All posts by Matt L

Netflix’s Castlevania – finally meeting the gamer’s test

All things Retro video-gaming are en vogue right now. SEGA are putting out games for free via mobile apps, Nintendo is selling as many mini versions of old consoles as they are their latest console, the Switch. Now Netflix revives a lost franchise from the dead, pulling it from the death-grip of gaming’s sleeping giant, Konami. Castlevania is back, and this time it’s a TV show, but does it do enough to seduce Gamers and casual viewers alike? Matt Lambourne, one of Failed Critics’s resident gamers, delves into the darkness to tell you more.

(Note: there will be spoilers!)

Continue reading Netflix’s Castlevania – finally meeting the gamer’s test

Keanu – A spoilerific review of a film you probably will never see

So I’m a few days into a Las Vegas holiday, I’m already sunburnt and I need something inexpensive to do before I eventually splurge on the Strip in a few days time.

I was advised by my friend Jeanne, who is a Vegas local, that there is a newly-opened, small, but awesome, cinema at a nearby mall. Myself & Mrs L set off with fairly low expectations to see Keanu, a film about a cute kitten who wears a bandana and a gold chain and is in the middle of an ownership dispute between a couple of regular guys and several gangs.

An odd premise, I’ll forgive you for thinking. However, there is a lot to like about this movie. The film is based around Jordan Peele, who plays Rell/Tectonic (we’ll get to the second names later) who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and is going through the clichéd “my life is over” blues, very similar to the start of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Attempting to console Rell is Clarence (aka Shark Tank), played by Keegan-Michael Key, who is en route to Rell for a bit of brotherly love, when Rell hears a strange scratching sound at his door.

He opens the door to find a little kitten, whom unbeknownst to Rell, has just escaped a gangland hit by the Allentown Boys at a local drugs den. Rell instantly snaps out of his depression as he takes on the Kitten as his own and names him Keanu, although there is little offered to explain why he went for that name… It just works however.

Skip forward a couple of weeks, Keanu is fully integrated into Rell’s home and as Clarence’s wife is going away for the weekend with a male neighbour (Errr, wtf?) the boys decide to hit the latest Liam Neeson movie. In the drive home they both get into a debate about which of them is the most lame, or more specifically, the most white in their behavior. Rell is the stereotypical stoner type, however more from a white person’s perspective, he is unemployed, bums around his apartment all day which is adorned in movie posters of his favorite gangsta movies such as New Jack City.

Clarence is blue-collar and as polite as you can imagine and has an unusual penchant for George Michael & Wham, not too dissimilar to Deadpool, however it plays a slightly more significant role in the overall arc of this movie. So they debate who is the most lame and to be fair they are both pretty dull and uninteresting at this stage but as they arrive back at Rell’s place they discover it has been ransacked and Keanu is missing. They approach Rell’s weed dealer, who conveniently lives next door and are able to deduce that the heavies meant to target the dealer and not Rell.

This sends Rell into a rage and he drags Clarence to the strip club where the 17th Street Blips are known to be based (Blips based on a gang bigger the bloods and the crips), however they have no plan whatsoever on how to deal with these guys when they arrive. They are instantly earmarked by Hi-Cee, a female gang member, on arrival due to their clean dress and lack of street cred. This forces the guys to improvise on the spot, and suddenly the movie comes to life as Clarence retorts in hilariously over the top gangsta lingo to try and earn her trust. They demand to see the boss of the gang ,Cheddar (played by Method Man), whom we learn has adopted Keanu as his own, dressed him in the Bandana and Gold Chain as depicted in the movie posters and called him New Jack.

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Cheddar smells that the guys are not what they try to portray, which are heavy-handed gangbangers looking for work, but the guys step it up even further on the mimicking of gang culture, particularly pushed by Rell who is the more angry, cold blooded of the 2 and Cheddar eventually presumes they are the notorious Allentown Boys (or Allentown Niggas as he prefers), the 2 super Assassins from the opening scene of the movie (who are actually also played by Peele & Key).

The guys keep up the act and reveal their gang names as Tectonic & Shark Tank, and ask for Keanu as a mark of respect if they complete a drug sale for Cheddar. The boys take Cheddar’s fledgling gang members (including Hi-Cee) on the job where they demonstrate their faux-deadly skills to hilarious effect, including some Matrix-sequel wall running which is so sloppy that it really took the roof off the cinema with laughs!

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Rell takes Hi-Cee to deliver their merchandise whilst the rest of the crew stay in the Van (Clarence’s all family vehicle) and listen to George Michael. Clarence hilariously spins the lyrical content of songs like Father-Figure and the break up of Wham/Andrew Ridgley’s fading career being a metaphor for George Michael taking him out, and was never seen again. This hilariously results in one of the gang members getting a George Michael tattoo, not even realizing that he isn’t black.

The drug deal is a strange part of the movie, as Rell delivers to Anna Faris (Scary Movie) who is playing herself and the deal eventually goes awry and Hi-Cee pops them all off as they escape with the movie, whilst Rell has to pretend he is unfazed by the carnage. They eventually get back to the strip club and have a celebratory party, the gang fully convinced at this stage that Tectonic & Shark Tank are legit. The boys approach Cheddar, asking for Keanu however he wants more work from them in return.

This sends the boys plan spiraling out of control and they eventually kidnap Keanu and run, but bump into the real Allentown Boys who also want Keanu for themselves. Whilst tied up and about to be dismembered by the Allentown boys, Keanu bites through Rell’s ropes (as he’s been traiedn to scratch pictures of Rell’s ex) and Rell is able to one-up the heavies as they pick through various implements to torture the guys. This ends up with the boys crossing the line of being faux-gangstas as they actually shoot the Allentown Boys in self-defense, but no sooner do they escape, they run in Cheddar’s gang who now know the truth about Tectonic & Shark Tank.

The gang deliver them to Bacon (Luiz Guzman), a Mexican super drug boss whose brother is killed by the Allentown Boys in the opening scene of the movie, and is the real owner of Keanu (actually called Iglesias). Cheddar passes the boys off as the real Allentown Boys whom Bacon has a massive contract out on. Just as it seems all is lost for our protagonists, Cheddar refuses to hand over Keanu/New Jack/Iglesias and a mass shoot out erupts with most of the gang members on both sides dying.

Eventually the film closes out with a car chase between Cheddar, Bacon & Rell who, are all after Keanu. They crash eventually and show down, just as Cheddar appears to have the upper hand as his remaining crew arrive, Hi-Cee reveals herself as an undercover cop and arrests everyone, including Rell & Clarence. However at this point Rell & Hi-Cee have become suitably close enough to warrant a romantic interest and she promises to testify favorably on his behalf, but ultimately they go down for the murder of the Allentown Boys, with Hi-Cee adopting Keanu until Rell gets out.

In summary: This is such an odd movie, because despite it being written and starring two black actors in Peele & Key, the humour is definitely aimed at a white audience, or at a push, a non-urban black audience for lack of a better word.

That in most instances would be a damning critique, but it’s not. It’s actually genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, and whilst the first 15mins I found the protagonists dull, once they start faking it, they’re very entertaining in a hugely Alan Partridge-esque cringeworthy fashion.

Keanu himself doesn’t really feature a whole bunch, but he is the central plot figure that connects the various factions and is really adorable in a combination of real animal acting and a bit of silly CGI. The various factions allure to Keanu is somewhat inexplicable, other than Rell perhaps but you do find yourself falling in love with the little guy whenever he shows up on screen.

It’s a shame this won’t be coming to the UK but I think it’s one that is incredibly hard to market to an audience that has no familiarity to Peele & Key, who are seemingly being pushed as the new Wayans Brothers, in the United States. Hopefully it might make it to streaming sites as a home-only release and it will definitely provide lots of laughs if you enjoy a truly silly comedy with a dash of cuteness for good measure.

Adultimation – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie

Our Adultimation series hits the fifth instalment, and to celebrate, Matt Lambourne takes us back to the mid-90’s when a Video-Game phenomena was hitting the Silver Screen in two very different forms… luckily we get the good one!

By Matt Lambourne (@Lambomat)

The brand of Street Fighter II needs no introduction. It is the video-game that brought the Super Nintendo into millions of homes worldwide and every child was either playing it, or saving money to play it. By the time Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie arrived on the scene, the game series was peaking, with SF II: Turbo having already been and gone and Super Street Fighter II was just on the horizon.

More meaningfully, the live action Street Fighter movie had already left an abominable impression on the gaming fan base, as well as the mainstream movie-going public at large. For the record, I actually really enjoy Street Fighter, a movie SO BAD that it’s actually brilliant, but that’s a conversation for another day. The Street Fighter II fan base was left with a bad taste in their collective mouth and the live action movie simply hadn’t respected the lore of the game enough in the process.

Step to the plate, Group TAC, a Tokyo based collective of talented animators with a long history of creating Japanese-centric Anime, but suddenly given the task of restoring the pride of Capcom’s besmirched video-game behemoth. Needless to say, they were game for the task! TAC’s project of The Animated movie, whilst remaining faithful to the mythology that Capcom had established in the SF gaming series, did take some creative license to bring their vision of the game to life.

The movie starts with a spine-tingling opening showdown between the game’s primary protagonist, Ryu, against one of the boss characters Sagat. The lengthy feeling out process of these two deadly martial artists, combined with a thunderous hard rock soundtrack makes for a brilliant opening, in which Ryu disperses with his foe with two of his trademark moves, such as the Dragon Punch that inflicts Sagat’s famous chest scar, and the Hadoken, which perfectly mimicked the opening of the ‘then new’ Super Street Fighter II game.

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“Any man that can kick the crap out of Sagat is a man that I want found!”

The movie then revolves around the recruitment of the world’s best fighters, by the Shadowlaw crime syndicate, headed by Bison (Vega, for fans of the Japanese version). He strategically deploys cyborgs that are placed across the globe to monitor fights and identify those who might become the strongest soldiers for his army. This is where the movie differs to the game’s backstory, however it interweaves the two stories well as it dips into the background of it’s various characters.

Ryu wonders the world, never stopping in one place. He is seen throughout the film climbing mountains (Mission: Impossible II style) and wondering through villages in Asia. His moves are watched by the monitor Cyborgs who pursue him, and his aura is felt by the numerous fighters that he comes across, ultimately resulting in plenty of brutal fighting action. As such, Ryu becomes Shadowlaw’s #1 target for recruitment.

On the other side of the world, Ryu’s former training partner, Ken Masters, dissatisfied with the lack of challenge presented by the professional fight game, longs to reunite with his stablemate to test his abilities. In the process of Ken dispatching yet another challenger, he is located by a monitor cyborg and identified as an equal match to the abilities of Ryu. This lures Bison out of hiding who personally abducts Ken via force and is able to brainwash him into doing his deeds using his ‘Psycho Power’ ability. This was a theme explored in the live action movie, via the conversion of Blanka from a soldier into a mutant; however this angle works much better and allows the viewer to explore the historical relationship between Ryu & Ken via flashbacks that both characters endure as their reunion edges ever closer.

One thing I particularly admire this movie for is its use of music for both fight scenes and character building vignettes. In the original Japanese dub, the movie has a very techno-focused OST, whereas the English version contained a score composed by Cory Lerios & John D’Andrea (most notable for their musical contributions on Baywatch), which was very West Coast Rock scene influenced with artists such as KoRn and Alice in Chains providing tracks with a more Grunge/Nu-Metal edge.

This works to enormously great effect and adds incredible tempo to fight scenes such as the rapid Electronic-Techno track ‘Ultra’ by KMFDM, which adorns the vicious fight scene between Vega (Balrog for Japanese followers) and Chun-Li. The Western version of the OST completely altered my taste in music as a youngster, I went from listening to Blur and the Verve, to KoRn, Silverchair and Alice in Chains almost overnight!

AJGsJBZThe movie’s finale sets up the inevitable showdown between Ryu and Ken, who has been enhanced via Bison’s psycho power and is now a mindless killing machine. However, Ken, upon seeing Ryu hurt, enters into another flashback that almost destroys his mind as he fights against Bison’s programming. This leaves Ryu alone to fight Bison, which if you’ve ever played SF II on 8 Star difficulty, you will know is a particularly hard ask!

Eventually, Ken re-emerges with his sanity intact and the 2 friends team up to dispatch Bison in an exhibition of their trademark special moves and an ultimately satisfactory end to proceedings. The film does however leave a wonderfully sinister open-ending as the 2 friends go their separate ways. We see Ryu walking the vagabond path yet again, with a Capcom truck bearing down on him, with a raging Bison at the wheel…

Where this movie succeeds over its live-action counter-part is the respect that it pays to the lore the game created, even whilst taking it in a slightly different direction. It was also perfectly in alignment in its promotion of the film as Capcom were with the new Super Street Fighter II game, with both sharing promotional content and themes (see below).

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This movie is widely considered to be the best video-game/movie tie-in ever made and that is something I can’t make a case against. But not only that, it is a solid Anime movie, beautifully animated and the fight scenes are spectacularly choreographed by K-1 founders Kazuyoshi Ishii and Andy Hug. It also leaves a significant legacy, with a TV series Street Fighter II V launching not so long after, also by Group TAC and many of the elements from this film’s story were borrowed by the Street Fighter Alpha video-game series a year or so later.

This is a perfect example of the synergy that a movie and video-game should share, which is so regularly ignored when big studios get hold of a video-game IP. As an Anime fan and a gamer, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is a much treasured part of my youth; the sneak peek in video games magazine for the many months before its release made the anticipation unbearable!

As such it holds a much revered place in my movie collection and I implore any video game fans that haven’t seen it yet, to seek it out. Never has a finer example of video game adulation been expressed on the big screen, before or since.

You can read the rest of Matt’s adultimation series by clicking this link.

Adultimation – The Guyver: Bio Booster Armour (1989)

In the next instalment of the Adultimation Series, Matt Lambourne explores the world of global conspiracy, the human genesis story and a deadly alien weapon. Dust off your VHS collection, as we delve into the brutal world of one of Matt’s all-time favourite Anime series’.

By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

guyver 1What would you do if you were a normal teenage boy, who stumbled upon powers that made you the deadliest weapon on the planet? That’s a pretty far out question for most of us to wrap our heads around. It’s a theme that was recently explored to great effect in 2012’s Chronicle whereby several youngsters accidentally gained superpowers and struggled to contain their ego’s given their new found ability.

In 1989’s ‘The Guyver’, Sho Fukamachi is posed the same question. He is taking an afters school stroll in the woods with his best pal Tetsuro, when upon investigating a distant explosion; they stumble onto a strange mechanical unit. Sho attempts to touch the unit and is immediately engulfed by the unit, which extends tentacles that consume Sho and eventually bind to his body.

It appears Sho is being killed by the machine as he screams in pain as he falls into a river and briefly disappears, however the worst is yet to come. Quickly in pursuit of the unit are agents of the Chronos Corporation, who threaten to kill Tetsuro if he doesn’t hand over the unit whom are concealing a dark secret.

In order to have Tetsuro cooperate, they morph into hugely powerful monsters known as Zoanoids, a higher form of being that is significantly more evolved from humanity. As they are about to kill Tetsuro, a dark figure emerges from the water, covered in armoured plates and loaded with weaponry.

The figure dispatches the Zoanoids in brutally violent fashion, before eventually coming to a halt and Sho’s consciousness regains control. He is now the Guyver, a hugely destructive and powerful weapon system brought to Earth by an Alien race many thousands of years ago.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the Guyver, the armour is akin to how you might imagine the Japanese would make RoboCop. Its steel armour, with Samuari Sword-esque blades attached to the elbows, a small laser from the head and a chest cavity that be opened up to unleash a near-nuclear strength blast that annihilates anything in its path.

There is a catch though; Sho is not entirely in control of the Guyver, and in Peter Parker style reluctance, he struggles to accept his fate, the power and the responsibility of being the bearer of this armour. And with good causes, as the Chronos Corporation which is bent on world domination through the first of their genetically enhanced Zoanoids will not rest until the Guyver unit has been reclaimed from Sho.

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My body…. I have become a monster!

The Guyver is difficult to review as it’s pretty flawed in many ways. Again for a pre-90’s anime it’s not the best animated and the dubbing to English is quite cheesey, however it does become quite memorable for that reason as lot of early Manga crossovers were.

The series takes place over 12 x 30min episodes and for the first half of those, the series is exciting, suspenseful and to a degree, quite frightening. One of its greatest achievements is that you always feel a sense of peril for Sho, you’re never quite sure he’ll survive any episode and is thrust into harm’s way repeatedly throughout the series, and it’s his gradual understanding of his powers that help him to overcome the foes he faces in each episode against the odds.

However, the sad thing is that the series was based on an Anime comic that was still running far after the release of this video series and the plot falls off enormously towards the end. In fact it’s almost reduced to an X-Files style ‘Monster of the Week’ dirge which at times becomes slightly tiresome.

But let’s focus on the positives. The Guyver is IMMENSE in its action. Sho and his fellow Guyver, the mysterious Agito Makashima, come up with imaginative ways to use their powers to dispatch of the Zoanoids in each episode and it is exciting watching them become more powerful in every episode.

The design of the Guyver armour itself is very cool, a sleek Robo-Samuari armour that whilst incredible powerful is also highly vulnerable, particularly as it shares a Symbiotic relationship with teenagers that struggle to contain its power.

The series also explores a fascinating human-genesis story, whereby it is revealed that Humans are of alien origin and were brought to Earth by the same race that built the Guyver, deployed to new worlds as weapons to exterminate their inhabitants. It’s quite a shocking revelation and a theme that is repeated in the Alien Vs Predator movies, and something that the protagonists struggle to comprehend in their journey.

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“You probably don’t even know the meaning of the word, Guyver. It means OUT OF CONTROL. It doesn’t fit into any category, nobody knows what the Guyver truly is, but we know one thing for certain. The Guyver is a bio-weapon”

It is a huge shame that the series wasn’t given its own direction and a diversion from the plot from the comic so it could have tied up the series after 12 episodes. Unfortunately it is left wide-open and is ultimately an unfinished and abandoned work, which ran out of steam towards the end.

But it does leave quite the legacy. There were 2 western movies made on the back of the popularity of the anime series. One being 1991’s ‘The Guyver’ (or Mutronics) for which Mark Hammil receives top-billing for despite not being the lead character. It’s very poor and a little too ‘Power Rangers for adults’ for my liking. Whereas the sequel ‘Guyver: Dark Hero’ is a respectable B-Movie sci-fi romp with decent action and is worth a watch.

The animated series was also rebooted in the 2000’s as Guyver: The Bioboosted Armour which can be found on Netflix, bringing the franchise to a new audience. Overall, the Guyver is a spoiled master-piece, that starts off strong but leaves you needing more than it provides at the end. That said, it is a piece that fans of classic Anime simply must check out!

Adultimation – Fist of The North Star (1986)

Here at Failed Critics, we’re all attempting to regain our collective composure after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road over the last couple of weeks. But just when you thought it was safe to leave the wastelands behind, Matt Lambourne takes us back into the post-apocalyptic future with one of the most famous and entertaining Anime’s ever created.

By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

fist of the north star 001If you enjoy Anime films, comics or video-games you are already probably familiar with Fist of the North Star (or Hakuto No Ken in Japan), but if you haven’t then strap yourself in for an epic assault on the senses!

I’ve wanted to discuss Fist of the North Star for a long time with my colleagues on the Failed Critics team, but we’ve lacked a relevance to feature it. However with the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, I think we have a mutual ground of interest to dip into the ultra-violent and harsh world of this film.

The world of Fist of the North Star is set amongst the post-nuclear global war, scorched Earth. Much of the world is wasteland and few survivors remain. Those that have survived, struggle to rebuild a fragile way of life and continue to fight over the limited food and water supplies that remain.

The hero of the film is Kenshiro, who is to succeed his adopted father Ryuken as the new First of the North Star, a deadly assassination style that is passed from from one Master to a chosen successor.

However Ryuken’s other adopted sons grow jealous of the rise of their youngest sibling and plot against him to remove him from the line of succession. Early in the movie, Kenshiro is confronted by his long-time friend, Shin, who has a deep love for Kenshiro’s fiancée, Julia.

This is used as bait by Kenshiro’s older brother, Jagi, who convinces Shin that only the strongest can protect the ones they love and that he should forcibly take Julia away from Kenshiro.

This results in a grizzly scene in which Kenshiro is repeatedly maimed by Shin (Fist of the South Star) and he inflicts 7 severe wounds into Kenshiro’s chest before leaving him for dead and taking Julia with him.

The story reconvenes a year after Kenshiro’s death at the hands of Shin and we are introduced to 2 children, a thief named Bat and a mute girl named Lin, who are being pursued by a biker gang (ala Mad Max). Just as the 2 are cornered by the murderous bandits a strange and dark figure is seen wondering in the barren landscape, heading towards them.

fotns“Infact, you’re already dead…”

The figure begins smashing down the crumbling skyscrapers with his fists as he casually walks towards the group. As it draws closer the bikers engage the figure who is eventually revealed as a rejuvenated Kenshiro, who easily annihilates them and rescues the 2 children.

The group eventually meet another deadly martial artist named Rei who is searching for his lost sister. She is being held captive by Jagi, who is impersonating as Fist of the North Star and reigning in terror of the local towns-people.

The group engage Jagi and he is eventually defeated, but not before he makes Kenshiro aware of his betrayal and that he encouraged Shin to take Julia. Learning that Julia is still alive, Kenshiro makes his way to Shin’s stronghold. However he is unaware that his eldest brother Roah: The Conqueror is moving there also with a huge and deadly army, which sets up a climactic battle between the 2 deadly brothers at the end of the film.

There is much to critique about Fist of the North Star, the character development is very much an after-thought to the spectacular violence and compared to the great Anime movies that come at the end of the decade (Akira for example), the animation is very ordinary.

However I think this misses the point of Fist of the North Star. It’s a movie that concentrates on how men’s sole desires influence their entire existence when the world around them falls apart. A theme that was explored to great effect in Mad Max: Fury Road, whereby Max is reduced to a single human instinct, survival. In this movie, Kenshiro’s undying love for Julia keeps him alive and is his sole reason for existence, whilst everyone else around him is power hungry and bent on domination.

Whilst these movies are explicitly different, Fist of the North Star and Mad Max share many themes, particularly the protagonists. It’s what made me instinctively think of FotNS when watching Fury Road and going back to the original Mad Max.

The film’s action is what it is most remembered for, with it’s over the top martial arts and splatterhouse death sequences being some of the most infamous in all of anime. But at the heart of the movie, is an overwhelming sense of the triumph of human-spirit, as Kenshiro wanders the wilderness in search of his true love, the only motivation he has to keep on living.

It may not rank amongst the greatest Anime movies for the purists and perhaps detracts away from the source material in the comics of the same name. But for me, Fist of the North Star is blissfully nostalgic, stylishly violent and conveys a great message behind all of the madness it shrouds itself in.

Just stay clear of the mid-90’s live action movie… we’ll just conveniently pretend that never happened!

Vince DiCola: King of Synth

In between rocking out to synth and metal movie soundtracks, Matt is a frequent writer for the site and contributor to the Failed Critics podcast. Here he tells us about one of his personal icons, the King of Synth, Vince DiCola.

by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

“Movie scores today sound similar to me in the sense that there are some great composers out there who continually use orchestras. I love orchestras, but I’d love to see synthesizers being used a little bit more again…”

Vince_DiCola_PhotographMovie history is full of great and celebrated music composers. Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer particularly come to mind when thinking back on some of my favourite movie scores from the 1980’s and onwards. But there is one individual that does not garner quite so much recognition, at least by name, but certainly will be recognised by most movie fans at least sonically.

Vince DiCola cites Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) amongst his biggest musical influences. DiCola got his first major break in the movie business as an up and coming musician and composer when he was recruited by Frank Stallone to work on the score for 1983’s Stayin’ Alive. Whilst the movie itself bombed, the score raised some eyebrows within the industry and Vince earned himself Grammy and Golden Globe nominations for his work.

When Sylvester Stallone returned to direct and star in 1985’s Rocky IV he once again turned to DiCola to become involved in the project after the excellent reception of the Stayin’ Alive score.

Rocky IV had a tremendous soundtrack, but it is Vince DiCola’s score that is the most crucial and most remembered piece.rocky4

It goes without saying that Rocky IV was a brilliant example of 80’s Americana, both in film and its excellent
soundtrack. The Rocky IV soundtrack spawned a number of Billboard hits, including Survivor’s ‘Burning Heart’ (a #2 hit), James Brown’s ‘Living in America’ (featuring the B-Side ‘Farewell’ by Vince DiCola) and the epic ‘Hearts on Fire’ performed by John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band which was also written by Vince DiCola.

But the most endearing pieces from movie, the ones forever seared into the memory of fans and movie fanatics, are from Vince DiCola’s score.

Training Montage

It is one of the most copied, parodied, inspiring and famous pieces of music in movie history. The synthesized sequence ‘Training Montage’ was such a strong part of the Rocky IV score that it made into the soundtrack also. As per the image below, it was parodied in comedic fashion to great affect in Team America, has been used in dozens of TV commercials and popular series such as Family Guy. It certainly plays a huge part in the build-up to the climatic final fight in Rocky IV and music is the perfect example of how Vince DiCola’s work may escape you by name but you will probably be familiar with him by this particular track if not more.

Team-America-montage-001Sure, Rocky had a montage but it wouldn’t have meant shit without the accompanying piece by Vince DiCola.

In the United States, the track ‘War’ from the score was regularly used during the 80’s and 90’s during NFL broadcasts so will be hugely familiar to US Sports fans and is an excellent sequence in its own right. Whilst the score was bizarrely awarded the 86′ Golden Raspberry, time and reflection has been tremendously kind to DiCola’s work and it is fondly regarded as a rabble-rousing and nostalgic classic.

Transformers: The Movie

Despite the scathing response to the Rocky IV score from some circles, it brought DiCola’s work to the attention of the producers for 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. DiCola auditioned for the part with an original piece called ‘Legacy’ which did not make into the final score for the movie but featured all the hallmarks that fans of the movie came to love.

Whilst DiCola’s work only features in one vocal track from the movie’s soundtrack (Stan Bush – Dare) the movie score is entirely his own. DiCola was given a free license to work from with only the aid of storyboards to guide his creativity, an experience that he later stated he was entirely unused to but thoroughly enjoyed, culminating in an exceptional original score.

A particularly emotive piece is ‘Death of Optimus Prime’, which is the accompanying music to the scene in which Auotbot leader Optimus Prime passes the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus on his deathbed, following his mortally-wounding battle with Megatron at the start of the movie (Spoiler Alert!).

It is a piece that is my own personal Kryptonite and I still cannot listen to today without shedding tears; the passing of a childhood role model with such a harrowing theme takes me to the saddest parts of my youth. In some ways I liken the heart-wrenching emotion of this song to the passing of my own father, it’s that strong of a piece.

The Transformers soundtrack also branched into areas of popular culture. The retro gaming classic ‘Turrican’ from 1986 features a rehash of Vince DiCola’s ‘Escape’ as of its primary themes (thanks to Andy Godoy from the Retro Gaming Daily Show for that one!). The ever popular anthem from Transformers: The Movie called ‘The Touch’ , performed by Stan Bush, even made it into a scene in Boogie Nights during a rather startling musical audition for Dirk Diggler!

As a massive Transformers fan, finding this soundtrack in the 90’s was not easy, particularly pre-internet era. I had to travel from Stoke-on-Trent to London’s HMV Trocadero to buy the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack on CD, but its a nice personal story for me and one my most prized possessions.

You can see the man himself with the most valued of all of my music collection in the header image!

It saddens me greatly when seeing, or hearing the negativity surrounding the Michael Bay Transformers movies and how they truly scar the legacy left behind by Transformers ’86, both in the brilliant animated movie and its sensational 80’s synth/metal soundtrack.

That said, DiCola has carved himself an excellent legacy and his body of work spans over several movies, solo releases and numerous video games, most recently returning to work on the Transformers edition of Angry Birds. Vince DiCola may not be a household name, but he probably sits on the CD shelves or MP3 collection of countless movie and video game fans.

There are few musicians that have profoundly affected me in moments of sheer delight and even sometimes in mourning as Vince DiCola. His work during my childhood in particular has created memories that will last a life-time and I still enjoy immensely even in my 30’s. I can only hope there is another big movie project in the future for Vince that might just bring him into the kind of notoriety that his life’s work deserves.

Exodus: Gods & Kings

In what is the last blockbuster of 2014, Exodus: Gods & Kings delivers an suitably enjoyable romp. However resident cynic Matt Lambourne proverbially pokes Ridley Scott’s latest sand and sandals epic full of holes.

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

exodus 2Unfortunately Exodus missed the release deadline for the Failed Critics end of year awards for 2014, so by default it will be spared any embarrassment for it’s absence. In truth it probably wouldn’t have harmed the chances of the eventual top 10 anyways, that said the movie is deserved of some attention.

I must state in the interest of fairness that I am an admirer of the period of history that is the source material for the film, although not necessarily a big interest in the religious aspect. Being an atheist, there are aspects of the film that are malignant to my overall enjoyment of the film. OK, now that is out of the way we can get stuck into the bones & meat of Exodus: Gods and Kings.

The first thing that will strike you about this film is the outrageously beautiful set and costume design. If there was any question where the reported $140,000,000 budget for this movie went (with the exception of Christian Bale & Joel Edgerton‘s barber costs) then look no further than this, as this film looks as beautiful as it’s protagonists’ spray tans.

For the uninitiated, Exodus retells the story of the rising of Moses and his leadership of the Hebrews as they break free of 400 years of slavery under the hands of the Egyptian Pharaohs, but in overly dramatised Hollywood fashion. Bale & Edgerton are cast in the main roles of Moses and Ramsees respectively and in fairness do a decent job for the most part in convincing they are masters of this ancient world we are thrust into.

The Make-Up/Tan/Costume of Edgerton is particularly impressive, he looks absolutely superb and entirely in place as King of the Egyptian realm. The film follows a similar opening to that of Gladiator, in whereby you are introduced to this seemingly stable power triangle in the form of the current Pharaoh, Ramsees the successor and the overly favoured army General in Moses. In fact, its the same damn template to a tee and I doubt too many people who see this movie even on a casual viewing would fail to detect this obvious repeat of formula.

You can’t blame Ridley Scott, really. It worked so well with Gladiator that when he dared to change it up a little for ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘ it didn’t yield the best return or praise. Exodus wants to be Gladiator for the most part and delivers in scale and grandeur, however it doesn’t on 2 major components; character development and battle sequences.

Don’t get me wrong, the character arcs for Moses and Ramsees are decent enough. Moses gradually shifts from part of the Egyptian machine to reluctant leader of the Hebrews at just the right pace, whereas Ramsees’ plunge into Megalomania dictates the tempo for the entire story. However the other characters are entirely symbolic and add almost nothing to the quality of the movie, nor the story other than their obligatory inclusion to be consistent with the legend of the film’s subject matter.

This moves me along nicely to one of my biggest movie bugbears, pointless casting. There are several inclusions in this movie that are fairly high on the pay-grade that I either did not recognise or felt brought zero to the table in either performance or draw of their name to the target audience.

Firstly, lets start with Aaron Paul. His stock has fallen ever so slightly since finishing Breaking Bad and immediately jumping into a shitty intellectual property in the live-action Need for Speed but he still holds a little pull for a certain audience, but why on Earth is he in this? He is just about recognisable in his get-up as Joshua (another win for the make-up team) but he delivers no performance value in this at all, in fact he barely even speaks!

Ben Kingsley will sell himself out to just about anything that requires a remotely dark complexion and has become a caricature of his standout performance in Gandhi. His face just about adds some form of safety/trust as a tribal elder but again, no value overall and another big casting fee wasted. Then there are the ones I failed to recognise at all. Sigourney Weaver totally escaped my recognition despite being fairly prominent… I’ll give that one up for my own ignorance perhaps. The usually excellent John Tuturro is cast as Pharoah Seti, whilst doing nothing wrong in performance it just appears as one of those token favour castings… why would you squeeze in a heavyweight Jewish actor in a role as a Pharoah, someone that oppresses persons of your faith? Then there was the peculiar addition of Ewen Bremner (Yes, the Scottish Ewen Bremner) as one of Ramsees’ advisors.

The whole casting smacks of some sort of agenda. You have the most caucasian actors in the world playing all the juicy Egyptian/Hebrew roles (with the aid of heavy tanning I might add!) whilst they carefully selected performers with Arabic heritage for the few select roles that were of that ethnicity. This is the biggest issue with Exodus in general, it massively leans towards the Zionest slant of the story and appears to depict that everything good about Ancient Egypt came off the sweaty and bloodied backs of Hebrews.

I won’t even go into whether that is right or wrong historically, however it comes across as somewhat deliberate, to the extent that it may prevent the film getting any long-term praise for its technical merits in a similar fashion to Mel Gibson’s historical bludgeonings like The Patriot and The Passion. I can’t imagine the Arabic community at large being terribly ecstatic about the movie either, which then makes you wonder who the movie is really being made for? The general viewership won’t care for the underlaying message or the historical appeal, they just want to be entertained.

Ultimately this is where Exodus misses the mark. The marketing for the film implies (at least in my person interpretation) an epic battle at the centre of the conflict between Moses and Ramsee however it simply doesn’t exist. In fact the film’s main action sequence is over and done with rather quickly into proceedings. That leaves you waiting patiently for something that never really occurs and whilst you’re sitting back enjoying the Plague scenes (which are truly spectacular by the way) you’re still looking forward to the big climatic battle, which is sadly denied and audiences don’t enjoy feeling mislead about what they’re handing over money for.

The ending really doesn’t satisfy in any sense and I’m left to wonder how much better this could have been if a few tweaks had been made here and there. For me, this is a film for fans of ancient/religious history but isn’t quite good enough for the main stream. The critics will have quickly panned any slim Oscar chances for Exodus as far as Cinematic achievement goes, however I will give this massive kudos for the stunning costume, make-up and set design as previously mentioned… its here where the movie really excels and does have some legitimate chance of picking up some accolades during awards season.

In conclusion, go and see it and enjoy it as it is pretty good, but its far from a genre-classic like it’s director’s other attempts such as Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (directors cut only of course!)

The Last Night of the Nightcrawler

Living on a craggy rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, resident contributor Matt Lambourne is always on a quest for a better cinema experience. In his latest article he explains his frustration with the current mainstream offering and why YOU are to blame!

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

It is fair to say that the general cinema going public aren’t always the brightest bunch. We regularly see dumbed down, CGI-laden bloat-reel adorning the top of the Box Office charts and that is fine. There is definitely room for braindead entertainment and we are all guilty of enjoying from time to time. However as a fan of cinema, I yearn to be intellectually stimulated as well as being taken to popcorn-pyro heaven.

This evening, I have enjoyed the immensely entertaining and dark thriller that is Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Without going into too much detail, the film is a throughly pleasantly uncomfortable romp with a unique premise that is brilliantly executed. Jake Gyllenhaal, shows yet further acting dexterity as the creepily cold and relentlessly ambitious night time news video shooter, who crawls the L.A streets at the midnight hour in search of grim footage of crime and human tragedy to sell to News stations.

Tonight was its opening night here at the Isle of Man’s Broadway cinema and I must admit I was quite surprised we even got it here at all! The Isle of Man has 2 cinemas, one has 2 screens and the other (Broadway) only one. This means we generally get only box-office heavyweight sure-fire sellout hits… something that leaves this movie critic extremely frustrated.

Alas, we receive the eagerly anticipated Nightcrawler and for it’s opening night it got a whopping 12 attendees for it’s only evening showing of 19:30 (this includes myself and my girlfriend). This is for a film with a decent Hollywood drawer lead in Jake Gyllenhaal and currently sits on a superb 8.3/10 on IMDB at the time of writing.

Empty cinema

This tells you everything you need to know about the current state of cinema and whilst the Isle of Man is a microcosm in the grand scheme of the cinema industry you can bet this is repeated often up and down UK & Irish cinemas. Yes, we demand entertainment, sometimes in the form of a heat seeking missile or a giant Robot fight that is happening so fast we can’t even process what is happening. Yet there is a core of cinema fans that yearn for more, yearn for that intellectually challenging, original and even adult orientated piece of cinema that gets you talking amongst friends, or writing about in social-media.

But unfortunately, when cinema takes a stab at doing the right thing, you don’t show up, like that unreliable friend who always cancels on you last minute. A cinema with a captive audience at only 80,000 people maximum and one screen can’t afford to take many stabs at high-brow entertainment and we’ve let ourselves down on this one.

We’ll continue to turn up in droves for the latest Transformers romp, or Tim Burton’s latest instalment of gothic Johnny Depp worshipping, but when when a director dares do something a little different, you stayed at home and let cinema lose.

The change starts with you folks, don’t cry foul when your local cinema isn’t showing the latest Oscar-bait because you didn’t turn up last time but gladly handed over your money for Marmaduke. You did it with Fight Club, you did it with Dredd and now you’ve done it with Nightcrawler.. a film that is likely to be spoken of for a long time to come, but sadly will disappear into the night as suddenly as it appeared.

Adultimation – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

For one day only on Saturday 27 September 2014 (almost 20 years after its initial release in the UK, the iconic, influential and often imitated but never bettered Ghost In The Shell gets the big screen re-release treatment courtesy of Picturehouse cinemas across the country. As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday you can pick up the limited edition Steelbook blu-ray! Once described as the film “James Cameron would make if Disney let him”, resident anime fanboy Matt explains why this is one of the most influential films of the last 20 years in the second instalment of our Adultimation series.

by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

ghost in the shell 2If you purchased any Manga Entertainment VHS between 1993/94 it would have been impossible for you to not have seen or heard of Ghost in the Shell. It had been many years since the impact of Akira as the genre-defining movie had crossed-over graphic Anime into the mainstream. The world was ready for the next adult hit and by 1995 it had arrived.

“Can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?”

Ghost in the Shell is the story of a Special Police Unit (Public Security: Section 9) based in a not so distant future Japan, comprising of semi-cybernetic agents whose physical bodies have been fine-tuned and mechanically enhanced, known as Shells. In this post-cyberpunk future however, the Shell (or body) is somewhat dispensable and persona and memory can be transferred between bodies, this is the Ghost element of the movie, referring the transference of soul into differing physical entities.

Section 9 are in pursuit of an expert hacker known only as the Puppet Master who is responsible for implanting fake memories and realities into its victims minds to use their bodies to hack via proxy (known as Ghost hacking). As the movie progresses it becomes clear to the cybernetic contingent of Section 9 that the Puppet Master may not indeed be a person at all, but a Ghost that has evolved from the modern equivalent of the Internet, initially weaponised but has now become sentient and acting upon its own will.

This causes the members of the team to question their own origins and purpose in life, particularly the central figure of the movie, Motoko Kusanagi, who begins to consider if it is even important whether she was born human, or simply artificially constructed. As her investigations draw her closer to the Puppet Master, Kusanagi becomes paranoid or perhaps even indifferent to value of her own humanity.

The film progresses with Section 9 tracking down the Puppet Master’s temporary Shell. However, another government agency is seeking to obtain it for themselves, resulting in the climatic engagement of the movie with Kusanagi confronting a Spider-Tank in a battle sequence that may seem somewhat familiar to film fans for reasons which we’ll cover later in the article.

Without spoiling the end of the movie too much, Section 9 come out on top, although the Shell of Kusanagi is destroyed in the tank battle, her Ghost is merged with that of the Puppet Master. The new lifeform whilst resembling Kusanagi is neither her or the Puppet Master, which ends the film on a delicious outcome that leaves the future for this character open to interpretation.

Hype

Few films have ever been as hyped prior to release in the adult-Anime world as Ghost in the Shell was during the early 90’s. It featured in trailers for just about every anime film released for the 2-3 year period prior to it reaching a cinematic and eventual home release. For me it holds a tremendous fondness and was one of the first films I can recall ever being truly excited about for an extended period before its release.

The trailer itself is still one of my personal favourite examples of how to ramp up expectation and excitement with good marketing and extraordinary iconography without spoiling all the movie’s key plot-points. I implore you to take a look for yourselves:

Cel and CG animation

Ghost in the Shell is easy on the eye, that goes without saying. Even 20 years later it still looks fresh and edgy. Whilst the film is set in a near-future Japan, the densely populated City scenes are based upon modern day Hong Kong. Long narrow alley-ways, with a plethora of signs and that all-too realistic weaving of heavy concrete and rain causing a claustrophobic, damp and grey Urban-Jungle

The art work is especially stunning. Beautifully detailed digital Cel backgrounds combined with then state of the art CG animation made Ghost in the Shell not only feel light years ahead in terms of the sophisticated sci-fi plot but also in how it looked.

The music is also a key component, more so than in any Anime I’ve seen before or since. Gorgeous Japanese symphonic cords, blended together with traditional wedding vocals create a haunting tone during the film’s opening sequence with the shell of Kusangi being created, you know the movie is taking you into deep into the imagination of the director Mamoru Oshii from the get-go.

Influence

It can’t be stressed strongly enough how much impact Ghost in the Shell has had on movie makers, particularly in Western Science Fiction (namely the Wachowski Siblings). Its influence on 1999’s The Matrix for example becomes immediately noticeable from Ghost in the Shell‘s title sequence, which bears the hallmarks of the now iconic binary green rain as well as the cybernetic implants on the back of the characters necks.

There are many more touches shared between both films, both in the plot mechanics and the use of the Internet as a form of alternative reality. The action sequences also compliment each other greatly, as touched upon earlier in the article the climatic battle sequence is very similar to the lobby action-scene in The Matrix whereby pillars are used as means of cover but massively destroyed from gunfights to demonstrate fire-power.

Whilst it would be fair to say that The Matrix inserted more martial-arts at the expense of the the political plot lines, Ghost in the Shell features a limited amount of hand to hand combat whilst also borrowing from other Sci-Fi properties such as Predator with Thermo-Optic Camouflage being a key plot-trigger of the film

Its not a stretch to say though that The Matrix wouldn’t exist without Ghost in the Shell (and Akira before it).. that’s how important this film is in grand sphere of influence it wields amongst its industry fanbase. If you’re fortunate enough to have it showing near you this weekend, we highly recommended taking the opportunity to see it on a big screen. It’s a perfectly paced and easily digestible 90-mins of Sci-Fi Action that will live long in the memory.

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1984

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1984, a year that had lots of good films but only a select few great films..

By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

5. Nineteen Eighty-Four

6R4GXbD“If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”

Based on the George Orwell classic of the same name and directed by Michael Radford, Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a dystopian alternative reality whereby the populous are enslaved by a totalitarian government under the watchful eye of the supreme leader known only as Big Brother.

Nineteen Eighty-Four paints a painful and all too realistic view of what big-government without restraint could be like. I happened to watch this for the first time after Netflix launched in the UK just a couple of years ago and I was taken aback by how relevant this is as a pre-cursor to a society that has been conditioned to accept mass-CCTV and government intrusion of their privacy almost as a given.

John Hurt is excellent in the lead role as Winston, a man who longs to love and lust and think for himself, all emotions that are outlawed by the state. The mighty Richard Burton makes his final silver-screen appearance as the state’s brutal iron-hand O’Brien and plays the role with just enough restraint to make him even more sadistically sinister. The film makes great use of colour to remove any touch of individualism from society, everything is steel, grey and cold which further establishes the mindset of a society bred to work for the exclusive benefit of the state.

Without going into spoilers, this isn’t a film to watch if you are looking for a happy-ending. Everything plays out with a ruthless and calculating efficiency of a state built as a machine. As I understand, the film may not quite live up to the splendour of the novel; however, when watched with a clear mind it is astonishingly profound as modern society continues to live under the influence of the metaphorical Big Brother.

4. Birdy

dwsedeg“You ever wondered what our lives down here must look like to a bird?”

Let’s get one thing straight from the get go. This is not a Vietnam movie, but I was somewhat drawn to it initially due to my interest in Vietnam movies. The 80s has a boatload of them, however Birdy is more of a psychological examination that just happens to feature a voyage into Vietnam for the two main protagonists, Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al (Nic Cage).

The film follows 2 high school friends who are eventually separated and are sent to Vietnam. Birdy is already dealing with mental issues of feeling outcasted from his peers and has an unusually intense fascination with birds and flight. It later becomes apparent this is a metaphor for wanting to flee from the burdens of his life, however the trauma and mental fatigue of the war causes this rather innocent fascination to become an all-consuming fixation as his mental state deteriorates and he eventually winds-up in asylum.

Thankfully, the War element does not get in the way of a complex tale of friendship and adversity but merely acts as a vehicle to deliver to the mental breaking point for the Birdy character. Nic Cage, in an early and refreshing role, performs admirably as the linchpin buddy that keeps Birdy mentally balanced in the real-world. Given that he must act with his face behind bandages for the large parts of the film shows great acting dexterity that is lacking from some of his later performances.

Modine is more Private Pyle than Private Joker as a good all-american kid who finds solace through delusion and again has to dig deep into the actor’s toolbox to perform a role with no human persona during the most intense parts of the movie.

Director Alan Parker does a magnificent job in making a movie that is hard to remove from the psyche – again, for not especially positive reasoning. The story is far from triumphant and is quite depressing in places and is hardly box-office material. However, that is not meant to dissuade you from seeing this film. It is one that lingers in the memory and you’ll find few characters as interesting or as touching as Birdy.

3. The Terminator

terminator 2“Come with me if you want to live..”

If there are movies that can pretty much stereotype a decade, then The Terminator surely has to be on the shortlist. Made with little expectation for box-office success, the pressure was off to deliver a fully adult orientated science-fiction romp for a then little known director, James Cameron.

The film throws you into the deep-end right from the opening sequence, whereby Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time to modern day Los Angeles and turns up butt-naked and looking to acquire his target, Sarah Connor who would eventually give birth to the leader of mankind’s last line of rebellion against the enslaving machines.

At the same time, the rebels from the future send back one soldier to protect her, thus beginning a deadly cat and mouse pursuit between the 2 human targets and an unstoppable force brought menacingly to the screen by Schwarzenegger.

Where The Terminator succeeds is in convincing the viewer that this complex sci-fi story could indeed be a far-out possibility. The mythology is established very quickly in the film through the flashbacks of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) that portrays the bleak future that mankind has created in its pursuit of technological advancement.

That said, it’s popcorn friendly at the core. Arnie puts in a fantastic stone-cold performance as the villain of the film and given his enormous physique is entirely convincing as a killing-machine. Linda Hamilton shows great versatility initially as the 80s damsel in distress to slowly maturing into a heroine as she comes to terms with her role in mankind’s future.

The action satisfies, plenty of gun-battles and well choreographed car-pursuits ensure the momentum of the film is heightened throughout as the Terminator is in constant pursuit of the vulnerable human heroes.

Curiously, The Terminator doesn’t even make the top 10 highest grossing movies of the year. This goes to prove what an incredible following the film drew from the home video market and a master-stroke (deliberately or otherwise) in Cameron waiting a further 8 years to give a baiting fan-base the sequel they so longed for.

The Terminator leaves a fantastic legacy in establishing James Cameron as one of the hottest directors in the business setting him up wonderfully for his like Sci-Fi extravaganza in Aliens whilst taking Biehn along for the ride as well as bit-parters Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, whilst firmly establishing Schwarzenegger as one of Hollywood’s hottest action stars.

2. Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters-PS_612x380“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

Ghostbusters is a long standing love for many movie-goers, myself included. It’s probably the oldest memory I have of watching movies; those classic old RCA red-spine VHS tapes were pretty unique and haven’t left my memory in all this time. I could ramble on about why Ghostbusters is great and it only narrowly missed out on the #1 spot for 1984 in my assessment. However, Failed Critics has its very own Ghostbusters superman. So to tell you why Ghostbusters is so good and still so revered to this day, I hand over to Failed Critics own, Carole Petts.

On the occasion of Ghostbusters 30th anniversary, I wrote for the Guardian about why this silly science-fiction comedy has ensured in the public consciousness for so long. I’ve tried many times to pinpoint why this is my favourite film of all time, and honestly, it always comes back to the fact that it makes me laugh without fail; that every joke is as fresh now as it was when it was filmed. I’m clearly not alone in this – some of my favourite viewings have been with an audience, who clearly adore the film as much as I do (validating my devotion somewhat, it has to be said) and will quote and laugh along with me all the way through. You simply can’t ask for anything more from a comedy film.

The plot is actually an archetypal product of the early 80s age of Reaganomics. Three Columbia University parapsychologists – Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, at the top of his 80s comedy game) are stripped of their public sector funding and forced to start their own business hunting and trapping spooks. Coincidentally, a massive paranormal event is brewing which will bring about ‘a disaster of Biblical proportions’, so that’s handy. The aforementioned calamity is personified by two Central Park West neighbours – Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, showcasing hitherto unknown comedic muscle) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis, underrated here but who then received many deserved leading roles as a direct result). The whole shebang is brought to a show stopping finale when the destroyer of worlds is summoned in the form of a giant marshmallow man trademark beloved of Boy Scout camps across America. Stupid? Of course it is. But it’s endearing, and funny, and touching at times as well.

I wasn’t old enough to see Ghostbusters when it was released at the cinema – indeed I had a VHS taped from a TV screening, and only saw the full, uncut version for the first time when I was 18 and received the DVD for Christmas (it still appals me that Egon swears and Ray appears to receive a blowjob from a ghost). I was the perfect age to be scared by the library ghost and the Class 5, full-roaming vapour in the hotel, named in the cartoon as Slimer. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Alien, and to know that Sigourney Weaver was the world’s number one female kick-ass action hero at the time this film was made. But I knew this film was going to stay with me for the rest of my life. As I’ve gotten older, it’s taken on many different meanings to me – I’ve known what it’s like to be part of a public sector organisation that suddenly no longer needs you, and to be thrown into the real world (although I hasten to add my departure was not precipitated by making up test results in order to impress pretty ladies). But if this film has taught me anything, it’s to have faith in my own abilities. And that everyone has three mortgages nowadays.

1. Once Upon a Time in America

ouatia“I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs. And it gives me a hard-on”

Once upon a time in America is a Sergio Leone film. No, it’s THE Sergio Leone film! Set in prohibition era New York, the film transcends almost 4 decades following a gang of young hoodlums who engage in petty crime and rise to eventual bosses of the local bootlegging industry. The film is told from the viewpoint of Noodles (Roberto De Niro) who after 30 years of exile returns to New York after a member of his former gang makes contact him with, simultaneously blowing his new identity.

The film segregates beautifully across a complicated time-line and fills the viewer in via well executed flashbacks on the gang’s struggles in a Jewish ghetto in the 1920’s as children and their progression to adults consumed by the greed, lust and power that eventually destroys the gang and their friendships. De Niro is slick and at the top of his game, whilst James Woods puts together what I think is his strongest performance as the overly ambitious and ruthless Max.

The placing of the film amongst the all-time greats is hotly contested, partially due to the varying number of cuts available for the film. On its original release, a heavily edited version was compiled at the request of Warner Bros. At only 139 minutes in length it was a commercial and critical disaster and was put together against the wishes of Leone to attempt to squeeze more screenings per day of the movie and remove concerns over the graphic content.

However, many a critic would praise alternative cuts that remained more faithful to the original Leone edit, with Sight & Sound polling the movie in their top 25 films of all (at #10) and director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, etc) ranking it as the best movie depicting the prohibition era. Given that Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather to work on this project, he had immense belief in the story and his ability to deliver a crime epic that would become his legacy.

I am often surprised at how few people I speak to that enjoy crime movies that have not seen Once Upon a Time in America. That said, to be enjoyed at its best requires a good 3 hours or so dedication making it a tough watch, but boy is it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of The Godfather or Goodfellas or other films of that variety, this is a must watch. Sergio Leone signs off with what is his final and greatest masterpiece, and without question is the best film of 1984.

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

Adultimation – Venus Wars (1989)

In the first of a new running series, resident Anime fanboy Matt takes a nostalgic look back at the golden era of Anime – circa late 1980’s to mid 1990’s – beginning this week with the first Anime he ever purchased.

by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Labourne)

venus warsHere at Failed Critics, we love a good animated movie. The team have declared their love and admiration for the likes of DreamWorks and Studio Ghibli on numerous occasions and rightly so. Some of the greatest movies of all time have been animated feature films. The only downside is that many of these are either aimed at children, or appeal to the more gentle side of our nature as viewers. However, Japanese Anime unlocks a proverbial Pandora’s box into sides of the human psyche that few directors and script writers dare to explore.

The repressed darkness, ultra violent and downright too far-out imaginings of a select few animators all got their rallying cry during the golden age of adult anime in the late 80’s-early 90’s and we’ll be celebrating as many as we can, revisiting the halcyon days of Adultimation.

The first film to go under the microscope is Venus Wars, originally released in 1989. The film takes place in the late 21st century as Earth has terraformed and emigrated to Venus in the hope of a better life. However, the new frontier is dominated by 2 warring nations, Aphrodia and Ishtar, and all hopes for a better tomorrow are sunk into all-out war.

The film’s central protagonist, Hiro, is a hot-shot biker who captains the Killer Commandos in a Rollerball-esque deathrace team motorcycle sport. The film opens to a spectacular crash & burn race whereby the Killer Commandos of Aphrodia are about to seal victory in their latest race just as the aid raid sirens sound and the Ishtarian invasion begins.

venus wars 2“Aphrodians shot me, not some soldier from Ishtar! So who is my enemy, and who is my friend?

It seemed rather apt to choose to review this movie now given the WWI centenary and the current struggles in Gaza. Venus Wars isn’t an all-out action blaster following skirmishes in global war, it’s actually about the psychological effect of occupation on a distrusting and enraged youth. It’s this theme that stops the film from slipping into being just another run of the mill War film.

Hiro, who feels betrayed by his own government and refuses to accept dominion by the occupying Ishtar forces, rallies his fellow Killer Commandos to strike against an Ishtar outpost that has made home in their racing stadium. With all the pent up rage and zealous youthful enthusiasm they attack a Tank via their Mono-bikes with some light weaponry. Naturally disaster strikes as members of the team are slaughtered as their ill-conceived plans go awry.

Hiro is able to take down the tank in spectacular fashion using a crane to smash it almost like the fist of a giant robot. However, he and his team are captured by a legitimate rebel force (The Hounds) that also had plans to attack the Ishtar outpost at the Stadium. Hiro is recruited into the Hounds reluctantly in exchange for the release of his comrades and eventually pilots a heavily armed mono-bike into the crucial end of movie battle.

The action is satisfying and it has one of the better soundtracks in an Anime I’ve ever listened to with a good balance of dramatic orchestra and exhilarating J-Rock riffs that keep tempo with the on-screen action. The best aspect of Venus Wars isn’t the action, it’s the focus on the relationships between the idealistic youth and the corrupt adults and how people exploit war for their own benefit.

Aphrodia is portrayed as a weak and measly country with no backbone (almost akin to WWII France by stereotype) and Ishtar is very much the all conquering Nazi Germany; even their general has a German name (Gerhard Donner)! It’s a film that can be casually enjoyed by anyone at face value, but might stir emotion in anyone who has endured occupation of their homeland and the desire to resist is a powerful one.

Venus Wars is a very ambitious movie that had a lot to live up to, coming out on the back of the release of the mighty Akira. Whilst not quite being on the monumental level of the former, it ultimately succeeds in keeping up the momentum of the genre as it broke strongly into a Western audience.

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s adaptation of his own manga series is probably a more relevant story today than it was when it was first released. Its similarity to the current Israel/Palestine conflict cannot be ignored and whatever side of the fence you choose to throw your metaphorical hat onto in that dilemma, you’ll find some admiration for the immeasurable human spirit to continue to fight against all odds, as is so entertainingly portrayed in this movie.

Godzilla – From destroyer of worlds to defender of Earth

How does a franchise will so much history succeed in being fresh and relevant in the modern era? Matt Lambourne gives us the low-down on how 2014’s Godzilla falls in line with it’s predecessors.

godzillaAfter well over a year of personal unbridled anticipation, Godzilla finally launched this weekend. I have been looking forward to this film more than any lined up for 2014 and as a fan of the series I had enormous hopes and even bigger expectations for Gareth Edwards‘ reincarnation of The King of The Monsters as detailed in my preview piece on FailedCritics.com.

First of all, let me get this off my chest; we were lied to. In the early trailers for this movie it was touted as a return to the role of unprejudiced destroyer for Godzilla. I specifically refer to the Robert Oppenheimer monologue used in these trailers, which powerfully leaned towards this conception. Let me explain the Godzilla timeline in brief and how he has been portrayed in the numerous movies he has appeared in for the benefit of those reading who are less familiar with its history.

The original Gojira of 1954 was a monster created as a bi-product/consequence of Nuclear experimentation; a warning to mankind that dabbling in such powers would ensure its self-destruction. Godzilla was rampant, aggressive and terrifying to literally everything around it. It would not ignore people or buildings, or boats in its path; it saw everything as potentially hostile and was equally hostile in return, seemingly without motive. It’s this mentality that made it terrifying, particularly within the psyche of the generation who were recovering from the Nagasaki and Hiroshima A-Bomb attacks.

The role of destroyer was consistent for the first several Godzilla movies produced by Toho, up until 1964’s ‘Ghidorah – The Three Headed Monster’. At this point Toho began to portray their star asset as a saviour of the planet, protecting Japan from Monsters invading from outer space and crossing over from some of their other intellectual properties such as Mothra and Rodan.

This began an almost annual release of Godzilla squaring up against often less-impressive foes and the series being tailored to a more family based audience. The initial ‘Showa’ era ran until 1975’s ‘Terror of Mechagodzilla’ before the series took an almost 10 year hiatus.

Thus beginning the rebirth, in 1984s ‘Return of Godzilla’ (Godzilla 85′ outside of Japan), Godzilla returned to its most destructive form, a direct sequel to 1954 original that totally disregards everything that has happened in between and would reinforce Godzilla as humanity’s greatest threat. This would remain consistent during the entire second series of movies (The Heisei era) until 1995’s Godzilla vs Destoroyah.

Toho brought Godzilla back one more time after Roland Emmereich’s abomination in the Millenium series that began with Godzilla 2000 and ran until ‘Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004 which is notable for killing off 98’s impostor Godzilla (known as Zilla in the film) with the plots taking a more science-fiction base, but Godzilla remaining as an antagonist to mankind.

So where does Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla fall amongst this lot? Well, in short it probably falls much closer to the heroic Godzilla of the Showa era post 1964, although there is certainly a lot more collateral damage than in those earlier family-friendly flicks. For me it is not the Godzilla I’d hoped for. I was hoping for something more akin to Return of Godzilla, a Toho origin story with a Hollywood budget.

I think Edwards does an excellent job of making this film beginner-friendly as well as relevant enough to quench the thirst of the long-standing Godzilla fan. It certainly doesn’t take any prior knowledge of Godzilla mythology to enjoy this instalment. There are nice touches that respectfully nod to previous films, such as the specimen tank labelled ‘Mothra’ in Brody Sr’s house, the inclusion of Dr Serizawa (as per Gojira) albeit in a different role, the reference to King of the Monsters after the concluding battle scene. Also the MUTO creatures appear vaguely similar to that of Orga from Godzilla 2000, although they are much leaner and agile. Whilst the film succeeds in giving tribute to the source material, it is very much its own story.

It’s clear to see the film takes much inspiration from its predecessors and uses the material in a very respectful manner. The traditions of Toho remain intact and no doubt the fan-base will swell for both the Japanese versions and the newer American Godzilla. Whilst it isn’t everything I hoped for and more, it is a triumph in its own right. I won’t go into scoring or labelling of the movie as Failed Critics will be speaking in depth about this on this weeks podcast, but the bottom line is this should be enjoyed and celebrated, even if it is Godzilla USA done right rather than a reboot of Toho Godzilla.

Go get your fill, there will be few blockbusters this Summer that will impress in some form or another as this succeeds in doing.

Matt is writer and podcaster at Failed Critics and can be found either on twitter @Matt_Lambourne or in his bedroom watching old Japanese Godzilla VHS tapes.

Godzilla: King of the Previews

KingGhidorah92In a look ahead to his most anticipated film of 2014, Failed Critics’ in-house Kaiju aficionado Matt Lambourne talks through the Godzilla mythology and why you should be getting excited about one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters!

Back at the Failed Critics end of year podcast, we all made our case for the film we were all most looking forward to in 2014. My fellow critics chose shrewdly, perhaps projecting their my refined cinematic tastes to better educate our listenership. I however prefer to stick with dead-certs. I take comfort in knowing precisely what gets my blood-pumping, what really unleashes my inner-child as only a good movie experience can stimulate (see my 2012 film of the year review for Dredd, as an example).

Since I first heard Hollywood was taking another stab at Godzilla, I’ve been apprehensive. It’s not a source material particularly known for its calibre of strong acting, emotive storytelling or character building. Our editor-in-chief at Failed Critics, Mr James Diamond made an excellent point during our most recent podcast, that Hollywood has not always treated comic book material with the respect it deserves, however the Superhero movies of the last 10 years have been made by people who grew up reading and idolising the source material and the results really show.

Godzilla I truly hope will be the same. When Roland Emmerich completed work on the 1998 Hollywood incarnation of Godzilla, I met it with optimism initially. As I cast my mind back as an excited teenager at the time, it featured a fairly mouth-watering sneak-preview a good 12 months before it was even released (click here). Unfortunately the movie was everything wrong with American remakes and the Godzilla mythology was utterly disregarded by Emmerich, save for retaining the original Godzilla roar being the only homage paid to the Toho original.

It’s fair to the say, the world hasn’t been crying out for a sequel to the 1998 abomination. Toho, the owners of the Godzilla trademark were so intent on removing the US version from the record books that they reinvented the US monster as a different character entirely, known as Zilla in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. The pain lasts long in the memory for fans of the Japanese work and so we can be forgiven for being tentative about committing to the new American vision for Godzilla.

That said, much like the recent return of great comic-book movies, 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, a man who respects and cherishes the mythology. The film is getting a Godzilla geek but with a Hollywood budget to hopefully create something very special and I for one am very excited.

So who is Gareth Edwards?

You’re forgiven for not knowing much about him, this is his 1st major film. His most prominent work is 2010’s ‘Monster‘, which did not exactly set any box office records alight, yet he achieved a very interesting premise with almost no budget and certainly caught the attention of some of Hollywood’s moneymen. Edwards is a self-confessed Godzilla nerd, who much like myself got his first experience of Godzilla watching Channel 4 late night specials, akin to the sort of thing we’d get on Film4 today.

It’s fair to say that Edwards understands what the the central motivation for Godzilla really is… not the silly WWE style tag-team wrestling matches against other monsters as the series slowly dilapidated into, but more the fear of nature at its most savage and how catastrophe will ensue when men dabble in powers they cannot possibly hope to control.

This should mean that Edwards’ Godzilla is more akin to the 1954 original.. a murky and pessimistic view of a society still reeling from the affects of the Atomic Bomb and ever paranoid that it may happen again. My hopes were substantially raised when I saw the initial (supposedly leaked) preview trailer, featuring Robert Oppenheimer quoting an exert from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. That was all the reassurance I needed to know this film will deliver on a massive scale!

So why get excited?

You should get excited because this will not be like the 1st American effort, or even the majority of the cheesey Japanese ones. This is the spiritual successor to the 1954 original. If you’re not familiar with that movie it is a fine exercise of praying on the insecurities of its viewership, much like the original Alien perhaps was, however you’re substituting Nuclear Holocaust for Phallic shaped violation, but whatevs.

This isn’t a monster versus monster movie, it’s not going to be kidnapping any good looking women and holding them hostage and certainly isn’t going to get Jamiroquai another gig. This film will be a dark disaster movie, kind of like if Armageddon was directed by Game of Thrones’ George.R.R Martin. There will be few lights at the end of even fewer tunnels, people will experience pain and suffering and it will be all in the name of humbling the human-race into its rightful place of being a slave to mother-nature and that we should not fuck with it.

The good news is, that to depict the human element, Edwards has recruited some top talent that are actually worth watching (no Ferris Bueller). The casting of Ken Watanabe (The Last Samuari / Inception) straight of out the Japanese Premier League of casting is a massive seal of approval for that market. Along with the ever lovely Juliette Binoche (Chocolat) and Kick-Ass‘s Aaron Taylor-Johnson we can hope that the dialogue will be snappy and engaging. Then comes the leading male role, as served by the ever popular Bryan Cranston, whom Edwards has gone on record as stating he never saw him in Breaking Bad before casting him! If that is true then respect must go to Edwards for not surfing on the proverbial public wave of love currently being shown for one of TV’s greatest ever series, and signing him up purely on artistic merit.

Hopefully, that has you chomping at the bit as much as I am. Living on a cinematic void like the Isle of Man, I am flying to Liverpool on release weekend to enjoy my not-so guilty pleasure in the glory of IMAX. If you need to research or simply get warmed up, I have a top 5 Godzilla movies for you to enjoy in anticipation of the May release, just over 6 weeks away!

5. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

One of the highlights of the Heisei resurrection of Godzilla movies, G v KG is one of my favourite of the Monster battle royale type movies and is packed full of great action. It’s unique in that it was distributed by Manga Entertainment for its home release, who are better known for their Anime work and thus introduced Godzilla to a new generation in the 90’s. The film also has one of the more sophisticated science fiction plots of any Godzilla movie, featuring a genesis story that stays true to the original 50’s Gojira, whilst binding it to a complex but sensical time-travel story.

The time travelling, meant to rid the world of the birth of Godzilla (via Nuclear testing), actually duplicates him and also births King Ghidorah, arguably Godzilla’s greatest rival in all of the mythology. It also produces one of my all time favourite ‘bad quotes’ from a scene featuring non-other than Steven Spielberg’s dad!

4. Destroy All Monsters (1968)

A member of the original Toho series of movies, Destroy All Monsters should be appropriated renamed ‘Kaiju  All-stars’ as it’s a wonderful coming together of all the monsters in the Godzilla mythology up until that point and was originally intended as the final ever Godzilla movie.

The film predominantly takes place on Monster Island (Jurassic Park for Kaiju, basically). It features undertones of intelligent thinking, friendships and allegiances between the Monsters and a prevalent good versus evil plot that makes this a great gateway movie into the Godzilla universe, especially for children who will appreciate the variety of Kaiju on show.

The film’s highest is a massive 7 Monster tag-team (who side with Godzilla) attacking the massive 3-headed Space Kaiji, Ghidorah in what is a series highlight reel, with the various monsters showing off their individual abilities to defeat their adversary. Definitely one of the geek’s favourite fight scenes in any Godzilla film.

3. Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 85) (1984)

Following a decade-long hiatus, this is the first Godzilla movie of the Heisei rebirth (also known as the Versus series). It’s a retelling of the original mythology as this is a direct sequel to the original Gojira that conveniently forgets the other 15 or so or movies that took place during the original Toho series.

It’s one of my favourites as it features my preferred incarnation of the Monster itself (also seen in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah), as after many years of being portrayed as a human-friendly super hero of sorts, Godzilla returns to being the villain. Yes, he pretty much turns up, destroys shit and threatens world peace. This provides an interesting sub-plot, as Japan unleashes a new flying weapon known as the Super-X to disperse the monster, whilst the Russians panic into launching a nuclear missile him! Interestingly enough in the US re-edit the Missile appears to be deliberately aimed at Tokyo instead! Nice bit of Cold-War politics playing havoc with the edit there.

This film features the most aggressive and perhaps most scary version of the monster in all of the films to date and whilst not as charmingly campy as some of the older movies, it has some satisfying action sequences and improved effects over its predecessors make it a real landmark film in the mythology.

2. Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)

The last of the Heisei series and being that it was Toho’s 40th anniversary special, they just decided to knock it on the head. Yep, Godzilla… the indestructible force of nature, dies in the movie. Obviously, we know he returns in Godzilla 2000 so don’t get too upset, although I will admit to shedding a tear or two in the climatic sequence to the film *sob!*.

The film is the most sentimental of any of the series that come before it, featuring Godzilla and Godzilla Jr fighting a monster that was spawned from the man-made Oxygen Destroyer that took down the original Monster in Gojira. To make it easy for the kids of today to understand, the Monster Destroyah is a little ‘OP’… basically kicking the ass of Godzilla and son for the duration of the movie, whilst Godzilla Sr’s body is in meltdown due to his atomic heart giving out on him.

We basically witness the slow dismemberment of Godzilla prior to the army, who by the way have had zero ability to harm any Monster in about 30 films, manage to take out the Monster that’s just killed Godzilla. *say what?!?*. Anyways, the action in this film is quite brutal and witnessing the death of Godzilla will be a very hard image for any fan to take. That said, the film ends beautifully with the death of Godzilla and his energy transferring over to the dying little Godzilla Jr, who then becomes empowered and sets things up convenient for the Millennium Series, starting with Godzilla 2000.

1. Gojira (1954)

Put yourself into your most comfortable chair, darken the lights, get some snacks as we’re going to be here for a while. Gojira comes less than 10 years after the original Atomic Bomb attack on Hiroshima and really prays on the insecurities of a paranoid and fearful nation. If you put yourself back a few years and remember the reaction to films about the 9/11 attacks and the reaction they drew (even if they were terrible), then imagine how it must have felt to have lived in the generation that survived two nuclear attacks and then see Gojira? I can only imagine it was pretty terrifying.

Gojira, unlike its successors, isn’t a B-Movie, it’s a real catastrophe movie. There are no other monsters involved and the film takes a very serious tone, unlike anything that came after it. Gojira itself is a symbol of Atomic annihilation, created by minds who experienced the real-deal in the 40’s. Being a 2nd World War buff, I have a lot of respect for this movie and understand why it’s held in such high regard as a cinematic classic. Really it should be reviewed entirely separately from all other Godzilla movies as its intended purpose is much different.

So, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, Gojira is the Japanese name for Godzilla, loosely translated as Gorilla-Whale, although fans of the series would almost universally agree his closest comparative species are that of a T-Rex and Stegosaurus. The monster is of course a man in a rubber suit, which sounds like a barrel of laughs but it was no such thing for Katsumi Tezuka & Haruo Nakajima (Seven Samurai) who shared responsibilities for portraying the Monster. The suit was notoriously uncomfortable for its incumbent through its weight, thickness and lack of agile movement, not to mention the operator couldn’t see!

The suit operator regularly fell ill to heat exhaustion and they would often lose tremendous amounts of weight during the filming of the initial Toho series, talk about suffering for your art! But back to the film, the atmosphere really makes it a convincing plight for the residents of Tokyo, it’s grim and foreboding and only enhanced by its lack of colour… even the Monster is scary! Overall, the movie is very tense and for such an old film it puts together a remarkable Science-Fiction plot and ties together the genesis of Godzilla very well, something I fully expect Gareth Edwards’ film to pick up and run with.

The film’s climatic scenes are full of inner-turmoil, whereby a professor creates a weapon powerful enough to kill Godzilla. However the weapon threatens the existence of life on Earth at the same time creating a perfect analogy to the nuclear disaster that Japan had only recently experienced. Initially the professor is reluctant to release the Oxygen Destroyer but, as with Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, he is forced to relinquish it for ‘the greater good’. An uncomfortable premise for anyone’s disposition.

I’d recommend picking up the subtitled Japanese version as the US re-edit is very much tampered for US audiences, featuring actor Raymond Burr (yes, Perry Mason) narrating over almost the entire movie, an early attempt at audio description if you will. Gojira is the most standout film of all the series and if you have to watch only one Godzilla film before Godzilla 2014, I recommend you enjoy this. It’s an important piece of cinematic culture and will even sit unashamedly in your World Cinema collection.

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1983

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1983

. 5. Superman III

Superman3“Well I hope you don’t expect me to save you, ’cause I don’t do that anymore.”

Often disregarded by fans of the ‘Reeve Quadrilogy’, Superman III is in fact my favourite of the series. At the heart of the story is computer programmer, Gus (Richard Pryor) who is taken under the wing of Lex Luthor stand-in, Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) who is keen to utilise Gus’ more unscrupulous computer skills for financial world domination.

To do so, Gus hacks into a US weather satellite to create storms in Colombia to destroy their coffee crop, however this is thwarted by Superman early in proceedings. Webster, realising he must remove Superman from the equation, instructs Gus to create a synthetic Kryptonite using computer analysis of its core elements.

The movie deals with some darker themes not seen previously in the series. The synthetic Kyrptonite not only weakens Superman but, due to its corrupt Earthly ingredients, makes Superman become evil. Christopher Reeve is excellent at playing the ‘Dark Superman’ and the film features a particularly violent battle between the Dark Superman and Clark Kent who is attempting to break the harmful grip the Kryptonite has on our hero.

The film is most memorable for the climatic battle where the villains hide out in a base at the Grand Canyon, armed to the teeth with missile defenses and a powerful computer designed by Gus that has taken on a mind of its own. The machine takes captive one of the villains and forcibly entangles her in metal and wire creating a powerful cyborg adversary for Superman, a very graphic and shocking scene for a family movie and one that certainly leaves a lasting impression, even if she does look like a zombie Dot-Matrix from Spaceballs!

Pryor doesn’t get to unleash the more effective adult nature of his comedic genius, but he does provide suitable comic relief to the movie. Reeve shows some diversity in the role by being able to portray a sinister side to his nature as the Dark Superman in a very enjoyable performance. A much grittier rendition of the classic Superman adventure, this is a more than sufficient warm-up for the fanboys awaiting this summer’s ‘Man of Steel’.

4. WarGames

MSDWARG EC001“How about a nice game of chess?”

Continuing with the theme of mis-use of computers, WarGames is a tale of a curious teenager whose skills in computing lead him into big, big trouble with the US government and the potential launch of World War III.

The main protagonist is David (Matthew Broderick), the one and only person who knew how use command-based operating systems to do anything remotely interesting back in the early 80’s. In fact he’s clearly a genius, as we see him hacking his high school network to alter his grades and book flights to Paris to show-off his skills to love-interest, Jennifer (Ally Sheedy).

Unfortunately David’s curiosity leads him to unwittingly dial into an anonymous computer offering him the opportunity to play games such as Black Jack and Poker, but David naturally is more interested in the option for ‘Global Thermonuclear War’ and assumes the role of the Soviet Union. After being summoned by his parents to do some chores he exits the game, however when he awakes the next day he is startled to see that the US military responding to an actual threat of nuclear attack from the USSR.

Where this film really shines, particularly in hindsight, is that it was way ahead of its time. The movie prominently features hacking, phreaking and dial-up remote access; all subject matters that few would have believed would have existed in 1983. I can imagine seeing WarGames as an 80’s kid it must have seemed incredibly far-fetched, yet time has proven that the techniques used in the movie were entirely legitimate and have become incredibly common-place.

Yep, the antics in WarGames would be an InfoSec worker’s worst nightmare. It’s easy to see how this has influenced films that have come after it, particular 1995’s ‘Hackers‘ and 2001’s Swordfish but it does so in such a manner that it will appeal to a family audience, not just those who are fascinated by the technology. Broderick presents the cool persona that he later repeats as Ferris Bueller and is a wholly likable lead for the film. How did someone with so much 80’s cool end up marrying SJP?

The film spawned a low-budget sequel, yet it’s the modern reboot continually hinted at that will garner the most interest in the legacy left by this excellent thriller.

3. Return of the Jedi

ReturnoftheJedi“You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.”

Following along nicely from my 1980 movie of the year, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ROTJ is the final piece of the original trilogy, as the all-star cast return to stop the Empire’s construction of an all new Death Star.

Originally titled as ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ the film deals with much darker tone than the previous 2 movies. This is best illustrated by Mark Hammill, returning as the now fully trained and qualified Jedi, ‘Luke Skywalker’. He is entirely confident, almost somewhat arrogant in his abilities and manipulation of ‘The Force’.

His personality is somewhat chilled following his first encounter with Darth Vader; the loss of his hand and Vader’s revelation have removed some of the positive aura that surrounded the hero. He seems more steely, colder, calculating and I think this makes him a much more believable handler in the art of death than he has ever depicted at any point during the trilogy.

However, ‘Jedi’ is probably often most criticised for its use of (often annoyingly) peripheral characters, such as the Ewoks which was a clear warning shot from George Lucas for what we’d see in the modern prequel trilogy.

That said, all the ingredients that make the previous movies so successful feature again here. There are some more sinister cords in the score from John Williams, particularly whenever the Emperor is on screen, that are used to dramatic effect.

The action set-pieces are fantastic, the battle between the rebellion and Imperial forces on Endor is highly satisfying, particular when that Ewok is crying over his dead comrade!

Jedi wraps up the trilogy in fine fashion, it’s not the strongest part of the series but it does feature the most appealing incarnation of Luke Skywalker. However it is a great shame that Mark Hammill was never able to shrug off the shadow of this character for the rest of his career.

2. The Fourth Man

The Fourth Man“The essence of my writing is, I lie the truth”

The inner circle behind Failed Critics are all too aware of my admiration for the direction of Paul Verhoeven. ‘The Fourth Man’ is Verhoeven’s final piece made for Dutch cinema before venturing off to Hollywood and my goodness it is some piece to sign off with.

The film starts off as it means to go on. The main protagonist, Gerard, awakes with his hands shaking due to the effects of his alcoholism. He stands up, wearing only a t-shirt to greet the audience to a full frontal male-nudity scene. You could be forgiven for thinking this is a little unnecessary and distasteful. It’s merely a means for Verhoeven to inform the audience of what they are letting themselves in for; a fully adult-orientated psychological experience.

This is why I love Verhoeven films, he makes films strictly for adults, there is rarely a silver lining or any inkling of morality in his movies. Gerard is an alcoholic, bi-sexual and a writer. Everywhere he goes he sees metaphors for death. He constantly battles against those which are meant for him and those that are meant for others but he struggles to interpret what he is seeing and what it truly means.

Gerard travels by train to host a lecture on his writing and meets a handsome young man at the station, whom he is instantly attracted to. He is frustrated at not being able to talk to this man as he watches him depart on a train to Cologne. Gerard travels to his destination where he meets the beautiful Christine, a widow who is a fan of his writing, and they spend the night together.

At Christine’s home, Gerard discovers a picture of Hermann, the man he saw at the train station, and realises he is Christine’s lover. He plots a means to bring the three of them together so he can seduce him for himself, but in doing so discovers that Christine is actually a three-time widow and that she is offing each of her husbands. Gerard struggles to find the meaning of the premonitions he has been seeing of late and how they relate to this bizarre love triangle and if it is he, or Hermann, who is intended to be Christine’s ‘Fourth Man’.

Jeroen Krabbé is sensational as Gerard, he is as charming and playful in character as he is sadistic and desperate for that which he desires. Renée Soutendijk plays the simply luscious Christine and I’m regretful to see that she has done little outside of Dutch Cinema, other than a little known Sci-Fi film ‘Eve of Destruction‘ which I remember seeing on Sky Movies a very very long time ago.

The film is classic Verhoeven and much of it is repackaged for Hollywood in 1992’s ‘Basic Instinct‘. It’s humorous, it’s intelligent, and sexy. Yet, its perverse undertones will seriously challenge the comfort zone of most mainstream cinema goers, this is very much one for the serious world cinema fan.

Speaking of which, the film ranks in Empire magazine’s top 100 films of World Cinema, and earned the 1983 International Critics’ Award at the Toronto Film Festival as well as the 1984 Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Foreign Language film.

I wanted so very badly to put this as my number 1 movie for 1983, however there is a very special film to top it… barely. The Fourth Man is a diamond of a movie that will sit anonymously on your DVD shelf, a dirty little secret for yourself to enjoy that has escaped the attention of the masses for 30 years. The fact it has done this makes it all the little bit more special.

1. Scarface

Scarface“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women”

I did say it would be a very special movie to top ‘The Fourth Man’, I do hope I did not disappoint. Brian De Palma’s Scarface is a remake of a 1932 gangster movie, re-badged and re-packaged for the 80’s in spectacular style.

It follows the exploits of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee who struggles to make a life for himself in America, cleaning restaurants and committing petty crime until his big mouth earns him the attention of some local big-time gangsters. From petty criminal to the king of the drug trade in Miami, Tony’s rise to the top is as violent and brash as it is meteoric, but it is only a matter of time before Tony’s greed and constant yearning for more power results in his undoing.

Beautifully shot with constant contrast between 80’s Neon and the bleak reality of life on the street and the criminal sub-culture, Scarface is not only highly decadent entertainment but it lives on with a strong legacy on modern pop-culture. This is most notably evident in the Urban/Rap music culture, whereby the movie is often used as a source of inspiration for those trying to escape their mundane lives, and often those seeking to ruin it.

Pacino is remarkable as Tony, the maniacal underdog that you know you shouldn’t root for, but cant help getting attached to. It is no doubt equal to his most famous role of Michael Corleone in its grandeur. It also features some excellent supporting roles from Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio to provide some female balance to what is otherwise a very male dominated movie.

The film is primarily driven by male characteristics, love, lust, money, greed, power, betrayal, and they all feature in abundance. Scarface sets the template for the popular anti-hero and any crime epic that has followed it.

One of my very favourite films and featuring at a very respectable number 128 in the IMDB Top 250, Scarface is a must see for all film-fans, and my movie of 1983.

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Blackwater (s2, ep9)

When I found out that Failed Critics would be running a series on greatest ever TV episodes, a few shows came to mind. However there is one from recent memory that is more deserved of a praise than anything I’ve seen in years.

As the world had come to accept fantasy drama as mainstream following the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones took that world by storm in 2011, when it was launched into realism as a TV drama out of the pages of its author George R. R. Martin. Where GOT differs from other classical mythology of Tolkien-ilk, is its unyielding portrayal of real-world brutality and shocking morality.

The new series was an overnight success and quickly became the most talked about TV show on the Internet, as people scurried to find out more from the existing texts than their weekly supplement could satisfy. Wheels are set into motion in the first episode of the very first series, pitching five families against one another for survival and ownership of the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Blackwater, the penultimate episode of the second series, is arguably the culmination of all the episodes of GOT that came before it, as circumstances create a chain of events and pawns are strategically (or sometimes less strategically) placed for the infamous ‘Battle of Blackwater Bay’.

The episode begins with the patrons of King’s Landing (the kingdom’s capital) laying in wait of the wrath of would-be King, Stannis Baratheon. The capital is ill-armed, ill-prepared and under-manned due to an ongoing war with the Northern uprising (led by Robb Stark). The tension in the air is truly palpable as troops drunkenly await their call to arms, as particularly highlighted by a delicate conversation between Sandor Cligane (The Hound) and sell-sword, Bronn (Jerome Flynn).

As the city faces seemingly insurmountable odds, the scene appears grim as the army of Stannis sails right into Blackwater Bay without any interjection from the defending King’s army. Cruel King Joffre Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) flouts the possibility of defeat despite making zero preparation, all of which has been left to the most intelligent and charismatic character of the series, Tyrion Lannister (the King’s uncle) played by the extraordinary and Emmy award-winning Peter Dinklage.

Bronn-stands-tall-in-the-Battle-of-Blackwater

As the city forces take position at the walls, the King panics when he sees only one defensive ship in his harbour sailing directly into the ensuring armada. The attacking forces also curious as to why only one boat sails out to meet them begin to suspect a trap, but it is too late by the time they see the neon green substance leaking from the defending ship and a solitary flaming arrow flying over their heads…

What follows is the most spectacular piece of television I’ve ever witnessed, as the flaming arrow ignites the substance called ‘Wildfire’, thus creating a huge explosion of semi-biblical proportions and a shower of death closely resembling napalm, as a significant number of Stannis’ forces are consumed and their ships destroyed.

Stannis, unimpressed and non-relenting to the devastation, tells his forces to attack. When prompted by one of his commanders that so many are dead and many more will surely perish if they attack, Stannis merely responds with ‘Thousands…’.

A siege then begins as Stannis’ remaining troops storm the bay and even following the Wildfire attack still outnumber the defending troops. An impressive battle of archery and swordplay ensues on the beach between defenders and attackers, and there appears to be hope for the defenders of King’s Landing, until the King himself panics and retreats to the inner walls of the city, leading to his troops losing morale and ceasing to defend.

Reluctantly Tyrion (who happens to be a dwarf) has no choice but to lead an attack himself in the King’s absence to save the city. He is able to sneak a garrison of troops behind the attacks as they ram down the gate and begin to ascend the city walls, but they are greatly outnumbered and all seems lost as Tyrion is struck down by one of the City guards, at the orders of rival sibling Cersei (Lena Headey).

At the very last, a charge of cavalry is seen smashing into the attackers and the King’s grandfather, Tywin Lannister pronounces the battle over, just before Cersei can administer her youngest son with poison to save him from the wrath of Stannis.

The Blackwater episode is very much comparable with the Battle of Helm’s Deep from LOTR’s The Two Towers yet, in my opinion, is more impressive and unquestionably more graphic. The GOT universe until this point had almost exclusively been forged in a Medieval mythology that is compatible with real history. All that changes with the introduction of alchemy via Wildfire, and then sorcery by the end of the series with ascension of Dragon’s and the rise of the un-dead from beyond the Wall.

Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the hottest property on TV currently, and the whole-world is on count down to the launch of Season 3 in early April 2013. It’s like watching a fantastic hour long movie every week and, like any good show, it leaves you desperately awaiting the next episode. Whatever Season 3 has in store, it certainly has a great deal to live up to following the Battle of Blackwater Bay, one of the finest pieces of television you’ll have seen in many years.