Tag Archives: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Mortdecai

It stinks.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mortdecaiDo you remember when Johnny Depp was one of our most interesting and relatively exciting actors?  At home as a leading man but the kind of leading man who took chances and tried different roles, who was all about finding the characters beneath the eccentricities, and who knew exactly how far was too far and scaled back accordingly?  There will be an entire generation of moviegoers who only know of Johnny Depp as “That Guy Who Plays Weirdos” and that’s genuinely saddening, to me.  I still think he is a very talented actor when he shows up to work or when he’s given an actual character, and he deserves better than this stigma he’s gotten attached to.

That is how I felt before I saw MortdecaiMortdecai has managed to accomplish what Transcendence, what The Lone Ranger, what even Alice In Wonderland was unable to do: it has gotten me over Johnny Depp.  I am done with him.  As I left Mortdecai, I was filled with a burning desire to never see Johnny Depp again.  He needs to go away, for a long while.  Mortdecai marks the point where his hammy, character-less mugging has sailed way over the line of tolerability for me and now has made me wish for him to disappear for a good while.  He needs to just stop, take a year or so out, find better scripts, and then come back looking to impress instead of irritate.

Yes, surprising quite possibly nobody, Mortdecai is a bad film and Johnny Depp ends up being emblematic of everything wrong with it.  It’s a film that really wants to be a throwback to 60s British farcical capers – where every line of dialogue is a sexual innuendo of some kind, everybody is pompously self-involved, the actual plot itself is light on the ground, and most of the comedy involves slapstick – but one that lacks any of the wit, intelligence, charm or fun required to make that happen.  In an attempt to make up for that fact, everybody spends their time hamming the living daylights out of every line of dialogue – practically shouting in exaggeratedly exaggerated accents of whichever nationality their characters are supposed to be – keeping the register at that heightened level for what turns out to be a near-unbearably long 106 minute runtime.

It comes back to the script, written by Eric Aronson – whose only other credit is a 2001 Lance Bass and Joey Fatone (yes, of N*SYNC) vehicle titled On The Line – instead of director (and accomplished screenwriter in his own right) David Koepp.  See, the script lacks any particularly funny or original quirks, instead resorting to jokes about how women are just insatiable and/or disposable sexual conquests, how foreigners are funny, how Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) is very much whipped by his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) despite his best efforts, how Charlie is totally not gay not that he has any problems with gay people, you understand…  When it does try and come up with its own thing, it’s an endless rambling obsession with moustaches that feels forced and cynical, instead of natural and honest, like it’s trying to force the moustache thing into popular and meme culture.  Needless to say, it’s embarrassing.

Even more problematic is that nobody in the film is particularly likeable or entertaining to watch.  Charlie is a pompous self-centred asshat whose characterisation is rarely consistent save for the “irritating” part – especially since the film can’t decide just how much of a total nitwit the guy is – Johanna should be a fun foil to Charlie but she and Depp have the sexual chemistry of a rat and a bucket of rat poison, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor, oh god why) ends up being a humourless squib on the film instead of an entertainingly humourless squib – and whose relentless pursuit of Johanna never really comes off as convincingly sweet or believable – and the less said about Olivia Munn’s nymphomaniac Georgina Krampf – three guesses as to what the sole joke surrounding her character is and which side she ends up on, first two don’t count – the better.

I’m not saying that the problem is that the cast is unlikeable, a tonne of great comedies are filled from head to toe with awful characters, in the good sense.  The problem is that they are all really dull to watch.  Koepp normally has a speed, dynamism and fun that he brings to his features – Premium Rush was a very stupid film but damn it all if it wasn’t also a tonne of fun – but Mortdecai very, very rarely displays that kind of manic, passionate energy or anarchic sense of fun.  Where Koepp would normally seem engaged and entertained, he instead feels disinterested and bored, gliding through this incredibly cheap-looking $60 million film with a sense of obligation overriding everything else.  Consequently, what seemed entertaining on some level from the trailers grates over 106 minutes because he never varies that tempo or mood.

Mortdecai, therefore, is a film that seems genuinely irritated by its own existence.  A film that knows the script it’s working from is garbage, hates the fact that it’s garbage, but at no point shows any interest in bettering itself, almost out of spite, instead dragging itself, its cast, its crew, and the audience it holds with nothing but contempt through the mud for nearly two seemingly endless hours.  What very few good gags it has are drowned out in an endless sea of allegedly inherently funny accents and repeated usages of the phrase, “Open your balls.”  It has no heart, no entertaining characters, and no energy or desire to try and be some kind of fun.

And so we return to Johnny Depp, mugging his way through the entire film, indulging in all of his worst impulses, refusing to find a character underneath the eccentricities like he’s flipping off his growing critics.  “I’ll show them what ‘He doesn’t play characters anymore and hasn’t been bearable for nearly a decade’ looks like!  Wait, I don’t actually know who that is supposed to be making fun of.”  The film Mortdecai ends up being powered by Depp’s Mortdecai and that sheer concentrated Depp-overload ends up making the film even more of a slog than it might otherwise have been.  I was sick of him by the 15 minute mark, and 106 minutes with him officially got me over Depp completely.  Mortdecai managed to do what Alice In Wonderland could not, and this is saying something.

Jeff Goldblum pops up in this randomly for about 5 minutes – maybe he owed Koepp, who co-wrote Jurassic Park, or something – and his presence ignited a desire within me to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel again, a genuinely good farcical caper.  In fact, that’s what you should do: you should just watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and stay far away from Mortdecai.  Please.  Please do that.  I’m worried they’ll try and turn this into a series, otherwise.

Callum Petch is fantasising all the time, “move your body next to mine.”  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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The 2015 BAFTA Nominees Rundown

With the 2015 BAFTAs coming up, Callum Petch guides you through the likely winners and losers of all of the major categories.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

We have one final stop on the awards train before we reach The 2015 Oscars in almost exactly one month’s time, and that’s The 2015 British Academy Film Awards.  The BAFTAs, for those who don’t know, celebrate the best in the past year of film with an added British tinge due their being a British awards body and all.  Although their main purpose for people like us is to get one last indicator as to how The Academy will be voting come February 22nd, since all of their nominations and eventual awards typically line up with one another.

So, that’s what we’re here to do.  With the awards themselves in just over two weeks, and my having seen just about every single one of the major nominees, I am here to guide you through the major categories, tell you who I feel deserves to win, who you should probably put your money on if you’re a betting kinda person, and any snubs, rule-flaking inclusions or just plain weird things that caught my fancy.  We’re not covering all of them, because we’ll be here all day – although other members of the site may fill in those blanks later if they wish – but we’re doing most of them.  So, without further delay, GRAPPLING HOOK!


lefoBest Animated Film

Nominees: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, The Lego Movie

Who Should Win: Soooo…  I know that I’m supposed to say The Lego Movie, and I do really, really like The Lego Movie, but…  Big Hero 6 is currently playing to my heart way more.  I’m sorry, but it is!  I was actually sat writing about Kung Fu Panda 2 the other day when this quietly devastating yet heart-warming scene from Big Hero 6 popped up into my head and now I just want to go and spend more time with that cast again.  I’m sure whenever I eventually get around to watching The Lego Movie again, I’ll put that back on top but, yeah, I guess I’m switching teams and rooting for Disney.  Sorry, folks.

Who Will Win: Time was that I would say that this was The Lego Movie’s to lose, but with How To Train Your Dragon 2 upsetting it at the Golden Globes and not even being considered in the Oscar category – although I still find that a mostly strong list, so I’m not going to complain much – I really don’t think this is a safe bet anymore.  Big Hero 6 is Disney, so that will always be in the running, and awards bodies are really loving The Boxtrolls it just racked up 13 nominations at this year’s Annie Awards (which, incidentally, is a very lazy set of nominees this year, but this is not the place to talk about that) – so that has a good shot.  My money’s still on The Lego Movie leaving with the award, but don’t be surprised if either of the other two take it instead.

Other Notes: The BAFTAs have always only had three nominees for this category, so that makes snubs more obvious but also, sometimes, more understandable.  Although I was lukewarm on it, I am glad to see Laika rack up another nomination with The Boxtrolls and it deserves that spot more than How To Train Your Dragon 2.  That being said, colour me disappointed that there’s no room for The Book Of Life, which sadly seems destined for cult status rather than mainstream acceptance.  Also, even though there was clearly no chance in hell of it ever happening, I would like to have seen the genuinely excellent My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks get a look-in.


71Outstanding British Film

Nominees: ’71, Paddington, Pride, The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything, Under The Skin

Who Should Win: Under The Skin is a film that deserved far more love and attention from awards bodies than it has gotten, although the fact that it’s slipped away with barely any recognition outside of the BAFTAs – Mica Levi’s excellently unsettling score is also up for an award – is kinda fitting really.  It is really not a film for everyone, but its quiet study of gender, sexuality, and gender performance – as well as its quietly furious screed about how casually, and occasionally outwardly hateful, sexist society views and treats women – is utterly gripping and compelling viewing for those willing to work for their films, and Scarlett Johannson puts in the single best performance of all of last year in it, too.  It’s my no. 5 film of 2014, and it deserves this award.

Who Will Win: It won’t, though.  Not by a long shot.  Nor will Paddingtonwhich I did like but don’t get the intense passionate love that critics and audiences are throwing its way – nor will ’71, and most certainly nor will Pride.  See, The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything are up for Best Film and it looks real bad if the films that are up for Best Film don’t win Outstanding British Film.  The Weinsteins have been campaigning hard for Imitation Game, but this is the home turf of Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, which may sway voters towards The Theory Of Everything.  I’m leaning more towards the former, though, so those of you looking for a definite bet should put money on The Imitation Game.

Other Notes: Starred Up should really be in contention.  One of the best British dramas in years and it’s kept out by two slops of porridge?  Ugh.  Ditto for Richard Ayoade’s The Double, which everybody seems to have let undeservedly slide into the background since last April.  I can’t really complain too much, though, 2014 was a very good year for British film and I’m just glad we’ve gotten actual British films filling up the list this year.  You know, unlike last year.


GHB_9907 20130130.CR2Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Nicholás Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo for Birdman, Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Who Should Win: Nice strong list here.  As much as I like Whiplash and Birdman, though, I feel that they are great scripts that are elevated to excellent scripts by everything else from the movie – performances, direction, editing, etc. – so I’m not particularly rooting for them.  The script for The Grand Budapest Hotel is excellent, managing to balance whimsy and light-hearted farcical caper antics with this constant undercurrent of sadness and melancholy, a tale of men born out of time and a nostalgic longing that is admirable but foolhardy.  Meanwhile, Nightcrawler’s script has a tonne of things to say about capitalism, the media, classism, business, and the kind of sociopathic monster that one can be yet still win in our broken society.  I’m good with either of those taking it, leaning more towards Nightcrawler.

Who Will Win: This will be The Grand Budapest Hotel’s consolation prize.  Sure, it received 13 nominations overall, but most of those were in the technical categories that, although deserved, most people, and especially headline writers, don’t care about.  This is where it gets its due in the major categories, to apologise for it having no chance in anything else.  Whiplash has garnered enormous traction as of late, but I still don’t see it going over Grand Budapest here; this one’s basically set in stone.

Other Notes: You will notice that I left out Boyhood whilst I was going through complimenting the nominees.  We’ll come back to that.


gone girlBest Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Jason Hall for American Sniper, Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl, Paul King & Hamish McCall for Paddington, Anthony McCarten for The Theory Of Everything, Graham Moore for The Imitation Game

Who Should Win: Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl.  Duh.  I really don’t have to say any more than that, do I?  Considering the rest of this field, I really don’t think I do.

Who Will Win: This field is suspiciously weak, full of films that have nothing to say or actively steer themselves away from having anything to say about their subjects or themes (although I do find that a plus in surprise nominee Paddington’s case), almost like it’s been designed with the express purpose of making sure that Gillian Flynn will win.  Hmm, funny that.

Other Notes: Something that became immediately clear to me when this season’s awards films were lined up like this: this was very much a year of films, and especially biopics, about men that spectacularly failed to have anything to say about the men that they’re about.  I mean, this is often a problem with awards bait films – failing to have any thematic arc or insight into their subjects but superficially arranging the beats of a feel-good story to create the illusion that something is being said – but it’s especially true this year.  Maybe that’s a sign that we should diversify who we tell our stories about?


Film Review FoxcatcherBest Supporting Actor

Nominees: Steve Carell as Jon du Pont (Foxcatcher), Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans, Sr. (Boyhood), Edward Norton as Mark Shiner (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz (Foxcatcher), J. K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher (Whiplash)

Who Should Win: J. K. Simmons, hands down, no contest.  If you disagree then, quite frankly, you just haven’t seen Whiplash.  Simmons takes the two registers that he typically operates on – hammy shouting fury, and warm paternal comfort – and weaponises them to stunning effect, adding nuance to the character of Fletcher whilst still frequently keeping him at the level of a complete monster.  He is utterly sensational as this utterly inhuman force of nature and rage and he deserves this award far more than anyone else.

Who Will Win: Good thing that he’s guaranteed the win, then.  He’s basically been on a well-deserved awards tour which, on February 22nd, will culminate with the 60 year-old taking the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to collect his first ever Oscar.  For one of our best and most consistent character actors for the last 20 years, in a career-defining role, it will be incredibly satisfying to see.  We’ll get a taste of that feeling at the BAFTAs and it will be wonderful.

Other Notes: Two well-earned nominations for Foxcatcher, although Steve Carell’s appearance here reeks of canny studio awards gaming.  I mean, Best Actor has been a tight lock for months and the chance of anybody unexpected breaking in is slim, so why not position one of the leads of the film as a Supporting Actor in the hopes of at least scoring a nomination?  Of course, there is a case to be made for Ruffalo also being the main character in Foxcatcher, too, but I think this all says more about the clever protagonist shuffling nature of Foxcatcher than anything else.


imitation gameBest Supporting Actress

Nominees: Patricia Arquette as Olivia Evans (Boyhood), Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke (The Imitation Game), Rene Russo as Nina Romina (Nightcrawler), Imelda Staunton as Hefina Headon (Pride), Emma Stone as Sam Thomson (Birdman)

Who Should Win: It takes a damn strong actress willing to put in the extra work to not have the film completely whisked away from them by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, but Rene Russo was more than up to the task.  She excellently embodies a woman who has to fight every day for the power she wields, who hates having to rely on Lou Bloom but recognises his value, and seizes on every possible advantage and opportunity in a desire to raise her stature and influence.  She’s a more socially acceptable version of Lou Bloom, basically, only with some inherent sympathy ingrained in her due to the institutionalised sexism of her line of work, and Russo nails it all totally.  So, yeah, I’m on the Russo train.

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette has been the front-runner since the second Boyhood had its festival premieres, she has been sweeping practically every awards body that nominates her, and if she doesn’t win the Oscar I will be utterly floored.  She’s going over here.  I am fine with that, she is quite literally the only thing I actually liked about Boyhood, but I’m still going to be a little bitter regardless.

Other Notes: Nice to see Pride get a non-Britain-specific nod!  Really annoyed that it’s not for any of the cast members who played a homosexual – who were the actual goddamn protagonists for that film which, lest we forget, is the reason why Pride works – but at least it’s being recognised for something; that film was a very nice surprise for me.  In terms of snubs, four words, to be repeated for Best Actress: where is Emily Blunt?  Seriously, between Edge Of Tomorrow, Into The Woods, and even her voice work in the dub of The Wind Rises, she’s spent the last year reminding us all that she’s one of the best actresses in film today, but we’ll snub her totally come awards time?  I don’t get that.


TTOE_D17_ 05356.NEFBest Actor

Nominees: Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (The Imitation Game), Ralph Fiennes as Gustav H. (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: My heart wants Keaton to win, because it’s Michael Keaton, he is great in Birdman, and I want nice things to happen to the guy.  However, my head has to admit that Gyllenhaal put in the better performance this year – the much better performance – and so I’m backing him to take home the statue.  Plus, based on how The 2014 Failed Critics Awards went, you all would probably tear me shreds if I didn’t.

Who Will Win: All signs point to Eddie Redmayne taking this one with very little effort.  This category has been a constant fight between Redmayne and Keaton since awards season started up in earnest, but the splitting of their performances into separate “Drama/Comedy” categories has made it harder to gauge which is taking the biggest prize home with them.  Keaton has the comeback and long-overdue narrative ingrained in a victory that awards bodies love, but Redmayne has the exact kind of showy, yet empty and trying-way-too-hard performance that awards bodies love.  I think Redmayne is going to take it here, also because he’s on home turf, and then he’ll also pick it up at the Oscars.  Dammit.  Maybe he’ll at least be good in Jupiter Ascending.

Other Notes: Very nice to see Ralph Fiennes get a nomination for Grand Budapest.  This does make me wonder why, mind, Tony Revolori has been totally skipped over for any Best Supporting Actor nominations.  He is very much the heart of the film, arguably more so than Gustave, and Revolori puts in a quietly strong and personal performance that has curiously gone uncelebrated.  Also, we’ll nominate Benedict Cumberbatch but not Ben Affleck for Gone Girl?  Fine, sure, whatever.


la_ca_1202_still_aliceBest Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams as Margaret Keane (Big Eyes), Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliott-Dunne (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed (Wild)

Who Should Win: We all saw Gone Girl, yeah?  We all saw Rosamund Pike with her captivating note-perfect Lauren Bacall-referencing performance?  Good, then I don’t have to explain myself further.

Who Will Win: Julianne Moore has been due for decades, she’s finally going over here.  The problem is that she shouldn’t.  I don’t mean this in a subjective opinion way, either, I mean that the BAFTA Eligibility Rules should disqualify her from contention.  As you can check on their own website, only films released in UK cinemas to the general public between January 1st and December 31st of any given year are eligible.  However, if you are a film released in UK cinemas for the general public between January 1st and February 14th of the year in which the awards take place, then you are still eligible for awards contention as long as you screen the film to BAFTA members by December 19th.

Yes, this does all sound more than a little shady and cop-out-y.  It gets worse.  See, even with that very generous window, Still Alice still doesn’t qualify – it doesn’t receive a UK cinema release until March 6th, well past the closing eligibility date – and, therefore, shouldn’t be here!  Selma meanwhile, which does qualify – UK cinema release: February 6th – and which I haven’t seen but I’ve heard is great, is shut out completely.  So, yeah, I am against all of this.  Julianne Moore could put in the single most outstanding performance I have ever seen, and I will still be against her winning.  I’m sorry, but it’s against the rules and am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?

Other Notes: Scarlett Johannson.  Emily Blunt.  That is all.


Whiplash-6606.cr2Best Director

Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: Look, I really dislike Boyhood, but I cannot deny the commitment, the energy, the time, and the skill that Richard Linklater put into making the thing.  To shoot one film over 12 years, the logistical and financial nightmare of organising and lining up everyone’s schedules to get this thing to happen, the hard work put in to keeping everyone’s character consistent, and to keep the film looking and remaining visually consistent despite progressing as a director significantly in the space of a decade…  Yeah, I have to respect that and admit that this is an award he should walk away with.

Who Will Win: Like hell is this not going to Linklater.  Maker, from the second this film was in the can, every Best Director gong going today was pre-packaged and all set to be FedExed to his front doorstep.  If he doesn’t win, then I quite frankly have no idea what to believe any more.

Other Notes: No Ava DuVarney for Selma, which is the sole thing that I am saying on the subject until I finally get to see the thing.  More egregiously, no David Fincher – the man who BAFTA quite rightly acknowledged as a superior filmmaker to Tom Hooper 4 years ago, and who put out quite possibly his best work ever, or at least his best directing work ever, this year, is apparently just no match for James Marsh’s directing for The Theory of Everything, a film that I fell asleep during for about five minutes.  Sure, of course he isn’t.


boyhoodBest Film

Nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything

Who Should Win: Despite this sudden backlash that has collectively greeted the thing – because apparently we don’t even wait two months now before we try and backpedal on our opinions – I still think Birdman is brilliant and maybe even quietly genius in the way that it’s able to walk so many tightropes without ever properly falling over into un-self-aware “Artist Rants About Mainstream Film, Critics, The Internet and Clouds”.  However, I find The Grand Budapest Hotel to be the best of all of these nominees by a country mile, so I am flying that flag all the way.

Who Will Win: I know that the current narrative is that this is a straight fight between Birdman and Boyhood, with The Imitation Game sneaking its way into contention thanks to the usual Weinstein efforts, but those people are just trying to spice up a narrative to which the ending has been pre-ordained since June.  Boyhood will win with no contest and Richard Linklater will finally pick up a Best Film award, along with finally getting the Oscar equivalent a few weeks’ later.  Shame the film in question sucks.  I broke down here why I strongly dislike Boyhood and why it is objectively a bad film beyond its central gimmick, so I won’t waste time repeating myself.  Just know that I am against this disappointingly inevitable outcome.

Other Notes: 2014 Awards Season.  Otherwise known as “Yay, White Men: Hooray for White Men”.  In fairness, it’s been a pretty poor awards season and Grand Budapest absolutely deserves its spot up there – and I don’t object to Birdman showing up, either.  But it’s also such a safe and blindingly obvious list with little of interest and few of the genuinely interesting or exciting films from this past year.  Where’s NightcrawlerStarred UpWhiplashFoxcatcher?  If you’re gonna choose films about men, why snub the ones that actually have something to say about masculinity and men and challenge current societal notions?  How about Under The SkinGone Girl?  Films that look at the female gender, gender performance, and how society views them?  What happened to Pride, which had things to say about sexuality – far more so than The f*cking Imitation Game – or Belle and Selma, which said cogent things about race (and which I haven’t seen yet but heard excellent things about)?

Look, I and everybody else wouldn’t be getting so angry and worked up and vocal about this if you awards bodies didn’t keep shutting films like those out in favour of paint-by-numbers surface-level slop like The Imitation Game or The Theorzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  When you shut out genuinely original and diverse films in favour of interchangeable porridge like those, it’s a slap in the face to those films that try, that offer up a different perspective, and to those of us who demand and wish for diversity and greater representation in film.  You awards bodies carry way more power than you think you do in this day and age, so what you nominate and reward matters.  So when the awards end up as white and male as this, with many of them genuinely not being the best films released in the past 12 months, you’ll have to excuse us for getting upset and calling you out on it.


That’s the rundown.  The BAFTAs themselves occur on February 8th.  Feel free to throw your insights and predictions for the ceremony into the comments below!

Callum Petch is gonna kill yr boyfriend.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #10 – #6

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

141.  That’s the number of films released in 2014 that I have seen. That is a lot of films.  To put that into perspective, I have been attempting to critique films on the Internet for five years now and that number is more than the combined total of films I had seen in all four of those prior years when it came time to do some list making.  Of those 141, 131 were eligible for appearances on my lists.  That is insane.  To tell you the truth, I have no idea how on earth I’ve managed it, especially since I spent much of this past year despairing at movies in various forms.

Except that, as the year has come closer to its end and I’ve reflected more and more upon what I have seen, the problem is not that films were worse in 2014 (although there have been some atrocious pieces of tripe, as we shall see in a few days’ time).  The problem is that I have seen more films in 2014.  Whereas in prior years I would have to pick and choose what films I could and could not see, therefore sticking with safer bets and actively avoiding crap, this past year I have been able to see damn near everything that came my way, which has meant flinging quality control out of the window and exposing myself to films I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten-foot pole.

In some cases, this has meant extended bouts of self-flagellation.  In others, this has allowed for major surprises that I would not have typically tried to burst through to the forefront.  In some cases, this has meant that the frequency of films that I was looking forward to disappointing me in some way this year would get me down somewhat.  In other cases, this has meant that I can see the films I love multiple times and allowed them to really stick out in my brain for days, weeks, even months on end.  It’s a double-edged sword is throwing out the personal quality control barrier and seeing whatever comes your way, but I honestly can’t think of my cinema-going lifestyle now in ways that don’t involve voluntarily seeing everything that I can.

It also means that constructing my Top 10 list this year was both incredibly easy and unbearably difficult.  I’ve had to do this three separate times over the past month for various different things and each time it’s gotten progressively easier and harder, as certain films remained steadfast in their appearance and placements whilst others jumped around and dropped out.  Seeing so many films has made the absolutely cream more apparent but has also made filling the bottom end of the list that much harder, as certain entries are way too close in quality to others.  The list is actually a Top 20, but it’s been abbreviated to Top 10 as I am pretty sure that Owen would like back his website at some point this week.  I am, however, incredibly satisfied with it, the most satisfied with any Top 10 Movies of [x] list I’ve so far had to make, so take that for what it’s worth.

Now, before we begin, a brief set of pointers.  This list is strictly limited to films that have seen a UK release in 2014, so the awards season films that have yet to cross the pond (Foxcatcher, Wild, Inherent Vice, Whiplash, Birdman) or just films that don’t have the common courtesy to turn up on time (Big Hero 6, Top Five) aren’t eligible.  I am also limiting the list to 2014 films, awards season films that saw an American release in 2013 (The Wolf Of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, The Wind Rises) aren’t eligible.  Finally, even though I have seen a ridiculous amount of films in 2014, I haven’t seen them all and, naturally, this list can only include films that I have seen.  Blue Ruin, Belle, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nymphomaniac may be outstanding, and I tried so hard to get around to seeing them, but I unfortunately ran out of time and so they can’t be featured.

Lastly, I mentioned that I did arrange a Top 20 so I might as well share 20 to 11 with you before we get started on part one.  In reverse order (starting at 20, ending at 11): St. Vincent, Locke, Pride (which was my favourite surprise of 2014 and would have taken the #10 slot by default if this were any other year), Mistaken For Strangers, Lucy, 22 Jump Street, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks, The Lego Movie, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians Of The Galaxy which was pushed out of the Top 10 at the very last minute.  It’s a testament to the Top 10 that these films, all of which I love, are the ones that just missed out.

So, no more pre-amble faffing.  Today, we go through entries 10 to 6.  Are we all ready?  In that case, TITANS, GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


edge of tomorrow10] Edge Of Tomorrow

Dir: Doug Liman

Star: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

Edge Of Tomorrow is something that 2014 surprisingly lacked: a damn fun, pure blockbuster.  Much of this past Summer consisted of films that either took themselves way too seriously, were majorly flawed in some way, or severely underwhelmed and disappointed.  That’s not including those films that were desperately trying to force a franchise out of thin air, or were so busy trying to set-up pays-offs in practically guaranteed later films that they did nothing and told no stories in their current films.  Blockbuster filmmaking nowadays frequently consists of nothing but po-faced seriousness, loud noises and delayed gratification.

Then in swaggers Edge Of Tomorrow, wide-eyed with optimism, confident in what it wants to do, aviator sunglasses proclaiming it to be the coolest motherf*cker in the room at that moment in time, and looking for some fun.  It takes one look at the dreary and dull way that everybody else is doing things, sees how the general public is lapping up that crap, then swiftly turns around and marches back out that door.  Edge Of Tomorrow wants nothing to do with the modern blockbuster.  It wants to be fun, it wants to smarter than just loud noises, it wants to tell a full and complete story, the kind that only a $178 million budget can provide, and it does not give one f*ck if anybody else cares or not.

By the time that Edge Of Tomorrow had arrived in cinemas, I was in rather low spirits for 2014 film.  I had come off a string of disappointments and was all prepared for this film that I had heard good things about and seen advertised majorly to similarly underwhelm me.  Instead, over the course of 113 brilliant minutes, I was rejuvenated and reminded of why I love the movies.  Sometimes you want to sit down and be challenged, be pushed, be confronted and to experience something very serious.  But sometimes you just want to sit down and watch something fun, and Edge Of Tomorrow delivers that in spades.  It takes its central premise – the day resetting every time that Tom Cruise’s Major William Cage dies – and goes for broke, exploiting it for drama, comedy, black comedy, character work, and a tonne of incredibly awesome action moments.

But it’s also smart, it has a brain going on up in its head.  Edge Of Tomorrow is fun and spectacle, but grounds that fun and spectacle in excellent character work and committed performances.  Tom Cruise sheds his usual charm and movie star charisma to play a slimy cowardly ass and he is equally as strong at that as he is when Cage slowly becomes braver, more in control, more heroic; his excellent performance adding onto the extremely well written character.  Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is a goddamn revelation as Sgt. Rita Vrataski, absolutely commanding the screen in a performance of such intensity and skill and quiet emotion that, in a decent and deserving world, would catapult her to A-list superstardom.  Vrataski, too, is one hell of a character, a strong capable woman who has been hardened by trauma but is not emotionless or humourless or relegated and degraded by the film.  In other words, the kind of female character that blockbusters almost never bother to create.

It’s not perfect, it’s not thematically heavy, and I do wish that it ended about two minutes earlier, before the bittersweet ending is turned into a completely happy ending, but those flaws only serve to raise Edge Of Tomorrow as a whole.  They are the flaws and rough edges of a scrappy individualistic film, a film that does its own thing and remains steadfast against studio interference and focus grouping as much as possible.  They throw what Edge Of Tomorrow does right into sharper relief and Edge Of Tomorrow gets so much right.  It’s a reminder of what blockbuster filmmaking is capable of if it would get its head out from its ass, stop purely focussing on profit margins, quit focus-testing everything, and stopped sucking the teat of serialisation and franchising.

In a decade or so’s time, we as a film-going audience, along with a generation of filmmakers with studio budgets, are going to look back at Edge Of Tomorrow and go, “Yep, we should have done more of that.  We should be doing more of that.”


09] Starred Upstarred up

Dir: David Mackenzie

Star: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend

Forget the trailer.  Ignore the trailer.  That is not Starred UpStarred Up is not a dark, gritty, lads’ “C’MON, YOU SLAAAAAGS!!” prison flick with nothing going on aimed solely at the lowest common male denominator.  Starred Up is actually a bleak, unflinching, realist melodrama about masculinity, fathers, and the self-perpetuation of the modern prison system.  It is not a film that asks you to like any of its characters, it is not a film that revels in its bursts of violence or nastiness, it is not a film that is interested in fulfilling anybody’s fantasies of how cool prison is.  Starred Up is an angry film and you are damn well going to pay attention to what it wants to say.

Much of the plaudits thrown Starred Up’s way are for Jack O’Connell’s central performance as Eric Love, and it’s hard to argue against that.  O’Connell – in the first of what turned out to be three outstanding performances from this past year, I really hope that this momentum keeps up because he deserves to be a star – plays Love with such barely restrained intensity that perfectly fits his livewire tendencies without going overboard into ham and cheese.  He’s also able to reach down and find the sadness, the wounded nature at the heart of Eric that powers his angry violent lashings out at the world and which makes them hurt that much more.  Eric Love could have been a cartoon character in the wrong hands, but O’Connell mixes that intensity, that vulnerability, an air of mystery and his own natural likeability as an actor to create a profoundly complex lead.  It really is a powerhouse performance.

But to focus solely on O’Connell would be to do the rest of Starred Up a disservice.  The script, for example, by newcomer Jonathan Asser, grounds its more melodramatic tendencies in a low-key rather realist way.  The tropes that you expect to show up in a prison drama – corrupt officers, shankings, prisoners running the show, lots of swearing – turn up here, but they’re executed in a low-key way.  Big deals aren’t made of them, they’re just everyday facts of prison life and their appearances tie back into character work, with Eric’s crazed alpha-male desire to make a name for himself both disrupting the delicate nature of this broken system and re-enforcing his worst impulses, and the film’s bleak overall message of the self-perpetuating cycle of prison.

Nobody in Starred Up is clean or fully good.  There are only shades of grey and even darker shades of grey.  Even the closest thing the film gets to a fully sympathetic character, in Rupert Friend’s tired and ceaselessly loyal prison therapist, is still strongly hinted to have some kind of superiority complex powering his actions – his adamant claim of “I need to be here” can be taken so many ways.  Eric’s been raised with the belief that self-destructiveness and violence is the only acceptable form of masculinity, and he can’t realise that all it has done is destroy his life.  It’s also so deep-seated that all of that hard therapy work can be instantly discarded the second his dad turns up and tries to make up for lost time by steering him the wrong way and completely misreading his son.  Not to mention the fact that the actual prison staff view the people they are assigned to look after with nothing but contempt; deep-seated beliefs that all of their charges are irredeemable and not worth even trying to reform.

The film’s more melodramatic moments – shower attacks, the final 10 to 15 minutes – benefit from that realist nihilism and strong character work.  Such effort has gone into fashioning a portrait of our broken prison system that the moments where more blatantly fictional touches break through still fit within the previously established world and nature of the film, acting like cappers to its overall point.  Couple that foundation with extremely well-handled themes, great supporting performances (Friend’s increasing desperation in protecting his little group is especially well-conveyed), an excellent script, and a thunderous central Jack O’Connell performance and you get a film as commanding and fiercely memorable as Starred Up.  It is bleak viewing, but it is vital viewing and it is so much better than the trailer suggests.


grand budapest hotel08] The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dir: Wes Anderson

Star: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, a lot of others

My first viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel underwhelmed me somewhat and I am willing to chalk that up to two things.  The first was trailer overexposure – this thing was relentlessly trailed before films for months on end, a lot of its best laughs were featured in it, and most everything stops being funny when you’ve seen it for the 20th time – the second was personal overhyping – I really liked that trailer when it dropped and was really bloody excited for the finished film.  I still thought it was a very good movie, but overexposure (the catalyst in getting me to just walk out during trailers now) and my weird belief that I was going to get a more monumental film than what I ended up getting lead to my questioning of whether this was it, as it were.

A second viewing later in the year proved me to be majorly and totally wrong on every negative account.  See, Grand Budapest is my first proper Wes Anderson film – I had seen Fantastic Mr. Fox in late 2012, but that was it – and so I wasn’t properly prepared for what was in store, expecting something different than what I got (I don’t know what it was I was expecting, but there you go).  I think the rather low-key nature of Grand Budapest caught me off guard.  It’s a film whose scale is large – encompassing tonnes of characters in a wide range of locations across multiple time periods and several different aspect ratios – yet whose stakes are rather small and its central character relationships tight knit.

And it’s that closeness that actually makes The Grand Budapest Hotel resonate and stick.  This is a very funny film – good lord, is it ever a very funny film, especially pretty much anything that comes out the mouth of an absolutely dynamite Ralph Fiennes – but what sticks with me after watching this film, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks after, is the sadness that runs throughout the entire film due to that closeness.  This is a sad film, a melancholy film, a film that never lets that sadness get buried under too many layers of whimsy or raucous jokes.  It is a film that is sad for days long since passed, both in terms of humanity – with barbarism and self-interest corroding decency and respectability – and filmmaking – there’s genuine love coming from Anderson’s insistence on using virtually every aspect ratio ever used in a commercial cinema release.

Yet the irony is that none of its characters are from the time it’s so wistfully nostalgic for.  Gustave H. is a man of some level of respectability and civility stuck in a time that slides further into greed and fascism the longer he sticks around.  Zero is a man who is clearly wounded and saddened by a world that would reject the actions and principles of a man like Gustave, and whose life is marked by constant loss and the encroachment of old age.  The Author is fascinated by the stories of Zero and Gustave H. but remains removed and emotionally distant due to both his profession and the fact that he doesn’t get the true feeling of that time due to having experienced nothing close to it.  The Young Girl who reads the book that starts off our film similarly can only paint a picture in her head of those times, to escape the miserable looking world that she is currently a part of, and it’s unlikely to resemble anything close to reality.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is very much about people trapped out of time, even Inspector Henckles who tries to deal with proceedings in a civil manner despite the force that he is a part of being of the barbaric type.  That wistful nostalgia does not really exist for many of its characters, as the time they are nostalgic for frequently ended long before they were born.  Yet, it’s what bonds them, it’s what brings Zero and Agatha together, it’s what makes Gustav and Zero such fire-forged friends, and it’s what ultimately proves their downfalls; their inability to let go.  Yet, they are respected and admired by the film and by Anderson for that commitment to their nostalgia – why should holding onto a time when people weren’t being violent fascist pigs be considered a bad thing? – and that’s why the film’s gradual reveal of its incredibly bittersweet ending feels so poignant.

It’s a film that is sold on its laughs and its quirkiness, but stays with me thanks to its deep-rooted sadness and melancholy heart.  It’s an incredibly clever and impeccably well-balanced film and pulls off that tightrope walk – sentimental without being sappy, riotously funny without drowning out the melancholy or becoming too bawdy – with aplomb.  I should really make the time to watch more Wes Anderson films, already.


07] NightcrawlerNIGHTCRAWLER

Dir: Dan Gilroy

Star: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

First things first, Nightcrawler contains my single favourite film scene in all of 2014.  I am referring to “Horror House”.  Not the bit where Lou Bloom is filming the sequence, nor the bit where he utterly unnervingly shreds Morning News Director Nina over negotiations for the tape (although that is close), the bit where it goes to air and the film makes you sit through every last agonising second as a whole studio full of ratings hungry opportunists exploit the misery and suffering of others for profit.  It’s the way that it twists the knife and turns the screws and keeps going, and going, and going, forcing you to sit through the whole segment, making you complicit in their work, and being written and presented in such a way that the scene stopped being a sequence from a movie for me and became something uncomfortably close to our reality.

It’s a magnificent scene and it also hides the true target of Nightcrawler’s venomous anger in plain sight.  Nightcrawler is a takedown of sensationalist 24-hour cable news networks, but it’s also a blisteringly angry screed against Capitalism, encapsulated in “Horror House” by having the news crew exploit the suffering of others to further their own hunt for money and success, especially hammering home the idea that a wealthy white suburban family was murdered by lower-class possibly Hispanic (at the time it’s unclear, not that that stops any of the anchors from pushing down hard on this button) gang members.  After all, nothing’s more likely to keep the broken system of Capitalism in place than by terrifying those with the power and success that the unworthy lower classes are coming to take everything away from them, whilst simultaneously profiting off of that fear.

The film’s thoughts and views on Capitalism can be best summed up by the character of Lou Bloom himself, a walking encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the system.  Lou is a complete sociopath purely interested in his own self-gain.  He is somebody who has been told time and time again that he deserves success and that he can win at The American Dream if he just works hard enough, and when that doesn’t happen he resorts to crime and petty theft to claw his way up.  He speaks near-exclusively in sound-bites ripped from corporate handbooks, justifies everything he ever does in cold, calculated business terms and is incapable of treating people like humans – later revealed to be down to his contempt for them.

Then, he stumbles into a field where his sociopathy, lack of morals and complete disregard for social decency and the law are rewarded.  His desire to stay one step ahead, by any means necessary, in the Nightcrawling business gets him the money, the car, the recognition and the in to start climbing up the corporate ladder.  And when he doesn’t get what he wants, he manipulates, blackmails, threatens, sexually exploits, and even near-outright murders to get his way.  But not once is Lou punished.  Not once does he truly hit a setback, because Capitalism is broken and those who are willing to cross the moral line are the ones who will successfully make it, whilst the rest will be left in the dust to be exploited by those who go too far.  [BRIEF SPOILER BIT, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU’VE YET TO SEE THE FILM] That’s why Lou gets off scott-free in the end.  Sure, the police technically have enough evidence to put him away, but to do that would be to undermine the message: Lou has won Capitalism because of his complete sociopathy and lack of a moral code.  Even his new company logo is ripped straight from that of the rival he killed earlier!

Jake Gyllenhaal puts in the performance of his career as Lou Bloom, always keeping the viewer at a distance yet forcefully commanding their attention at all times.  He’s clearly relishing the opportunity to sink his teeth into such a detestable yet complex role, and his total commitment to making Lou this utterly abhorrent and frightening monster is a major reason of why the film works.  Rene Russo also puts in her best performance in years as a similarly repulsive but slightly more socially acceptable female counterpart to Lou, Dan Gilroy’s direction for his debut feature is confident and assured, I have already talked about James Newton Howard’s quietly genius score, and the film is also tightly paced and expertly structured.  Nightcrawler is an outstandingly relevant and captivating film that features a villain protagonist for the ages, and satire and venom that deserves way more analysis and conversation than it has sparked.  A film for 2014 if there ever was one.


the guest06] The Guest

Dir: Adam Wingard

Star: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Lance Reddick

Holy hell, is this one ever fun!  Dumped into the beginning of September with precious little fanfare and left to fend for itself, The Guest is one of the biggest gems I have stumbled across all year.  Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s, previous of You’re Next, demented genre hybrid thriller is just pure good old fashioned fun.  That’s it.  There is nothing deeper to The Guest, no giant thematic core or major emotional centre, and no huge twist to it.  The Guest is just pure, undiluted fun and, as mentioned back in my entry on Edge Of Tomorrow, fun is something that I put a very big price on due to its growing rarity in the modern filmmaking landscape.

So, what is The Guest?  After all, I spent pretty much all of September doing nothing but praise the ever-loving crap out of it and despairing when, unsurprisingly, nobody saw it.  Well, The Guest is hard to categorise for people who haven’t seen it, partially because it hops around between genres like an indecisive driver coming up on a line of toll booths, but mainly because the fun of The Guest is watching it slowly reveal its true colours.  In the most general terms, it’s a throwback to trashy 80s B-Movies, mashing together elements of psychological thrillers, gory low-budget action films, the works of John Carpenter, and a nice sprinkling of camp.  It sounds like a mess, but Barrett’s script is airtight, Wingard’s direction is so confident, and the pair are so learned in what they are trying to emulate that it works perfectly.

It also helps that they have an outstanding central performance to hang proceedings onto.  I’ve raved about Dan Stevens in my review of the film, so I’ll let you go back and re-read that to save me from repeating myself, but I cannot stress how absolutely note perfect he is here – switching between charming, terrifying, and utterly hilarious (in a deadpan way) effortlessly whilst keeping David a consistent character throughout.  He’s also matched beat for beat by Maika Monroe who expertly embodies the determined Final Girl archetype whilst making it her own.  The film visually is wonderfully stylish, the soundtrack is one of the very best of the entire year, and it is by far the coolest film of the year thanks to the way it completely owns and openly embraces its campy tendencies – the finale is absolutely hilarious and unbearably tense without one ever undermining the other.

Look, I want to write a giant (attempted) intellectual deep analysis of this film like I have everything else so far on this list, one that gets to the root of why this film works and why I love it so, but I just can’t because The Guest is not that kind of film.  The Guest actively resists that kind of analysis because, quite frankly, its start and its end can be summed up with “it is a hell of a lot of fun” which it very much is.  It is also damn near flawless at what it aims to do, it’s an immaculately constructed film that I can’t find a single wasted second, dropped pacing or glaring flaw in.  Sometimes, a film sticks out as excellent purely because of how much fun it is and The Guest is the single most amount of fun I have had in a cinema all year.

Or, to put it another way, I saw it opening day and went back for a second go-around seven days later.  I would likely have kept going every Friday if the film hadn’t been pulled from cinemas in near-record time.  Whilst you are reading this, I will be watching it again on the Blu-Ray that I picked up on the first day it was available, and my writing for this is being fuelled by the film’s soundtrack.  This is just a straight shot of pure smile-inducing fun, for me, and you are officially out of excuses to not give it a shot.


That’s the first half of the countdown done.  Tomorrow, we’ll tackle numbers 5 to 1.  In the meantime, let me know in the comments on whether you agree with my picks or not and what some of your favourite films of 2014 are!

Callum Petch’s letters are returned to sender.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

On Interstellar & Nightcrawler’s Scores

Callum Petch takes a look at the film scores of Interstellar and Nightcrawler and looks at the effect they have on their respective films.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

james newton howardQuestion: how many films can you name this year where the score was something that actually caught your attention as you were watching it?  And I don’t mean licensed music or songs written specifically for the film by the latest hot band (so exclude Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Guest and any musical so far), I mean the actual score that’s sat there helping drive events along.  I can count Under The Skin, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Double, Gone Girl and the two films I’m talking about today.  That’s really about it.  Out of 113 films that I have seen from 2014, I can recall the score from only six.

See, the art of the film score is very much receding in general perception nowadays as they become more about mood setting than attention grabbing.  Now, admittedly, this is how it should be to a degree: a film’s score should get the audience into the mood of the film, compliment the visuals and the narrative, and be a cog in the machine that helps elevate the whole of the film.  The trouble comes from just how… unmemorable and interchangeable a lot of modern day film scores are.  There’s no personality there, no individual touch that makes Film A stand out from Film B aside from some half-assed attempt at a leitmotif.

The reason why, say, that distinctive theme from Jaws managed to break into popular culture is because there is personality.  You hear that slow, ominous build and you instantly think Jaws, it can’t be anything else.  It’s distinctive, but it also builds mood which is why a whole bunch of other media over the years have lifted it wholesale for their own ends.  It’s why hearing it come up in Jaws, despite it having broken into the popular culture and used as joke fodder for a lot of the last four decades, one doesn’t burst out into laughter or get dragged out of the film.  It fits the mood, it complements the film, but it’s also distinctive and has its own personality.

Too many films nowadays seem afraid to try and add personality to their scores.  They see them as just a cog that can be slapped together and forgotten about.  That, or they’re afraid that a big, showy, personality-filled score will detract from the experience.  And whilst that is true – as I will demonstrate with one example in a bit – it shouldn’t discourage composers and filmmakers from trying anyway, since a score doesn’t need to be big and showy to have personality or be memorable.  Although The Double’s soundtrack commands your attention with its loud, melodramatic and darkly hilarious violins played by what sounds like an orchestra held at gunpoint – which is distinctive and perfectly fits the mood of the film itself – Under The Skin manages to be just as memorable with barely anything more than an uneasy discordant drone – again, distinctive and fitting.

A dull interchangeable score blends into the background and neither helps nor hinders the film that it’s attached to.  A distinctive and memorable score grabs the attention and can either enhance a film’s positive attributes or highlight its glaring weaknesses.  Lots of filmmakers seem to be afraid of the second half of the latter option, and so opt to go for the former instead.  Whilst I understand why, I ultimately prefer the second option, because that shows some semblance of an effort, creativity, and personality in proceedings – the most memorable aspect of any Marvel Studios score that I’ve heard in the last six years has been the one that backs their frickin’ studio logo, for example.

So, in that respect, I’d like to briefly look at two recent film scores that are loud, distinctive, and personality-filled and explain how they embody all of the flaws and enhance the positive aspects of their films, respectively.  Specifically: Hans Zimmer’s overwrought and majorly distracting score for Interstellar, and James Newton Howard’s off-kilter and bizarrely brilliant score for Nightcrawler.

Let’s do Interstellar first.  Now, I seem to be in the minority on this one – yes, I know, you are bowled over in surprise by this twist – but I detest Zimmer’s score for the film.  I find it incredibly overwrought, desperate, and ultimately hollow and insincere.  His recurrent leitmotif of incredibly loud church organ notes whenever something “epic” is going down comes off like the keys are being manned by a narcoleptic who nobody can bother to remove from the instrument when he does inadvertently nod off.  The constant piling on of instruments when they’re not needed, the cacophonous nature that drowns out a lot of the dialogue (although that’s more of a problem with the sound mixing than anything else), the extreme self-consciousness of its attempts to call back to hard sci-fi, and the fake-ness of it all – at no point did I get the impression that anybody involved truly put emotion into this.  It’s like somebody who has never actually felt emotions trying to make other people to feel emotions; it doesn’t convince.

Consequently, this actually ends up being emblematic of Interstellar’s faults at large.  The film itself is so cold, so clinical, yet so desperately trying to stir up emotions within its audience that it comes off as phony and awkward.  The script lacks characters, but has plenty of time to over-explain every little bit of science that goes on in the film – like it’s worried that Neil deGrasse-Tyson is going to burst in through some nearby window and demand to see the Nolans’ science credentials.  Nolan’s filmmaking style, and I’d like to note that I don’t consider it a criticism as long as he’s working within that wheelhouse, is very removed, emotionally distant and intellectual.  Unfortunately, he took on a project that doesn’t play to those strengths at all and so spends a lot of the film failing miserably at emulating the style of Steven Spielberg (whom this project was originally meant for).  Nolan creates moments and images of wonder and beauty, but fails terribly at making those coalesce in a way that feels genuine or is even sustained for more than a minute or two at a time.

Therefore, since the film is so detached emotionally even though it is trying so hard to grasp that human concept, the job of getting the audience emotionally invested falls on the score.  Hence why it goes so all-out so frequently and so heavily.  Every second of the thing is trying desperately to pick up the ball that the film drops, trying to overwhelm the audience in the hopes that the kitchen sink will finally elicit some semblance of an appropriate emotional reaction.  Like the film itself, it does work in fits and starts, but it can’t keep it up for any longer than a minute or so at a time.  For every pretty little dancing synth in the background, there’s seven separate segments where the foregrounded strings and organ are noticeably straining under the weight of the task placed upon them.  Hence why the overall product feels thuddingly manipulative and insincere.

Again, I realise that I am in the minority about this.  I expressed my thoughts on Interstellar’s score in one of my Film Studies classes shortly after release and one of the guys I know on it looked at me like I just admitted to eating puppies.  He tried to counter by stating his belief that the score could tell the story of the film by itself, but I think that just bolsters my view even more.  The score has to do the hard work because Interstellar itself fails at its end of the deal, so the score ends up swinging for the fences in order to try and make up for that.  The score is certainly distinctive, but it just adds to the distractingly fake nature of a lot of the film and only ends up making its shortcomings more noticeable.

Contrast with James Newton Howard’s score for Nightcrawler.  Now, in theory, this thing really should not work – our own Owen Hughes certainly didn’t think it did – and should be one of those soundtracks where you just sit there and go, “just what in the blue hell were they thinking?”  Nightcrawler, after all, is a dark and occasionally darkly funny satire about capitalism hidden within a brutally angry takedown of 24 hour commercial news networks.  I think the very last thing anybody expected to be backing key scenes was a distractingly out-of-place reverb-soaked guitar that makes it seem like Louis Bloom’s adventure is one that is hopeful and worthy of success.  Or take the ending with its strangled Jimi-Hendrix-rendition-of-“Star Spangled Banner”-reminiscent overdriven guitar riff.  Or even the scene before that which is backed by something that belongs more in a light-hearted comedy drama than Nightcrawler.

This is not a score that one can tune out, either.  Its atypical and ill-fitting nature is constantly calling to the viewer’s attention.  Not blatantly, in the sense that it is screaming for your attention, but in the way that one is having a conversation but keeps noticing something abnormal in the background that just won’t stop distracting you.  And that, essentially, is the point.  Nightcrawler’s score is purposefully atypical and ill-fitting because it wants to be, because it reflects the state of mind of the person whose viewpoint we are experiencing the narrative through at that moment in time.

For example, Owen cites a section around the film’s midpoint where Lou makes a speech towards Nina about his goals in life.  It seems genuinely heartfelt and completely sincere – even though we the audience already know that Lou is pretty much incapable of sincerity due to his sociopathic nature – and is the kind of speech that, in a different film, would be a life-affirming inspirational moment as the scrappy underdog outlines their Big City ambitions and desire to win at the game of Capitalism.  So that is how the scene is scored.  Because the person we are experiencing this scene through is not a detached third party – it’s through Lou.  And for Lou, in the film of his life, this is that moment.

It’s why multiple sequences where he watches his footage back on TV are backed by jaunty, bouncy tunes.  To us, these are horrifying examples of a complete sociopath exploiting the trauma and fragility of those victimised by our morally bankrupt society in order to raise his own standing within it.  To him, these are moments of victory where the people involved are secondary to his own accomplishments, him having that little empathy for those whose tragedy he is filming.  It’s why the sequence where he screams into the mirror has this dark foreboding music; for Lou, this is his low point, where he is being unfairly kept from success by bigger people than him.  The whole film could have been backed like that, to help scream to the viewer that this is wrong and to keep us at a very comfortable observatory distance from the people and events on screen.  But that’s not what happens, and that in turn makes the deployment of those ominous synths carry that much weight.

Or, to case study real quick, there is a reason why the two segments of the sequence that make up “Horror House” are scored so differently.  The first, when Lou is shooting it, is given this rather urgent and tense synth rumble – something that combines with the purposeful lacking in focus on the bodies and the violence to show how Lou sees the sequence: a tense race-against-time to document this once-in-a-lifetime footage before the cops show up; the victims being incidental.  The second, as the footage hits the air, replaces the urgency with ominous darkness which, coupled with the focus on the bodies and the almost fetishizing of said violence, paints the scene as something from a movie.  Fitting seeing as we are experiencing this scene from Nina’s perspective and she’s trying to conduct the sequence into being Must See TV.

Again, the film could have stuck with that the whole way through.  It could have backed every scene with ominous synth bass rumbles, to add a few exclamation points to the idea that this is absolutely not something to idolise or aspire to.  But not only would the film have lost the impact of when those times do appear – such as just before the film’s action sequence where, coincidentally, we switch narrative perspectives to Rick for a short while – it would also have lost its character study angle.  Nightcrawler gets its messages across through its characters, showing how utterly warped their sense of morality and worldview has to be to win at their various games, and that idea would have been lost if the score were endlessly generic and repetitively ominous – much like my usage of that word.  Such a prominent and attention-calling score was undoubtedly a risk, because it is so off-beat, but it ends up working gangbusters and elevates the rest of the film as a result.

So, now that we’ve done that, allow me to ask and answer a question: what do the scores for Interstellar and Nightcrawler have in common besides being very noticeable and memorable?  Honestly, nothing.  One works, one doesn’t, one overcooks proceedings whilst the other seasons them just right, one has to make up for its attached film’s flaws and only ends up making them more glaring whilst the other compliments the excellent film it backs and highlights its strengths even more.  In the sense of their being scores, there’s really nothing linking them together, except one key thing…

I’m talking about them.  I may hate Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar, but I’m talking about it.  I’ll know it when some part of it inevitably breaks through into pop culture.  I love Nightcrawler’s score, and I find the score such an integral part of that film’s feel that I can’t picture the film without it.  Same with Interstellar.  Meanwhile, you could switch the soundtracks for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Transformers: Age Of Extinction and I honestly would likely be unable to tell the difference.  Too many films are afraid to try crafting a score with a legitimate personality nowadays, instead settling for a fun licensed soundtrack and Generic Blockbuster Score #264 to trundle proceedings along, and that disheartens me.

Just because you may fail, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t even bother to try.  I am of the firm belief that the worst thing a film can do is leave me with no reaction whatsoever.  A film can make me angry, offend me, upset me, repulse me, but at least it got a reaction and isn’t that what films are supposed to do?  To get a reaction out of us?  I prefer a vehemently negative reaction to a shrug of total indifference, because then I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.  I’ve felt something, and way too few scores nowadays are willing to take that risk because they believe that the risk of a negative reaction far outweighs the reward of a good one.

I’d like to see more film scores try.  Try to have some personality, some noticeable thing and quality about it that lends the overall film a specific feel that it can’t get from any other score.  Something that does its part to help brand a film as That Film.  I want them to try.  I want a reaction, more than anything else.  Interstellar and Nightcrawler do this.  Under The Skin, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Double do this.  I’d like that list to be longer in today’s films.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Callum Petch is overqualified for the position.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 17/10/14 – 19/10/14

Sound and Fury signify a change in the top spot, Birdman will be able to buy law books with pictures this time, Nicholas Sparks is not getting the best, the best, the best, The Best Of Me, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Movies, successful movies at that, often go about trying to solve questions that the public need answers for.  For example, our new number 1 film, Fury, finally helped to answer our year-long conundrum, “So, is this what caused Shia LaBeouf, who wasn’t exactly the most stable and upstanding citizen to begin with, to finally go completely off the deep-end?”  As marketing hooks for World War II movies go, it’s a pretty unique selling point, and one really should commend LaBeouf for starting so far away from the film’s release date and sticking with it for so long, too; professional wrestlers can’t commit to a bit this much!  $23.5 million worth of Americans ended up tempted enough by the possibility of a train-wreck to pony up and watch an apparently pretty alright film.

In release news that doesn’t involve me making really tired and terrible jokes about a man who is most likely suffering from some kind of mental health problems, The Book Of Life continued the trend of animated films not made by established companies, and not outstandingly marketed to hell and back, opening rather soft with a third place debut and $17 million in ticket sales.  By contrast, Studio Ghibli’s second-to-last planned film, The Tale Of Princess Kaguya, opened in limited release to a very respectable $51,700 from 3 screens – which sounds small, but one must remember that this is the return feature of Grave Of The Fireflies’ Isao Takahata and that not everybody wants to be reduced to blubbering, incoherent wrecks at art-house cinemas filled with snobby judging art-house crowds.

Meanwhile, and thankfully for people absolutely f*cking sick of his goddamn signature brand, the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me, bombed majorly, only managing $10 million for sixth place and allowing hacks like me to make unfunny Foo Fighters references.  Admittedly, Nicholas Sparks films have very fluctuating performances – The Notebook was followed by Nights In Rodanthe, whilst The Last Song was followed by Dear John – so we can’t break out the party poppers just yet, but it’s still the lowest opening for any of his adaptations ever so I’m calling this a win!  Along similar total-failure lines, Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children expanded to 608 screens this past weekend and scored the fifth worst nationwide debut ever, with just $320,000.  Films that managed a better per-screen average than it ($526) include Let’s Be Cops in its 10th week ($795), The Giver in its 10th week ($561), Lucy in its 13th week ($778), How To Train Your Dragon 2 in its 19th week ($566) and… well, pretty much everything else on the list.

Finally, we have the limited releases and the big success story of the weekend: Birdman.  The new film from Alejandro González Iñárritu starring Michael Keaton as somebody who once played a superhero now trying to make it on Broadway and filmed in a way that gives off the illusion that the film is just one continuous shot… actually, now that I think about it, it’s absolutely no surprise that the LA and NY cinemas that got this film ate it up so massively.  In any case, $415,000 from 4 theatres makes it the second-biggest-per-screen-average for a limited release of the year (behind The Grand Budapest Hotel) and the ninth best live-action limited release opening ever.  Also doing great business on 11 screens, for a very impressive $31,273 per-screen average, was Dear White People with a weekend total of $344,000.  I don’t really have anything else to add, to be honest, the film looks way too good for me to get snarky at.


dear white people

This Full List has got another confession to make, it’s no fool, it’s getting tired of star- (*is forcibly pulled away from keyboard*)

Box Office Results: Friday 17th October 2014 – Sunday 19th October 2014

1] Fury

$23,500,000 / NEW

Owen will be handling review duties on this one, folks.  Be gentle with him.  I also find it interesting to note that Fury has made more domestically in one weekend than David Ayer’s other 2014 film, Sabotage, did worldwide throughout its entire run.  Good to see his year has turned around significantly!

2] Gone Girl

$17,800,000 / $107,069,000

Gone Girl has been embraced by Men’s Rights Activists, just as I feared it would be.  Sigh…  I guess that’s the risk one gets when trying to tell stories like this one, but it is saddening to know that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life lengthily explaining myself when I tell more Internet conscious people that I love Gone Girl, so that they don’t get the idea that I’m some kind of woman-hating psychopath.

3] The Book Of Life

$17,000,000 / NEW

Out here on Friday, so one last time for good luck: I ORDER YOU TO NOT SUCK!

4] Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

$12,039,000 / $36,871,000

And this is out this weekend, too.  Well, I guess you gotta learn to live with the bad days to ap- (*looks down to see hands have somehow become sentient and are strangling the author to death*)

5] The Best Of Me

$10,200,000 / NEW

Should probably clarify that the strangling that occurred in the previous joke involved my throat, not anything dirty like I know some of you more childish readers were attempting to misconstrue it as.  There are no such uses of toilet humour in these articles.  This is a family feature.

6] Dracula Untold

$9,889,000 / $40,735,000

A pretty large 58% drop between weekends, so it’s a total flop domestically.  Unfortunately, it’s almost cleared $100 mil overseas, mainly thanks to Russia and Mexico of all places, so I can’t smugly sit here and claim that it completely bombed like I predicted it was going to.  Drat and blast!

7] The Judge

$7,940,000 / $26,843,000

No, seriously, watch the trailer for Dear White People.  It looks absolutely excellent and the kind of film I need in my life right f*cking now.

8] Annabelle

$7,925,000 / $74,127,000

Yes, that is a really close gap between The Judge and Annabelle, but actuals have yet to actually flip the places of two films that are dead close to one-another in estimates under my watch, so don’t expect anything to actually happen here.  You know, except for the realisation that I just managed to sufficiently kill time by making a big deal out of nothing with this entry.

9] The Equalizer

$5,450,000 / $89,170,000

Fuck off.

10] The Maze Runner

$4,500,000 / $90,837,000

OK, I’m not stupid.  I know you haven’t actually watched the Dear White People trailer yet.  I have no control over you and can’t force you to visit every single link I attach to these articles.  You’re busy people with places to be.  So I’m just going to leave this here and we’ll all reconvene next week for me to do this dance with another completely different film possibly maybe.

Dropped Out: Addicted, The Boxtrolls, Left Behind

Callum Petch is watching the television with no sound.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: 300 Rise of a Critic

Grand Budapest HotelThis week’s podcast introduces a young, fresh-faced critic to the mix in Callum Petch. Much like the plot of Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel, this episode sees a classy yet older gentleman (James) taking a young and enthusiastic outsider under his tutelage. At least that’s how James sees it.

We also have reviews of 300: Rise of an Empire and Escape from Planet Earth, as well as our plans for how to save the Die Hard franchise, and some bitter accusations of cheating in the quiz.

Join us next week for reviews of Need For Speed and The Zero Theorem.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Glasgow Film Festival 2014 Preview

gfflogo

It’s that time of year once more, and I’ll shortly be on my way to Scotland for the 10th Glasgow Film Festival. The cinematic event that provides a more boisterous, down-to-earth, and accessible counterpoint to the Edinburgh Film and Television festival.

This year the festival is even bigger than ever, and features over 60 UK premieres. The opening gala is the UK Premiere of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, while the closing gala is the Scottish premiere of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Although both have sold out, there’s still plenty to get excited about.

Richard Ayoade’s second feature The Double (starring Jessie Eisenberg), Terry Gilliam’s latest sci-fi mindfuck The Zero Theorem (starring Christophe Waltz as you’ve never seen him), and the film adaptation of the acclaimed novel The Book Thief all have gala screenings at the festival.

Other films to watch out for include Jason Priestley’s directorial debut Cas and Dylan (a road-trip movie starring Richard Dreyfuss), Philipe Claudel’s psychological thriller Before the Winter Chill, and the Scottish premiere of Oscar-nominated documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, complete with pre-film entertainment from the Glasgow Gospel Choir.

There are a few films that I’m particularly looking forward to, including Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) latest film Mood Indigo. Starring the delightful Audrey Tautou (Amelie), and featuring Romain Duris (Populaire) and Omar Sy (Intouchables), it is an adaptation of the Boris Vian cult novel set in contemporary Paris with a retro aesthetic. Gondry’s films are always visually stunning, and it appears we’re getting the full cut of the film rather than the Weinstein ‘vision’, which makes it a must-watch for me.

Zero Charisma has the potential to become one of the breakout hits of the festival, and anything that celebrates geek culture without sneering at it is to be applauded. This exploration of the conflict between a weekly ‘Games Master’ and the popular ‘geek chic’ interloper into his social circle has already proven very popular at SXSW, and fits perfectly into the festival’s embrace of gaming culture.

My last ‘one to watch’ from the huge programme is the Guatemala/Mexico joint production The Golden Dream. Directed by a former Ken Loach cameraman, this powerful neo-realist look at three teenagers’ attempts to travel a thousand miles from their homes to the US packs a serious punch, and features outstanding performances from its young leads.

Then there’s the notorious GFF Surprise Film, the lucky dip of the festival and certainly worth a punt even if last year’s screening was the woeful Spring Breakers. Speculation is rife as to what this year’s film could be, and I’m trying desperately to lower my expectations from The Raid 2. Like last year’s film though, both Snowpiercer and Calvary have screened at Berlin to excellent reviews, and either would be a fantastic choice.

Horror fans are also amply accommodated during the last weekend of the festival as Frighfest heads north of the border, with Ti West appearing in conversation and Wolf Creek 2 among the films premiering in that strand.

And it’s not just new films that dominate the programme; the 1939 Hooray for Hollywood strand will see ten classics from that year being screened across the city, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Gone with the Wind. There are some great films in unusual locations as well, including Young Frankenstein at the Kelvingrove Museum, and John Carpenter’s The Fog on a boat.

I’m going to be covering as much of the festival as I possibly can with my daily diary, as well as interviews, reviews, and mis-typed tweets. The Failed Critics Podcast is also returning to Glasgow, and this year we’ll have some old friends returning, and hopefully making some new ones as well.

BD_Logo_WhiteThe Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.