Watch That Man! – Bowiefest Preview

Tomorrow sees the opening of Bowiefest – the first film festival devoted o the cinematic output of legendary musician David Bowie. Taking place at the ICA in London, the festival is a mixture of film screenings (including Labyrinth, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) and discussions with people who worked with Bowie over a film career that spans the length of his entire creative career.

I will be covering the festival for Failed Critics (as a huge Bowie fan I can barely contain my excitement), and I caught up with co-curators Oli Harbottle and Natasha Dack to discuss the festival.

How are preparations going?

Oli: We’re scarily close. We’ve had a run of sell-outs and tickets for the remaining events are going. It’s going to be a great weekend. Very excited.

You’ve pulled together an extensive and varied programme of films for the festival – which one are you most looking forward to seeing on the big screen?

Natasha: I’m Looking forward to taking my 8 year-old son to see Labyrinth, and also to seeing Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, a film about which Bowie said he was most pleased with his performance.  Also looking forward to seeing Bowie dancing on the giant typewriter in Absolute Beginners and playing a 300 year old vampire in The Hunger. All of them in fact.

O: When Natasha and I were putting together the programme we obviously couldn’t include every Bowie film, so the ones we did choose are there for a particular reason. Personally, I think it’s really wonderful to have the two documentaries that are opening and closing the festival. Cracked Actor is a rare gem and I don’t think it’s ever had a cinematic screening, and having Alan Yentob along is just great. And the opening film [Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture] is just a great way to open the festival.


Can you tell us a little bit about how Alan Yentob and Jeremy Deller in conversation about Cracked Actor came about?

N: A film maker called Nicholas Abrahams alerted me to the fact that Jeremy Deller was a fan of the documentary, so I asked Jeremy if he would be interested in talking about the film, then I asked Alan Yentob. It sounds simple but it actually involved lots of stalking.


The film work of David Bowie is, at best underrated (and sometimes derided), so where did the idea to hold a festival celebrating his contribution to cinema come from?

N: Llike many good ideas it came from a slightly drunk conversation late at night.   Oli and myself were discussing ideas for a niche film festival while attending a documentary film festival in Toronto. I had watched DB’s Glass Spider tour film on the plane on the way over to Toronto and somehow David Bowie was stuck in my head. We realised that Bowie had a loyal and large fan base and also had a varied back catalogue of film appearances – which combined to form the basis of BowieFest.

O: The Bowie idea just hit us, and it seemed like such an obvious idea in a lot of ways. Subsequently I’ve been thinking of other musical artists who have acted in films, but I don’t think there is anyone else for whom you could curate such a strong selection of films. We came back to London and had a follow-up meeting, but it was still very much an idea. Then we pitched it to the ICA at the end of last year, and the ICA seemed like such a good venue for the festival to take place. Bowie is from London, and I believe he used to be a patron at the ICA. The venue encapsulates everything Bowie encapsulates. Then it’s all happened so quickly in the last few months. We only announced the festival in July and the response has been incredible. We’re getting emails, and social media plugs from all across the world.


What is your earliest memory of seeing David Bowie onscreen?

O: Well, my first trip to the cinema was to see Labyrinth. As a first foray to the cinema that’s quite an unforgettable experience. I think Bowie has been imprinted in my mind since then. I’ve seen The Man Who Feel to Earth on the big screen, but I haven’t seen any of the others on the big screen, so it’s a bit of a self-indulgent festival as well.

N: David Bowie singing Heroes on the Marc Bolan show which I watched at my Nan’s house in 1977.


Is there another film that you wish you could be showing (but can’t for any reason)?

N: I would have loved to have shown Baal [Bertold Brecht play that Bowie was in, produced for BBC TV in the early 80s] but it’s a bit obscure. I would also love to have shown some of the early short films and mime pieces he appeared in in the late 60s/early 70s. And finally David Bowie as Elephant Man in the Broadway show – which sadly wasn’t filmed.


Tickets sales are going fantastically well, and is there anything else in particular that you would like to encourage people to come and see over the weekend?

O: I think Christiane F and The Hunger, which are playing back-to-back on Saturday night, are two extraordinary films. Christiane F is a cult-classic featuring Bowie in his Berlin days and is very rarely screened. Then The Hunger –  it’s amazing that I picked up Time Out yesterday and it’s the number one critics’ choice for films to see this week. I think The Hunger, with the sad news recently of the death of Tony Scott, is a unique occasion to watch this film. The audience for both of these films, I think there will be a very real sense of people being there for the same reason, and when you go to the cinema I don’t think that’s always the case.

Huge thanks to Oli and Natasha for spending some of their increasingly precious time talking to me. BowieFest starts tomorrow (Friday 21st August) at the ICA and further details are available at, and you can follow the festival on twitter at @bowiefest.

I will be blogging/tweeting/shouting at strangers in the ICA bar during the festival, so check back on, and follow me on @thefailedcritic.

Oli also said the word ‘Bowie-oke’ during the interview – so you may also find me fighting people off with only a microphone to defend myself.


Failed Critics Review: Brave

Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Review – coming to you live from, among other places, James’ car. That’s right.

This week our main review is Pixar’s latest film – ‘Brave’. As well as giving our opinions on the film, we discuss the success of the studio and whether or not they’re a bigger draw these days than the Disney brand.

In other news James finds a film that didn’t make him cry in The Expendables 2, Gerry ponders society after watching Dreams of a Life, Steve continues to confuse himself with time-travel films by watching Twelve Monkeys, and Owen finally finds a Tim Burton film he can get onboard with in Ed Wood.

The critics also pay tribute to Tony Scott, while the Quote Game makes a return after literally no one realised we’d forgotten in for the last few weeks.

We’re back later this week with ‘Triple Bill: Based on a true story’, and in next week’s review with Total Recall.



The Lost Reviews…This Means War (2012)

The Lost Reviews are reviews that our Editor produced for another publication but, for one reason or another, never got published.

It’s not because they’re shit. Honest.

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine crossing swords? Oscar-winner Reece Witherspoon providing the love interest? What could go wrong?

One word. No vowels.


This Means War (out recently on DVD) pitches two top CIA operatives, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine), against each other as they use every weapon in their armoury to win the heart of Lauren (Witherspoon).

The film opens with a massive gunfight in which director McG tries to be John Woo. But this isn’t Hard Bolied, and it’s not even Hard Target. Hell, This Means War isn’t even Hard Rain. After the op goes wrong, Tuck and FDR are “grounded” by their stereotypical ‘angry black captain’ (the talented Angela Bassett wasted in such a small role).

While out of action Tuck and FDR fall for the same woman, Lauren. Lauren is an executive working for a Which?-like company; fastidiously comparing products and their features. I wonder if that skill will come into play when she has to decide between the two ‘secret’ agents who fall for her.

Yes, it will. Like everything else in the film, this aspect is telegraphed by the writers like someone who nudges and winks at you at all the ‘important’ or ‘ironic’ parts in a story their mate is telling in the pub. It leaves literally nothing for the audience to figure out themselves.

I’m also pretty sure CIA agents don’t have to keep their profession a secret from the families. I learnt that from Homeland. The fact Tuck’s estranged family think he’s a travel agent is straight out of the Hollywood big book of things that only happen in films. Like stopping an elevator to have sex with someone. Or a woman responding to pretty severe sexual harassment by saying “if I say yes, will you go away?”

Oh wait, that also happens in This Means War.

The biggest insult to the audience’s intelligence, though, comes in the form of a conversation about film between FDR and Lauren. Trying to pick up Lauren in a video store, FDR recommends Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Lauren responds by calling it “second-tier film”, and appears to dismiss all of his work pre-1960. Including Notorious, an infinitely superior film also about two spies who fall in love with the same woman.

This from the director who gave us Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Bar one or two scenes in which Tom Hardy takes the film by the scruff of the neck and almost wills it into being something better, This Means War is cynical and clichéd with no heart whatsoever. Why not take FDR’s advice and watch The Lady Vanishes instead?

Failed Critics Review – The Bourne Legacy

This week we welcome Gerry and his shitty microphone back to the Failed Critics Review – and thank God he’s back, as when the discussion turned to the latest Justice League movie rumours and Aquaman’s name was mentioned, James was hopelessly out of his depth.

When we finally got around to reviewing films we discussed our differing reactions to The Bourne Legacy, Gerry’s Failed Listener assignment Withnail & I, and impending nuclear apocalypse.

We seem to have got the hang of keeping the podcast under an hour now. Anyone unhinged listeners who need more can download our Triple Bill on Friday (Favourite Fight Scenes), or if you ask nicely we’ll give you Steve’s phone number so you can discuss Mighty Ducks whenever you want.



Failed Critics Triple Bill: Sequels

How fitting that our second Triple Bill should focus on our favourite sequels. It’s almost like we plan this stuff (we really don’t).

Sadly Gerry is still absent, and taking inspiration from one of our choices this week we considered casting a sound-a-like and cutting in excerpts of his previous appearances. In the end we’ll just explain his disappearance off-mic and hope the audience buy it. How very Hollywood.

In our effort to trim the fat (not talking about Gerry now) this is our shortest podcast yet. You’ve even got time to pop out to buy some food and THEN listen to it on your lunchbreak.

We’re back next week with the Failed Critics Review (The Bourne Legacy) and Triple Bill: Fight Scenes.



Failed Critics Review: Failed Listeners

What would you rather hear us review? Step Up 4: Miami Heat? Or a selection of films chosen by our beloved band of listeners? Well, I hope it’s the latter as this week’s Failed Critics Review is a FAILED LISTENERS SPECIAL!

Sadly Gerry’s own short-sightedness means he’s missing this week, but in his absence Steve, James, and Owen review films chosen by our listeners – including this week’s main review; Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Coming up later this week we have a Failed Listeners Triple Bill podcast as well – but for now, relax and listen to our leanest, meanest podcast to-date at an athletic 45 minutes long.



Failed Critics Triple Bill: Sports Movies

Welcome to the first ever standalone Failed Critics Triple Bill! Sick of being the overlooked middle-child of the Failed Critics podcast, Triple Bill is here with it’s own series – with more chat, more dubious opinions, and MORE EXPLOSIONS!

This week we discuss our favourite ever sports movies. Despite being sports fans, a few of the team struggled this week. Will Steve have to pick all three Mighty Ducks films? Tune in to find out.



Failed Critics Review: Ted

Welcome to a brave new world in shambolic film podcasting. This is the dawn of a new era etc etc. The first episode of Failed Critics Review – the new weekly film podcast just focussing on what we’ve watched this week, and the big release.

Don’t worry though, just because Triple Bill has got it’s own Frasier-style spin-off doesn’t mean that you’re not still getting the full Failed Critics experience. Strap in!

This week we review Ted, the feature debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. We also discuss This Means War, The Help, and Life Is Beautiful; while Steve gives us his own unique insight into the Sight & Sound Top Ten Films list.

Triple Bill is back this weekend, where to celebrate the Olympics we choose our favourite sports films.