities between that misogyny and its frequently blistering feminist heart (both embodied by Amy Elliott-Dunne) to be so loaded and so complex that the film cannot be dismissed so easily without a hugely detailed and in-depth analysis from people far more qualified than myself (although I could also be talking out of my arse and apologising for loving something so problematic, that’s the beauty of critical analysis).
Yet, Amy is very much trapped with Desi. She’s stuck in a figurative prison, partially of her own making and partially of Desi’s making. She’s made commitments she doesn’t want to follow through on, Desi always carries this creepy possessive air around with him, and the slow realisation seeps in for Amy that Desi is the worst traits of Nick only with genuine devotion replacing quietly-resentful hatred. She’s traded one loveless, inescapable relationship for another and, in both instances, she no longer exists. Her only out is through force, to turn the tables and take their agency away from them. Amy has spent much of her life being driven about by men. In a way, she still is, but now she’s getting a say in the matter.
Does this mean that Desi deserves to get his throat slit? I will answer “no” far quicker than I would the question earlier, but that itself raises further questions. Is the fact that Nick isn’t being directly murdered by Amy making it easier for me to not immediately turn on her? Am I projecting with Desi? After all, he doesn’t openly act possessive and the film purposefully spends little time with him to properly deepen his character. Am I just assuming and judging someone without truly knowing them? Is this all being fuelled by a misunderstanding and misappropriation of feminism on my part?
These are the sorts of thoughts and moral quandaries and conundrums that have been rolling around in my head for the last 3 months, more so the further we got to the end of the year. More so than even Under The Skin, Gone Girl is a film that has clung to my brain since I first saw it in the cinemas and it has not let go since. What began as a love for a smart, stylish, complex, and slightly trashy thriller with a phenomenal performance by Rosamund Pike – in other words, a film I loved as a film – has evolved into a constant moral discussion and self-examination that refuses to let me get up and walk away. Gone Girl commands my thoughts, Gone Girl asks tough questions of myself, Gone Girl is seared into my brain like no other film that I can recall.
And that is why Gone Girl is my Film of 2014. Not only is it the best made film of the entire year – absolutely nothing else is operating on the same continent as the ball park that Gone Girl resides in – it is the most thought-provoking and personally challenging film I have bared witness to in a long, long time. I cannot wait to watch it again.
And there you have it. My Top 10 Films of 2014. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below and tell me your favourite films of 2014! Tomorrow, I will return with the first half of My Bottom 10 Films of 2014. Prepare the pitchforks and torches.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Chef is Jon Favreau: The Movie. Any pretence that this film is telling a story about characters that have no relation to the film’s writer, director and star is jettisoned the moment Dustin Hoffman swaggers in and orders Jon Favreau’s chef to cook by menu, “play [his] hits,” as it were, and that, if he doesn’t like it, there are a million other people that Dustin Hoffman could easily replace Jon Favreau with as director of the kitchen. If not by then, then it will most certainly become clear when Jon blows up at a food critic who trashed his cooking, questioning whether he cares that the hurtful stuff he writes genuinely hurts those he writes about. This is not subtle. It makes the high school parallels in Divergent look like the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song. The film permanently seems five seconds away from actually dropping all of the pretence and having everyone just dramatize Jon Favreau’s post-Iron Man life.
One, therefore, may see Chef as a vanity project and little more, what with its extremely unsubtle real-life parallels, starring role for Favreau that lets him stretch himself beyond ‘funny comic relief guy’ and that he casts both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as his ex-wife and possible ex-lover respectively (the latter of which outright tells Favreau’s character at one point that he’s the best chef she ever worked with). And… well… yeah, it kinda is. The actual character work, and characters in general, populating the film are flimsy and undercooked and, once things head to Miami, nothing ever goes wrong for Favreau ever because he is the world’s greatest chef if people will just LET HIM DO WHAT HE DOES BEST INSTEAD OF CONSTRAINING HIS CREATIVE GENIUS, DAMMIT!! That being said, I’d recommend not writing off Chef sight unseen. It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s nothing memorable, but it is mildly amusing, rather entertaining, nearly always interesting and, brace yourself for the big one, it’s a comedy that runs for two hours… that I can’t see cutting down to 100 minutes!
Oh, I have your attention now, do I?
Our story, then. By the by, I’m going to dispense with much of the pretence and just straight up tell you the “subtext” cos it’s that unsubtle and it saves me time later on. Jon Favreau is a chef, a very well-respected chef, at that, who caused a splash ten years ago as a hungry guy wanting to make a name for himself. He’s currently employed at a big, fancy and relatively famous restaurant that’s about to get reviewed by the biggest food blogger in town and he wants to surprise the guy, cook up something original and shocking and biting and all that jazz. The restaurant’s owner, Dustin Hoffman, thinks that’s not a good idea, being too risk-averse, and orders Favreau to cook by menu, reasoning that people who go to see The Rolling Stones want to hear them play ‘Satisfaction’. This ends disastrously, Favreau’s heart is clearly not in it and the critic tears apart both the food, which is too safe and generic, and Favreau himself, believing him to be over-the-hill and also fat jokes cos critics are dicks.
Favreau does not take this well, with the review and Favreau’s resulting meltdown at the critic going viral. Fired from his job for refusing to follow orders, Favreau’s ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) convinces him to meet her successful first ex-husband, Robert Downey Jr., and get back to basics. Gifted a food truck, Favreau decides to take his little low budget venture on the road, making smaller products with more heart that may connect with the public more and revitalise his love for his art. Tagging along are his son, EmJay Anthony, who doesn’t see his dad much but aspires to follow in his culinary footsteps, and his old workmate, represented here by John Leguizamo, where father and son may just bond together and learn a thing or two about a thing or two.
It’s even less subtle than that, before you ask. A good 50-60% of Chef really is just Jon Favreau working through his frustrating studio experiences via the thinnest of metaphors. Not that that’s a bad thing inherently, mind. A fair bit of the film’s entertainment value comes from just how far the metaphor goes, in much the same way that 22 Jump Street’s appeal comes from just how far that film is willing to push its central joke, “we are a pointless sequel and we’re well aware of that fact.” It also helps that the execution is rarely cringe worthy or overly blatant, the lone exceptions come during the times when Favreau meets up with the critic that wrote the nasty things about him (embodied by Oliver Platt). Those times trot out the usual “what you say hurts me! I make art, what do you do? Just sit behind your computer and vomit words” clichés that typically accompany artists ranting against critics. (It’s not the heckler bit from Louie, is what I’m getting at.) Otherwise, the execution remains interesting, it becomes a kind of fun little exercise to see Favreau working through his problems and seemingly rediscovering his love for filmmaking.
See, the film does have characters, which makes this a landmark point in Sofia Vergara’s acting career if nothing else, but they take a backseat, along with nearly everything else that’s not related to the metaphor. Even the food stuff feels more like an extension of that metaphor instead of a total love of food, there are several scenes where Favreau explains his creative process to his son that come across far more as his creative process to filmmaking than food-making (especially when he mentions that he first goes looking for ingredients and only then decides what he’s going to cook, he doesn’t go in with a fully-formed pl-it’s a reference to the creation of Iron Man, alright). The whole enterprise feels less like a story that Favreau wanted to tell and more like he just decided to make a film and see if it made him fall in love with filmmaking again. Such a theory is practically confirmed when it comes time for the film’s ending to occur, which the film practically crashes into and is over before it has a chance to become satisfying. Again, though, it is fascinating to watch, feeling relatively raw and personal instead of pretentious and whiney.
Look, I apologise for spending so long fixated on the metaphor side of Chef. I know a lot of you will be able to get past it, or maybe not even clock onto it (although I have no idea how you would, I have seen South Park episodes with subtler allusions and metaphors), but it really does constitute the meat of the film. Outside of it, you have the barest of plots about a father and son bonding over a shared enthusiasm (if you choose to read it like that and not, say, as the kid merely being a representative vessel for Favreau’s increasing realisation that he does still love making movies) and a very glossed over subplot of Favreau reconnecting with his ex-wife Vergara because… I actually don’t know, it’s that glossed over. I should note that I’m not knocking the film for these things, I’m just letting you know how incidental the whole thing is.
Besides, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about with regards to the film outside of that subtext. It’s all fine and pleasant. There’s a runtime that’s just shy of two hours and though it feels like that at times, the film is paced well enough, and its content serves the whole metaphor point enough, to make it hard for me to find scenes to cut out to reduce that time to 90-or-so minutes. There aren’t really any big laugh out loud moments and I guarantee that there are no jokes you’ll think back to 12 hours after seeing the film and go “that was hilarious” or some such, but the film is still funny. It has very charming actors and actresses striking up a great enough chemistry with one another to make exchanges amusing, even if nothing particularly funny is being said. Praise should especially go to EmJay Anthony who is not only hugely non-irritating, he’s able to keep up with Jo(h)ns Favreau and Leguizamo. Food, meanwhile, is very often shot excellently, which is a hard thing to do right on film and television. Not up to Hannibal standards of “mmm, that looks de-licious” but enough that I felt legitimately peckish for some high-quality grub as I left the cinema. Also, for whatever it’s worth, I really like the film’s soul, Cuban and groove-laced soundtrack; Jon Favreau (and/or his music supervisor) has excellent taste in music.
Yes, I am stretching for stuff to talk about but there’s one last thing that deserves some conversation. Chef loves social media. Chef loves social media. If social media and Chef were embodied by real life people (which the film kinda is, anyway), they would have a hopelessly romantic meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind fairy-tale romance that culminates in a magical beach-side wedding at sunset. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, the celebrity gossip website Holy Moly!; all these and more get prominent screen time and are actually relevant to the plot, as well as being the subject of hi-larious gags about how Favreau has no idea how the Internet works (he tweets an insult at the food critic who wrote the negative review cos he thought the service worked like text messaging). It’s equal parts toe-curlingly awkward, like when your dad posts a “selfie” of himself having a day out in Scarborough, and strangely progressive. Like, yeah, the film does mine the expected jokes out of Favreau not knowing how social media works and his son being a whizz with it because kids today and their computermabobs, but the usage of social media is actually vital to the plot. It ends up being utilised as a tool for good, a way for Favreau and his low-budget venture to travel around drumming up buzz and connecting with the people who matter. It’s refreshingly free of cynicism or confused-dad-“when-I-was-YOUR-age”-ness which, if nothing else, puts it above f*cking Transcendence. It does officially go too far when 1 Second Everyday comes up for the sole purpose of adding some feels to the finale, but get over the initial “oh, no, Dad’s trying to get down with the kids” response you will inevitably have when it comes up and it’s not actually a problem.
Chef, then, is more of an extended therapy session for Jon Favreau than it is a movie in its own standalone right. That therapy session, though, is always interesting and frequently entertaining; it’s definitely the most personal thing Favreau has been involved in in a good decade and it’s nice to see him seemingly fall back in love with his art again. Outside of that, there’s not much here. There are funnier films available now, there are more heartwarming films available now, there are TV shows with better food porn on the air right now. On the surface level, it’s a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours. I would, however, be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for what it is under that surface. You may too, but that depends on both your knowledge of the film industry and your tolerance for “inside-baseball” stuff.
So, with Favreau having rediscovered his passion for filmmaking by going back to his roots and delivering a deeply personal work, I look forward to seeing what he’s going to transfer that passion into next! … …“he’s making a live-action, CG version of The Jungle Book for Disney?” Well, in that case, either he’s a quick forgiver, or I eagerly await the spiritual successor to this in 2020!
This week’s podcast welcomes back the loud, opinionated, and slightly drunk Svengali-figure of James Diamond, for one week only before he disappears on leave for a while. Don’t worry though, as Steve and Owen continue to show a suitable lack of respect.
We also get into this week’s new releases, mainly the brutal gangster epic The Raid 2, and the latest offering from the resurrected Hammer Studio, The Quiet Ones. We also have time to discuss Under the Skin, Tropic Thunder, and Snowpiercer once more, as well as trying to figure out why hard-rated action films appear to by a dying breed.
We’re back next week with one of those fresh-voiced substitutes that we keep teasing you with, and our thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
After a disastrous attempt at recording our 100th episode last week, we’re back after our brief hiatus with our ‘official’ centenary podcast. And it’s more packed than ever, with no less than six new (or nearly new) release reviews. We argue over whether or not The Lego is awesome or simply just very good; we look at two very different explorations of humans/machine relationships with Her and Robocop, and we still find time to talk about Dallas Buyers Club, The Monuments Men, and Cuban Fury.
We also discuss the Bafta results, make our Oscars predictions, and you finally get the Cutthroat Island review you’ve all been waiting for.
Next week we’ll be ‘live’ from Glasgow Film Festival, with reviews of 20 Feet From Stardom, Mood Indigo, and The Zero Theorem plus loads more.
This ‘week’s’ installment is heavy on the new releases, with the team running the rule over The Counselor, The Butler, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon.
We also dust off Triple Bill, presenting our favourite unnamed central characters; as well as discuss the new Marvel/Netflix projects, the Monty Python reunion, and a sacrilegious plan to produce a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life.
Join us next week for our review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Owen, the old cynic, might have to watch The Family instead.
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.