Failed Critics Podcast – COP: Stanley Kubrick

stanley_kubrickToday we are honouring one of the single greatest film directors to have ever picked up a camera. A man who not only created some incredible films, but who changed the world of film-making on a stylistic and technical level over and over again.

When we set up our Corridor of Praise, one of the entry requirements was that any inductees must not have won an Oscar in their main category, and the fact that tonight’s subject never received an Oscar for direction is a travesty. Still, the Academy’s loss is our gain, as it means we get to devote a whole episode to my favourite director, and I think probably the podcast’s overall favourite director.

Jack Nicholson said “Everyone sort of acknowledges he’s ‘the man’, and I still feel that underrates him”.

Martin Scorsese thinks that “One of his pictures is worth 10 of someone else’s”

Eight of his 13 films are in the IMDB Top 250, and TEN of them are in the Sight and Sound Top 250 poll published last year.

Welcome to the Failed Critics Corridor of Praise, Mr Stanley Kubrick.

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Bigger than Jesus?

This Sunday is International Chocolate Egg and Reduced Shopping Hours Day! If you’re not a follower of this holiday’s patron saint Jesus: the Great and Powerful, why not pick yourself a new Messiah in the form of a great movie character who also came back from the dead? We’re a multi-faith organisation, and our collection has something for everyone.

gandalf_the_white_in_fangornGandalf – The Lord of the Rings

Sporting a beard, shabby robes, a band of followers, and using phrases like ‘fellowship’, Gandalf is a great choice for those who want an alternative to Jesus but fear too much change. He smokes a lot though, and isn’t keen on turning the other cheek when faced with an aggressive orc army.

His death is a heroic one, battling an almighty balrog up and down mountains, enabling his companions to escape to safety and push onto Mordor. Far more stagecraft and theatricality that Jesus though, as he waits whole weeks before resurrecting in some kick-ass new white robes astride a souped-up horse.

Neo – The Matrix

A new messianic figure for a new generation. Neo is a computer hacker so, instead of overturning the tables of the moneylenders in the temple, could have just accessed their Cayman Island accounts and given them all terrible credit ratings. Like Jesus though, the authorities see Neo as a dangerous and subversive influence, and ultimately kill him. His resurrection is a little disappointing, when Trinity tells him she loves him, and the resulting kiss somehow fulfils a prophecy that restores Neo’s life.

The only real drawback to following Neo is that Matrix Revolutions is more impenetrable and preposterous than the book of Revelations.

The Bride – Kill Bill

Why should men get all the messianic worship? The Bride is the Holy Trinity all wrapped up in one; parent, murdered messenger of peace, and ghost from the past. She doesn’t believe too much in the idea of forgiveness though. If Jesus had taken a samurai sword with him to the Garden of Gethsemane, then Sunday School would have been a lot fucking cooler.

She may not have technically died, but she is in a coma for years, and then manages to escape being entombed by remembering a Kung-Fu training montage. Beats rolling away a rock from a cave, anyway.

E.T. – E.T. The Extra-terrestrial

Like Jesus, and Ghandi after him, E.T. is a proponent of peaceful resistance. E.T. comes to Earth from above, and inspires 10-year-old Elliot to love, fight, and free captive animals from their certain death. He can also heal the sick (well, sick flowers), and even ascend to the heavens. E.T. dies after being captured by the government of the land, but resurrects himself and, with the help of his disciples, escapes and returns to his family in the sky.

Basically, imagine the bible directed by Steven Spielberg and scored by John Williams. Who wouldn’t get on board with that?

Eric Draven – The Crow

The devil has all the best tunes, so why not even the stakes with rock star Eric Draven. Well, that’s if you consider the ‘best tunes’ to be a cross-breed of nineties emo-metal dirges. Killed by a gang who raped his girlfriend, Draven is reborn as The Crow, and seeks to take vengeance against the men who destroyed his life.

A little selfish for a potential messiah in my opinion.

Aslan – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Basically, he’s a talking Lion Jesus. Voiced by Liam Neeson.

Hallelujah, I believe!

Phil Connors – Groundhog Day

Basically, he’s Bill Murray.

Hallelujah, I believe, etc etc.

Film4’s Studio Ghibli season: The highlights

Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4's Studio Ghibli season
Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4’s Studio Ghibli season

Today marks the beginning of two and a half weeks of cinematic excellence on Film4, as their Studio Ghibli celebration begins. Of course, very few people will have time to watch them all (Owen Hughes of this parish will probably manage it) so we thought it would be useful to pick out five to watch. These five would provide a perfect entry point into the magical world of Studio Ghibli but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are a large number of great films in their canon and I urge you to watch as many as you can – I will certainly be taking the opportunity to catch the ones I haven’t yet seen.

Wait, Studio Ghibli? What the hell is that?

First, a little intro to Studio Ghibli for those unfamiliar with this powerhouse of Japanese animation. Set up by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985 following the success of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the studio has always prioritised artistic integrity over commercial appeal. This, famously, has extended to a “no cuts” policy when distributing internationally; Harvey Weinstein, upon suggesting that Princess Mononoke be cut to give it more commercial appeal, received a Samurai sword in the post with an accompanying message of “no cuts” from the film’s producer*. Frequent themes are nature (and man’s destruction of it), childhood and magic. The studio is notable for its frequent use of female leads who are very different from the typical Disney Princess.

Of the ten highest-grossing films in Japanese history, Ghibli has produced four of them – including number 1, Spirited Away. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer and director of Toy Story among others, describes Miyazaki as “the world’s greatest living animator”. Outside of Disney and Lasseter himself, it is hard to think of anyone who has had more influence on animated films.

Spirited Away – Tuesday 26th, 6.30pm [subtitled]; Saturday 6th April 4.35pm [dubbed]

Previously discussed here and here, this is one of my favourite films. I’ll leave it to the BBC’s Jamie Russell, writing in 2003:

With none of the sentimentality of Disney nor the computerised sheen of Pixar, this traditional animé even blows the brilliant Finding Nemoout of the water. It’s epic story is more imaginative, rousing and luscious than anything American animation has produced since the halcyon days of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsIn two hours Miyazaki offers more magic and innovation than most animators could manage in over two decades.

Princess Mononoke – Wednesday 27th, 6.05pm [subtitled]; Wednesday 10th April, 1.10pm [dubbed]

The highest-grossing film in Japanese history until Titanic came along and ruined everything, this is a Princess tale unlike anything Disney has provided. Set in an imagined 14th Century Japan where humans and forest creatures live side-by-side, there is a surprising complexity and ambiguity to this tale. The familiar tropes of animated fantasy in the West are gone here: no black-and-white morality with a valiant hero and a damsel in distress for Miyazaki and co. Instead we find that everyone has their reasons and not everything about them is bad; in terms of educating children how the world works, this is far better than the classic Disney tale. Visually stunning throughout, whilst the film may appear a little impenetrable on the surface please don’t be put off – Princess Mononoke is a landmark in animation.

My Neighbour Totoro – Saturday 30th, 4.55pm [dubbed]

Again, I’ve written about Totoro before so I will leave it to the great Roger Ebert to describe this, the only competitor with Toy Story in my mind for the title of best animated film:

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy… Whenever I watch it, I smile, and smile, and smile… It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.

Howl’s Moving Castle – Monday 1st, 4.35pm [dubbed]; Friday April 12th TBC [subtitled]

Surprisingly, this film is based on a book by a Welsh children’s author and Miyazaki himself is a big fan of the country; its predecessor and sister film Castle in the Sky draws heavily on his experiences of the Welsh Miner’s Strike a couple of years before its release. Not quite achieving the clarity of thought and purpose of his previous efforts, this is nonetheless a tremendously entertaining film. Here we see Sophie, a young girl, transformed into a witch and journeying to the aforementioned castle to free a fire demon from a curse in the midst of a war.

Grave of the Fireflies – Friday 5th, 12.15am

Takahata’s tale of two children struggling to survive among the bombs in late WWII Japan is more ‘adult’ than the other films here, as evidenced by it being on late at night. One of the most powerful war movies ever made (seriously), this remains the only film to make me cry. You have been warned. That said, don’t be put off by the tragic element at all. The opening scene reveals that our narrator is dead so we know throughout that this is a doomed story; however there is joy, as well as sadness, to be found in the life he tells us about. That is the real power of the film – the characters are brilliantly formed and  we care about them. This is a tale of two lives, innocently caught up in war and the societal breakdown accompanying it. That an animation can feel so real and so relevant is testament to the skill of all involved.

*Miyazaki explains: “…I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”

Best films on TV – week commencing 25th March 2013

Here is my selection of the best films showing on UK free-to-air television this week. Yes, these are the ‘best’ ones in my opinion, not some kind of universal truth. Tweet me about how wrong I am if you like but I’m hardly going to change my mind!

The Battle Royale of 'Battle Royales'Monday 25th March – The Godfather: Part II  (Film4, 9pm)

You watched The Godfather on Sunday at 9 right? We did tell you in last week’s article before you start claiming ignorance. Just like 24 hours earlier, it’s an unusual day when this film isn’t the best film on TV. Pacino is outstanding, the story is phenomenal, it’s a classic of cinema. I don’t really need to say anything else. You will be up to nigh on 1am though, which isn’t great if like me you are boring and like to get 8 hours a night, every night.

Tuesday 26th March – Spirited Away (Film4, 6.30pm)

Today marks the start of Film4’s Studio Ghibli season, which everyone should be taking advantage of. Like a Japanese Pixar/Disney, Studio Ghibli is a byword for top-notch animation. Spirited Away found fame in the West by winning the Best Animated Film Oscar in 2003 and, slightly more prestigiously, being recognised as one of the year’s best films by yours truly on a site not a million miles from here. The film tells the story of a young girl who, on the way to moving to a new house, finds herself in a magical spirit world trying to save her parents who have been turned into pigs (happens to me all the time). It encapsulates childhood, fantasy and the sense of magical wonder we all unfortunately seem to lose when we hit puberty; frankly, if you don’t like this film you and I are probably not going to get on. A masterpiece.

Wednesday 27th March – Copycat (More4, 10pm)

On a truly magnificent day for films, I’m avoiding the two obvious choices quite simply because otherwise this will look like a Film4-sponsored piece). Nonetheless, an evening of Princess Mononoke (6.05pm) followed by The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (9pm) might be bum-numbing but it sounds bloody fantastic to me. Assuming people have lives, though, set those to record and watch Copycat, the 1995 tale of Sigourney Weaver’s agorophobic criminal psychologist trying to catch a serial killer who seems to be a fan of a whole bunch of other serial killers. It’s not as good as The Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, films it clearly draws heavily upon, but if you like either of those you will find a lot to enjoy here. Sigourney reckons this is the performance she’s most proud of, which should be enough to sell it to you, and it’s a shame this got lost amongst a deluge of serial killer thrillers in this period.

Thursday 28th March – Doubt (BBC4, 10pm)

Yes, the 2nd LOTR film is on tonight. Watch that if you haven’t seen it already. I think pretty much everyone who wants to has, though, which makes Doubt today’s best film. Quite simply, if you like good acting, you will like this film. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman do battle in mesmerising fashion, supported by an astonishing Amy Adams (who showed the world she should be taken seriously with this performance) and future Oscar nominee Viola Davis. In fact, all four got Oscar nods – PSH for best supporting actor, Streep for best leading actress and Adams and Davis competing for the supporting actress gong – along with writer/director John Patrick Shanley for best adapted screenplay. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be – a combination of Heath Ledger, Slumdog Millionaire, Kate Winslet and, most bizarrely, Penelope Cruz (in forgettable Woody Allen Spaniard vehicle Vicky Cristina Barcelona) denying this excellent film success.

Friday 29th March – Battle Royale (Film4, 12:55am)

I don’t care what anyone says, The Hunger Games is a poor man’s Battle Royale. And I liked The Hunger Games quite a lot. Which means, beloved reader, Battle Royale is bloody outstanding. It’s as shocking today as it was on release (which I’ve written about previously) yet despite the copious amounts of gore, communicates a deeper message. Like the best of all art, it tells us something about society as well as entertaining. ‘Like Tarantino, but they’re Japanese’ as a mate once said.

Saturday 30th March – My Neighbour Totoro (Film4, 4:55pm)

Possibly the animated film that has filled me with joy more than any other (and I really do like animated films), My Neighbour Totoro is Studio Ghibli at its finest. Of course, you’ll have already watched Spirited Away on Tuesday so by now you will have an idea of the sheer magic that is a Hayao Miyazaki film. This 1988 masterpiece tells the story of two young girls who discover that the woods around their new home are inhabited by magical creatures. All I can say is that on its initial release in Japan this was only available as a double-bill with Grave of the Fireflies, which sounds like the most perfect combination imaginable if one wanted to represent all the aspects of childhood on screen. Watch it. Love it. Worship it. Rave about it to all your friends and family. Wish you had a real Totoro as a constant companion. Remember how bloody amazing being a kid was. Yes, it really is that good.

Honourable mention today for The Secret in their Eyes (BBC4, 9.50pm), the quite brilliant Argentinian film that took home Best Foreign Language Oscar 2010 and currently sits ahead of Rocky, The Exorcist and others at #155 on the IMDB 250 [in fact, it’s rated 8.1 – the same as Mary and Max which we discussed on a recent podcast]. Totoro followed by this would make an excellent evening’s viewing, most certainly.

Sunday 31st March – The Girl Who Played With Fire (Film4, 11pm)

On an Easter Sunday packed with cinematic choice, this was a hard one. There’s such a feast of films, you could go for a theme. Family films or Westerns for instance. The Goonies or True Grit (the original) might occupy your afternoon from 1.30 and 1:45pm respectively. Then you could move on to Arrietty (5.15pm) or the best Western ever Wild Wild West (5.55pm). That last one was a joke before you start tweeting me.

This Scandinavian powerhouse of a film is rather good though. There may or may not be an American remake but proper cinema fans will want to see the (superior) Swedish trilogy, with the excellent Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. Violent, thrilling and with a powerful storyline – what’s not to like? 

Failed Critics Podcast: Mary and Max

###IMAGE-CQCA story of social outcasts with bizarre ideas about the world, communicating over huge distances and never meeting face-to-face. But enough about the Failed Critics team, this week we discuss Mary and Max, Owen’s reward for winning our Oscar picks challenge.

Also this week James reviews Brit thriller Welcome to the Punch and new Steve Carrell/Jim Carrey comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Owen revisits Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Steve turns off John Carter well before the end.

Tune in next week (or download, or whatever) for our very special Corridor of Praise Stanley Kubrick episode!

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Box Office Bombs: Green Lantern

Failed Critics Podcast host and secret superhero, Steve Norman, is taking on his most dangerous mission to date…

Green Lantern Ryan ReynoldsIn one of the darkest corners of the internet there is a list. A list so dangerous to the world of cinema that Hollywood have hidden it away, much like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders.

The list contains the biggest box office failures of all time. Through my extensive list of contacts and a combination of brown envelopes changing hands and top executives being slept with I have unearthed this damning list. (okay, it’s actually on Wikipedia). It is my intention to watch and review these flops for you.

Green Lantern – 2011. Losses $105,000,000.

Ryan Reynolds stars in this big budget origin story of Green Lantern Hal Jordan. One from the DC Comics stable and a member of the justice league (more on that later). The problem is that while the Green Lantern has a pretty impressive power (here’s a ring, put it on, imagine stuff, it happens) the film still feels boring. It just plods along for just under two hours.

In the film an alien crashes to Earth and before he dies passes his ring and lantern to Hal, a fighter pilot who, rather unsurprisingly, is a maverick and plays by his rules and no-one else’s. He then has to prove himself to the Green Lantern Corps. To save his planet and maybe the galaxy. I’m unsure of the latter, I wasn’t paying much attention. Definitely Earth though.

The film has three problems:

Firstly, Ryan Reynolds is just bland. Now usually I like Reynolds. He isn’t fantastic by any means but he was charismatic and likeable in the sitcom ‘Two Guys, a Girl and…’ which was a decent watch sandwiched in between Hang Time and Saved by the Bell on Trouble. He has also put in good turns in the likes of Buried and a couple of OK but forgettable films. In Lantern he doesn’t get going. He lacks the wit or coolness of Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man or the character depth of Christian Bale’s Batman.

He isn’t helped by a boring plot or poor dialogue though.The bad guy isn’t menacing enough, or scary enough, or both. You get the idea that he is a formidable foe that has been a problem for millennia but when you see him on screen, hear his backstory and have his plot revealed you’re all a bit ‘so what’. The enemy needs to really hammer home threat of danger, harm and destruction he or she poses and this one fails.

And finally, the effects look dated even though the film is barely 18 months old. A new film simply cannot get away with this.

Overall a poor film and instantly forgettable, especially considering the volume of superhero movies being released. This certainly ranks somewhere toward the bottom.

It does ask the question about where this film ties in with the Justice League movie announced for a few years time. Reynolds is undoubtedly a box office pull but the Green Lantern franchise has been tarnished with this poor effort. It leaves the studio with a dilemma; should they include Reynolds as the Green Lantern or should they reboot the character either before or after the Justice League movie is released?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting to go to the Cinema in 2013: Part 2

With nearly a quarter of the year already a distant memory, James Diamond presents the notable releases and hidden gems in UK cinemas from April through to June.

April

Dwayne 'The Rock' Jonhson in Snitch
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Jonhson in Snitch

Spring is turning into the new Summer in terms of the big studio blockbusters, and getting the jump on your rivals this early in the year can work out heavily in a film’s  favour if it’s good enough (Avengers passed the $1 billion mark before The Dark Knight Rises even saw the inside of a multiplex last year). Marvel has opted for a repeat of that strategy with the release of Iron Man 3 on 26th April, and they’ll be hoping for similar success from Shane Black’s take on Tony Stark. Personally, I just think it’s great to see Shane Black getting the kind of backing that Joss Whedon received last year. It genuinely seems like the age of the blockbuster auteur.

Iron Man 3 isn’t going to have it all its own way in terms of the sci-fi blockbuster landscape though, with the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion getting its UK release on 12th April. Cruise plays one of the last remaining drone repairmen, looking after the surface of Earth which was deserted by humanity decades before, following a brutal war with an alien race. From its Wall-E-esque beginnings, it’s clear that the film soon descends into an all-action shoot-em-up and conspiracy thriller, also featuring Morgan Freeman and Andrea Riseborough.

This really is a month of action, with ‘Die Hard in the White House’ thriller Olympus Has Fallen (17th April) stealing a march on a very similar looking White House Down (released in September) and making the brave choice to be a violent adult  action film in a world where the Die Hard and Taken franchises have chosen to appeal to a child audience. We also get our second glimpse of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in as many weeks as he follows up GI Joe: Retaliation with Snitch; a film apparently based on the true life story of a father who went undercover for the FBI to get his son out of trouble.

I wish The Rock was my dad.

Also released this month is the unnecessary, but potentially great Evil Dead remake, as well as the latest Michael Winterbottom /Steve Coogan collaboration The Look of Love, which has been impressing audiences at Sundance and Glasgow Film Festival.

May

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Fast 6
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Fast 6

Another month, another highly anticipated sci-fi blockbuster sequel. Star Trek Into Darkness (no colon there? Really? Sounds like a film about hiking) arrives in the UK on 9th May, and first impressions have all of us at Failed Critics very excited. The first instalment of the reboot series was impressive, but things look like getting a whole lot bigger, darker, and Benedict Cumberbatchier in the sequel.

The following week the UK will get its first look at another big budget, 3D and CGI’d beast of a blockbuster in the shape of a screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Wait, that can’t be right. I have a feeling that The Great Gatsby in 3D is either going to be incredible, or one of the worst films of the year. Baz Luhrmann doesn’t tend to do shades of grey.

This month also sees the release of a couple of sequels, with their respective franchises suffering very different fortunes at the moment. While The Hangover Part III (24th May) looks like being another experiment in ever decreasing comic returns in a series that started reasonably well and then went off a cliff, Fast and Furious 6 looks like being the biggest and most utterly bonkers instalment of a franchise that people had written off as irrelevant years ago.

How did they do it? Two words: The Rock.

Also out this month is a foreign language film to get those of you who don’t mind reading your movies excited. A Hijacking was one of my favourite films of Glasgow Film Festival, and it finally gets a UK release on 10th May. Written and directed by one of the creators of Borgen, it tells the harrowing story of a Danish freighter hijacked by Somali pirates in quite harrowing and ultra-realistic style.

June

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Pain and Gain. It's not out until August, but who's going to argue with him?
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Pain and Gain. It’s not out until August, but who’s going to argue with him?

Every year we see films with a similar narrative start point going up against each other. Years ago it was Armageddon and Deep Impact. A few years later we had Melancholia and Another Earth, while last year we saw two excellent ‘cops trapped in apartment block’ movies in The Raid and Dredd. This summer a couple of ‘deserted Earth and the fight for humanity’s future’ blockbusters coming out within a few months of each other. I’ve already written about Oblivion, but 7th June sees the release of After Earth, the latest film from the crossword wrapped in a Sudoku that is M. Knight Shyamalan. It’s got plenty of star power though, starring Will Smith in one of his rare screen appearances, and his son Jaden Smith.

The big release this month is the return of Superman in Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel. Clunkily billed as ‘Produced by the Director of The Dark Knight Trilogy’, the early trailers suggest that Snyder may have toned down the visual style that made 300 and Watchmen so great to look at. I’m looking forward to this, but I have a nagging suspicion that this might be Snyder doing a Nolan impression, and that’s a worry.

World War Z starring Brad Pitt is out on 21st June, and it seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the kids today just aren’t scared by shuffling zombies any more  It’s a shame, as I really enjoyed the book and I think it may have been better produced as an HBO miniseries, rather than a bog-standard zombie flick that is World War Z in name only. We shall see.

A far more entertaining look at the end of the world could be found in Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s This Is The End. The setting is a party at James Franco’s house, and a variety of celebrities end up facing the apocalypse together. While there is definitely the potential for this to be horrifically self-indulgent and only funny to those on set, the trailer holds up very well and the cast list is a veritable who’s who of US comedy. Fingers crossed.

Rounding off this preview is Joss Whedon’s new film. Considering his last film was a near 3 hour epic that made over $1 billion at the box office and resurrected the superhero ensemble movie, it’s typical Whedon that his next release is a black and white Shakespeare comedy that he filmed in his house with his close friends over a couple of weeks. Much Ado About Nothing got rave reviews at Glasgow Film Festival last month, and word is that it could be one of the great adaptations of the Bard’s work.

Best films on TV – week commencing 18th March 2013

Here is my selection of the best films showing on UK free-to-air television this week. I say ‘best’, but these things are very subjective. Basically, stop telling me on Twitter that I chose rubbish films.

Feeling, so good today!
Feeling, so good today!

Monday 18th March – Gremlins (ITV2 at 11pm)

If the nostalgia trip of the weekend’s film choices hasn’t satisfied you, then why not live out your childhood a little longer with an unseasonal showing of one of the darker Christmas films of recent times. Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a brilliant b-movie homage, with its only let-down being a flaw in its internal logic. If you can’t feed a gremlin after midnight, when can you give them breakfast?

Tuesday 19th March – Outbreak (Sky One at 10pm)

I bloody love a good disaster movie, and this is a bloody good disaster movie. Helmed by Das Boot director Wolfgang Petersen, the film charts the spread of a deadly airborne disease that threatens to wipe out half of mankind if it isn’t contained. Like the great disaster films of the sixties and seventies, this features an impressive ensemble cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Donald Sutherland. And possibly Marcel the monkey from Friends.

Wednesday 20th March – Serpico (Film 4 at 9pm)

There was a time when Al Pacino was the finest actor on the planet. Some of his work in the seventies is quite simply breathtaking. Here is another example of a master of his craft, being directed by another in Sidney Lumet. Frank Serpico is one of the few honest cops in his New York precinct, but his principles turn his colleagues against him, and put his life in danger when he decides to whistle-blow.

Thursday 21st March – Kickboxer (5USA at 10pm)

I know that Owen Hughes of this parish disagrees with me, and he may well be better qualified than almost anyone when it comes to the work of Jean-Claude Van Damme, but this is categorically and without doubt the finest film in the Muscles from Brussels’ career. JCVD plays Kurt Sloane, the suspiciously European-sounding brother of all-American hero Eric Sloane, who nearly dies when facing the villainous Tong-Po in a kickboxing match in Thailand. Kurt then goes off to train in the forest under the supervision of a wise old fella who gets him to work out while doing odd jobs, and encourages the practice of kicking trees until you break your leg.

It’s basically Karate Kid for grown-ups, and features the single best dance moves committed to film.

Friday 22nd March – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Film 4 at 11am)

I recently wrote about this film for my 1961 Decade in Film piece so, at the risk at repeating myself, this is Audrey Hepburn at her most incredible. There’s a reason the images of her have become a cliché in recent years, so watch this and see what all the fuss was about.

Saturday 23rd March – Project Nim (BBC2 at 9.30pm)

In an ideal world where Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy received the big screen adaptation it deserved (rather than the okay-ish effort it actually got), it would have been my choice for today (BBC2 at 5pm). There’s also a Danny Boyle night on Film 4 with the brilliant Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later showing from 9pm. However  I’m pretty sure most people have already seen those. S0 I’m going to play my weekly ‘I’ve not seen it but it looks good’ card on the network première of a documentary about a Chimpanzee raised as a child by a New York family in the 1970s, in an attempt to discover if the chimp could learn to understand human communication. I’ll probably watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes directly afterwards.

Sunday 24th March – The Godfather (Film 4 at 9pm)

There’s a nostalgic battle royale as Back to the Future and The Goonies are shown at the same time today (#TeamMarty), but on pretty much any day The Godfather is shown, it is sure to be the best film on TV. Owen recently wrote about it for our Decade in Film series, and it features another incredible performance from Al Pacino. The scene in the diner before his first murder is a master class in film acting, with his ability to tell a character’s story through the eyes simply a joy to watch.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Win, Lose, or Draw (s4 ep22)

(This article features a television episode not yet broadcast in the UK. It contains spoilers.)

knope 2012By Kelly

So I just googled Plato and Aristotle’s theories on comedy (I go HARD every night, you guys). According to Plato, comedy is a little bit malicious. Its characters are ignorant and foolish and hampered by delusions of grandeur. According to Aristotle, comedy is ridiculous and ugly, its characters “lower types.”

Nice try, philosophy, but (K)nope.

Parks and Recreation makes its own rules every day, reimagining the comedy landscape as a place where good things happen to good people. These characters love and support each other. They know themselves and chase their own ambitions, which are great and worthy and never taken lightly. So much of what makes this show different is in the way it lets people grow over time. You can’t see all of that in one episode. But if you could, “Win, Lose, or Draw” would be that episode.

To start with, it’s a brilliant little study in the absurdities of the government process. Leslie Knope, Deputy Director of the Pawnee Parks Department, has run a hard-fought campaign for City Council against “legendarily stupid” golden boy Bobby Newport (played by Paul Rudd. PAUL. RUDD). This should be no contest; Leslie’s worked her whole life for this. Bobby’s only there because his dad runs the biggest corporation in town. He doesn’t even want the job, and he wouldn’t know what to do if he got it. Still, thanks to his campaign manager’s manipulations, Bobby could easily win this thing. Pawnee is a hot mess—case in point: in the event of an exact tie, the woman is thrown in jail—but sometimes it’s also frighteningly true to life. Tampering with voting machines, anyone?

And yet despite everything, the show itself isn’t cynical toward public service. When Leslie selects her own name on the ballot, fulfilling a lifelong dream and achieving one of her all-time happiest moments, we all get to pause and enjoy it with her. From the way she’s fighting back tears, it’s clear that the vote is its own kind of victory. Hard work is its own reward, and at the end of the day, even an imperfect democratic process is still pretty darn amazing—win, lose, or draw.

Spoiler alert: Leslie does win. But this episode works because we don’t feel like she has to. She already had her big moment in the voting booth, and it’s easy to imagine Leslie picking herself up and finding a silver lining. A loss would be better for Ron, because the man hates change. He still gets his milk delivered by horse. A loss would free Chris to date Ann. And of course, since Jerry forgot to vote, a one-vote loss would be hilariously poetic. There’s more than one person to consider here. No one achieves anything alone. That’s the Parks and Rec motto.

It’s fitting, then, that “Win, Lose, or Draw” is peppered with great relationship moments, as the whole team comes together for the big day. Ann helps Leslie keep her mind off of the election. Ron knows right where to find her when she goes missing. Ben holds her hand and writes her victory speech—and just her victory speech, because he never believed she’d need anything else (awww!). In return, Leslie tells Ben to take his dream job in DC. She puts a Washington Monument figurine in their very special box, and she lets him go.

It wouldn’t be the quintessential Parks and Rec episode without that box, would it? I keep all of my Leslie and Ben feelings in there. It’s where they put the things they sacrifice for each other. As Ron so adorably reminds his deputy, love isn’t about personal glory; it’s about unconditional support. Ben and Leslie probably have that embroidered on a pillow somewhere, because it’s just how they roll. They build each other up, and they’re not the only ones. When April makes a huge mistake in the office, Andy’s right there beside her, hiding under the table and planning a possible escape. In return, April helps Andy figure out his dream job. “Catch Your Dreams” really is this campaign’s theme song, in more ways than one.

But maybe the most remarkable thing about this episode is that it gives us all of those big happy tears and still manages to be absolutely hilarious. If you think sentimentality stands in the way of laughter, try watching this show cut from Leslie’s emotional victory hug to Bobby Newport’s concession speech (“Honestly, I’ve never been more relieved in my entire life”). There is genius everywhere here: Paul Rudd giggles at a boom mic, Jean-Ralphio shows up long enough to sing about insurance fraud, Ben tries an awkward non sequitur about jeans, Leslie is tempted by Joe Biden’s home phone number, and Adam Scott literally wipes his drink off of his tongue, which might be the hardest I will ever laugh about anything in my life, and I’m fine with that.

“Win, Lose, or Draw” wins. On all counts. Care to join me in some victory waffles?

Kelly is an aspiring television writer who’s currently trying Brooklyn on for size. Find her online at TVmouse, where cheese is strongly encouraged.

Failed Critics Podcast – Triple Bill: Movie Mums

stop-or-my-mom-will-shootYou lucky, lucky people. You wait ages for a Failed Critics Podcast with a cracking Triple Bill, and then two come along in a week.

James is away, so Steve, Gerry, and Owen almost certainly take the piss out of his age and deteriorating body, as well as reviewing new releases Side Effects, and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Steve continues his Box Office Flops odyssey with John Carter and Green Lantern, and in honour of Mother’s Day the team choose their favourite movie mums in a hastily arranged Triple Bill.

Next week we finally get around to reviewing Owen’s Oscar Challenge choice, Mary and Max, and we’ll be reviewing the latest releases at the cinema including the bizarrely titled Welcome to the Punch.

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A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1972

A series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

This week the podcast’s Owen Hughes looks back on a year when the highest grossing film star of all time made his debut (it’s Samuel L Jackson, of course), the porno Deep Throat was the sixth biggest hit of the year, and Pong became the first ever commercially successful video game (thanks, Wikipedia!)

5. Solaris

Solaris 1972“Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit. “

I first read about Solaris in a book called Why Aren’t They Here? by Surendra Verma, which primarily explores (amongst other theories) the Fermi paradox. Put simply, if intelligent alien civilizations exist, and the universe is as vast as we think it is, then why haven’t they made contact with us yet? One of the many possible answers for this could be that we have no way of communicating with them, even if it were physically possible to meet them. A famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once proposed that “if a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand it”. What he means is, even if an animal could physically speak a language to us, our points of reference would be so far apart, it would just be gibberish. We wouldn’t be able to understand a word that lion said, much less recognise it was attempting communication.

What does this have to do with Solaris? Well Andrei Tarkovsky‘s enormously important Russian sci-fi film, based on a Polish novel of the same name, is about this giant, living, liquid planet that attempts to communicate with the humans that are trying to study it. Ultimately, as Wittgenstein predicted, it’s impossible for them to fully understand each other. It’s a story of love and loss that explores the depths of the human mind/imagination with some thought provoking imagery and mind-meltingly complex ideas.

I have to admit, Solaris is mostly on this list out of respect for what it achieved and for the concept behind it. I like to think I can occasionally watch these long, slow, art-house films and enjoy them. Truth is, I found Solaris a really difficult film to watch. Patience is a virtue supposedly, but when you’re watching a film where (for what seems like an eternity) all you’re watching is nothing more than a camera attached to the front of a car as it travels down a motorway, you kind of forget that! I think a lot of the more artistic visual elements of the film went over my head somewhat. However, rarely do you see such an intelligent and thought provoking sci-fi film that I think it can just about nudge blaxploitation horror picture ‘Blacula’ out of my top 5 films for 1972.

4. Fist of Fury

Fist of Fury Bruce Lee“Whenever you’re ready, I’ll take on any Japanese here.”

Whether you accept that there are 4 or 5 full feature films, and whichever film of those is your favourite, one thing that seems to be universally acknowledged is that Bruce Lee was an icon of early 70’s cinema. His legacy has endured over the decades, influencing film writers, directors and stars. He made Asian cinema (or at least Kung-Fu films) the phenomena it is in the West. I don’t need to go on about this. I’m not the first to point this out, I won’t be the last, nor am I the most qualified!

What I love most about talking to people about Bruce Lee’s films is everyone seems to have taken away something different from his movies. I watched Fist of Fury, Enter The Dragon and The Big Boss when I was a young teenager, first getting into movies. Before then, he was just someone I knew from the poster my artistically talented uncle had drawn. There was something about that image of Lee (which looked a little bit like this) that drew me in. He just looked so cool in that poster and the young impressionable me wanted to see just how cool he actually was. As I watched those films (and as I got older Game of Death and Way of the Dragon too) I realised how cool he actually was. Answer: very.

Despite being his second major film, and also starring as Kato in his own TV show, Green Hornet, (including cameo’s in the Adam West Batman series) it was Fist of Fury that launched him into movie superstardom. It’s a simple mystery plot in which Lee is subjected to bigotry and prejudice by the Japanese. It’s not the plot that made the film so endurable. It’s Lee. It’s the cool one liners he delivers mixed with the impressive action/fight sequences that he choreographed himself. It’s that recognisable shriek as he kicks someone in the gut, dispatching baddies with one blow. It’s the character of Chen and how nobody other than Lee could’ve played him in the same way. It’s quite simply an excellent kung-fu film that any fan of the genre should watch and adore.

3. Deliverance

deliverance burt reynolds“Goddamn, you play a mean banjo!”

If there’s one thing writing these Decade in Film articles are good for, then it’s for forcing me to finally get around to watching some classic films. The flip side to that is films I really love and originally included in my top 5 have to make way for films that, as it turns out, are just undeniably better. Take, for example, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is now losing out on a top 5 ranking position thanks to John Boorman’s Oscar nominated film about 4 guys who go on a trip down the Cahulawasse river in the arse end of the American south that they won’t forget.

Until this week, I’d only ever seen clips of Deliverance. Hell, I could even play part of the duelling banjos song on my guitar despite never having watched the whole of the film! Now that I have seen it, as Matt Lambourne so accurately predicted would happen, I now “understand a number of long-standing cultural references towards it that may have gone over my head before”. It is so influential on other survival films.

I love Burt Reynolds anyway, and even without his moustache, he was still awesome here. He has all the best lines, looks the most bad-ass and has probably the most interesting character too. Although John Voight may have something to say about that; he also has a very interesting character. There’s a lot that makes this film memorable, from the “skweeee” scene, to the fantastic soundtrack. Don’t be like me. If you get the chance to watch Deliverance, do it!

2. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

aguirre“I, the wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I’ll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen.”

I don’t have much knowledge of the Spanish conquistadores beyond what is taught at a very basic level at school and what the BBC kids sketch show Horrible Histories has educated me in! So what struck me most in Werner Herzog’s tale of the notorious Don Aguirre and his quest for the mysterious cities of gold (dododo do doo doo, aaahhh) was how real the film felt. I can only liken it to something like the David Simon HBO TV series, The Wire (bear with me here…) It’s a culture and a place I have virtually zero experience or knowledge of beyond fictional representations through TV and film etc, yet the world they have created is so utterly believable that I never question it. I accept that it is mostly likely exactly how these people lived, how their journey unfolded, how the jungle and the river sounded, how it looked, etc.

The title character, Aguirre (played sublimely by Klaus Kinski,) is incredible and it’s not difficult to believe he was as “mad” as he is portrayed as being here. He’s a constant and menacing presence throughout the whole film. The way the film is shot is almost like Aguirre is breathing down your neck, watching your every move, and it’s very uncomfortable. Effective! But uncomfortable.

One other thing I loved about this film (there are much better parts of the film involving all manner of themes about betrayal, love, history, slavery and all that jazz, but something that stood out for me) was the music! I loved that bloke playing the pan-pipes. That tune he whistles is infectious. The whole film is superb though and fully deserves to be on this list.

1. The Godfather

The Godfather“Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?”

The Godfather. Of course, The Godfather. What else but The Godfather? It had to be The Godfather. A film so critically and commercially successful that only the insane would leave it off a list of their favourite films from 1972, never mind not have it as first choice. I mean, come on. As enjoyable as the British horror film ‘The Asphyx‘ starring Robert Powell is, or as deeply disturbing as Wes Craven’s directorial debut ‘The Last House on the Left‘ is, there’s no way any film was going to top Francis Ford Coppola‘s masterpiece.

From the very first scene to the last, The Godfather is undeniably a fantastic example of film making. The swagger that all the characters carry with them, thanks mostly the faultless performances of some unbelievably well written characters by absolutely everyone involved, makes the film feel so real. It’s a tragic story about the collapse of man, the sense of being trapped in a “family” that you can not escape, a destiny that you are doomed to, but at the heart of it is this ideal of love and togetherness.

There are massively conflicting emotions you get from the film, things you know that are not right, but you can’t help it anyway; wanting characters like Don Corleone to recover, to improve, to do well, despite knowing that he is exactly the sort of person that you hope you never have to encounter in your life, is testament to the creativity that has gone into creating this iconic character from the make up, to the costume, the setting, the direction and least of all the acting. It’s a breathtaking performance from Superman’s dad and Oscar winner Marlon Brando, which is rightly regarded as one of the absolute best in cinematic history.

I’m not sure I can actually say all that much else about it that hasn’t been uttered a million times before by people able to put into words their thoughts much more eloquently than I could, so I’ll cut my review short right here. But suffice to say, it’s a film that is timeless and a classic for a reason.

You can read Owen’s choices for 1971 here, and find the entire Decade in film series here.

Failed Critics Podcast – Triple Bill: Car Chases

Now, if we were choosing favourite non-fictional car chases...
Now, if we were choosing favourite non-fictional car chases…

Apologies for the delay in getting this edition of the Failed Critics Podcast to your earholes – our editor (and the only person with the keys to the shed where we store our high-tech servers) was down in London searching for fame and fortune on television.

On a quiz show.

That only students and old people watch.

Anyway, this week the critics get their teeth stuck into the Oscars; from the winners and losers to the performance of professional misogynist Seth MacFarlane. They also tackle some heavyweight cinema in the form of Battleship, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2, and Cars 2.

Luckily we have a kick-ass triple bill in the shape of our favourite car chases to save the day.

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Best Films on TV – week commencing 11th March 2013

Every week we bring you the best of the films on UK free-to-air television. Well, we say the best…

This week’s selections are brought to you by site editor James Diamond, just so you know where to send the abuse.

short circuit ally sheedyMonday 11th MarchMary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Sony Movies at 10.50pm)

Kenneth Branagh’s unfairly maligned retelling of the classic monster tale (although Branagh banned all mentions of the ‘m’ word on set, and insisted that Robert De Niro’s character be referred to as ‘The Sharp-Featured Man’). Frankensein is a wonderfully atmospheric film, and in my opinion has dated far better than Francis Ford Coppola’s companion piece Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which Coppola was originally scheduled to direct).

Tuesday 12th MarchMicmacs (Film 4 at 9pm)

Another of my blind recommendations, and another film that I shamefully own and haven’t actually gotten around to watching. In this case my ignorance is as confusing as it is unforgivable, as director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favourite directors. The synopsis suggests some kind of live-action Wallace and Gromit meets the A-Team, as a group of social misfits conspire to bring down an arms manufacturer. Expect the kind of visual flair and optimistic heart that made everyone fall in love with Amelie and Delicatessen.

Wednesday 13th MarchSuperbad (5* at 9pm)

While we have seen a number of cheap, unfunny, and often bizarrely unlikeable teen comedies in the last few years, I honestly think Superbad is up there with the best of this particular genre. It’s not particularly clever, or ground-breaking, but this story of teen outcasts and their desperate mission to belong shares it’s lineage with the great films of John Hughes, and is the equal of the original American Pie. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill provide the heart of the film, but it’s Christopher Mitz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, and Bill Hader’s adventures that provide the film’s high points.

Thursday 14th MarchThere Will Be Blood (BBC2 at 11.20pm)

I’m going to be honest – I don’t really get all the fuss about Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s obviously a talented director, who gets brilliant performances from his actors (Daniel Day Lewis won one of his record-breaking three Best Actor Oscars in his performance here as Daniel Plainview), but often for me the whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. I’m yet to love a PTA film. That said, There Will Be Blood is as close as I have gotten to loving one of his films.

Friday 15th MarchThree Kings (ITV2 at 11.45pm)

Wow, this was tough choosing, and there’s certainly plenty of choice on television tonight if my of the day doesn’t take your fancy (Rocky 3, Fight Club, Love Actually, and The Baader Meinhof Complex for starters). I’m going for Three Kings, the story of US soldiers during the first Gulf War who discover a trove of Kuwaiti gold stolen by Saddam, and plot to sneak it out of Iraq. Director David O. Russell showed with Silver Linings Playbook that he is very adept at mixing great comedy with crushing drama, as well as getting great performances out of his actors. George Clooney is, well, George Clooney, but the most surprisinglt great performances come from Mark Whalberg and Spike Jonze. Yep, this Spike Jonze.

Saturday 16th MarchShort Circuit (SyFy at 7pm)

For me the weekend is all about lounging around with your family and friends, watching the same films that thrilled you as a kid. Sometimes you’re left with the taste of unreliable nostalgia crapping in your mouth as you realise that the film that you loved as a kid is actually pretty substandard. You try and make light of the situation as your partner gives you a look that says “seriously, I wasted my afternoon of this?” You’re left trying to make light of it, or pretend you only ever really liked it in an ironic way, but the damage is done. Your wife will never respect you again, and your children are just hoping to God you never meet their friends.

I promise you, this DEFINITELY WON’T happen with Short Circuit. It’s near perfect.

Sunday 17th MarchTremors (ITV4 at 9pm)

Another of my favourite films growing up, and another film that definitely stands the test of time (helped in no small measure by the fact that it’s practically impossible for cheaply made b-movies to age). Kevin Bacon stars as one of a small number of townsfolk cut off from the outside world by an unseen creature picking off the inhabitants one-by-one. Genuinely bonkers, and utterly lovable 50s horror homage.

Best Films on TV. Week commencing 4th March 2013

We’re trying to add a little order and class to the proceedings, so from this week we’ll be publishing our popular (but erratic) #bestfilmonTV recommendations from Twitter in advance. This weeks films have been chosen by podcast contributor and prolific film consumer, Owen Hughes.

fightscenes-rocky-590x350Monday 4th March – Rocky, Channel 5 at 23.00

One man against the odds, down and out on his luck, the girl, the drunk friend, the montage, the music; sure Rocky is about as cheesy and American as feel good movies can be, but this Oscar winning film has heart and gets better every time I see it. Which happens to be about 2 and half times since June last year as it’s on TV all the time. If you miss it on Monday, it will no doubt be on again a week later. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be the best film on TV that day!

Tuesday 5th March – Enter The Dragon, ITV4 at 22.00

I love Jean-Claude Van Damme. I love the fighting tournament films he’s made. But seriously, they would not be in existence if not for this undeniable classic Kung-Fu film starring Bruce Lee at the absolute pinnacle of his career. From the title, to the fight sequences, all the way through to the funky soundtrack, Enter The Dragon is about as cool as movies can get.

Wednesday 6th March – Romulus and the Sabines, Movies4men at 17.20

It’s not often we recommend a movie from the freeview channel Movies4men, and whilst probably not technically the best film on TV (The Truman Show and City of the Living Dead are also on TV on Wednesday) there is something quite charming about it. It’s an Italian film starring Roger Moore that I wouldn’t have seen if not for our Bond special podcast. If you have even just a passing interest in sword and sandal films, give it a try. I won’t promise that you won’t be disappointed, but it’s something a bit different, isn’t it!

Thursday 7th March – In Bruges, Channel 4 at 23.25

(Review courtesy of Gerry McAuley) – In Bruges sticks in the memory for being such a surprise. Let’s be honest, you don’t expect films with everyone’s favourite sex addict Colin Farrell as a main star to be very good. In actuality he is brilliant in this, bringing his character to life quite wonderfully. Add in the excellence of Gleeson and Fiennes and you have a genuinely hilarious film, with some brilliant dialogue, a decent story and that intangible quality always strived for but all-too-rarely achieved – that these people are a bit like me and therefore this is far more interesting than it otherwise might’ve been. I’m also willing to bet that if you’ve seen this before, the wry grin on your face at the memory of it is likely to make you realise that In Bruges merits a re-watch or three.

Friday 8th March – Kull the Conqueror, ITV4 at 23.35

Kevin Sorbo as a barbarian warrior king. Is that not just exactly the kind of film you expect to be on ITV4 at half past 11 on a Friday evening or what? I can’t really proclaim it as the best film on TV as I’ve never had the pleasure of watching it. What you can do is watch this safe in the knowledge that Steve (our illustrious podcast host) will also have to watch this eventually as he embarks on his challenge to plough through the films on Wikipedia’s list of box office bombs. Good luck with that, Steve.

Saturday 9th March – Ginger Snaps, Horror Channel at 00.40

My initial plan here was to pick the more broadly appealing Tarantino film Kill Bill Volume 1 as the best film on TV on Saturday. That’s now whatyou want though, is it? You can watch Kill Bill any other day of the week as it’s on practically all the time. What you need is to stay up really late and watch this very turn-of-the-century, end-of-the-90s, low-budget, teen-horror, coming-of-age, b-movie werewolf film.

Sunday 10th March – The Wizard of Oz, Film4 at 17.00

There are a shed load of good films on TV on Sunday, but with Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great & The Powerful coming out this Friday, maybe it’s time to revisit the original and surprisingly dark classic. The 1939 musical adventure film is also on the IMDb top 250 chart so if there’s no other reason to watch it, then treat it as a box ticking exercise. Cross that one off the list and set yourself up for the first big post-Oscars blockbuster all in one go.

For helpful reminders of when each film is on during the week, follow our Twitter account @FailedCritics