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Best Films on TV: Christmas to New Year 2015

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Every 23rd December, for the past three years, we have released our pick of the films being shown on freeview TV over the Christmas schedule. Last year’s choices were made by Paul Field, but returning to this Failed Critics Christmas tradition is site editor Owen Hughes. It practically guarantees less Carry On movies and probably more big budget blockbusters…

A couple of years ago, we were regularly posting lists of films that we would recommend for the week ahead. Oh, how times have changed. It seems these days that with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, we’re less bothered about waiting for films to be shown on TV and instead watching whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is great! Except that it’s reduced these articles to annual posts.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a look through the TV schedule to see what tat is being pushed on us this year and tried to sift out some of the dross (although Steve will be pleased to know that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is being shown on Christmas day at 11am) and chosen five decent-to-good movies each day in the run up to 2016.

Christmas Eve –

Finishing work early tomorrow? Want something to just stick on when you walk through the door to get you in a Christmassy mood? Well, stick Channel 4 on at 2.15pm and get straight into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Alternatively, if you’re sick of that bloody film already, try out the Robert Zemeckis animated A Christmas Carol over on BBC One at 2.20pm (it’s the version that I talked about on our Winterval Podcast this week). If you prefer your Scrooge’s to be real rather than cartoony, then stay up wrapping last minute presents until half past midnight for the 1951 version on Channel 5 starring Alastair Sim as the miserly grump. For those of us who relate a bit too much to Ebenezer, and can’t be arsed with this Christmas nonsense – bah humbug – then watch Karl Urban as the Mega-City One Judge, jury and executioner in Dredd on Film4 at 11.25pm or switch over to BBC Two five minutes later for one of Hitchcock’s best with Dial M For Murder.

Christmas Day –

We’ve had two of the most well known adaptations of Dickens’ novel, so why not start the afternoon with Channel 4 and give the other two a watch on Christmas day itself? Starting at 1.45pm with The Muppet Christmas Carol, they swiftly follow it up at 3.45pm with Bill Murray doing his thing in Scrooged. Later that evening, BBC Three have a double bill of animated movies that are safe to watch with granny, the kids, your other half or on your todd with Toy Story at 7.30pm and How To Train Your Dragon straight after it at 8.45pm. For something not at all schmalzy, sentimental or saccharine, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until much, much later in the evening as the Coen Brothers change the mood entirely at 00.05am on ITV4 with the hilarious 90’s comedy The Big Lebowski. Or, like, that’s just my opinion that it’s hilarious, man…

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

It may be somewhat twee, and I’m aware Wes Anderson isn’t for everyone, but if there’s a better film on TV for you to crawl out of your hangover with after getting up extremely late than Fantastic Mr Fox on Channel 4 at 11.25am, then I couldn’t find it. You can time it right to fit in a quick turkey sarnie and a fresh cuppa between it finishing and Jurassic Park starting over on ITV at 1.20pm, reminding you just how good the original was after Jurassic World swept the box office clean earlier this year. Really though, you should be watching the football. I believe that’s what Boxing Day was invented for. Once Final Score has finished, switch over to the horror channel at 6.40pm for the intense Spielberg thriller, Duel. Film4 can round off a very late evening with two modern British classics in crime thriller Sexy Beast (11.25pm) and Scottish sci-fi – and one of our favourite movies of 2014 – Under The Skin (1.10am).

Sunday 27th –

That’s the Christmas movies well and truly out of the way now and it’s Studio Ghibli to the rescue as we kick off the day with one of their most celebrated works, the charming My Neighbour Totoro. Flick over to Channel 5 at 2.25pm to see one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s most revered western, The Searchers, starring the Duke himself, John Wayne. Starting at 4.05pm on BBC One is a fantasy movie returning to where it all began with Oz: The Great and the Powerful, which is actually quite a nice, funny little family movie. You can choose how you’d like to round off the day with one of the following two. Personally, I’d go for one of my favourite discoveries of the year, Cronenberg’s body-horror Videodrome (the horror channel, 10.50pm) over Channel 4’s showing of The Inbetweeners 2 at 11.10pm, that both Steve and Callum tore to pieces.

Monday 28th –

You maniacs! You haven’t yet set your reminder! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to Hell! Well, at least until Monday morning at 10.15am when you switch on More4 and watch the original Planet of the Apes – AND THEN later that day you’ll be fully prepared for Film4’s 6.55pm screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At 8.30pm on BBC Three is Kung Fu Panda 2 (read why that’s a good thing in Callum’s brilliant piece from his DreamWorks retrospective). For something a little more… grown up… Steven Soderbergh’s movie Behind The Candelabra (BBC Two, 9pm) features one of Michael Douglas’s best ever performances. Finally, if the forgettable Terminator Genisys hasn’t already disappeared entirely from your memory, then James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day will wipe the last remnants from your mind on Film4 at 1.15am.

Tuesday 29th –

Channel 4, 2.30pm, Coraline. Film4, 6.10pm, Master & Commander. ITV2, 9pm, The Shawshank Redemption. ITV, 10.25pm, American Pie. My pick of the lot: Channel 5, 10.45pm, Erin Brockovich. That’s your lot. We’re running out of quality films on TV as the year comes to a close and I’m running out of patience trying to make these films sound interesting. However, if you think Tuesday’s films read a lot like a list of movies you’re glad that you’ve seen once but probably have no intention of ever watching again, just wait until you see what’s lined up for Wednesday…

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

We’ve got a run that starts with ITV2 at 5.45pm and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth (that I actually thought was quite enjoyable) with The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFilm4 will help change the tone to something surprisingly fun with Denzel and Wahlberg teaming up for crime-comedy Two Guns at 9pm. Tune into the horror channel at 10.45pm for some Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse horror at Planet Terror. Furious 7 may have already been voted for in quite a number of people’s submissions to the Failed Critics Awards, but Channel 4 go back a couple of sequels to Fast Five at 11.05pm. Afterwards, prepare for Joy with Film4’s showing of The Fighter at 1.10am.

Thursday 31st –

And here we are! New Year’s Eve and what better way to see off 2015 than with, er, well, The Adventures of TinTin on BBC One at 10.55am. (That was a rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) More adventures are afoot with a rare screening of The Rocketeer on Channel 4 at 1.10pm and – a Pixar film guaranteed to make you cry – Up, over on BBC One at 2.50pm. I will be at a New Years party by this time (oooh get me) but if you fancy a night in watching movies to bring in 2016, then BBC4 honour Bob Hoskins, who sadly passed away this year, with Made In Dagenham at 10.55pm. Film4 are going slightly more modern and again doing the whole David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper / Robert De Niro thing and are showing Silver Linings Playbook at 11.10pm.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Oh Captain! My Captain!

The Inbetweeners 2Really sad news this week as we react to the untimely death of Robin Williams on this week’s podcast. Steve, Carole, and James discuss his brilliant body of work, and choose their favourite performances of his for a hastily arranged Triple Bill. There’s also reviews of new releases The Inbetweeners 2 and Planes 2: Fire and Recue.

Join them next week for the return of Owen, and what is certain to be a very emotional farewell from James in his last podcast as a regular. Expect tears, tantrums, and tequila.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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The Inbetweeners 2: A Drubbing

However the second film is perhaps a step too far with few laughs and little endearment towards the main characters.

By Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

inbetweeners 2 3Six years ago The Inbetweeners hit the screen for the first time. Originally airing on E4 the sitcom about four sixth form lads who were not popular, not unpopular, hence the title, was an overnight success which spawned two more series, an American spinoff and as of this week two movies.

The T.V. series really encapsulated what it was like to be that age at school. It got the humour right, not making it too childish or immature but really ‘getting’ the ‘banter’ shared between a group of mates of that age.

A movie was announced and like many I feared that the Inbetweeners had jumped the shark but what we got was a worthy transfer from small screen to silver screen where Simon, Will, Neil and Jay ventured off to some Greek (I think) resort for their first lads holiday.

Just as the three T.V. series really understood school life, the first movie was a great take on a first holiday with your mates.

However the second film is perhaps a step too far with few laughs and little endearment towards the main characters.

The Inbetweeners 2 sees our heroes on a months ‘travelling’ around Australia to meet Jay who has gone out there to be a superstar DJ.

The biggest problem is that Jay and Will have become parodies of themselves while Simon has just acquired a bigger moron of a love interest than Carli (infuriatingly spelt with an ‘I’). Neil is the only one that has not suffered and gets the most laughs as a result.

Jay’s bullshit was always funny but his opening monologue, bragging about his life in Australia, is quite frankly over the top and ridiculous. While his brags about his Football Manager prowess getting him an offer of a role in the England set up or his sexual prowess at the Caravan Club were funny, this was just over done and got tedious quite quick.

Will has become too confident. He should never be picking up a guitar to impress a girl or going on a sober rant, even if what he was saying was spot on.

The jokes too seemed to be lowest common denominator with lots of gross out humour or slapstick. Of course I was not expecting sophisticated humour from the Inbetweeners, but the jokes in their previous outings did not seem so easy or obvious.

There are some plus points and a few laughs. Not many stand out as being that memorable but it certainly raised a few laughs. It just did not have me in stitches like I was hoping it would. The cameos at the end are a little pointless as well.

Apparently it was difficult enough to reunite the cast for this second outing and despite an obvious camaraderie and comradeship between the quartet it seems unlikely that they will return to complete a trilogy.

And given how disappointing this outing was that can only be a relief. At least the majority of the Inbetweeners legacy will be left intact.

You can listen to Steve talk about the film with the rest of the podcast team on the next episode, out some time in the next week or so. In the meantime, you can find him on Twitter @StevePN86.

The Inbetweeners 2: A Review

The Inbetweeners 2 is a send-off that encompasses the best and worst and the franchise.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

inbetweeners 2 4If ever there was an utterly unnecessary comedy sequel, The Inbetweeners 2 is most certainly it.  Fact of the matter is that this series was done.  Twice, first in that wonderfully melancholy and ambiguous TV ending and then in a giant blow-out film ending that gave the cast the send-offs that, in the moment considering the attachment many people would have had to them, it felt like they deserved.  The book was closed, it was done, they made three fantastic series of television and a surprisingly great film, they all got out before they had a chance of hitting a bum note, and everyone involved was free to pursue careers of having to have “with [x] from The Inbetweeners” forcibly suffixed to everything they do.  As per usual, though, money meant that the tale wasn’t quite over just yet and so everybody has been drawn back in for one last go-around even though there really doesn’t need to be one.

Consequently, The Inbetweeners 2 feels like a gratuitous victory lap more than anything else, something that’s especially pointless seeing as The Inbetweeners Movie was basically a victory lap as well, and a timelier one at that.  It doesn’t really need to exist, even as it tries desperately hard to adequately justify reasons for doing so (which it only just sort of does, but we’ll get to that).  It brings back pretty much all of the staples of the franchise (extended cringe humour, gross-out moments, cruelty, line-crossing, a not-100%-great attitude towards women) and ratchets everything up to 11, as if everyone involved knows that the money is all-but assured so why not go for broke?  The result ends up encompassing the best and worst of the series in one neat little package that is vastly inferior to the original yet is not without merit or enjoyment.

We are six months on from the ending of the first film and the post-Malia lives of our cast haven’t exactly been brimming with good times.  Will (Simon Bird) has transferred his complete lack of social skills in sixth-form to university, Simon (Joe Thomas) is similarly friendless at uni and Lucy (Tamala Kari), the holiday girlfriend he transferred universities to be closer to, has turned out to be a bit emotionally unstable, Jay (James Buckley) is taking a gap year in Australia and is bullshitting severely to the rest of the group to hide the fact that his life has been a mess ever since Jane dumped him, and Neal (Blake Harrison) is… actually, I have no idea what’s happening with Neal but he hasn’t progressed mentally, if nothing else.  Over Easter break, Will, Simon and Neal decide to surprise Jay by heading over to Australia to see him, where Will bumps into an old junior school friend who may or may not be into him (Emily Berrington), Simon accidentally ends up deeply committed to Lucy, and Jay decides to finally hunt down Jane and try and get her to take him back.

I’m going to get this out of the way first, because it makes a pretty good segway from the prior synopsis, The Inbetweeners 2 isn’t wholly brilliant towards women.  See, in the show, the women that the boys try going after are often depicted as above them for the most part.  Like, yeah, sometimes there are some who just lead the guys on or who aren’t the nicest of people but those are the minority.  The series, for the most part, made the boys the butts of the jokes as their being terrible people screwed up their chances with otherwise good women.  This is why a fair few people were, to put it lightly, mildly disappointed with the characterisation 180 that the first movie did to Carli.  2 continues that trend and ploughs full steam-ahead on it; all of the boys, barring Simon, got dumped between films, Will’s old friend Katie is shown at nearly all-times to be a tease who is leading him on, and Lucy has suddenly turned into an extremely clingy jealous girlfriend who nags at Simon like an old fishwife, obsessively stalks his Facebook, and frequently takes a pair of scissors to his hoodies.

Jane only appears at the very end for about five seconds and is then duly removed from the picture, so that makes the only women featured in the film negative stereotypes that are bad for the boys.  It’s a little bit uncomfortable, especially because the film can’t fully decide if it sympathises with the boys or if it wants to see them suffer because they’re not exactly great people.  The show always seemed to have a lock on how it wanted to treat the boys (realising that they’re terrible people, but still having some compassion for the bond that they share), but this film doesn’t seem completely sure and that makes the treatment of the female characters seem more than a bit accidentally uncomfortable, again especially since the search for Jane drives the entire second half of the movie and her summary dismissal after she has been found reduces her character to simply a MacGuffin for Jay.  I realise that the film’s viewpoint is that of four teenage boys, but, again, the film still can’t quite decide whether it sympathises with them or wants to ride and flog them for all it’s worth.

But, eh, that’s a personal hang-up that most people probably won’t notice or care about.  There are other, more general hang-ups that I imagine other people will share, like how the film quite often over-steps the line of various kinds.  It’s never enough to just have Neil have an upset stomach when at the top of a water slide, he also has to have the shits too, and have the scene end with Will vomiting profusely everywhere (I shan’t divulge how we get there because, right up until the vomiting, it’s actually one of the film’s bigger laughs).  It’s never enough to just have Will awkwardly embarrass himself in front of Katie by trying way too hard, he has to also sing a slow song on guitar in ill-fitting falsetto, with that song running for a whole two minutes and it turning from “cringeworthily funny” to “just plain cringeworthy” after the first minute.  It’s not enough to have Jay’s bullshitting email visualised on-screen in a manner that calls to mind The Wolf Of Wall Street, it has to be done in full, long after the joke stops being funny, and to have the characters lampshade how unnecessarily long it is after the fact.  It’s a problem the first film ran into at points, going too far across lines of grossness, cringe or joke length, and it’s only exacerbated here, likely because it’s a film and, therefore, there was no reason for anyone to drag writer-directors Damon Beesley and Iain Morris away from the type-writers and scold them with a firm “NO!” before they could script a scene in which Jay masturbates in the bed next to Will’s over something I don’t plan on spoiling here because, in an inverse to the water slide bit, the pay-off is absolutely worth the awkward construction.

On that note, the film’s also a bit too long.  I know, I know, it’s only 98 minutes, but the film is still structured like an episode of the show and what’s excellently paced over 22 minutes can drag and feel a bit aimless when stretched out.  The jokes-per-minute ratio is consistent, but it still drags in spots and, at about the 70-odd minute mark, when the film starts getting really good, I was ready for it to be over.  Also, it still can’t quite shake off the feeling that everyone’s only back here for the money.  Very rarely did the film offer up a scene or comedic setpiece that I felt truly justified everybody returning for one last hurrah.  At its best, The Inbetweeners filters its laughs and heart through painful, painful reality and those kinds do appear (in particular, Will’s attempts to appear cool to Katie’s douchebag friends and the brief glimpse we get at his sad, lonely university life hit rather close-to-home for me) but they’re much rarer this time, the film being more content to just showcase Neal’s genitalia (which a dog then licks because, again, nobody seemed to ever say no to anything in this script) than coming up with more of those.

So, having spent all of this time criticising the film, there still remains one set of questions unanswered.  The big ones.  The only ones that most of you care about.  Is The Inbetweeners 2 funny?  Did I laugh?  After all, I have mentioned multiple times before that I am willing to overlook more problematic undertones if the actual comedy on display is funny, to the point where I really should just put my money where my mouth is already.  Well, I’ve made you wait this long, so I’m just going to give it to you straight…

Yes, I laughed a lot at The Inbetweeners 2.

As much as in the first film?  No.  As much as in the show’s best episodes?  Probably, yes, but only because this runs for just over the length of four straight episodes of the show.  I should stress right now that it is not as funny as either the last film or the TV show… but I did laugh, a heck of a lot, more so than at any non-22 Jump Street comedy released so far this year.  Appropriate lip service is paid to the usual Inbetweeners running gags like Neal’s dad possibly being gay, Jay’s seemingly endless euphemisms for sex (played this time as him becoming very insecure after Jane dumped him), seemingly everybody having a crush on Will’s mum (which gets an incredible payoff in the finale that I will not spoil no matter how much you beg) and Neal’s complete and total inability to function in society.  The new stuff, meanwhile, when not overstepping the line, is often excellent and, as previously mentioned, gags come at a very consistently quick pace, for the most part.  The one time that the film slows down is during a scene just before the finale that, to put it bluntly, is like the end of the bit on the pier in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa but without the gags and lampshade hanging.  And, yes, the reason why I am being very vague regarding the jokes, and why it took me so long to getting around to talking about them, is because I don’t fancy spoiling them.  What else can I say?  If I found a film really funny, I’m not about to go about telling you about the funny jokes when I can just leave you to see the film for yourself to find out, am I?

One other thing the film has going for it is its ending, in that it’s sudden, kind of open, a little bit unsatisfying, leaves none of our characters much better off than when they started, and, quite honestly, is the absolute most perfect send-off for this franchise possible.  Look, not to disparage The Inbetweeners Movie, but its ending basically gave its characters everything they wanted; relative social popularity, happy memories, and girlfriends.  Except that it’s not really what they deserve.  Let’s not forget, these four are all, in their own ways, terrible, selfish people and giving them what they wanted, whilst satisfying for those of us who saw some of ourselves in each of the characters, isn’t really what they deserve and rather contrary to the down-to-earth relatively-realist nature of the show.  Conversely, The Inbetweeners 2 gives the cast what they deserve without coming off as overly-cruel in doing so, it being a nice mixture of disappointment, failure, underwhelming but the realisation that they still have each other over everything else.  Like, hey, the holiday may have been a complete failure, but at least we’re still friends, followed by one last cuing up of the instrumental version of “Gone Up In Flames” by Morning Runner.  That, I feel anyway, is the ending that the series deserves, the one that, in hindsight, it should have delivered the first time, and it nearly manages to justify this last venture.  Not quite, but almost.

So, it’s a bit too long, poorly serves its female cast members, goes too far a bit too often, and can’t quite shake the feeling that this didn’t really need to exist.  It’s not as good as any of the show’s three seasons, and it’s not as good as the first film.  But The Inbetweeners 2 is funny, it’s very funny, its cast is still of a ridiculously high-calibre (not that you needed me to tell you that, they can pretty much play their roles in their sleep by this point) and it provides the perfect send-off to the series as a whole.  For a lot of people, that will be enough.  In a way, it is.  It’s undoubtedly the weakest thing that the UK Inbetweeners have ever put out, but I came away feeling pretty damn satisfied.  It’s good enough.

Just, please, stop now.  Reject any extra money that is dangled in front of your faces and stop now.  While you’re still ahead.

Callum Petch knows that the emperor wears no clothes.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!