Ooga-shaka, I’m hooked on a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise and it keeps getting better. Owen Hughes reviews James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Inviting you to listen to this podcast may make you uncomfortable. Not because we’re walking around naked, but as one of our longest episodes for a good while (at nearly one hour and three-quarters long), you may get something of a numb-bum if you listen to the whole thing in a single sitting! Unfortunately there are no ways to montage your way out of it either.
Nevertheless, in this bumper episode, your hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Tony Black to wag their fingers in the direction of the recent Oscar nominations, celebrate the life and work of Alan Rickman, and discuss a petition to actually lower the rated R status for the upcoming comicbook movie Deadpool.
As well as this, there’s room for Room, time for Creed, and for us to revel in The Revenant as we spend the latter part of the podcast discussing the three big new release reviews of this past weekend. We even take a look over what else we’ve watched in the past seven days. Brooker apologises to James Cullen Bressack for not getting on with White Crack Bastard; Steve, in tribute to Alan Rickman, revisits Kevin Smith’s 90’s classic Dogma; Owen reviews the recently released My Nazi Legacy documentary; and Tony is impressed with Ryan Reynolds after his surprising resurgence after seeing The Woman In Gold.
And that’s still not all as we start (as ever) with a quiz and Owen suffers through the first episode of Rob Schneider’s latest TV series, Real Rob, as penance for losing last week’s quiz.
You can see why it’s such a long episode!
Join us again next week as we bring back Liam and Andrew Alcock for a World Cinema triple bill.
“One step, one punch, one round at a time.”
Forty years after we first saw Rocky Balboa take on champ Apollo Creed in Philadelphia in Rocky, putting together another film in a franchise that had some pretty extreme ups and downs was a definite risk. With a literal 50% success rate across the series, you’d be forgiven for going into Creed a little dubious. Thankfully, the series has now all-but-retired its original hero and in his place, given us a new underdog to cheer for.
Seventeen years after Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, was taken in by Creed’s widow Mary Anne, Johnson jacks in his job and decides it’s time to follow in his father’s footsteps and heads to the ring. Having been boxing on his own for years, Donny realises he needs a trainer – and when his brother refuses, he heads to Philadelphia in search of the man that beat his dad. Whilst Rocky might not be the guy Johnson expected, after he track’s him down at the restaurant the long-retired boxer spends his days in, Donnie sets about convincing the Italian Stallion to get in his corner and teach him how to go from the rough-around-the-edges brawler he is to a refined fighter ready to take on anything.
Donnie starts to make a bit of an impact locally, getting himself known around town and soon takes a fight with another local guy who’s had his upcoming bout cancelled. Expected to be a bit of a squash match, Johnson takes it to the more experienced fighter and beats him decisively. An impressive win is one thing, but once it gets out that Johnson is in fact Apollo Creed’s lad, the publicity sky rockets and the call comes in from the reigning champion’s guys offering Donnie a chance to climb in the ring with Liverpool’s Ricky Conlan in what could be Conlan’s last fight.
After last year’s Southpaw, and spending my Christmas holiday catching up with the Rocky saga, I thought I’d be all burnt out on boxing movies. It turns out that all I needed to blow the dust away was a great film, brilliantly made, with a stellar cast.
Starting with Michael B. Jordan, a guy I’ve been waiting to appear in something big and special since he finished his time in the awesome Friday Night Lights, plays the titular Creed. Cast perfectly in the role of the upstart son of a champion, Jordan; and his in-film brother played by The Wire‘s Wood Harris, not only look enough like each other to be brothers, but look like they could easily be Carl Weathers’ sons. Having been disappointed by half of the films in this series, I wasn’t sure even a guy I thought was great would be able to make a watchable film. But Jordan not only took to the role and made it his, he managed to embody everything that the original Creed was and bring it to the screen. Having clearly trained hard to not only look good for the role but to make his boxing convincing, Michael B. Jordan is nothing short of a revelation in his performance.
Similarly, Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky is just wonderful. Over the last forty years he’s gone from bruising boxer to sage-like mentor and he just plays it so well. Spending his days sharing stories and advice, the retired champion finds a new lease of life training Donnie and it’s evident that Stallone feels the same way playing the role. Slipping himself into his most familiar, comfortable slippers, Sly looks at home in his position as Donnie’s trainer, taking on the Mickey role from previous films and passing the torch on, in more than one way, to Michael B. Jordan and Adonis Johnson. The same goes for his audience; Rocky’s dulcet tones have a calming effect on us watching him, like listening to a war veteran in his rocking chair telling stories of his time battling, Balboa is the wise old man we all feel comfortable with.
I’ll be honest and say that my biggest surprise came from Ryan Coogler’s writing and direction. I had never heard of him prior to the film’s release and I haven’t seen his previous work. Although the fact he’s being tapped to helm Marvel’s Black Panther gave me a little confidence – add to that the fact that for the first time in the series, Stallone relinquished writing duties and handed them over to Coogler as well; hopefully getting a completely fresh perspective on Philadelphia’s hero and the boy he’s training.
It turns out that Ryan Coogler is actually a damn good director. Starting relatively straight and by-the-book, Creed’s direction is very good throughout, but it ramps itself up to amazing in Johnson’s first time in the ring under Rocky’s tutelage against Leo Sporino, a local light heavyweight. Coogler takes a page out of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s handbook and films each round, from within the ring, on a steadycam in one long take. Each round lasts three minutes and you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat, fists clenched, wanting to throw punches with him. Any longer than that three minutes and there would be people passing out from holding their breath with tension and fear. Coogler’s writing and direction are outstanding and let you care for everyone on the screen; this guy has a hell of a future.
Creed is a stunning film. Heartfelt, beautifully acted and a joy to sit and watch. It’s kept enough of its legacy to feel like it’s part of the Rocky series, whilst simultaneously feeling new and fresh enough to stand on its own two feet and be a film on its own. That, in itself, is a slight miracle. This year’s Oscar race has finally heated up for me.
Now, it may seem like an insult to the film to say that Creed isn’t the best film I’ve seen chasing an award or three, it is second only to The Revenant in my book; both surpass anything else I’ve seen from this year’s race up to this point that I’d be happy for either or both of them to be taking home the statues next month.
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.”
Creed is getting closer. Just a few more days until one of Stallone’s most beloved characters returns to the big screen and has a go and relighting that fire we all saw in 1976. It’s been a fun time to revisit these films that have such a special place in the hearts of so many; and getting to spend some time with one of Sly’s most iconic creations has been amazing.
Last time, we left our hero, the Italian Stallion, having just beaten the mohawked Mr. T and won his title back much to the delight of us and the crowd. Having beaten the monster that embarrassed him, this should have been the official retirement of Rocky Balboa, the boxer with a legendary will to keep going. But common sense be damned. Unbelievably, we are only at the halfway point of Rocky’s story. So what do you say? Before this year’s latest chapter in Balboa’s saga comes through the curtain, you want to join me in seeing through the last of the iconic boxing franchise’s entries?
Rocky IV (1985)
Box Office – $300,400,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 40%
Mr T is done, Apollo and Rocky have had their little bit of fun, now it’s time to retire. Surely, now it’s time to retire?
Sadly, no. After watching his friend, Apollo Creed, die at the hands of a pre-Masters of the Universe Dolph Lundgren; our hero swears revenge on the seemingly indestructible Russian wrecking machine. Calling out the monosyllabic monster, Rocky and his entourage of mainly former Creed trainers and his lifelong pal, Paulie, head to a frozen cabin in Russia to train for the latest in a long list of biggest fights of his life.
After Creed embarrassed him with his Stars and Stripes entrance that includes fireworks, flags and James Brown, Lundgren’s Ivan Drago turns the tables and gets his own super-patriotic entrance for the Russian crowd. With Rocky getting nothing but boos from those in attendance as his entrance music, the stage is set for another dominant Drago performance.
Another fifteen round barn burner ensues, with the tables balancing well between the two. Drago knocking Balboa on his arse in the first round, with our hero coming back and opening up the challenger’s face in the second. It’s a tough match with both men having to dig deep for the win they both so desperately need. Call it luck, call it will, call it what you like, but Rocky pulls out a final round miracle as he floors the Russian monster and gets the knockout win. His victory speech includes a rousing call to the Russian people to remember that if they can change their tune towards him, the world can change its tune towards each other.
I think, at least quality wise, diminishing returns kicked into full gear here. Rocky III was passable as a film but there was a definite dip in quality; this time around I felt the struggle to keep watching was more powerful than the film I was sitting in front of. We were on the fourth straight copy/paste film in the series and I was beginning to lose my patience with watching the same formula over and over again. Simply changing location doesn’t change the fact you’re watching the same film. If this was a horror movie, it would be the one set in space hoping the change of scenery would fool the audience! I wasn’t invested in the fights at all. Worse, I just wanted them to be over. The subtle-as-a-sledgehammer implications with the beefy Russian juicing on multiple steroid cocktails versus the good, wholesome American were maybe the clumsiest “America! Fuck Yeah!” moments I’ve seen in a film in quite some time.
Rocky IV substituted the first film’s Oscar nominations for more than a healthy amount of Razzies. Stallone’s direction, writing and a large amount of his cast all fell foul of the Golden Raspberry nominations with quite a few wins to boot. The first film in the franchise to not have “Gotta Fly Now” in its soundtrack is much worse for that fact. Don’t let that box office take fool you; this film isn’t worthy of the Rocky name.
Rocky V (1990)
Budget – $42,000,000
Box Office – $119,900,000
Rotten Tomatoes Rating – 29%
Diagnosed with brain damage from years of taking abuse and suffering from a severe lack of money after a crooked accountant loses the Balboa fortune, Rocky and his family head back to where it all began. The dirty streets of Philadelphia.
Slumming it in a house much like the first one Rocky and Adrian bought together, the man of the house finds solace back at Mickey’s gym with no thoughts of being back in the ring; categorically turning down an offer to fight again. When Balboa gets the chance to mentor a young, raw boxer named Tommy Gunn, he jumps in so deep that it strains the bonds of his family. Caring more for the success of his young protégé than the problems his own son is having with bullies at school, Rocky quickly begins to lose all touch with his family.
After a string of healthy wins, Tommy is poached from Rocky by George Duke; a loudmouth, unscrupulous promoter who gets Tommy a title shot with the champion he also manages. After an easy win for the belt and little time for Tommy to celebrate, Duke’s intentions become very clear: He wants the fight with Rocky to happen whether it’s with his champion or Tommy Gunn – and now, he doesn’t even care if there is a ring involved. After an embarrassing press conference, Gunn seeks out his fight with Balboa in Rocky’s home town where a war of words ends with a war of fists in the street.
After both nearly killing each other, Rocky defeats Gunn; leaving him beaten and bloodied on the floor where our hero quickly puts Duke next to him.
Bringing back John G. Avildsen, the director of the original Rocky, was supposed to be a shot in the arm for the franchise. Hoping to rekindle the magic that made the early films such a success, Stallone went from boxing drama to family drama with-a-bit-of-boxing to try and change the tune a little. Sadly, it was a miserable failure. Undoubtedly the worst of the franchise and barely recognisable from the inspirational drama that saw us join the Italian Stallion on his path a mere fourteen years previously.
This killed the series for sixteen years, until…
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Budget – $24,000,000
Box Office – $155,700,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 76%
The world has long forgotten about Rocky Balboa. A former champion who now runs a restaurant named after his dead wife, he shuffles through life from one day to the next, passing on his little pearls of old man wisdom and thinking nothing of the life he once had.
That is, until a computer simulation shows an in-shape, championship holding Rocky of times long gone beating the current champ. Spurred on to do what he was born to do all along, realising the fire hasn’t quite fizzled out yet, Rocky gets his license back and heads out to train after securing himself an exhibition fight with the reigning title holder. Using current events as an opportunity to mend fences with his estranged son, Rocky becomes his most humble self as he looks to everyone around him – from his family to his community – for the inspiration he needs to dig deep for just one more training montage.
The big night rolls around and in modern boxing fashion, we are in Las Vegas. Champion Mason Dixon and Rocky lock horns for another full length boxing match where the pair trade blows almost evenly ending in a loss for Rocky via a close split decision.
Rocky Balboa brings back everything you loved about the early films: A reason to get behind our champ. A great, well built boxing film and (most of all) an amazingly written and directed drama that, once it gets to the ring, doesn’t pull any punches. A great, great fight is the delicious icing on a perfectly made cake that packs as much emotional punch as it does ACTUAL punch.
Easily the best of the Rocky series for me.
That brings us completely up-to-date and leads up nicely to…
Budget – $35,000,000
Box Office – $109,000,000 (so far)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 93%
Stallone has handed both directorial and writing duties off to other people to focus on acting this time around. His and Michael B. Jordan’s performances (and the film itself) have been critically acclaimed since it released in the US at the end of 2015.
Come see me in a few days, when I can give you my full opinion on the film and whether or not it’s been worth me trudging through this series over the last couple of weeks.
“When we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man, the edge! And now you gotta get it back.”
As I write this, we are a few weeks away from the UK release of Creed, the latest film in the Rocky saga. Having already been released to critical acclaim in the United States, I expect nothing but an amazing drama that has me punching along with its stars and wanting to scream at the screen the entire time I’m in the theatre.
Much as I did with Mad Max back in May, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have myself a little Rocky refresher course before release and share it with you guys.
It’s been a long time since I watched the Rocky films; I’m certain I did a quick run through back when Rocky Balboa, the series’ comeback sequel, was released. “That wasn’t that long ago, right?” I thought to myself. Wrong. It was in 2006 that Stallone’s comeback film
rightleft-hooked us to the canvas. Two years before Rambo’s comeback; four years before he assembled The Expendables for the first time and – by the time we get Creed on UK shores – ten years before the Italian Stallion took up the Mickey Goldmill role of trainer to long time opponent/friend Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis Johnson – a pornstar name if ever I heard one.
Forty years since we first cheered for Rocky Balboa. Forty years of ups and downs for our hero and forty years of films that don’t always live up to their heritage, but do try very hard. The original classic film and five sequels between 1976 and now; won’t you join me on my journey through the life and times of Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia’s number one son?
Budget – $1,100,000
Box Office – $225,000,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 93%
The story of a down and out debt collector who makes a few bucks on the side boxing in clubs has become the stuff of legend. A fighter who has never lived up to his potential, almost reviled by the owner of the gym he works out in and errand boy to a petty loanshark; Rocky Balboa inexplicably gets a chance to prove himself to everyone as Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed gives the unknown fighter a shot as his World Championship when the original contender for the belt has to drop out.
Determined to grab at this opportunity with both hands, Balboa trains harder than he has ever trained before to prove to himself, his new girlfriend Adrian, and everyone watching that he deserves the shot he’s been given. Trained by gym owner Mickey, a burnt out boxer who’s happy to berate Rocky for being a bum – a recurring theme in these films, until I watched these again I never knew the insult “bum” was either used that often or really that offensive – Rocky captures the heart of boxing fans across America as he steps into the ring with he champ to fight for his self respect as much as the belt.
Ending with a tense fight between the pair, Balboa fighting his heart out to prove himself and Creed fighting a guy with more spirit than he could have imagined, Rocky’s eventual split decision loss after fifteen rounds of hard hitting action leaves the world believing that Rocky won the fight, whether or not he came out with the title.
Rocky is a rags-to-riches American Dream story as poignant as any made before it or since. Written by Sylvester Stallone and made on a shoestring budget, Rocky’s journey from unknown to worldwide sensation was mirrored by its star who, after the film made two hundred times its budget back at the box office, went from nobody to household name overnight. Winning three Oscars for best film, director (for John G. Avildsen) and editing, also earning Stallone nominations for his writing and acting, there can be no doubting the pedigree of the series when it starts this well.
And let us not forget the two most memorable parts of Rocky. First, that most quoted and parodied call from the down and dirty bruiser after his loss, “ADRIAAAAAAAN”, and second the most famous training montage music in the history of film, that montage that made Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” one of the most recognisable songs in movie soundtrack history.
Rocky II (1979)
Budget – $7,000,000
Box Office – $200,100,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 73%
There was no way a film as profitable as Rocky wasn’t going to get a sequel. We only had to wait a couple of years until Sylvester Stallone not only returned to writing duties, but took the spot behind the camera to direct as well.
Minutes after his defeat at the hands of the champion, Rocky finds himself face to face with Apollo Creed in the halls of the hospital they have both been carted off to. Angry that his win wasn’t decisive, Creed immediately goes back on his word, calling out our hero for a rematch that Rocky refuses. Opting instead to retire, recover from his bout and become the family man he wants to be with Adrian. But Creed won’t accept that, spurned on by hate mail and a bruised ego, he sacrifices the high ground and bullies Rocky into a return fight.
But Balboa’s heart simply ain’t in it. But the promise of a growing family means that going back to his old ways of earning money simply isn’t going to cut it. However, training for his bout puts more strain on his family than financial troubles ever would. When the stress takes its toll on a heavily pregnant Adrian, things look dire for the Balboa family as their son is born a month premature and complications leave Adrian in a coma.
Spurred on by the birth of his son and his wife waking up with a new found love for Rocky’s chosen career, the Stallion gets back to training harder and working to get faster and break not only some bad habits, but his lifelong fighting stance. Training orthodox instead of his natural southpaw – something that isn’t mentioned again across the next few films, I’m guessing it was a production choice to make it easier for a right-handed star to train and fight convincingly – to fool his opponent and get an early advantage over an angry Creed determined to knock out Rocky in the first couple of rounds.
Once again he’s seen running through the streets of Philadelphia to get his stamina up, but this time joined by a few hundred kids for his stroll through the community that looks up to him so much. In a repeat of the original’s montage, his run ends at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the same “Gonna Fly Now” soundtrack, but this time joined by a school full of children clearly bunking off in the middle of the day!
Fight night! Win, lose or draw Balboa has the moral victory over the champion, but this time Rocky wants to win decisively. Another tense fifteen rounder that has me on the edge of my seat the entire time is the order of this sequel. This time, a last second knock out of the champion gets Rocky the belt, Adrian the win she made her husband promise and us out of our seats cheering.
No Oscar nominations for Rocky II, but as the second of a one-two punch after the first, an excellent, beautifully filmed drama that gets the palms sweating and the heart pounding.
Rocky III (1982)
Budget – $17,000,000
Box Office – $122,800,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 63%
Two films grossing over 200 million dollars? A third film was absolutely on the cards. Although, in a post Raging Bull world, Stallone’s writing and direction had to come up big to make a statement and, depending on who you talk to, it either blew those expectations away, or failed miserably to meet them. Me? I kind of sit somewhere in the middle.
After taking Creed’s title from him, Rocky rolls through every contender put in front of him for the next couple of years. Content to enjoy his celebrity life and retire an undefeated champion, Balboa is called out and bullied into a title defence by the number one contender, a dangerous man named James Lang, nicknamed “Clubber”. Played by a relatively unknown Mr. T (just before his A-Team days), Clubber hands Rocky his most vicious and calculated beating, taking his title and embarrassing our hero in front of his home town.
Beaten, broken and dealing with the loss of his friend and trainer Mickey, Rocky wants a shot to get his title back but lacks the tools to get the job done. Enter Apollo Creed. Rocky’s long-time rival offers to train him, to get him fighting fit and to teach him to be a boxer; not just the bruiser that once won him the championship. His only fee? Rocky owes him a favour once it’s all over.
Flying out to California and going back to Creed’s original gym, Apollo and Rocky set about preparing the former champion for his bout against the monstrous Clubber. New fitness regimes, new ways to train and new techniques has Balboa as well prepared as he is going to be to face the man that took his title.
In his rematch, Rocky utilises all he’s learned from Apollo and outfights Lang, forcing the bigger, stronger man to tire himself out early on and sets him up for a nice, early victory; knocking out Clubber Lang in the third round and winning back his title.
And Creed’s favour? A third match between the pair, no crowds, no cameras, the decisive rubber match to see which of the pair is the greatest.
In my opinion, Rocky III doesn’t live up to the previous instalments. It was the beginning of a drop in quality for the series that was only slight at this point. Besides cementing Mr. T’s “I pity the fool” catchphrase into the annals of film history and introducing the world to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” – a song that became so famous that just me mentioning it back there will have it stuck in your head for a bit – this third entry to this franchise should have been the end of it.
Sadly, it wasn’t. More on that a little later on…
Following on from last month’s article, Owen continues his ongoing year in review series by reviewing the films he’s seen in June. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
I thought football was supposed to be over for the summer? The World Cup was last year, the Euro’s are next year. The season ended in May and yet somehow I seem to have spent so much time being disappointed with the England U21 side out in the Czech Republic and cheering on the women’s team over in Canada. I even stayed up until 3am watching football! This isn’t meant to happen. At this time of the year, it’s only supposed to take up half an hour of your day. Reading the transfer gossip columns over lunch, guffawing at Twitter rumours about Pogba to Man City, Angel Di Maria to Barcelona, or famous baldy Gervinho to Al Jazira including £85k per week wages, his own private beach and personal helicopter…
Hell, even two of the films I’ve watched in June have been football related. However, I did manage to squeeze both of them into the same day’s viewing so in reality they didn’t take up too much time away from other, proper, serious films. Like the myriad of Chuck Norris movies and micro-budget horrors listed below. Ahem.
Coupling these unexpectedly exciting international football tournaments and hilarious football transfers (Spurs mugging some Chinese team off by selling Paulinho for £10m?!) with new seasons of Hannibal and True Detective starting, plus the last few episodes of Game of Thrones and various other TV shows, I’m as surprised as anybody (probably, er, more than anyone else I guess) that I’ve actually watch so many films last month. Especially as quality seems to have gone completely out of the window in place of quantity, all thanks to a certain documentary. But I’ve tried to pick out a few of the more interesting movies seen lately to talk about below.
Week 1 – Monday 1 – Sunday 7 June 2015
Monday – Kung Fury (2015), San Andreas (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Spy (2015); Thursday – The Redwood Massacre (2015); Friday – Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Fist of the North Star (1986); Saturday – COBRA (1986); Sunday – The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
Eight films, five of which were released this year, including three cinema trips, plus two films from the year I was born and one classic 80’s comedy (that Steve recently revealed he has somehow never seen before despite it being on TV constantly.) As you can tell, I started off June with a bit of a mixed bag. A neat little indie film, a couple of decent comedies, a long boring blockbuster and a classic Sylvester Stallone 80s crime thriller released in the UK 10 days before I was born. I’m not quite sure what it was I was expecting from Cobra. It’s just one of many blurays on a Stallone box-set I own, it looked kinda cheesy but was fairly short so I stuck it on late one Saturday evening after Barcelona battered Juventus in the Champions League final (yep, more football). I don’t know whether it was due to a combination of the beer in me and sleep deprivation, or what, but man it was so much fun. From the moment Lt. Cobra rocks up in his first appearance with a hugely inappropriate muscle car and ‘AWSOM 50’ license plate, proceeding to take out the crazed gunman inside the supermarket delivering the one liner “you’re a disease, and I’m the cure”, I knew it was going to be a film I’d love. Sly is effortlessly cool as the policeman personally protecting a witness from the New World crime wave. I can’t believe I’d never seen it before but will absolutely be watching it again. And again. And again.
Week 2 – Monday 8 – Sunday 14 June 2015
Monday – Insidious (2010); Tuesday – Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013); Wednesday – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015); Thursday – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015), SAFETY LAST! (1923); Friday – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959); Saturday – Jurassic World (2015); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
It was bitterly sad news on Thursday 11 June as the iconic Sir Christopher Lee passed away. I knocked up a quick article highlighting some of my favourite performances of his and remembered I’d never seen The Hound of the Baskervilles before. In short: it was fine, not going to make me re-think my list, but Lee and Cushing together were absolutely brilliant. The best film I watched this week was actually the Electric Boogaloo documentary about Cannon films, but I’ve already written a review of that (and you should go watch it right now!) However, the film I’m actually going to talk about is the classic Harold Lloyd silent comedy, Safety Last!, which I saw at the Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford with a score performed by Unsilent Movies live in the cinema. It was immensely entertaining; both witnessing this unbelievably talented duo keeping beat with every movement on screen, as well as the movie itself. I’ve confessed many times before that I like watching the odd silent film, but when it comes to silent comedies, I’m a little out of touch. Chaplin is pretty much my only point of reference. I’ve not seen any Laurel & Hardy, for example. The only Buster Keaton film I’ve seen (The General) had just one scene that made me laugh. Nevertheless, I genuinely found that the quality of the gags and humour in Safety Last! matched the joyful experience I was having at the UPP. The plot was simple enough to allow for some fantastical scenarios to occur, as Harold Lloyd moves to the city to get a good enough job to impress his sweetheart back home in the country, pretending to have a better job than he actually has. It’s constant gag after gag after gag, but each one is so well crafted that even now, 92 years on, you can still admire them and, more importantly, laugh at them. I guess you could say that it’s timeless. And yes, that is a shoe-horned in pun on the film’s most famous scene, that doesn’t really work. No, you shut up.
Week 3 – Monday 15 – Sunday 21 June 2015
Monday – Weaverfish (2015), Over The Top (1987); Tuesday – American Ninja (1985); Wednesday – La Grande Illusion (1937); Thursday – Invasion USA (1985); Friday – Dragon Lord (1982); Saturday – Gascoigne (2015), UNITED PASSIONS (2015); Sunday – Mr Holmes (2015)
This is possibly only the fifth time this year that I’ve actually watched at least one film every day for an entire week. Despite that, the film I’m going to talk about is probably the least deserving of any minor publicity my reviews might bring. In fact, have we ever talked about a film on Failed Critics more obsessively than United Passions? I suppose Star Wars gets a mention every so often when Steve and I are in full-on argumentative mode. Kill Keith lingered like a chip van outside of an inner-city school at lunch time, refusing to go away despite repeated attempts to get rid of it. But this God awful piece of FIFA propaganda, this slimy, abhorrent garbage, this offensively obnoxious drivel, this nauseating, badly directed, badly written, badly acted detestable xenophobic filth just won’t leave us alone. I’ve listed the release year for the movie as 2015, but if this ever sees wide distribution in the UK, I will eat Sepp Blatter’s oversized hat off of his humongous head, once he’s finally extracted it from his fetid engorged colon. I’m aware that you have to allow artistic license for these kinds of biopics, so most of the film is based on fictional events (or at least highly exaggerated events), but to portray Sepp Blatter as a virtually infallible hero of world football, protecting it from the corruption all at the same time as being solely responsible for the promotion of the women’s game and saving Africa, it’s a fucking embarrassment. £16m of FIFA’s money was pumped into this smug circle jerk. Sixteen. Millions. Pounds. That’s £16m that has been taken out of the game, money that could be put back into developing football at a grass roots level in countries that would benefit from the investment. Instead all of it is splurted over Blatter’s scrotum-textured face like a FIFA-backed money-bukake. His resignation from FIFA cannot come soon enough, but knowing what a cowardly conniving bald fat twat he is, based on his real-life exploits not just those of Tim Roth’s portrayal in United Passions (Tim-bloody-Roth, what the fuck are you doing for crying out loud) he’ll no doubt renege on his promise, stand for re-election and miraculously win it it. Again. Ugh.
Week 4 – Monday 22 – Sunday 28 June 2015
Monday – Zombeavers (2014); Tuesday – The Terminator (1984); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Delta Force (1986), Pet Semetary (1989); Saturday – TWIN WARRIORS (AKA TAI-CHI MASTER) (1993); Sunday – Minions (2015), Through The Lens (2015)
Having seen The Terminator for the second time this year (albeit on this occasion on the big screen for the very first time) I thought I’d give you all a break and talk about something else. In the first ever article I wrote for this series back at the end of January, I mentioned how I’d seen a boat-load of kung-fu movies. Well, it seems that itch returned as I sought out a few more in the latter part of June. Partly because after trying to think of my four favourite actresses for a Twitter trend that’s taking over my feed lately, I named one of them as Michelle Yeoh. It then got me thinking how few of her lesser known films I’ve actually sat down to watch during these recent binges. A quick trip to America to search for Yeoh’s films on Netflix revealed a 1993 martial arts action-comedy co-starring Jet Li that was quite highly rated at 4.5 stars. Whilst Yeoh herself is more of a side character who helps out Jet Li’s banished monk-turned-political rebellion activist after his long-time friend’s lust for power drives them apart, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s occasionally funny, has some excellently choreographed combat scenes with both Yeoh and Li involved in some high-wire stunts. It even possesses quite a well crafted morality play throughout the plot. The sides of good and evil, right and wrong, friendship and enemies etc with not all of the important scenes involving fisty-cuffs. It’s balanced well enough to keep you engaged even when there’s no wave after wave of useless goons being pummeled by Jet Li’s furious fists…
Week 5 – Monday 29 – Tuesday 30 June 2015
Monday – The Last Dragon (1985), The Big Sleep (1946); Tuesday – Police Assassins (AKA Yes Madam) (AKA Huang jia shi jie) (1985)
On Monday, I had the evening to myself as my wife was away. I played a bit of Star Fox 64 on my new 2DS (it’s still rock solid) before spending a few hours watching two and just-over-a-half films. Don’t get too excited. I’m not going to name the ‘half a film’; not solely because I didn’t make it to the end before switching it off, but because it was a preview screener for review and don’t think it would be fair to name-and-shame unless I’d seen it all the way to the end. Who knows? That last 20-25 minutes could’ve been spectacular. Alas, of the hour and a bit I did see, it was, without doubt (bearing in mind I also watched United Passions last month) one of the worst, most incoherent, horrendously edited, joyless, completely devoid of any redeeming qualities and downright appalling movies I have ever seen in my entire life. To be fair to it, I personally think that werewolf films are the most difficult Horror sub-genre to tackle. They’re very rarely done right, particularly if you have no money for decent CGI or proper practical special effects. An American Werewolf In London might be one of my favourite films, but An American Werewolf In Paris ain’t. Ginger Snaps, Curse of the Werewolf and Dog Soldiers = good. Ginger Snaps Back, Never Cry Werewolf and Strippers vs Werewolves = bad, bad and ‘just fuck off’ bad. This particular screener for an as-yet unreleased werewolf film was just gibberish. If there was a main character, protagonist or antagonist, I couldn’t tell you. It seems stuck between avoiding replicating PG-rated teen romance dramas, and copying violent, more explicit OTT Japanese animes, whilst trying to construct an appalling superhero origin movie. Random characters would occasionally have exposition read out during mid-scene narration sequences. Think of the line “Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home” from Airplane! and you’re half way there. In some scenes, the actual conversational dialogue was inaudible due to the overbearing dubstep background music, yet explosions and sound effects were ear-bleedingly loud to the point that Michael Bay would’ve been proud. I genuinely rued that wasted hour of my evening. It was so bad I actually began questioning whether or not I even enjoy watching movies any more… before putting on The Big Sleep and realising I do enjoy films, just not this particular one. To make matters worse, I was actually going to talk about The Last Dragon in this review, Mo-Town’s funky kung-fu film about a (seemingly autistic) virgin dubbed Bruce Leroy, with a bordering-on-racist phony Asian accent, despite being from Harlem, who fantasises about achieving a “glow”. Ah well. Maybe I’ll get around to that should I ever rewatch it in the next 6 months. (Spoiler: that’s very, very unlikely.)
And that’s it, I guess! I’ll be back around about the same time next month to round up the stuff that I’ve been watching throughout July. No doubt more kung-fu films, a couple of classic movies and some 80’s cult Cannon films. As ever, if you’ve any comments to make on the films I’ve talked about (or not talked about) above, leave them in the box below or send me a tweet.
In between rocking out to synth and metal movie soundtracks, Matt is a frequent writer for the site and contributor to the Failed Critics podcast. Here he tells us about one of his personal icons, the King of Synth, Vince DiCola.
by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)
“Movie scores today sound similar to me in the sense that there are some great composers out there who continually use orchestras. I love orchestras, but I’d love to see synthesizers being used a little bit more again…”
Movie history is full of great and celebrated music composers. Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer particularly come to mind when thinking back on some of my favourite movie scores from the 1980’s and onwards. But there is one individual that does not garner quite so much recognition, at least by name, but certainly will be recognised by most movie fans at least sonically.
Vince DiCola cites Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) amongst his biggest musical influences. DiCola got his first major break in the movie business as an up and coming musician and composer when he was recruited by Frank Stallone to work on the score for 1983’s Stayin’ Alive. Whilst the movie itself bombed, the score raised some eyebrows within the industry and Vince earned himself Grammy and Golden Globe nominations for his work.
It goes without saying that Rocky IV was a brilliant example of 80’s Americana, both in film and its excellent
soundtrack. The Rocky IV soundtrack spawned a number of Billboard hits, including Survivor’s ‘Burning Heart’ (a #2 hit), James Brown’s ‘Living in America’ (featuring the B-Side ‘Farewell’ by Vince DiCola) and the epic ‘Hearts on Fire’ performed by John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band which was also written by Vince DiCola.
But the most endearing pieces from movie, the ones forever seared into the memory of fans and movie fanatics, are from Vince DiCola’s score.
It is one of the most copied, parodied, inspiring and famous pieces of music in movie history. The synthesized sequence ‘Training Montage’ was such a strong part of the Rocky IV score that it made into the soundtrack also. As per the image below, it was parodied in comedic fashion to great affect in Team America, has been used in dozens of TV commercials and popular series such as Family Guy. It certainly plays a huge part in the build-up to the climatic final fight in Rocky IV and music is the perfect example of how Vince DiCola’s work may escape you by name but you will probably be familiar with him by this particular track if not more.
In the United States, the track ‘War’ from the score was regularly used during the 80’s and 90’s during NFL broadcasts so will be hugely familiar to US Sports fans and is an excellent sequence in its own right. Whilst the score was bizarrely awarded the 86′ Golden Raspberry, time and reflection has been tremendously kind to DiCola’s work and it is fondly regarded as a rabble-rousing and nostalgic classic.
Transformers: The Movie
Despite the scathing response to the Rocky IV score from some circles, it brought DiCola’s work to the attention of the producers for 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. DiCola auditioned for the part with an original piece called ‘Legacy’ which did not make into the final score for the movie but featured all the hallmarks that fans of the movie came to love.
Whilst DiCola’s work only features in one vocal track from the movie’s soundtrack (Stan Bush – Dare) the movie score is entirely his own. DiCola was given a free license to work from with only the aid of storyboards to guide his creativity, an experience that he later stated he was entirely unused to but thoroughly enjoyed, culminating in an exceptional original score.
A particularly emotive piece is ‘Death of Optimus Prime’, which is the accompanying music to the scene in which Auotbot leader Optimus Prime passes the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus on his deathbed, following his mortally-wounding battle with Megatron at the start of the movie (Spoiler Alert!).
It is a piece that is my own personal Kryptonite and I still cannot listen to today without shedding tears; the passing of a childhood role model with such a harrowing theme takes me to the saddest parts of my youth. In some ways I liken the heart-wrenching emotion of this song to the passing of my own father, it’s that strong of a piece.
The Transformers soundtrack also branched into areas of popular culture. The retro gaming classic ‘Turrican’ from 1986 features a rehash of Vince DiCola’s ‘Escape’ as of its primary themes (thanks to Andy Godoy from the Retro Gaming Daily Show for that one!). The ever popular anthem from Transformers: The Movie called ‘The Touch’ , performed by Stan Bush, even made it into a scene in Boogie Nights during a rather startling musical audition for Dirk Diggler!
As a massive Transformers fan, finding this soundtrack in the 90’s was not easy, particularly pre-internet era. I had to travel from Stoke-on-Trent to London’s HMV Trocadero to buy the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack on CD, but its a nice personal story for me and one my most prized possessions.
You can see the man himself with the most valued of all of my music collection in the header image!
It saddens me greatly when seeing, or hearing the negativity surrounding the Michael Bay Transformers movies and how they truly scar the legacy left behind by Transformers ’86, both in the brilliant animated movie and its sensational 80’s synth/metal soundtrack.
That said, DiCola has carved himself an excellent legacy and his body of work spans over several movies, solo releases and numerous video games, most recently returning to work on the Transformers edition of Angry Birds. Vince DiCola may not be a household name, but he probably sits on the CD shelves or MP3 collection of countless movie and video game fans.
There are few musicians that have profoundly affected me in moments of sheer delight and even sometimes in mourning as Vince DiCola. His work during my childhood in particular has created memories that will last a life-time and I still enjoy immensely even in my 30’s. I can only hope there is another big movie project in the future for Vince that might just bring him into the kind of notoriety that his life’s work deserves.
Hello everyone. I usually write these in the third person, like a pretentious wrestler or someone with a personality disorder, but I’m dropping the charade this one time to say thank you for listening to this podcast, and any others that you’ve happened upon over the last two-and-a-bit years.
I’m moving on for the time being to focus on other projects, but Failed Critics will always be very special to me, and I hope to come back in some shape or form at some point in the future. In the meantime though, I’m leaving it in the more than capable hands of Steve, Owen, and Carole, and it’s typical that I choose to leave just when we’ve finally got the sound quality sorted!
I honestly think this is one of our best podcasts to date. Not only do I try and steal all the limelight and attention with the most drawn out exit in history, but we even manage to fit in reviews on The Expendables 3 and Condorman, the highest stakes the quiz has ever seen, and a Triple Bill updating our first ever episode choices of ‘Desert Island Digital Versatile Discs’.
It’s been fun.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
It’s fair to say that I’m a self-confessed action film nut. Give me a free 90 minutes and any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and I’ll smile and say “thanks very much”. It may be no surprise to learn then that I am also a Stallone fan; and with that, a fan of the Expendables franchise. Simon West’s light-hearted but immensely fun sequel to the more serious original (which was written by, directed by and starred Sylvester Stallone) is one of my favourite modern popcorn munching action movies.
Thursday saw the release of the third entry into Sylvester Stallone’s modern action franchise, the succinctly named, The Expendables 3. Whilst overall it’s perhaps not as impressive – in terms of critical success and box office success – as either of his Rambo or Rocky films of decades past, they do feature an impressive cast of 80’s and 90’s heroes as long as the protruding big blue veins in his large muscular arms. Amongst whom returning to Stallone’s side as he stops the latest megalomaniac (an incredibly intense Mel Gibson), are familiar faces such as the arse-kicking Jason Statham, knife-sharpening giant Dolph Lundgren and cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, a load of other recognisable members such as Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li pop up here and there.
Joining them are a bunch of young whippersnappers (Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz) whose careers are only just beginning. Whilst at the other end of the experience scale sees notable newcomers Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer join the crew. If nothing else, it shows how far the series has come when it can attract stars such as Gibson and Ford, as opposed to the early incarnations with the likes of Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke taking top billing.
However, a review of The Expendables 3 this is not. For that, check out Callum’s review from this weekend! Instead, I’m pitting the original Expendables cast against the latest big name additions. One film each, best of 5, let’s see who’s indispensable to the series and who is expendable.
1. Jason Statham vs Wesley Snipes – Crank vs Demolition Man
Often seen throughout this second sequel squaring up to each other with their knife skills (and knife puns) on display, they are arguably the two actors who have the most on-screen chemistry with our chief protagonist, ol’ Sly Stallone. But who has been in the best action movie? Crank is an exhilarating non-stop self-aware adrenaline-junkie of a movie. The entire cast appear to be pumping energy drinks directly into their bloodstream. None more so of course than The Stath, spending the duration of the movie keeping his adrenaline flowing in every possible way you can think of. But what about Snipes? Demolition Man, released at a transitional time for action movies from the over-the-top kill-em-all era of the 80’s to the smarter, cooler 90’s, is everything Expendables wants to homage. Snipes’ charisma may be mostly responsible for why this movie is still so enjoyable, but let’s face it, it’s no Crank.
Originals 1 – 0 Newcomers
To many, this won’t even be a debate. Arnie is arguably the greatest action hero we have ever seen. A genre is defined by his mere presence thanks to movies such as Terminator 2, True Lies, Total Recall and indeed the Vietnam jungle survivalist sci-fi horror, Predator. If the debate was “who is better in The Expendables 3“, then sugar-tits himself Mel Gibson would walk that contest. Unfortunately for the fresh-faced post-apocalyptic Australian Max, there is no comparison. Schwarzenegger can quite literally become an elected member of the Republican party and I’ll still turn up in the cinema to see whatever film he’s starring in these days. There’s still so much good will towards him thanks to films such as this all time classic of the genre. The man is a legend. Sorry, Mel.
Originals 2 – 0 Newcomers
3. Dolph Lundgren vs Antonio Banderas – Showdown in Little Tokyo vs Desperado
Yes, yes. OK. I am aware that Rocky IV is Dolph’s most iconic film and quite possibly his best – I won’t even entertain suggestions of Masters of the Universe or The Punisher. But we all know Rocky IV isn’t an action movie, don’t we. Never mind that, Showdown in Little Tokyo is massively underrated. Lundgren is as wooden as he ever was in these early roles of his, but there are some brilliant stunts, one liners and his final showdown lives up to expectations. Is it better than anything in Desperado? Well, no. That would be silly. Banderas is the epitome of cool in the film that really propelled him into the English-speaking public’s conscious. The direction from Robert Rodriguez is excessive, unrelenting and fantastic; Banderas is absolutely perfect as the sexy, dark and mysterious mariachi. Not only does he steal the show in the third act of The Expendables 3, he’s stealing a point for the newcomers.
Originals 2 – 1 Newcomers
4. Randy Couture vs Kelsey Grammer – Hijacked vs Transformers: Age of Extinction
Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the wrong reasons. Whilst you’d think the odds would be stacked against Grammer given the best action films he’s featured in outside of The Expendables 3 are directed by Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Michael Bay (Trans4mers), it should be a cake-walk for his opposite number. But looking at the best films Couture has starred in, one appalling The Mummy spin-off (The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior) and a straight to video revenge movie where he’s out-shined by a 5 minute Vinnie Jones cameo (Hijacked), it’s not all that straight-forward. At least Grammer was entertaining in some rather average movies. The comeback is on!
5. Sylvester Stallone vs Harrison Ford – First Blood vs Raiders of the Lost Ark
Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the right reasons. Saving the best ’til last was meant to make this challenge easier. Instead what I’m looking at is two of Hollywood’s legends, famed more for what they bring to the screen besides what is traditionally considered “great acting”, both duking it out until the 12th round. They have a swagger, a deserved arrogance, something unquantifiable that makes them both the iconic and charismatic performers we know them as today. Comparing First Blood (the beginning of the Rambo franchise and an action movie with real emotional depth) with Raiders of the Lost Ark (the beginning of the Indiana Jones franchise and an action movie with sophistication and undeniable amusement) is just as tough. Of the two, just edging it for me would probably be First Blood. I make no apologies for this either. As good as Indy is, he’s stilla nerd isn’t he? Rambo is just.. better.
Originals 3 – 2 Newcomers
And that’s the end of that! It seems the newcomers made a valiant effort but it’s the originals that have come out on top. We can only hope that if Jackie Chan, Nic Cage, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kurt Russell and Vin Diesel turn up in The Expendables 4, things might go a bit differently in the rematch!
Do you agree? Are you outraged by this outcome? Leave a comment below and wind Owen up.
Not great, not bad, The Expendables III is diverting entertainment for the over-long run-time it lasts for.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
There is not a whole lot to say about The Expendables III. It is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin and nothing more. You want to see some over-the-hill action movie stars and some up-and-coming would-be action movie stars blow stuff up real good in the cinematic equivalent of being subjected to a straight shot of testosterone for two and a bit hours? Do you mind that being done in a competent and not exactly stellar fashion? Congratulations, this is your movie. It is utterly passable and diverting filmmaking that knows its limitations and, as a result, sticks solely to what it wants to do. I hesitate to say “its strengths” because, much like the last two, it’s still not great at what it does and is far too long (this one busts through the two hour mark by the time the credits are finished and does it ever feel like it at points), but it is decent fun, although less overtly silly than the last go-around (you decide whether that’s a good thing or not).
Honestly, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about here. If you’ve seen an Expendables film before, you know exactly what you’re signing up for. It’s another one of those, it’s a bit more serious than the last one but the overall pros and cons are the same. Stallone and Statham still have inexplicably amazing buddy chemistry together, so obviously they don’t spend nearly enough time together on screen. There’s still a perverse joy in seeing these aging action stars, and up-and-comers who often deserve budding action careers (Kellan Lutz is the real surprise standout of the younger cast, especially so given that The Legend Of Hercules is barely six months old), kicking ass and taking names, but the film is still too overstuffed and therefore many people (including, yes, perennial “fill-out-the-numbers” members Randy Couture and Terry Crews) don’t get their big moment, let alone a character to play. The final action scene, which spans pretty much the entire final half-hour, kicks all kinds of ass but the film seems permanently stuck in third gear for the rest of its run-time. There is a good sense of fun throughout the production, but it’s still overwhelmingly macho and the equivalent of watching a raging boner projected on a cinema screen for two hours which, depending on how willing you are to turn off your brain, may be off-putting (although, thankfully, it’s a dumb action film in 2014 that doesn’t sneak a whole bunch of disgusting racism and sexism past everyone under the guise of “we’re a big dumb action film, it’s not like anything uncouth that we do or say matters, right?”).
Let’s talk minor differences, then, eh? First, that 12a rating. It means there is no blood. That’s it. Literally the only things stopping this from being rated a 15 are the complete lack of blood and an excessively shaky camera whenever knives get involved (otherwise known as “Hunger Games-ing it”). Swears are thrown about frequently, hundreds of people are violently gunned down, bones are broken… you know, the usual, just now with 100% less CGI blood-squirts and only one deployment of the f-word. This is still not a film that is suitable for anybody under the age of 10 (stop using the cinema as a babysitter, random parents who brought their two young children into the screening with them), don’t panic. It’s still violent, still brutal, it’s just cagier about the details. Also, none of this spoils the last extended action sequence; despite taking place across a large space and multiple floors, it’s nearly always clear where everyone is in relation to what and to what they’re engaged in.
Elsewhere, I found the way the film treated the younger Expendables to be really refreshing. See, the plot kick-starts when a routine mission for Expendables Classic that has them assassinating Mel Gibson (there really is no point remembering these guys’ names, better to just come right out and call them by their actors’) goes south. Gibson puts Terry Crews in the hospital and causes Sylvester Stallone to have to face the reality that his current crew (also comprising Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and a freshly-broken-out-of-jail Wesley Snipes) aren’t getting any younger and soon may end up in the ground. So he forcibly breaks up Expendables Classic and jets off with Kelsey Grammar to recruit Expendables Modern (Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey in the role of “Michelle Rodriguez Said ‘No’”) to try and take revenge on Gibson who, surprise, has a deep-forged connection to the Expendables crew. Oh, also, Antonio Banderas shows up as a mercenary cross between Charlie Chaplin and Doug from Up, and Harrison Ford is subbing for Bruce Wills and looking more interested and happy to be here than he has been in years.
What’s refreshing is that this “Damn these new kids, swanning in here trying to claim that our line of work is a young man’s game, now” plotline never actually demonises the new kids. Yes, they do get captured, necessitating a rescue and eventual team-up (which is not particularly a spoiler as a) all of the damn trailers have revealed this point and b) you saw this coming if you have seen almost quite literally any action film ever before), but that’s simply because Gibson is one step ahead of everyone, in typical movie bad guy fashion. Otherwise, the kids are shown to be exceedingly competent, their methods are proficient, their technology really useful, they get the job done. They even hold their own in the big chaotic finale without having to have their butts saved by the older guys. It’s a surprisingly embracing approach to this kind of plotline, one that’s often used simply to refute the young whippersnappers and remind everyone that the old guys are still relevant dammit (*coughcoughSkyfallcough*)! I mean, one may immediately want to retract this point due to the fact that none of the youngsters have a real character (Lutz apparently has a problem with authority, Powell is the tech guy who can climb stuff, Rousey is The Girl and derisively says “Men…” after every beatdown, and Ortiz… I’ll get back to you on that one) but I’d counter-argue that nobody in this franchise has a real character so it all shakes out.
Oh, and there’s also a really amazing dreadful one-liner near the end. Like, holy crap, is it hysterically terrible. It’s one of the best and worst lines I have ever heard. You have to hear this line, it is ridiculous. Not kidding, I burst out laughing at it, 100% unintentionally. We’re talking Mortal Kombat 4 levels of brilliantly bad, here.
Aaaand… yeah, that’s about it on my thoughts on The Expendables III. It’s another one. It drags too long in the middle, its final 30 minutes are the best kind of dumb popcorn fun, it’s lightweight, everyone seems to be having fun, there’s nothing particularly memorable, the dialogue still stinks to high heaven but in an endearing way. If you’re not sold on this franchise, this won’t change anything; if you are, this is another reliably decent way to spend two hours. I feel like I should be lauding it to high heaven for at least being a dumb action spectacle this Summer that’s actually good at what it does (heaven knows those keep getting rarer), but it’s still just a bit too forgettable for me to go overboard on the praising. It’s good at what it does, I had fun whilst it played. If what it does is what you want, go for it. If not, skip. Simple.
Of course, it does feature the image of a man entering the sixth storey of a bombed-out building by jumping a dirt bike up the tail of a destroyed airplane. Plus, that line. Holy crap, that line. So, there’s those.
Callum Petch is about to bloody this track up, everybody get back. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!
On October 12th, DreamWorks Animation SKG turns 20. Long known as the number two CG animation company in terms of both quality and gross per film, the company has been responsible for, along with Pixar, revolutionising and revitalising American feature-length animated cinema. And they turn 20 having finally earned sustained critical praise in addition to the usual millions upon millions from franchising and the box office (*quietly shuffles Turbo and Mr. Peabody & Sherman out of view*). The company, in many respects, is stronger than it has ever looked.
I was a child once and, being a child, I used to be a fan of DreamWorks Animation. I mean, like everybody, I was enamoured by Shrek and, being young and therefore incapable of good taste, I ate up their continual, lesser re-treads of the Shrek formula. However, even children eventually develop taste and my patience with their products was waning by Flushed Away (yes, I know Flushed Away is an Aardman film, we’ll get to why I didn’t make that distinction later) and had evaporated entirely by Bee Movie. I found their films to be stale, formulaic, uninspired, lacking in heart, and vastly inferior to what Pixar were putting out. So, after Kung Fu Panda (which did not work for me, we’ll see if anything’s changed later on), I made the decision to stop going to see DreamWorks films. After all, why should I keep going to those when Pixar were still riding high?
I held firm to that decision for close to six years (with one lapse for Puss In Boots because a friend and I had free cinema tickets that were about to run out and nothing else was on), finally breaking it this year due to my desire to see all the animation and because proper film critics can’t pick and choose the films they review. Consequently, Mr. Peabody & Sherman was a big surprise for me, being a legitimately great and heartfelt film. Was this seriously the company that, exactly one decade earlier, believed that Shark Tale was quality work it was willing to stand behind and release to the general public? And whilst I may not have loved How To Train Your Dragon or its sequel, I can still see them as very good movies and a major step-up from, say, Madagascar.
So this journey back through their back catalogue has been rather a long time coming and the 20th anniversary of the company (which I didn’t know was a thing until the card popped up before How To Train Your Dragon 2) seemed like as good a time as any to start it. So, every Monday for the next 30 weeks, I will be going through every single one of DreamWorks Animation’s films (up to 2013) and giving them a thorough re-evaluation. How they were responded to at the time, what the animation landscape at the time was like to foster their success or failure, how they’ve aged and if they were good films to begin with. We’re going to go through them all, from their debutback in 1998, all the way up to Turbo in late 2013 with a week’s break for their one excursion into direct-to-video land, in the shape of Joseph: King Of Dreams, and two weeks at some point or another to look at their television output, seeing as franchising is a major part of the DreamWorks business. There will be some highs, some astounding lows, maybe even some surprises and, hopefully, we’ll all come out of this a little more knowledgeable about one of the biggest names in Western Animation.
But we start our adventure on October 2nd 1998 with the company’s first animated feature-length film, Antz. Yes, with a “z”.
Budget: $105 million
Worldwide Gross: $171,757,863
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% from 89 reviews
I am not going to spend the majority of this instalment focussing on the feud between DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and Pixar’s Steve Jobs & John Lasseter over whether or not the former stole the premise for A Bug’s Life from the latter and used it as the basis for Antz. Why? Multiple reasons. 1) The situation is actually rather complex and neither side, to this day even, seems willing to let it slide or come out and admit they were wrong. You could write a book around the thing (or, at the very least, a novella) and I don’t have the time to go in-depth about the issue. 2) To spend 75% of the article’s length on circumstances surrounding its creation is to do a disservice to Antz itself as 3] With the exception of their general premises (lowly worker ants who have crushes on their colony’s princess and have fears of being insignificant in their daily lives and roles in society), Antz and A Bug’s Life actually have very little in common.
In any case, it is important information, so here is the condensed, likely-heavily-simplified version. DreamWorks Animation CEO and co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg helped form the company after leaving Disney’s film division disillusioned by its direction and embroiled in a bitter feud with the company’s CEO Michael Eisner (and, really, who wasn’t angry with Eisner at some point in time?). Katzenberg had stayed in touch with Lasseter after leaving and, when asked by Katzenberg during one of these meet-ups, Lasseter had described in detail their post-Toy Story project, A Bug’s Life. Soon after, and soon after DreamWorks had acquired Pacific Data Images (PDI, the company responsible for the 3D sections of the Homer³ segment of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse Of Horror VI”), trade publications announced that DreamWorks’ first animated film was going to be Antz. Lasseter, naturally, assumed that Katzenberg had ripped him off. Katzenberg insisted that it was based on a 1991 story pitch by Tim Johnson that was related to him in 1994. The situation was not helped by DreamWorks rushing production on the film and aiming for a release date two months before A Bug’s Life. There’s also the fact that Katzenberg made an offer to an infuriated Steve Jobs that he would halt production on Antz if Pixar moved the release date for A Bug’s Life away from DreamWorks’ planned debut animated feature, The Prince Of Egypt (more on that next week); yes, that does sound an awful lot like a shake-down.
Lasseter still believes that Katzenberg ripped him off. Katzenberg still insists that they were merely similar ideas. (For the record, I would have been more inclined to believe Lasseter if you’d asked me about this before I saw the film and before this got out.) In any case, Antz did end up launching nearly two months before A Bug’s Life to great critical and relatively good financial success. A Bug’s Life, however, would debut on November 25th to near equal critical acclaim and runaway financial success ($363 million). Not to mention the fact that that’s still held up as a very strong entry into Pixar’s canon, despite the strength of what’s come after, whilst Antz has pretty much faded into obscurity. And then, to add insult to injury, The Prince Of Egypt was released a few weeks later, December 18th, and even with the competition from A Bug’s Life it managed to find great success, becoming only the second animated film not released by Disney to make $100 million domestic (after Paramount and Nickelodeon’s The Rugrats Movie) and the highest grossing traditionally animated non-Disney film ever until The Simpsons Movie came along. Business may have gotten Antz out of the door first, but all it ended up doing was destroying long-held friendships and saddling the film with baggage, that may or may not be true, for the rest of its life when it’s brought up in conversation.
And that’s really a damn shame as, as previously mentioned, Antz and A Bug’s Life share an overall premise and precious little else. Not to mention the fact that Antz has enough going on in its own terms that you can be able to discuss the film without having to make reference to the troubles surrounding its production. So, if you want to know more about that side of proceedings, you can find an overall summary and several jumping-off points here and here. The rest of this little piece is going to look at Antz primarily on its own terms.
Whereas A Bug’s Life was clearly aimed at the whole family and especially the younger end, Antz was aimed more at teenagers and adults. Not that you’d know that from the trailer, of course (in fact, compare that trailer with the one for A Bug’s Life). A Bug’s Life is focussed more on sight gags, slapstick humour and a light inclusive tone; Antz derives what little humour it has from the ramblings and snarkings of its neurotic protagonist, Z (voiced by Woody Allen, who also did some uncredited re-writes), and has a tone more befitting a high PG, low PG-13 family film (more specifically, my mind keeps cycling back to Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers, which was released two months earlier). A Bug’s Life is a tale of slaves rising up and overthrowing their oppressors but the subtext is kept as subtext and the tone is light and inclusive, whilst Antz is a darker film that tackles the topics of individualism, rigid class structures, Communism (briefly) and blindly following orders, all with the subtlety of baseball bat. To the face. Of your grandmother. At one point, the villain (voiced by Gene Hackman) almost quite literally sneers about how individualism is a disease held only by the weak. Both films are clearly aiming at different audiences and are using their similar premises to do different things and tackle different aspects of them, they just had the misfortune of coming out two months apart from one another; not the last time that DreamWorks would fall victim to this (Megamind/Despicable Me, but we shall get to that).
A phrase that commonly gets tossed around in regards to Antz is “edge”. That it has “edge,” “it’s edgier than A Bug’s Life.” I get the feeling that that particular phrase is only used because everybody came to the film expecting a safe, kid-friendly romp. Like it or not, animation has an image problem with people mistakenly believing that all animation is aimed only at kids because that’s the primary market that Disney were aiming at. So with a film like Antz, which carries itself more like a live-action comedy adventure than a Disney film, people are going to label it edgy. In reality, Antz plays with themes and topics that aren’t that alien from Disney films (Z’s narrative arc, which ends with him pretty much back where he started but happy about accepting it because he got to choose, is rather close to one that Ralph goes through in 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph) but just flowers it up. Characters infrequently swear, for example. Not majorly so, but hearing “bitching” and “crap” and “hell” is still jarring from a Western medium that goes to great pains to keep people from uttering a single bad word. Z himself is basically a Woody Allen character dropped into an adventure movie; the guy is literally introduced ranting to his therapist about his insecurities and neuroses! One of his lines later on in the film is a slightly altered line from Allen’s own Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask). There’s also a genuinely frightening and disturbing war scene which is followed by a haunting aftermath and a prolonged sequence in which Z has to help comfort his dying and bodiless friend. You know, just in case you believed that Mulan wasn’t at all held back by its G-rating and all-ages focus. It could come off as a company desperately trying to break away from that image problem, and seem cringeworthy and forced with conflicting tones, but it’s a testament to the film’s quality that it all feels natural. There are very few first film jitters, here, it’s a film that knows what it wants to be and rarely second-guesses itself.
Those first film jitters manifest themselves elsewhere, instead. Subtlety is not Antz’s strong suit. Everybody constantly re-iterates how their decisions and lifestyles are for the good of the colony, at such a frequent rate that it starts to cross over into Hot Fuzz-style parody. The eeeeevil General Mandible goes on at length about his dissatisfaction with worker ants, stating them to be inferior to the physically superior soldier ants and how “only the strong survive” and build a purer ant colony and such. Z’s love interest, Princess Bala (voiced stiffly by Sharon Stone), wishes to see how the common folk live but is ill-prepared once she is thrown out into the real world and resorts to complaining incessantly until she sees the true beauty of a lower-class life. A subplot involving a budding romance between Z’s soldier ant friend, Corporal Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), and worker workmate, Azteca (Jennifer Lopez, yes, really), is exploited during a short torture sequence by the villains who look down on it as an abomination in a way that recalls to mind bigots’ reactions to mixed-race couples. That last one is the most subtly handled of the film’s various themes. I understand the need to ensure that you get your message across on certain touchier topics, and that subtext can often fly over the heads of children (that slavery/A Bug’s Life comparison is one that came to mind pretty much as I was typing it), but it feels overly-preachy at times, here, and amateurishly-handled; the result of first-time writers and directors not quite getting there, yet, in regards to handling weightier material (which was the case for first-time feature-length directors Tim Johnson and Eric Darnell who we will be frequently coming back to throughout this series).
Animation-wise, the film has aged better than one might think. In terms of raw power and art design, it’s about on a par with the CG used to power the opening to Tekken Tag Tournament for the PS2, but that actually winds up being an advantage. Early on, the film needs to get across to the viewer how Z sees his colony, a strict, regimented and personality-free hive-mind where everyone does the same thing in the same way at the same time. The animation responds to this challenge by being mechanical, limited and relatively lifeless. Every character moves about like they’re strapped onto a conveyer belt waiting for the next stop to be fussed with, which is almost exactly what happens in one scene where the ant queen is being presented with new-borns by a quite literally endless procession of ants. A dance sequence mines a good laugh out of the mundane half-assery by everyone involved and has a spark of life injected when, in the centre of the image, Z and Bala decide to go against the grain. It all works and, consequently, appears much less dated than practically all of the films that came out during the great CG boom of the early 2000s; except when the action really ratchets up, whereupon the stiff animation couples with a noticeable drop in quality to reveal that the film is nearly old enough to buy a lottery ticket.
One other thing about Antz that I found notable comes not 20 seconds in. The first thing you see, before the main character, before an establishing shot, before even the title card, is a list of practically every single cast member in the movie, in alphabetical order by their surname. Now, of course, casting famous actors in voice roles instead of professional voice actors was nothing new by this point, and neither was marketing an animated film based on having a big star voicing one of your characters (Aladdin was only 1992, after all). However, animated films still resisted boasting their all-star casts up front; Toy Story opened with its playtime prologue before rolling the opening credits whilst Disney would credit the character’s primary animator before listing its voice actor. The choice feels conscious, a way to try and draw legitimacy to the project as if, even though it’s an animated film and therefore inherently inferior, Antz is still as respectable as a live-action film. That’s how it reads to me, anyhow, regardless of how much I may disagree with the sentiments, and it’s an interesting creative choice that foreshadows just how far down the big name stunt casting rabbit hole DreamWorks would later fall.
You know, I’m actually rather disappointed that Antz seems to have slid into relative obscurity. Sure, it’s nothing outstanding or great or anything, but it’s definitely unique. It’s one of those rare animated films that’s primarily made for a specific audience, with said specific audience being older than 11, and that wants to try explicitly tackling weightier topics. It doesn’t fully work, its handling of its messaging and themes is not exactly deft and its central romance is the definition of undercooked, but it tries. It’s a trier and it’s also good enough at the fundamentals to be an entertaining and good quality film divorced from that potential. I feel that it deserves a better reputation than it has, a film that’s only trotted out as a historical landmark (it’s the third computer-animated feature-length film released, in addition to being DreamWorks’ debut animated film) or for its tumultuous production history and little more, although I suspect I may be frequently referring to this film in regards to various DreamWorks tropes later on in this series. The company would be wise to re-issue it on Blu-Ray or, at the very least, refer to it in public every now and again. I get why they wouldn’t, but it would certainly help with regards to giving it a fairer re-evaluation by the animation community and the general public at large, because it’s much better than I’ve seen people give it credit for.
A financial success upon release, Antz has fallen off of most people’s maps since then, much like most other CG-animated films that emerged once Toy Story changed the game forever (hey, who remembers Disney’s 39th animated classic, Dinosaur? …anybody? …is it seriously just me?) and it immediately set Pixar and DreamWorks up as bitter rivals at the cost of personal friendships. On the plus side, it still turned a profit, was slightly more of a critical success than A Bug’s Life and has aged far better than one might have expected. Overall, it was a fine debut for DreamWorks Animation. It wouldn’t be until their next film, though, that the company would taste real success. That film was 1998’s The Prince Of Egypt and we shall talk about that next week.
A brand new “DreamWorks! A Retrospective” will be posted every Monday at 1PM BST here on Failed Critics.
In this week’s episode the team are reviewing one of the most exciting films to come from the Disney animation studio in years (Frozen), Spike Lee’s return to some kind of form (the remake of Oldboy), and the archetypal Jason Statham film (Homefront).
This week also sees the return of Triple Bill, in which after a run of pretty mediocre remakes we count down our favourite remakes that are definitely worth a watch, and we also find time to discuss the British Independent Film Awards and Disney’s not very stealthy moves to resurrect the Indiana Jones franchise.
Join us next week for the last ‘normal’ podcast of the year, and our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Samug.
As well as reviewing new releases Captain Phillips, Escape Plan, and Le Week-End, we also hear from our roving correspondent Carole Petts who is reporting back from London Film Festival, and Steve watches The Phantom Menace for the first time as a ‘critic’. That’ll go well.
We’re taking a week off next week (boo!), but we’ll be back at the start of November with reviews of Thor 2, Bad Grandpa, and whatever arty emotional nonsense James has gotten around to watching.
A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1982.
Space Adventure Cobra is perhaps the oldest in a line of 80’s/90’s Anime that adorned my Video shelf as a teenager. Being released only a few years after the original Star Wars, it steals from the source material incessantly even beginning with a large Starship flyover, however it is far from a film for all the family.
The story follows Cobra, the most wanted man in the galaxy who is on a voyage to protect a beautiful female bounty-hunter whom is being hunted by the evil ‘Space Mafia Guild’. Cobra himself is the happy go lucky, overly confident macho hero who is very much Han Solo crossed with Mega Man, due to the ability to morph his left arm into a powerful Psycho Cannon.
The aesthetics of the movie certainly complement the era it’s trying to imitate, with vivid colour and a Vengelis-esque soundtrack, it may lack the polished animation that later Manga will trademark yet is still so easy on the eye.
Every Star Wars wannabe needs a bad guy and that comes in the form of the seemingly indestructible ‘Lord Necron’, who resembles more Dr. Doom (of the Marvel Universe) or perhaps even the camped up bling-bling diva that is Emperor Xerxes from ‘300’ more than the Sci-Fi baddie archetype Darth Vader.
The film is a charming love-story, brilliant sci-fi and hypnotic psychedelica all crammed into the right running time for easy viewing. The saga continued in a popular anime comic and has spawned a cult following. If a movie has ever paid a better tongue-in-cheek homage to classic sci-fi then I’d very much like to see it! Cobra provides a bite-sized action adventure that defies its age and leaves a lasting legacy that it is ‘Love’ not good, that will conquer all.
The 80’s did two types of movies better than any other decade, action movies and great comedies. Tootsie is a delightful example of taking a ridiculous concept, adding a great ensamble cast and making on screen hilarity ensue. The focus of the film is on Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) an actor who is a notoriously difficult to work with, as he struggles to line up his next big role. He takes matters into the extreme by creating a female counter-part, Dorothy Michaels to enable to find work. However he never banked upon falling in love with the lovely fresh faced Jessica Lange or the number of men who’d fall for his less than classical feminine character!
The cast really makes this movie so watchable. Aside from Lange and Hoffman, you have a typically funny supporting role from the legendary Bill Murray, a creepy TV actor has-been in George Gaynes (better known as Commandant Lassard in Police Academy) and a very early mini role for Geena Davis. Hoffman is quite brilliant as Dorothy, much more so than he is as Michael. His no nonsense approach to his professional and personal life which rendered him so unemployable as a male makes him a prime candidate for a full time soap opera role as powerful leading lady.
This allows him much closer access to Lange’s character who is a single mother being taken advantage of by the show’s creepy producer, she slowly gains a remarkable liking for the mysterious and refreshing hard-nosed approach of Dorothy, wishing she could emulate her. Dorothy begins to spend more time with Lange outside of work and there is a particularly disturbing heart to heart part way through the movie whereby you actually wonder if Lange’s character is falling in love with a transvestite, unbeknownst to her! It’s an awkwardness so convincing that it landed her the Oscar for Best Supporting actress!
It goes without saying that Hoffman really delivers when thrust into extreme roles, such as that he will later take up in Rain Man. This movie really sets a blue print for those that follow in the 90’s such as Mrs. Doubtfire, but even that does not match the innocence and delight of Tootsie, which was 1982’s 2nd highest grossing film behind E.T!
3. First Blood
It’s the movie that defined the action hero archetype. Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, vagrant Vietnam veteran, passing through a sleepy mountain town that simply does not want him spoiling their idyllic scenery. He crosses the path of Teasle (Brian Dennehy), Sherriff of the town who makes it clear on no uncertain terms that he should leave town immediate and escorts him to the town borders. However when Rambo marches back the wrong way, he is taken into custody having committed no crime.
He eventually escapes into the wilderness and begins a one man guerrilla war against the inept local law enforcement. It likely encouraged a generation of youngsters to enter into their local woods planting booby-traps and getting gimped up in camouflage face-paint, or was that just me and my friends?
Unlike later Stallone action romps, the action here is subtle and realistic; it’s a stealth war against meandering nincompoops. It’s also one of the few movies where Stallone talks fairly eloquently, it would seem he perhaps dumbed himself down for many roles he played later.
Whilst the action is clever and satisfying, it poses a greater moral concern to the American viewing public as to how veterans are perceived upon leaving service, particularly those deployed to Vietnam. It demonstrates a common disregard for soldiers who served in a messy war, something that Hollywood was slow to highlight. Later efforts such as Born on The Forth of July picked up the mantle, though it is arguable that that ‘First Blood’ is more mainstream friendly, thus ramming home the undeniable truth to a wider audience.
The Rambo character does for the action-movie genre what Hoover did for Vacuum cleaners. It became the synonymous figure for the unstoppable one-man army genre that dominated the 80’s. It spawned 3 sequels, non of which live up to the original in my opinion, but First Blood was the movie that established Stallone beyond Rocky and saw his career go supernova!
2. Blade Runner
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
It was a difficult decision in regards to the positioning of my favourite two movies of 1982, both are worthy of the grandest title of them all. I think you’ll approve of my final choice, however there is much time to discuss the grandeur of my number two choice.
I was fortunate to only see Blade Runner for the first time in my twenties, a good 25 years after its release. I feel much of its subtle appeal and nuances would have passed me by at a younger age. Co-produced by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is sci-fi indulged on the most epic of scales. From the monumental soundtrack by Vengelis, to its dark and wet Urban backdrops dashed in Neon lighting creating a Future Noir masterpiece. Blade Runner is easily one of the most visually impressive movies ever created.
The film follows Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is a Blade Runner, a group of specialist police assembled to hunt Replicants, which are near perfect human duplications with enhanced strength and tolerance to pain. He is assigned one last case to hunt down 4 recently escaped Replicants and ‘retire them’ before they cause havoc on the LA populous and ultimately meet their maker.
Ford puts in a great performance as the care-free and seemingly nonchalant Deckard, who shows no sympathy for those he is trying to hunt, or those whom his spiteful tongue might disturb, namely that of the seemingly emotionless Rachel (Sean Young) who is introduced to Deckard as test subject for Replicant interrogation, yet she is unaware that she is even a Replicant.
Lining up for the Replicants is Darryl Hannah and a career defining performance from Rutger Hauer, whose soliloquy as quoted at the beginning of this piece brings together a fitting finale that ties up many of the movies deeper residing themes, which can be easily lost when distracted purely by the visual brilliance of the film.
A particularly favourite piece of eye-candy during this film is the scene where Deckard shoots one of the escaped Replicants following a chase from a strip club, A a rather stunning young lady is fleeing her would-be assassin wearing nothing but spiked boots and a see-through PVC rainmack. The moment that she is shot in the back by Deckard as she crashes through several panes of glasses, all of which are illuminated by an abundance of neon is one of my all time favourite scenes for sheer visual impact.
The greatest gift the movie leaves for the viewer is that of an ending open to interpretation, is Deckard a Replicant or a human is ambiguous at best with strong cases for either. Fortunately this is one classic movie whose legacy has not been destroyed with a meaningless sequel meaning you can decipher the evidence and make your own conclusions.
It’s yet another IMDB Top 250 for Harrison Ford who was really at the top of his game during the few years either side of this movie, Blade Runner resides as a Science Fiction hall of famer and one of the best films ever made.
There are few movies that have stirred me as much as watching this movie for the first time. Directed by the mighty Richard Attenborough, the film follows the tribulations of Mohandas Gandhi, an English educated lawyer and Indian immigrate who is assigned to a practice in South Africa and is immediately subjugated to horrendous treatment due to his ethnicity. He leads a minor rebellion against the white British establishment, seeking equal rights for all races in South Africa and becomes a national hero back in India.
Upon returning to his home nation seeking peace and tranquillity he finds the problems of subjugation have not eluded him and the rape of his country’s resources prompt him to become the spearhead for India’s claim for independence from the British empire. This is accomplished using a innovative tactic of ‘peaceful rebellion’ or more accurately referred to as ‘non-cooperation.
Ben Kingsley is brilliantly cast as Gandhi and is entirely convincing in playing the hero of the movie, both in terms of aesthetic suitability and the humility he brings to the screen. It’s very difficult to take your eye off Kingsley during the whole film, it’s almost as if you’re watching the real Gandhi and it is truly a remarkable performance considering he’d done very little outside of TV roles at this point in his career.
It leaves a somewhat nasty taste in the mouth to see Kingsley selling himself short in movies such as 2012’s ‘The Dictator’ playing a somewhat stereotyped and foolish middle-eastern politician, it removes some shine from the legacy he build for himself in the Gandhi role and directly insults the magnitude of his performance. That said he deservedly bagged himself the 1983 Best Actor gong at the Oscars and the movie itself taking a tremendous haul of 7 further Oscars. It really is a heavyweight of a movie and is a must see for fan of history, particularly that of the civil-rights movement or the British Empire
In regards to the latter, it opens up some scar tissue and painful memories of how the British treated their colonial Empire. This is particularly emphasised in the excruciatingly merciless killing at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre where up to a 1000 men, women and children were trapped and shot by the British army during a peaceful protest. The movie closes out with the crushing division of Indian Territory following independence prompting the founding of Pakistan and the eventual assassination of Gandhi himself.
A lifetime of defiance in the name of justice, Gandhi established himself as one of the most important persons of the 20th Century and this movie more than does him worthy and is an incredible addition to the IMDB Top 250 and my best movie of 1982.
Yes, yes… before I get into the nitty-gritty, it’s not ‘The Best Film of 2012’, certainly at least from a technical standpoint, and it won’t even make a blip on the radar of the Academy. That said, it fared very well in the Failed Critics end of year reviews for 2012, but I felt it was under-represented. As the movie has just had it’s home-release I decided to give it a 2nd time viewing and provide my thoughts to the masses. I am of course talking about Dredd 3D.
Let’s ditch the 3D moniker right away, it’s both pointless and adds little to the splendour of this film. The film is the fan’s realisation of a dream almost condemned to eternal humiliation thanks to the 1995 Stallone dirge. That said, I’m not a comic book fan, I never read the Dredd comics so I owe no loyalty to the franchise so I feel I’m in a position to give this movie a glowing review without being seen to be unfairly pay homage to the legacy of the ink-work.
The movie is based in a non too distant future whereby most of the United States are barron and large Cities are joined together to form Mega Cities. There is little respect for the stature of law or morality in this image of the future and justice in the form of ‘Judges’ is dished out in an equally nonchalant manner. The movie follows a day in the working life of Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) as he takes rookie psychic Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on a live-assessment of her capabilities as a Judge. The assessment leads them to investigate a triple homicide at a run-down Apartment Tower occupied by the city’s leading drug cartel, lead by the cruel and violent Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).
As you’d expect, either as a comic fan or a casual viewer, the violence is dished out willingly and readily during the movie. That said it somehow manages to do an excellent job of not making it over-kill. The deaths come with somewhat purpose and they have impact, either in the visceral sense or in the development of the story. Karl Urban does an incredible job with such little real-estate in an acting performance to convey emotion and even intimidate with only his chin on show at all times. Yes, fans…. he never removes the helmet!
Thirlby plays an excellent green and naive heroin but develops nicely into a more confident and even sexy character as she is exposed to the real harshness that she has likely been shielded from before joining the Department of Justice. The show stealer goes to Lena Headey as the psychotic Ma-Ma, who is really building a reputation for herself as a powerhouse female lead on the back of her performances in 300 and more recently as the self-serving Queen Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. She takes that quality to an all new form of dementia in Dredd and provides a terrifying crime-boss with zero empathy or consideration for human-life which see expends rather casually and somewhat joyfully.
The action never runs dry in Dredd, the dialogue is economical (as it should be) and delivered with tremendous authority, particularly by Urban. A particular highlight comes during the set-piece where by Dredd & Anderson avoid total annihilation when their floor of the building is subject to heavy Mini-Gun fire, the bad-guys expect zero survivors including the inhabitants of the apartment block. Ma-Ma waits anxiously as he troops plough through the carnage to find the bodies, yet we only here 3 short single gun-shots and the silhouette of Dredd emerging to toss a bad-guy from the balcony.
Dredd is pure entertainment. It doesn’t have the greatest depth of story or character development, it doesn’t have the very best acting and it doesn’t even had the best effects (although the Slow-Mo drug scenes are quite pretty). But what it is, is a triumph for adult film making. It’s a care-free 18, it’s a barely financially viable proposition these days. I compare it much to the original Robocop, whereby it features nothing of interest to anyone who does not have an interest in on-screen violence. Perhaps this is also a weakness as it maybe threatens the possibility of a sequel.
However, Dredd for me was the film that I most wanted to discuss immediately after leaving the cinema, more than any other film in 2012. It’s entertainment at the detriment of its commercial potential, sacrificed to deliver a fully adult cinema experience. I think the tide of mass-entertainment is creating a niche for this kind of product. The recent success of highly graphic television such as Game of Thrones suggest that the masses do not only want their episodes of Friends rinsed and repeated several times daily and maybe a little Breaking Bad to satisfy their subliminal criminal urges; they actually want violence, bad taste, cruelty and a fucking good anti-hero.
I hope more studios are brave enough to create more films of this ilk, and that we get the Dredd sequels that this movie and its thoroughly adult audience deserves.