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The top 10 film strands to see at the 2014 London Film Festival Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 18 September 2014 07:06

245. That's the number of feature films showing at this year's London Film Festival - up 12 from last year and up 20 from 2012. It's a lot of films.


So, when public booking for tickets opens today at 10am, you've got a tough decision to make. The internet is, of course, already full of countless lists of top picks, the best films starring Benedict Cumberbatch and the celebrity guest highlights, but there are so many other films in the line-up that it's not hard to come across ones that take your fancy. Yes, even Godard has a movie playing at the BFI IMAX.


That's why the London Film Festival divides up its programme into strands: to help you find something to suit your tastes. Laugh. Dare. Love. Thrill. Cult. Debate. Journey. But let's face it, sometimes those abstract nouns and evocative verbs aren't the easiest thing to browse. What if you just want a film about robots?


And so present to you our 10 alternative strands for the LFF 2014, to make it easier to find something specific to your interests. Really like war films? Want to know more about journalism? Enchanted by Eva Green? There really is something for everyone.


Sadly, we live in a time where there aren't many countries not engaged in conflict - 11, according the latest count from the Institute for Economics and Peace - and cinema continues to explore the reasons and ramifications of war, from The Imitation Game's story of Alan Turing cracking the Enigma code in WWII and '71, which sees a young Brit (Jack O'Connell) caught behind enemy lines in 1971 Belfast, to Zero Motivation, modern military comedy about Israeli soldiers. Most moving, perhaps, of all is a restoration of 1927's The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, which will be accompanied by a new score played by the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines.

Zero Motivation
Rosewater
Damn the War!
War Book
'71
The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands
The Imitation Game
Fury


It's not easy being a journalist, judging by this collection of newspaper-related LFF entries. Jon Stewart's debut, Rosewater, is based on the memoir of Maziar Bahari, a reporter detained for 188 days in Iran, while Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or-winner Winter Sleep follows retired actor struggling to write a local newspaper column.

Rosewater
Winter Sleep
Born Yesterday


Sometimes, you just want to see people hit things. Or kick things. Or attack things with swords. With the newly announced addition of Donnie Yen's Kung Fu Jungle receiving its world premiere at the LFF, our FISTS strand is for you.

Kung Fu Jungle
Foxcatcher
Dragon Inn


True stories are a popular source of cinematic inspiration, be it Alan Turing or an Iranian prisoner. Abel Ferrara gets in on the biopic game with Willem Dafoe playing Pasolini, while Timothy Small will star as painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. Channing Tatum and Steve Carrell are already feted for their turns in Foxcatcher, about wrestling world champions Dave and Mark Shultz. There's even a film about Italian poet Leopardi and Sergei Parajanov's 1969 film about 18th-century Armenian ashugh, Sayat Nova: The Colour of Pomegranates. (Mental note: Campaign for a Pomegranates strand at next year's LFF.)

Pasolini
Leopardi
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Rosewater
Mr. Turner
The Colour of Pomegranates


Who doesn't like a bit of Susanne Bier? The LFF certainly does: they've got two of hers included this year. George Clooney would get tons of column inches out of that alone: the Oscar-winning Danish director deserves no less.

A Second Chance
Serena


Enchanted by Eva Green? Join the queue. The queue, that is, to book tickets for either of her two films showing in Leicester Square this October.

White Bird in a Blizzard
The Salvation


I love a good cave. Mysterious, dark, covered in little bits of hair. But if Nick Cave the musician isn't your thing - he's scoring two films at this year's festival - why not try a film about an actual cave instead? Even better, book one of the below blindfolded and see where you end up in four weeks' time. (Warning: Watch out for caves.)

Far From Men
In Darkness We Fall
Tender


Cute. Furry. Always on YouTube. Animals are everywhere in modern society, so it's no surprise to see that they have infiltrated the BFI's event too. There's White Bird in a Blizzard, which stars Eva Green and Shailene Woodley as… oh. And Foxcatcher about Channing Tatum hunting fox… oh. But wait a minute: there is Animal Farm screening in the retro family catalogue. That has animals in it, right?

Animal Farm
The Lamb
White Bird in a Blizzard
Foxcatcher


As the old cinema saying goes, if it sounds like a medical condition, you know you're in for a good night. From Whiplash to 3 Hearts, these titles are all wonderfully intriguing and exciting. Unless, of course, they're being read to you by your doctor. In which case cancel your LFF tickets now and start making peace with your estranged Aunt Mildred.

Whiplash
3 Hearts
Hungry Hearts
X+Y
Shrew's Nest
The Turning
The Goob
Butter on the Latch
The Green Prince


There are some interesting hints of technology in this year's LFF, from social media and long-distance relationships in 10,000km to our second-screen-dominated lives captured in Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children. But screw technology. What we all want to know at the LFF each year is this: are there any films with GIANT ROBOT OVERLORDS? Finally, there is. It's called, in fact, Robot Overlords. A small British sci-fi that sees a young boy escape curfew in an age of, well, robot overlords, it's a wee adventure directed by none other than Jon Wright: guy who made the wonderful horror-comedy Grabbers. If you haven't already put this at the top of your to-see list, the film also stars Gillian Anderson. And Sir Ben Kingsley. And GIANT ROBOT OVERLORDS. Did I mention the robots?

Robot Overlords

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Dizzyingly cinematic: Why the Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire is perfect for NT Live Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 10:33

"What is straight?" asks Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. "A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains."


That's what the Young Vic's production of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play manages to capture on stage: the curve of the human heart and mind. When the traumatised Blanche arrives on the doorstep of sister Stella's apartment in New Orleans, she is hoping for a straightforward stay. In no time, she locates the liquor under the sink and takes a swig. The room immediately starts to spin. It doesn't stop.


It's a stunningly bold piece of design from Magda Willi: staged in the round, the production centres on Stella and Stanley's home, an exposed unit on a turntable that constantly, slowly revolves.


On a technical level, it's an impressive feat: under the careful eye of director Benedict Andrews, things are choreographed seamlessly so that people hop on and off the carousel of Blanche's downward spiral, hanging off stairwells or slipping out into the wings just as the opportunity arises.


On a practical level, it's also what makes this version of A Streetcar Named Desire perfect for NT Live, the now established process that will see a bunch of cameras broadcast the performance live into over 1,000 cinemas around the world tonight (Tuesday 16th September).


While sitting in the theatre, every scene rotates to be shown from different vantage points; a process that might sound distracting but is anything but. In fact, it's actually very cinematic, like watching a screen that repeatedly pans to another character's perspective; a restless, uneasy experience that taps directly into Blanche's crumbling mental state.


Gillian Anderson is jaw-dropping as the faded belle, simultaneously attractive and pathetic, powerful and pitiful. "I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth," she insists to her sister (the equally wonderful Vanessa Kirby), impressively stubborn in her deceit, but tragic in how she has fooled herself.


Ben Foster echoes her subtle turn with a similarly nuanced Stanley, giving the plain-speaking brute a soft, sympathetic edge. When he throws plates against the wall, he doesn't yell like an ape; he almost resentfully tips them with a casual flick, more conflicted than crude.


As this trio collide in varying combinations, a normal in-the-round production would see you miss parts of their performances. The Young Vic's staging, though, amplifies every detail. Sitting behind the sink adds to the home's claustrophobic confines; swooping behind the door during a row leaves you eavesdropping from the bathroom. It's a perfect display of how to make obstacles and props a part of the text, turning background into foreground.


Throughout, Alex Baranowski's music creates an oppressive atmosphere that adds to the visual feel, while rough and ready song choices during scene changes echo the action ironically in way you normally associate with the end credits of Mad Men.


When Blanche dresses up for a birthday party halfway through, flashing lights and colourful decorations create the illusion of spinning top, a circus act gone horrifyingly wrong. The spinning production's most powerful aspect, though, comes in between the lines. When Blanche insults Stanley to Stella, he stands behind the mesh front door, hearing everything; like the audience watching this abstract unit of architecture, he sees no wall there. When Stanley later talks to Stella about Blanche, she sits in the bath, isolated by a shower curtain singing show tunes - an element that would normally take place off-stage. We still move through the home without boundaries, but for Blanche, those walls actually exist; she is the only one who hears nothing outside of her own world. Overhearing from behind the kitchen sink, the division between reality and fantasy has never seemed more visible.


For tonight's broadcast, an NT Live director would normally have to pick several points in an auditorium and cut between them, struggling to reproduce theatre's presentation in another medium. Here, the set does the work for the camera; NT Live could work by simply staying stationary, sitting in one place as Blanche's descent into madness repeatedly spirals into view. The screen may be straight, but the Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire is dizzyingly curved.


Find out where A Streetcar Named Desire is showing here.



Photo: Flickr.com/youngvictheatre

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From Godard to Björk in 12 days: The London Film Festival 2014 line-up revealed Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:35

16 World Premieres, 9 International Premieres, 38 European Premieres and 19 Archive films. That's the London Film Festival 2014 line-up in a nutshell.


Running from Wednesday 8th to Sunday 19th October 2014, it's a typically diverse round-up of global cinema, from an old restoration of a Chinese silent to new films from debut British directors. The process of selection from the best of the rest of the year's festivals feels as enjoyably idiosyncratic as ever. Hoped for Christopher Nolan's Intersteller at the BFI IMAX? You won't get that. You will get Jean-Luc Godard's 3D Goodbye to Language. Hoped for Birdman? You won't get that. You will get the European premiere of The Duke of Burgundy, the new film from Berberian Sound Studio's Peter Strickland.


This is a celebraton of creativity in all its forms, whether it's an old master experimenting with new technology or Reese Witherspoon delivering what could be the performance of her career in biopic-drama Wild.


It's telling that there's an entire competition strand at the LFF devoted to first-timers, from Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's The Tribe - a Ukrainian film entirely in sign language with no subtitles - to Daniel Wolfe and Matthe Wolf's Catch Me Daddy - a Yorkshire-moors thriller with cinematography from Robbie Ryan.


As for the more established names, the LFF gala selection is both what you'd expect and what you wouldn't. There's Bennett Miller's wrestling film Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, drumming thriller Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the return of festival favourite Jason Reitman with Men, Women and Children, the second directorial feature from Alan Rickman (A Little Chaos - heading up the Love strand), Jon Stewart's debut flick Rosewater (starring Gael Garcia Bernal - heading up the Debate strand), Xavier Daolan's Mommy (heading up the Dare strand), Western The Salvation (the Cult strand), but there's also, let's not forget, the concert film Björk: Biophilia Live.


Live music is becoming an increasingly important part of the London festival calender, as is its love of old cinema: both world premiere restorations (yes, there's still the Treasures strand too) will have live scores. The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Island will screen at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as the Archive Gala with a new soundtrack from award-winning composer Simon Dobson and will be performed by 24 members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, while The Goddess, a Chinese Golden Age silent film, will have a new score by Chinese composer Zou Ye performed live by the English Chamber Orchestra.


Where else can you find an event that adores familiar faces (Michael Winterbottom's The Face of an Angel will screen) and also profiles new filmmakers? A schedule that includes audiences (the Opening Gala of Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and the Closing Gala of Brad Pitt in Fury will both have simultaneous screenings at cinemas across the UK) while still retaining that exclusive, unique voice? A film festival that gives the stage to Chinese silent film and shines a sequinned spotlight on a singer who once attended the Oscars dressed as a swan?


The BFI press release (which spans a whopping 4,610 words) presents the LFF as an festival that positions London as the world’s leading creative city. The London Film Festival 2014 line-up in a nutshell? From Godard to Björk in 12 days. That'll do it.


For more information - and the countless films I haven't been able to mention here - visit the official website: bfi.org.uk/lff.

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In Order of Disappearance trailer: Taken to Norway Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 12:03

Stellan Skarsgard. A dead son. Guns.


Taken to Norway? I'm in.


It's out on Friday 12th September.

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Competition: Win tickets to the Gala Screening of Million Dollar Arm Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 18:38

Jon Hamm stars in Million Dollar Arm, out in UK cinemas on Friday 29th August - and we're giving away two tickets to the Gala Screening of the film on Thursday 21st August in a London hotel, attended by celebrity guests including Jon Hamm himself.


Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm follows failing, struggling US sports agent JB Bernstein (Hamm), who travels to India in a last ditch effort to save his career by finding a young cricketer to turn into a major sports star. With the help of a cantankerous retired talent scout (Alan Arkin), JB sets up a national contest called "The Million Dollar Arm" and discovers Rinku (played by Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal), two 18-year-old boys who have a knack for throwing a fastball. Hoping to make a quick buck he brings them to LA to train, but the boys, who have never left their rural villages before, struggle with their new life and cope and the pressure heaped on them.


His livelihood on the line and relationship with the boys at stake, with the help of his friend Brenda (Lake Bell) JB realises that family and friendships are more important than sealing the deal.


But enough of that - how can you see the film early while making eyes at Don Draper at London's Mayfair Hotel? All you have to do to win two tickets to the screening is answer the following question:


Who does Jon Hamm play in Mad Men?
A) Don Draper
B) Roger Sterling
C) Dan Dopper


Email your answer to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it along with your name and - if you're on Twitter - your Twitter username by 23:59 Monday 18th August. The winner will be informed on Tuesday.


Note: You must be free on Thursday 21st August and available to attend the screening at the Mayfair Hotel (Stratton Street, W1J 8LT). Doors open at 6.30pm (the film starts at 7pm).

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I plagiarised The Verge's Expendables 3 piracy article and I'm still going to read it on their website Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 06:08

Why theft could be the best thing that ever happened to David Pierce and The Verge.



The Expendables 3 comes out August 15th in thousands of theaters across America. I watched it Friday afternoon on my MacBook Air on a packed train from New York City to middle-of-nowhere Connecticut. I watched it again on the ride back. And I'm already counting down the days until I can see it in IMAX.


Last week, torrent sites lit up with a high-quality Expendables 3 screener, which almost never happens before a big movie's release date. Much hand-wringing ensued: Will the leak kill its chances in the box office? Will everyone who might otherwise pay $17 to watch Sylvester Stallone And His Merry Men blow things up just download the movie instead?


Two hours and six minutes later, I'm pretty sure it's going to be the opposite. Leaking a month before its release might just be the best thing that ever happened to The Expendables 3.


... [OMITTED EXCERPT] ...


When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg said moviegoing will someday be more like a sporting event, they must have had in mind movies like The Expendables 3. It's worth seeing in theaters because the spectacle trumps the content, not because that's the only way to see it. It's obvious in the way the film is shot (tight, moving, disorienting), the way it's scored (loud, loud, loud) even the way it's cast. This movie is meant not to be watched but to be experienced. As art becomes commoditized experience becomes the only thing worth paying for, and there's evidence everywhere that we'll pay for it when it's worth it. We don't want to pay for access, but we'll gladly pay for experience. Those that won't (and there are certainly some) will be served with easier ways to get and watch movies at home. Those that will, will get something remarkable for their money.


This movies begs for that something remarkable. Enables it. I watched The Expendables 3, but it doesn't feel like I really saw it. I watched a two-hour trailer, really: it showed me just enough to entice me to want to see more. A lot more — and a lot bigger.



Critics are going to hate The Expendables 3. They hated the last two, they'll hate numbers four through forty if they get made. They hate most movies like this one, and with plenty of good reasons. But The Expendables 3 isn't a terrible movie, unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the last high-profile movie to leak well before its release date. (Wolverine was slightly but demonstrably hurt by the leak, if only because it gave downloaders time to say, "Hey guys that movie sucks don't go see it.")


It's not a complex, deep, or particularly thoughtful movie, but it's fun as hell. It's a series of set-piece action scenes, like levels in a video game, that culminate in one of the most sprawling and exciting fight scenes I've seen in a long time. That's good enough for me, and likely for everyone else who's seeding the movie right now on The Pirate Bay.


The people who have downloaded a leaked torrent of the movie are, almost certainly, the series' most fervent fans. They're the ones most likely to go see it in theaters, the ones who turned the two previous films into a $600 million franchise. And sure, maybe some of them won't pay $13 to see it again. But many of them will, because they'll realize how much they missed the first time. Many of them will also spend the next three weeks telling everyone they know how awesome this movie is, how Rotten Tomatoes is full of it and that really The Expendables 3 is two-plus hours of near-flawless action porn. They'll tell their friends to go back and watch the other two movies before this one comes out. They'll get all their best bros together and go to the theater to watch a movie that is basically 300 with way more guns and way fewer visible abs.


Ok, I haven't plagiarised the whole thing. Just a few chunks. Because if I did copy the whole article, that would be theft - and, contrary to this article's headline, many probably wouldn't go to read it again on The Verge's website. Which would mean the site would lose out on traffic and David Pierce wouldn't get any money for his work. Something he probably wouldn't be very happy about.


Funny, that. It's almost like Intellectual Property and copyright has a point.

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Teaser trailer for Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game, which will open 2014 London Film Festival Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 21 July 2014 17:01

The director of Headhunters has made a film about Alan Turing starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong and Charles Dance and it will open this year's London Film Festival and here is a teaser trailer of that film. If you are not excited by this sentence, we cannot be friends.

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1 reason why I don't go back to Slashfilm every day Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 07 July 2014 13:38

Last week, Slashfilm published an article called "107 reasons you need to see Richard Linklater's Boyhood". It looked to be an interesting exercise in subverting a Buzzfeed-style article to promote a small, indie film. Until you clicked on the link and saw this message: "Seriously, fuck you."


The article is a middle finger stuck right up at its readers - and that single digit is the one reason why I don't read Slashfilm.


"You really need me to list 107 reasons to see this incredible film?" the post continued. "You went and paid $15 bucks to see Transformers: Age os Extinction in 3D even though you hated the other Transformers films and saw all the bad reviews in your twitter stream… but you can't just take our word on this epic indie film?


"You've already heard us rave about this film many times over the past six months… But you haven't bought ticket yet…"


The article raises all sorts of questions, not least those of grammar and snobbery. (For an excellent takedown of that, see The Shiznit, who continue to write essentially what I think in a more eloquent way than I can manage.)


But it also shows an astonishing lack of self-awareness on the part of a website that has written roughly 8 times as many articles about Michael Bay's blockbuster as it has Boyhood.


Why? The same old reason: traffic. Click bait like "107 reasons you need to see Richard Linklater's Boyhood" is exactly the kind of thing you expect to find cluttering up Slashfilm's endless cycle of blog posts about anything and everything, including - yes - 40 Things I Learned On The Set Of Transformers: Age Of Extinction.


If you're going to run a website and make that decision to become a marketing machine, fair enough. But to shovel adverts for the latest Transformers sequel onto your readers' monitors and then tell them off for not paying attention to a tiny film you've (relatively) barely featured is absurd. Scratch that, it's insulting.


"Fun fact; you can make a healthy living from the ad-fees garnered from running a website solely about films like Boyhood," tweeted Adam Batty, the chap who runs the always-impressive Hope Lies.


It's true - you can. But what helps sites like Hope Lies isn't their coverage of Boyhood, but that (in my opinion) they have the thing Slashfilm does not: integrity. And without self-awareness, it's hard to come by.


Slashfilm could well defend their slew of Transformers content as a response to their readers wanting to read it. It wouldn't be a dissimilar argument to that used by UK site What Culture when they posted a spoiler-filled article about Iron Man 3 before the movie was even released. While both sites arguably show a lack of respect for their readers with such pieces, Slashfilm's post shows a lack of respect for themselves - or, to put it another way, a misunderstanding of what their site is.


Every time an article is published by a website, it sends a message: this is what we are about. Choose to cover something, choose not to cover something; every decision positions you and confirms your identity. Recently, I started a video on-demand magazine called VODzilla.co, devoted to all things digital video. Does it cover cinema releases? No, of course not. That wouldn't fit in with the site's remit.


For Slashfilm, before publishing such an article, the question is simple: Is it a website about Boyhood or Transformers? If the answer is Boyhood, why publish the article at all? People reading the site are more likely to see it over Transformers anyway. If the answer is Transformers, why swear at the people they have been promoting Michael Bay's blockbuster to? If the answer is both, and that the website welcomes all kinds of films and film fans, why be hostile at all?


Now stop me if I'm getting carried away here, but that lack of self-awareness and integrity is something that seems to be a problem in media today.


With print publications struggling, media's in a bit of a bewildered state. Sites are desperate to do anything to keep their audiences up: traffic, the assumption goes, is the most important thing.


And so articles spread across multiple webpages to garner more clicks is a common practice, while every little event - be it a tweet or a leaked set photo - is pounced upon by film sites and speedily reported, re-reported and then, hours later, corrected. If it gets changed later, who cares? That just means people will click on it again, right?


That willingness to readily publish rumours, "exclusive" photos, teasers for trailers, etc, seems to be spreading to subject matter too.


Empire Magazine, a film publication, has dedicated lots of coverage to the small screen for some time - something that its editor, Mark Dinning, admitted was controversial in an interview with the Guardian. Nonetheless, despite that awareness, the website's title still promises "Movie News and Interviews" with no mention of TV; their coverage is good, but it's a confused brand statement to say the least. Other movie blogs have followed suit. A number of film sites cover not just TV but plays without question as to whether it fits within their remit - a fact helped, perhaps, by the fact that a film PR company has expanded their very efficient and effective work into the theatre realm.


(Away from film, just look at the Metro, where Buzzfeed-style lists now regularly crop up in an attempt to emulate the popular site. Does it have anything to do with news? Of course not. Or The Daily Mail's side bar of shame and regular publication of 'controversial' columns to drive up rage traffic from angry users.)


It's telling that in the last year, a number of new websites have sprung up to counter the trend; a backlash of principle. Verite Magazine has found success in its monthly digital format, offering coverage of off-beat, independent and foreign language cinema. Film Divider has also launched since then with a similar, equally admirable, intention - although, despite their name, they also cover TV. VODzilla.co, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength thanks to its unique scope of coverage.


What they have in common is not just a niche focus, but an awareness of what their sites are about. This is, of course, still possible with bigger, broader websites - and, indeed, is achieved by many, both within film criticism and outside of it. Den of Geek has established itself as not just a hub of all things nerdy, but one with a strong moral (as well as editorial) stance that never ceases to impress. The same is true of TheShiznit.co.uk, who are not afraid to call a spade a spade. If by spade, you mean something that isn't a spade. As I mentioned earlier, they often seem to write what I think in a more eloquent way than I can manage - and that's important. If I visit there, I know what to expect. Well, that and Photoshopped movie posters. These websites don't just have identities, but integrity.


If you want to run a website that covers Transformers in extensive detail, great. The internet is a wide open place with space for any and all opinions. But if you're going to do that, don't blame your readers for reading your content. Well, don't do it and expect me to have any respect for you.


But hey, what do I know? Look at the comments on Slashfilm's article: "Hahahaha, that's awesome!" said one. "Best post ever, probably it pretty much explains why I keep on coming back to /film every day," said another. Meanwhile, The Daily Mail enjoys nearly 11.8 million visitors a day. And the Metro recently hit 1 million unique daily hits.


Maybe this really is what people want. But if that requires a website to start telling its loyal readers to go fuck themselves, you wonder if something's gone wrong somewhere.

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