Tag Archives: Under the Skin

Best Films on TV: Christmas to New Year 2015

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

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

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

Christmas Eve –

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

Christmas Day –

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

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

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

Sunday 27th –

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

Monday 28th –

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

Tuesday 29th –

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

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

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

Thursday 31st –

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

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The 2015 BAFTA Nominees Rundown

With the 2015 BAFTAs coming up, Callum Petch guides you through the likely winners and losers of all of the major categories.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

We have one final stop on the awards train before we reach The 2015 Oscars in almost exactly one month’s time, and that’s The 2015 British Academy Film Awards.  The BAFTAs, for those who don’t know, celebrate the best in the past year of film with an added British tinge due their being a British awards body and all.  Although their main purpose for people like us is to get one last indicator as to how The Academy will be voting come February 22nd, since all of their nominations and eventual awards typically line up with one another.

So, that’s what we’re here to do.  With the awards themselves in just over two weeks, and my having seen just about every single one of the major nominees, I am here to guide you through the major categories, tell you who I feel deserves to win, who you should probably put your money on if you’re a betting kinda person, and any snubs, rule-flaking inclusions or just plain weird things that caught my fancy.  We’re not covering all of them, because we’ll be here all day – although other members of the site may fill in those blanks later if they wish – but we’re doing most of them.  So, without further delay, GRAPPLING HOOK!


lefoBest Animated Film

Nominees: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, The Lego Movie

Who Should Win: Soooo…  I know that I’m supposed to say The Lego Movie, and I do really, really like The Lego Movie, but…  Big Hero 6 is currently playing to my heart way more.  I’m sorry, but it is!  I was actually sat writing about Kung Fu Panda 2 the other day when this quietly devastating yet heart-warming scene from Big Hero 6 popped up into my head and now I just want to go and spend more time with that cast again.  I’m sure whenever I eventually get around to watching The Lego Movie again, I’ll put that back on top but, yeah, I guess I’m switching teams and rooting for Disney.  Sorry, folks.

Who Will Win: Time was that I would say that this was The Lego Movie’s to lose, but with How To Train Your Dragon 2 upsetting it at the Golden Globes and not even being considered in the Oscar category – although I still find that a mostly strong list, so I’m not going to complain much – I really don’t think this is a safe bet anymore.  Big Hero 6 is Disney, so that will always be in the running, and awards bodies are really loving The Boxtrolls it just racked up 13 nominations at this year’s Annie Awards (which, incidentally, is a very lazy set of nominees this year, but this is not the place to talk about that) – so that has a good shot.  My money’s still on The Lego Movie leaving with the award, but don’t be surprised if either of the other two take it instead.

Other Notes: The BAFTAs have always only had three nominees for this category, so that makes snubs more obvious but also, sometimes, more understandable.  Although I was lukewarm on it, I am glad to see Laika rack up another nomination with The Boxtrolls and it deserves that spot more than How To Train Your Dragon 2.  That being said, colour me disappointed that there’s no room for The Book Of Life, which sadly seems destined for cult status rather than mainstream acceptance.  Also, even though there was clearly no chance in hell of it ever happening, I would like to have seen the genuinely excellent My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks get a look-in.


71Outstanding British Film

Nominees: ’71, Paddington, Pride, The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything, Under The Skin

Who Should Win: Under The Skin is a film that deserved far more love and attention from awards bodies than it has gotten, although the fact that it’s slipped away with barely any recognition outside of the BAFTAs – Mica Levi’s excellently unsettling score is also up for an award – is kinda fitting really.  It is really not a film for everyone, but its quiet study of gender, sexuality, and gender performance – as well as its quietly furious screed about how casually, and occasionally outwardly hateful, sexist society views and treats women – is utterly gripping and compelling viewing for those willing to work for their films, and Scarlett Johannson puts in the single best performance of all of last year in it, too.  It’s my no. 5 film of 2014, and it deserves this award.

Who Will Win: It won’t, though.  Not by a long shot.  Nor will Paddingtonwhich I did like but don’t get the intense passionate love that critics and audiences are throwing its way – nor will ’71, and most certainly nor will Pride.  See, The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything are up for Best Film and it looks real bad if the films that are up for Best Film don’t win Outstanding British Film.  The Weinsteins have been campaigning hard for Imitation Game, but this is the home turf of Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, which may sway voters towards The Theory Of Everything.  I’m leaning more towards the former, though, so those of you looking for a definite bet should put money on The Imitation Game.

Other Notes: Starred Up should really be in contention.  One of the best British dramas in years and it’s kept out by two slops of porridge?  Ugh.  Ditto for Richard Ayoade’s The Double, which everybody seems to have let undeservedly slide into the background since last April.  I can’t really complain too much, though, 2014 was a very good year for British film and I’m just glad we’ve gotten actual British films filling up the list this year.  You know, unlike last year.


GHB_9907 20130130.CR2Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Nicholás Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo for Birdman, Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Who Should Win: Nice strong list here.  As much as I like Whiplash and Birdman, though, I feel that they are great scripts that are elevated to excellent scripts by everything else from the movie – performances, direction, editing, etc. – so I’m not particularly rooting for them.  The script for The Grand Budapest Hotel is excellent, managing to balance whimsy and light-hearted farcical caper antics with this constant undercurrent of sadness and melancholy, a tale of men born out of time and a nostalgic longing that is admirable but foolhardy.  Meanwhile, Nightcrawler’s script has a tonne of things to say about capitalism, the media, classism, business, and the kind of sociopathic monster that one can be yet still win in our broken society.  I’m good with either of those taking it, leaning more towards Nightcrawler.

Who Will Win: This will be The Grand Budapest Hotel’s consolation prize.  Sure, it received 13 nominations overall, but most of those were in the technical categories that, although deserved, most people, and especially headline writers, don’t care about.  This is where it gets its due in the major categories, to apologise for it having no chance in anything else.  Whiplash has garnered enormous traction as of late, but I still don’t see it going over Grand Budapest here; this one’s basically set in stone.

Other Notes: You will notice that I left out Boyhood whilst I was going through complimenting the nominees.  We’ll come back to that.


gone girlBest Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Jason Hall for American Sniper, Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl, Paul King & Hamish McCall for Paddington, Anthony McCarten for The Theory Of Everything, Graham Moore for The Imitation Game

Who Should Win: Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl.  Duh.  I really don’t have to say any more than that, do I?  Considering the rest of this field, I really don’t think I do.

Who Will Win: This field is suspiciously weak, full of films that have nothing to say or actively steer themselves away from having anything to say about their subjects or themes (although I do find that a plus in surprise nominee Paddington’s case), almost like it’s been designed with the express purpose of making sure that Gillian Flynn will win.  Hmm, funny that.

Other Notes: Something that became immediately clear to me when this season’s awards films were lined up like this: this was very much a year of films, and especially biopics, about men that spectacularly failed to have anything to say about the men that they’re about.  I mean, this is often a problem with awards bait films – failing to have any thematic arc or insight into their subjects but superficially arranging the beats of a feel-good story to create the illusion that something is being said – but it’s especially true this year.  Maybe that’s a sign that we should diversify who we tell our stories about?


Film Review FoxcatcherBest Supporting Actor

Nominees: Steve Carell as Jon du Pont (Foxcatcher), Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans, Sr. (Boyhood), Edward Norton as Mark Shiner (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz (Foxcatcher), J. K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher (Whiplash)

Who Should Win: J. K. Simmons, hands down, no contest.  If you disagree then, quite frankly, you just haven’t seen Whiplash.  Simmons takes the two registers that he typically operates on – hammy shouting fury, and warm paternal comfort – and weaponises them to stunning effect, adding nuance to the character of Fletcher whilst still frequently keeping him at the level of a complete monster.  He is utterly sensational as this utterly inhuman force of nature and rage and he deserves this award far more than anyone else.

Who Will Win: Good thing that he’s guaranteed the win, then.  He’s basically been on a well-deserved awards tour which, on February 22nd, will culminate with the 60 year-old taking the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to collect his first ever Oscar.  For one of our best and most consistent character actors for the last 20 years, in a career-defining role, it will be incredibly satisfying to see.  We’ll get a taste of that feeling at the BAFTAs and it will be wonderful.

Other Notes: Two well-earned nominations for Foxcatcher, although Steve Carell’s appearance here reeks of canny studio awards gaming.  I mean, Best Actor has been a tight lock for months and the chance of anybody unexpected breaking in is slim, so why not position one of the leads of the film as a Supporting Actor in the hopes of at least scoring a nomination?  Of course, there is a case to be made for Ruffalo also being the main character in Foxcatcher, too, but I think this all says more about the clever protagonist shuffling nature of Foxcatcher than anything else.


imitation gameBest Supporting Actress

Nominees: Patricia Arquette as Olivia Evans (Boyhood), Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke (The Imitation Game), Rene Russo as Nina Romina (Nightcrawler), Imelda Staunton as Hefina Headon (Pride), Emma Stone as Sam Thomson (Birdman)

Who Should Win: It takes a damn strong actress willing to put in the extra work to not have the film completely whisked away from them by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, but Rene Russo was more than up to the task.  She excellently embodies a woman who has to fight every day for the power she wields, who hates having to rely on Lou Bloom but recognises his value, and seizes on every possible advantage and opportunity in a desire to raise her stature and influence.  She’s a more socially acceptable version of Lou Bloom, basically, only with some inherent sympathy ingrained in her due to the institutionalised sexism of her line of work, and Russo nails it all totally.  So, yeah, I’m on the Russo train.

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette has been the front-runner since the second Boyhood had its festival premieres, she has been sweeping practically every awards body that nominates her, and if she doesn’t win the Oscar I will be utterly floored.  She’s going over here.  I am fine with that, she is quite literally the only thing I actually liked about Boyhood, but I’m still going to be a little bitter regardless.

Other Notes: Nice to see Pride get a non-Britain-specific nod!  Really annoyed that it’s not for any of the cast members who played a homosexual – who were the actual goddamn protagonists for that film which, lest we forget, is the reason why Pride works – but at least it’s being recognised for something; that film was a very nice surprise for me.  In terms of snubs, four words, to be repeated for Best Actress: where is Emily Blunt?  Seriously, between Edge Of Tomorrow, Into The Woods, and even her voice work in the dub of The Wind Rises, she’s spent the last year reminding us all that she’s one of the best actresses in film today, but we’ll snub her totally come awards time?  I don’t get that.


TTOE_D17_ 05356.NEFBest Actor

Nominees: Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (The Imitation Game), Ralph Fiennes as Gustav H. (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: My heart wants Keaton to win, because it’s Michael Keaton, he is great in Birdman, and I want nice things to happen to the guy.  However, my head has to admit that Gyllenhaal put in the better performance this year – the much better performance – and so I’m backing him to take home the statue.  Plus, based on how The 2014 Failed Critics Awards went, you all would probably tear me shreds if I didn’t.

Who Will Win: All signs point to Eddie Redmayne taking this one with very little effort.  This category has been a constant fight between Redmayne and Keaton since awards season started up in earnest, but the splitting of their performances into separate “Drama/Comedy” categories has made it harder to gauge which is taking the biggest prize home with them.  Keaton has the comeback and long-overdue narrative ingrained in a victory that awards bodies love, but Redmayne has the exact kind of showy, yet empty and trying-way-too-hard performance that awards bodies love.  I think Redmayne is going to take it here, also because he’s on home turf, and then he’ll also pick it up at the Oscars.  Dammit.  Maybe he’ll at least be good in Jupiter Ascending.

Other Notes: Very nice to see Ralph Fiennes get a nomination for Grand Budapest.  This does make me wonder why, mind, Tony Revolori has been totally skipped over for any Best Supporting Actor nominations.  He is very much the heart of the film, arguably more so than Gustave, and Revolori puts in a quietly strong and personal performance that has curiously gone uncelebrated.  Also, we’ll nominate Benedict Cumberbatch but not Ben Affleck for Gone Girl?  Fine, sure, whatever.


la_ca_1202_still_aliceBest Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams as Margaret Keane (Big Eyes), Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliott-Dunne (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed (Wild)

Who Should Win: We all saw Gone Girl, yeah?  We all saw Rosamund Pike with her captivating note-perfect Lauren Bacall-referencing performance?  Good, then I don’t have to explain myself further.

Who Will Win: Julianne Moore has been due for decades, she’s finally going over here.  The problem is that she shouldn’t.  I don’t mean this in a subjective opinion way, either, I mean that the BAFTA Eligibility Rules should disqualify her from contention.  As you can check on their own website, only films released in UK cinemas to the general public between January 1st and December 31st of any given year are eligible.  However, if you are a film released in UK cinemas for the general public between January 1st and February 14th of the year in which the awards take place, then you are still eligible for awards contention as long as you screen the film to BAFTA members by December 19th.

Yes, this does all sound more than a little shady and cop-out-y.  It gets worse.  See, even with that very generous window, Still Alice still doesn’t qualify – it doesn’t receive a UK cinema release until March 6th, well past the closing eligibility date – and, therefore, shouldn’t be here!  Selma meanwhile, which does qualify – UK cinema release: February 6th – and which I haven’t seen but I’ve heard is great, is shut out completely.  So, yeah, I am against all of this.  Julianne Moore could put in the single most outstanding performance I have ever seen, and I will still be against her winning.  I’m sorry, but it’s against the rules and am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?

Other Notes: Scarlett Johannson.  Emily Blunt.  That is all.


Whiplash-6606.cr2Best Director

Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: Look, I really dislike Boyhood, but I cannot deny the commitment, the energy, the time, and the skill that Richard Linklater put into making the thing.  To shoot one film over 12 years, the logistical and financial nightmare of organising and lining up everyone’s schedules to get this thing to happen, the hard work put in to keeping everyone’s character consistent, and to keep the film looking and remaining visually consistent despite progressing as a director significantly in the space of a decade…  Yeah, I have to respect that and admit that this is an award he should walk away with.

Who Will Win: Like hell is this not going to Linklater.  Maker, from the second this film was in the can, every Best Director gong going today was pre-packaged and all set to be FedExed to his front doorstep.  If he doesn’t win, then I quite frankly have no idea what to believe any more.

Other Notes: No Ava DuVarney for Selma, which is the sole thing that I am saying on the subject until I finally get to see the thing.  More egregiously, no David Fincher – the man who BAFTA quite rightly acknowledged as a superior filmmaker to Tom Hooper 4 years ago, and who put out quite possibly his best work ever, or at least his best directing work ever, this year, is apparently just no match for James Marsh’s directing for The Theory of Everything, a film that I fell asleep during for about five minutes.  Sure, of course he isn’t.


boyhoodBest Film

Nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything

Who Should Win: Despite this sudden backlash that has collectively greeted the thing – because apparently we don’t even wait two months now before we try and backpedal on our opinions – I still think Birdman is brilliant and maybe even quietly genius in the way that it’s able to walk so many tightropes without ever properly falling over into un-self-aware “Artist Rants About Mainstream Film, Critics, The Internet and Clouds”.  However, I find The Grand Budapest Hotel to be the best of all of these nominees by a country mile, so I am flying that flag all the way.

Who Will Win: I know that the current narrative is that this is a straight fight between Birdman and Boyhood, with The Imitation Game sneaking its way into contention thanks to the usual Weinstein efforts, but those people are just trying to spice up a narrative to which the ending has been pre-ordained since June.  Boyhood will win with no contest and Richard Linklater will finally pick up a Best Film award, along with finally getting the Oscar equivalent a few weeks’ later.  Shame the film in question sucks.  I broke down here why I strongly dislike Boyhood and why it is objectively a bad film beyond its central gimmick, so I won’t waste time repeating myself.  Just know that I am against this disappointingly inevitable outcome.

Other Notes: 2014 Awards Season.  Otherwise known as “Yay, White Men: Hooray for White Men”.  In fairness, it’s been a pretty poor awards season and Grand Budapest absolutely deserves its spot up there – and I don’t object to Birdman showing up, either.  But it’s also such a safe and blindingly obvious list with little of interest and few of the genuinely interesting or exciting films from this past year.  Where’s NightcrawlerStarred UpWhiplashFoxcatcher?  If you’re gonna choose films about men, why snub the ones that actually have something to say about masculinity and men and challenge current societal notions?  How about Under The SkinGone Girl?  Films that look at the female gender, gender performance, and how society views them?  What happened to Pride, which had things to say about sexuality – far more so than The f*cking Imitation Game – or Belle and Selma, which said cogent things about race (and which I haven’t seen yet but heard excellent things about)?

Look, I and everybody else wouldn’t be getting so angry and worked up and vocal about this if you awards bodies didn’t keep shutting films like those out in favour of paint-by-numbers surface-level slop like The Imitation Game or The Theorzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  When you shut out genuinely original and diverse films in favour of interchangeable porridge like those, it’s a slap in the face to those films that try, that offer up a different perspective, and to those of us who demand and wish for diversity and greater representation in film.  You awards bodies carry way more power than you think you do in this day and age, so what you nominate and reward matters.  So when the awards end up as white and male as this, with many of them genuinely not being the best films released in the past 12 months, you’ll have to excuse us for getting upset and calling you out on it.


That’s the rundown.  The BAFTAs themselves occur on February 8th.  Feel free to throw your insights and predictions for the ceremony into the comments below!

Callum Petch is gonna kill yr boyfriend.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #5 – #1

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Welcome back to the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2014.  If you missed Part 1, where we counted down entries #10 to #6, then you can go here to get caught up.  Otherwise, we are going to get straight back down to business.  So, without any further ado, GO GIRLS GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


under the skin05] Under The Skin

Dir: Jonathan Glazer

Star: Scarlett Johannson

Under The Skin is not on the list because I enjoyed it.  The rest of the films on this list are here because I enjoyed them; the commonly accepted barometer by which people typically measure the quality of a film.  Under The Skin is not here for that, for I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  I experienced Under The Skin, I endured Under The Skin, but I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  Instead, Under The Skin is here, and is this high on the list, for two specific reasons.

The first – and honestly the more minor of the two, which is crazy to believe – is Scarlett Johannson’s performance as the lead character, which is the single best performance by anybody in any film released in 2014.  Her performance of the main character is sensational, having to simultaneously keep them an enigma and yet clearly be able to give the audience some semblance of a clue as what is going on in their mind-set, and she is more than up to the task.  Shedding all of her effortless movie star charisma, she positions herself in this very alien register, taking detached to new heights and playing each new revelation about her character – the discovery of a conscience, strange new emotions, exploring the form that it has taken, the reaction to its humanity – as major game-changers without bursting into a flood of emotion.  She is on a whole other level compared to everyone else this year, and I spent so much of the film’s runtime in awe of her.

You know, when I wasn’t being made incredibly uncomfortable.  That’s the second reason why Under The Skin is on this list, it got to me.  It really got to me.  If I were a hack writer and wanted to undermine the seriousness of that last statement, I’d make pun involving the film’s title right now.  But, although I am, I don’t want to.  Under The Skin really got to me.  See, I am very sexually repressed, possibly bordering on asexual.  I always have been.  Nudity makes me uncomfortable, the concept of sex grosses me out, and having to witness sex or nudity causes me to want to reach for the exit as fast as possible.  One of the main aspects of Under The Skin is all about sex, sexuality, and the body, but the film never shoots any of these aspects in an erotic way.  It instead presents them coldly, clinically, alien, and explores how we are affected by each of those things.

Many of the film’s most disturbing sequences for me come from the depiction of nudity.  The full-frontal shots of the men that return to the protagonists’ dark void of a room, the scene where the biker examines the protagonist, the sequence where they look at themselves naked in the mirror and inspect their body… all scenes that made me thoroughly uncomfortable because they contextualise themselves in the way that I often see the naked flesh, as something alien and strange.  It’s not just that we are presented with these images, it’s the way that we are presented with these images as something unusual and slightly imposing.  It taps very much into my psyche and pushes many of my buttons, confronting me with my fears in a presentation that visualises how I possibly see them deep down.

Not to mention how the film very much plays out its narrative as the visualisation of gender performance and gender awakening.  The protagonist slowly identifying as female, putting on the airs required to be seen as acceptable in modern society, and being viciously punished the second it fails to keep up that act.  If the film weren’t so deliberately abstract, Under The Skin could very much be read as a blisteringly angry clarion call against the way that our patriarchal society treats and views women.  That hateful attitude – not to its protagonist, instead from how our world is presented through alien eyes, how our sh*tty attitudes towards women and our complicated relationships with nudity and sex can look to an outsider – seeps through the entire film and serves to further prey on my underlying fears and deep-seated issues.

No film this year has stuck with me and affected me in the same way that Under The Skin has.  It’s not exactly a film I am clamouring to see again – I had to pause the thing three times whilst watching it because I just needed to stop and calm down – but it more than earns its place on this list.


04] The Raid 2the raid 2

Dir: Gareth Evans

Star: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad

It’s all about pacing.  The Raid didn’t understand proper pacing; that was a film that started at 11 and tried to stay at 11 for all 90 of its minutes.  That gets tiring and it means that your finale doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard as it should do, and in fact bores a bit.  The Raid 2 gets pacing.  It gets pacing very much so.  It starts at about 2 or 3 and then slowly builds to its 11 finale, so the 150 minutes that the film runs for pretty much fly by and its excellent finale works gangbusters and never ever bores or drags.

The Raid 2 also has a plot, something that The Raid sort of hinted at having but ultimately cut most of because it got in the way of the fighting.  It’s not a particularly original story – undercover cop infiltrates a criminal organisation to bring it down from the inside, son of criminal organisation wants to prove himself to his father but his impatience leads to temptation, and then everything goes to hell – but it is fascinatingly told with strong characters and excellent performances.  There’s a real stylish cleanness to proceedings, where every single frame is immaculately constructed and every shot tells you a story of some kind – a care and love that’s frequently missing from other action films nowadays in their desire to “immerse” the viewer by simulating being stuck on a rollercoaster mid-barrel-roll-crash.

Then there are the action scenes.  Oh, man, the action scenes!  Again, the film benefits from understanding pacing.  They’re doled out when they fit the narrative, there are no extended fight sequences just for the sake of 15 or so minutes having passed without a few dozen dudes being murdered, and they escalate.  The film’s opening fight involves a good 20 or so guys against 1 but lasts barely 90 seconds, the introduction of important lieutenants get fight scenes to establish their gimmick and dangerousness but they never drag, the final string of action sequences have ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, and enough breaks between them to keep the plot going and not make the last 30 minutes feel like an endurance test.  Plus, each sequence has enough variety and innovation to keep them from blending into one another.

And that final fight!  Oh, man, that final fight!  It is paced perfectly, the choreography is outstanding, the camerawork is beautiful, the story it tells is captivating and doesn’t require a single line of dialogue, and there is just this electric feeling to it that stands it above all other action scenes I’ve seen this year and maybe even this decade.  It is a perfect six-and-a-half minute encapsulation of everything The Raid 2 does right and every single time I see it I am left short of breath with my palpable adrenaline running through me and a burning desire to fist-pump the air repeatedly.

Prior to seeing The Raid 2, I was excited but also very cautious and sceptical.  After all, I was excited for The Raid and I have never been able to truly love that film.  But The Raid 2 blew me away totally, surpassing my every expectation, fixing every problem with the first film, and being my favourite film of 2014 for the longest time.  Gareth Evans is planning a third entry for some point in the future and I will be satisfied however it turns out.  If it happens, I cannot wait to see how he tries to top what is almost the perfect action film.  If it doesn’t, then I will still be satisfied thanks to this film kicking so much arse and that ending shot and line being almost the most perfect in all of 2014.  This is what sequel-making should be like.


the double03] The Double

Dir: Richard Ayoade

Star: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn

When I saw The Double in the cinema, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the sound design.  Everything about the way that The Double sounded just appealed to me.  The way that the film balanced its score – its bloody, bloody, bloody brilliant score by Andrew Hewitt – with the various diegetic sounds of the film’s world that it handles in such a way as to draw direct focus to them in an almost drone-like repetitiveness.  It does an outstanding job of getting the viewer inside the head of Simon James, conceptualising what it is like to be a spineless creep drifting through life making no impression, and I have done an appalling job at explaining and describing it.  Watching the film is the easiest way to understand why it works for me, so props to the entire sound team for their work here.

In fact, watching The Double is one of the best ways to understand why it works so well.  There have been many, many times this year where I think back on the film and question whether it is truly a comedy – the register it operates on being that black and the tone being that deadpan – only to re-watch it or certain clips from it and find myself laughing raucously along for pretty much every single one of its 93 minutes.  The world that the film exists in is such a bleak and miserable place that there are sections of the police force set-up solely for the purpose of dealing with jumpers in a certain area, yet the officers’ matter-of-factness about their job and the open contempt they have for those they have to deal with somehow manages to make their existence darkly laughable.  James is such a pathetic wet doormat when it comes to the world that it loops around from being sad to outright hilarious.  And the world’s singularly gloomy and laser-focussed hatred of Simon skips straight past irritating and is instead a constant source of laughs.

The world of The Double, whilst we’re on the subject, is one of the most singularly focussed, believable and immersive worlds that I have seen a film construct in a long time.  Even though it’s clearly not our world and many holes, specifically as to how this dystopia is like outside of the focus we get on Simon, are left unexplained, it still feels immersive.  I sit down and I just get transported to this world and at no point do I question it or get dragged out of it.  The sets do such a great job at filling in the details, the low-key lighting and claustrophobic camerawork paint the oppressive nature superbly, and little details like the glimpses of the in-universe TV series The Replicator, a look at their coins, and the usages of South Korean and Japanese artists on the soundtrack give an indication of life in this world outside of Simon James.

But The Double is about Simon James, and his physical doppelgänger, James Simon.  Simon is such a spineless timid useless tool that he is incapable of spitting pretty much anything out.  He walks around in life like he doesn’t exist and uses that to his advantage with his quietly obsessive stalking of his co-worker Hannah.  It is quite clear that he wants to just say the words to her, but he glides through life so passively, and has for so long, that he is incapable of doing so.  Crucially, the film recognises that James’ stalking of Hannah isn’t romantic and never endorses it – right up to the end, too; the last scene’s dreamlike ambiguity providing yet another fantastic ending for a 2014 film, a recurring thing with most every one of the entries on this list – but forces the viewer to have to get inside Simon’s head regardless and see why this has come to be.  It’s a difficult balancing act, and the film pulls it off just about with surprising deftness.

James, meanwhile, is a detestable little shit.  A weasely, conniving, smug prick whose slow absorption of Simon’s life is teeth-gratingly tough to watch.  He is that rare character whom I hate for the reasons the film wants for me to hate him.  As somebody who loves well-written and entertaining characters – and I mean properly loves, where I won’t sit there and demand their head on a pike because I juts enjoy their presence too much – it takes a lot to make me hate a character for the reasons that I am supposed to, but The Double pulls it off flawlessly thanks to an excellent script, by Ayoade and Avi Korine, and Jesse Eisenberg putting in the best male performance I have seen in a film all year.  He’s always been good, and I have always liked him, but he is on show-stopping form as Simon and James, twisting performances that he’s given in Adventureland and The Social Network into something new and fresh and majorly compelling.  The film hangs on his performances and he is more than up to the task.

Plenty of critics were tripping over themselves at the time of The Double’s release to throw plaudits in its direction, only for everyone to cool off and mostly forget it the further the year went on.  I honestly don’t know why because it is the best British film that I have seen all year and one of the absolute very best films of 2014.  Ayoade has had a fantastic directorial career so far, and I cannot wait to see how he tries to top this.


02] Life Itselflife itself

Dir: Steve James

Surprised?  So am I.  For the last month or so, I was quite certain that Life Itself was going to be my Film of 2014, such was the power, emotion and energy it stirred in me as I watched it.  It touched me in a way that no other movie released in 2014, or even that I had seen in 2014, had been able to do.  It sent me into floods of tears and re-invigorated my passion for movies.  Yet, when it came time to set in stone my official list for 2014, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t put it at the top.  As it turns out, there is one other film that has stuck with me more and affected me more and that I just plain loved more than Life Itself.

That, however, is not to discredit Life ItselfLife Itself is a genuinely uplifting, interesting, and frequently heart-breaking mediation on movies, friendships, rivalries, the progress of society in the last 50 years, the power of criticism, death, and life.  It’s a documentary that uses its supposedly restrictive set-up – a biopic about film critic Roger Ebert – to explore so many themes and ideas, without ever losing sight of its original subject, that even people who have no interest in Roger Ebert can watch the film and get something out of it.  It is a vital documentary and the truest possible definition of a “feel-good movie”.

I will not, however, be writing any more about it.  Not because there’s not enough happening in the film to be able to do so, lord no, but because I can’t.  Fact is, I said everything I can say about Life Itself in my review from back in November.  In it, I laid bare my feelings on Ebert, the ways in which the film touched me, and why it got me so and that took so much painstaking effort to do that I can’t go through it again.  I can’t try and improve or re-state my thoughts on Life Itself because I said damn near everything I had to or could say about it back there, and I don’t want to have to repeat that or condense it to fit in the five allotted paragraphs that each entry in this list gets.  So, if you want further explanations and reasoning as to why Life Itself is this high up on my list, go and (re-)read my review.  But know that Life Itself deserves to be this high on my personal Top 10.

The only reason why it is not number one, is because of the following film…


gone girl01] Gone Girl

Dir: David Fincher

Star: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon

NO, SERIOUSLY, MEGA SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GONE GIRL.

I sympathise with and root for Amy Elliott-Dunne.

The more that Gone Girl has been rattling around in my brain, the more that that realisation has stuck out in my brain.  Amy Elliott-Dunne is a psychopath, somebody who uses and discards people as she sees fit, somebody who goes the extra morality-crossing mile to get what she wants, a woman who refuses to compromise, and who is willing to commit a man to death and outright murder another in order to get out on top.  She forcibly inseminates herself with a kid she doesn’t really want to keep a loose end under her thumb, she fakes being a rape victim, she is a walking embodiment of everything that MRAs fear women to be.

And I sympathise and root for her.

Not completely, of course, there are lines that I won’t follow her across, but enough that I get why she does the things she does and quietly hope that she successfully pulls one over on everybody.  Gone Girl is very much presented as a “He Said/She Said” narrative and I am very much more inclined to believe the “She Said” side, even after the reveal that the diary was faked and everything that Amy has ever revealed about her relationship with Nick is thrown into question.  Nick, as presented in both Amy’s version of events and his own segments of the film, is a whiny, selfish, complacent ass who never fully appreciates what he has after he gets it, forces his life on others, bleeds his supportive wife dry, and doesn’t even have the spine to end things with her before moving on to somebody else.  He does have redeeming qualities, and he is forced into situations and events where it is hard to not feel sorry for him, but when Amy states out loud, point blank, that Nick Dunne “took and took from me until I no longer existed.  That’s murder,” I honestly find it hard to disagree with her.

Does this mean that Nick deserves the death sentence that Amy hands down to him?  Honestly, the fact that I don’t immediately go “no” scares me a little bit.

The cold-blooded murder of Desi is seemingly more black and white: she murders him in order to return to Nick and complete the fabricated cover story that paints her as a victim who managed to escape from a crazed ex-boyfriend.  She lies, and therefore she is not to be trusted – incidentally, brief side bar, I absolutely agree with those who interpret Gone Girl to be misogynistic as pretty much every female character in the film is a walking embodiment of a negative male viewpoint of a woman, but I find the dualities between that misogyny and its frequently blistering feminist heart (both embodied by Amy Elliott-Dunne) to be so loaded and so complex that the film cannot be dismissed so easily without a hugely detailed and in-depth analysis from people far more qualified than myself (although I could also be talking out of my arse and apologising for loving something so problematic, that’s the beauty of critical analysis).

gone girl

Yet, Amy is very much trapped with Desi.  She’s stuck in a figurative prison, partially of her own making and partially of Desi’s making.  She’s made commitments she doesn’t want to follow through on, Desi always carries this creepy possessive air around with him, and the slow realisation seeps in for Amy that Desi is the worst traits of Nick only with genuine devotion replacing quietly-resentful hatred.  She’s traded one loveless, inescapable relationship for another and, in both instances, she no longer exists.  Her only out is through force, to turn the tables and take their agency away from them.  Amy has spent much of her life being driven about by men.  In a way, she still is, but now she’s getting a say in the matter.

Does this mean that Desi deserves to get his throat slit?  I will answer “no” far quicker than I would the question earlier, but that itself raises further questions.  Is the fact that Nick isn’t being directly murdered by Amy making it easier for me to not immediately turn on her?  Am I projecting with Desi?  After all, he doesn’t openly act possessive and the film purposefully spends little time with him to properly deepen his character.  Am I just assuming and judging someone without truly knowing them?  Is this all being fuelled by a misunderstanding and misappropriation of feminism on my part?

These are the sorts of thoughts and moral quandaries and conundrums that have been rolling around in my head for the last 3 months, more so the further we got to the end of the year.  More so than even Under The Skin, Gone Girl is a film that has clung to my brain since I first saw it in the cinemas and it has not let go since.  What began as a love for a smart, stylish, complex, and slightly trashy thriller with a phenomenal performance by Rosamund Pike – in other words, a film I loved as a film – has evolved into a constant moral discussion and self-examination that refuses to let me get up and walk away.  Gone Girl commands my thoughts, Gone Girl asks tough questions of myself, Gone Girl is seared into my brain like no other film that I can recall.

And that is why Gone Girl is my Film of 2014.  Not only is it the best made film of the entire year – absolutely nothing else is operating on the same continent as the ball park that Gone Girl resides in – it is the most thought-provoking and personally challenging film I have bared witness to in a long, long time.  I cannot wait to watch it again.


And there you have it.  My Top 10 Films of 2014.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below and tell me your favourite films of 2014!  Tomorrow, I will return with the first half of My Bottom 10 Films of 2014.  Prepare the pitchforks and torches.

Callum Petch just wants to be a woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

On Interstellar & Nightcrawler’s Scores

Callum Petch takes a look at the film scores of Interstellar and Nightcrawler and looks at the effect they have on their respective films.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

james newton howardQuestion: how many films can you name this year where the score was something that actually caught your attention as you were watching it?  And I don’t mean licensed music or songs written specifically for the film by the latest hot band (so exclude Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Guest and any musical so far), I mean the actual score that’s sat there helping drive events along.  I can count Under The Skin, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Double, Gone Girl and the two films I’m talking about today.  That’s really about it.  Out of 113 films that I have seen from 2014, I can recall the score from only six.

See, the art of the film score is very much receding in general perception nowadays as they become more about mood setting than attention grabbing.  Now, admittedly, this is how it should be to a degree: a film’s score should get the audience into the mood of the film, compliment the visuals and the narrative, and be a cog in the machine that helps elevate the whole of the film.  The trouble comes from just how… unmemorable and interchangeable a lot of modern day film scores are.  There’s no personality there, no individual touch that makes Film A stand out from Film B aside from some half-assed attempt at a leitmotif.

The reason why, say, that distinctive theme from Jaws managed to break into popular culture is because there is personality.  You hear that slow, ominous build and you instantly think Jaws, it can’t be anything else.  It’s distinctive, but it also builds mood which is why a whole bunch of other media over the years have lifted it wholesale for their own ends.  It’s why hearing it come up in Jaws, despite it having broken into the popular culture and used as joke fodder for a lot of the last four decades, one doesn’t burst out into laughter or get dragged out of the film.  It fits the mood, it complements the film, but it’s also distinctive and has its own personality.

Too many films nowadays seem afraid to try and add personality to their scores.  They see them as just a cog that can be slapped together and forgotten about.  That, or they’re afraid that a big, showy, personality-filled score will detract from the experience.  And whilst that is true – as I will demonstrate with one example in a bit – it shouldn’t discourage composers and filmmakers from trying anyway, since a score doesn’t need to be big and showy to have personality or be memorable.  Although The Double’s soundtrack commands your attention with its loud, melodramatic and darkly hilarious violins played by what sounds like an orchestra held at gunpoint – which is distinctive and perfectly fits the mood of the film itself – Under The Skin manages to be just as memorable with barely anything more than an uneasy discordant drone – again, distinctive and fitting.

A dull interchangeable score blends into the background and neither helps nor hinders the film that it’s attached to.  A distinctive and memorable score grabs the attention and can either enhance a film’s positive attributes or highlight its glaring weaknesses.  Lots of filmmakers seem to be afraid of the second half of the latter option, and so opt to go for the former instead.  Whilst I understand why, I ultimately prefer the second option, because that shows some semblance of an effort, creativity, and personality in proceedings – the most memorable aspect of any Marvel Studios score that I’ve heard in the last six years has been the one that backs their frickin’ studio logo, for example.

So, in that respect, I’d like to briefly look at two recent film scores that are loud, distinctive, and personality-filled and explain how they embody all of the flaws and enhance the positive aspects of their films, respectively.  Specifically: Hans Zimmer’s overwrought and majorly distracting score for Interstellar, and James Newton Howard’s off-kilter and bizarrely brilliant score for Nightcrawler.

Let’s do Interstellar first.  Now, I seem to be in the minority on this one – yes, I know, you are bowled over in surprise by this twist – but I detest Zimmer’s score for the film.  I find it incredibly overwrought, desperate, and ultimately hollow and insincere.  His recurrent leitmotif of incredibly loud church organ notes whenever something “epic” is going down comes off like the keys are being manned by a narcoleptic who nobody can bother to remove from the instrument when he does inadvertently nod off.  The constant piling on of instruments when they’re not needed, the cacophonous nature that drowns out a lot of the dialogue (although that’s more of a problem with the sound mixing than anything else), the extreme self-consciousness of its attempts to call back to hard sci-fi, and the fake-ness of it all – at no point did I get the impression that anybody involved truly put emotion into this.  It’s like somebody who has never actually felt emotions trying to make other people to feel emotions; it doesn’t convince.

Consequently, this actually ends up being emblematic of Interstellar’s faults at large.  The film itself is so cold, so clinical, yet so desperately trying to stir up emotions within its audience that it comes off as phony and awkward.  The script lacks characters, but has plenty of time to over-explain every little bit of science that goes on in the film – like it’s worried that Neil deGrasse-Tyson is going to burst in through some nearby window and demand to see the Nolans’ science credentials.  Nolan’s filmmaking style, and I’d like to note that I don’t consider it a criticism as long as he’s working within that wheelhouse, is very removed, emotionally distant and intellectual.  Unfortunately, he took on a project that doesn’t play to those strengths at all and so spends a lot of the film failing miserably at emulating the style of Steven Spielberg (whom this project was originally meant for).  Nolan creates moments and images of wonder and beauty, but fails terribly at making those coalesce in a way that feels genuine or is even sustained for more than a minute or two at a time.

Therefore, since the film is so detached emotionally even though it is trying so hard to grasp that human concept, the job of getting the audience emotionally invested falls on the score.  Hence why it goes so all-out so frequently and so heavily.  Every second of the thing is trying desperately to pick up the ball that the film drops, trying to overwhelm the audience in the hopes that the kitchen sink will finally elicit some semblance of an appropriate emotional reaction.  Like the film itself, it does work in fits and starts, but it can’t keep it up for any longer than a minute or so at a time.  For every pretty little dancing synth in the background, there’s seven separate segments where the foregrounded strings and organ are noticeably straining under the weight of the task placed upon them.  Hence why the overall product feels thuddingly manipulative and insincere.

Again, I realise that I am in the minority about this.  I expressed my thoughts on Interstellar’s score in one of my Film Studies classes shortly after release and one of the guys I know on it looked at me like I just admitted to eating puppies.  He tried to counter by stating his belief that the score could tell the story of the film by itself, but I think that just bolsters my view even more.  The score has to do the hard work because Interstellar itself fails at its end of the deal, so the score ends up swinging for the fences in order to try and make up for that.  The score is certainly distinctive, but it just adds to the distractingly fake nature of a lot of the film and only ends up making its shortcomings more noticeable.

Contrast with James Newton Howard’s score for Nightcrawler.  Now, in theory, this thing really should not work – our own Owen Hughes certainly didn’t think it did – and should be one of those soundtracks where you just sit there and go, “just what in the blue hell were they thinking?”  Nightcrawler, after all, is a dark and occasionally darkly funny satire about capitalism hidden within a brutally angry takedown of 24 hour commercial news networks.  I think the very last thing anybody expected to be backing key scenes was a distractingly out-of-place reverb-soaked guitar that makes it seem like Louis Bloom’s adventure is one that is hopeful and worthy of success.  Or take the ending with its strangled Jimi-Hendrix-rendition-of-“Star Spangled Banner”-reminiscent overdriven guitar riff.  Or even the scene before that which is backed by something that belongs more in a light-hearted comedy drama than Nightcrawler.

This is not a score that one can tune out, either.  Its atypical and ill-fitting nature is constantly calling to the viewer’s attention.  Not blatantly, in the sense that it is screaming for your attention, but in the way that one is having a conversation but keeps noticing something abnormal in the background that just won’t stop distracting you.  And that, essentially, is the point.  Nightcrawler’s score is purposefully atypical and ill-fitting because it wants to be, because it reflects the state of mind of the person whose viewpoint we are experiencing the narrative through at that moment in time.

For example, Owen cites a section around the film’s midpoint where Lou makes a speech towards Nina about his goals in life.  It seems genuinely heartfelt and completely sincere – even though we the audience already know that Lou is pretty much incapable of sincerity due to his sociopathic nature – and is the kind of speech that, in a different film, would be a life-affirming inspirational moment as the scrappy underdog outlines their Big City ambitions and desire to win at the game of Capitalism.  So that is how the scene is scored.  Because the person we are experiencing this scene through is not a detached third party – it’s through Lou.  And for Lou, in the film of his life, this is that moment.

It’s why multiple sequences where he watches his footage back on TV are backed by jaunty, bouncy tunes.  To us, these are horrifying examples of a complete sociopath exploiting the trauma and fragility of those victimised by our morally bankrupt society in order to raise his own standing within it.  To him, these are moments of victory where the people involved are secondary to his own accomplishments, him having that little empathy for those whose tragedy he is filming.  It’s why the sequence where he screams into the mirror has this dark foreboding music; for Lou, this is his low point, where he is being unfairly kept from success by bigger people than him.  The whole film could have been backed like that, to help scream to the viewer that this is wrong and to keep us at a very comfortable observatory distance from the people and events on screen.  But that’s not what happens, and that in turn makes the deployment of those ominous synths carry that much weight.

Or, to case study real quick, there is a reason why the two segments of the sequence that make up “Horror House” are scored so differently.  The first, when Lou is shooting it, is given this rather urgent and tense synth rumble – something that combines with the purposeful lacking in focus on the bodies and the violence to show how Lou sees the sequence: a tense race-against-time to document this once-in-a-lifetime footage before the cops show up; the victims being incidental.  The second, as the footage hits the air, replaces the urgency with ominous darkness which, coupled with the focus on the bodies and the almost fetishizing of said violence, paints the scene as something from a movie.  Fitting seeing as we are experiencing this scene from Nina’s perspective and she’s trying to conduct the sequence into being Must See TV.

Again, the film could have stuck with that the whole way through.  It could have backed every scene with ominous synth bass rumbles, to add a few exclamation points to the idea that this is absolutely not something to idolise or aspire to.  But not only would the film have lost the impact of when those times do appear – such as just before the film’s action sequence where, coincidentally, we switch narrative perspectives to Rick for a short while – it would also have lost its character study angle.  Nightcrawler gets its messages across through its characters, showing how utterly warped their sense of morality and worldview has to be to win at their various games, and that idea would have been lost if the score were endlessly generic and repetitively ominous – much like my usage of that word.  Such a prominent and attention-calling score was undoubtedly a risk, because it is so off-beat, but it ends up working gangbusters and elevates the rest of the film as a result.

So, now that we’ve done that, allow me to ask and answer a question: what do the scores for Interstellar and Nightcrawler have in common besides being very noticeable and memorable?  Honestly, nothing.  One works, one doesn’t, one overcooks proceedings whilst the other seasons them just right, one has to make up for its attached film’s flaws and only ends up making them more glaring whilst the other compliments the excellent film it backs and highlights its strengths even more.  In the sense of their being scores, there’s really nothing linking them together, except one key thing…

I’m talking about them.  I may hate Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar, but I’m talking about it.  I’ll know it when some part of it inevitably breaks through into pop culture.  I love Nightcrawler’s score, and I find the score such an integral part of that film’s feel that I can’t picture the film without it.  Same with Interstellar.  Meanwhile, you could switch the soundtracks for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Transformers: Age Of Extinction and I honestly would likely be unable to tell the difference.  Too many films are afraid to try crafting a score with a legitimate personality nowadays, instead settling for a fun licensed soundtrack and Generic Blockbuster Score #264 to trundle proceedings along, and that disheartens me.

Just because you may fail, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t even bother to try.  I am of the firm belief that the worst thing a film can do is leave me with no reaction whatsoever.  A film can make me angry, offend me, upset me, repulse me, but at least it got a reaction and isn’t that what films are supposed to do?  To get a reaction out of us?  I prefer a vehemently negative reaction to a shrug of total indifference, because then I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.  I’ve felt something, and way too few scores nowadays are willing to take that risk because they believe that the risk of a negative reaction far outweighs the reward of a good one.

I’d like to see more film scores try.  Try to have some personality, some noticeable thing and quality about it that lends the overall film a specific feel that it can’t get from any other score.  Something that does its part to help brand a film as That Film.  I want them to try.  I want a reaction, more than anything else.  Interstellar and Nightcrawler do this.  Under The Skin, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Double do this.  I’d like that list to be longer in today’s films.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Callum Petch is overqualified for the position.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man is an exceptionally made film, with a great Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, that did pretty much nothing for me.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

a most wanted manI do not delude myself into thinking that my reviews are gospel, or that they are even slightly useful as consumer advice.  Fact of the matter is that I don’t know you.  No offense, you’re probably really nice and are stimulating conversation, but it’s not possible for me to know every single person who reads my work, so I don’t know what you will or will not like.   It’s why I rarely use pronouns like “we” or “you” and mostly stick to “I”.  “I felt…”  “I thought…”  Because that’s what my reviews are, my own subjective opinion.  If you find thoughts and points in my reviews that you think will help you decide whether to see or skip a film, then that’s a bonus to you!  Whenever I deploy “you need to see this” or “you should stay away”, it’s typically because I selfishly want to see films I like succeed and films I dislike bomb.  I may utterly despise Sex Tape and find it relentlessly unfunny, but that doesn’t mean that you might.  You might even like it!  You’d be wrong, but I’m not you so I wouldn’t know.

I bring this up because I am perfectly aware that a lot of people like A Most Wanted Man.  I am perfectly aware that a lot of people think that it’s one of the best films released so far this year, and I can see why people like it.  I can appreciate its artistry, the way that it’s shot, its deliberate pacing, its strong performances; all the technical stuff.  But the film otherwise did nothing for me.  Look, I am sorry, I really tried to get into A Most Wanted Man.  I was there for the entire two hours desperately trying to get into it as something other than a piece of technical and artistic majesty…  but I just couldn’t.  I found the film cold, clinical, bereft of emotion; I get that that is the point, but I found it TOO cold, TOO clinical, TOO emotionless, if you catch my drift.  I couldn’t break through into the film and the world of the film, so I instead spent the entire runtime watching plot happen at a deliberate pace.  That is fine, if you like that sort of thing, and there are a lot of people that do, but it’s not really for me.  Or, at least, if a film must just be plot happening, I need it to be of a fast enough or fun enough pace that I don’t notice or care about the lack emotion powering the whole thing until it’s too late.

In any case, A Most Wanted Man’s plot follows a German espionage group, led by Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final lead role), as they attempt to track down the titular Most Wanted Man, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), an illegal refugee from Chechnya who may or may not have ties to the Al Qaeda terror cell that helped plot the 9/11 attacks.  Issa himself appears to have done nothing wrong, only wishing to seek asylum in Germany and possibly access his departed father’s blood money, but he ends up being unwittingly manipulated and fought over by various intelligence agencies.  Günther wants to use him to get to Muslim philanthropist and suspected terrorist bankroller Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), planning to turn him, and pretty much anyone else even remotely connected to him and Issa, including a German banker (Willem Dafoe) and the lawyer assigned to Issa’s case (Rachel McAdams), into assets to take down the members of Al Qaeda with real power.  Günther’s higher-ups are more content to sell everyone involved down river to the Americans, who themselves would rather just take down Issa and everyone connected to him immediately, via extraordinary rendition, in order to score a PR win with the people back home.

As you can probably guess from the premise and the fact that this is a slow-moving spy drama, an adaptation of a John le Carré novel no less, the acting is the real star of the show, here.  Robin Wright, who turns up as the liaison between Günther and the Americans, manages to balance warm confidant and steely not-totally-trustworthy professionalism with aplomb, frequently in the same scene.  Dobrygin is very assured as Issa, a scared man out of his depth who never seems to quite grasp how everybody around him is manipulating him for their own ends.  Willem Dafoe makes it 2 for 1 in Great 2014 Supporting Performances (like he’s going out of his way to apologise to me for being involved in Beyond: Two Souls or something) with a great turn as the banker who is practically forced into, and can’t quite handle, Günther’s spy game.

But, as should be really obvious by his mere presence, the standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a sad reminder of what a talent we lost this year.  Whereas Gary Oldman played George Smiley in 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as a cold, detached yet efficient master spy, Hoffman plays Günther (who I feel is cut from pretty much the same cloth as Smiley, but feel free to post giant essay length differences between the two in the comments, I have a feeling I’m wrong on this) as a man who is just completely tired of all of this shit.  Tired of the spy game, tired of the politics that hamper his work, tired of people who can’t or refuse to see the bigger picture that he can, and tired of both the fact that he has to ruin lives to get his men and of the people whose lives he has to ruin.  He tries to put up a facade of humanity, he’s still able to joke with his colleagues and feign tolerance when he has to interact with those who conspire against him, but it’s weak and barely hides his tiredness.  It’s subtle and understated, too, fitting excellently the mood of the film, and makes the one time when he does display an emotion that isn’t resignation a genuine shock.  It reminds me a lot of his performance in Truman, which I found similarly restrained and non-showy, and it’s a fitting end for his leading man career; a reminder of how he could walk into a film and steal it out from under the noses of his more obviously-trying counterparts by just being the role.

Though the acting is the star of the film, that’s not to discredit the look and feel of the film.  As you may have gathered, this is meant to be an old-fashioned spy thriller and director Anton Corbijn (previous of the excellent and similarly slow-paced Control and The American) turns out to be a perfect fit for this.  He keeps the pace slow but not glacial, accurately reflecting the extremely slow speed that Günther’s process of espionage takes but having every scene effectively build to the end goal.  The film is gorgeously shot but the world has a sexless and cold feel to it; despite the many great shots that the film throws up (one of my favourites involves a great usage of focussing during a pivotal scene), there is no beauty in the world of the film.  But it also resists the urge to take shortcuts and make the world overly grim looking, there are no extremely grimy locals, no overly muted colour-palettes, the film doesn’t spend three-quarters of its runtime in council estates or the like.  It feels very much real, like these are things that can and do happen on a frequent basis and it really helps the meditative mood, creating a world that I imagine is very easy to get lost in.

THAT BEING SAID…  I couldn’t get into the film beyond appreciating its artistry.  Again, believe me, I tried.  I tried to break through.  I tried to get invested in the characters.  I tried to see Philip Seymour Hoffman and Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams as the characters that they were playing instead of just actors doing really good performances.  But I couldn’t.  I’m sorry, I just couldn’t.  The problem with it for me, the same problem I had with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 2011, is that the film is just too cold.  When I go to see a film, I usually like to lose myself in the world, to meet new and interesting characters whose desires and fates I can be invested in in some way.  If a film isn’t aiming to do that, then I need enough spectacle or a fast-enough pace or at least a good sense of fun in order to not care too much about that.  I like to be invested emotionally, on a deeper level than admiration.

A Most Wanted Man doesn’t really do that.  It does want to be about, on at least one of its levels, the weight and toll that comes from flipping people into assets, on the both the part of the flipper and the flippee, but I found the film too emotionally guarded to let me in on that level.  I could sit there and understand that that was what it was going for, but that’s it.  I didn’t connect emotionally to anyone because the film wouldn’t let me.  Initially, I mistook the film for just being soulless, but I realised that to be patently untrue by about the halfway mark, this instead being a conscious design choice.  So, instead of fully connecting with and being invested in proceedings, I mostly sat back in my chair frustratingly watching plot pieces move into place real slow like.  I understand that this will be to many people’s taste, that they will get onto the film’s wavelength and have no such quarrel, but I like to have that deeper connection with films, not just spending the runtime standing there looking through the window whilst everyone inside throws a giant party.  (For an example of the kind of artistic majesty film that did resonate with me on a deeper level than just appreciation for its impeccable design, I point you in the direction of Under The Skin.)

I can nitpick the score, though, mind.  Whereas the rest of the film, in the way that it’s shot and plotted and paced and acted, perfectly encapsulates the slow-burning emotionally-distant spy drama that it’s going for, the score is too lively for my tastes.  Everything else is understated and reserved, but the score is a bit too open and traditional, loudly ominous and dramatic in a way that felt like a drunken frat boy turning up in the audience of a Shakespeare production filled with quiet appreciative upper-class theatre lovers and yelling out “OH, SHIT, SON!” whenever anything important happens.  Pretty sure I counted several instances of it even starting up when somebody said something dramatic, the score equivalent of said, “OH, SHIT, SON!”  I feel it could have been more understated and more trusting of the audience, especially since the rest of the film decides that the audience is smart enough to follow along without having every plot beat spelt out for them.

Between this and 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which I saw in cinemas when it came out and had basically the exact same opinion on as I do this), I get the feeling that John le Carré stories just aren’t for me.  I can appreciate them as artistic achievements but my enjoyment of them really doesn’t go any further.  I did find the last fifteen minutes of this rather tense and the ending, whilst initially giving me the same “Err, don’t we still have 15 minutes left of the film to show?” feeling that If I Stay had, has been rising in my estimations the more I let it sit, neither connected with me on the emotional level.  I was tense for the plot, to see if everything that the plot had been building towards would come crashing down at the last minute, rather than for character reasons, whether Günther gets his man or not and what would happen to everyone involved.  My connection with his works doesn’t go any further than the “these are some really well made films” level.  When I get some free time, I’ll hunt down some of his books and some more of his films and see if it’s just these films where this is a problem, or whether the books carry something that the films lack, or whether this turns out to just be my overall feelings on his various works.

For now, though, I’ll just have to concede that A Most Wanted Man just isn’t for me.  It’s a stunningly well-made film with a magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, but that’s all that it managed to connect with me on, the constructed surface level.  I concede that I am in the minority about this and that fans of John le Carré novels and adaptations will probably love it.  I also concede that people who like the idea of slow-moving yet intelligent spy dramas will probably also love it.  But I was left cold by this one, and seeing as a review consists of my personal thoughts on a movie, that’s all I can concretely tell you about it.

Callum Petch sees you through his spy glasses, baby.  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..

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Failed Critics Podcast: The Raid 2, The Quiet Ones, and farewell to the Loud One

The Raid 2 RamaThis week’s podcast welcomes back the loud, opinionated, and slightly drunk Svengali-figure of James Diamond, for one week only before he disappears on leave for a while. Don’t worry though, as Steve and Owen continue to show a suitable lack of respect.

We also get into this week’s new releases, mainly the brutal gangster epic The Raid 2, and the latest offering from the resurrected Hammer Studio, The Quiet Ones. We also have time to discuss Under the Skin, Tropic Thunder, and Snowpiercer once more, as well as trying to figure out why hard-rated action films appear to by a dying breed.

We’re back next week with one of those fresh-voiced substitutes that we keep teasing you with, and our thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Glasgow Film Festival 2014 Preview

gfflogo

It’s that time of year once more, and I’ll shortly be on my way to Scotland for the 10th Glasgow Film Festival. The cinematic event that provides a more boisterous, down-to-earth, and accessible counterpoint to the Edinburgh Film and Television festival.

This year the festival is even bigger than ever, and features over 60 UK premieres. The opening gala is the UK Premiere of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, while the closing gala is the Scottish premiere of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Although both have sold out, there’s still plenty to get excited about.

Richard Ayoade’s second feature The Double (starring Jessie Eisenberg), Terry Gilliam’s latest sci-fi mindfuck The Zero Theorem (starring Christophe Waltz as you’ve never seen him), and the film adaptation of the acclaimed novel The Book Thief all have gala screenings at the festival.

Other films to watch out for include Jason Priestley’s directorial debut Cas and Dylan (a road-trip movie starring Richard Dreyfuss), Philipe Claudel’s psychological thriller Before the Winter Chill, and the Scottish premiere of Oscar-nominated documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, complete with pre-film entertainment from the Glasgow Gospel Choir.

There are a few films that I’m particularly looking forward to, including Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) latest film Mood Indigo. Starring the delightful Audrey Tautou (Amelie), and featuring Romain Duris (Populaire) and Omar Sy (Intouchables), it is an adaptation of the Boris Vian cult novel set in contemporary Paris with a retro aesthetic. Gondry’s films are always visually stunning, and it appears we’re getting the full cut of the film rather than the Weinstein ‘vision’, which makes it a must-watch for me.

Zero Charisma has the potential to become one of the breakout hits of the festival, and anything that celebrates geek culture without sneering at it is to be applauded. This exploration of the conflict between a weekly ‘Games Master’ and the popular ‘geek chic’ interloper into his social circle has already proven very popular at SXSW, and fits perfectly into the festival’s embrace of gaming culture.

My last ‘one to watch’ from the huge programme is the Guatemala/Mexico joint production The Golden Dream. Directed by a former Ken Loach cameraman, this powerful neo-realist look at three teenagers’ attempts to travel a thousand miles from their homes to the US packs a serious punch, and features outstanding performances from its young leads.

Then there’s the notorious GFF Surprise Film, the lucky dip of the festival and certainly worth a punt even if last year’s screening was the woeful Spring Breakers. Speculation is rife as to what this year’s film could be, and I’m trying desperately to lower my expectations from The Raid 2. Like last year’s film though, both Snowpiercer and Calvary have screened at Berlin to excellent reviews, and either would be a fantastic choice.

Horror fans are also amply accommodated during the last weekend of the festival as Frighfest heads north of the border, with Ti West appearing in conversation and Wolf Creek 2 among the films premiering in that strand.

And it’s not just new films that dominate the programme; the 1939 Hooray for Hollywood strand will see ten classics from that year being screened across the city, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Gone with the Wind. There are some great films in unusual locations as well, including Young Frankenstein at the Kelvingrove Museum, and John Carpenter’s The Fog on a boat.

I’m going to be covering as much of the festival as I possibly can with my daily diary, as well as interviews, reviews, and mis-typed tweets. The Failed Critics Podcast is also returning to Glasgow, and this year we’ll have some old friends returning, and hopefully making some new ones as well.

BD_Logo_WhiteThe Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.