All posts by Kate

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1995

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

5. Clueless

clueless

My plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose.

Less of a high school movie and more of a religious experience, Clueless charts the coming of age of me, and many other women now residing in their early thirties and still hopelessly in love with Paul Rudd. Meanwhile the twenty-something cast who played the students are somewhat older; Cher’s best friend Dion (actress Stacey Dash) turns 48 in a couple months. “Old people can be so sweet!”

Loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, the cute but selfish Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) realises that tis a far far better thing doing stuff for other people, and sets out on a mission to makeover, match make and mend herself, her friends, and the wider Beverly Hills community. A soundtrack of cheesy power ballads, maudlin cry baby music, and even a performance from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And a wardrobe that anyone who didn’t look like Alicia Silverstone would struggle to pull off, no matter how many different white shirts they tried under their knitted tank top. It’s been argued that Mean Girls had a bigger influence than Clueless on popular culture. Whatever.

4. Toy Story

toy story sid

The word I’m searching for, I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.

I know. I tried to go a single year of this decade without picking an animation, but come on! You try not picking Toy Story. While Disney’s early nineties run of classics came to something of an abrupt end in 1995, with the release of historical Native American romance drama Pocahontas, a little known studio called Pixar turned up and blew us all away in the time it took Tom Hanks to say “Pull my string! The birthday party’s today?”

A stellar supporting cast including a shy dinosaur, a slinky dachshund, and a self-assured piggy bank. Barbie was originally intended to join the toy box as Woody’s love interest, however Mattel initially refused to license the character. So instead Woody hooked up with a porcelain figurine of Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts (Ghostbusters receptionist Janine Melnitz). This freed up Barbie for a fantastic guided tour of Al’s Toy Barn in Toy Story 2 and, more importantly, warranted the arrival of Michael Keaton’s outstanding take on Ken in Toy Story 3. Some things are just meant to be.

The first animated film to be nominated for a writing Academy Award. The start of genuinely one of the most flawless movie trilogies of all time.

3. Heat

heat

I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.

Proof that you shouldn’t get married without the ability to communicate via secret hand gestures. Most unnecessary inclusion of Val Kilmer on a film poster ever. Al Pacino saying “She’s got a GREAT ASS!”. Thanks to the dangerous combination of being an action movie and being set in LA, Heat was (to use Clueless terminology) brutally rebuffed by the Academy, picking up not a single Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, it remains almost 3 hours of crime thriller bank heist brilliance.

The first collaboration of Al Pacino & Robert De Niro in the same scene (both having previously starred in The Godfather Part II without sharing screen time). Creator Michael Mann describes it as “two protagonists…in deadly mortal combat with each other, (who) at the same time have a high regard for each other”, and based the relationship on the experiences of a real life Chicago cop from the sixties. Get Kilmer off the cover art though, seriously. He made Batman Forever the same year, for crying out loud. And then he celebrated by coming to Leicester for the premiere. No, not Leicester Square, actual Leicester.

Long term readers will, of course, have already seen Heat, after I instructed you to watch it on TV last April. One of the films I most enjoy pretending I am in, while doing banal things like walking down the street, and entering banks without robbing them.

2. Empire Records

empire

Welcome to Music Town, may I service you?

In a lifetime, you’ll get maybe a handful of films that really encapsulate you at various ages. Empire Records is my teen angst era. When I wasn’t hanging around the second hand cd stores of Leicester, or writing A level essays on Sir Robert Peel, I was watching this. And while I didn’t necessarily share their drug habits, mental health issues or compulsions to sleep with aging pop stars, I was all about their inner turmoil.

Another coming of age tale, this time set in the independent record store of my very dreams. Anthony LaPaglia and said bunch of angsty teens (including Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler) provide the public with music, and attempt to avoid corporate takeover. All the plaid skirts, baggy pants and swearing you’d expect from early nineties youth. With a soundtrack as eclectic as a movie set in a record store should be – this is the film that introduced me to Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet, for crying out loud.

In their wisdom, Warner Brothers made the only available version of the DVD a ‘Special Fan Edition’, adding 16 minutes of additional footage, and ruining the flow of the entire film for anyone who knew it off by heart having watched the VHS copy every morning for six months and calling it study leave.  I could be a little over-emotionally invested in this one, to the point where I would erroneously rank it above the first on screen cinematic alliance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. But I doubt it.

1. The Usual Suspects

usualsuspects

Is that the one about the hooker with dysentery?

When Dan Hedaya wasn’t playing Cher’s litigator father in Clueless, he was the LA cop whose messy office had an unexpected role in a drug deal gone bad. Starring an incredibly youthful Kevin Spacey, with brilliant support from, among others, Pete Postlethwaite as terrifying ice cold lawyer Kobayashi, and Benicio del Toro as the truly captivating Fenster. Set in the aftermath of a ship fire, and told via a police interrogation and a series of flashbacks, The Usual Suspects is the story of a police line-up, and a Turkish criminal mastermind.

The screenplay won both the Oscar and the BAFTA, and the Writers Guild of American ranked it number 35 in their 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. The very epitome of a twist ending. I’d love to be able to play the piano, but only if I could be proficient in certain songs (I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Don’t Stop Me Now, Piano Man). Similarly, if I was going to be a screenwriter, I’d want to be churning out stuff of this quality on a semi regular basis. Imagine being the guy who sits down and writes Keyser Soze. I’m not even worthy of writing this two paragraph review of that writing. I should have just picked Bad Boys.

A Decade in Film: The Nineties – 1994

In the latest entry to our Decade in Film series, Kate takes a look back at her favourite films released 20 years ago. A year so good that none of Jim Carrey’s 3 classic comedies, Tom Hanks’ most celebrated role nor the most expensive movie ever made (at the time) could squeeze into the top five. That’s how good a year it was. Want to know what was better? Read on…

by Kate Diamond (@katediamond)

5. The Lion King

LION KING SCAR

“Meticulous planning tenacity spanning
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted
And seen for the wonder I am”

The current widespread hysterical hype over Ice Princess romp Frozen? That was the UK in the autumn of 1994 with The Lion King. OK, that was me in the autumn of 1994 with The Lion King. I’m a Pride Rock obsessive. Though even casual observers would have to admit that this was the last great Disney film for a while. Possibly even until Elsa & Anna came along some twenty years later. (Full disclosure? I prefer Tangled.)

A Hamlet-esque tale of elephant graveyards, laughing in the face of danger, and grub; in which Jeremy Irons steals the show entirely as the delightfully brutal Scar. From the sublime (the wonderful Circle of Life opening sequence) to the ridiculous (I Just Can’t Wait To Be King: worst animation ever), it’s a true musical feast – picking up the Academy awards for both original score and original song. Although I think we can all agree that the harrowing stampede scene should never have been granted a U rating.

4. Speed

SPEED

“Cans! There was no baby, it was full of cans!”

While the imdb ‘turned down the part of Annie’ list features almost every actress in Hollywood, the relatively unknown Sandra Bullock cracked on and actually passed her bus driving licence for this role. Who’s laughing now, Sarah Jessica Parker? Keanu Reeves is our, let’s not beat around the bush here, protagonist DREAMBOAT. The white t-shirt, the cropped hair, the monotonous emotionless line delivery – I was 14, and I’d never known love like it. Support comes from Jeff Daniels as the loveably loyal partner, and Dennis Hopper as the wronged ex-cop with a detonator, and a penchant for pop quizzes.

The somewhat ill-advised tagline for Speed was ‘get ready for rush hour’. Which, on a bus set to explode if it drops below 50mph, would have made for a pretty short movie. Instead this is 116 minutes of high octane elevator shaft, subway and bus jumping drama. And there’s even time for a little bit of romance at the end. My brother met his missus on a bus, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as this.

3. Clerks

CLERKS

“You, you’re so obsessed with making it seem so much more epic, so much more important than it really is. Christ, you work in a convenience store, Dante, and badly I might add.”

The picture that launched Kevin Smith’s career, and possibly still his finest work, was filmed in black & white on a tiny budget. Essential viewing for anyone who’s ever worked in the service industry, or indeed uttered the words ‘I’m not even supposed to be here today’, Clerks introduces us to a host of characters who would return in some of Smith’s later work, including Jay & Silent Bob, one of cinema’s most enduring double acts.

Set in a fully functioning convenience store, shooting could only take place at night outside of its opening hours. This resulted in a plot centred on a brilliant hand written sign, and recurrent references to the smell of shoe polish. Watch it for the dialogue, for a reminiscence of the days of actually going to a shop to rent a film; or as a stark reminder of the dangers of using public toilets. I once paid £16.99 for a copy of this on VHS, to impress a guy. Worth it.

2. Pulp Fiction

PULP FICTION

“God damn that’s a pretty fucking good milkshake”

Reservoir Dogs, with all that ear business, was a bit gory for me, truth be told. Accidentally shoot a man in the face, however, and I’ll laugh for hours. You’d have to reside under a pretty huge rock not to be aware of this film. The delicious ensemble cast, the out of sequence storyline, and a pop soundtrack in lieu of a score that is pretty much the greatest mix tape ever.

The movie that resurrected John Travolta’s career, it would have made my top five purely for getting him to dance on the big screen again. But add to that Bruce Willis brandishing a machete, Samuel L Jackson brandishing a cheeseburger, and the aforementioned Bonnie Situation, and I’m there every single time you want to watch it. Pulp Fiction is what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity. As cool as a million Fonzies.

1. The Shawshank Redemption

SHAWSHANK

“I guess I just miss my friend.”

If someone asks me to name my favourite film (Why the hell would you ask me that? Are we on a speed date?) I’ll more than likely name this. And I hate that, because it does seem like the kind of safe, middle of the road choice a boring brother in law might offer. But this film genuinely does push/punch/beat into submission so many of my buttons that I can cry just thinking about the final 20 minutes. (An A level film studies class once hosted a screening of it at our local independent cinema, and my post credits bumbling snotty thanks to them for the opportunity to see it on the big screen probably ruined their experience entirely. Sorry to them.)

An epic tale of Mozart, hope and money laundering in a jail in Maine. While it’s easy to like Morgan Freeman’s affable prison stalwart Red, critics described Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne as lacking in warmth and ability to connect with the audience. However his quiet contemplative performance as a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife makes for a pretty damn emotional conclusion. A film with an (albeit slightly ridiculous) final reveal that if, like me, you were blissfully unaware of the first time you saw it, leaves you immediately wanting to watch it again to relive the details. Shawshank did little at the box office on its original release, however later gained deserved success, plaudits and praise thanks to those already discussed video stores. Good on you, the nineties.

You can find more of our revitalised Decade In Film articles so far here, from 1963-2004.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Twenty-One Guns (s12 ep 22)

A less than regular series charting the 100 greatest individual television episodes, as chosen by the Failed Critics & other TV obsessives.

ER gurney

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a doctor. Not in any real sense, you understand. But in the same way that The Good Wife made me believe I would legitimately succeed as a lawyer, fifteen years of ER provided me with a pretty comprehensive medical education.

Ask someone to name their favourite episode of the County General drama, and they’ll more than likely mention George Clooney in a storm drain. Stalwarts may also reference helicopter crashes, road trips, or a certain hand written letter. Season 12 doesn’t feature highly (or at all) in many of the great episode lists.

By season 12, many people had given up on ER. If not during the first episode (an hour dedicated to the disappearance of Nurse Sam’s annoying, diabetes-ridden kid) then definitely midway, when some disillusioned writer, still mourning the loss of Carter, would scrape the bottom of his high school creative writing level barrel and come up with The Monkey Episode. Later weeks spent a significant amount of time in Darfur which, while enlightening, were not particularly escapist TV. In short, season 12 was disjointed, and watching it was all a bit of a chore. Until Twenty-One Guns.

Twenty-One Guns takes us back to basics. A typical day for the ER staff: religious groups spouting premonitions, hapless trainees, disgusting irrigations and board level bureaucracy. Alongside this, the funeral of one of their own, unexpectedly killed off in the previous episode. Oh, and the O.K. Corral.

The season finale drama is provided by Nurse Sam’s dysfunctional family members. Again. Only this time it’s her convict ex-husband, come to stage a prison break via the suture room. So that’s actually pretty cool. And, for those of us only just recovered from the security breach which led to the fatal stabbing of a medical student back in season 6, pretty fucking tense. Cue guns, lots of guns. Possibly over twenty.

As ever, the heart of the show lies in a crisis, as the nurses and doctors step up and do their thing. Morris, a slacker from the moment he arrived on the job, finally seems to know what he’s doing and, on his last day in the ER, might actually save a life. Possibly his first! And who knew you cared so much about desk clerk Jerry until he nearly died, huh? When Weaver, the matriarch, finally arrives in the aftermath of the bloodbath, there is a palpable sense of relief. These guys really are a family. And not just because Kovac got Abby knocked up.

Few characters could pull off ‘interesting subplot’ when your main storyline features guns, hostages and vending machines. Neela is the little English doctor that could. Parminder Nagra (from Leicester, don’t you know?!) is brilliant generally, but particularly strong when burying her dead husband. Yet even in the midst of her grief, she and Pratt, her funeral wing man, find themselves inexplicably drawn to the hospital. That Emergency Room has a weird hold over them all. You generally have to die to leave County. Or land a big screen casino heist franchise.

I’m a sucker for dramatic American set pieces soundtracked by British alternative rock bands (which is totally a spoiler for my choice for greatest episode of The Newsroom). Nonetheless, the final minutes, from the opening bars of Open Your Eyes, give me goose bumps every time. This entire sequence is wonderfully done and, after humble (shit) beginnings, closes season 12 with an almighty cliff-hanger.

ER is an ensemble drama which is almost entirely famous for a single character, who left less than a third of the way through. However, as anyone who stuck with the show to the bitter end will tell you, the real star isn’t that Kentucky born, pig-keeping, silver fox at all, but the admit desk, the board, and the gurneys. They set the tone.

“I think there’s something going on at the hospital.”

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Hitting The Fan (s05 ep05)

A sporadic series charting the 100 greatest individual television episodes, as chosen by the Failed Critics & other contributors.

hitting the fan deskIt’s easy to see why The Good Wife has passed a lot of people by. Or, indeed, been actively avoided by many of the usual fans of American TV drama. Starring that chick from ER (and, erm, Snakes on a Plane) and the old dude from Sex and the City, the housewife-turned-litigator premise seems a little derivative. But to know Alicia Florrick is to know that she, and her incredible supporting cast, are so much more than their crummy title suggests. They should have called it The Fucking Badass Wife.

Hitting The Fan happens early on in season five. It should be a comfortable, middle of the road episode. At this particular point in The West Wing, for example, there was a birthday. ER did Halloween, Sex and the City did a book launch (didn’t they do that every week?), while in The Sopranos someone almost slept with someone they shouldn’t. The Good Wife, however, decided that season 5, episode 5 was as good a place as any to spend 41 minutes skilfully destroying everything they’d built up in the previous 94 episodes. “It’s time I try something new” said Alicia. And then they did.

Alicia and Cary Agos, her former nemesis, have come a long way since the pilot. After years of billable hours and court room successes, they’ve worked their way up to Partner and 4th Year Associate respectively. And now it’s time to start their own firm, taking their hard earned clients with them. The other hapless 4th Year Associates – more interested in cappuccinos than contacts – who complete this new start up worry me, and afford Alicia the occasional tut. But it doesn’t matter, because this is clearly the Florrick/Agos show. And, let’s face it, we never really saw any of Lockhart/Gardner’s colleagues, save for the delightfully brutal David Lee. Alicia and Cary, for all their history, are going to be the new Will and Diane. Believe it or not, I can actually see them slow dancing around the office together a couple of seasons from now. Just don’t you dare say that to Will.

Oh Will. Even the way you stand up from your chair when presented with mentee/former lover Alicia’s treachery is sexy. As he strides off to confront her we get a series of flashbacks of their infamous white sheeted sex scene. Frankly, it’s so hot I can’t have been the only one expecting an angry shag rather than shouting when he lunged at Alicia and swept the entire contents of her desk onto the floor. “I took you in…you were poison” Will seethes, in an exchange a world away from the previous episode’s amicable reminiscence of their office romance days. Cynics might well call this the end for Will & Alicia, but I live in hope. Of Peter Florrick dying from a massive stress related heart attack, mainly.

After rumblings of dissent in the camp for weeks, it is Diane, class personified, (and still hanging around after being so unceremoniously ousted herself the previous week) who finally figures out what is going on. And she does it via a quick glance at Alicia’s office decoration stipend; I told you she was classy. In contrast to Will and Alicia, the mentor/mentee showdown between Diane and Cary is a far more civilised affair. She clutches his laptop and talks about betrayal. He accidentally gives away the fact that they’re taking the chumhum (The Good Wife’s version of Google) account with them, but still manages to sign off with his trademark cheeky grin.

Kalinder makes a brief but always welcome appearance, as she blithely double crosses the new firm and proves once and for all that you can’t trust her as far as you could lob one of her enormous leather boots. Meanwhile David Lee races around in his Bluetooth headset screaming “hands up from the keyboard” at everyone, like he’s in the FBI.

Peter (the Good Husband, if you will) shows up for the obligatory booty call, complete with ‘lean in’ gags; because even the sex scenes are well scripted, damn it! Indeed it’s a testament to the show that the Governor Elect’s main role is as a piece of ass. Ok, he throws a bit of executive office weight around at the end, securing Florrick/Agos the toppest of all the top clients, but he’s primarily in it for the sex. Meanwhile, Alicia’s kids continue their recent trend of having short enough scenes to remain unannoying. And, best of all, there isn’t a single second of Jackie Florrick.

Hitting The Fan leaps effortlessly from screaming tension to laugh out loud funny (“Go to hell.” “You go!” “Oh, your daughter called. She needs a permission slip for school.”). It’s exhausting television, like watching an entire season in under an hour. Alicia is escorted from the building before the opening credit sequence even appears, in the kind of dramatic set piece normally reserved for a season finale cliff hanger. This is one of the best episodes of TV I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. And, while I’m sad for all those people who won’t see it, the makers of The Good Wife don’t care. Oh no, they’re too busy kicking ass.

“We’re coming after you. All your clients. Every single one we worked to make happy while you swept in at the last minute to take credit. We’re taking them. And then you know what you’ll have? A very nice suite of offices.”

Devil’s Due

devils dueYou know that time you went to a gig and the guy in front of you spent the whole evening with his arm in the air, filming the entire thing on his phone? To the point where you distractedly missed your favourite song, because you were fantasising about pounding him in the head with his own camera? Devil’s Due is the story of that guy.

Zach films everything. It’s his thing. His schtick. It’s not creepy, or annoying, or down right ridiculous at all. He starts the movie by scaling a wall and climbing into his fiance’s bedroom the night before their wedding, while filming it, so your opinion of him is pretty low from the get go. Yet for someone who, apparently, spends 95% of his time with a video camera in hand (if the impassive reactions of his family are anything to go by) it’s astounding how incapable he is at holding the fucking thing steady. “This is where you’re going to go to school”, he later narrates to his unborn baby. Only you can’t see a clear shot of the building through his hand tremors. The certificate should include a motion sickness warning: do not eat a massive katsu curry and ice cream directly before viewing.

I’ve heard enough disparaging references to “bastard found footage” to know this genre is something of a bone of contention amongst the Failed Critics. I love horror films, but haven’t seen many of this type since my mainly snot based memories of The Blair Witch Project. According to the directors “Devil’s Due doesn’t pretend to be footage that anyone has found or compiled, it’s simply a story told through cameras that exists in that world […] as the character’s lives spiral out of control, we’re able to mirror that journey visually by shifting to different POVs”.

Sure, I can suspend my disbelief as to the collation of such footage. However I still can’t fathom quite how and why those cameras exist in that world. But why, I wanted to scream at every scene, why is he filming that? And why does no one seem in the least bit surprised? Why aren’t kids in the street asking him what the hell a video camera is? How come you never see him charge the thing? Most importantly: how did he just get away with filming a load of strangers at a pregnancy yoga class, without a hormonal woman choking him with her pillow? That would simply never happen.

Yet even more frustrating than the incessant videoing is the fact that he never watches any of it back! The couple spend hours filming their honeymoon, fair enough, they’re sickening newlyweds. But they never bothered to show the highlights to their excitable extended family? He never stuck their zip wire clips on Facebook? Never revisited the shots of his hot wife on the beach, before she got all pregnant? Unrealistic. He is finally driven to dig out the rushes when his missus starts killing priests with her red eyes, but by that point everything’s gone to shit anyway.

Poor Samantha, the previously hot wife, is pregnant and supposedly showing signs of ‘erratic’ behaviour, which are intended to suggest there might be something seriously wrong with the baby. My friend and I (29 & 28 weeks pregnant respectively) watched the film in its entirety and concluded that she displayed entirely normal and rational behaviour throughout. Examples include –

Sitting stony-faced through her baby shower, nursing a grubby champagne flute of orange juice, while all her friends got pissed and shrieked about blankets.

Smashing in the windows of a 4 wheel drive, after it almost reversed into her in a car park.

Screaming ‘DON’T TOUCH US!’ at her husband, when he interrupted a bout of insomnia and started pawing at her bump in the middle of the night.

Ditching her surprise birthday party (who throws a pregnant woman a surprise party? Come on!) to go upstairs and attend to more pressing tasks, like decorating the nursery. Ok, so she was scratching a massive hole in the floor with a knife, whereas I just bought an Ikea rug, but we all have different opinions on aesthetics.

As a long time vegetarian, standing in the meat aisle of the supermarket eating raw minced beef directly from the packet. I had a similar incident with black Jelly Babies at an Asda checkout last week. And I don’t even like Jelly Babies.

After a lot, and a lot (and a bit more) build up, the inevitable blood, gore, birth and death finale is all rather anticlimactic. Far more disturbing is the moment earlier in the film where Sam’s new doctor glibly announces his intention to perform an amniocentesis, before plunging a 16 foot needle directly into her abdomen. As it stands, it’s all a bit abrupt in the end. It would’ve been nice to have discovered if she’d given birth to a little boy devil baby or a little girl devil baby. Or to see how Zach’s overwhelming urge to document everything went down with his fellow prison inmates.

I felt for Sam, with her chocolate chip cookie binges, and fridge full of discarded takeaway cartons. Pregnancy can be a shitty time even when you’re not carrying the Antichrist. Nonetheless, she married the douche with the video camera. And, at the end of the day, they both made some pretty poor choices on the last night of their Dominican Republic honeymoon. The riskiest thing we ever did on our honeymoon was take a drunken Segway tour. Frankly, they had it coming.

A guide to Les Mis on dvd

lesmisI wrote the obligatory Les Mis review back in January, after its (Leicester based) premiere on the big screen. Since then, I’ve been to see it more times than I went to the cinema in the whole of 2012. Which, admittedly, was only about four times. But still, what a loser.

Today it is released on DVD. No longer must you attempt discreet silent sobbing into a single Kleenex Balsam while sharing an arm rest with a stranger. Instead you can watch it the privacy of your own home, clutching a loo roll in the fetal position on your sofa, the way Victor Hugo would have wanted.

It’s about 3 hours long which, I agree, is quite a commitment. So here are my must see moments, in their painstaking, obsessive, chronological entirety.

1. Enter Colm Wilkinson (0:07:14)
The first few minutes of the film are a little disconcerting, even for a hysterical fan such as myself. I was still reeling from the fact that Hugh Jackman was Irish and Russell Crowe couldn’t sing, when suddenly Colm Wilkinson (who originated the role of Valjean in the West End AND Broadway, so he knows his shit, people) turned up as the kindly Bishop, brandishing those candlesticks, and reassured me that it was all going to be ok.

2. Fantine nods (0:16:03)
At this point she’s still part of the factory chorus. Though she stands out a mile off because she’s a) the only one wearing pink and b) Anne Hathaway. “Pay the landlord, pay the shop. Keep on working as long as you’re able.” she sings, with the steely determination of someone who knows she isn’t going to be in a job much longer. Not that job, anyway.

3. The sniff that won the Academy Award (0:29:40)
This performance is perfect for many reasons, not least because it represents the moment everyone stopped associating the song with a reality TV contestant. I Dreamed a Dream is filmed as one continuous tight shot of Hathaway’s Oscar winning face. But my favourite sniff in particular occurs here.

4. When Jackman gets it (0:37:37)
These songs have been performed on stage for 18 years. Those are some big boots to fill, and at the beginning Hugh’s shoe size waivers. But it’s in the gathering up his belongings (candlesticks, mainly) section of Who Am I? when he suddenly makes the role his own. Glancing up at the heavens during his surprisingly subtle utterance of the line “my soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago”, he nails it.

5. Valjean stealth failure (1:00:32)
Jean Valjean is many things; world’s strongest man, Mayor, bread thief. But he certainly isn’t an expert when it comes to stealth. This is showcased earlier in the film, when he attempts to steal some silver platters from the Bishop by drop kicking them out of an open door (0:08:39). However he surpasses this moment when stumbling into the church yard, whispering “we need to disappear” and then immediately launching into song at the top of his lungs. Brilliant.

6. Size zero Eponine (1:07:45)
We get a few glimpses of Eponine mooching around in the background, batting her grubby eyelashes at Marius. But this is the first time we see a full length shot of her, and her eye watering corset. My official scientific calculations put her waist at half the size of a Cadbury Creme Egg. Or something. I couldn’t be bothered to get off the sofa to measure it.

7. Vacuous Cosette (1:08:10)
Cosette is a bit of a nothing character. Her main purpose is to sing the really high twiddly notes that no one else can hit during the group numbers. Aside from that she just stands around looking dead eyed to the point where you wonder if her bonnet isn’t tied a bit too tight. It’s kind of a testament to Amanda Seyfried that she pulled this off to perfection.

8. Marius & Enjolras walk into certain death in order to save face (1:34:48)
You know when you’re on a night out with your mates and an elaborate drunken plan is hatched to go to Blackpool for the weekend, and then the next morning you all play cancellation chicken, because you don’t want to be a spoilsport, but you really don’t want to drive to Blackpool? That’s essentially what Marius & Enjolras do at this moment.

9. The shit barricades (1:35:56)
Books rely entirely on your imagination to create a vivid picture. Theatre relies on basic set and a suspension of disbelief. Films are supposed to do all that for you. On stage, the barricades are an all singing, all dancing, revolving masterpiece. In the movie, which had a not insubstantial $61 million budget, the barricades are built from a couple of old chairs. 

10. Enjolras’s death back-flip (1:57:50)
There are multiple deaths in this movie, from the tragedy of Fantine saying goodbye to her daughter, to the exquisite crunch of Russell Crowe’s vocal chords snapping in the sea. But Enjolras hanging backwards out of the window, red flag in hand, is a wonderful chest punching nod to the theatre goers in the audience. 

11. The Shawshank Redemption homage (2:00:38)
After dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. Liquid cinema, in every sense.

12. Grandpa Marius crashes the party (2:09:21)
Alright, so they gave Marius a bit of a back story, made that sacrifice all the more poignant. And, fair enough, Grandpa and his bucket-loads money put on a pretty fancy wedding for the kids. But that does not give him the right to muscle his face into A Heart Full of Love reprise. Dude, wind your wrinkly neck in.

13. The Jackanory bit (2:10:21)
Marius is a sweet kid. When Valjean settles down to have what is obviously a serious important discussion with his new son in law, Marius reacts with an excitable grin, like he’s about to get a bedtime story.

14. The making of Marius (2:11:57)
Moments ago he was grinning like a loon. Then suddenly Marius understands that Valjean is doing a runner, and he’s going to have to pick up the slack. Never mind all that revolution nonsense, this is the moment Marius becomes a man. His voice suddenly and inexplicably breaks, and he practically growls the line “for the sake of Cosette, it must be so”. HOT.

15. Do you hear the people sing? (2:15:30)
Basically, the second the film cuts to the convent (beginning of chapter 19), it’s time to brace yourself for the big finale. It’s a stunning scene, but the bit where Valjean stands up out of the chair with Fantine (2:21:20) is particularly well done. Then the whispered singing, a proper set of barricades, and all the clapping and crying I can muster. Marvellous.

Shall we watch it again?

A Decade in Film: The Nineties – 1993

This week Kate gives us her choices from 1993, when she was 12 years old, and didn’t know any better. You can also read her questionable picks for 1990, 1991 & 1992. Or the full Decade in Film list so far.

Wayne’s World 2

naked Indian

‘I managed to take out the tiger with a can of mace, but the shopowner and his son… that’s a different story altogether. I had to beat them to death with their own shoes.’

I have a thing for sequels, particularly sequels which are better than the original. I know, as far as Wayne & Garth (and Bill & Ted, for that matter) are concerned, I am precisely the only person in the entire world who thinks that. But it’s my list, ok? Your list is allowed to be different. Email it to me, we can discuss it  while watching Naked Gun 33⅓ together.

Released just 22 months after the first film, the now famous duo return to put on rock concert, inspired by a dream apparition of Jim Morrison. Featuring the same mix of movie parodies, one liners and fourth wall breaking as the first film, but with the added bonus of Christopher Walken, Kim Basinger, Aerosmith, and lots of naked Indian. What’s not to love? Don’t answer that.

Malice

malice

‘You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God.’

You think Alec Baldwin was arrogant as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock? You should see him in this. Dr Jed Hill is a brilliant bourbon fueled Harvard educated surgeon, who makes quite the impression on his new suburban town. Though it’s really all about Baldwin, he is joined by Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Anne Bancroft and that creepy guy from the Saw movies. There’s also a cute cameo by Gwyneth Paltrow as a stroppy college student.

Fraught with red herrings, and the occasional Chekhov’s gun, Malice is a head fuck of medical drama, romance and cautionary tale. The late Roger Ebert described it as “the only movie I can recall in which an entire subplot about a serial killer is thrown in simply for atmosphere”. Co written by Aaron Sorkin (and we all know what that means), it’s almost impossible to mention the plot without giving something away. So I’ll just say that this year’s pick for sexiest thriller has way more naked flesh in it than my choice from 1992. You’re welcome.

Jurassic Park

jurassic park

Clever girl’

In which Spielberg builds a dinosaur theme park and then, instead of opening it to the public, selfishly decides to just make a film out of it. I’ve still not quite forgiven him for that one.

I can’t tell you anything about this movie you don’t already know. Featuring Richard Attenborough’s first acting role in 15 years, in the kindly yet slightly misguided Grandfather/King of the Dinosaurs role. Wayne Knight, even more infuriating than he was in Seinfeld, as the park’s sole computer programmer. And Jeff Goldblum, making maths sexy in his own inimitable style, while occasionally taking his top off to boot. Thankfully the book didn’t go to Warner Brothers, who wanted Tim Burton to direct. I’m not sure I could’ve coped with Johnny Depp doing his quirky take on ‘eaten by T.rex’. Jurassic Park IV is scheduled for release next year. Imagine.

The Fugitive

the fugitive

What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble.

This film will always have a special place in my heart because the day I was due to see it at the cinema my boyfriend was ill, so got his older, better looking cousin to take me instead. Result. Based on the sixties tv show of the same name, The Fugitive is essentially a two hour long episode of 24. Set in the last few wilderness years before the Internet went mainstream, the old school technologies showcased in this film include VDU computers, line printers, photo booths, landlines, and photo negatives. Indeed, Kimble’s escape suffers from the fact that he has to use a payphone. He sure picked the wrong end of the decade to not kill his wife.

Tommy Lee Jones won the Oscar for his performance as the positively sprightly (honestly, I don’t remember him ever being this young) Deputy U.S. Marshal, with questionable jurisdiction over the manhunt for the wife murderer. There are cameos from Joe Pantoliano, Julianne Moore and the superb Jane Lynch. But the real star of the show is a whole heap of facial hair accompanied by Harrison Ford, as our train crash surviving, dam jumping, life saving, blind dusting hero. 

True Romance

true romance

‘Amid the chaos of that day, when all I could hear was the thunder of gunshots, and all I could smell was the violence in the air, I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record…’

Fuck Titanic, and other blockbusters of the same ilk, this is a proper love story. Surrounded by sociopathic drug dealers, gangsters, and cops, in what is a seriously violent film, culminating in a gigantic shootout, Clarence & Alabama are a one of cinema’s truly great romances.

Like Wayne’s World 2, True Romance features a protagonist driven by an apparition of a musical legend, and stars Christopher Walken. But this is where the similarities end. After Tony Scott’s untimely death last year, a lot of tributes focused on his work on Top Gun. I would consider this a more fitting showcase of his talent. Written by Pulp Fiction writers Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, score by Hans Zimmer, and with a particularly strong cast list including Hopper, Gandolfini, Oldman, Pitt, Kilmer (ok, ok, I’ll stop saying names…) the film was the correct mix of box office flop and critical success to be forever labelled a cult classic. Look, I don’t normally care what you do. But I would urge you to watch this one.

Honourable mentions, in what was a truly magnificent year of film: PhiladelphiaDazed and ConfusedCool Runnings. Tune in next month, when I stand absolutely no chance of narrowing the films of 1994 down to a list of five.

Best films on TV – week commencing 1st April 2013

It’s the school holidays so, just as I had to put up with a substitute Zumba teacher at my gym this week, you get a  selection of films from me, the Failed Critic who only really likes TV. Don’t worry, one of the proper writers will be back next week.

sister-act-2Monday 1st April – Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (BBC1, 3.30pm)

Citizen Kane was on earlier, but you missed it. That’s what you get for lazing around in a chocolate coma, moaning that “it’s only really 8am”. Pull yourself together. Instead, visit Whoopi Goldberg as she returns as a fake nun, this time to save her old school from closure by winning the state choir championship. Inspiring other ‘school from the wrong side of the tracks’ classics like, well, Dangerous Minds, Back in the Habit features before they were famous performances from Lauryn Hill and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Add to that some back-flipping that puts JLS to shame, hand clapping throughout, and Whoopi Goldberg performing at least three raps, and you have yourself the perfect Easter film.

Tuesday 2nd April – Casino (ITV4, 10pm)

Apparently, when picking films for this list, it’s kind of obligatory to include at least one film you haven’t seen. Or one film you watched once, late a night, napped through most of, and can only really remember the final scene. I know, right? I have no business to be here. In order to redeem my shoddy film knowledge slightly, this is the film I plan to watch this week. Never mind Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, et al. The fact that it placed top five in the list of films that most frequently use the word “fuck” is motivation enough for me,

Wednesday 3rd April – Clueless (Film4, 4.55pm)

A modern (18 year old) day retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless is one of the classic high school movies up there with Grease and The Breakfast Club, with the added bonus that Alicia Silverstone was still just about in her teens when she filmed the role of 15 year old protagonist Cher Horowitz. It’s also further proof that co star Paul Rudd is entirely ageless. More than just a story of report cards and Driver’s Ed, Clueless perfectly encapsulates the nineties, from the revolving wardrobe full of knee high socks and platforms, to a soundtrack featuring Radiohead, Beastie Boys and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It’s undoubtedly what all the cool mid thirties kids will be watching today.

Thursday 4th April – Big Business (Film4, 5pm)

Since it’s becoming clear I won’t ever be asked to chose the Best films on TV for Failed Critics again, I’m going to eschew my initial selection of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (BBC1, 11.30pm) and go all out with the best 1988 separated at birth twins based farce which doesn’t star Arnold Schwarzenegger. From the director who played some part in bringing you the Hot Shots! and Naked Gun franchises, starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin in roles originally written for Barbara Streisand and Goldie Hawn, and with a critical reception the usually positive Wikipedia describes as “generally lukewarm”, Big Business is the best film on TV today, as recommended by my nine year old self.

Friday 5th April – Heat (Film4, 9pm)

Al Pacino & Robert De Niro. Need I say more? The theatrical release poster thought the inclusion of Val Kilmer might swing it for you, but I think his face is unnecessary pony-tailed fluff in what was always going to be known as the De Niro/Pacino film. Travis Bickle versus Frank Serpico. Jimmy Conway versus Michael Corleone. Jack from Meet the Parents versus oh god, Al Pacino was in Gigli?! Written, directed and ten years in the making by Michael Mann, Heat is so much more than just an action movie. Wonderful dialogue, an almost three hour running time, and that bank robbery. Heat is one of the films I most enjoy pretending I am in, while doing banal things like walking down the street, and entering banks without robbing them. Al Pacino & Robert De Niro.

Saturday 6th April – Uncle Buck (ITV2, 6pm)

After basically creating the Eighties, John Hughes rounded off arguably his most iconic decade with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Uncle Buck. And who wouldn’t want John Candy as their over sized pancake making, bowling king, unemployed gambler uncle? When three kids are left in the care of their absentee relative, slapstick ensues. Everyone has an oddball family member, sadly mine were never as handy with a golf ball, or the school principal insults. Starring Macaulay Culkin, even cuter and funnier than he was in Home Alone the following year, this is proper Saturday night TV before it was infiltrated by the general public.

Sunday 7th April – Dead Poets Society (BBC2, 11pm)

Even as a Robin Williams obsessive, I can accept that some of his back catalogue is pretty rubbish. Luckily, on this one, I have the backing of the Academy, who awarded the third school based film in my list the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1989. Set in 1950’s Vermont, Williams is Keating, the unorthodox teacher who inspires his students to rip pages from their textbooks and exercise the freedom of thought not generally encouraged at Prep school. It’s basically a lot like Sister Act 2, but with slightly less rapping. Never have poetry, Latin and standing on desks held more cinematic appeal. Oh Captain! My Captain!

I Give It a Year

I-Give-It-A-YearThe good thing about going to see a film you know nothing about (seriously, I barely knew the title) is that you can go into it free from any preconceived opinions or reviews. The bad thing is that you might unwittingly stumble into a film featuring Minnie fucking Driver. My hatred of Minnie Drive is well documented.  You’ll be surprised to hear that she was not the worst thing about this movie.

I Give It a Year is a Working Title picture, by Borat writer Dan Mazer, clearly inspired by the Richard Curtis school of British Romantic Comedy. There’s this attractive couple who live in London and do London things like take cabs and eat cereal and play charades at Christmas. Then there’s an American female love interest. Only, instead of Notting Hill’s Julia Roberts, it’s Anna Faris. You know, that girl whose babies Chandler & Monica adopted at the end of Friends. Obscure. And yes, of course, Julia Roberts was in Friends once upon a time. But she’s also Julia Roberts.

One half of the oh so terribly London couple is Nat, played by Rose Byrne, who was just brilliant in Bridesmaids, but is a little blah here. She’s never particularly likeable or sympathetic, even though she clearly married a bit of a dolt. Nat’s ill-fated husband Josh is played by Rafe Spall, who is mainly famous for having a dad, and because he used to be fat. Spall’s entire performance is an admirable impression of Martin Freeman starring in, well, anything. If you close your eyes (not to fall asleep, just for some extended blinking) it could almost be him. And completing the foursome of star-crossed lovers is the American male love interest, played by floppy haired, cheesy grinned Australian Simon Baker.

The film charts the slow unravelling of Nat & Josh’s marriage, from the initial stylish wedding complete with a mass paper sky lantern release (unrealistic – they’re exactly the type to know about the environmental impact of such a display), to the one year anniversary surprise ‘celebrations’. Then there’s a scene at St Pancras which I guess is supposed to come off as cute and bumblingly British, but is just a bit weird. Luckily, all this is interspersed with simple scenes shot across a desk from Olivia Colman, showcasing the dark side of couples therapy. Colman is the kind of wonderful addition to this set up who can just make things work. The kind the director can tell to ‘have a phone argument with your husband about picking up the kids, make it last five minutes, make it the funniest thing in the film’, and she does.

Speaking of supporting cast, was Stephen Merchant owed a favour or something? His leery, innuendo cracking best mate to Josh is more than a little out of place here. Merchant plays it as a mixture of David Brent and everything else he & Gervais did together. Which is all well and good, and just part of the British ensemble set piece, like Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill or Kris Marshall in Love Actually, only a little more random. Like the whole film, really. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the worst 97 minutes of my life. I laughed out loud a few times, and there are plenty of good looking people to gawp at, whatever your predilection. Plus it’s always nice to see our fair capital city as romantic comedy intended: rain free, with ample parking and covered in fairy lights.

And so to Minnie Driver. Aside from my initial shock, anger and upset at realising she was in the film, I was actually grateful to her for uttering the line ‘I give it a year’ in the first five minutes, and reminding me of the name of the film. Moreover, she turned out to be pretty bloody excellent, as the scathing older sister, who is never without an eye roll, a witty disparaging put down, or a glass of wine. Plus she’s sleeping, albeit begrudgingly, with Jason Flemyng. (That’s Failed Critics Editor James’s good friend Jason Flemyng.) Minnie fucking Driver is the best thing about this film. Forsaking everything I previous thought true, when I grow up I want to be Minnie Driver’s character in I Give It a Year.

Oh, and Foxton’s may already be London’s leading estate agent. Nonetheless, they owe Rose Byrne an enormous debt of gratitude.

A film couples special

In honour of this commercialised cliché of a Thursday, here are five film couples we’re rooting for. 

brief encounterCouple: Laura Jesson & Alec Harvey
Film: Brief Encounter (1945)
Background: Noel Coward’s poster child for adultery, the stunning Celia Johnson, plays a married with two housewife, whose only real excitement comes from her Thursday afternoon trips to Boots and the pictures. Her kids are bratty and her husband is a dull crossword obsessive, so when she meets a hunky doctor (Trevor Howard) on a train platform, she falls for him understandably hard.
Relationship: The clue’s in the film title. The pair have a handful of meetings, and a couple of furtive kisses. Although they get a room at one point, it doesn’t quite come off. Ultimately, marital commitments, family responsibility, and the lure of earning the big doctor bucks in Johannesburg win out over larking about on the boating lake together. Since Laura does the right thing, despite it condemning her to a life of misery, it’s shame she is denied the dramatic and emotional farewell she deserves. Bloody Brits and their stiff upper lips.
After the film: It being the forties, Laura & Alec aren’t privy to the same levels of constant communication we’re used to today. (One time, he misses their scheduled rendezvous due to a hospital emergency and she has to just wait until the next week to hear from him. Imagine!) This means that, sadly, they probably never spoke to each other again. They’d never pull that off today. He’d be stalking her on Facebook within five minutes of leaving the platform. After the obligatory ‘I’m on a train’ tweet, obviously.

jerry maguireCouple: Dorothy Boyd & Jerry Maguire
Film: Jerry Maguire (1996)
Background: After sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) has a crisis of conscience and distributes a mission statement that gets him summarily fired, accountant Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) is inspired enough to become his only employee.  Dorothy is a single mum, and Jerry has recently broken off his engagement with another woman. Their lack of office space, long working hours and general dire financial straits inevitably bring them closer together.
Relationship: ‘I’ve got this great guy. And he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot.’ Ok, so he shoplifted the pootie. And their subsequent marriage is more for tax purposes than anything romantic. But Jerry does eventually realise how much Dorothy means to him and, like the true salesman that he is, wins her back with a single word. He always was good in a living room.
After the film: Cynical as I am, I’d like to think these guys were just dysfunctional enough to make it. His share of that $11.2million Cardinals contract would surely reduce some of the stress, and give Dorothy the taste of First Class she deserved. And, with Rod & Marcee Tidwell (frankly the perfect couple) as their BFFs and relationship mentors, just maybe they did. At least long enough to take Ray to the fucking zoo, anyway.

fantastic-mr-foxCouple: Mr ‘Foxy’ Fox & Mrs Felicity Fox
Film: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Background: Young, in love and on a routine squab raid, Fox (George Clooney) & Felicity (Meryl Streep) get caught in a fox trap. Felicity reveals that she’s pregnant and makes him promise that, if they get out alive, he’ll find a safer line of work.
Relationship: 12 fox years later, the husband & wife are living a happy life of domesticity with their son Ash, but Fox still desires more. It isn’t long before his animal instincts drive him to risk everything in the pursuit of apple cider and poultry. It’s only when his nephew Kristofferson is captured that he realises the error of his ways. Though Felicity rolls her eyes and proclaims she never should have married him, it isn’t long before they’re dancing together over the end credits.
After the film: Their eventual underground home is safe enough to satisfy Felicity’s maternal instincts, with night time access to a supermarket to supply Foxy with the finer things in life. Plus, they’re going to have another cub. You’ve got to give them a fighting chance. Until he’s exhausted the supermarket’s extra special range, and gets a taste for foie gras again.

chasing amyCouple: Holden McNeil & Alyssa Jones
Film: Chasing Amy (1997)
Background: ‘Quickstop? My best friend fucked a dead guy in the bathroom!’ Holden (Ben Affleck) & Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) meet while appearing at a comic book convention in New York. Both hail from New Jersey and, as they soon discover, share a number of acquaintances. While Alyssa is gay, the pair soon become close and begin a relationship, which mainly consists of having sex, hanging out, and exchanging the usual Kevin Smith angst-ridden dialogue.
Relationship: The pair engage in lots of frantic sex, deep and challenging discussions about virginity and fisting, and some pretty killer arguments. Alyssa’s friends are distinctly unimpressed by the gender of her new beau, while Holden’s comic partner Banky goes out of his way to highlight her flaws. Holden freaks out when he learns more about Alyssa and her ‘Finger Cuffs’ history, and calls off the whole affair. One person who is rooting for them, however, is Silent Bob, who startlingly breaks his quiet in order to drop a relationship wisdom bomb and almost save the couple. Until Holden starts banging on about threesomes again.
After the film: Though the movie ends with Holden & Alyssa apart, there is definitely a glimmer of hope. Holden has learnt his lesson, lost his best friend, and written an apology comic, for crying out loud! It’d be nice to think that lovelorn Holden didn’t end up like Silent Bob – ‘A tubby bitch crying like a little girl to Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits’. (So says Jay. Personally I think he’s kind of hot.)

slumdog-millionaireCouple: Jamal & Latika
Film: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Background: Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) meet as children in the aftermath of the Bombay Riots. Taken by a gangster and trained as beggars, the two are separated by his meddling brother when they try to escape. The film tells the tale of Jamal’s life as he never stops looking for her, even while appearing on Indian quiz television.
Relationship: Jamal eventually tracks down and rescues Latika, only to have her stolen away by his older brother once more. Years later he finds her again, but she has to send him away to keep them both alive. It’s admittedly not the smoothest of couplings but, having experienced such a shitty start to life, you can understand his determination to make this work. After risking everything, and taking quite a few beatings, to save Latika, it’s his knowledge of cricket which eventually gets him the girl. And a the big stinking pile of cash.
After the film: D. It is written. Duh, of course they end up together! And I bet they have loads of cute kids. And all dance around to Jai Ho every single day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, love from Failed Critics x

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1992

A continuing series in which the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Kate chose the nineties, because she actually used to watch films back then. This week she tackles 1992.

Strictly Ballroom

strictly ballroom‘You really are a gutless wonder!’

The first, and lesser known, of the three Baz Luhrmann films that make up the Red Curtain Triology, Strictly Ballroom could well be described as the Australian Dirty Dancing. Paul Mercurio is Scott Hastings, a ballroom dancer who’s all set to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, until he starts trying to throw his own non-standard dance shapes. So far, so very Johnny Castle. Tara Morice is Baby/Fran, the timid beginner with the frizzy perm and enormous glasses, that of course she’s able to dance without, because being a champion dancer is all about conquering The Fear, and not about being able to see where you’re putting your feet at all.

The film showcases the cut-throat world of competitive professional ballroom dancing, using a supporting cast who resemble a Christmas Panto special of Neighbours. Unlike Luhrmann’s later efforts, it doesn’t star anyone particularly famous, but nonetheless went on to become one of the most successful Australian films of all time. Great song at the end, too.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

the-hand-that-rocks-the-cradle‘When your husband makes love to you, it’s MY face he sees. When your baby’s hungry, it’s MY breast that feeds him. Look at you! When push comes to shove… you can’t even breathe!’

As will become clear upon reading my full Decade in Film choices, Early Nineties Thrillers is one of my favourite movie genres. At age 13, my main occupation was the giving and receiving of slumber parties. Such films were the perfect viewing at these parties, scary enough to watch in the dark in the middle of the night, with enough references to sex to provide copious embarrassed teenage giggles. This one charts the tale of the brilliantly named Peyton Flanders, a sadistic widow who poses as a nanny in order to destroy the woman who wronged her, and steal away her family.

Rebecca De Mornay is just wonderful as glassy-eyed Peyton, manipulating and driving slowly insane the mother she is supposed to be hired to help; even managing to turn her against her best friend Marlene (Julianne Moore in full wise-cracking side-kick mode). From the director of L.A. Confidential (seriously!), this story of home-wrecking and wind chimes was never going to trouble The Academy. But there’s some nasty business with an asthma inhaler, an epic shovel fight, and even death by greenhouse. Which is sometimes all you need.

The Mighty Ducks

mighty-ducks‘Did you really quack at the Principal?’

Emilio Estevez is a hot shot lawyer, sentenced to coach a junior ice hockey team as community service after being caught drink driving. It kind of sells itself, doesn’t it? The movie trilogy that launched Joshua Jackson‘s extensive career, (He’s in Dawson’s Creek. He doesn’t play Dawson.) and stars distinguished English actor Joss Ackland as Hans, all round mentor, sage, and hockey stick seller.

The Ducks are a rabble of street kids, perpetually bottom of the league, but with an abundance of spirit. Luckily, it turns out Coach Bombay (Estevez) and ice hockey have history. And, once he’s ditched the chip on his shoulder and the ridiculous limo, he and the Ducks go far. Indeed, in the follow up movie D2 they represent the USA in (something similar to) the Olympics. It’s one of a handful of films which is bettered by its sequel (see also my next year’s entry into A Decade in Film). However this original is where the heart of the team is born. Besides, you have to watch this one first to learn what a Triple Deke is.

A Few Good Men

a-few-good-men‘I want the truth!’

In a court house of the United States government, one man will stop at nothing to keep his honour, one will stop at nothing to find the truth, and Kevin Bacon has the most remarkable haircut you ever did see. Aaron Sorkin wrote the oft-quoted screenplay after hearing about a similar case in Guantanamo Bay, on which his sister was a military attorney. The Sorkin trademark ‘walk & talk’ also originated in this movie.

Despite winning precisely nothing at the Oscars, critics and the box office deemed it a hit, and it went on to be the most commercially successful work of hero director Rob Reiner. A veritable all-star cast, including Tom Cruise at his preppy nineties peak, Jack Nicholson chugging on cigars and shouting ‘I’m gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull!’, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland and plenty of others. A Few Good Men is a largely court room based tale of honour, loyalty and Code Reds. It’s also a pretty great advert for never joining the Marines.

Scent of a Woman

Scent-of-a-Woman‘Out of order — I’ll show you out of order! You don’t know what out of order is, Mr. Trask! I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind.’

Based on the Italian film of the same name (but in Italian, obviously), Al Pacino stars as retired Jack Daniels fuelled curmudgeon Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade; and an even fresher-faced than normal Chris O’Donnell as the prep school student employed as his aide over the Thanksgiving Weekend. The pair embark on high jinks, soul searching and the Tango to the backdrop of the Waldorf-Astoria, Hollywood’s favourite New York based bed & breakfast.

A hidden gem of a film, which seems to have passed a lot of people by. Leaving aside the fact that director Martin Brest went on to write & direct what is frequently cited as one of the worst movies of all time, Scent of a Woman is a must see. The first two hours make for a pretty excellent tale, and include their own heart-warming almost ending. But it’s the last 30 odd minutes, at the disciplinary committee, which are just pure, unadulterated, watch with your mouth hanging open, Pacino. Nominated on seven previous occasions, this is the one that finally got him the acting Oscar. As if they even needed to take a vote that year. Hoo-ah!

Check out Kate’s choices for 1990 & 1991, or the full Decade in Film series. 

100 Greatest TV Episodes: The Cold Open (s1 ep2)

studio 60 matt albieTime flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The show The West Wing could have been. Aaron Sorkin’s 2006 offering, set behind the scenes of a live TV comedy sketch show (so, SNL basically) was cancelled after a single season. The blame for its demise can be placed on the debut of similar in subject matter only 30 Rock the same year, the expense of such an enormous production, or just the fact that it wasn’t good enough. Indeed, there is much criticism on the internet. It took the haters five years to move on (and only then because Sorkin incurred fresh wrath by making Newsroom). Nonetheless, I’m a big fan of those 22 episodes of television.

My tastes are perhaps a little niche. But any show willing to ditch the three main characters and dedicate an entire episode to reuniting Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield, The West Wing’s second best on screen couple, is alright with me. Add to that all the usual Sorkin walking, talking, calling each other ‘sir’ shenanigans, a guest appearance by John Goodman, and the fact that it’s about a television show, and it’s guaranteed to be one of the first box sets I turn to when asked to contribute to a list of greatest episodes. Sadly, these days, television networks tend to base their renewal decisions more on Nielsen and less on my own personal preferences. For shame.

The pilot opens with the executive producer of the sketch show (which is also called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – huh!) doing a Network live on air, and the subsequent return of former employees Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Trip (Bradley Whitford) to take over. Maybe it was the use of Under Pressure as the closing song, or just the way Matt & Danny jumped onto the stage at the end, but never have the final scenes of a pilot inspired such a squeal of anticipatory delight in me. It’s fair to say I went into this second episode with sky high expectations.

The Cold Open charts the new executive producers’ struggle to put together their first show in five days, in the face of huge media attention and sponsor pressure, with specific focus on creating a cold open. After the pilot, in which we mainly meet a bunch of characters and listen to Queen, it also acts as something of a cold open to the rest of the series. You see? It’s a show within a show!

Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) is the newly appointed president of entertainment programming. I’ve never wanted anyone as a boss more. Jordan is hugely successful, fiercely loyal, devastatingly attractive and makes really appalling jokes at all the worst possible moments. She is pretty much the perfect woman. While she jokes about being high at press conferences, and battles with affiliates about the Rapture, back at the studio, Danny tries to coax Matt into writing their first episode. Danny is just the right mix of disciplinarian, mother hen and cocaine addict to make the perfect executive producer for a live prime time sketch show. I imagine. I mean, I’m no expert, but the show gets made, so I’d call it a success. And, if you were one of the few who watched the entire series, Danny utters an important line during the press conference that comes back in the last few episodes. I love that kind of shit.

Matthew Perry originally turned down the role of Matt Albie, but apparently Sorkin was insistent that no one else could play him. Understandable, since Albie is fairly obviously based on Sorkin himself; from the feuds with other writing staff, to the righteous indignation, and even the devout Christian ex-girlfriend. We all know that Matthew Perry can play neurotic, but this time he’s freaking out over a digital clock and some index cards pinned to a wall, rather than house-mate related mishaps, and he really is a delight to watch. Within five minutes of meeting his new writing staff, he’s giving them a lecture on clothing ‘Couldn’t believe the words were coming out of my mouth, but apparently I felt pretty strongly about it.’ and is anal enough to appreciate that 17 is a much funnier number than 15. Hero.

Of course, the real star of the episode is the cold open itself. From its office based conception to the final closing performance, it is the perfect blend of big band musical number, Gilbert & Sullivan, and words. Glorious, Sorkin shaped words.

We’ll be the very model of a modern network TV show,
Each time that we walk into this august and famous studio,
We’re starting out from scratch after a run of twenty years and so,
We hope that you don’t mind that our producer was caught doing blow.

The obligatory Les Misérables review

les mis anne hathawayLes Misérables is my Lord of the Rings. I’ve been anticipating this film for a long time, simultaneously excited and worried they’re going to balls it up.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first of all. And no, I don’t mean the actual Elephant of the Bastille monument that the students lark about on in later scenes. I mean Russell Crowe‘s really shit singing. Here’s a little tip for any other theatre producers thinking of transferring their global phenomenon stage musical to the big screen: if there are rumblings about one of your leading actor’s singing not being up to scratch, don’t give him the opening line of the sodding film! My first thought was ‘oh god’. My second thought was ‘I can’t work out what he sounds like and it’s going to bug me for the next 157 minutes’. And my third thought (don’t worry, I’m not going to document every thought that entered my head throughout the film, that would be terrifying) was ‘oh yes, I’ve worked it out’.

The first few minutes are all a bit random really. Crowe’s Javert is great at riding a horse, and being downright menacing, so long as he isn’t carrying a (nasal) tune. Hugh Jackman‘s Valjean looks as rough as someone who’s spent 19 years in prison lugging boats around has every right to and, when he speaks, he sounds like he has a mouthful of spoons. That, coupled with the fact that they’re doing this weird sing/talk hybrid, and I can see why newcomers and reluctant viewers might have been a little put off. I struggled to enjoy it at first, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Les Mis fan. Ideally, they should have swapped it around a bit, and started the film with one of the more solid performances. But I guess they felt that telling the story out of chronological sequence, Pulp Fiction style, was unbecoming. Bloody theatre snobs.

Luckily, while I was still wondering whether this was actually going to be any good, Anne Hathaway turned up, had all her hair chopped off, sang a song, won an Oscar, and promptly died, all within the space of about 15 minutes. Nailed it, Hathaway.

By now, eight years have passed and Valjean’s had a chance to have a wash and remove all those spoons from his mouth, and scrubs up pretty nicely indeed. Hello Mr Mayor! It’s like that bit in Friends where Monica & Rachel mistake some guy for a yeti, but then he cuts his hair and he’s really hot. Or, you know, a reference to something far more highbrow. He sets off to rescue little Cosette (neatly skimming over the fact that he was kind of responsible for her mother’s untimely death) and give her a better life. Which means that she’ll get to wear pretty bonnets and no longer have to fetch water from that scary well, but she’ll never have any mates ever, and will always have to be ready to abscond at a moment’s notice, because her dad’s in some kind of unexplained, self imposed witness protection scheme.

At this point you should insert a new song, which we all know was crowbarred in to add one more Oscar nomination to the haul. The lyrics should be reminiscent of something Westlife would sing, while perched atop stools on a Top of the Pops stage.

Another nine years pass and, while the French revolution rumbles away in the background, Javert is still hunting for Valjean. Tip: he’s the one lugging the giant candlestick wherever he goes. Meanwhile Cosette falls in love, Valjean prepares to do another runner, and some students get pissed and shout ‘red’ and ‘black’ over and over again. This is all leading to the most rousing, and my absolute favourite, song of the stage show, One Day More. On screen I’m not entirely sure it meshed perfectly, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At the theatre, this juncture would be your interval. But there’s no time for a gin & tonic at the cinema, people. The bleakness is unremitting as we immediately plough on with act two.

The thing is, I don’t actually find it all that gloomy. Within the context of 19th century France, I’d say they’re quite a cheery bunch really. Nonetheless, the Thénardiers are important for the purposes of comic relief. You would have thought that noted comic actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would have pulled this off with aplomb. But I’m sad to say they did not. Master of the House felt like a dress rehearsal of something that could have, eventually, been great; while other killer lines are lost in the direction altogether. Shame, really.

While I don’t want this review to be entirely about Russell Crowe’s singing (I only want it to be 95% about that), his performance of Stars cannot go unmentioned. Stars is Javert’s big moment. His Anne Hathaway, if you will. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that the director was more concerned with having him balance along the edge of a really tall building than hitting some/any of the big notes. But Stars has been dumbed down so much it is rendered almost meaningless. And I know these songs, let me tell you. I’ve seen Les Misérables probably five times on the West End, plus a couple of school/college performances, and have driven the length of the M5 listening to the CD on more than one occasion.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be gained for fans of the show. The always ridiculous runaway cart becomes the fallen cart, seemingly because they couldn’t even be arsed to push it down a hill this time. The obligatory Cockney kid screaming ‘Vive le Francais!’ is good for a wry smile. And Enjolras pulls off a very fine version of the barricades death back-flip. There is also the amazing moment where, after dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. It’s brilliantly horrific.

I’m a fan, I’m predisposed to like it. There is good (outstanding) and bad (embarrassingly disappointing). But, ultimately, Les Misérables is more than the sum of its parts. Even if one of those parts is a New Zealand-born Australian actor who sounds like he’s making a three pints down attempt at “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears on Sing Star.

One final note of thanks to the impeccably behaved audience of the completely sold out 8pm showing at Leicester Showcase on Friday night, who watched the film in total silence and applauded at the end. You restored my faith in cinema-going.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Niagara Part Two (s6 ep5)

A new series charting the 100 greatest individual television episodes, as chosen by the Failed Critics.

jim pam weddingFrom the very first episode, I loved The Office. Particularly Tim & Dawn. When America stole it from us I, like many, feared it would be ruined forever. Instead I fell even more hopelessly in love with Jim & Pam. Frankly, they’re who I base my marriage on.

It had an admittedly rocky start. The pilot was, aside from a few minor script alterations for US audiences, a direct copy of the UK pilot. This didn’t sit well with many of the fans. It felt uncomfortable. Forced. Yet I couldn’t not watch. It was filling a void that had been created the day after Boxing Day 2003; a void I was reminded of every time I heard Yazoo’s Only You. (Ok, every time I played Yazoo’s Only You. It’s not exactly a cornerstone of mainstream popular culture.)

Niagara may not be the most obvious choice for some. It could be argued that there are funnier, cleverer episodes. Episodes featuring Dundies, Dinner Parties and Gay Witch Hunts. But, for me, that’s what makes it so good. This is a comedy series, with an ensemble cast, in a documentary format. And yet, amidst all that, is one of the greatest love stories ever told. Ok, I’m being dramatic. But this is important! The greatly anticipated wedding episode is written by executive producer Greg Daniels and Mindy Kaling, who pitch a series of cheesy exchanges and sweet lines to perfection. ‘This is supposed to our wedding day. Why did we invite all these people?’

These people include Kelly & Erin at their teenage girl gang best; Oscar, Stanley & Phyllis providing background bitching; and Andy with a torn scrotum. Dwight is at his very finest at the falls, where we dispense with beet farming and martial arts almost entirely, for an exploration into his occasionally referenced status as a player. Their incredibly ill-judged, undoubtedly well-meant hijacking of the ceremony with a recreation of the JK Wedding Entrance Dance perfectly encapsulates this merry band of colleagues on their holidays, while Jim and Pam showcase a collection of their trademark ‘looks’ from the sidelines. It’s all very funny. And then some unexpected flashbacks make you cry and cry and cry.

I’m specifying part two because I feel that bending the rules of the list to include a double episode would be somewhat ill-mannered for our inaugural post. But also because this genuinely works as a stand alone episode. In part one, Jim makes an adorable toast, which is lost in a lot of Michael interruptions and external plot points. In part two, Michael is dispatched to be funny elsewhere, and we get to enjoy Jim & Pam’s moments in their entirety.

I’ll even forgive it the Kevin centric final scene. And I really can’t stand Kevin.

‘I bought the boat tickets the day I saw that YouTube video. I knew we’d need a backup plan. The boat was actually plan C. The church was plan B. And plan A was marring her a long, long time ago. Pretty much the day I met her.’

I’m 32 years old. TV is my life.

FCTVThe problem with films is that they’re ever so long.

Maybe if they were 90 minutes as standard (alright, with the odd exception for Tolkien based adaptations) I’d be on board. After all, 90 minutes was good enough for High Noon, Airplane, Stand By Me. But films seem longer than ever these days. If you go to the cinema, factoring in the obligatory half hour of adverts, that’s the whole evening written off. And if you watch a film at home, well, my sofa is so comfortable, and I’m only going to shut my eyes for a second.

I like watching trailers. It’s like seeing a whole movie, with all of the drama and none of the time commitment. And, although I’ve probably never mentioned it before, I also love TV.

I’ve seen most of my favourite films a handful of times. But if you tot up all the time I’ve spent watching The West Wing (which is only one and a half viewings of seasons 1 – 7 , plus the occasional episode here and there) it comes to over an entire week of solid TV! And, let me tell you, there are few better ways to use up seven days of your year. Bartlet for America.

Yes, I once went to the hairdressers and asked for a ‘Rachel’. But I was 14. Who else was I supposed to look to as a role model? I’ve grown up with some of these shows. ER was on air for the best part of 15 years. How can you invest so much time in something without forming an emotional attachment? You have your inevitable rough patches (ER pushed its entire fan base to the very brink with a certain chimpanzee surgery storyline) but ultimately you know you’ll stick it out until the bitter end, before enjoying a suitably soppy final episode (Seinfeld notwithstanding) and mourning its loss from your viewing schedule for a long time to come.

Some might see me as kind of pretentious, but I just like to think I take my TV seriously. When Friends ended we had a small gathering of, well, friends over to watch the finale together. I served food, but cleared it away hours before the broadcast, lest anyone ruin one last Ross & Rachel moment for me by crunching too loudly on a crisp. When 24 made the leap from BBC to Sky (killing off the excellent spin-off Pure 24 in the process) we eschewed the entire following season, instead waiting for the DVD release because we couldn’t bear to see our precious CTU tainted by adverts. Thank god Sky+ came along when it did. I have a self-imposed ban on Arrested Development quoting on twitter, as I find it difficult to stop. I think of Meadow Soprano every time I parallel park, long to swear as competently as Susie Greene, and have spent at least two hours of my life practicing the Troy & Abed handshake with my husband. I’ve been known to chastise people who write off The Office (US) without having seen it, and am already judging those who will inevitably dismiss Parks & Recreation when it finally hits UK screens this Spring. I watch my favourite TV shows without my phone in my hand. And there isn’t much I do these days without my phone in my hand. Including writing this.

The majority of my disastrous dalliances with Netflix end with me flicking back to my recently watched list, and highlighting a comedy or drama series I’ve seen before. The beauty is that, when one episode ends, you can just stare unblinking at the screen and wait for the next one to kick in without even touching the remote. It’s kind of like watching a film. But a film made of TV. So it’s better.