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The Five Best Video-Game Movies

In addition to telling us about the five worst video-game movies last week, Andrew Brooker is back again to take a look at the other side of the coin and reveal of the best.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

Next Week! Hitman: Agent 47 arrives next week.  As I type this I’m watching the booking pages for my local cinemas refresh hoping for a decent show so I can get a nice early screening and get my fill of video game stupidness.  As the days go on I’m getting a little more excited for this movie and I’m hoping and praying that it isn’t complete wank.  I’m not looking for award winning cinema; I’m looking to disengage my brain for a couple of hours and just enjoy my time with Agent 47.

So, as my own rebuttal to last week’s Worst Video Game Movies; my super-duper scientific research continues in making the list I’m hoping 47’s latest entry makes it to.  Here’s my five favourite video game movies.


5] Silent Hill (2006)

Budget: $50 Million

Box Office: 97.6 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 29%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkK8udIqKPQ]

Now, I refuse to care about the Rotten Tomatoes score for this film; or any film for that matter.  The thing that gets Silent Hill onto my list is the atmosphere.  The original Silent Hill is one of the creepiest games ever made; using the restrictions of the old technology it was made on to it’s advantage and filling the entire game with a thick fog that hid just how slowly the game was being rendered in the background; but as far as creepy atmosphere is concerned the town of Silent Hill is best in show and the film does a fantastic job in replicating it.

Granted, the story takes a mental left turn away from the lore towards the end, something I have lambasted game and book adaptations for in the past, but with enough fan service and actual scares to keep your average fan happy, I can heartily recommend Silent Hill.


4] Mortal Kombat (1995)

Budget: $18 Million

Box Office: $122.1 Million

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHIfHL5UgFs]

Come on! COME ON! It’s Mortal Kombat! The mother of all fighting games turned into one of the most fun video game movies ever made. How can I not put it on the list?  I am writing this on the 20th anniversary of the film’s original release for crying out loud, I can’t NOT talk about it.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (the not-entirely-shit Uwe Boll), MK‘s legacy speaks completely for itself (spawning a bloody awful sequel that almost made my previous list) The story of Christopher Lambert’s lightning god Raiden, dragging the worlds best fighters into another realm to fight in a tournament to decide the fate of both worlds.  Silly fights and rubbish special effects fill the screen as the Alien Vs. Predator  director squeezed as many of the game’s dumbass story elements as humanly possible into a 100 minute definition of “junk food for the brain”.


3] Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: Unknown

Rotten Tomatoes: None

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWUdPYmPz5c]

Dead Rising: Watchtower is a bit of an anomaly.  No theatrical release at all; debuted on the United States’ free video service Crackle and went straight to Blu-Ray in the UK.  Released in March this year, the film adaptation of one of the silliest zombie game franchises is easily one of my favourite films this year.For those that haven’t played the games, each one follows a new protagonist as they fight through hoards of zombies in a world where the zombie infection is accepted and controlled with medication, but things have gone horribly wrong.  What makes the games something a little special is the stupidity involved in them.  The only way to survive in Dead Rising is to find two weapons and weld them together to make bigger weapons.  Until you’ve played it, you’ll never understand how I lost hours running around the map with a mate laughing my childish arse off firing masses of rubber cocks across the screen using my dildo launcher and poking my buddy with a giant foam finger gun!

The film sticks to this level of stupidity.  It’s gross, it’s violent, but it’s completely fucking stupid and it knows it.  Only really for fans, but it’s one of the best ways to waste two hours in recent memory.


2] Resident Evil (2002)

Budget: $35 Million

Box Office: $102.4 Million

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5Rbk7ChmVk]

This is a strange one for me.  Considering how pissed I got at Doom for taking more than a few liberties with that iconic game’s story, to laud the first Resi film as my second favourite in this list when it’s pretty much universally hated by fans of the game for the same thing is pretty hypocritical of me.  Luckily for me, I don’t care. 

Resident Evil kicked off a franchise of some of the most fun action films to grace my blu-ray collection.  Substituting the horror of the early games for an action thriller feel with an amnesiac, combat ready, Milla Jovovich taking on an underground lab filled with zombies as her and a special forces team try to stop an outbreak and escape the subterranean complex and the mansion that’s hiding it.  Sure there’s a stinker in the six film long franchise; and the quality only really dropped with the most recent (but not quite final) instalment; but there’s no stopping this series and with Paul W. S. Anderson getting the last chapter made as you read this and promising a worthwhile end to (not an actual RE character) Alice’s saga, I have nothing but faith that we are in for a treat when it comes out next year.


1] Hitman (2007)

Budget: $24 Million

Box Office: $100 Million

Rotten Tomatoes: 13%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJhNzHyq-IE]

Agent 47’s first trip to the big screen is, without a doubt, my top video game movie of all time; and one of my favourite junk food, sick day kind of movies.  Now, I made Owen watch this back on the 150th podcast just because I wanted him to give it a butcher’s and he really didn’t like it. I’m sorry to say, that Owen is wrong and we’re no longer on speaking terms!

One thing our esteemed leader did get right though, was describing it as a wannabe Luc Besson film and I’m absolutely alright with that description.  The always awesome Timothy Olyphant dons 47’s iconic suit and tie and brings all the ham-fisted action of Besson’s finest work.  Maybe without the finesse that the legendary filmmaker does, but no film based on a video game was ever going to get that level of director involved in it.

Hitman does an excellent job with what it has.  Another film on this list that sacrifices the game’s lore to make sure that we aren’t bored to death by the film’s pace. Agent 47’s story is far too long and complicated for a 100 minute movie, so we get the bare bones of the legend on screen and are left to either remember, guess, or simply not care about the parts that we aren’t told.  Whichever option you choose, I can absolutely recommend Hitman to any game fan, any action film fan, or anyone that just fancies seeing good old Mr. Olyphant in a suit and tie killing people in an ultra cool, ultra slick fashion.

If Hitman: Agent 47 is half as fun as this telling of the suited assassin’s story, I’ll be coming out of the cinema a happy man next week.


Honourable Mention – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUmSVcttXnI]

While not in any way a video game movie; it is, in EVERY way, a video game movie. Even the most casual of gamers can see that the film’s tagline, and adopted subtitle, “Live. Die. Repeat” is absolutely endemic of the trial and error nature of video games and playing them. Who of us hasn’t spent hours endlessly playing the same sections of a game over and over again hoping to just get it right this time?

The film, which arguably belongs to Emily Blunt and not her stuntman co-star, took on even more of the video game world when it was released the same year as shooter powerhouse Call of Duty introduced exo-suits to its players; making us all look like the rows and rows of suited soldiers from the battlefields of Edge of Tomorrow.

A movie that is absolutely about video game checkpoint abuse, I can’t not mention Edge of Tomorrow in this little list of mine.

Failed Critics Podcast: Mission Impossible Triple Bill Special

mission impossible RNThis week’s episode of the Failed Critics Podcast will first require a pass key to access. You can find said pass key by looking in the sole of your left shoe for a microchip which can then be inserted into the back of your phone. It will beam holographic cryptic instructions on the whereabouts of the access code before self-destructing in 5… 4… 3… 2…

Only joking. Why make the podcast more of a challenge to listen to than it already is, right? There’s no secret combination required to listen to the returning Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker talk all things Mission: Impossible on our latest episode.

We start as ever with a tightly poised quiz, before the team swiftly move onto discussing the Tom Cruise led action franchise in a bit more detail. We discuss the overall quality of the movies as well as the ever-popular topic of whether or not Cruise is the last remaining true movie star. There’s even a special M:I themed triple bill as well as a full review of the fifth entry to the series, Rogue Nation, to follow on this episode. Clearly we spared no expense.

Join us again next week as we invite Brian Plank and Carole Petts on to talk about Josh Trank’s latest superhero flick, Fantastic Four.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

rogue nation“Join the IMF.  See the world. On a monitor. In a closet.”

Silly spy stuff; it’s one of my favourite things to watch. Alias, Blacklist, Bond and definitely Mission: Impossible. It’s one of those genres that, when it’s done well, is almost timeless.  Just take a look at the old Mission: Impossible TV show; it’s daft, it’s completely implausible but it’s a shed load of fun to watch. It was also my first experience of thinking “oh god why are they making a film of this?”, it was 1996, I was 14 and I was mortified when they made Jim Phelps (the IMF team’s leader in the TV show) the bad guy. I felt every ounce of the betrayal Tom Cruise did on screen as that bastard Brian De Palma ruined my show! After that, I started to discover films like Hard Target and Face/Off, which led to a long-time adoration of director John Woo and thus the only reason I gave Mission: Impossible 2 the time of day and I loved it (yes, I’m very aware it’s the weakest of the franchise, a testament to how good the others are).

I gave the original another shot, with fresh eyes and a growing respect for films and De Palma; and really enjoyed it.  Even today; OK, four days ago, the original still holds up as a brilliantly made espionage thriller.  A thriller that spawned three sequels; a host of top-shelf actors and directors; and showed the world just how much Tom Cruise is willing to put in to make his films look as good as they possibly can.  Today, almost 20 years since Ethan Hunt’s first outing with the IMF, I sat and watched the fourth sequel in one of the most bankable action franchises ever created.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, wastes no time in filling your screen with action.  Within a couple of minutes, Hunt and his team are frantically trying to stop a shipment of chemical weapons from falling into the control of someone other than them! Turning to desperate measures to stop what turns out to be VX gas (Remember that? It’s the one that melts faces in The Rock) from being used by a suspiciously invisible terrorist group by throwing it out the back of a plane! Yeah, all that hanging off a plane shit? All in the first few minutes of Rogue Nation.  If ever there was a way to start a film, it’s to put the thing advertised the most, that’s generated a metric tonne of interest because the film’s star is batshit crazy and is really hanging off of a plane as the bloody thing takes off, right at the start of the film! And it’s all go from there.

Heading for a debrief, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is captured by the shady “Syndicate”, a group of former intelligence agents who are working extremely hard to bring about the end of the world and are, as we all saw in the trailer, “an anti-IMF”, quite possibly the guys to bring Hunt and his group to their knees.  About to be tortured, Ethan gets help escaping from Syndicate hench… Err… Woman? Iisa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and sets about getting hold of his colleagues to get him home and debriefed. But as Mr. Cruise is galavanting about in Europe, his friends are being punished for the sins of his past and have been brought to task for the reckless events of the last few M:I films.  Closed down and stopped from operating, the guys have been redeployed in dark little corners of the CIA to be forgotten about while William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) has been forced to help Agency higher-up Alec Baldwin track down and capture the now rogue Ethan Hunt.

And this is all just the first 20 minutes of the film! It’s all go from there as Hunt treks across the world chasing this seemingly all-powerful group that always seems to be one step ahead of him causing untold chaos and getting away clean.  Hunt must battle against increasingly hopeless odds as he fights to prove him and his team aren’t just still relevant, but aren’t the reckless Mavericks, no pun intended, their government is accusing them of being.  You know? With a crap load of car chases, explosions and gunfights!

I’ll be honest, at this point I’m struggling to work out what to say about Mission: Impossible that you don’t know already.  I mean, it’s the fourth sequel in an action/spy franchise. You’ll get thrills, spills and betrayal a plenty. You’ll get action, you’ll get suspense and you’ll get an awesome baddie for the good guys to chase down.  But until the Academy get their shit together and introduce an Oscar for awesome stunt work, M:I isn’t winning any awards. Luckily, that’s not what we watch these films for, is it?  Absolutely not. We came here for the dude hanging off the side of a plane, the breath stealing bike chases and enough hand-to-hand combat to fill a good sized UFC event.

All that great on-screen action wouldn’t be worth the paper your cinema ticket is printed on though, if the guys in front of the camera weren’t doing a good job and as always, Mission: Impossible brings out the best from everyone involved. Ethan gets to spend more time with Ving Rhames’ charismatic techno-wiz Luther Sticklle and Simon Pegg’s geeky field agent Benji Dunn as they chase Syndicate leader Soloman Lane (not a typo, honest) in an amazing turn from Sean Harris. I’ve been wanting to see Harris, one of my favourite homegrown talents that hardly anyone knows, get himself a role that he can sink his teeth into.  Since his turn as Micheletto in The Borgias, I’ve been a huge fan and to see him get a bad guy roll like this and run with it was simply outstanding.  In my opinion, the only casting misstep was with Rebecca Ferguson.  I’m not taking anything away from her performance, not at all.  In fact, I thought she was fantastic. Ferguson done a splendid job in her preparation and those endless hours of stunt and fight training definitely paid off. But every time she was on the screen, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the role should have gone to Gina Carano. I’m certain it would have pushed her 100% into the limelight, something that Haywire and Fast and Furious 6 inexplicably couldn’t do. She would have been perfect, in my humble opinion.

Here’s the thing;  Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is another one of those films that you already know if you’re going to enjoy it. You liked the other four? You’ll like this one. You didn’t? Why are you bothering? Essentially, my job is to tell you that Tom Cruise is still Tom Cruise and hasn’t turned into Tropic Thunder‘s Les Grossman; Rhames is still amazing and Renner is still quite brilliant. The action is top notch and the direction superb.

To say that Mission: Impossible is a great movie to sit in front of and disengage your brain for a couple of hours, while pretty accurate, does the film, and indeed the entire franchise, a bit of a disservice. But if you’re looking for smartly written, well directed, adrenaline fuelled escapism, Rogue Nation is best in show and well worth your time.

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

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


edge of tomorrow10] Edge Of Tomorrow

Dir: Doug Liman

Star: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

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

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

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

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

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

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


09] Starred Upstarred up

Dir: David Mackenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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


grand budapest hotel08] The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dir: Wes Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


07] NightcrawlerNIGHTCRAWLER

Dir: Dan Gilroy

Star: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

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

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

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

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

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


the guest06] The Guest

Dir: Adam Wingard

Star: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Lance Reddick

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Failed Critics Podcast: Episode CXV – A New Sound Quality

Edge of TomorrowWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast: now with added not sounding like we recorded it at the bottom of the ocean with only a drill and some bees for company. Steve, James, and Owen round up the week in film news, including the latest Star Wars rumours, and the joyous future collaboration of Nic Cage of John McTiernan.

We also review Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, and will James finally convert to Seth MacFarlane fandom after watching A Million Ways to Die in the West?

Join us next week for reviews of 22 Jump Street and (brace yourself) Grace of Monaco, and put up the bunting and get the good champagne out as we introduce our newest full-time member of the team..

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Best Films on TV: 20th to 26th May

The best* free-to-air films on television every day this week, as chosen the mad, bad, and dangerous to know site editor, James Diamond

*’best’ is a subjective term and James will deal with any criticism of these choices by sticking his fingers in his ears and humming Beethoven’s Ninth until you go away.

Beverly Hills Cop movie image Judge ReinholdMonday 20th May – The Jerk (ITV4, 12.10am)

Steve Martin’s film debut (he also co-wrote the script) is also arguably his funniest screen performance. Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, the adopted white son of African american sharecroppers who remains blissfully unaware of his genetic heritage until adulthood. Despite a rather crass-sounding premise, this film is both stupid and rather sweet-natured; similar in tone to its obvious descendant Dumb and Dumber.

In a rare move for this blog, I am also going to nominate the worst film on TV today, which is undoubtedly Silent Hill (Film4, 11.25pm). A film so bad it’s the closest I’ve come to walking out of a cinema, and manages to make Uwe Boll’s computer game adaptations look like Oscar winners.

Tuesday 21st May – The Last Samurai (5USA, 9pm)

I love Tom Cruise like our very own Owen Hughes loves Jean-Claude Van Damme (incidentally, JCVD’s Cyborg is on tonight, Sky 1, 9pm), and this is one of those films where he cannot be accused of playing cheeky chappy Tom Cruise. Instead he is a bearded Civil War veteren, recruited to train the Japanese Meiji government forces, hellbent on destroying the last remaining samurai who are resistant to the new western-influenced order. While it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, it looks wonderful and Cruise and Ken Watanabe’s central relationship drives the film.

Wednesday 22nd May – Hotel Rwanda (Channel 4, 1.45am)

You’ll need to stay up pretty late to watch a great film that you might not have seen before (the brilliant The Bourne Identity is getting its weekly outing, ITV2, 10pm). So get a pot of coffee on (or more sensibly, set your generic DVR to record) for this true life tale of a hotel manager who helped protect over a thousand refugees during a bloody war in Rwanada.

Thursday 23rd May – Beverly Hills Cop (Film4, 9pm)

Sometimes a film screams the decade it comes from through every pore of its body. Eddie Murphy at his acerbic and foul-mouthed best? Odd couble/buddy cop film with car chases and gin fights galore? Instantly recognisable all-synthesiser score? Judge Reinhold starring? Yep, Beverly Hills Cop IS the 1980s.

Friday 24th May – One Million Years BC (Film4, 5.15pm)

Early this month we lost the great Ray Harryhausen, the special effects genius who entertained and terrified millions of youngsters over the years with his stop-motion monsters. Although not quite in the same league as Jason and the Argonauts, this frankly odd tale of human lust and betrayal set against their age-old battles with dinosaurs. Hey, if all films were scientifically accurate then what would internet obsessives have to moan about?

Saturday 25th May – The Ladykillers (More 4, 1.15pm)

Saturday afternoon usually offers a classic to settle down and rediscover, and this weekend is no exception. Possibly the finest (and certainly the most famous) Ealing comedy, the Ladykillers stars Alec Guinness as the leader of a gang hiding out from the law, but constantly thwarted in their attempts by a seemingly benign and doddery old lady. The evening also gives us an opportunity to revisit Nic Roeg’s at times bonkers, and at other times brilliant and incisive, sci-fi classic The Man Who Fell To Earth (BBC2, 10.50pm)

Sunday 26th May – Festen (Film4, 11.20pm)

While you are unlikely to see as messy and amateur-looking a film all week, the first ever Dogme 95 film is an utterly captivating story of a family reunion, and the revelation of a dark secret that threatens to destroy lives. Directed by Thomas Vinterburg (who directed last year’s The Hunt), this is a triumph of substance over style. Brilliant performances and the lo-fi filming style pull in the viewer far more than any 3D ever could.

Cruising for a bruising

Tom Cruise Jerry MaguireWe were recently reviewing the sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion on the Failed Critics Podcast, when a reasonably good-natured chat nearly came to virtual blows at the subject of Tom Cruise. The sad thing is I wasn’t really surprised. If Tom Cruise has a super power, it is turning normally sane and reasonable film fans into rabid hate-filled balls of impotent rage.

A quick peer-reviewed straw poll on Twitter tells me that in the last hour alone people have proffered unsolicited opinions like:

“Am i the only one round here who thinks tom cruise is a tampon?”

“Shoot Me now, I find tom cruise attractive in Rock Of Ages… #embarrassed”

“He may only be 2ft tall, but Tom Cruise is actually quite sexy in Rock of Ages”

“F u Tom Cruise just f u for u movies! Urhh!”

“Jack Reacher: Clever enough for action fans and despite it being a Tom Cruise wankathon, it holds its own”

“They shoulda cast Keanu reeves instead of Tom cruise though. I’ve hated his face ever since vanilla sky” [I can’t work out which film should have cast Reeves instead of Cruise, so I’m just going to guess it was The Last Samurai’s Bogus Journey]

There are several criticisms here. Firstly, let’s deal with Cruise’s crimes against humanity that have absolutely nothing to do with his cinematic body of work.

Charge 1: He’s short

Yep, Tom Cruise is a shorter than average man, measuring in at only 5’7”. I’ve already touched upon his ‘controversial’ casting in the Jack Reacher film in my review last year, but he’s clearly too short to play an action hero, or to be an imposing physical presence. How dare he believe he could play that kind of role? What a complete narcissist.

It’s a good job that 5’7” Robert Downey Jnr isn’t currently starring as the one of the most iconic superheroes of modern times in Iron Man 3. Oh, and let’s not tell Javier Bardem that at 5’7” he’s too short to be taken seriously as a threat to James Bond in Skyfall (after all, the 5’10 Daniel Craig could easily kick his ass).

Charge 2: He’s a Scientologist

I’ll be honest; I’m more than a little freaked out by the ‘Church’ of Scientology. If Cruise wasn’t a Scientologist I think he’d get a lot less nonsense written about him, and I’d have an easier task of trying to convince you that he is probably the most impressive movie star of the last 20 years. Yep, he is probably the most famous disciple of L. Ron Hubbard and his bizarre teachings, but there are some double-standards going on here. I don’t see many people taking pot-shots at many other famous Scientologists, including the brilliant musician Beck, the terrible musican but great screen presence Julliette Lewis, or respected actors Jason Lee (My Name is Earl and most Kevin Smith films), Giovanni Ribisi (Ted and Gangster Squad), and Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men and The West Wing).

And what about the equally bizarre and dangerous Catholic beliefs that Steve Carrell and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) hold? Don’t even get me started on the fact that my beloved Michael J. Fox, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Arnie are card-carrying Republicans who believe in the obliteration of everything I politically hold dear. I can still enjoy their screen performances despite the fact I probably wouldn’t want to share a dinner table with them when the conversation turned to religion or politics.

Charge 3: He’s in the closet

This is the most disingenuous and frankly distasteful undercurrent regarding the public perception of Cruise. I have no idea if he’s gay, and frankly I really don’t care. It’s none of our business. On that subject, his marriages, children, and what he has for breakfast are equally irrelevant, and a sad indictment of a society obsessed with what people are, rather than what they actually do.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what really is important in this debate; his contribution to cinema over the last 25+ years.

Defence 1: He’s bankable

He is still one of the most recognisable and bankable movie stars on the planet. His appearance in a film not only guarantees it getting made, but more often than not results in a critical and commercial hit.

That’s right, critical.

Using movie review site Rotten Tomatoes (which collates the reviews of hundreds of established reviewers to establish if a film is ‘fresh’ or ‘rotten’) we can see that of the 33 films that Cruise has starred in since Risky Business, 22 of them have had a positive reaction from the critics. That’s a 67% ‘success’ rate, which compares pretty favourably to other more respected stars such as George Clooney (67%), Johnny Depp (61%), and Brad Pitt (68%).

Some haters profess to enjoy well-received Cruise films in spite of his involvement, at the same time painting him as a control freak whose narcissistic impulses are imprinted all over the film. This rather begs the question which parts did they actually enjoy?

Defence 2: He plays himself

Another criticism I hear levelled against Cruise is that he plays the same character in every film. Again, not only is this utter bobbins, but the same criticism could easily be aimed (more appropriately) at other less-criticised actors. Harrison Ford never really showed us any range apart from charming Ford, or angry Ford. Arnie was Arnie in literally every film he appeared in, and Denzel Washington is similarly limited despite the baubles thrown at him by the Academy.

In his blockbuster films Cruise does play a version of himself every time, because that is what audiences expect and want. But when he wants to he can really bust out some impressive acting chops. Take a look at his roles in Interview With the Vampire, Collateral, Magnolia, and Tropic Thunder and tell me that’s Cruise being himself. I know I’m a know-nothing bedroom film critic who couldn’t possibly know better than you, so why not listen to Dustin Hoffman who said Cruise on the set of Rain Man was the most disciplined actor he’d ever worked with. Or the fact that directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Cameron Crowe, and JJ Abrams have all praised his work ethic.

Defence 3: He’s Tom fucking Cruise

And that’s the final point I want to make. Whatever you think of his technical abilities or her personal life, Cruise always commits completely. He’s nearly 50 and is one of the few actors in Hollywood who still insists on doing all his own stunts. That man climbing the world’s tallest building in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol? Tom fucking Cruise. Whether it’s in his stunts, or in his acting work he leaves everything out there on the field. He even throws himself into the publicity tour every single time. Only a Grinch with a heart of stone could find something to bitch about when Cruise spends hours with fans at red carpet events, but that doesn’t stop some of you.

You’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Failed Critics Podcast – Oblivion

Oblivion Tom CruiseWelcome to the Failed Critics Podcast, where this week our main review is Tom Cruise-starring, sci-fi magpie Oblivion. Gerry and James nearly get into a fit over Tom Cruise (not quite in that way), and we play ‘I Spy Sc-Fi’ when discussing the film’s very obvious influences.

Also in the pod, we review what we’ve been watching this week, including Festen, The Odd Couple and The Man From Nowhere.

Join us next week for our First Birthday celebrations. We’ll be answering everything you’ve ever wanted to know about us and film, but were afraid to ask (because you didn’t want anyone finding out you listen to this shambles).

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A film couples special

In honour of this commercialised cliché of a Thursday, here are five film couples we’re rooting for. 

brief encounterCouple: Laura Jesson & Alec Harvey
Film: Brief Encounter (1945)
Background: Noel Coward’s poster child for adultery, the stunning Celia Johnson, plays a married with two housewife, whose only real excitement comes from her Thursday afternoon trips to Boots and the pictures. Her kids are bratty and her husband is a dull crossword obsessive, so when she meets a hunky doctor (Trevor Howard) on a train platform, she falls for him understandably hard.
Relationship: The clue’s in the film title. The pair have a handful of meetings, and a couple of furtive kisses. Although they get a room at one point, it doesn’t quite come off. Ultimately, marital commitments, family responsibility, and the lure of earning the big doctor bucks in Johannesburg win out over larking about on the boating lake together. Since Laura does the right thing, despite it condemning her to a life of misery, it’s shame she is denied the dramatic and emotional farewell she deserves. Bloody Brits and their stiff upper lips.
After the film: It being the forties, Laura & Alec aren’t privy to the same levels of constant communication we’re used to today. (One time, he misses their scheduled rendezvous due to a hospital emergency and she has to just wait until the next week to hear from him. Imagine!) This means that, sadly, they probably never spoke to each other again. They’d never pull that off today. He’d be stalking her on Facebook within five minutes of leaving the platform. After the obligatory ‘I’m on a train’ tweet, obviously.

jerry maguireCouple: Dorothy Boyd & Jerry Maguire
Film: Jerry Maguire (1996)
Background: After sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) has a crisis of conscience and distributes a mission statement that gets him summarily fired, accountant Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) is inspired enough to become his only employee.  Dorothy is a single mum, and Jerry has recently broken off his engagement with another woman. Their lack of office space, long working hours and general dire financial straits inevitably bring them closer together.
Relationship: ‘I’ve got this great guy. And he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot.’ Ok, so he shoplifted the pootie. And their subsequent marriage is more for tax purposes than anything romantic. But Jerry does eventually realise how much Dorothy means to him and, like the true salesman that he is, wins her back with a single word. He always was good in a living room.
After the film: Cynical as I am, I’d like to think these guys were just dysfunctional enough to make it. His share of that $11.2million Cardinals contract would surely reduce some of the stress, and give Dorothy the taste of First Class she deserved. And, with Rod & Marcee Tidwell (frankly the perfect couple) as their BFFs and relationship mentors, just maybe they did. At least long enough to take Ray to the fucking zoo, anyway.

fantastic-mr-foxCouple: Mr ‘Foxy’ Fox & Mrs Felicity Fox
Film: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Background: Young, in love and on a routine squab raid, Fox (George Clooney) & Felicity (Meryl Streep) get caught in a fox trap. Felicity reveals that she’s pregnant and makes him promise that, if they get out alive, he’ll find a safer line of work.
Relationship: 12 fox years later, the husband & wife are living a happy life of domesticity with their son Ash, but Fox still desires more. It isn’t long before his animal instincts drive him to risk everything in the pursuit of apple cider and poultry. It’s only when his nephew Kristofferson is captured that he realises the error of his ways. Though Felicity rolls her eyes and proclaims she never should have married him, it isn’t long before they’re dancing together over the end credits.
After the film: Their eventual underground home is safe enough to satisfy Felicity’s maternal instincts, with night time access to a supermarket to supply Foxy with the finer things in life. Plus, they’re going to have another cub. You’ve got to give them a fighting chance. Until he’s exhausted the supermarket’s extra special range, and gets a taste for foie gras again.

chasing amyCouple: Holden McNeil & Alyssa Jones
Film: Chasing Amy (1997)
Background: ‘Quickstop? My best friend fucked a dead guy in the bathroom!’ Holden (Ben Affleck) & Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) meet while appearing at a comic book convention in New York. Both hail from New Jersey and, as they soon discover, share a number of acquaintances. While Alyssa is gay, the pair soon become close and begin a relationship, which mainly consists of having sex, hanging out, and exchanging the usual Kevin Smith angst-ridden dialogue.
Relationship: The pair engage in lots of frantic sex, deep and challenging discussions about virginity and fisting, and some pretty killer arguments. Alyssa’s friends are distinctly unimpressed by the gender of her new beau, while Holden’s comic partner Banky goes out of his way to highlight her flaws. Holden freaks out when he learns more about Alyssa and her ‘Finger Cuffs’ history, and calls off the whole affair. One person who is rooting for them, however, is Silent Bob, who startlingly breaks his quiet in order to drop a relationship wisdom bomb and almost save the couple. Until Holden starts banging on about threesomes again.
After the film: Though the movie ends with Holden & Alyssa apart, there is definitely a glimmer of hope. Holden has learnt his lesson, lost his best friend, and written an apology comic, for crying out loud! It’d be nice to think that lovelorn Holden didn’t end up like Silent Bob – ‘A tubby bitch crying like a little girl to Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits’. (So says Jay. Personally I think he’s kind of hot.)

slumdog-millionaireCouple: Jamal & Latika
Film: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Background: Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) meet as children in the aftermath of the Bombay Riots. Taken by a gangster and trained as beggars, the two are separated by his meddling brother when they try to escape. The film tells the tale of Jamal’s life as he never stops looking for her, even while appearing on Indian quiz television.
Relationship: Jamal eventually tracks down and rescues Latika, only to have her stolen away by his older brother once more. Years later he finds her again, but she has to send him away to keep them both alive. It’s admittedly not the smoothest of couplings but, having experienced such a shitty start to life, you can understand his determination to make this work. After risking everything, and taking quite a few beatings, to save Latika, it’s his knowledge of cricket which eventually gets him the girl. And a the big stinking pile of cash.
After the film: D. It is written. Duh, of course they end up together! And I bet they have loads of cute kids. And all dance around to Jai Ho every single day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, love from Failed Critics x

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1992

A continuing series in which the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Kate chose the nineties, because she actually used to watch films back then. This week she tackles 1992.

Strictly Ballroom

strictly ballroom‘You really are a gutless wonder!’

The first, and lesser known, of the three Baz Luhrmann films that make up the Red Curtain Triology, Strictly Ballroom could well be described as the Australian Dirty Dancing. Paul Mercurio is Scott Hastings, a ballroom dancer who’s all set to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, until he starts trying to throw his own non-standard dance shapes. So far, so very Johnny Castle. Tara Morice is Baby/Fran, the timid beginner with the frizzy perm and enormous glasses, that of course she’s able to dance without, because being a champion dancer is all about conquering The Fear, and not about being able to see where you’re putting your feet at all.

The film showcases the cut-throat world of competitive professional ballroom dancing, using a supporting cast who resemble a Christmas Panto special of Neighbours. Unlike Luhrmann’s later efforts, it doesn’t star anyone particularly famous, but nonetheless went on to become one of the most successful Australian films of all time. Great song at the end, too.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

the-hand-that-rocks-the-cradle‘When your husband makes love to you, it’s MY face he sees. When your baby’s hungry, it’s MY breast that feeds him. Look at you! When push comes to shove… you can’t even breathe!’

As will become clear upon reading my full Decade in Film choices, Early Nineties Thrillers is one of my favourite movie genres. At age 13, my main occupation was the giving and receiving of slumber parties. Such films were the perfect viewing at these parties, scary enough to watch in the dark in the middle of the night, with enough references to sex to provide copious embarrassed teenage giggles. This one charts the tale of the brilliantly named Peyton Flanders, a sadistic widow who poses as a nanny in order to destroy the woman who wronged her, and steal away her family.

Rebecca De Mornay is just wonderful as glassy-eyed Peyton, manipulating and driving slowly insane the mother she is supposed to be hired to help; even managing to turn her against her best friend Marlene (Julianne Moore in full wise-cracking side-kick mode). From the director of L.A. Confidential (seriously!), this story of home-wrecking and wind chimes was never going to trouble The Academy. But there’s some nasty business with an asthma inhaler, an epic shovel fight, and even death by greenhouse. Which is sometimes all you need.

The Mighty Ducks

mighty-ducks‘Did you really quack at the Principal?’

Emilio Estevez is a hot shot lawyer, sentenced to coach a junior ice hockey team as community service after being caught drink driving. It kind of sells itself, doesn’t it? The movie trilogy that launched Joshua Jackson‘s extensive career, (He’s in Dawson’s Creek. He doesn’t play Dawson.) and stars distinguished English actor Joss Ackland as Hans, all round mentor, sage, and hockey stick seller.

The Ducks are a rabble of street kids, perpetually bottom of the league, but with an abundance of spirit. Luckily, it turns out Coach Bombay (Estevez) and ice hockey have history. And, once he’s ditched the chip on his shoulder and the ridiculous limo, he and the Ducks go far. Indeed, in the follow up movie D2 they represent the USA in (something similar to) the Olympics. It’s one of a handful of films which is bettered by its sequel (see also my next year’s entry into A Decade in Film). However this original is where the heart of the team is born. Besides, you have to watch this one first to learn what a Triple Deke is.

A Few Good Men

a-few-good-men‘I want the truth!’

In a court house of the United States government, one man will stop at nothing to keep his honour, one will stop at nothing to find the truth, and Kevin Bacon has the most remarkable haircut you ever did see. Aaron Sorkin wrote the oft-quoted screenplay after hearing about a similar case in Guantanamo Bay, on which his sister was a military attorney. The Sorkin trademark ‘walk & talk’ also originated in this movie.

Despite winning precisely nothing at the Oscars, critics and the box office deemed it a hit, and it went on to be the most commercially successful work of hero director Rob Reiner. A veritable all-star cast, including Tom Cruise at his preppy nineties peak, Jack Nicholson chugging on cigars and shouting ‘I’m gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull!’, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland and plenty of others. A Few Good Men is a largely court room based tale of honour, loyalty and Code Reds. It’s also a pretty great advert for never joining the Marines.

Scent of a Woman

Scent-of-a-Woman‘Out of order — I’ll show you out of order! You don’t know what out of order is, Mr. Trask! I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind.’

Based on the Italian film of the same name (but in Italian, obviously), Al Pacino stars as retired Jack Daniels fuelled curmudgeon Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade; and an even fresher-faced than normal Chris O’Donnell as the prep school student employed as his aide over the Thanksgiving Weekend. The pair embark on high jinks, soul searching and the Tango to the backdrop of the Waldorf-Astoria, Hollywood’s favourite New York based bed & breakfast.

A hidden gem of a film, which seems to have passed a lot of people by. Leaving aside the fact that director Martin Brest went on to write & direct what is frequently cited as one of the worst movies of all time, Scent of a Woman is a must see. The first two hours make for a pretty excellent tale, and include their own heart-warming almost ending. But it’s the last 30 odd minutes, at the disciplinary committee, which are just pure, unadulterated, watch with your mouth hanging open, Pacino. Nominated on seven previous occasions, this is the one that finally got him the acting Oscar. As if they even needed to take a vote that year. Hoo-ah!

Check out Kate’s choices for 1990 & 1991, or the full Decade in Film series. 

Failed Critics Podcast: 2012 in Review/Failed Critics Awards

2012 in FilmWelcome to our first ever End-of-Year Review and the inaugural Failed Critics Awards! Get your tuxedo on, raid the free bar, and join Steve, James, Gerry, and Owen as they discuss their highlights from 2012, and their thoughts on the winners as chosen by contributors to Failed Critics. As well as the prestigious Top Ten Films of the Year, we also award the best performances, foreign-language film, documentary, and soundtrack of great year for film.

Not only that, but we also review our last batch of films for the year – including our thoughts on Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, Ang Lee’s sumptuous Life of Pi, and Ben Wheatley’s caravanning ‘comedy’ Sightseers.

We’ll be back on the 14th January with our review of Les Miserables – and we would like to wish all of our listeners a very happy New Year!

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New Release: Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher Tom CruiseBefore I review the film, I feel like I need to address the controversy regarding the casting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. Clearly fans of the novels are loyal and passionate people, and many were up in arms at the prospect of ‘short-arse’ Tom Cruise playing the man-mountain Jack Reacher. Someone even hysterically told me that it was the same as Whoopi Goldberg being cast as Harry Potter. Well, apart from the fact that it was an American action star being cast as an American man in an action film.

But Cruise isn’t tall enough, they cry. And? I read a brilliant point on a forum I frequent where someone quite reasonably asked if there was a major plot-point where Jack had to reach something on a very high shelf. Lee Child likely wrote that Reacher was 6’5” as literary short-hand for being physically menacing. Luckily, in films, we don’t need words to paint a picture; the director can just paint a picture instead. And the picture that Christopher McQuarrie paints with his Tom Cruise-shaped oil and canvas is one of a physically imposing man who doesn’t give a solitary shit whether you think he should be six feet tall.

As for the film, it’s a grizzled action-thriller that could have come straight out of the nineties. And, as such, it’s quite a rare and entertaining thing indeed. The plot concerns an apparently open-and-shut case involving a former military sniper killing five people and refusing to talk to the police other than to call for Jack Reacher. Reacher is an one man A-Team, a soldier of fortune who drifts from town to town using public transport. Hopefully the next film sees him tackling someone playing dubstep through their tinny phone speakers. Basically if you’re in trouble, and no-one else can help you, and you can find him…

Well, you know the score.

Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins provide perfectly capable support as the inevitable love interest/defence lawyer and her District Attorney father. Werner Herzog shows up in a rare screen performance as the antagonist, and his voice steals every scene it is in. I would pay good money for an audio book of ghost stories read by Herzog. In fact I’d pay good money to hear Herzog read aloud the Facebook terms and conditions.

Back to Cruise and his apparent inability to play the unstoppable force of Jack Reacher. I haven’t read the original books, so I’m not sure if the main problem I had with the film is the fault of the source material or the adaptation. Jack Reacher is presented as one of the smartest and toughest men on the planet, and he’s also an expert marksmen and incredible driver. At no point in the film is he in anything more than the mildest of peril and, because of this, the film lacks tension and urgency, especially in the final third of a pretty long film. Even James Bond has to escape capture now and again, and he often has to use an inflatable helicopter with a laser-sighted staplegun or some such to facilitate it. Reacher just solves mysteries with the ease of Sherlock Holmes while kicking ass like Jean-Claude Van Damme. It all seems a little too easy. He doesn’t even need a notebook for fuck’s sake.

I know some Lee Child fans will hate me for this, but the characterisation and some of the plotting of Jack Reacher was pretty predictable and clichéd, and it was only the charisma of Cruise, and particularly Herzog, plus the stylish direction of McQuarrie that made it such fun.

Failed Critics: Episode 9 – Rock of Ages

We built this podcast! We built this podcast on ROOOOOCKKK and ROOOOOOLLLLLL!!! Just a small-town film critic, living in a lonely woooooorrrrrlllddd! Etc, etc.This week Steve, James, and Owen donned their spandex, let down their hair, and strutted their stuff while watching this week’s big release Rock of Ages. The Failed Critics also do their best to right the wrongs of the Academy over the years and pick their favourite films that just missed out on the Best Picture Oscar.

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