Tag Archives: Thriller

Failed Critics Podcast: The Magic Number

the-accountant

Counting on all of his fingers and toes like a mildly autistic Ben Affleck in this week’s main review, The Accountant, Steve Norman has discovered the magic number!

Turns out that De La Soul weren’t lying and it is three. Steve, Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, if you want to be precise, with Owen Hughes on a camping trip in Wales or something.

As well as yet another 2016 thriller to barely register any thrills, there’s also room on this week’s bitesize episode to review two other new releases, as Brooker dissects Nocturnal Animals and Paul kicks off the section with a new horror film, Rupture, starring Noomi Rapace.

We also have What We’ve Been Watching with competitive tickling documentary (no, really), Tickled, plus indie horror The Neighbour – and even a few softcore pornos make it on with the boss absent (sort of). Tsk tsk.

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The Accountant

accountant_09413

“You have to choose. Are you going to be a victim?”

So it seems my hopeful search for a great thriller in 2016 is over. The last of the high profile cinematic rollercoasters has hit the screens and now we must prepare ourselves of the onslaught of Christmas ensemble movies that are incoming.

Luckily, whilst most of this year’s thrillers have barely been able to hit average in my books – only really thrilling in the same way that paying £15 for a ticket to the latest churned out Halloween nonsense can be called horrifying – The Accountant at least has a decent stab at dragging us to the edges of our seats. And while it isn’t always successful in its endeavours, it’s a damn sight better than a lot of its recent competition.

Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a man who has grown up with a few factors that decided his fate early on. First, he suffers from what appears to be Asperger’s Syndrome; an inability to communicate with the majority of the world, as well as a few other telling issues that we get to see as the film goes on. Christian has a difficult life ahead of him. A life made worse by point number two: Left with his tough-as-nails military father after his mother decides she can’t cope and leaves, Wolff’s traumatic childhood is made harder when his old man tries to teach him about the world his own way.

Fast forward a few decades and Wolff has made the very best of his situation. He’s become an accountant with the uncanny ability to unravel even the most complicated books around. This makes him an invaluable asset to everyone from the locals doing their returns, to crime bosses looking for skimmed cash. When a run-of-the-mill job for a corporation uncovers more than it should have, Wolff and the company accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves on the receiving end of an awful lot of guns-for-hire looking to take them out. All the while, he’s being investigated by a treasury agent (the always splendid JK Simmons) with a bit of a thing against our main character.

The Accountant is another one of these films that no one seems to know how to market. Delayed to let the market react to Batfleck earlier this year, it’s advertised as this strange action thriller hybrid and doesn’t really fully check either of those boxes. But whilst most of what I want to say about the film is complimentary, it doesn’t feel like it when I say that it’s played out better than most of its ilk this year.

But I do want to be positive and complimentary. There’s plenty of good stuff to say about The Accountant. For starters, Affleck’s portrayal of Wolff and his issues is nothing short of brilliant. The film goes to some considerable length to not name our main character’s affliction, yet Affleck does a wonderful job of convincing us that, even as an adult, he has issues leaving work unfinished or maintaining eye contact; all tell tale signs of his lifelong struggle with his condition.

Likewise, the way the film makes you feel hatred for Wolff’s father for the way he treats his son is beautifully offset when you realise that the accountant has essentially used his upbringing to turn what would possibly cripple some into something close to a superpower. When you see that Christian is really an accountant/lethal killing machine, you are almost impressed by what his old man did, whether or not it was cruel at the time.

With a superb cast supporting him, Affleck really does shine in his role, as do Simmons and Kendrick, with John Lithgow and John Bernthal doing a decent job bringing up the rear. Although, with such a cast, you may end up (as I did) wanting just a little more from the guys we got on screen.

And that’s something that can be said about a lot of the film. You’re left wanting just a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more. Director Gavin O’Connor – the man behind films like Pride and Glory and Warrior, (favourites of mine) – seems to lose his way in the middle of his two hour math-a-thon. Our introduction to Christian Wolff goes very well, and the flashbacks to his childhood are interesting. I’m enthralled once the final act begins and we get to see Wolff the super killing machine, but the middle, say, thirty minutes, seem to sag. Not knowing how to push the story forward and get us to the reveal we all knew was coming, it just seems to stutter a bit trying to get to its last section. A real shame for a film with so much going for it.

But don’t be disheartened. I thoroughly enjoyed The Accountant. I just wanted it to be ever so slightly tighter than it turned out to be.

The Girl on the Train

“When I saw her, with him, I felt nothing but rage.”

I’ve said it before. Super-twisty crime-thrillers are a real favourite of mine. To immerse myself in a film for a couple of hours wondering whether or not I’ve figured out the inevitable twist is one of my favourite things to do. Second only really to watching a good horror film.

I’d been looking forward to The Girl on the Train for quite some time. Not least of all because Emily Blunt is nothing short of amazing and the trailers made it look like this year’s Gone Girl – more on that later – but also because a good thriller can be quite hard to come by sometimes. This one looked to scratch the itch well.

Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a woman who spends her commute to the city in the same seat every day, staring out of the same window of her train. Most days, the train slows down at the exact same point on the tracks allowing Rachel a glimpse into the same few houses and the same few inhabitants, just for a couple of minutes. She concocts stories for the families she sees, connecting with these total strangers better than anyone she knows in real life. Watching married couple Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) live what she thinks is the perfect life, she purposely fills herself with jealousy staring at the life she wants.

When Rachel sees Megan apparently cheating on her other half, this fires up a rage in her that she hasn’t experienced before. The near psychotic alcoholic makes the decision to get off the train a few stops early and confront the woman that’s ruined her fantasy for her. Chasing Megan under a railway bridge, drunk and hurling abuse, Watson sets in motion a series of events that (whilst she doesn’t remember it) ends in the disappearance of the unfaithful Megan and a police investigation that may, or may not, have The Girl on the Train as their main suspect. Rachel fights to prove her innocence and rescue her sanity as her world starts to crumble around her.

The Girl on the Train screams of a film rushed into production because a certain other film based on a book was received so very well. But the sad fact is, this flick is nowhere near as good as it’s advertised to be.

The film’s story is almost incomprehensible as its flashbacks try to set the scene while simultaneously telling her story in the present day. But with nothing discernibly separating the flashbacks from the current scenes, you’re left wondering for longer than you should be about what part of the timeline you are watching. It seems that The Help director Tate Taylor had a few ideas that he wanted in his film, but either didn’t take, or ignored, advice on whether or not these things should be in his movie. Smash cutting blurry flashbacks might be trying to convey the feeling of trying to remember what you done when you were drunk, for example, but all it did was leave me feeling like I need to go have a word with the projectionist for fuzzing up my film. It’s so grossly over directed that nothing really got to shine in the two hours I was watching it for. The same can be said for its editing; shredded to within an inch of its life, The Girl on the Train is just a mess of a film to watch.

Blunt is trying very hard, and she’s always good to watch, but even she can’t rescue the film. Her performance is easily the best thing about the flick, but to say that I’m damning her with faint praise would be understating it quite a bit. Her perfect couple are decent to watch: Luke Evans and Haley Bennett are passable as a happy-on-the-surface couple, but Evans doesn’t really convince me when things start to go tits up. Similarly, Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson as Rachel’s ex-husband and new wife, caught up in the middle of our main character’s psychotic break, feel like an afterthought for a large portion rather than the quiet subplot that they are. It’s a shame to watch a few well-known actors, who all have a decent role or two on their IMDB page, do such a clunky job of telling this story.

For a film relentlessly marketed like the next Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train doesn’t even have the chops to sit on the same shelf as Fincher’s superb thriller. Every ad made us believe we were off so see another beautifully twisted thriller that would leave you pondering the-girl-on-the-trainafter it was done. Sadly, once you got through the dodgy direction and erratic editing, what we were left with was something so bland and formulaic that to call its twist a “twist” would be close to false advertising.

Blood Father

“You trying to tell me we’re being chased by realtors?”

It seems that Mel Gibson has finally passed through that awkward “no one will work with me” phase onto the next stage of his Hollywood forgiveness story. “You can have this straight to VOD flick of you want it.”

So now that Jean-François Richet (the director behind Mesrine and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) has got himself a little action thriller about a grizzly old ex-con getting a second shot, Gibson seems the perfect fit.

After his daughter Lydia accidentally kills the cartel higher up she’s been shacking up with, Mel Gibson’s Link (not the tiny dude from the Zelda franchise) finds himself on the bad side of a seemingly endless number of cartel hitmen when he takes in his long estranged kid. An AA attending, down-and-out, ex-con biker, living out of a caravan that doubles as his tattoo workshop; not only is this fucking guy a trope-laden stereotypical mess, but he’s the perfect guy to have looking after you if you’ve got a heavy (or forty) chasing you.

Racing across the state, hiding out in biker bars, seedy motels and dodgy warehouses, the tropes come thick and fast as the father/daughter team try to stay alive long enough to make sure the people chasing them aren’t.

Blood Father is a perfect Saturday night flick. Good for a few beers, a few mates and take out because you can literally not pay attention for half hour and still know exactly what is going on. It doesn’t really have a point outside of letting Mr Gibson swear a lot and look like a pumped up bad ass in a vest. But it’s something he does so well, you can forgive the shallowness of the rest of the film and just enjoy 90 minutes of quips and gunfights.

Okay, it gives the one-time superstar the chance to plead to the screen and implore to the audience to believe him when he says over and over again that he’s clean and sober and has been for ages. But honestly, this dumbass film is enough fun that you just can’t let it ruin your time with the film.

Basically taking all the over-used bits from every redemption themed action film ever, adding a few Sons of Anarchy rip-offs and the word “Sicario” a few times just to make themselves seem relevant now the world knows what that word means, Blood Father is a greatest hits compilation tape of all the straight-to-DVD films you have ever seen, with old Martin Riggs sporting a pretty cool beard dropped in the middle. Really fucking stupid name for a film though.

But you can’t take anything away from Mad Mel. He pours his heart and soul into this film and it’s much better for it. He’s trying so very hard to give a good performance and make a good film that he actually makes even the worst parts of this film watchable.

It’s never gonna win any of the good awards, and pretty much the only reason it’ll avoid the Razzies is the supreme amount of shit that has been released this year. But, that doesn’t stop it from being the perfect film to give you the chance to switch off your brain and watch a little mindless stupidity.

Imperium

“They need men of action, like you. Like me.”

If you want to remove your clean cut look in Hollywood, then a grimy thriller is definitely the way to do it. The nicer your previous characters were, the worse your next film has to be. And seeing as 2013’s Horns didn’t seem to land all that well, Daniel Radcliffe is going all kinds of hardcore to kick off his Harry Potter look. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I present to you, Harry Potter vs the Nazis.

Nate Foster (Radcliffe) is a young, idealistic FBI agent. He’s got a way with people and knows how to talk to criminals to get the most out of them. This skill grabs the attention of Agent Zamparo (Toni Colette) who convinces him that the tried and tested ways of staring at certain religious groups isn’t the way to catch the worst terrorists; looking at more domestic white supremacists is likely to be more fruitful.

Putting aside his suit and glasses and lacing up his boots after shaving his head, Foster finds an in with the local skinheads and works his way into the murky depths of the Hitler worshiping awfulness that is this group. Using a cover that includes a military background and a medical supplies company, the undercover agent is able to convince the Nazis that he can help them in their plans. But the young agent has to work to not only bring down the Arian collective he’s found himself a part of, but to also keep his head straight in a game that’s stacked against him.

Nazis, as an antagonist, are a very easy target for films like this – rightly so, they’re cunts – but where my issue begins and pretty much ends with this film is that no real development is given to these skinheads. You could literally drop Radcliffe into any bad-guy group and get the same result.

Ok, so he does try, and the writer (Michael German) and director (Daniel Ragussis) have done a little research to make it look like work went into the young agent’s infiltration, but I just don’t believe it. Instead of digging, just a little, into the reasons these guys do what they do, instead of looking at their motivations; the filmmakers simply trot out a few of the more well known Nazi/skinhead stereotypes and more or less leave it at that.

That’s not to say it’s not a good film. Far from it. I actually really quite enjoyed my time with Imperium, but it needed just a little more. You can’t substitute character development and good film making for an extremely famous goody-goody actor screaming racial slurs and throwing Nazi salutes and expect us to not notice how shallow your film is.

Imperium does do plenty right though. Most obviously in Radcliffe’s role. Going from comedically floppy hair to tattooed skinhead is one of the most drastic transformations I’ve seen in a while. Like I previously mentioned, he is pretty believable once he starts having to spout propaganda to keep his cover intact and there is plenty about his performance to like.

Tension (when it’s there) is decent and you are a little worried about the impressionable agent’s wellbeing. Sadly, it doesn’t dig deep enough into the “what if you spend too long undercover” thing that you expect it to. While no real time indicator is there, his rise through the ranks is too quick to be just a few days and anything more would affect your psyche, no doubt.

Overall, Imperium is safe and by-the-numbers. It feels like it has more than a passing acquaintance with 20 year old football hooligan film ID and if I was to give a recommendation, it’d be to go watch the ultra-violent British thriller first, just so you see what I mean.

Now You See Me 2

“I hope you’ve been watching closely.”

In 2013, The Transporter director Louis Leterrier brought a little ensemble heist caper to the screen with Now You See Me. With aspirations to be the next Ocean’s Eleven, the film added a cool magical element to spice things up a little from the norm and hopefully make it stand out from the crowd. Sadly, the film set up well, went in a good direction but ultimately shot it’s load early, leaving a limp and disappointing ending.

So of course, we needed a sequel.

A year after successfully escaping the FBI and convincing the world that one of them is dead, the Four Horsemen are itching to get back into the limelight. Our heroic magicians, playing out their own Robin Hood story are finally handed their latest mission by the secret society that they are a part of, The Eye.

When their latest series of tricks set to expose and embarrass another upstanding asshole goes horribly wrong, The Horsemen find themselves the targets; not just of the local law enforcement agencies, but from a faceless voice who has a job for them. Foiling their escape and dropping the magicians off in Macau, the owner of the voice reveals himself to be technology prodigy Walter Maybry; a man with a somewhat personal issue with the wand waving band of thieves. Having been sent off to steal a super computer chip, the Horsemen must find a way to pull off their heist, expose the psychotic tech genius and keep themselves alive and out of a cell.

*Almost* the whole gang is here. Jessie Eisenberg’s Danny Atlas, Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder and Woody Harrelson’s Merrit McKinney all return as the Horsemen, led by – SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST FILM – Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Shrike. Out for the sequel are Isla Fisher and director Leterrier. In are replacement Horsewoman? Horselady? Lizzie Caplin as Lulu; new director John M. Chu (the man behind such hits as Step Up 2 and GI Joe: Retaliation) and shiny new bad guy Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Maybry.

The film plays more or less the same beats as the sequel to the film the original was copying. That is to say, we are sitting down to watch a magical Ocean’s Twelve. With a little added stupidity.

Maybry has dragged the illusion loving tea leaves into his diabolical little plot because they messed with him and his interests in the first film. He’s also recruited McKinney’s twin brother Chase, who is basically Woody Harrelson, with Matthew McConaughey’s worst, most permed, romcom hair and an awful soul patch. As the story twists, turns and appears to unravel in front of you; nothing is as it seems as we build towards our big reveal.

Sadly, the sequel has the same pitfalls as the first. There are some really good ideas, some interesting set pieces and I am really liking the slightly more comedic tone the film takes. And I’ll be honest, the trailer for this film has had me intrigued for a little while. Specifically, I wanted to know what the hell – the unusually bearable – Jessie Eisenberg was doing in the rain and the context to the whole thing. I’ve got to say, it’s probably one of the coolest scenes I’ve seen recently. But I won’t ruin anything, mainly because it’s part of the third act but it is a butt load of fun to watch. Equally excellent is the team’s effort to steal the computer chip central to this whole story. A five minute long, beautifully choreographed set piece that had me enthralled the entire time.

If only the rest of the film was as good as these scenes.

For a heist movie, it’s clever, it’s a bit of fun and for the most part it’s a decent film. I’d even call it a good old romp. But like its predecessor, it leads to a damp squib of an ending that is far too convoluted for its own good and drags on for far too long. If you liked the first one, even a little bit, I’d recommend Now You See Me 2. But it doesn’t break any new ground. If you didn’t like the first, this wont do anything to change your mind.

The Nice Guys

the nice guys

“Hey man, that girl in your trunk? She was in that car.”

Almost three decades ago, Shane Black all but invented the buddy comedy when he wrote Lethal Weapon and unleashed Riggs and Murtaugh on the world. One of the most famous – and most infamous – action-comedy duos would propel Black into a string of writing jobs where he would hone his craft.

When it finally came time to make the jump to directing, his debut would of course be one of his own scripts – and it was going to be a buddy comedy. In 2005, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang was almost universally adored and with Marvel tapping the man to helm Post-Avengers set Iron Man 3, he is as close to a household name as a cult film screenwriter has ever been.

Not one to rest on his laurels and take it easy, Shane Black is using his new-found status to get some of his own writing on the big screen to be noticed. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Nice Guys.

Los Angeles, 1977. Days after the death of a well known porn star, hapless private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired by the actress’ aunt, convinced that she’s seen her alive, to track her down. When he finds himself on the trail of young activist Amelia (The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley) he also finds himself on the wrong end of paid enforcer Jackson Healy’s (Russell Crowe) uncanny skill for violently persuading people off of whatever course they happen to be on.

When Amelia suddenly disappears, the unlikely pair find themselves forced to work together and wade through the seedy underbelly of LA to find her; unravel the truth behind the growing collection of bodies that seem to be following them around and try desperately not to end up at the top of that pile of corpses themselves.

Now, some films like to think they’re funny and fail miserably. Some films want to tell a story and never quite seem to keep me interested enough to have me care about it. The beauty of a film like The Nice Guys is that it hits a perfect sweet-spot of really cool story, told brilliantly; and a perfectly paired up couple of polar opposites that get a steady stream of laughs as one hapless detective becomes two.

Headlining our fun little noir crime caper, in unlikely comedic turns for both, are all-but-typecast hard-man Russell Crowe as investigator/leg-breaker Healy – the stereotypical tough guy loner who may (or may not) have a heart of gold – along with his unwitting partner, Ryan Gosling’s equally unlikely funny-turn as the stumbling, bumbling, private eye who moonlights as a single dad to a mouthy, attitude filled teenage girl.

Supported by a pretty stellar cast including Matt Bomer as the hired clean-up guy; Keith David just being Keith David as a long-in-the-tooth heavy sent to beat on Healey; and Kim Basinger popping in for a few scenes and getting to play a high up police official for a bit. All of them come together to give an outstanding overall performance, but are almost completely outshined by relative unknown Angourie Rice as March’s teenage daughter, Holly; a girl whose smarts equal that of any of those she shares the screen with, but has more balls than any of them. She’s just outstanding and a ton of fun to watch.

70’s Los Angeles has been created beautifully, with plenty of subtle – and not so subtle – things to say about the way the world is today. The nuts political landscape in the States, climate change, and I’m sure if I actually understood how the entire city of Detroit went bankrupt a couple of years back, I’d get the point that was being made about the American auto industry. But as it is, I know our writer is poking at someone or some thing. I just don’t get what or who. What makes it great though, is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to get all the little nuances to thoroughly enjoy the film.

To say that Shane Black has found a nice soft chair right in the middle of his comfort zone would, without context, seem a little damning. But the fact is, he has long been the master of the buddy comedy, so he’s throwing the big punches that brought him to this fight and he’s throwing them perfectly. All those years hanging around the pros has given Mr. Black all the experience he needs and in only his third outing as a director has more than proven his ability to stand with the big boys. He delivers The Nice Guys with a precision of pace usually reserved for much more seasoned veterans, without compromising the story or the dialogue that once made him the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood.

The film doesn’t break any new ground, certainly not for its director. When you see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘s noir crime setting, The Last Boy Scout‘s ballsy teenage daughter and, frankly, every great buddy cop movie since 1987 – to name just a couple of the more obvious nods – The Nice Guys feels like you’re watching Shane Black’s greatest hits in one two-hour film.

But man, if you’re going to watch the best bits of someone’s Hollywood career, there aren’t many better to watch than his. I went in expecting a great film, well made, with a clever script and plenty of laughs – and that’s exactly what I got. A thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable film that I’ll gladly pay to go watch again.

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.

Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?

Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.

Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.

Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.

Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.

Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.

Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.

Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.

For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.

It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:

Team Cap
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable

  • Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
  • Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
  • Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
  • Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
  • Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
  • Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.

Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind

  •  Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
  • War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
  • Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
  • Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
  • Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
  • Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.

Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?

It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.

It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.

The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.

However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?

Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.

Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.

Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.

Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.

Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.

Green Room

Green Room

“Blades and fangs for the visitors.”

Ladies, gentlemen, I’ve just seen a nasty, nasty little film. A film that has been called a horror, but isn’t really. One of those tense, violent little movies that no one really knows how to classify but because it’s all blood, gore and suspense, we’ll call it a horror. A film that does interesting and gruesome things with Stanley knives and Nazis that’ll leave you flinching and grossed out.

Ladies, gentlemen, I’ve just seen a fucking brilliant little film.

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (previously responsible for writing and directing 2013’s Blue Ruin), Green Room pits a rock band touring the Pacific Northwest against a group of bloodthirsty skinheads who own the club they have ended up in.

When band “The Ain’t Rights” find themselves in desperate need of a place to perform, they are set up with a well paying gig at a clubhouse in Oregon; a real “boots and braces” kind of place. Being a punk band, the group are used to a few seig heil-ers in their audience and don’t really pay it much attention until things go south, quickly and horribly. When the band – that includes Star Trek‘s Anton Yelchin reuniting with his Fright Night co-star Imogen Poots – stumbles upon a fresh murder, the skinheads in charge take steps to neutralise the people that are about to bring the police down on them.

Locking themselves in the venue’s green room – both “venue” and “green room” are said with a massive pinch of salt; a giant fucking shed covered in swastikas, rebel flags and SS emblems pretty much has a sign over the door that says “super duper Nazi human slaughter house” – the band has to fight their way through psychos with massive knives and some very angry dogs in an attempt to get their stupid selves out safely.

Green Room is a simple little film. There’s no convoluted or confusing story; five guys on one side of a door trying to get out, a ton of bloodthirsty Nazis on the other side trying to get in and somewhere in the middle, there is going to be a shit load of blood. Nasty, ingenious, wince inducing things happen with box cutters and machetes on both sides of that door as the band’s limits, and their bodies, are tested and tested again by the maniacal horde waiting outside for them.

Running the show on the saluting side of the door, is a terrifyingly cold and nasty Patrick Stewart. Light years from the Picards and Professor X’s we have gotten used to over the years, Mr Stewart has sunk his teeth deep into this role and is swinging for the fences. Think Stacey Keach’s Cameron Alexander from American History X but much, much worse. He’s a horrible man with not a nice bone in his body; he oozes evil in every frame and has turned himself into a genuinely terrifying force to be reckoned with. Each and every skinhead looks like he’s terrified of this guy too, it’s an amazingly impressive role for the Shakespearean actor. You almost want to cheer him on and see him win the day, not least of all because the band are a bunch of idiotic, unlikable twat flaps that you really kind of want to see horrible things happen to.

There’s not much else to say about this excellent little flick. Its story is tense and unnerving; its direction and cinematography are terrifyingly claustrophobic; and the acting is absolutely stunning. Its violence is nasty and unforgiving but even its worst parts don’t feel gratuitous. A great, great little film that left me shaken and shell-shocked as it ran its course. I can’t recommend it enough. I can’t wait for the general release so I can go watch it again.

10 Cloverfield Lane

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Preamble warning: I’m not going to include any direct spoilers, but this 10 Cloverfield Lane review may give away some minor plot details. Consider yourself warned.

If the 2008 monster movie, Cloverfield, also produced by JJ Abrams, is an allegory for the end of the Bush regime in the US – as Callum Petch eloquently explained on the latest episode of the Failed Critics Podcast – then it stands to reason that this thematic sequel would be a metaphor for Obama’s reign as President of the largest super-power in the world.

Like almost all good creature-features, there is some semblance of truth in that suggestion. Whether we consider Godzilla and the Pacific ocean atom bomb tests, or I Am Legend for communism (well the novel was at least), District 9 for apartheid or even Ed Wood’s notorious b-movie Plan 9 From Outer Space and the nuclear bomb threat; these sci-fi thrillers are very rarely just about giant monsters, vampire-zombie things or alien invaders. Cloverfield was no different – and neither is Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut.

Taken unconscious from the wreckage of a car accident by Howard (John Goodman), Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens to find herself chained to the wall of a concrete room. Howard explains that he has saved her life, as the world outside of his underground survival bunker has been destroyed by an unknown force – possibly not even one of human origin. After meeting another survivor down in Howard’s bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), Michelle becomes even more suspicious of Howard’s apocalyptic claims.

“Where are the creatures?” I don’t hear you cry, but imagine you are thinking to yourself. Well, actually, forget about the fact that I compared this to a bunch of creature-features. It’s still a post-apocalyptic sci-fi of sorts, with three people holed up in one small fallout shelter with what may or may not be the end of the world. One of whom may or may not be slightly unhinged. And with what may or may not be a metaphor for burying your head in the sand, looking out for only yourself and the consequences of ignoring the world around you. Thanks, Obama.

Sure, all of that can be read into 10 Cloverfield Lane if you look for it. Should you find some extra comfort from observing a meta-text within this evenly structured, well paced and incredibly tense psychological thriller, then bully for you.

I don’t intend to sneer at anyone who can’t or didn’t see the parallels with the political state of the world; it’s entirely plausible that I’ve read too much into the plot considering the comments that I read and heard prior to sitting down in my cinema seat on Friday evening.

It’s quite likely that there may be some form of underlying thread running through the plot, and that it is about a transformational President’s attempts to change America, but that I’ve simply misinterpreted what that message is.

Hell, to be quite honest, it doesn’t even matter if there is or isn’t a subtext, or if you’re aware of unaware of it. What is most impressive about this “blood relative” (to quote JJ Abrams) of the original Cloverfield, is that it stands on its own two feet as a solid, atmospheric, borderline-great modern thriller. You don’t even need to have seen the original film to enjoy this. The two films are only as linked with each other as one episode of Black Mirror or the Twilight Zone is linked to another. Take it as a straight-up one-off story about a potential doomsday scenario if you’d prefer, and you will still enjoy it as much as the next guy. It really doesn’t matter.

On the surface, it seems as though the plot has been done a million times before, but I really can’t think of a film that it most closely resembles. Try and imagine Room mixed with that bit in War of the Worlds and melded with the paranoia of The Thing and I suppose you’re halfway there. Yet the beats are often unexpected and startling. John Goodman is fierce and pretty goddamn bonkers, a combination that serves to enhance the unpredictability of the plot. You are never quite convinced of the truth, but are constantly led to believe he’s both a firmly sincere gentleman and a downright liar.

Coupled with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s resourcefulness and A-Team-esque skills, alongside John Gallagher Jr (who does take a little time for you to warm up to), it’s a very strong cast whose individual character traits perfectly compliment one anothers’ excellent performances. The only thing you’re certain of is that they are all trapped in there together, whether intentionally or by circumstance, and it makes for some rather gripping drama.

Cube! It’s also a bit like the fantastic little science fiction b-movie Cube.

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there.

To sum up, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not an action-packed thriller full of Kurt Russell one-liners, but neither is it a dull, slow burning, contemplative chore. The action sequences, much like the tension, escalate to the point that the finale is as big a showdown (probably bigger) than one might expect from a film set almost entirely within one small bunker. Whilst acknowledging that dropping the found-footage angle does mean that a piece of what gave Cloverfield its distinctive quality is noticeably lacking – it really does feel like it’s all been seen before – nevertheless, it’s still unlike 90% of generic sounding, run of the mill blockbusters that are due out this summer and for that it deserves your attention.

Point Break

Point Break

“This is my path. Let me follow it.”

We’ve all said these words haven’t we?

“Why does Hollywood keep remaking stuff. Just come up with something original.”

Back in 1991, when Kathryn Bigelow made the original Point Break is was just that, original. A young, newly transferred FBI agent reluctantly goes undercover on the beaches of Los Angeles when a hair-brained theory emerges that a string of unsolvable bank robberies are being perpetrated by surfers. Pretty unique, if you ask me.

So, in the latest move from Hollywood’s remake machine – the churn-em-out-o-matic 3000 – we get a dulled down, 12 rated cop “thriller” based around the world of extreme sport. Ladies and gentlemen, Point Break.

After tragedy hits extreme sports star and Monster energy drink peddler Johnny Utah, while working on his most insane YouTube video, the motocross star hangs up his helmet and works to join the FBI. In his last days at the academy, Utah and his class are introduced to a daredevil band of thieves who defeat impossible odds to make their score and make their getaway. With a willingness to go further than the police are to chase them, the bandits seem unstoppable as they dare to ride motorbikes out of a 100 storey window and parachute to safety.

But Utah knows this world. Quickly figuring out that these thieves are trying to complete the “Ozaki Eight”; a series of trials and ordeals that a person must go through to become one with the Earth. The robberies they commit are the groups way of taking from the rich and the corrupt and returning it to those that need it – like Robin Hood, but on surfboards, and bikes, and snowboards, and without the pansy green tights – Utah convinces his superiors he can bring these guys to justice and is sent to the location of the next trial to meet up with his new partner, Pappas, and sets about infiltrating the group. Insanity ensues as the extreme sportsman proves himself to the daring robbers and attempts to put an end to their crimes, and their journey of enlightenment.

I refuse to be completely negative about this flick, so I’ll start with the one good bit Point Break has; its sports action scenes look great. They are filmed well and look absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, that’s the only good thing I can say about this two hour farce of a movie.

Right, let’s get down to this. Point Break fails miserably as a remake of what is a great cop thriller. The entire, err, point, of the original is that Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah spends the movie gaining enlightenment where the men he’s chasing have already achieved what they we’re searching for. Here, Utah (a nickname in the remake, he mentioned his real name once but I forgot/couldn’t be bothered to remember it) is trying to stop these guys seeking nirvana. He makes no personal growth, no feeling that he might not be doing the right thing, there’s no struggle for this former peddler of energy drinks outside of having to live with the bloody awful hairstyle the FBI have apparently let him keep.

Moving on, for those that haven’t seen the original; Bodie and his crew of “Ex-Presidents” – another detail missing from this abomination – are bank robbers. Not murderers. It’s not their way, it’s not what they’re about and it damn sure isn’t the best way to keep yourself out of prison; with the first death at one of their robberies being where things start to go horribly wrong. New Bodie – or Bro-die, as I will now be calling him – however, seems to be perfectly content leaving bodies everywhere he goes. It doesn’t just miss the point of the original, it’s in direct contradiction to the idea of “giving back to the earth” and “finding nirvana and enlightenment” that this waste of film tries to convince us is the point to the groups existence.

This abomination of a film, with almost no redeeming value as entertainment, is a completely lifeless waste of your time. To call it macho is to give it far too much credit and its actors far too much praise. Point Break only really serves to show us what imbeciles these guys look like as they potter around, using stupid made-up words like poly-athlete and pretending to be doing good and giving back as they take sponsorship from a rich Arab dude who lives vicariously through these idiots. Bodie and Utah, the charismatic pair with genuine love and admiration for each other in the original have been turned into a couple of brofisting cocks with all the personality and charisma of an old condom found on the beach. The not-very-dynamic duo spend the almost two hour runtime throwing cups full of old hangover piss over the memory of arguably one of the best cop films of the early nineties.

I can’t imagine this film, which is nothing more than a twat filled douche canoe, populated with very bad tattoos and topknots on cardboard cutouts of unlikeable bellends, having anything for audiences that have never seen the classic Point Break outside of some very nice snowboarding footage – which, to be honest, comes part of a much more enjoyable film if you can sit through xXx – but for fans of the original, this will have you rummaging through your pockets for anything you can push through your eyes, just to make the pain of what you’re watching end. To call this remake pointless and unnecessary is more than stating the obvious at this point, it’s an awful experience that serves no purpose other than to take up screen space where a decent film could have been shown.

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!

Let Go

YQGLYTdZdDmTPM73C51SXP4t2vRTZCnoM62iG3_rb0AThe sun beams through the trees on a new morning. It promises a day full of love, connection and life.

Isabel Dréan’s 14minute long short movie begins with an optimistic view of the world. Two small children, Claire (Milan Coté Dréan) and Mathis (Jaz Coté Dréan), are frolicking about in bed with their mother (Claudia Ferri) before they have to get up for school. Gentle piano keys tinker in the background whilst a warm shade of light shines across the screen as they children’s imagination leads to stories about magic and dinosaurs.

A brief glance again to the heavens outside with sunlight piercing the clouds comes shortly before the family take the car journey to school where once again there’s more singing, more playing and joviality.

But as quickly as this dreamlike sequence begins, it’s suddenly over. We’re back in the bedroom again, but this time, there’s no Claire.

And so the real story of Dréan’s multiple award winning short starts to take shape. There’s a complete tonal shift from what starts out so hopeful and inspiring, moving to a bleak descent into loss and depression. Piece by piece, it fall into place and the true story of a mother having a child ripped from her life takes hold.

It’s a clever way to begin the film because it only makes the latter half even more traumatic an experience. I don’t personally have kids, and even I could feel that sick sensation in the pit of my stomach at what a horrible thing losing a child would be for someone to go through.

I’m not the only person to feel that way too, it seems, as the prestigious Los Angeles New Wave International Film Festival recently awarded Let Go with a Best Picture award. Isabel Dréan also picked up a Best Director award for her achievement.

“This film is very personal to me as I made it with my own children. As a mother, nothing is scarier than the thought of losing a child. It was a very challenging artistic process.  Every one involved was passionate about the project, I’m happy that our team is getting recognized for their effort.”

Whilst it somehow seems a shame that Jérôme Boisvert didn’t pick up an award for his score on Let Go, there is some justice in the world that Philippe Toupin was awarded Best Cinematography for his part in the film. Some of the shots in what is essentially an indie, crowd-sourced project are very impressive indeed. Particularly the final shot – which I’ll refrain from spoiling! But wow. What a way to end it.

From The Babadook, to Secret Sunshine, to even Marley & Me, films about loss, separation, grief and the anxiety that goes with it are almost always guaranteed to make you a bit weepy eyed. It seems like it would be a failure of the filmmakers if you are not to emotionally connected to a story like that.

For Let Go to not only attempt to tackle a subject like that, but to also do it effectively with such a short amount of time, is pretty remarkable. It’s not an easy watch by any means. The foreboding early on and crushing inevitability leaves you squirming a little in your seat, but it’s all the same a neat, affecting short psychological drama.

For more information about Let Go and Isabel Dréan’s work, visit her official website or view the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/141205507.

SPECTRE

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Sam Mendes is back in the hand-stitched, luxurious leather driving seat of the 007 series as the next instalment of British espionage kills and thrills reaches the US shores this weekend.

by Owen Hughes @ohughes86

Celebrating fifty years of James Bond, Eon’s twenty third film in the series, Skyfall, was released back in October 2012 and became an enormous runaway success. Accolade after accolade was poured over it – and rightly so, as it was a thoroughly entertaining action film. Our readers and listeners certainly thought very highly of it, voting it above the likes of Amour, The Intouchables, Argo and The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012’s Failed Critics Awards.

It might be fair to say then that the weight of expectation on SPECTRE couldn’t have been higher. Skyfall ably dealt with the notion that James Bond, the suave British super spy, just wasn’t suited to the modern world. That he was too old. Too outdated. Much like Casino Royale did in 2006, it found a way to make him relevant again.

Surely then, SPECTRE wasn’t going to go over the same old ground, right?

Well, not exactly.

Facing a new Orwellian threat that takes Bond across Europe to track down a secret organisation, whilst also under pressure back home with MI6 under scrutiny for its actions, it crosses almost every box on the 007 checklist. Trains, snow, Bond-girls and Aston Martins; if you’re planning on playing a drinking game with SPECTRE, you will be inebriated within half an hour, having your stomach pumped before you’re even half way through the enormous 148 minute run time, and dead before the film has finished.

But it’s not just regular tropes of the series that make a re-appearance. Again, the idea that the secret agent is an outdated practice is continued from the previous movie. Whilst Skyfall focussed primarily on James Bond being too old, this time around it’s expanded to examine the methods employed by MI6 as a whole.

Although SPECTRE is mostly entertaining, one of its biggest problems is that by asking you to consider a world where we have surveillance drones, billions of mobile devices and CCTV cameras on every corner, why do we persist with a man in a tuxedo sneaking into a party to seduce the crime-bosses wife for tidbits of information. The ultimate conclusion is of course a combination of “the old ways are the best” and “nobody does it better”, but unless the audience are well read on their 1984’s and Brave New World’s, what exactly is the problem with information gathering in the way that’s proposed? Why is it so menacing? Is your freedom more valuable than your safety? Whatever your opinion, SPECTRE never fully addresses the issues with this “newer” method beyond showing you that the guy collecting the information is evil.

Speaking of the bad-guy, Christoph Waltz plays the latest Bond villain with relish. His softly spoken, quietly sinister performance is easily the best in this modern era against Daniel Craig’s all action hero. I’m a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen and Javier Bardem (let’s just pretend Quantum of Solace doesn’t exist, as SPECTRE seems to do as well) and they both bring something different to the series, but Oberhauser is perhaps the most nuanced opposite to James Bond thus far. It’s the age-old battle of brains and exploding-gadget-and-fast-cars-braun.

Craig may be getting sick of playing the role, with this possibly being his last appearance as Bond, but he once again seems entirely comfortable at being the rugged interpretation of Ian Flemming’s character. One who doesn’t mind getting his shoes scuffed and suit ruffled in the pursuit of his nemesis. Just watch him during the absolutely incredible opening scene set in Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. He has the swagger, the charisma and perfect timing to please fans of the series, no matter who your favourite version of the character is. Prefer the goofy Roger Moore take? Craig is more then able to match the comic timing Moore offers. Enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s confidence and cheekyness? Bingo. It’s all there in that opening 15 minutes.

The support cast are all decent enough too. Léa Seydoux as Madeleine – the closest the film gets to having the staple Bond-girl – does a good job at modernising the role. She’s not a floozie there only to fall under the charms of 007 and provide the audience with a bit of eye candy. One scene in particular on a train journey draws us back into the narrative of old-versus-new as she shows she doesn’t need Bond to show her how to use a gun. It’s a subtle development of a role that in the past has been reduced to little more than a damsel in distress that needs the big rugged man to come and save her.

Ralph Fiennes adds his own take on M, whose relationship to Bond has a lot more animosity and begrudging respect than when Judi Dench was in the role previously. Q (Ben Wishaw) is also given a lot more exposure this time around. His quirkiness will either annoy you or feel like a welcome break in the pace of relentless, non-stop action scenes and (£24m worth of) exploding vehicles. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), C (Andrew Scott), Hinx (Dave Bautista) and Lucia (Monica Belluci) are reduced to minor supporting roles which seems a shame, but they all do well with what they’re given.

Overall, for such a long film, it doesn’t ever feel boring or stretched. It suffers from a Skyfall hangover as it will constantly be compared to its predecessor, and in that regard, it is the lesser film. The way it retrofits itself onto the rest of the rebooted franchise is contrived at best and just nonsensical at worst, but it doesn’t detract too much from its own plot. Effectively, it hinges on the relationship between Craig, Seydoux and Waltz (whose appearance really could have come sooner on in the movie) which is well developed across the course of the film, but is not quite enough to elevate it to the delirious heights of Mendes’ last feature.

So no, I don’t expect the Bond revival to die with SPECTRE. Bond (James Bond) is bigger than one film, but as to where I see the film heading next? I honestly have no idea – but I am excited to find out.

You can listen to Owen, Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank review SPECTRE as well as induct James Bond into our Corridor of Praise on the podcast released back in October.

Crimson Peak

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“It is a monstrous love. And it makes monsters of us all.”

Crimson Peak is not a horror. It’s a gothic romance. Creepy, tense, but full of emotion”. So promised Guillermo Del Toro before his latest film was released. Still, I’ve seen the trailers and they suitably creeped the shit out of me and I was more than ready to call bullshit and say that Crimson Peak is in fact a horror flick. After a conversation with my local Cineworld where, for reasons I simply can’t explain, they refused to do a showing of one of the few horror films I was looking forward to with the lights on, I jeered myself up and headed to sit in pitch black with a film from a guy who’s horrors – or whatever he wants to call them – scare the living crap out of me.

Mia Wasikowska is Edith Cushing; a woman who, as a child, discovers she has the ability to see ghosts when her mother’s death leaves her haunted by terrifying spirits. Now a grown woman, she dreams of being a writer and is stifled by the sexism of the late 19th century and is left a little deflated by the situation she’s found herself in. Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe, a very cool and suave looking Tom Hiddleston, an English baronet and an inventor who’s desperately chasing finances to build a machine to mine the invaluable red clay that his estate is built on. Falling for Sharpe’s charm and sophistication, the pair are quickly married and heading across the Atlantic from New York to Cumberland where they will live together in the gentleman’s run down estate with his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe; an ever so slightly creepy turn by Jessica Chastain.

Having been ghost free for a decade and a half, Edith’s arrival at the Sharpe’s Allerdale Hall estate brings with it ghosts both new and old that haunt the new bride’s nights warning her of the evils that lie within the house she now calls home. As Edith digs into the pasts of the house and the brother and sister that live there, she begins to uncover a generations old secret that threatens to swallow her up and leave the creepy siblings successful in their diabolical plans that will make their run down estate shine once again.

Guillermo Del Toro’s films have always amazed me, but I’ve always been of the opinion that we, as an audience, get two different Del Toro’s. The first is the man we all got to know years ago, the man who writes, directs and produces creepy Spanish language films whose imagery is as disturbing as the stories he tells. His direction is simple and elegant and horrifyingly beautiful. Then we get the man who found commercial success with his English language movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy; films that are, in their way, just as good as his Spanish language movies but are missing something. They are amazing, and again his direction and imagery are superb but they feel like they are missing the soul that Del Toro puts into his ghost films. This is where Crimson Peak really shines. We are treated to the kind of world that, until now, has been reserved for the man’s sublime back catalogue. Films like The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and the Del Toro produced The Orphanage are where I believe we get to see the best in the director’s work and finally we get an English language film that takes us back to his roots.

As is always the case with Guillermo Del Toro’s films, the acting is amazing, but the direction is what shines brightest from the screen. The Sharpe’s Allerdale Hall is the true star of the film; the haunted house looks like a gothic cathedral standing tall in the rolling hills of North England. Inside, every turn takes you in to a perfectly crafted corridor that is as eerie and it is gorgeous; every creaky staircase and every flickering lantern is moulded perfectly into a house who’s walls literally bleed red from the wet clay surrounding it and as the snow falls and the house is surrounded with white, the mansion looks even more beautiful and even more eerie.

I genuinely can’t recommend Crimson Peak enough. I’ve loved Guillermo Del Toro’s films since I first saw Mimic almost two decades ago and to see him going back to what made me fall in love with his flicks is definitely something special. It’s got some horrific moments and some terrifying imagery, but I can’t argue with the director when he promises a creepy gothic romance, that’s exactly what we got. It’s emotional and powerful and everything a fan of Del Toro’s ghost stories could want.