The Failed Critics Podcast is changing…

As you will no doubt notice tomorrow (if you didn’t already know), we’ve taken a week off from Failed Critics to pursue solo projects. For example – I have been writing and discovering I am too old to ‘do’ music festivals the way I used to. I think the other lads have just been gorging themselves on the BBC Olympic coverage.

Our Batman Special was our fastest downloaded episode ever, and will shortly become our most popular episode yet. We’d all like to thank everyone who has downloaded, listened it, and recommended Failed Critics. We love you all.

That said, we know that we have a lot of work to do to keep Failed Critics improving, and it’s for that reason that the format is changing from next week.

The most important change is that we are splitting the podcast into two episodes – this is so we can produce a fun and, hopefully, informative podcast that you can listen to in less time than it takes to sit down and watch a film. Each of these podcasts will be produced weekly, so those mad bastards among you who want to listen to everything we publish will still get your fill of Failed Critics.

The new podcasts will be:

Failed Critics Review – published on a Tuesday night, this podcast will feature us reviewing the week’s big release as well as discussing the films we’ve seen that week, and our take on the latest film news and rumours.

Failed Critics Present: Triple Bill – We’re now giving our Triple Bill feature its own podcast, allowing us to expand on our choices and reasons for picking them each week. This will be published every weekend.

We’re very excited about the future of Failed Critics, and we hope you all continue to listen and enjoy our ramblings.

Failed Critics: Episode 14 – The Dark Knight Rises BATMAN SPECIAL

Holy half-baked opinions Batman! This week our very own Rogues Gallery of Villains (Gerry – The Joker, Owen – The Riddler, James – The Penguin, Steve – Catwoman) not only review The Dark Knight Rises, but also tackle all things Batman in a bumper 2 hour Batman Special.

THWACK!

In the opening section we discuss our randomly-allocated Batman films of the past – including Gerry’s near-breakdown over the 1966 movie and Owen looking for the positives in Batman and Robin. Plus Steve puts us all to shame with his tales of heroism. Well, sort of.

BIFF!

This week’s Triple Bill sees the critics giving us their favourite performances from the actors that have played the Caped Crusader in the last 25 years.

CRACK!

Then finally (at 1hour and 19 minutes if you want to skip) we review the most anticipated film of the year. Does it live up to expectations? Was it a worthy conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy? Could we understand a word Bane was saying?

We’re away next week, but will return on 7th August with a review of Ted and our favourite sporting movies.

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Failed Critics: Episode 13 – Magic Mike

Attention ladies! Are you ready for the big show?! Four hungry young men – well, three relatively young men and one older and always hungry man – are here for your entertainment! This week we review the Channing Tatum ‘stripper movie’ Magic Mike, as well as choosing our favourite movie creature in Triple Bill.

We also prepare for next week’s Batman Special with exciting live draws and giddy schoolboy excitement.

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BATMAN WEEK – Holy Adam West!

Today I read an article in the New York Times  that suggested that we make all of our important and meaningful friendships in our teens and early twenties. I made one of mine at an even younger age.

If you are British, reading this, and of a certain age you’ll like have a favourite portrayal of The Doctor from Doctor Who, and it will probably be the first one you saw as a child. Sure, I enjoyed the work of David Tennant, I love the maverick genius of Tom Baker, and Matt Smith may well be the best Doctor I have ever seen – but Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor. The gruff, paranoid time-traveller with a Scottish twang that mesmerised me as a 7-year old will always be my favourite.
So it goes with Batman. While Christian Bale may be an the ultimate Caped Crusader for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, my Batman is, and always will be, Adam West.
My memory is almost certainly playing tricks with me – but all I remember watching during my summer holidays between the ages of seven and eleven was Batman. The Caped Crusader dishing out justice 25 minutes at a time to some of the most outlandish villains I had ever seen. Cesar Romero’s Joker thrilled and terrified me in equal measure (although it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered he didn’t shave off his moustache, and simply painted the greasepaint directly over it), while my first guilty carnal fires were stoked by Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.
Everything about the show blew the mind of a young man growing up in a small Devon village. From the opening blast of the iconic theme music, which I’ve now discovered as an adult is brilliant fun to blast out when driving – to the explosion of colour onscreen in almost every frame. The plots are downright hokey at times, but the charm and charisma of Adam West meant that even some of the worst detective plotting went unnoticed by my tiny little mind.
My favourite has to be from the 1966 movie:

Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them… But which one? Which ones?
Batman: Pretty *fishy* what happened to me on that ladder…
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea… Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet, an exploding shark *was* pulling my leg…
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O’Hara: All adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-R. Riddler!
Commissioner Gordon: A thought strikes me… So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance…
Batman: The four of them… Their forces combined…
Robin: Holy nightmare!

The camp 1960s Batman may look ridiculous now. You barely see a punch connect in the fight scenes, and every cliff-hanger leaves Batman facing certain death only to escape 20 seconds into the next episode with a deus ex machina that would put Matrix Revolutions to shame (my favourite being the Batrepellant for sharks in the movie – compounded by the fact that the Batcopter has 3 other repellants designed for different dangerous sea creatures). But none of this mattered when I was in primary school. All I knew was that Bruce Wayne was an honourable gentleman who quoted poetry, and Batman always beat the criminal with cunning, panache, and a great line in quips.
He was clearly a liberal as well, with his belief that criminals could be rehabilitated (although maybe he was just trying to get into Catwoman’s pants) and he never carried a gun or killed any of his adversaries. He always seemed to turn the other cheek, and had a lesson for us all. The TV show taught me everything I need to know about morals, justice, science, and wooing woman. If Jesus wore a cape and drove the coolest car I’d still be going to church every Sunday.

One of the great pleasures in life is watching the Blu-ray of the 1966 movie and listening to the commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward (who played Robin). At one point West even talks about Batman as being ‘the theatre of the absurd’. It’s great to hear an actor talk so fondly of the role that both launched and effectively throttled their career. He doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. It’s a shame the world has.

BATMAN WEEK – Batman Begins Here

In honour of this week’s release of  The Dark Knight Rises, Failed Critics is going quite literally Batshit mental as we devote the site for one week only to the Caped Crusader. Today our very own Gerry McAuley gives us a brief summary of the main influences on Christopher Nolan’s trilogy from the comic book world. So you can seem knowledgeable to your friends on the way in to the cinema, obviously!

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Batman – after all, D.C. Comics’ flagship superhero has infiltrated popular culture quite successfully in his 70+ years of life. Film adaptations since 1989 have revived the franchise and put a new spin on a hero who for most people was previously associated with the annoyingly camp and light-hearted original series (and 1966 film) starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Bats.

What fewer are aware of though is that the darker interpretation which began with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and was continued 16 years later by Christopher Nolan (I prefer to forget the Schumacher films in between) reflects a shift in tone in the comic world too. In 1986, Frank Miller – who would of course go on to write Sin City and 300, both of which became hugely successful films – wrote The Dark Knight Returns, the gritty tale of a jaded 55 year old Batman who was forced to come out of retirement and save Gotham again.

The gap between The Dark Knight and the sequel would seem to be based on Miller’s story, as Batman has been chased out of Gotham for eight years after taking responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes. Of course, Tom Hardy’s Bane first gained prominence in the Knightfall story arc in the early 90s, so Nolan’s universe is hugely reliant on recent Batman interpretations. As will be seen later, another Miller title, Batman: Year One, is a major influence on Batman Begins.

Another huge name in comics had also helped revive Batman in the late 80s. Alan Moore is probably known to most film fans through adaptations of his work: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell are all based on his publications, although Moore dislikes all film interpretations of his comics/graphic novels. Just a year prior to Burton’s film being released, D.C. published Moore’s one-off graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, a dark examination of the Joker’s madness that interspersed his origin story with his twisted attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. The disturbing tone of the story, which involved the Joker shooting Gordon’s daughter in the spine and paralysing a character who was also Batgirl, explored the morality behind the Batman/Joker battle and was undoubtedly a huge factor in the performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger in their respective film roles. For instance, the Joker has varying memories of how he came to be:

“Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight famously provides differing accounts of how he got his scars, which his comic book counterpart does not have – just one example of the different ways the Batman mythology can be interpreted.

The strongest influence on Nolan however seems to have been Batman: The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s 1996-1997 epic. So strong was that influence that Nolan and David Goyer, the co-writer of the trilogy, provided an introduction to the latest edition of the graphic novel. Although taken from an interview in 2006, just before principal photography began on TDK, both men cite the influence Long Halloween had on both movies and surely the third instalment too.

“When you’re putting together a Batman film, people always ask, ‘Are you looking at this comic book or that comic book?’ And the truth is you look at all of them. As a filmmaker, though, The Long Halloween was one Batman story that really drew me in in terms of cinematic potential… to integrate the more fantastical elements of Batman, most notably the villains, within the context of the real world, strike a balance that felt credible [The Long Halloween] was a great inspiration to us in terms of tonality.”

And with that, allow me to make some suggestions for those of you who are curious about exploring the Batman legend further. Nolan’s trilogy is so epic in scope that one cannot help be drawn in to that world; given that, it seems appropriate to focus on the more recent interpretations which have that gritty, realistic feel.

The place to start is Frank Miller’s Year One, which tells the origin story better than anything else and was recently voted the greatest Batman story ever by IGN. Goyer cites it as one of the three main influences on him in Batman lore and this is clear in Begins. There are various versions of the book around and crucially for those of you who don’t find comics appealing, an animated film of the story was released in 2011 which very faithfully follows Miller’s original.

The next stop should be The Long Halloween, which takes place early in Batman’s career and takes in a staggering number of the rogues gallery of villains our hero faces. If Year One is the basis of Begins, this is obviously the foundation of TDK. Harvey Dent’s story will be very familiar and the Nolan interpretation is largely faithful to Loeb’s story. Furthermore, the subtle differences between the two will give a new appreciation of Nolan’s skill – for instance, he plays with the viewer by having a gun pulled on Dent in the courtroom, a threat which Dent confidently disarms; in Long Halloween, this is a much more pivotal moment which I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, familiar Batman fans had a different moment of suspense and surprise with that particular scene.

Moving on, The Killing Joke is utterly brilliant and really gets to the heart of how small the differences are between good and evil, exploring how our reactions to difficulties can shape both our lives and the world. Yes, there is much more to Batman than you might think. As an aside, there’s a book called Batman and Philosophy which highlights just how many issues are present in the Dark Knight’s struggles against evil.

Once you’ve seen how the Joker began, it seems logical to look at his first battle with Batman – step forward The Man Who Laughs, which takes place in the same early years as Long Halloween, seemingly straight after Year One. Then we can move away from these early Bat adventures and look at something totally different in style. Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious earth is another journey into madness and the fine line that separates good from evil, as Batman enters the asylum to save the staff from the villains who are holding them hostage. Those who have played the game of the same name will find this familiar territory but the presentation is astonishingly different. This is as close to art as Batman gets in my view and is essential reading. More on the games in a forthcoming article by the way…

With a view to The Dark Knight Rises, the main villains could do with a look too. Bane, as mentioned, appears in Gotham in the Knightfall trilogy and Hardy’s version is apparently much more true to the original than the horrible portrayal Schumacher had Robert Swenson give in Batman & Robin. For Catwoman, choices abound and both Long Halloween and Year One feature a certain Selina Kyle. Hush is the most recent title to have an interesting portrait of Bruce and Selina’s complex relationship and is visually stunning.

To finish off, of course The Dark Knight Returns is a must. I’ve already spoken about the content and the impact of the story but it bears repeating that this is far, far more than ‘just a comic’ as many tend to dismiss Batman stories – as if comics cannot be a serious medium. Hopefully, reading some of the above will correct that impression and give you the added bonus of really knowing what you’re talking about when watching the films with your mates, rather than just blagging it based on the info I’ve given you.

Gerry will be discussing this article as well as a myriad of other Bat-things on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast Batman Special.

How ‘unlimited’ could save the cinema experience

Less than a gym membership, and just as healthy. Well, if you count exercising your brain as exercise*
*will not work if you go to see Storage 24

One thing has been puzzling me for the last few days. It started when I worked out that I had been to the cinema 22 times so far this year – and what troubled me is that I wish it could have been more. My main obstacle is price. I paid for all but two of those tickets, and even utilising loyalty cards, membership schemes, Orange Wednesdays, and even money off with my library card I have still spent a minimum of £100 going to the cinema so far this year.

Interestingly, I would have spent a few pounds more had I been using a Cineworld Unlimited Pass (7 months at £14.99 per month coming to a total of £104.93), but I would be a far happier customer and would almost certainly have seen at least another 10 films or so in that time.

But my nearest Cineworld is 20 miles away. In fact, there are four Cineworlds all within 30 miles from my house. I appear in some kind of Cineworld Bermuda Triangle. Where I live I am ‘reduced’ to having to choose between an Odeon, Showcase, Vue, and my local arts cinema – none of whom off an ‘unlimited’ option.

Why?

If one major cinema chain can offer this option – what is stopping the other chains? I’m no business man (although my success on Game Developer Story on my phone clearly belies my Sugar-esque business acumen) – but surely a guaranteed monthly income (you have to sign up to the Cineworld pass for a minimum of 12 months) is preferable to the occasional visits from customers who usually have another cinema to choose from as well. It would encourage brand loyalty (everyone I know with a Cineworld pass can’t sing their praises high enough) and the more times someone comes through your doors for ‘free’, the more times you are likely to persuade them to buy overpriced drinks and popcorn to inflate your profit margins.

The closest comparison I can make is not Netflix, but your local gym. I imagine that most Unlimited Pass holders go crazy at the start of their membership – doing punishing sessions of three consecutive films before boring their friends and family with the details. After a month or two though they get home from work and find excuses not to go – too tired, not feeling motivated, don’t want to leave the dog on his own because he looks a little depressed. They will then go a month without visiting before splurging on 8 films in a weekend and the cycle will continue. After six months they’ll be poring through the terms and conditions looking for loopholes to get out of this Faustian pact, before telling the cinema their mum died, they need to leave the country and cancelling their direct debit.

It could also do wonders for the independent films, and lower-profile films that often either get small audiences or are not even showing in multiplexes with 12 screens (yet are only showing 6 or 7 films in a week). With cinema ticket prices as they are, people are less likely to take a chance on an unknown film and will opt for the ‘safer’ options starring a big-name and a bigger marketing budget. The unlimited model encourages customers to try something different at little to no risk. The amount of new bands I’ve heard through Spotify, or brilliant unheard-of gems I’ve seen on Netflix are a testament to this. The unlimited model can deliver smaller films to a larger audience, and ultimately improve the health of the film and cinema industry.

It’s too soon to be making judgements on whether or not Spotify and Netflix are the miracle cure or the final nail in the coffin of their respective industries but you cannot argue that for customers they are a massively popular option – especially in the current economic climate.

As the gap between theatrical and digital/DVD releases gets shortened, technology for home-viewing improves, and the 3D bubble threatens to burst – cinemas will need to adapt or die. Most cinema chains and (even some film-makers) are pushing for new technology to enhance the cinema-goers experience – but as a regular cinema-goer I can wholeheartedly say that a well-projected film, in an orderly cinema that offers value-for-money is what I am looking for in my cinema experience. Have you seen the High Street recently? The only businesses thriving there at the moment are Greggs and Poundland. We are living in austere times, and people are starting to demand more for their money. As things stand, Cineworld is the only major player thinking differently.

*I have not been paid by Cineworld for this article. I am just really jealous that due to my location I can’t use what I think is an excellent scheme.

Matthew McConaughey – An Apology

Over the last few years I have repeatedly accused Matthew McConaughey of a number of horrible things, with the general theme being that he is a charlatan of an actor making his way in Hollywood  by dint of his impressive physique, his ‘airhead charm’, and his incredibly smug and punchable face.

In my defence, he made it very easy for me to jump to this conclusion with a number of career choices that gave the impression he was happy taking a pay check to appear topless in films that according to their posters seemed to be about a man who has lost all the walls in his life and has instead chosen to deploy attractive women to lean on while looking ever-so-cool and charming..

 

In between filming these romantic-tragedies he ‘stretched himself’ in films like U-571 (a film which makes Churchill: The Hollywood Years look like a Simon Schama documentary), and Sahara where he plays a character very much like Indiana Jones – if Indy had stared into the Ark of the Covenant and his charisma had melted away.

And then there was this advert.

There may be a hint of jealousy here. I’m an overweight four-eyes who spends his evenings watching films and then writing about them for a handful of strangers on the internet afterall.

But I would never want to be Matthew McConaughey. I’m jealous of artists – not well-defined bags of bronzed flesh. My problem with Matthew McConaughey is that he seemed happy to be Matthew McConaughey – wasted potential and all.

Then in the last two weeks I have seen Magic Mike and the Lincoln Lawyer. We’re reviewing the films on this week’s Failed Critics, but before we record I wanted to register my apology to Mr McConaughey.

The man can seriously act. He steals the show in Magic Mike with his performance as Dallas (a cross between Peter Pan and Fagin, but in the world of Tampa male strippers). He is all blustering arrogance on the outside, and cleverly plays on the same audience perceptions of Matthew McConaughey the man that I was referring to earlier while at the same time displaying flashes of almost violent self-doubt and paranoia. I just hope he isn’t overlooked come award season.

And in The Lincoln Lawyer he simply carries the entire film on his shoulders. Appearing in virtually every scene, McConaughey finally portrays a believable schemer onscreen with a very nice line in quick put-downs and moral ambiguity. I finally found myself caught up in the life of and rooting for a McConaughey character.

I’d love to also be able to discuss his performance in Killer Joe – however despite having four cinemas all within walking distance there is only one showing of this film daily at an awkward time. That’s not McConaughey’s fault though.

So Mr McConaughey – I’m sure you’re a fan of Failed Critics, and I hope that you’ll accept this apology. Maybe even pop on the podcast sometime to discuss your favourite French New-Wave films?

Be warned though – one more film poster of you leaning on a woman and I’m coming for you…

Some Like It Hot

Guest contributor Liam Pennington revisits the classic Billy Wilder comedy and presents a film that “had more in common with the British music-hall tradition than anything which came before from the United States”

This summer the Failed Critics podcasters cast their eyes across the much maligned rom-com genre, from which Hollywood’s relationship has been clearly cooling for some time. Boys meeting girls, girls getting cold feet, boys getting their girls in the end – such an easy to replicate pattern which can absorb the fashions of the age has been distinctly out of place of late, as though the family audience demographic has been judged distinctly uncool.

That’s not to say that family entertainment has always been wholesome and innocent until a cut-off point when the curtain fell, the lights dimmed and the punch-lines turned blue. There have always been winks to the camera and double entendre, not least in the UK where writers balanced innuendo in such a way as to make films more ‘mucky’ than ‘dirty’. On its release in 1959, an age far removed from our own, Some Like It Hot had more in common with the British music-hall tradition than anything which came before from the United States. Indeed it would be accurate to examine Billy Wilder’s work with reference to Britain’s Carry On franchise which would hit its peak in the following decade. For Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis could well have been Bernard Bresslaw and Kenneth Williams, running from crisis to crisis with increasing farce.

My experience with Some Like It Hot comes from countless Bank Holiday viewings, left alone with the living room television and a brain absorbing every throwaway line without even realising it. Years later, it became obvious that my own humour and character would be influenced by the camp wit and rapid delivery. Kenneth Williams himself would regale anecdotes from his days entertaining the troops on national service, and it is from this Army entertainment tradition that Some Like It Hot gets its pace and patter. I would learn to love the increasingly frantic and frenetic storyline as much as others would appreciate horror or crime dramas, although of course it is from the gangster stories of the immediate post-war period that Wilder found the scaffolding from which to hold his subverted take on rom-com conventions.

As ever with highlights from classic cinema, the legends and myths surrounding Some Like It Hot are worth publishing in books of their own – with many an anecdote brushed up and built upon in memoires and background books to this day. The legacy of the film echoes around the studios of the 21st century with reverence and relevance, for who doesn’t like a cross-dressing, simple misunderstanding farce? Many of the urban myths surround Marilyn Monroe, whose turn as the dizzy blonde Sugar Cane was art imitating life, perhaps deliberately. It is true that Monroe, whose stock rose considerably on the film’s release, would take over seventy attempts to say the innocuous line “It’s me, Sugar”, and another eighty to ask “Where’s the bourbon?” She is, in turns, brittle and beautiful and believable in the role of the jazz band singer, self-exiled to visit hotels from town to town in a desperate attempt to find the man of her dreams. This narrative has been and will be the hook from which scores of films would hang, and yet there’s nothing fresher than Some Like It Hot for taking the story of a girl looking for her prince and making it into a race against gangsters, gender politics and gender bending.

When I was a younger man, it didn’t occur to me that this film was a homosexual politics powerhouse, secretly telling its gay audience that everything would turn out right in the end. One vital line in this regard, “I hope my mother never finds out”, is one of the perfect subversive quotes in a screenplay overflowing with memorable lines. Much later comes the celebrated knockabout in the ‘girl’’s bedroom – “Why would a man want to marry another man?” asks Tony Curtis’ Josephine. Jack Lemmon’s Daphne replies “Security!”

Played “straight” in 1959, the implied queer culture undercurrent would be neon-lit in the modern era, surrendering the subtle interplay between male and female characters for explicit morality lessons. The manner in which the clues and codes are played, from Osgood’s overpowering mother to the celebrated boat scene between Curtis and Sugar Cane melting each other’s defences, shows an adept ability which could be so easily over-flavoured. Threats of a remake have surfaced for years, often taking in the best known/paid comedy actors of the day into contemporary settings with hilarious consequences, though all this talk clearly misses the point. There is a dark undercurrent to the story – there’s the St Valentine ’s Day shooting in the second great set piece of the story, echoed in one of the final sequences in which the Chicago gangsters, masquerading as fans of Italian Opera, are gunned down by a man in a cake. (This latter scene, you could argue, is another case of the gender bending motif).

With a quotable line and believable character around every scene, it is no surprise that Some Like It Hot retains its place at the top of many all time greatest lists. My relationship with the film as never faltered, for it retains the ability to cheer up and surprise. I’ve grown to appreciate the subversive narrative and camp humour, warm to the walking contradiction that was the strongly brittle Monroe (who was, incidentally, my sole reason for loving the Hitchcockian Niagara), and still guffaw as the dominoes of farce tumble onto our two heroes. If you’ve ever wondered where to find the starting point of modern comedy’s love affair with men in a frock, there’s almost nowhere else you could start but here.

Liam Pennington is at the action side of 30 years old and is the On-Line Editor for High Voltage. When not making good use of PR companies’ guff, he can be found groundhopping, writing for whoever else wants him, singing along to Eurovision records and sitting through arthouse films at Cornerhouse, Manchester.

@doktorb
www.liampennington.blogspot.com

Failed Critics: Episode 12 – The Amazing Spider-Man

In honour The Amazing Spiderman – this week’s Failed Critics has been rebooted for a modern audience. We are going to give you the origin story of how James, Steve, Gerry and Owen first met. Starring Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Tom Hardy, and Vincent Cassell.

Or we could just review The Amazing Spiderman and tell you how we would remake/reboot movies we think need a makeover.

James also reviews the worst film he has seen so far this year, Steve turns into a later-day Bob Holness (he’s too young to get the reference), and Gerry sounds like he’s on the same continent as us and NOT being attacked by an angry wasp. Owen just did well not to get confused with Gerry if we’re honest.

This week’s running time is a frankly epic two hours and five minutes. We won’t apologise, but we are taking steps to try and keep all future podcasts under 90 minutes.

We hope you enjoy this extended episode though!

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Secret Screenings – Searching for Sugar Man

Jim Shaughnessy went to watch an unnamed film, and is here to tell us what he saw. PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO SEE SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN YOU MAY WISH TO AVOID THE REST OF THIS POST. OR DON’T. WE’RE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU.

For years, Secret Cinema has been charming the skinny, turned up pants off London’s hip community, taking their guests on a journey deep into the heart of the films they are watching, with events packed full of actors who could have walked straight off the screen and into whichever disused warehouse had been appropriated for the film’s screening.

Now Secret Cinema’s cousin, Secret Screenings, has returned. Similar to Secret Cinema in that no one knows what film they will be watching until the opening credits lurk onto the screen, Secret Screenings differs in one key area – rather than showing old classics or current blockbusters, Secret Screenings shows ‘important but unseen’ films. Films that, although very much worth watching, may not pop up on your personal radar.

So, this is no normal cinematic experience, and this is no normal film review. It’s as much a review of an experience as it is of anything else. That’s how Secret Cinema operates.

We were invited to London’s lavish Troxy, an old picture house in the up and coming (but not quite yet) Limehouse area of East London. We were told nothing about what to expect, except that South Africans and Americans had discounted entry. One of many mysteries that would be cleared up later.

We filed into the Troxy, past hastily erected second hand record stalls that we assumed had some relevance to the film, under a balcony bedecked in South African and American flags and took our seats, increasingly unsure as to what film could possibly necessitate this décor.

We found out soon enough. After the presentation of a truly wonderful short film that told the story of a blind, diabetic American (this wasn’t the reason for the flags) who had the largest archive of records in the world, standing at well over a million. He was trying to sell them but no one would buy them, even for well under their asking price. The evening started on such a note of pathos, the only direction in which it could go was up.

After a few words from our compere, we had lift off. A shot of a long, winding mountain road hove into view. Reedy folk music played as the camera settled on a middle aged man driving along. He starts telling us about himself. His name was Sugar, he was a huge music fan and he would play a huge role in making this story so amazing.

Then, the credits begin. The audience holds its collective breath as we await news of tonight’s feature presentation – what would grab our attention and emotions for the next two hours. Director of Photography slides across the page, then Producer, then we find out that the film we’ll be watching tonight will be Malik Benjelloul’s Searching For Sugar Man.

Benjelloul’s directorial debut tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, an American (flags) singer working in the late 60s and early 70s who sold, in total, less than 100 records in the US. His flame burned dimly and briefly, and he disappeared from the public view without ever really arriving. His Bob Dylan meets Nick Drake style hadn’t appealed to his crowd, and his nervousness when playing meant he left audiences underwhelmed. He was through.

However, that tells only half of the story, for in South Africa (flags), Rodriguez had been selling records faster and in greater numbers than Elvis. He was a superstar, but as far as anyone could tell, he’d died before he could ever have found out.

Rumours of how Rodriguez died varied, but all were tragic. Some say he shot himself on stage. Others say he doused himself and lit a match. One thing people were sure of, however, is that Rodriguez was dead. So one question remained; who was getting the money from his record sales?

The hunt for the money takes the filmmaker around the world. He meets shady record executives, old friends of Rodriguez, South African journalists, South African detectives and Sugar, probably Rodriguez’ biggest fan. It’s a truly beautiful story, filled with heroes, tragedy, mystery and memories and it’s one that can’t be recommended highly enough. Magical moments abound – from Rodriguez’ daughters discovering his South African popularity to animated retellings of the lost icon’s final days.

By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye remaining. We picked ourselves up, dusted the popcorn from our knees and made for the exits, where we were told to wait. Of course! It wouldn’t be Secret Screenings without something special, a little something extra. As we turned, the screen was lifted, and out walked…Sixto Rodriguez.

It was intended not to reveal the twist of the film in this review, however it would be impossible to keep it quiet and put across how wonderful this evening was. Rodriguez isn’t dead, he just carried on with his life. He never heard about his fame in South Africa, so he carried on working construction in Detroit. When a South African detective contacted his daughter, she thought the whole thing was a hoax. It wasn’t. Rodriguez flew to South Africa and was greeted like a star, in the manner his music deserved. He’s since played sell out tours over there to tens of thousands of people – despite not being able to find a record store in the States that sells a single one of his albums.

The man himself. Sixto Rodriguez

So there he was, Sixto Rodriguez. Not there for the plaudits, or to make a speech. He was there to play. He unslung his guitar and played us every song we’d heard in the movie. The South Africans in the crowd screamed for their hero. Everyone else screamed for their newfound idol.

This really was an experience to be treasured. Secret Screenings excelled themselves in every possible manner, the film was incredible, Rodriguez’ set stirring. Secret Screenings has been confirmed as a pan European, monthly event, and though they won’t be playing Searching For Sugar Man again, we’d strongly recommend you do your best to be there next time.

Film loving, meat avoiding copywriter living entirely in denim. Buy my book when I write it. @Shaunuff

Failed Critics: Episode 11 – The Five-Year Engagement

Do you, dear listener, take this slightly shambolic weekly film podcast to be your lawfully-wedded background noise for your journey to work? Forsaking allother podcasts, as long as your generic MP3 player shall live?

You may now listen to FAILED CRITICS!

This week we review the new Jason Segel/Emily Blunt romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement (including a remarkably in-depth debate on the conventions of the rom-com genre), as well as discussing our favourite documentaries in Triple Bill.

This week’s episode was recording over two nights due to crying babies and lost keys that weren’t lost. We welcomed back a fired-up Gerry to the pod, and Owen managed to get very drunk between the two recording sessions. It’s a corker!

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Q – When is a fluffy ‘chick-flick’ not a fluffy ‘chick-flick’?

A – When it’s a smart and funny film from an Academy Award and Palm d’Or-winning indie-darling director.

Last night I went to see Magic Mike. I know what you’re thinking, as my friends were honest enough to tell me to my face.

Why?

The quickly-formulated and defensive answer I gave was that it was a free screening and we are planning to review it for the Failed Critics podcast next week. This followed by quickly changing the subject to a discussion on the failure of youth football coaches in England to teach the technical skills needed for our players to play at the highest level seemed to satisfy them that my manhood was not in question.

After this conversation played out a few times, I started getting annoyed. Why shouldn’t I go to see this film? I put this to one of my best mates and he smirked, said it all seemed a bit…well, you know, and pointed out a bus poster he had seen for the film. The implication was that this isn’t a film for a man to go and see. He was completely unaware of the fact that indie-directing legend Steven Soderbergh had directed this film, or the critical praise that both Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey have already received for their performances.

The poster for the film that I have seen plastered across seeming ly every bus in town shows the three leads of the film (Tatum, McConaughey, and Alex Pettyfer) topless and dancing on stage. The quotes used say things like “Terrific Entertainment” and “Funny, Sexy, Cool”. Nowhere does it say “From the director that brought you Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape”. The trailer promotes this “fun, sexy, cool” vibe with over half of it showing the stripping (which accounts for about 10% of the actual film), and standard rom-com set-up lines between Tatum and Cody Horn – plus a Rihanna song – that doesn’t feature in the film – playing loudly in the background to remind you of this film’s fun, sexy, and cool charms.

At first I was angry that the film’s publicity team had taken their eye so badly off the ball, but it only took me a few seconds to realise this probably was the impression they wanted to give. At its heart, Magic Mike is an independent film – but where is the profit in attracting a broad range of cinema lovers to a film? The distributors of this film know that their profit lies in the thousands of women who will persuade their friends to go with them to see the film where Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey strip.

They’re not going to be disappointed. There is a fair amount of Tatum flesh on display in this film – but there is also a healthy (depending on your viewpoint) amount of female nudity, and some pretty dark drug-taking sequences. It’s certainly not ‘The Full Monty with fit blokes’.

I enjoyed the film, and I’m now going to have to start the process of defending it as a piece of art rather than the mindless man-candy fun its distributors would have you believe it is. Almost every man I know enjoyed the film 300. Magic Mike has only half as much oiled man-flesh on display, and about a tenth of the homoeroticism.

Magic Mike is released on July 11th, and we will be reviewing it on Failed Critics Episode 13.