Continuing his ongoing year in review series, Owen runs through some of the films that he’s watched in July. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
What the hell happened, July? You used to be cool. The month started out with such optimism. Life was good. Failed Critics was on the up and with an ever increasing number of downloads and visitor numbers to the site every day following the switch to Acast in May, the outlook was positive. Arranging guests to appear on the next three months worth of podcasts was a doddle and the exciting first ever real-life meet up in London was edging closer.
And then, on the afternoon of Thursday 16th July just before the meet was due to take place, like a punch to the gut knocking the wind out of me, I found out that I was to be made redundant from my full time job. Not through any fault of my own either, but because it was cheaper to outsource my team’s role to a contractor. Bummer. A few drinks with some pals that weekend, the worst hangover I’ve ever had and one extraordinary new follower on our Twitter account (DANNY-FUCKING-DYER) later and things started to feel more optimistic again.
Whilst things have worked out for the best now, and from next month I will be a fully enrolled student for the first time since I was 15 years old, it’s both a scary and quite exciting time in my life! It took a lot of hard work and time for me to make this decision. Therefore, for July, the knock on effect (and what I’m certain that readers will perceive as the absolute worst thing to come out of losing my job…!) is that in researching the options I had available to me, I had hardly any spare time later on in July in which to watch films. It’s a good job I ploughed through a few of those nearly three hour long classics earlier in the month, eh?
Anyway, here’s a run through of the films that I actually did manage to see…
Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 July 2015
Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – DEATH WISH 3 (1985); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – 88 (2014), Terminator Genisys (2015); Sunday – Machete (2010)
Not that I was expecting it to be, but Death Wish 3 is nowhere near as good as the original 1974 film starring Charles Bronson as a vigilante ex-cop getting revenge on some criminals. Directed by Michael Winner, a man who (as I’m sure we can all agree) was a massive twat, what Death Wish 3 shares in common with the original is how it notoriously descends deeper and deeper into a right-wing rant about modern societal values. However, whilst Death Wish has its faults, it was at least a proper movie. When Cannon Group created the first sequel, Death Wish II, eight years later with one half of its long-term contracted mega-expensive movie stars (i.e. Bronson, the other being Chuck Norris) it was, by and large, contemptible re-hashed shit. Nevertheless, it made enough money for the studio to be convinced it was a commercial success and another sequel was commissioned. Of course it was commissioned. This is Cannon we’re talking about. They probably commissioned ten Death Wish sequels, designed posters for 50 and pitched 100 before eventually folding. Playing up to the crass vulgarity that its audience so clearly demanded, Death Wish 3 is much more comfortable in being exactly what it is. There’s no integrity here. The biggest achievement is that it was released at all, but with Golan & Globus behind it, I suppose it’s not that surprising. It’s often held up as the only good sequel in the franchise (admittedly I haven’t yet seen Death Wish 4, but Death Wish 5 was … OK) and I can see why. It is completely over the top, ridiculous in the extreme and so very, very eighties. I mean, I still wouldn’t call it a good film; imagine The Purge but with doddery old man Bronson as the protagonist. It’s not far off that quality. Nevertheless, morally dubious nature and an out-right rejection of anything com’nist aside, taking its politics with a pinch of salt and admiring it as a daft action-verging-on-exploitation film, it has its occasional entertaining popcorn moments and could have been a Hell of a lot worse.
Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 July 2015
Monday – The God of Cookery (1996); Tuesday – The Abyss (1989); Wednesday – Hoop Dreams (1994); Thursday – Red Beard (1965); Friday – 30 For 30: Straight Outta L.A. (2010), THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988); Saturday – The Lost Gold of the Highlands (AKA Garnet’s Gold) (2014); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
It was about this time last year that Sight & Sound revealed the winners of their Greatest Documentaries of All Time poll. You might remember that soon afterwards, Paul Field issued a rebuttal on our site listing his personal favourite documentaries. There was only one film to make both of his and the S&S list, and that was Errol Morris’ critically acclaimed investigation into the American penal and judicial system that had sentenced a man for the murder of a policeman on little more than circumstantial evidence. Whilst there is a bigger picture discussed about how people in the US at the time could be convicted of crimes, at its core there is of course a very real case to be made for saving the life of one individual who was the victim of what Morris perceived to be a broken bureaucratic and prejudiced system. Paul described the film best when he said “Errol Morris changed the way investigative documentaries are made. People talk about influential or important, this paved the way to save lives.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Aside from being absorbing in its narrative and genuinely emotional without needing to be as highly manipulative as its contemporaries often are, the impact that The Thin Blue Line had is recognisable and virtually insurmountable. It is a breathtaking achievement that undoubtedly deserves the adoration it has garnered.
Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 July 2015
Monday – Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011), Ted 2 (2015), LAND OF SILENCE AND DARKNESS (1971); Tuesday – Heart of Glass (1976); Wednesday – Stroszek (1977); Thursday – Touch of Evil (1958); Friday – Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Kickboxer (1989), Ant-Man (2015); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
I had a fortnight of quality films smack bang in the middle of July, with one or two exceptions (ahem, Ted 2). If in the previous month I felt my love for film slipping away ever so slightly after some of the dirge I’d sat through, the first couple of weeks in July had me reacquainted with exactly why I do what I do. I finally got around to watching the last few Werner Herzog movies on my Sky Planner, something I’d been promising to do since watching The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser back in January. I’ve raved about Stroszek on the podcast already and the intentional dreamlike nature Heart of Glass just confused, disoriented and scared me. Continuing with the documentary theme of above, I also watched Encounters at the End of the World, which was fine although far from Herzog’s best. However, it was in Land of Silence and Darkness, the touching portrayal of a snapshot in the life of the death-blind German woman, Fini Straubinger, that I found the most inspiring of the bunch. She was truly a remarkable woman who used her drive, determination and talents to enhance the lives of so many other people. Whether helping a young boy who was blind and deaf since birth to feel music, or taking her friends on trips, or arranging meetings for similarly afflicted people, it’s enough to make me feel emotional just remembering specific scenes. In the most poetic (and probably pretentious) way possible, watching the trust that a different young chap puts in somebody else to do something as simple as enter a swimming pool; it produces a swell of emotion. It’s uplifting, heartbreaking and immensely powerful all at the same time. Fini’s story is inspirational and Herzog captures a kind of abstract beauty in the way that in the face of this cripplingly lonely disability, her strength of character saw her achieve far more than most able-bodied folk ever could. Let’s just say that it certainly put a lot of trivial personal dilemmas into perspective somewhat.
Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 July 2015
Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Hyena (2015), Last Man Out of Vietnam (2015); Thursday – Sharknado 3 (2015); Friday – Coherence (2014), CREEP (2015); Saturday – Silent Running (1972), Inside Out (2015); Sunday – Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
Four days in a row without watching a film; that must surely have been a first for me this year! Notwithstanding Thursday’s SyFy channel debut of Sharknado 3, those days that I did see a film, I think I chose well. Some half-decent new releases, a couple of great recommendations picked up from our Best of 2015 Thus Far list, plus two legitimate classics; it was what I can only describe as a solid week. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the lot was Creep, the mockumentary horror-thriller starring, written and directed by Patrick Brice. I didn’t have particularly high expectations of Creep. If anything, I anticipated a slightly run-of-the-mill, cheap looking, pretty average thriller but instead found it a well paced and suspenseful indie horror. The binding ingredient that excels it to a higher rung on the ladder than most is its star, Mark Duplass. He is absolutely fantastic as the unsettlingly odd, terminally ill man who hires a freelance videographer (Brice) to record his remaining days to give to his as yet unborn baby. Admittedly I haven’t seen Duplass in too many films; maybe just Safety Not Guaranteed, Parkland, Zero Dark Thirty and one episode of The League. Yet I would easily call it by far the best performance of his that I’ve seen. He is properly creepy and unnerving and it may even be one of the best performances of the year. The film itself slightly veers off course in the last 5-10 minutes and ends up somewhat trite but otherwise I’d give it a solid 8/10.
Week 5 – Monday 27 – Friday 31 July 2015
Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – Irreversible (2002); Wednesday – Wild Tales (2015); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2015)
Finally for this month, another documentary to end on. One that tracks the tumultuous production of Richard Stanley’s fated adaptation of HG Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau. Particularly with Josh Trank getting a lot of flack from critics at the moment about his recent Fantastic Failure, for anyone interested in learning just how badly things can go wrong on set with a director out of his depth and an interfering studio, I’d highly recommend giving Lost Soul a watch. Of course we’ll never get to see the fully realised original vision Stanley had for Dr Moreau, which is a huge shame, but at least it makes for an interesting story with anecdotes of the crazy Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando’s antics! As for the quality of the documentary; it is a fascinating story to tell, but it was slightly garbled in its structure. For example, without having seen 1996’s Island of Dr. Moreau, I didn’t even know David Thewlis was in the bloody film until I caught a glimpse of him in the background of a still with Brando and Kilmer. Never mind the fact that he stepped in to replace Rob Morrow, whose departure isn’t covered in any significant detail. Similarly, Ron Pearlman is entirely absent too. With both Thewlis and Pearlman declining to appear, it does leave a rather noticeable hole in the documentary. Nevertheless, it is largely an entertaining documentary. And just like Marco Hofschneider – and presumably every other man on set – we’re all basically jealous that we aren’t Val Kilmer. What a guy.
And that’s it. Apologies again for posting this midway through the month and not closer to July! But if you see any opinions above that you agree/disagree with, or would like to chat about any of the other films mentioned, leave a message in the comments box below. Otherwise, I’ll be back next month!