Tag Archives: The Terminator

Terminator Genisys

Whilst it’s great to see Arnie back in the leather jacket, and although it’s an improvement on the previous two films in the franchise, Terminator Genisys is far from reaching the impossible heights that James Cameron set.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

terminator genisysSet in the year 2028, Joel Kinnaman plays Murphy, a brutally murdered cop who — wait a second. Sorry. I appear to have started this article off by reviewing the 2014 remake of RoboCop. Let me try again. Ahem…

Space. The final frontier. Or rather the first of many frontiers for director JJ Abrams as he and Chris Pine — Oh man! I appear to have done it again. I’ll try once more.

With a surprising and disappointing lack of Colin Farrell getting his ass to Mars, the Total Recall reboot is — Oops!! This is trickier than it looks.

OK. For real this time.

It’s very rare in Hollywood for a much beloved franchise to get a reboot some years later and turn it into a huge success. For every Jurassic World, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are ten alternatives. After The Halcyon Company fought hard to acquire the rights for the Terminator series, they produced the bore-fest that was 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Alas, it was critically panned and the company folded not long after the film’s release due to various financial difficulties, despite making a profit on McG’s futuristic sci-fi actioner.

Thus with the rights to the series not reverting back to James Cameron until 2018, we now have Terminator Genisys (that’s without the colon in the title, unless you’re from America in which case you do get a colon), the fifth instalment of the franchise that began way back in 1984 with Cameron’s original movie. Although an argument could be made for placing this as the sequel to the original The Terminator, rather than the fifth in a series, and in the process wiping T2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation completely out of cannon. Not to mention the short lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re all ultimately pointless as director Alan Taylor (and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier) retcon the entire job lot.

Or… do they?

You see, the plot and the placement of Genisys within the sequence of movies is almost as convoluted as the history of who has owned the franchise itself at various points over the past 30 years. Its opening scenes are almost carbon copies of the original, albeit with less visible buttocks and silhouetted Arnold Schwarzedongs as this is a 12A certificate film, after all. It also cuts out the Kyle Reese narrated opening scene of a Terminator drone flying over a dystopian future wasteland, kicking off instead immediately with a T-800 (played by an Arnie body-double) arriving in 1984 with a flash of light shortly before approaching a group of punks on Washday Eve. Then things get a little less familiar. Waiting for our original Terminator is a visibly older version of the killing machine, dubbed “Pops”, and the two duke it out in a bout of fisticuffs.

As it transpires, this “good” Terminator, Pops, was mysteriously sent back in time even earlier to await the appearance of the 84 Terminator in a plot device that sends ripples through the timeline, distorting all manner of logical and illogical story lines. Jumping from the altered past to the future-future, we’re then treated to a show of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) taking out Skynet in the final battle. An enactment of an event that the original Kyle Reese (in Cameron’s movie) talked about occurring. Only now, it isn’t the final battle, as Skynet had one last trick up its sleeve. Back to the past, and Reese (now also naked and in need of a hobo’s trousers) is on the run from yet another Terminator in a 1984 that is unlike the one he expected. Waiting for him is a dreaded T-1000, played by the often under-appreciated Lee Byung-hun doing his best Robert Patrick impression. Apparently, the unassuming waitress Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Reese went back to save was now never a waitress at all, but is in fact a heavily armed survivor ready to take the impending apocalypse head on. She’s also apparently fully prepared for Kyle’s arrival and his involvement in her future, and invites Reese to come with her if he wants to live. And so begins the unravelling of an entire woolly-jumper-only-wardrobe’s full of threads after one tiny quizzical tug.

I realise that all sounds rather confusing, so to help you understand all this, here’s a quick summary. You ready? Stuff that we don’t really know about yet (wait for the sequel) has now happened in the alternate-past (1973) that has affected the current-past (1984) leading to alterations in the future-future (2029) that have changed Judgement Day in the prior-past (the mid 1990’s) to the new-present (2017). Clear as day, right?

And yet, despite this convoluted soft reboot, struggling to grasp when and what is taking place is not actually that difficult. In fact, whilst you’re watching what is yet another generic blockbuster blueprint executed to the required standard for a generic summer blockbuster box-ticking exercise, having to think about how each set piece fits alongside the other is a welcome relief. If you’re worried about whether you will be able to keep up, then have no fear. Exposition is your friend. “Mr Exposition” to be precise, played by JK Simmons, who helpfully pops up every so often to either personally explain what’s just happened, or to ask the other characters in the film if they wouldn’t mind quickly filling him (i.e. us) in on everything, just in case we missed it. You might mistake that for me complaining about Simmons. I’m not. I only wish he were in it more and had better dialogue to work with. The same could be said for Lee Byung-hun. Both actors were incredibly underused.

My major beef with this fifth instalment isn’t even to do with the acting, which a lot of other reviewers seem to have taken issue with. Jai Courtney – who I’m not ashamed to admit to have defended in public before – he in particular is used as a stick to beat the film with and I’m not entirely sure why. After speaking to Failed Critics writer Nick Lay about it, he told me that people dislike Courtney because “he just seems to be the type of lead that comes off a dull production line”. I get that. When you see him compared to actors like Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch etc, I totally see where folks are coming from. He’s good looking, well built, gradually getting bigger and better roles in bigger and better movies (or at least more expensive movies) without the average Joe being able to recognise his name if you sent them a CV with photo and portfolio of work. But still, I like him. He’s perhaps not made the best choice of film yet (let’s not talk about A Good Day To Die Hard or I, Frankenstein ever again), but he’s got charisma and can genuinely act, unlike a lot of his comparators. Like a lot of things about Terminator Genisys, Jai Courtney is fine.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is fine. Regardless of the fact she spends more time literally kicking arse than Linda Hamilton in the second Terminator film, she still seems less like an arse-kicking heroine and more like an adequate requirement for the story. But she’s fine. No better or worse than she’s been in Game of Thrones, for example. Jason Clarke (no relation), playing a slightly larger role than was perhaps expected in this time-hopping fiasco, is also fine. No better or worse than he’s been in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty or last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for example.

I don’t really care what anyone else says about “The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator”, “Pops”, “Uncle Bob” or whatever you want to call him, it’s always great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the role. In the atrocious Terminator 3, he remained one of the best things in it, both in terms of his performance and having the best individual lines and scenes. Again here, he’s the outstanding performer. There’s call-backs aplenty to the more humorous wise-cracking T2 interpretation of the character, with the third film’s goofyness toned down considerably. Expanding on the idea that he potentially has the capacity to not just fake human emotions in order to better integrate himself into society and ultimately infiltrate human rebel bases, but actually organically acquire and increase his own emotional depth over time, effecting his decisions, ties quite nicely into the overall arc of the movie reflecting Skynet’s ultimate aim. It might come across as corny, but have you seen Judgement Day recently? Exactly. Original film aside, they’ve all had their fair share of cheese.

Technically speaking, Terminator Genisys hits the majority of the right notes. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s also not boring. It makes you laugh whilst simultaneously turning the action set pieces into progressively bigger and louder (and usually dumber) old fashioned fun. Sure it might sound a bit complex at first glance, but it’s actually a bog standard A-Z time-travel 12A family blockbuster. And that is its biggest problem. There are zero risks taken here. If there’s any part of the plot that veers from the already tried-and-trusted big-budget formula, I must’ve missed it. Having not just one, but a number of high-tech killing machines who stop at nothing until you are dead, it should be far more menacing a movie than it actually is. Instead, any moments of potential darkness are bizarrely steered well clear of, either through deus ex machina or – more often than not – characters just doing the complete opposite of the easiest / simplest solution in order to prolong events.

Need to kill Sarah Connor? Need to save Sarah Connor? Need to have certain events still happen to ensure the future works the way you want? Need to change the past radically to keep things how they are? It’s all a load of complete and utter nonsense that follows neither rhyme nor reason. Complete and utter gibberish with things happening simply for the sake of continuing the story longer than would realistically be necessary. But, I didn’t hate it. It’s dumb, but so are so many other movies of this ilk.

Come five years time, if somebody asks me whether [scene A] happened in Terminator Genisys, Star Trek Into Darkness, Jurassic World or Men In Black III, I won’t have the foggiest. It’s as indistinguishable from the next $155m movie as any other before it. However, if you scratch hard enough, you’ll be able to glimpse the relatively decent concept buried underneath the astonishingly stupid and generic exterior. I can think of worse ways to spend two hours. Hell, I can think of two worse films within the actual franchise that this film belongs to!

Failed Critics Podcast: Small, Bald, Jaundiced Critics

spidermanWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where the team are at their most despicable.

No, we haven’t brought back Brooker and Paul!! I’m talking about the prequel to Illumination‘s Despicable Me franchise, all about those little yellow goofy sidekicks. Joining Steve Norman and Owen Hughes to review Minions is our animation expert Callum Petch. The team also take a look at action thrillers Everly (starring Salma Hayek) and Eli Roth’s Knock Knock (starring Keanu Reeves).

There’s even some news for the group to discuss this week as Tom Holland is named as the new (yes, NEW) high school age Spider-Man (they’re really making another Spider-Man film!) (Really!)

We also have a special guest débutante to the Failed Critics podcast in Nick Lay, author of our articles on We Are Many, Dish & Dishonesty and Kung Fury! In a pre-recorded review, he joins Owen all the way from Canada to discuss the micro budget British thriller Through The Lens. Meanwhile, Steve reveals the startling news that prior to this week, he’d somewhat unbelievably never seen The Terminator before, whilst Callum takes over the b-movie duties from Owen to review 80’s cult classic Hard Ticket To Hawaii.

Join Steve, Owen and Callum again next week as we review Terminator: Genisys and Magic Mike XXL.

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Owen’s 2015 In Film: Part 2 – And The Award Goes To: February

In this second entry to a new series of articles where Owen will be taking a look at the films he’s seen during each month of 2015, he talks us through the films he’s seen during February 2015. A month notoriously associated with “awards season”.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

terminator salvation 1I ended January’s article by saying how much I’d bloody loved Werner Herzog’s 1974 film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, and how you could expect to see reviews of Fitzcarraldo, Heart of Glass and Stroszek in this month’s piece. Well, sorry to disappoint you if that’s what you were expecting, but unfortunately I still haven’t gotten around to them. Instead they are taking up space on my TV planner. However, I am still desperate to see them so hopefully they make it into March’s entry to my 2015 In Film series.

Instead, the month started off with me watching a mix of Terminator movies and catching up on one or two of those nominated for Oscars at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony. I don’t know whether or not you listened to our Oscar predictions podcast earlier in February, where I said that I’d love it if Birdman won best picture, but couldn’t see past Boyhood dominating the awards. Well, I couldn’t be happier to be wrong. I was delighted when I woke up, checked the news and found out that Alejandro González Iñárritu had walked away with the two big awards. Not because I have a deep-rooted hatred of Boyhood or anything. I just really, really enjoyed Birdman. A little over two months in and it’s still my favourite film released in the UK this year.

I also put myself about a bit this past month, in a manner of speaking. I made my first debut on a non-Failed Critics podcast when two awesome gents called Jack and Chris were kind enough to invite me onto Not This Again to talk Oscar predictions. I then somehow ended up being invited onto another podcast by another awesome gent called Tony Black, as we reviewed Jupiter Ascending, Kingsman and others. I also recorded two short preview pieces for Tony’s ‘Black Hole Cinema’ podcast ahead of the Academy Awards; one for Whiplash and another for American Sniper.

Throw in an extremely busy period during my day job and it’s just resulted in a hectic month for me, which has left less room for films throughout February, particularly compared to January. Still, there’s plenty enough for me to talk about! On with the reviews…


Week 1: Sunday 1 – Sunday 8 February 2015

Sunday (1)Boyhood (2014), The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991); Monday – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003); Tuesday – Point & Shoot (2014); Wednesday – THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ (2014); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Ip Man 2 (2010); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday (8) – She’s The Man (2006), Jupiter Ascending (2015)

the internet's own boyOriginally I had planned to talk about Boyhood during this segment. It won BAFTAs, Golden Globes and plenty of other awards and until a couple of days before the ceremony, it was hotly tipped as the favourite for best picture. However, I cannot top Barry Shitpeas and Philomena Cunk on the latest episode of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, Besides which, I really want to talk about a documentary I watched on BBC’s Storyville series called The Internet’s Own Boy. I knew nothing at all about it beforehand; I had no idea who Aaron Swartz was, what had happened to him or why someone had decided to document his life. By the time the end credits came up, I was proclaiming him as the internet’s Che Guevara, a modern day hero, and telling all and sundry to watch this film and learn about this amazing man. For those like me who were unaware of who Aaron Swartz was, I’ll give a quick summary. He founded Reddit and openlibrary.org amongst others, he was partially responsible for inventing RSS and Creative Commons, he was a child prodigy when it comes to coding, and a social and political activist. This documentary explores 26 years of his life, from first learning to read, to his eventual suicide after being involved in an excessive, relentless and bullying persecution by the federal government. Tribute style documentaries can often be a bit of a let down. They’re too respectful, too soppy and too personal a project for those involved to really translate well to the screen. However, there are obvious exceptions such as this (and Grizzly Man, Life Itself, etc) when you truly feel educated on a cause worth knowing about. Rarely do documentaries inspire the level of emotion in me as The Internet’s Own Boy did, and for that, I had to talk about it in this month’s article. It’s still available on iPlayer until 11.30pm this Wednesday. Watch it! I urge you.


Week 2: Monday 9 – Sunday 15 February 2015

Monday – TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009); Tuesday – The Interview (2015); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Virtuality (2009); Friday – Hitman (aka Contract Killer) (1998); Saturday – Wing Chun (1994); Sunday – Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2015); Dracula Dead & Loving It (1995); War of the Worlds (2005)

terminator salvationThis is less a review of Terminator Salvation and more a general thing about the franchise as a whole. You may have noticed that I started off the month by rewatching the first three Terminator movies. The first of which is an absolute classic of the sci-fi horror genre, as per its rightful inclusion in Matt’s 1984 Decade In Film piece. It’s an extraordinarily tense, atmospheric, brilliant film that never ceases to entertain, no matter how many times you watch it. I seem to have vague memories of James posing the question on one of my first podcast appearances as to whether or not I preferred it to James Cameron’s sequel, T2: Judgement Day. At the time, I definitely said T2. Having now seen them back to back, the spectacle of T2 is still there, and it’s still an immensely entertaining action blockbuster, but something drew me more to the original. The unrelenting machine vs woman battle and inevitable apocalypse brought on by our playing God (*ahem*) is so horrifying, it has far more impact than in the flashy, fun and over-the-top sequel. The less said about Terminator 3, the better. I don’t think John Connor got into a vehicle or building that didn’t explode in that movie. Sheesh. Suffice to say, after suffering T3 again, expectations were low for Terminator Salvation. Aside from the fact I don’t think I can trust a grown man who refers to himself as McG, I’d heard bad things about it. I knew how troubled the production was and it just sounded dull. You don’t set a Terminator movie in the post apocalyptic future, for crying out loud. Nevertheless, I gave it a chance and… it wasn’t that bad. Bizarrely, it was the worst performance I’ve seen from Christian Bale. I love the guy, think he’s a brilliant actor, but when you’re outshone by Sam Worthington…….. well. Say no more. There’s some interesting concepts around the artificial intelligence angle, plus the climactic battle with Skynet and CGI Arnie is handled moderately well and ties into the franchise nicely, but for large parts it was incredibly tedious. Maybe next time, eh? Roll on Terminator: Genisys.


Week 3: Monday 16 – Sunday 22 February 2015

Monday – Focus (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE (1973); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Man of Tai Chi (2014); Saturday – The House at the End of Time (2013); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

shanghai joeA woeful week for film watching. I didn’t even finish The House at the End of Time, Focus I’ve already reviewed on here, and Callum summed up Man of Tai Chi best when he said it was nothing groundbreaking but a very strong directorial debut. Which leaves me with only this slightly racist spaghetti western from the 70’s to talk about. A film I only happened upon because I noticed the title on movies4men, thinking it sounded like a kung-fu film where a westerner called Joe appears in Shanghai and beats up some people or something generic like that. Alas! It was the complete opposite as a Chinese man turns up in the wild west and beats up some people or something generic like that. The only reason I hit that ‘record’ button and gave it a chance is because I noticed Klaus Kinski’s name in the description. It actually turned out to be quite enjoyable! Utter nonsense with a plot that was barely coherent, as our titular hero is chased from pillar to post by a variety of hired assassins. Regardless, it was a lot more fun than I had expected it to be. Released in the same year as Bruce Lee starred in Enter The Dragon, a film that catapulted kung-fu into the American mainstream, it’s not difficult to understand why the already out-dated Confucius quoting Chen Lee faded into obscurity. Even so, the goofy stunts and not-exactly culturally sensitive gags made it an amusing experience all the same.


Week 4: Monday 23 – Saturday 28 February 2015

Monday – Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Project Almanac (2015); Tuesday – The Darjeeling Limited (2007); Wednesday – Horror Hotel (aka The City of the Dead) (1960); Thursday – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011); Friday – TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (2014); Saturday – The Babadook (2014), Superman (1978)

two days one nightIn a slightly more successful final week, it became the only one in February where I managed to see a film every day. When I could stand to look at the screen without feeling sick, I watched Project Almanac at the cinema. I took advantage of an offer Pringles were running and nabbed Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited for free. I even watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on the off chance that it’d convince me to go and see the sequel that came out on Friday (it didn’t). Actually, I think the best film I watched during this week was The Babadook, another film I managed to acquire for free after my mother in law and her lodger / my mate palmed the blu-ray off on me after being disappointed with it. Instead though, I’m going to take a second to express my own personal disappointment with a film I’d been looking forward to. Two Days, One Night is a French film set in Belgium starring Marion Cotillard as a young depressed mum on the brink of losing her job if her colleagues decide to vote for keeping their bonuses instead of keeping her on. Over the course of a couple of days, she attempts to convince her co-workers to vote in favour of allowing her to retain her job. I’d seen the film described as a masterpiece and knew how highly regarded Cotillard’s performance was. Why is it thought of as a masterpiece? I couldn’t tell you. The film was a repetitive, monotone chore with nothing interesting to say about relationships; be they intimate man-and-woman loving relationships, or about the reflections of the employer/employee relationships. It was just one “sometimes-life-throws-up-difficult-decisions” drum banged over and over again. It’s one thing to make a film seem naturalistic, it’s another to stretch scenes so thin that you are literally watching 30 seconds of someone say they don’t know so-and-so’s address, but here’s [that guy]’s address, then write it down on a bit of paper, then hand it over, then have a slight pause before “merci, au revoir” and slowly walk out of frame. Bah. I know that in reviewing a shitty spaghetti western and the Terminator franchise that maybe I’ve painted myself as a certain kind of movie-watcher. But in all honesty, I do watch any and every sort of film. I stated above that I was looking forward to this film, but even Cotillard was disappointing. She wasn’t bad; in parts I’d go so far as to say that she was quite good. Between the saturation of constant tears and slow awkward conversations, she (and it) just left me tired and bored.


And that’s a wrap. I’ll be back next month to look back at the films I’ve seen in March, as well as hopefully more films to choose from! I’m happy to talk about any of the others listed above too should you want to know more. Just leave a comment below or send me a Tweet at @ohughes86.

A.I. In Film

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

I’d love to say that’s a quote from a sci-fi action film such as Dredd, or a Japanese anime such as Ghost In The Shell, or any other iconic sci-fi movie dealing with the rise of the machines for that matter. Instead, it’s a direct quote from one of the greatest minds of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking, when speaking to the BBC last year. The crazy nut.

Essentially, it’s a theory that fascinates me, so to tie in with last week’s release of Ex Machina, this week’s release Big Hero 6, the soon to be released Chappie, and the next ‘Artificial Intelligence’ special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, I’ve decided to take a look at the role A.I. has played in a few famous films.

2001_30
Image courtesy of http://blushots.weebly.com/2001-a-space-odyssey.html

Artificial Intelligence is of course something that already exists in some forms in the real world; whether you’re referring to a Tamagotchi toy or even a digital Mario that can learn to beat its own game without assistance.That said, a sentient form of life created from wires and silicon is still something very much reduced to the realms of science fiction. Although the dictionary definition is somewhat oblique, what we generally mean when we refer to A.I. is the full, true, conscious self-awareness of being in an unnatural device manufactured by a person. A type of intelligence that we possess as humans, that we arrogantly claim does not (or cannot) exist in the same way in any other creature or mechanical computer. An automaton that is rather than simply does.

It is of course frequently used as the motivation of a terrifying baddie in a film, such as the killer androids on the loose in Westworld. But that’s not really an artificial intelligence. It’s more like a malfunctioning pre-programmed robot executing a series of commands. You know, if you want to get all nerdy.

Similarly, whilst there are some grey areas, such as in Paul Verhoeven’s sophisticated and ultra-violent film RoboCop, where you’re asked to consider if it’s a man inside a robotic body or robot with a man inside of it, A.I. doesn’t really refer to cyborgs either. They obviously cross-wires, so to speak, but a human brain inside of a tin can is still a biological entity. More than what we might consider A.I., which is a completely manufactured form of intelligence.

Of course, the very notion of a sentient mechanoid is enough to give even the most sensible minded person the heebie-jeebies. With that in mind, allow me to pick out five different – although equally terrifying – uses of artificial intelligence in film (albeit admittedly slightly predictable choices!)


terminator 2Skynet and the Terminators (first appearance: The Terminator, 1984)

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we. If the mere concept of an intelligent military computer causing a nuclear war based on its own logic isn’t something that sends shivers down your spine, then maybe the idea of being chased by an unstoppable shotgun-wielding motorbike-riding nightclub-crashing robot is. No? How about a relentless melty-man who can turn his hands into sword-like objects and stab you through the throat? Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. There are many incarnations of A.I. throughout the Terminator film series, but perhaps none are as chilling as that initial idea of a single sentient machine deciding to wipe out the human race and cause a full scale world war. The clever twist in the sequel, T2: Judgement Day, is that the A.I. is both the hero and the villain of the story, of course. But the lasting legacy of the series that James Cameron started over 30 years ago now is that spine-tingling chill of the first military owned A.I., Skynet, that will inevitably lead to the destruction and genocide of the entire human race.


HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

You and your fellow astronaut buddy are on a exploration mission through space, the rest of your colleagues safely frozen in their cryogenic pods. Everything is all hunky dory. Well, right up until the supposedly unerring on-board computer has the awareness to make a decision that you and your crew are expendable. halLogically speaking. That is exactly what the A.I., HAL, does in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science fiction 2001: A Space Odyssey. It doesn’t necessarily make HAL a villain in the sense that he’s wrong or evil, he’s simply decided of his own accord that ridding himself of the crew will make his mission more efficient and thus heightens the viewers insecurities. Just how necessary are we, really? Maybe that is why HAL is so scary. Not because of his unemotional, sterile voice, as he ruthlessly decides to do away with his crew, but because for the most part he’s an abstract tool; just a solid red light in a metal cube that makes us feel inferior solely by existing in the first place. He’s influenced virtually every version of A.I. in film since, from Ash in Alien to Auto in Wall-E.


TRANSCENDENCEDr Will Caster (Transcendence, 2013)

It’s fair to say that both Callum and I had a difference of opinion over last year’s summer sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence. While the quality of the film overall is not a debate I intend to bring up again any time in the near future, the idea that Johnny Depp’s character, Will Caster, could have his mind transported to that of a quantum computer is an intriguing idea. Is the piece of hardware simply simulating what the mind of its creator would do in a very pre-determined and programmed way; is it actually the mind or soul of a human controlling the machine; or is the computer acting completely of its own volition? Do these even count as artificial intelligence is also a debate I don’t want to get into. What makes it worthy of inclusion on this list is the suggestion that after your physical body dies, you could have your mind imported into a computer. It’s the whole “brain in a jar” scenario that’s been used so many times before, although without a physical biological brain. The film does have an inevitable consequence as it drifts towards being about love rather than anything particularly meaningful, but there’s still a neat little idea tucked away in there somewhere!


Roy Batty (Blade Runner, 1982)

Of course a list of sci-fi films about the use of artificial intelligence wouldn’t be worth its salt without the inclusion of this Ridley Scott classic, adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’. Whilst theroy batty role of Deckard, the bounty hunter played by Harrison Ford, is probably more synonymous with the movie, it’s the tragic story of the blonde android suffering from an existential crisis played by the charismatic Rutger Hauer that is arguably the most accomplished and well rounded aspect of the story. It begs the question, just because we can create an A.I., should we? Is it fair? It goes right back to science fiction 101 in that man wasn’t meant to play God, dabbling in sciences that we don’t truly understand. Not from a technical point of view; clearly within the context of the film, people understand how to create artificial intelligence, but perhaps not so much the consequences of gifting life and then taking it away. Perhaps the ease at which we’re ready to hit the ‘off’ switch is in turn something we should fear more than pressing the ‘on’ button in the first place.


aiDavid (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001)

All right, I’m aware that perhaps even more obvious than any of the other inclusions, a film literally called Artificial Intelligence worming its way onto my list is not particularly imaginative. Especially when I haven’t even mentioned characters like Robby The Robot, C-3PO, Fassbender in Prometheus or poor ol’ Johnny 5. Nevertheless, I had to include the little boy who will never grow up, abandoned by those who created him to replace their ill son and forced to spend the rest of his time with the creepiest looking sexbot ever and his bizarre teddy bear. It’s quite a sad film, with the whole idea of replacing someone you’ve lost (or are losing) with a Pinocchio-esque robot being a rather moving subject. David narrowly escaping destruction with all the naivety of a real human boy; the apparent genuine feelings of loss and abandonment that David experiences; as well the final 20 minutes of the film, it will make you completely empathetic towards what is essentially nuts and bolts. It’s a marvellous juxtaposition between life and non-existence. The ending to the Christmas special episode of the TV series Black Mirror, called ‘White Christmas‘, drew similar feelings of anxiety about existing forever as an artificial life-form. It’s not a faultless film, of course, but deals with the complexity of A.I. better than most other films ever have.


And that’s it! Look out for the podcast due out this week where I chat to both Steve and special guest Matt Lambourne on the same topic, as well as reviewing Ex Machina in full. Until then, cheerio.

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1984

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1984, a year that had lots of good films but only a select few great films..

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

5. Nineteen Eighty-Four

6R4GXbD“If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”

Based on the George Orwell classic of the same name and directed by Michael Radford, Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a dystopian alternative reality whereby the populous are enslaved by a totalitarian government under the watchful eye of the supreme leader known only as Big Brother.

Nineteen Eighty-Four paints a painful and all too realistic view of what big-government without restraint could be like. I happened to watch this for the first time after Netflix launched in the UK just a couple of years ago and I was taken aback by how relevant this is as a pre-cursor to a society that has been conditioned to accept mass-CCTV and government intrusion of their privacy almost as a given.

John Hurt is excellent in the lead role as Winston, a man who longs to love and lust and think for himself, all emotions that are outlawed by the state. The mighty Richard Burton makes his final silver-screen appearance as the state’s brutal iron-hand O’Brien and plays the role with just enough restraint to make him even more sadistically sinister. The film makes great use of colour to remove any touch of individualism from society, everything is steel, grey and cold which further establishes the mindset of a society bred to work for the exclusive benefit of the state.

Without going into spoilers, this isn’t a film to watch if you are looking for a happy-ending. Everything plays out with a ruthless and calculating efficiency of a state built as a machine. As I understand, the film may not quite live up to the splendour of the novel; however, when watched with a clear mind it is astonishingly profound as modern society continues to live under the influence of the metaphorical Big Brother.

4. Birdy

dwsedeg“You ever wondered what our lives down here must look like to a bird?”

Let’s get one thing straight from the get go. This is not a Vietnam movie, but I was somewhat drawn to it initially due to my interest in Vietnam movies. The 80s has a boatload of them, however Birdy is more of a psychological examination that just happens to feature a voyage into Vietnam for the two main protagonists, Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al (Nic Cage).

The film follows 2 high school friends who are eventually separated and are sent to Vietnam. Birdy is already dealing with mental issues of feeling outcasted from his peers and has an unusually intense fascination with birds and flight. It later becomes apparent this is a metaphor for wanting to flee from the burdens of his life, however the trauma and mental fatigue of the war causes this rather innocent fascination to become an all-consuming fixation as his mental state deteriorates and he eventually winds-up in asylum.

Thankfully, the War element does not get in the way of a complex tale of friendship and adversity but merely acts as a vehicle to deliver to the mental breaking point for the Birdy character. Nic Cage, in an early and refreshing role, performs admirably as the linchpin buddy that keeps Birdy mentally balanced in the real-world. Given that he must act with his face behind bandages for the large parts of the film shows great acting dexterity that is lacking from some of his later performances.

Modine is more Private Pyle than Private Joker as a good all-american kid who finds solace through delusion and again has to dig deep into the actor’s toolbox to perform a role with no human persona during the most intense parts of the movie.

Director Alan Parker does a magnificent job in making a movie that is hard to remove from the psyche – again, for not especially positive reasoning. The story is far from triumphant and is quite depressing in places and is hardly box-office material. However, that is not meant to dissuade you from seeing this film. It is one that lingers in the memory and you’ll find few characters as interesting or as touching as Birdy.

3. The Terminator

terminator 2“Come with me if you want to live..”

If there are movies that can pretty much stereotype a decade, then The Terminator surely has to be on the shortlist. Made with little expectation for box-office success, the pressure was off to deliver a fully adult orientated science-fiction romp for a then little known director, James Cameron.

The film throws you into the deep-end right from the opening sequence, whereby Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time to modern day Los Angeles and turns up butt-naked and looking to acquire his target, Sarah Connor who would eventually give birth to the leader of mankind’s last line of rebellion against the enslaving machines.

At the same time, the rebels from the future send back one soldier to protect her, thus beginning a deadly cat and mouse pursuit between the 2 human targets and an unstoppable force brought menacingly to the screen by Schwarzenegger.

Where The Terminator succeeds is in convincing the viewer that this complex sci-fi story could indeed be a far-out possibility. The mythology is established very quickly in the film through the flashbacks of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) that portrays the bleak future that mankind has created in its pursuit of technological advancement.

That said, it’s popcorn friendly at the core. Arnie puts in a fantastic stone-cold performance as the villain of the film and given his enormous physique is entirely convincing as a killing-machine. Linda Hamilton shows great versatility initially as the 80s damsel in distress to slowly maturing into a heroine as she comes to terms with her role in mankind’s future.

The action satisfies, plenty of gun-battles and well choreographed car-pursuits ensure the momentum of the film is heightened throughout as the Terminator is in constant pursuit of the vulnerable human heroes.

Curiously, The Terminator doesn’t even make the top 10 highest grossing movies of the year. This goes to prove what an incredible following the film drew from the home video market and a master-stroke (deliberately or otherwise) in Cameron waiting a further 8 years to give a baiting fan-base the sequel they so longed for.

The Terminator leaves a fantastic legacy in establishing James Cameron as one of the hottest directors in the business setting him up wonderfully for his like Sci-Fi extravaganza in Aliens whilst taking Biehn along for the ride as well as bit-parters Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, whilst firmly establishing Schwarzenegger as one of Hollywood’s hottest action stars.

2. Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters-PS_612x380“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

Ghostbusters is a long standing love for many movie-goers, myself included. It’s probably the oldest memory I have of watching movies; those classic old RCA red-spine VHS tapes were pretty unique and haven’t left my memory in all this time. I could ramble on about why Ghostbusters is great and it only narrowly missed out on the #1 spot for 1984 in my assessment. However, Failed Critics has its very own Ghostbusters superman. So to tell you why Ghostbusters is so good and still so revered to this day, I hand over to Failed Critics own, Carole Petts.

On the occasion of Ghostbusters 30th anniversary, I wrote for the Guardian about why this silly science-fiction comedy has ensured in the public consciousness for so long. I’ve tried many times to pinpoint why this is my favourite film of all time, and honestly, it always comes back to the fact that it makes me laugh without fail; that every joke is as fresh now as it was when it was filmed. I’m clearly not alone in this – some of my favourite viewings have been with an audience, who clearly adore the film as much as I do (validating my devotion somewhat, it has to be said) and will quote and laugh along with me all the way through. You simply can’t ask for anything more from a comedy film.

The plot is actually an archetypal product of the early 80s age of Reaganomics. Three Columbia University parapsychologists – Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, at the top of his 80s comedy game) are stripped of their public sector funding and forced to start their own business hunting and trapping spooks. Coincidentally, a massive paranormal event is brewing which will bring about ‘a disaster of Biblical proportions’, so that’s handy. The aforementioned calamity is personified by two Central Park West neighbours – Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, showcasing hitherto unknown comedic muscle) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis, underrated here but who then received many deserved leading roles as a direct result). The whole shebang is brought to a show stopping finale when the destroyer of worlds is summoned in the form of a giant marshmallow man trademark beloved of Boy Scout camps across America. Stupid? Of course it is. But it’s endearing, and funny, and touching at times as well.

I wasn’t old enough to see Ghostbusters when it was released at the cinema – indeed I had a VHS taped from a TV screening, and only saw the full, uncut version for the first time when I was 18 and received the DVD for Christmas (it still appals me that Egon swears and Ray appears to receive a blowjob from a ghost). I was the perfect age to be scared by the library ghost and the Class 5, full-roaming vapour in the hotel, named in the cartoon as Slimer. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Alien, and to know that Sigourney Weaver was the world’s number one female kick-ass action hero at the time this film was made. But I knew this film was going to stay with me for the rest of my life. As I’ve gotten older, it’s taken on many different meanings to me – I’ve known what it’s like to be part of a public sector organisation that suddenly no longer needs you, and to be thrown into the real world (although I hasten to add my departure was not precipitated by making up test results in order to impress pretty ladies). But if this film has taught me anything, it’s to have faith in my own abilities. And that everyone has three mortgages nowadays.

1. Once Upon a Time in America

ouatia“I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs. And it gives me a hard-on”

Once upon a time in America is a Sergio Leone film. No, it’s THE Sergio Leone film! Set in prohibition era New York, the film transcends almost 4 decades following a gang of young hoodlums who engage in petty crime and rise to eventual bosses of the local bootlegging industry. The film is told from the viewpoint of Noodles (Roberto De Niro) who after 30 years of exile returns to New York after a member of his former gang makes contact him with, simultaneously blowing his new identity.

The film segregates beautifully across a complicated time-line and fills the viewer in via well executed flashbacks on the gang’s struggles in a Jewish ghetto in the 1920’s as children and their progression to adults consumed by the greed, lust and power that eventually destroys the gang and their friendships. De Niro is slick and at the top of his game, whilst James Woods puts together what I think is his strongest performance as the overly ambitious and ruthless Max.

The placing of the film amongst the all-time greats is hotly contested, partially due to the varying number of cuts available for the film. On its original release, a heavily edited version was compiled at the request of Warner Bros. At only 139 minutes in length it was a commercial and critical disaster and was put together against the wishes of Leone to attempt to squeeze more screenings per day of the movie and remove concerns over the graphic content.

However, many a critic would praise alternative cuts that remained more faithful to the original Leone edit, with Sight & Sound polling the movie in their top 25 films of all (at #10) and director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, etc) ranking it as the best movie depicting the prohibition era. Given that Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather to work on this project, he had immense belief in the story and his ability to deliver a crime epic that would become his legacy.

I am often surprised at how few people I speak to that enjoy crime movies that have not seen Once Upon a Time in America. That said, to be enjoyed at its best requires a good 3 hours or so dedication making it a tough watch, but boy is it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of The Godfather or Goodfellas or other films of that variety, this is a must watch. Sergio Leone signs off with what is his final and greatest masterpiece, and without question is the best film of 1984.

You can find more of our revitalised Decade In Film articles so far here, from 1963-2004.

Failed Critics Podcast: COP – Arnie

Arnold Schwarzenegger CigarOn this week’s podcast we review Zero Dark Thirty, Flight, Hyde Park on Hudson, and The Possession  We also induct the second member of our Corridor of Praise. Let’s hand over to Gerry to introduce him…

Murzzuschlag, Austria. The Second World War is ending. Aurelia Jadrny, a clerk in her early twenties whose husband was killed just eight months after their wedding, is working at her desk when she spots a tall, good looking man in his late thirties walking past. He’s wearing the uniform of the gendarmerie, Austria’s rural police, and she likes a man in uniform. Over time, they talk through the window – she works out when his shift is so she’s always at her desk. His name is Gustav and when they marry late in 1945 he is thirty eight, she is twenty three. He is assigned to Thal, a tiny village, and they live in a simple stone house at the top of a hill, 100 yards from a ruined old castle, on the single unpaved road in the village. There is no plumbing, no shower, no flushing toilet, and the nearest well is a quarter of a mile away. They make do, scraping by on his meagre wage through hard work and thrift – an ethic they will instil in their children.

They quickly have a son, Meinhard, and struggle along despite the widespread famine in newly-occupied Austria. In 1947, with the famine ongoing and at its worst, they have another son. In this small, impoverished stone house in rural Austria, one of the 20th Century’s greatest stars has just been born. Gustav and Aurelia name him Arnold, and their big, broad genetics and hard working nature will combine to make Arnold Schwarzenegger one of the most influential men in modern American culture.

Both boys are encouraged by their father to frequently take part in sport, particularly football. As the children grow up, they start to do sit ups to earn their breakfast as well as doing a lot of chores. At 15, Arnold decides to take up weightlifting over football, attending a gym in nearby Graz. The dedication his harsh father has drilled into him leads him to break into the gym when it is closed on weekends. At 18, he serves in the army as part of his military service. During basic training, he goes AWOL to take part in the Junior Mr Europe bodybuilding contest – the week he spends in military prison is made worthwhile by him winning the competition. In 1966, he takes a plane for the first time to go to London for the Mr Universe competition. He comes second but a judge spots his potential and invites him to live with his family in London to train him. A year later, age 20 and with a slowly improving grasp of English, Arnold wins the Mr Universe title – the first of three. He moves to Munich and goes to business school, recognising that his Mr Universe titles are the way to achieve his long-held ambition of moving to the US.

In 1968 he moves to LA, training at Gold’s Gym and embarking on the path to being an American legend. He wins the first of seven Mr Olympia titles in 1970, but his brother Meinhard dies in a drink driving accident in 1971 followed by his father a year later. Arnold doesn’t attend his funeral, and by this stage he’s had his first film role in Hercules in New York…

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