TV Review: This Is Going to Hurt

Have we reached the point yet where we can collectively agree that the ‘clap for the NHS’ phenomenon during the height of the Covid pandemic was a tokenistic gesture at best? This Is Going to Hurt really brings home how unintentionally insulting our efforts were.

Not that Adam Kay’s adaptation of his best-selling memoir of the same name directly covers these events, or even references Covid, but across seven episodes it rather brilliantly brings home the stark reality of just what the National Health Service does on a daily basis. To say doctors, nurses, clinical staff and more go above and beyond is an incredible understatement. Kay’s series presents them, undoubtedly accurately, as modern heroes fighting against a system driving them into the ground.

One might suspect the resulting series would be a highly depressing journey through the darkest corners of hospital life but This Is Going to Hurt is no bleak episode of Casualty or existential hour of Holby City. Kay’s show manages to accomplish what his memoir did in balancing the melancholic and downright despairing with the deeply hilarious. His series can veer from razor sharp wit all the way to tragic, shocking consequences in a heartbeat, and does so without ever missing a step.

It is, quite simply, one of the finest depictions of the NHS we have perhaps ever seen on screen.

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All the Time in the World: JAMES BOND in the 2020s

As we bask in the long-awaited glory of No Time to Die, if not the pinnacle of the Daniel Craig era as James Bond then a fitting conclusion, the inevitable question on everyone’s lips is simple: what’s next?

You can totally understand the thinking of Eon Productions head honchos Barbara Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson behind giving themselves space to enjoy Craig’s swan song. No Time to Die has spent a torturous 18 months thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic ready to go and suffered delay after delay as Eon & MGM (now Amazon) waited for the right moment to give audiences the best chance to see it in cinemas. Their patience will pay off given No Time to Die is tracking to be a huge hit, even if it is unlikely to match the box office haul of either Skyfall or Spectre.

Although in decades past the wait between the announcement of Bond actors was shorter, with Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton replacing their predecessors within two years, we will almost certainly not know who the next Bond will be until 2023. We had to wait three years between Die Another Day and Craig’s unveiling and that was 15 years ago. We are unlikely to see Bond 26 until, at the very earliest, 2024 and personally I would wager it will more likely be 2025. Which means, in all likelihood, Bond in the 2020s will reflect the 2000s as a transitory decade giving way to the next Bond’s debut, and his second movie before the decade is out. Anything more is likely to be very optimistic, and this is even without pandemics or other unnatural global events getting in the way.

The future, however, is not just about who plays James Bond as it perhaps was in many previous decades. The future of the Bond franchise now has many broader questions attached. After No Time to Die, is the franchise ever quite the same? What kind of Bond should the character be? How does he figure into a rapidly changing geopolitical and cultural fabric? A fabric in even greater flux than when Craig assumed a harder edged, stripped back version of the role in the wake of 9/11 and the global ructions of the terrorism threat that shaped much of his Bond era. And how exactly does this uniquely produced franchise continue to exist, and more importantly work to evolve, in an entertainment landscape that increasingly threatens to leave the style of how Bond is made behind?

These, for me, are the questions that will define the discourse around James Bond’s future over the next few years.

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Escaping Reality: The Feel Good TV Effect

Reality has been tough lately. The world feels like a powder keg of polarisation, violence and economic spiral, certainly if you poke your head over the parapet and engage with the day to day.

Can we therefore be surprised that we have seen, in the last couple of years, a resurgence of what we might describe as ‘feel good’ TV? Ted Lasso, Sex Education, Grace & Frankie, Trying, the list goes on – modern series which present to audiences worlds that exist on the fringes of the reality we all experience. Worlds in which we might see favoured characters undergo emotional and spiritual changes, many of them painful and difficult, but through which we are reasonably confident these people we have come to admire and show genuine affection for will be okay in the end.

Whether these series have been devised specifically for this purpose is an open question. My instinct is that the answer is both yes and no. It is hard to imagine any creative, from Jason Sudeikis to Marta Kaufman to Laurie Nunn, truly writing and developing their show specifically for the ‘feel good’ designation. These things tend to happen organically and by osmosis, even if—as in the case of Ted Lasso—your entire series is deep rooted in ideas of kindness, teamwork and hope. The question that interests me is this: do we need these shows right now because we need to escape reality? Are they the television equivalent of taking the blue pill offered by Morpheus?

Maybe the rabbit hole, right now, is just too existentially grim to face. Maybe we need to feel good in these fictions because they are, for many, our only escape.

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TV Review: The Book of Boba Fett

Set to go down in television history as one of the most bizarre misfires in the streaming era, The Book of Boba Fett is both simultaneously absolutely fascinating and profoundly dull.

That is quite some trick from the creative forces within the Disney Star Wars family, who since LucasFilm was bought out in 2012 and the biggest science-fiction franchise in history was revived as one of the dominant multimedia IP’s, have presided over a distinctly mixed bag of content. For every The Force Awakens, you end up with what previously might have been termed a Rise of Skywalker, and from now on could well be designated as a Book of Boba Fett.

Quite how they managed to so staggeringly get this wrong is perhaps the biggest mystery about the whole project. It was steered by Jon Favreau, the primary mastermind behind The Mandalorian which, despite the flaws that show does have, is probably outside of The Last Jedi the most broadly critically acclaimed piece of modern Star Wars that we’ve seen produced, which has managed to seep into popular geek culture relatively swiftly. Star Wars stalwarts such as Dave Filoni are involved. Seasoned directors such as Robert Rodriguez. All of the creative building blocks are in place.

This is without even mentioning that the show is about Boba Fett. Is there, outside of Darth Vader, a masked character in pop culture history, certainly in the Star Wars universe, who has been so mythologised in the last 40+ years? So how, exactly, has his first significant dramatic storyline been so utterly, completely botched?

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Film Review: Death on the Nile (2022)

In some ways, Death on the Nile feels like a film that came out years ago.

Originally slated to arrive ‘P-C’, ‘Pre-Covid’, in December 2019, a slew of delays followed as the pandemic rocked the cinematic world and further pushed back Kenneth Branagh’s follow up adventure as the self-styled ‘world’s greatest detective’ Hercule Poirot, after his successful and largely critically praised debut in Murder on the Orient Express, until finally it has arrived—perhaps more appropriately—on Valentine’s weekend some two and half years, almost, late.

The project since then has been lurking in the press for all of the wrong reasons, be it Gal Gadot’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Armie Hammer’s blacklisting thanks to some troubling sexual peccadilloes, or Letitia Wright spouting full blown anti-vaccination nonsense (which she denies). Some even wondered if the film would ever see the cinematic light of day or end up sent to the streaming doldrums of Disney+ as some kind of ‘premier exclusive’. Perhaps wisely, perhaps not, that didn’t happen.

Branagh’s film is undeniably a cinematic experience but that, nor the delay, prevent the finished product being a frustrating disappointment.

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Film Flashback: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

With sequel Death on the Nile arriving in cinemas, we look back at Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express isn’t just a remake, or another adaptation of a classic text, it’s also undoubtedly an attempt to contemporise an incredibly well known piece of work, in this case Agatha Christie’s legendary 1934 detective novel featuring her most famed, irrepressible character: Inspector Hercule Poirot.

Don’t get me wrong, the piece remains set in the mid-1930’s, with period production values and Kenneth Branagh’s protagonist sporting the most daring, rakish moustache you could imagine, but everything about Branagh’s new take on the material is concerned with highlighting the simmering, modern day issues which Michael Green’s screenplay picks out of this hugely popular piece of detective fiction.

Christie’s original story sees Poirot seeking a holiday, following a case in the Middle East, but upon being recalled back to London to consult on a case, he boards the Orient Express in Istanbul with an eclectic group of passengers from all corners of the world, one of whom in short order ends up dead as the train is stalled by an avalanche while travelling through the mountains. Cue the inspector attempting to put the pieces together in true sleuth fashion, negotiating the myriad egos and personalities of everything from middle-aged American lushes to aged Russian princesses.

Well known for its ultimate twist (one I didn’t infact know, nor which I will spoil), Poirot’s ultimate detection leads him to multiple realisations, both literal and emotional.

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Failed Critics Reborn

The heartiest of welcomes, friends, to Failed Critics circa 2022.

My name is A. J. Black and I’m delighted to be the latest steward of both the Failed Critics website and associated podcast. As you can read on our ‘Who We Are’ page, Failed Critics was founded in 2012 and produced a huge amount of content between then and 2017 including hundreds of articles and podcasts, before the previous editors decided it was time to call it a day.

As someone who has edited and created a website before–indeed with Owen Hughes, the last editor of Failed Critics–in Set The Tape (happily still going strong), the temptation to have a run at reviving the slightly shambolic brand that is FC was too great to resist.

Fact is, despite the marketing, Failed Critics was never truly shambolic. It brought together a range of tremendous writers and podcasters who shared their love of film and made friendships along the way, myself included. All of that writing still exists in the FC archives and much of it will be trickled out again amidst the new content to come.

And what is to come, I hear you ask?

Well, first and foremost, the podcast will soon return with trusty old Steve Norman back in the hosting chair, an unadulterated format, many of the old favourite guests, and a new home in my podcast network We Made This. All episodes will be also available in links here but we’re all very excited to bring what was for a time a very successful film podcast back online and with a whole new set of contributors likely joining in too.

The website will also steadily trickle out new content, led chiefly by myself. The remit has now been tweaked slightly to cover more than just cinema. FC will also look at television and other media, be it books, comics, perhaps music, even maybe podcasts. We will start with film & TV predominantly and then see how it goes. The hope will be to bring in other writers who might enjoy contributing some hobbyist writing for FC over time.

However you have found Failed Critics, a huge welcome. Take a load off and crack open a tin. For we have such sights to show you…

Failed Critics Podcast: Triple bill 2019 and that

Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes had a day off work and decided to kill time by doing an impromptu podcast on stuff they’ve seen in 2019. It also means we edge one step closer to the magic episode 300 mark – just nine more to go. But, seeing as the last podcast they released was in June 2018, it’s unlikely to be reached any time soon.

The pair talk about what they’ve watched recently, including a chat about bizarre Japanese arthouse film Tetsuo, The Iron Man, and the wave of true crime documentaries lately. In triple bill, they each pick out their favourite new film of 2019, their favourite first-time watch of the year, and the worst film they’ve seen over the past three months or so.

We’ll be back.. probably.. at some point.. hopefully.

LISTEN HERE

Failed Critics Podcast: Thor: Ragnarok

So very, very late this week that it’s actually now “next week” but hey, at least it’s here, right?

Let’s cut out the chit chat and get straight to it: Steve Norman hosts (and edits) this week as Owen Hughes and Brian Plank join for a review of the MCU’s latest fantasy adventure with Thor: Ragnarok. In the absence of the news section, the trio run through some Netflix stuff, chat about what else they’ve been watching, and recommend you some stuff to watch during the week that’s just been so is now entirely useless. Sorry about that.

Listen directly here.

Failed Critics Podcast: London Film Festival 2017 Special

Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast as hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Callum Petch, fresh from this year’s London Film Festival.

We kick off the podcast with a chat about the ins and outs of the Festival itself as Callum explains what it’s like being one of them proper critics that they have in London. He also rounds up five of the best (including Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water,  Irish Afghanistan animation The Breadwinner and NOT hip-comedy The Party) and a few of the rest.

Of course, you can read back on all of Callum’s diary entries from the BFI London Film Festival 2017 right here.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

London Film Festival 2017: Day Thirteen

And with that, we’re done again.  Back home.

Another October fortnight spent gallivanting around the nation’s capital playing dress-up as a respected member of the Film Press in the books, with the articles and memories to prove that this wasn’t all a Wizard of Oz/Dallas Season 9-type scenario.  Honestly, I’m somewhat glad to be back home, although give it a few days and I’ll want to be as far away from here as possible again.

That old cliché of sequels never being as good as the original has turned out to have enacted itself upon my London Film Festival experiences.

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London Film Festival 2017: Day Twelve

So today – well, yesterday now, look, you know what I mean and that I write these on the day, hush – was my birthday.

This was the second straight year in which I celebrated my birthday away from home… scratch that, away from my family, and both instances have honestly been vastly more enjoyable than those times I’ve had to spend them in the company of any number of my extended family. Part of that is because my family is utterly goddamn exhausting, and getting away from them for even just a few hours is like pure bliss, I’m not even joking.

Most of it, however, is because I’ve been down here on the “job” for both years, which allows me to focus on something other than the continued terrifying encroachment of my own mortality for the day instead.

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London Film Festival 2017: Day Eleven

You’re not going to read about any big films, today. Sorry to disappoint you right off the bat, but that ain’t how the penultimate day of this Festival goes. Allow me to peel back the curtain and explain, for a moment.

Most of the screenings during the Festival that reporters like myself attend are special Press & Industry screenings, held largely at the Picturehouse Central from the first proper day of the Festival through to the Friday before it finishes – there are also two weeks beforehand of other P&I screenings, primarily of lower-key films that won’t grab as many headlines, but I can’t comment on them because, due to my living situation being up North and largely broke, I’ve yet to go to those. They come in 3 blocks a day, and access to them only requires a valid Pass and to be close enough to the front of the line that you won’t get shut out due to over-capacity.

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London Film Festival 2017: Day Ten

I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to talk to other people whilst I’ve been at the Festival, this year.  

As previously mentioned back on Day 6 when I related my account attending one of the Filmmaker’s Afternoon Teas, I have severe anxiety and it flares up especially bad when I’m surrounded by large groups of people I don’t know in a place I feel like I don’t belong.  Until only very recently, I had incredible difficulty even asking my friends if they wanted to hang out and do stuff, so you can probably imagine how hard it is for me to work up the nerve to talk to random people, particularly since quite a lot of people at the Festival appear to know at least a few others and keep bumping into them.

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London Film Festival 2017: Day Nine

Lots to get through today, so let’s not waste words and begin straight away with a film I saw on Wednesday but was embargoed from talking about until now: Journeyman (B), the directorial return of Paddy Considine, who made waves in 2011 when he unleashed the dark, moody drama Tyrannosaur upon an unsuspecting world.

His follow-up… is nothing like that. In fact, for his return to the director’s chair and screenwriter’s typewriter, he’s gone borderline sentimental on us, pumping out a thematically-empty crowdpleaser about a man overcoming the adversity of a traumatic injury with the support of his wife and friends. The man is past-his-prime boxer Matty Burton (Considine), the wife is recent mother Emma (Jodie Whitaker), his friends are his former boxing team that are plagued by unspoken guilt about the injury, and the injury is severe brain damage from his years in the ring, which has stricken him with amnesia, severely damaged his mental capacities, and reduced his physical abilities to almost nothing.

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