Tag Archives: The Voices

Owen’s 2015 In Film: Part 11 – No(tmanyfilms)vember

In the penultimate entry to Owen’s 2015 in review series that has been looking back on all of the movies he’s watched during each month of the year, he discusses a few of the films he’s seen in November.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

cg-buckle1If October was my busiest movie-watching month of the year, watching at least one horror film every single day, then November was something of a respite period. When I wasn’t writing stuff for my University assignments, then I was writing a new blog post every single day, or occasionally even finding time to review movies on here.

What I apparently didn’t find time for is actually watching more films. I think this past month is possibly the first time since around 2011 that I actually went four days in a row without watching anything at all. Not only did that happen once, but twice! What kind of behaviour is that for a man who supposedly runs a film podcast?

Although, some of that time that I didn’t spend watching films, I did spend productively. I appeared on the pilot of The Bottle Episode‘s new podcast, talking about my TV genealogy, which was a lot of fun. I also drove down to Wikishuffle HQ and interviewed Chris Wallace and Phil Sharman about their show and Best Comedy Podcast award, which you can watch on my YouTube channel.

Anyway. Back on topic, I suppose I better get on with discussing a few films that I’ve seen lately, starting with…


Week 1: Sunday 1 – Sunday 8 November 2015

Sunday – The Blair Witch Project (1999); Monday – The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Batman (1966), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994); Saturday – Iris (2015), HUDSON HAWK (1991); Sunday – Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

hudson-01I’ve already moaned about this on the podcast, but I honestly don’t think I can fully portray just how bad I thought Hudson Hawk was. For those that don’t know, Bruce Willis plays a cat burglar recently released from prison, who is set up with a new job to steal various Da Vinci inventions from museums. Hidden in said items are special diamonds required to power an alchemy machine, turning lead into gold. I said it at the time and I stand by it now, even after the steam has stopped blowing from my ears, but Bruce Willis (credited as a story writer) is absolutely appalling in what is one of the worst movies I have seen all year. Possibly even ever. From the eye-rollingly bad premise that’s too absurd to contemplate, to the lamentable performances and sickeningly smug comedy skits, it’s just horrendous. I’m sure it was probably a lot of fun to make, as Danny Aiello, Richard E Grant, Andie MacDowell etc all seem to be enjoying themselves in what I think is supposed to be a throwback to old fashioned goofball comedy capers; it just doesn’t translate into anything even remotely associated with the word “fun” for the viewer. It’s definitely one to avoid.


Week 2: Monday 9 – Sunday 15 November 2015

Monday – He Named Me Malala (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Green Butchers (2003)

2a9435Going right back to where this blog series all started with last October’s Horrorble Month, where I watched one horror film every day in the build up to Halloween, the very first review I wrote was for Witchfinder General. I don’t remember when I first watched Michael Reeves’s English folk-horror, starring Vincent Price as the infamous Matthew Hopkins. What I do remember is that it was then – and still is now – one of my favourite horror films of all time. It might possibly have been my first introduction to Price, kick-starting my love-affair with his movies. It’s atmospheric, dark and uncomfortable to watch as you might expect. Whether it’s because the charismatic witchfinder himself is asserting his influence to sexually assault and murder women, or from the sheer brutality of the violence, it’s a chilling historical drama. I think this time around, one thing struck me more than any other, which was the fact that you never understand Hopkins’ motivation for doing what he does. Not properly. You don’t know whether or not he believes he’s actually on a mission from God, or if he’s just a sadistic killer who is after fame and fortune. It’s odd that I’ve never really noticed that before. It seemed like a glaring omission at first, but the more I thought about it, the more clever I thought it was. Hopkins (the real Hopkins who was responsible for around 60% (nearly 300) of ALL the women killed in the 17th century accused of witchcraft) was a monster. Leaving the film character’s motivations as clouded as the real man’s were, it’s entirely fitting. And, more to the point, doesn’t matter. Price’s subtleties in the role are more than enough to keep you interested in the character – and again, credit to the young director for winning Price’s respect and forcing him to tone down his occasional tendency to perform with a certain… vivaciousness. Excuse the plug for a moment, but I wrote up a piece on Witchfinder General for my blog, Films As News, which you can read here.


Week 3: Monday 16– Sunday 22 November 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – THE VOICES (2015); Saturday – X-Men: First Class (2011); Sunday – Don’t Look Now (1973)

The-Voices-01-GQ-10Mar15_rex_b_813x494I think I owe Callum a certain degree of gratitude for being so insistent earlier this year that The Voices was one of the best films of 2015. If it wasn’t for his continuous recommendations for this psychological horror comedy, starring Ryan Reynolds as a delusional psychopath whose dog and cat talk to him (both of which are voiced by Reynolds), it might have passed me by entirely. As it happens, I’m inclined to agree with his assertion that it genuinely may be one of the most underrated gems of the entire year so far. It’s almost guaranteed to make my top 10 list when I submit it for the Failed Critics Awards (ahem, please vote in them this year as soon as you’re done with reading this article!). As Callum also pointed out in his review, to say too much about The Voices would be to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. Suffice to say, it’s a plot that escalates in its complexities as Reynolds’ character, Jerry, stops taking his meds. Whilst I’m positive there’s a message behind the film about not-so-much perhaps mental illness and how it affects people, but more about a general social conscience and how we, the mentally well, perceive them, the mentally unwell. With Jerry more contented to live in a fantasy world as it makes his grim situation more easy to digest, there’s a sadness in what feels like an uncomfortable truth. Marjane Satrapi deserves to take credit for the way she portrays Jerry’s dreamlike existence with its vibrant colours that fade or get stronger, depending on what stage his mental wellbeing is at, but I also think that Michael R Perry’s script is incredibly detailed and it just seems like the perfect combination of style and substance that’s so very rare. So if Callum’s recommendation wasn’t strong enough for you, let me add my weight behind it too. Go see it! It’s on UK Netflix right now so you have no excuses. Unless you don’t subscribe to Netflix, I guess.


Week 4: Monday 23 – Monday 30 November 2015

Monday – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Event Horizon (1997); Friday – The Warriors (1979), Zardoz (1974); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Force Majeure (2015); Monday – Cartel Land (2015), THE COMEDIAN’S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL (2016)

James-bombing-on-stageI’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games again. I made my feelings quite clear on the podcast that week that it’s just not a series of films I’ve particularly enjoyed. In fact, I am struggling to think of a series of movies that I’ve invested so much time into and got so little out of with each passing entry in the series. Especially as I didn’t even enjoy the first bloody one! Instead, I’m going to talk about (and not review) a film that I went to see the test screening of in London that’s due for release sometime next year. It’s called The Comedian’s Guide To Survival and stars James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) as the struggling stand-up comedian, James Mullinger. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Mullinger is not only an actual professional comedian with his own TV show, but is also (and more importantly, I’m sure) the co-host of the first Failed Critics spin-off podcast, Underground Nights, along with Paul Field. The movie about his life (which he wrote along with director Mark Murphy) had an audience test screening that Paul, Carole and I went along to see at the Courthouse Hotel. It’s a bit weird going to see a film about the life of someone you kind-of know. Mostly, as Paul and I discussed on our way there, what happens if the film turns out to be.. well.. shit? Do you lie about it? Do you not say anything at all? As it turned out, it wasn’t an issue, because the film was thankfully very funny. With support from various British comedy actors such as Paul Kaye, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap and so on, I think it could go on to be a success next year. Word of warning, though: don’t buy a round of drinks at Soho hotels. £28 for three drinks! What a rip off. (Cheers for that by the way, Carole. I’ll buy you one next time….)


And that’s it. Only one more of these to go that I will be scrabbling around to write in the following few weeks. If you’ve any thoughts about the reviews above, or if you disagree and want to tell me why I’m wrong, leave a comment in the box below or message me over on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you all in the new year!

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Failed Critics Podcast: Ant-Man

ant man 1Welcome one and all to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are this week joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne to review big-budget pint-sized Marvel superhero movie Ant-Man! There’s both a spoiler-free discussion on the film and a return of our ‘spoiler alert’ right after the end credits where we go into more specific details.

Also featured on this week’s podcast: Owen discusses the 1970’s Werner Herzog movie Stroszek; Brooker finally manages to get his hands on The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds; Matt is back to say a few things to say about Terminator Genisys; and Steve puts him through the Danny Dyer film The Other Half ….with very good reason!

There’s even time for the group to mull over the Attack On Titan trailer, talk about our latest celeb Twitter follower after the very first Failed Critics meet up and we “react” to the as yet unreleased Spectre trailer.

Join us again next week for the return of our TV Special in honour of the biggest new release this week. No, not Southpaw. No, not Inside Out either. No, not even Maggie.

“Oh no. Oh Hell no! Surely you don’t mean… it’s not….. it can’t be… no way….??”

Yes way. It’s the eagerly anticipated release of Sharknado 3!

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The Best of 2015 Thus Far

As we’re now well and truly past the half-way mark for the year, it seems like as good a time as any for a few of the Failed Critics contributors to bundle together and reveal which films they’ve enjoyed the most so far. Come December, we’ll still be running the annual Failed Critics Awards, giving you the opportunity to cast your vote for your favourite films of 2015.

In the meantime, let’s have a quick run through of what some of our writers and podcasters have chosen as their five favourite films of the year. Will the biggest film of the year so far, Jurassic World, be featured? Will United Passions somehow infect this article too? Will anyone pick anything other than Mad Max?? Find out below…


by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad maxFighting the urge to fill my word limit with just paragraphs of me repeating the words “Perfect”, “Awesome” and “The most fun I’ve had this year with clothes on”, I’ll try and be a little more cohesive in my description. It had been thirty years since the last film in the iconic Mad Max franchise, to bring a fourth entry to a series after that long is a massive undertaking at the best of times. But when its original star is as iconic as the film’s that made him famous, replacing him as well would be a recipe for disaster in any other filmmakers hands. Thankfully for all of us, the series’ creator made a triumphant return and gave us one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. A breathtaking, visceral two hours (on three occasions) in the cinema left me shellshocked and shaking with excitement and almost unable to write my review when I got home I was so pumped. Oh, and there’s a dude on a truck made of drums and speakers playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar! No more needs to be said!

2] Ex Machina

3] Whiplash

4] Still Alice

5] It Follows

WORST: Avengers: Age of Ultron – Years of subtle hype and weeks of actual hype in the buildup to this, the biggest Marvel movie yet. What we got was a more than two hour long wet fart of a film that left me blindingly disappointed with a really bad taste in my mouth.


by Paul Field (@pafster)

1] Wild Tales

wild talesDark, twisted and utterly enthralling anthology from Argentina. All of the stories are great, no fillers here as is often the case with anthology films. I love a revenge film, and to have 6 served up in one sitting is a real treat. Hard to pick my favourite… the parking ticket is brilliant, the plane passengers unsettling and hilarious, the overtaking motorist caper that escalates out of all control…..but I think the Wedding. Pissing off the bride on her wedding day is an absolute no no, and here, she conveys her displeasure in spectacular fashion. As a first feature from Damián Szifron, this is outstanding and will take some toppling come the end of the year.

2] Hyena

3] Creep

4] We Are Still Here

5] Buzzard

WORST: Lost River Ryan Gosling believing his own hype, delivers the most pretentious load of cobblers ever committed to film. Utter, utter toilet.. and yes, I’ve seen United Passions, Accidental Love and the new Danny Dyer film this year too. Its worse than all three of those, on repeat, for eternity.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

1] Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdmanReleased in the UK on 1 January 2015, I still don’t think I’ve seen a funnier, more entertaining film in the cinema all year. Michael Keaton is absolutely phenomenal as the flailing former superhero movie star attempting to reinvent himself as a stage actor and producer. His manic behaviour, coupled with director Iñárritu’s frenetic, constantly adapting story shot as if the whole production was just one long take; I just loved every minute of it. However, I was hesitant to put it as number one on my list, given a couple people I’ve recommended it to have hated it! But ultimately, despite seeing it only two days into the year, nothing else has managed to better it yet for me.

2] Mad Max: Fury Road

3] Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

4] Cobain: Montage of Heck

5] John Wick

WORST: United Passions – Technically not even released in the UK this year, and unlike Jupiter Ascending (cinema) and The Man With The Iron Fists 2 (VOD), I didn’t even watch this legally. But if there’s a more abhorrent, reprehensible piece of offensive propagandist garbage with as high a budget and released globally within the next decade, I’ll be surprised.


By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max 4I’m still thinking about this movie, weeks after seeing it. The action, the character, the dialogue, the music and most importantly, the SCALE. It’s over the top in every sense and works for me on every level. I can’t wait to get hold of the home release and enjoy it without the hindrance of 3D. Absolutely superb movie!

2] American Sniper

3] Furious 7

4] Jurassic World

5] Terminator Genisys

WORST: Fifty Shades of Grey Bloated, tacky, overly polished and un-sexy. I didn’t get an erection and I didn’t get a shag that night.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

1] The Theory of Everything

theory of everythingThe Stephen Hawking biopic earned lead man Eddie Redmayne an Oscar and deservedly so. His portrayal of a genius of a man going through various stages of a terrible, life changing illness was extremely believable. The film also put over a side of Hawking you don’t often see, the friend, parent and husband, not the man who invented time. Or something.

2] Ex Machina

3] Kingsman: The Secret Service

4] Selma

5] Furious 7

WORST: United Passions Garbage of the highest order. I found Tim Roth less deplorable playing a racist in Selma than I did playing Sepp Blatter in this tripe. It’s offensive that it was even made.


by Callum Petch (@CallumPetch)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max fury roadFury Road is the kind of film whose existence is a reminder that this Movies thing might be alright after all, a beacon of hope that we can all look to in dark times and remind ourselves that we can, in fact, have it so much better.  From its uncomplicated story, to its unique world and set design, to its outstanding special effects, to its jaw-dropping practical stunts, to its brilliantly subtle Tom Hardy performance, to its mesmerising Charlize Theron performance, to its openly and furiously feminist and matriarchal heart, every last frame of this utter masterpiece is what I have heard perfection is supposed to be like.  It is everything that modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking isn’t, a purposeful pushback against everything wrong with those films right now that, in a just world, will have everyone following its example in the years to come.  Both times that I saw this movie, my veins pulsed with pure adrenaline from frame one and the feeling did not stop until long after I left the screen in tears of pure joy at that perfect final shot.  I foresee nothing else coming anywhere close to it for the rest of this year, mainly cos I have no idea what’ll happen to me if there is a better film than Fury Road to come.

2] Magic Mike XXL

3] The Voices

4] Shaun The Sheep Movie

5] Spy

WORST: Entourage  I said everything I needed to say about this reprehensible piece of abysmal shite here and here.  I’m not going to repeat myself.

US Box Office Report: 10/07/15 – 12/07/15

The Minions are their own boss, The Gallows has made back its budget 100x over, people were selfish and didn’t see Self/Less, it’s not been a good week to be a limited release, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

It was only a matter of time.  They started off innocuously in 2010’s Despicable Me, cute little comic relief characters whom we all collectively agreed were the best part of that otherwise mediocre movie.  Then the merchandising flood started and we happily accepted it because they were adorable.  Then their involvement in the films increased exponentially with Despicable Me 2 and we cheered because Despicable Me 2 was a great film, so what’s the problem?  Then those irritating Facebook memes started – useless, insincere attitude stock phrase bullsh*t that pasted random Minions onto their rubbish and called it a day – and we shook our heads in dismay but did nothing.  And then it happened.  Universal drowned us in marketing for the Minions spin-off movie, and you couldn’t avoid them.  Everywhere you turned.  Merchandise, posters, adverts, Amazon packaging.  Nowhere was safe, nowhere was free.  The takeover had occurred, we had to submit to our new Minion overlords for they had won.  They had conquered.

Therefore, Minions opened to $115 million this past weekend, making it the second-biggest opening weekend for any animated feature ever.  May God have mercy on us all.

Meanwhile, like it or not, The Gallows is actually a roaring success.  Oh sure, a fifth place opening of $10 million may not seem like a success, but that’s ignoring the fact that the film allegedly only cost $100,000 to make.  Such is the beauty of Blumhouse Productions, a production company that can get a horror movie made so cheaply that it is almost literally impossible for them to make a film that bombs.  It’s kinda like how Uwe Boll used to be able to write off half of the budgets for his various “movies” through complicated tax breaks except, y’know, Jason Blum has actually produced a good film or two in between his crap.  Plus, he quite literally has three more films coming out in the next two months, so it’s not like this mediocre performance is going to slow him down or anything.

Elsewhere, Tarsem Singh tried to bring back intellectual sci-fi with Self/Less, a film about whether it’s morally justifiable to force Ryan Reynolds to do bad things that he doesn’t want to do, as opposed to those bad things he chose to do like Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past.  Unfortunately, this is Tarsem Singh we’re talking about here, and so the director of Mirror, Mirror proceeded to apparently make a terrible movie that squanders all of its potential.  Consequently, since reviews are make or break for these kind of films, the film has tanked with barely $5 million for eighth place.  Dammit, people!  You can’t stop the Reynoldssaince!  No matter how hard you try, it won’t be stopped!

Having a similarly bad weekend was pretty much every limited release that came out this week.  Doing the best of the lot was Do I Sound Gay?, a documentary examining the stereotype of the gay voice that brought in a decent $11,000 from its one screen.  Next up there was Boulevard, an apparently underwhelming drama that we will all see anyway because it’s Robin Williams’ final role, with $7,000 from one screen.  “Globe-trotting” comedy Meet Me In Montenegro, and I don’t need to see or hear any second of that movie after seeing the phrase “globe-trotting” used non-ironically when describing a film’s genre in 2015, did poorest with $6,000 from 10 screens for a dismal per-screen average of you work it out.  All of these movies were out-performed by a re-issue of the 1992 Mel Gibson romance flick Forever Young, which took $70,000 from 14 screens for a $5,000 per-screen average.  Not one part of that last sentence makes any sense to me.


minions

This Full List, like seemingly everything else on the planet right now, is brought to you by the Minions.  Give into the yellow pill-shaped fellas.  Resistance is futile.

Box Office Results: Friday 10th July 2015 – Sunday 12th July 2015

1] Minions

$115,200,000 / NEW

Watched this again with a friend I hadn’t seen in years this past weekend because we got to the cinema too late to catch the first showing of Ted 2 and way too early for the next screening of Amy so had to see something, and also I am why you people are suffering so.  And guess what?  I still liked it!  So all of you Minion haters out there can go suck something that doesn’t make this insult homophobic!

Also, Fun Fact: the animated movie with the biggest opening weekend of all-time is still Shrek The Third with $121 million because you are all far worse than I am.

2] Jurassic World

$18,100,000 / $590,638,000

This will cross $600 million domestic next weekend which is quite literally insane.  It is now the third highest grossing film of all-time worldwide (or it will be, since Box Office Mojo isn’t immediately up-to-date on foreign totals anymore so there may or may not be a delay), which is also insane.  The backlash is insane, the extreme love is insane, the film itself is insane.  It’s all just one big melting pot of insanity.

3] Inside Out

$17,108,000 / $283,638,000

Turns out that this did, in fact, beat Jurassic World when the actuals came in for the three-day weekend last week.  Therefore, it is no longer the only Pixar film to not hit number 1 on the charts!  Yay!  After all, if this apparently amazing film couldn’t hit number 1 but Cars 2 could, then what does that say about us as a collective society?

4] Terminator: 3DS XL

$13,700,000 / $68,718,000

WOO HOO!  It’s failing!  It’s failing!  Uh huh!  Yeah!  Alright!  And even with foreign grosses factored in, it’s still only made $225 million against a $155 million budget!  Ah, life is good, folks.  Life is good.

(*suddenly remembers that the film has yet to open in China*)

Oh, hell, no.  If the Terminator: Vita sequel moves ahead but the Mad Max: Fury Road one doesn’t, sh*t is going to get royally f*cked up, I am warning you right now.

5] The Gallows

$10,015,000 / NEW

Have you seen the initial trailer for this?  In case you haven’t, it’s embedded below, but Cliff Notes are that it’s literally just a girl sobbing for 80 seconds before being Jump Scare Killed.  Does that rub anyone else the wrong way?  I don’t mean in the way that horror is supposed to make you uneasy, I mean in the sense that it seems more than a little exploitative and fetishizing of a woman in distress?  I guess I can give it points for being honest, but still.  You know.  Yeah.

6] Magic Mike XXL

$9,640,000 / $48,359,000

Allow me to use this space to pay my respects to The Dissolve, real quick.  A beacon of pure light and excellence in an Internet film space that seems to be in a race to the bottom, it was the film site that managed to be intellectual without coming off as snobby, diverse without looking down on mainstream film, clever and witty without coming off as snarky, proof that it was possible to write about films without having to be a closed-off academic cretin or a click-bait listicle doofus.  The only real upside to this incredibly sad news is that at least the site is still up for the time being, so you can still read fine articles like Tasha Robinson’s look at how Magic Mike XXL treats female pleasure.

R.I.P. you beautiful angel.  We apparently don’t deserve you, and that just isn’t goddamn fair.

7] Ted 2

$5,600,000 / $71,619,000

Saw this this past weekend and a review will be along in short order.  Man, I wish Seth MacFarlane would write actual jokes again.

8] Self/Less

$5,379,000 / NEW

Bummed to hear that this apparently sucks, although I will in theory get to find out for myself this week, but at least I get to inform you that The Voices is now available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray!  Seriously, go buy that damn movie.

9] Baahubali: The Beginning

$3,575,000 / NEW

I didn’t mention this in my limited release roundup for two reasons.  The first is that 236 screens is really stretching the definition of “limited” for my liking.  The second is that it broke on through to the top 10 so I can talk about it here instead.  Plus, if I mentioned that this film managed an utterly ridiculous $15,148 per-screen average in the limited release section, then that would have discredited my headline, and I really cannot be arsed to go back and change it now.  It’s late, I’m tired, let’s just push on through.

10] Max

$3,420,000 / $33,705,000

I… I really got nothing for this.  This movie’s premise just makes me too sad.  God knows how I’ll make it through the actual movie, I might singlehandedly put a whole load of Kleenex executives’ kids through college.

Dropped Out: Spy, San Andreas, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Dope

Callum Petch, bring it close to my lips, yeah.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Here Comes The Summer

jurassic worldWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast with Steve Norman once again returning to hosting duties. He’s joined as ever by Owen Hughes, with guests Callum Petch and Mike Shawcross.

Unlike the British summer time, we’re bringing you a podcast that seems to go on forever as the team not only review new releases Princess Kaguya, Spongebob Squarepants: A Sponge Out of Water, The Gunman, The Voices AND Divergent Series: Insurgent (or Divergent 2) (or Divergent: Insurgent) (…or just Insurgent…) but also look ahead to those due for release between June and September with a summer 2015 preview triple bill.

Join us again next as we reach our 150th episode!

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The Voices

The Voices is tonally messy, sporadically funny, and more than a little uncomfortable… these are all very good things.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

the voices 1Stop.  If I had my way, this review would consist solely of one sentence that reads “You should go and see The Voices immediately” and then you would go and do exactly that.  See, The Voices is a film that is most definitely not for everybody’s tastes but one of the main reasons why it was very much to my taste sort of constitutes a spoiler.  Further than that, I feel that the full impact of The Voices is best appreciated if you go in, not only with no plot knowledge, with no expectations or pre-conceptions.  Basically, you should really see The Voices.  I won’t tell you why, but you really, really should.

Unfortunately, this site requires a bit more critical reasoning in their film reviews than that.  So, this is your out.  After this paragraph, I will start talking about The Voices and why it is brilliant.  This will also involve spoiling a key plot point that occurs a little over half an hour into the movie but has been plastered all over the trailers anyway.  If you want to heed my advice, then stop reading and go and see The Voices.  Otherwise, we shall commence the act of reviewing in 3… 2…

I have made peace with the fact that Marjane Satrapi is never going to surpass Persepolis.  I mean, how can she?  Persepolis is practically an autobiography, and that kind of personal investment and candid openness in a project is something that one can’t really replicate after that first instance, especially when that instance is as emotionally draining as Persepolis is.  Therefore, at no point in this review will I be comparing The Voices to Persepolis.  They’re from the same director – well, co-director in Persepolis’ case – but they’re not in any way comparable to each other.  Well, also except for the fact that they’re both brilliant.

Yes, in stepping way out of her comfort zone – this is her first English-language feature and it’s a black as all hell horror dramedy hybrid – Marjane Satrapi has only gone and made quite possibly the best film that I have seen so far this year.  Folks, I adore The Voices.  From its opening sequence showcasing just how much of a rural dead-end nowhere that the film’s location, Milton, is, backed by an excessively jaunty theme tune for said town, to its self-consciously pathos-destroying and out-of-place final scene, this film had me in its vice-like grip and refused to let me go.  It’s about as consistent as its protagonist, but, dammit all, I was enthralled and left the cinema in high peppy spirits.

Who is the film’s protagonist?  That would be Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds), a man in his late-20s/early-30s who works at a bathtub factory and who just wants to fit in, be loved, and be kind to others.  Jerry, however, suffers from really bad schizophrenia that causes him to be very socially awkward and self-conscious, alienating most of his co-workers and especially his crush Fiona (Gemma Arterton), and, more importantly, to hold lengthy conversations with his pets.  The dog, Bosco, is basically a kindly and supportive cheerleader who tells Jerry everything he wants to hear; the cat, Mr. Whiskers, is the one that constantly re-enforces Jerry’s worst fears and anxieties, as well as filling his head with violent fantasies.  Jerry’s therapist (Jacki Weaver) would like for him to start taking his pills, but the pills reveal to Jerry just how lonely and miserable his life is which for him is even worse.

Then, one night, after a series of unfortunate events, Jerry accidentally stabs and then mercy kills Fiona.

From that scene on, The Voices reveals itself to be a serial killer – although whether Jerry will agree with Mr. Whiskers’ assessment that he likes killing and kill again forms the brunt of the movie’s conflict, the police waste no time in pegging their suspect as a “serial killer” – horror movie from the perspective of the serial killer.  Satrapi stages scenes like the accidental killing of Fiona near-indistinguishably from the real thing, but they gain a different tone and different lease of life thanks to re-focusing our point of view on the guy committing the killings and his inner struggle with reconciling whether he’s really a good or bad person.  Instead of having the tension be one-sided or even non-existent, every instance of Jerry digging himself deeper into his hole has sympathetic tension both for those caught up in it and Jerry himself, a sincerely likeable man who I just wanted to reach out and hug and tell him that everything will be fine.

Naturally, this all runs the risk of going very, very wrong.  For some viewers, it undoubtedly will have.  The tone lurches wildly and often without warning from horror, to comedy, to drama, to romance, to some combination of the lot and, although the inconsistency is sort of the point, this is not going to be to everyone’s tastes.  The actually funny moments are relatively rare and major laughs are near-non-existent, the film can be legitimately creepy and disturbing but it’s not exactly ‘scary’ in the traditional sense, the constant unease and fear over Jerry’s sanity undercuts any legitimately romantic sequences, and the constant whiplash between genres may dilute the drama for viewers who can’t keep up with or wrap their heads around the chaotic tonal shifts.

For me, this never happened, and for three specific reasons.  The first is that the script, from Michael R. Perry who also co-wrote Paranormal Activity 2, is rock solid.  The film has to pivot around Jerry and Perry never loses sight of Jerry and his inner conflict.  He never makes Jerry a monster simply for dramas-sake, there is always a deep-rooted character reason for anything that Jerry does, and he keeps Jerry somewhat sympathetic right up until the very end.  But he also doesn’t skimp out on the other cast members either, especially in the case of Jerry’s co-worker Lisa (an unreally adorable Anna Kendrick) whose relationship with Jerry forms another backbone throughout the film and gets a surprisingly emotional payoff thanks to Perry developing her just as much as he does Jerry.

The second is in Ryan Reynolds’ utterly outstanding performance as Jerry.  From the outset, Jerry is clearly… off, but not in the offensive or parodic way that such an idea runs the risk of being, and that’s because Reynolds gets the character.  Jerry is clearly different and a bit disturbed, but Reynolds never loses sight of the humanity and kind-hearted nature at the root of him, pitching his performance in such a way that that side of him is amplified or de-emphasised depending on whose point of view the scene is taking but never completely lost.  He’s clearly relishing the part, and especially having the time of his life providing the voices of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, which is what helps sell it.  There is not one trace of smugness or cockiness in his work here; he is Jerry and he is phenomenal.

And third is Marjane Satrapi’s direction.  Separate from her work here, those prior pluses could very quickly be turned into negatives.  The script’s tonal hot potato could have under or over-cooked certain aspects in a lesser director’s hands and caused the film to go completely off-the-rails, whilst Reynolds’ performance could have been totally squandered by a director who isn’t working in-sync with him and tried to force him into something he’s not.  Satrapi, however, wrangles the film’s various tonal shifts into something approaching some semblance of coherent, and seems to actively encourage Reynolds’ performance, building the core of the film around it.

She is also one hell of a visual stylist.  Such an observation shouldn’t be surprising for those that managed to watch or read Persepolis, but she throws herself, and her Production Designer, Udo Kramer, into the task of getting us into the head of Jerry through visual and stylistic cues.  Scenes are over-and-under-lit accordingly, alternately resembling a shiny sitcom set that is at least somewhat close to ‘normal’ and a dingy disrepaired hell-hole depending on Jerry’s state of mind.  A crime scene is set up like a fairy tale landscape, butterflies seem to follow Fiona wherever she goes, Milton itself is drowned in a sea of depressing greys.  There’s also a legitimately horrifying sequence when Jerry actually takes his meds that gains its uncomfortable nature through exceptional set design.  Satrapi’s dedication to telling the story just as much visually as she does everything else turns out to be the extra ingredient needed to make this film soar.

Again, make no mistake, this could have gone so, so wrong.  In fact, for many people, it probably will still have anyway.  The Voices really won’t be for everyone, its utterly schizophrenic and dark as hell nature will make sure of that.  For the people who do or can get with it, though?  Those people are in for a fantastic character study that’s visually dynamic, smartly written, impeccably acted, sometimes rather funny, and utterly weird.  It worked for me, I’ll tell you that, and right now it might be my favourite film of the year so far.  There’s plenty of time left in the year for other films to knock it from that perch, but I’ve got a very good feeling that I will still be thinking about this one long into 2015’s twilight days.

Callum Petch strikes up the band for one last stand.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!