All posts by Owen Hughes

Freelance journalist and video editor, writing words and creating pictures for BBC, JACKfm and Reach PLC. Co-editor of independent pop-culture website SetTheTape.com. Podcaster and editor of FailedCritics.com.

Best Films on TV: 22 – 28 July 2013

Two weeks in a row, the best films on TV are chosen by the podcast’s Owen Hughes. He’s trying something different this week and picking a few critically acclaimed films he *thinks* will be the best on TV. It’s hard to tell when he hasn’t actually seen them himself.

Burton and Taylor – First Photo Credit: BBC/Gustavo PapaleoMonday 22nd July – Burton and Taylor (BBC4,9pm)

Yes, that’s right. I have no first hand evidence as to whether or not this is the best film on TV given I’ve never actually seen it, but BBC4’s last ever original drama, a biopic of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor‘s last time working together in 1983 (starring Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter respectively) deserves some attention. I will certainly be recording it, if not watching.

Tuesday 23rd July – Synecdoche, New York (BBC One, 12.30am) (so.. technically Wednesday then)

Very divisive amongst those who’ve seen it, Charlie Kaufman‘s directorial debut tells the story of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theatre director whose “life suffers when he attempts to portray stark reality”. Some people absolutely love this film for its almost horror film-eqsue drama, others hate it and call it pretentious. Colour me intrigued.

Wednesday 24th July – Serpico (Film4, 11.25pm)

Just beaten to first place in my list of favourite films of 1973 by The Exorcist, Sidney Lumet‘s biopic thriller stars Al Pacino giving one of his best performances outside of the Godfather series as New York whistle blowing cop, Frank Serpico. I have seen this one! I can categorically state that there are no better films on TV today. Unless The Exorcist is on Sky Movies or something.

Thursday 25th July – The Untouchables (Film4, 10.55pm)

No, not that French film released last year that may or may not have made it onto our Failed Critics Awards podcast. This is the Brian De Palma American period drama, set in the 20’s, with federal agents out to stop gangster Al Capone. Starring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone and Josh Brolin as – no wait, I’m confused again, that’s the eerily similar Gangster Squad. This actually stars Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. It’s a good one. Trust me, I’ve seen this.

Friday 26th July – Silent Running (Film4, 5.10pm)

On early afternoon to give you time to spend your evening in the cinema watching the new Wolverine movie, Silent Running is a post-apocalyptic ecological sci-fi from the 70’s starring Bruce Dern. He’s a member of a spaceship carrying the last remnants of Earth’s plant life. Massively influential on almost all sci-fi films since, it gets the Failed Critics nod for Friday’s best film on TV.

Saturday 27th July – The Kite Runner (BBC Two, 10.55pm)

Amir, a writer living in America, returns home to Afghanistan where he grew up in the 70’s with his childhood friend Hassan. Based on a wildly successful novel, the film was a critically successful film, being nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign picture (not quite sure how given it’s an American film), it comes with some weighty recommendations behind it.

Sunday 28th July – Gorillas in the Mist (ITV3, 9pm)

Get prepared for our first female inductee to the Corridor of Praise in August with this biopic of zoologist Dian Fossey who goes to the mountains to study and save some of those damned dirty apes and their stinkin’ paws. Sigourney Weaver‘s performance in this is often cited as one of her most emotionally powerful. Just having Sigourney Weaver in it should be enough to get you watching! What are you waiting for? Go now and set up your Sky / Virgin Media / Freeview / VHS recorder.

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Best Films on TV: 15 – 21 July

Our picks this week have been chosen by Owen Hughes, who managed to peel his eyes off the TV screen for 10 minutes to tell you what you should be watching.

watchmenMonday 15th July – Watchmen (Film4, 23.10)

Zack Snyder‘s best film is our best film on TV for today. Pretty much a direct adaptation of Alan Moore‘s most notable work, the graphic novel ‘Watchmen’, only with more slow-motion fight sequences à la 300, an absolutely incredible opening titles sequence and a slightly altered ending. It’s long (the run time, not Dr Manhattan’s .. private parts) but worth it. A slick, cool and entertaining crime-drama-come-action-sci-fi-film.

Tuesday 16th July – Training Day (ITV4, 23.00)

I was tempted to pick Crank: High Voltage on 5* at 22.00 based on the fact the first film is so good. I’ve not seen High Voltage, therefore I’m defaulting to one of ITV4’s favourite (or, at least, most often played) films, Training Day. Featuring rookie cop Ethan Hawke and more notably the morally ambiguous cop Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for his performance. Worth a watch if you’ve never seen it before, or a re-watch if you have!

Wednesday 17th July – Planet of the Apes (1967) (Channel 4, 13:05)

Yes you finally made a monkey out of meeeeee!” Unfortunately, there has never been a feature length musical of Monkey Planet. We will have to console ourselves with just this classic instead! The ultimate in sci-fi mystery films, with Charlton Heston leading the way as an astronaut who crashes on a planet overruled with apes, it’s always worth a watch and you can find my thoughts on a few of the sequels in my Decade In Film articles on the 70’s.

Thursday 18th July – Sudden Death (ITV4, 23:45)

I’m not even picking this Die Hard rip-off because it’s a Van Damme film, there genuinely isn’t any better film on TV on Thursday! Knocked Up? Season of the Witch? Waterworld? Come on. At least with Sudden Death you can watch JCVD fighting bodyguards in an ice-hockey rink whilst terrorists try to overtake the … I did mention it was a Die Hard rip off, didn’t I? Same shit, different film.

Friday 19th July – Super (Film4, 22.55)

“Shut up, Crime!” is a pretty good tagline! Director James Gunn’s foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is released next year with highly anticipated space-opera Guardians of the Galaxy. I imagine it will be somewhat lighter in tone than his previous darkly comic vigilante hero film, Super. Featuring “Dwight, from The Office US” (aka Rainn Wilson) as the slightly simple minded loser who just wants to be a hero, Ellen Page as a twisted sidekick, and Kevin Bacon as the smarmy villain, Super is a complex and violent satire. Not quite comedy, not quite drama, it’s a weird mix of genres that shows the potential Gunn has that will hopefully be realised soon.

Saturday 20th July – Taken (Film4, 21.00)

The film that unexpectedly made Liam Neeson into an action star! Written by Luc Besson (Leon, Fifth Element, The Transporter) and directed by Pierre Morel, Taken is an action thriller that sees just how far one man will go to get his daughter back. Kind of like Commando, except for the 00’s rather than the 80’s (ergo it’s darker, it’s gritty and has hardly any one liners or muscle bound Austrians in it at all).

Sunday 21st July – Dumb & Dumber (Channel 5, 22.00)

Best way to round off the weekend is always with a comedy, I think. This classic Jim Carrey vehicle has plenty of gags; it’s consistently funny and memorable with a very simple plot executed to perfection. One of those sorts of films that manages to stay funny no matter how many times you watch it.

Best Films on TV: 1 – 7 July 2013

The best films on TV this week, as chosen by that weird brummie fellow off of the podcast, Owen Hughes.

searchers01Monday 1st July – The Searchers (Film4, 16.35)

One of the top 10 films of all time according to the Sight & Sound poll, John Ford‘s classic western starring John Wayne is one of the most influential movies of all time. Whilst arguably slightly dated, it still looks absolutely brilliant, just as you would expect from a Ford film. It’s worth watching at least once in your life, if only to see what all the fuss is about! (Also, if you miss it, it’s repeated all week on various channels, including TCM and BBC4.)

Tuesday 2nd July – The Running Man (Film4 23.35)

It’s the year 2017, the world is under the rule of a totalitarian state, and the only thing the people have to look forward to is a gameshow where criminals are pitted against gladiators in a battle to the death. You can keep your Hunger Games films, this 80s Arnie actioner is what I love! Ultraviolent, snappy one liners and cheese levels set to maximum; well worth staying up late on a school night for!

Wednesday 3rd July – Rope (More4 11.45)

Hitchcock is at his best when his films were set on a small scale. Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, and of course Rope. Telling the story of one 2 students trying to get away with the perfect crime in the middle of a dinner party they are hosting, all set in one apartment, filmed in four cuts, it is one of the greatest director’s greatest films.

Thursday 4th July – Kill List (Film4 23.05)

Get ready for Friday’s huge event, the release of A Field In England on DVD, cinemas and Film4 all at the same time, with Ben Wheatley‘s cult horror on Thursday. A dark tale of two hitmen who get involved in a job way over their heads, Kill List has an unnerving and ominous atmosphere throughout. Complete with good performances (particularly Neil Maskell (aka Andy from Utopia)) it made Ben Wheatley a director to watch.

Friday 5th July – A Field In England (Film4 22.45)

Finally! It’s arrived! Starring Wheatley regular Michael Smiley (Kill List, Outpost), Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville) and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley), directed by Ben Wheatley, this is one of the most anticipated events of the year. ” ..released simultaneously in theaters, on DVD, free TV and video-on-demand” (The Hollywood Reporter) only adds to the excitement surrounding this black and white tale of two soldiers deserting the English Civil War. Not to be missed!

Saturday 6th July – Scott Pilgrim vs The world (Channel 4, 10pm)

Perhaps the ultimate hipster movie. Adapted from a relatively obscure Canadian comic you probably haven’t even read (I have, obviously) starring Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim, a bass player who has to fight off his would-be girlfriends seven evil exes, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a fantasy-action-adventure like no other. Want another reason to watch it? It’s directed by Edgar Wright. Still not enough? Beck wrote the soundtrack to this film. Still haven’t been convinced? Well you’re just wrong.

Sunday 7th July – The Iron Giant (Film4, 2.50pm)

More well known for being the director of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Brad Bird made his film debut with this beautiful animated film about a boy who discovers a giant alien robot. The Iron Giant does what all good kids films do, it handles a serious topic (i.e. loss and loneliness) very sensitively whilst still being a fun adventure film.

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1973

This week Owen gives us a run down on his favourite 5 films from 1973. A year in which Nixon is inaugurated for his second term as President of the USA despite the ongoing Watergate scandal, in a blow to male chauvinists everywhere, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a game of tennis, and one of the Premier League’s greatest midfielders ever, Claude Makelele, was born. Oh, and some film stuff happened too.

5. Enter The Dragon

Enter the DragonDon’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!

What a year for Bruce Lee’s finest film to fall on. Almost any other year in the 70’s and this would be either 1st or 2nd choice.

From the opening bout between Lee and a young Sammo Hung, to its climactic and iconic hall of mirrors scene, this kung-fu classic delivers on just about every level. Charisma oozes out of Lee like blood from Jackie Chan’s face (true fact: Lee actually smacked Chan in the face with a stick in this film). Although he died before its premiere, it’s often the film most people will think of first when asked to name a Bruce Lee movie (not a fact: I may have made that up.)

The plot focuses on 3 central characters; obviously Bruce Lee being one of those; the other two are Roper, a tough, gambling, debt-ridden American played by John Saxon; and Williams, an African American martial arts master played by Jim Kelly. They are invited to take part in a fighting tournament on an island by a mysterious fellow called Han. Lee’s role is to find evidence of Han’s criminal ways, (human trafficking, opium peddling, murder and so on) but instead, he ends up fighting him. YES! Result.

It is truly the master of all kung-fu films, influencing everything from Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme films, to computer games and cartoons for years and years after. Fantastic choreography on the fight scenes, particularly a huge brawl in which Lee dispatches about 50 henchmen, with uber cool characters and a memorable score too. It’s brilliant.

4. The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man“Sergeant Howie: And what of the TRUE God? Whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?

Lord Summerisle: He’s dead. Can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.”

Of the small batch of the “folk-horror” sub-genre of films that came into existence in the mid-late 60’s to its near demise in the mid 70’s, films such as Witchfinder General and Picnic at Hanging Rock, there were none greater than The Wicker Man. Laden with accolades and awards despite being a fairly obscure film for many years, Robin Hardy’s British horror is one of the most influential of its kind not just from this whole decade, but of any decade.

It tells the story of a devout Christian Scottish policeman, played sublimely by Edward Woodward, who answers an anonymous letter from Summerisle, a small, coastal and isolated island. A young girl has gone missing, Sergeant Howie plans to get to the root of the problem.

The Wicker Man is one of those films that no matter when you see it; young or old, in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s or 00’s, it will still have an impact on the viewer. The fact it relies on generating this eerie atmosphere, thanks in no small part to Christopher Lee’s unnerving performance as the pagan Lord of Summerisle, is what helps it to stay quite fresh. Because the plot takes place on a remote island with a community walled off from the rest of the world, it also seems quite a believable story. It could happen, right? There could really be this community of mostly naked, fire dancing, underrage drinking, premaritall shagging, all night partying, free spirited people …. actually, it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Wait, before you rush off to TripAdvisor looking for the best deal on the nicest sounding Scottish coastal island you can find, it’s probably worth noting the whole sacrificing business these fictional pagans get up to. It seems to put a bit of a downer on Sergeant Howie’s trip, in any case. Makes for a fantastic film, though.

3. The Last Detail

the last detailBuddusky: He don’t stand a chance in Portsmouth, you know. You know that, don’t you? Goddamn grunts, kickin’ the shit outta him for eight years… he don’t stand a chance.

Mulhall: I don’t want to hear about it.

Buddusky: ‘Maggot’ this, ‘maggot’ that… Marines are really assholes, you know that? It takes a certain kind of a sadistic temperament to be a Marine.

One of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. And there have been a few! The Last Detail is just one of those films that makes you realise how incredible and versatile an actor he really is. Not to take anything away from Randy Quaid as the young offender ‘Meadows’, who is being escorted to prison by two experienced naval officers, Nicholson (Buddusky) and Otis Young (Mulhall). Meadow’s is a great character and Quaid is a good actor, but all 3 of the main cast together are fantastic. They each bring something different to the table, something unique about their characters and their performances.

The main theme that runs through The Last Detail is one of ‘justice’. Not so much what’s right, but what each of them in turn consider to be ‘just’. Whether it’s the scoffing when they learn that Meadows is being sent to prison for 8 years just for stealing $40, or as the journey progresses and Buddusky tries to give Meadows his last taste of freedom. It doesn’t really try to make you think about what’s right and wrong, more that it implies if you have any sense of justice then how much should Meadows be entitled to. Is it just that Buddusky and Mulhall’s characters are overcompensating for their lack of freedom (Otis constantly expresses how much he loves the Navy, it could be implied that he’s lying to himself or trying to convince himself of it) or is it because they genuinely feel that Meadow’s deserves to live a little before his life is ruined over nothing much at all?

It’s an entertaining film that has a lot of points to make, with some really good, complex characters and one of those classic film journey stories.

2. Serpico

serpico2The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier

Sidney Lumet’s biopic of 60’s New York cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) who stood up to the corruption within the police force is undoubtedly one of his finest achievements. And this is a director who has also made Network, Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men!

Serpico falls during an unrivalled run of exceptionally high quality films and performances by Al Pacino. The Godfather (72), Serpico (73), The Godfather: Part II (74) and Dog Day Afternoon (75) is just an incredible run of movies. Four straight years, one amazing film after the other. All of them are films almost any other actor would kill to have been a part of. Not only that, but they’re his 4 best performances too. I can’t think of a single film he’s starred in that’s better than any of these.

Pacino is sometimes mocked for becoming something of a parody of himself in his later career. Honestly, I didn’t really think much of his performance in Heat. But when you watch him at the top of his game, such as he is as Frank Serpico, it honestly doesn’t matter. He could only ever appear as a cross eyed, dress wearing, window licker of a sidekick to Rob Schneider in every film for the rest of his career, it won’t matter as he’s still going to go down as (quite rightly) one of the greatest actors of all time.

Oh, and, erm, the film is pretty good too.

1. The Exorcist

The ExorcistThere are no experts. You probably know as much about possession than most priests. Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. And if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you’d know it’s like saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.”

Yes, the greatest film of 1973 is none other than box office record breaking demonic possession horror, The Exorcist. Famous for having ambulances parked outside the cinema ready to rescue those viewers who would pass out from fright or scream themselves to death (maybe)! It does mean that Mean Streets, Westworld and the final Planet of the Apes film (pre-Burton) miss out, but how could they hope to compete with such an immeasurable success as this?

When I first watched The Exorcist as a young ‘en, it was at my mate’s house. Most of my friends at the time had already seen the grainy VHS copy that had been passed around school, and were all scared half to death by it. When I finally got around to watching it, I seem to remember it being a bit silly, not very scary and quite frankly hilarious.

Oh, the folly of youth! Having since then rewatched The Exorcist a few times (including one ill fated attempt at watching it on an outdoor screen on a freezing cold night in a park in Reading) I can safely say it is one of the most terrifying, disturbing and powerful horrors ever committed to film. It never just goes straight into the more gruesome bits, as some might expect. It builds tension and suspense slowly, spending a good chunk of time developing the characters before dumping their situation in front of you.

It’s the gradual realisation that an exorcism is their only hope, and the way it’s portrayed in the characters of the mum (Ellen Burstyn) and the priest/psychiatrist (Jason Miller), both generally rational people, is extremely well written. The transformation that Linda Blair, who plays the unfortunate possessed young girl ‘Regan’, goes through during this process broke the mould of every film that came before it. Not only is it the fact that what’s happening to a young girl that causes the audience such distress, but the sheer brutality and offensiveness of it was like nothing anyone had seen.

I’ve always had a slight problem with the ending. I think it’s slightly let down by how suddenly the pace of the film quickens and then stops very sharply; but it’s only really a problem because the rest of the film is at such an already high standard. It is one of the most well written, properly scary and important horror films ever created. A must for any fan of the genre.

Best films on TV: 13 – 19 May

sunshineThe best film on free-to-air television every day this week, as chosen by genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, podcaster (only one of those is true) Owen Hughes
Monday 13th May – The Outlaw Josey Wales (Channel 5, 11pm)
Not at all like the spaghetti westerns that made Clint so famous, The Outlaw Josey Wales is more of a subtle study of one man as he goes through the grieving process. But don’t worry! There’s still guns, cowboys, Indians and wise-cracks. Eastwood is as cool as ever, if playing a deeper, more human/less cartoonish character than The Man With No Name.
Tuesday 14th May – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Film4, 6.40pm)
Without doubt, the weirdest Star Trek film I’ve seen to date. Directed by Leonard Nimoy (Spok) in true hippy fashion, the crew of the USS Enterprise have to travel back in time to 1980’s Earth to find some humpback whales. A species which have been hunted to extinction in the future. They need the whales to talk to a giant inanimate carbon rod flying through space that is trying to communicate with them, but in doing so is inadvertently destroying planet Earth. Yep. That is the plot. It’s weird, all right. I’m basically only recommending it because of how weird it is. And it’s very weird. Weird.
Wednesday 15th May – Face/Off (BBC3, 10pm)
Often described as John Woo’s last great film, starring Nic Cage as a criminal and John Travolta as a cop until they switch faces, it’s probably not my personal favourite Woo film (Hard Target or Hard Boiled? Not sure which) but is still better than pretty much ever other film on TV on Wednesday. Full of Woo’s ridiculous over-the-top trademarks, complete with doves, slow-mo action scenes and firing two pistols at the same time, it’s a truly great action movie.
Thursday 16th May – The Fighter (Film4, 9pm)
Not one I’ve had the pleasure of watching myself just yet, but I know it’s a podcast favourite so would be hounded out of the team if I didn’t mention it. The Fighter, featuring Oscar winning performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, as well as what I’m led to believe is one of Mark Wahlberg’s finest performances to date, tells the true story of struggling boxer Micky Ward. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly looking forward to it.
Friday 17th May – Beyond Re-Animator (horror channel, 9pm)
Ah, as if I could go a whole week without recommending a horror film. What better than this classic cult b-movie horror? Jeffrey Combs is once again tampering with sciences he shouldn’t in this 3rd installment of the Re-Animator franchise. This time he’s behind bars, and injecting his bright green serum into the cold corpses of inmates using his dubious science. It may not be as good as the original Re-Animator film, but the sheer over-the-top special effects and plot make it worth a watch.
Saturday 18th May – Sunshine (More4, 9pm)
Uh oh, it’s that time of year again. The Eurovision Song Contest. It’s on all night on BBC1. Unfortunately, this means there’ll be nothing good on any other channel as nobody tries to compete for ratings. Fortunately, they decide to show Van Damme films under the illusion they won’t win ratings (Cyborg, Sky1; Derailed, SyFy etc) the fools! However, it also means other films get some air time elsewhere and with plenty to choose from on Saturday, my pick is Danny Boyle’s science fiction belter that is Sunshine, featuring James’ good mate, his old buddy old pal, Benedict Wong.
Sunday 19th May – Shinjuku Incident (Film4, 10.55pm)
Bountiful choice again for what films to watch on Sunday, but my pick is Jackie Chan’s first attempt at playing a more serious and dramatic character back in 2009, after he’d decided he wanted to be an acTOR rather than the comedic kung-fu star he was known as. As an illegal Chinese immigrant in Japan looking for his lost girlfriend, he ends up getting more and more involved in underworld crime. It’s debatable whether you think he manages to pull off this transition from goof-to-great, but at the heart of the film is still an interesting story held together with a well written and developed central character.

Best films on TV: 29 April – 5 May

The best films each day on free-to-air TV as chosen by Failed Critics contributor Owen Hughes. Expect at least one film featuring either JCVD or zombies.

predator_001Monday 29 April – Iron Man (Film4, 9pm)

With the release of the third installment in Marvel’s Iron Man franchise last week (or “this week” if you’re in America) we should be grateful to Film4 for airing the film that started it all. Especially for those of us who don’t own it already on DVD. I mean, I own it. Of course I own it. But the point is, you might not. Therefore, you should definitely take advantage of  this opportunity and remind yourself why Marvel are making some of the most successful and enjoyable movies of our time.

Tuesday 30 April – Predator (Film4, 9pm)

As a nod to our founder, James Diamond, I was tempted to recommend the Caravaggio (sorry, “Carl Vaggio”) opera that’s on Sky Arts 2 on Tuesday, but alas, I haven’t seen it to comment. Plus, it’s an opera. Opera is for slack-jawed faggots, not a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus like Jesse Ventura in the best film you’re likely to find on TV all week. It’s one of my favourite films and, quite frankly, I’m distrustful of anyone who doesn’t enjoy Predator, nevermind has the willpower NOT to watch it whenever they notice it’s on TV.

Wednesday 1 May – In Hell (SyFy, 10pm)

I can hear the groans from here that I’m picking a straight-to-video Jean-Claude Van Damme film as the best film on TV, but trust me, this is one of his best. I’m genuinely not picking it purely because it features the muscles from Brussels! You know that bit in The Dark Knight Rises where Bruce Wayne is in the prison? That’s basically what the whole of this film is like, but with Van Damme instead of Bruce Wayne. It’s brutal, intense and poses some interesting questions on justice and morality. Also, it features JCVD with a full beard. Bet you’re intrigued now, huh!

Thursday 2 May – Public Enemies (ITV4, 10.10pm)

I’m recommending this film blind, but certain it’ll be a popular decision. The best film on TV on Thursday is Michael Mann’s crime drama set in 1930’s America. Probably one of the best decades and places to set a crime drama? Certainly one of the most popular. It stars Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard who was discussed quite recently on our birthday podcast. Praised for its aesthetics, the performances from the cast and even its soundtrack, I will certainly be recording, if not watching it, that evening.

Friday 3 May – The Blair Witch Project (horror channel, 10.55pm)

Can you remember the first time you were truly scared by a film? That genuine terror that creeps into your subconscious afterwards as you get up out of the sofa, half expecting some maniac or ghoul to be lurking in the hallway or the top of the stairs, patiently waiting for you?  It’s all bollocks, of course. It’s only a film you big sissy. But still, if there’s any film that still puts the willies up me (leave it) then it’s this. Best watched in a dark room, in total silence, late at night (say, around 11pm-ish)…

Saturday 4 May – Martyrs (horror channel, 12.10am)

…and if The Blair Witch Project doesn’t screw with your mind, then let me introduce you to one of the most excruciating watches you’re ever likely to have. The French low-budget horror film, Martyrs, has a reputation that it fully deserves. Gruesome, disturbing, twisted, intelligent, horrific, shocking and uncomfortable are all words that could describe it, but one thing’s for sure; if you’re looking for a film that will violate your mind in the same way certain characters in this movie are physically, then look no further.

Sunday 5 May – The Cannonball Run (5USA, 12pm)

After watching The Blair Witch Project on Friday and Martyrs on Saturday, you’re going to need a bit of light relief! This screwball family comedy featuring the always watchable Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise as ‘him’, Roger Moore playing a brilliant spoof of the James Bond/spy archetype, and plenty of other minor supporting roles for Jackie Chan, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin (amongst others), as they race across America in their cars is both simple and funny. Perfect early Sunday afternoon watching. Or, you can continue the horror weekend with Cronenberg’s sexual body horror Shivers on horror channel later that evening. Or watch both? The Cannonball Run trumps it though, to be honest!

Best films on TV – week commencing 8th April 2013

5 out of 7 days this week, you can watch a Van Damme film. In order for me to resist posting each one as the best film on TV that particular day, you can consider it a “Muscles from Brussels Bonus” along with the real best film. Lucky you! I’ve also set myself a challenge of picking a film from 7 different channels just to keep you all on your toes and show that I don’t just watch movies on Film4, the horror channel and ITV4.

Universal Soldier The ReturnMonday 8th April – The Bourne Identity (ITV2 10.30pm)

The spy thriller that made people sit up and ask “why don’t they make the Bond films like this?” And then, of course, Casino Royale happened. Somewhat ironically, I can’t remember when the last time this film was picked for the days #bestfilmonTV. It’s on all the time, but with rarely broadcast The Bourne Supremacy on ITV2 on Friday, it’s a good excuse to watch them both. (MFBbonus: Universal Soldier: The Return, Sony Movie Channel, 11.05pm – direct sequel to the original UniSol film with Van Damme (but no Dolph) and a Sky Net esque villain. Oh, and Bill Goldberg as a big evil baddy.)

Tuesday 9th April – Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Film4, 3.20pm)

Unless you have the day off or are still on holiday, you may have to rewind a blank video tape and set the timer to record this one whilst you’re out. Released in 1973, it’s the final film in the original quintilogy of Planet of the Apes films; ‘Battle for’ is the series’ most unsubtle anti-war movie. Gorillas fighting chimps with orangutan overlords, it couldn’t be more obvious. It’s still a great movie and you don’t have to have seen the previous films to understand what’s going on here. Think of it as a prequel to the original 1968 blockbuster. (MFBbonus: Street Fighter, Sony Movie Channel, 10.50pm – honestly, it’s a decent action film. Just don’t think of it as the same as the Street Fighter game and you’ll be fine! Van Damme’s accent is fooling nobody though. American soldier my arse.)

Wednesday 10th April – A History of Violence (More4, 10pm)

Having only watched Cronenberg’s multiple award winning drama on More4 last week, I can heartily recommend it on the same channel again this week. It tells the story of a family man who must reluctantly turn to violence in order to save his family from mobsters and from his past. It’s probably Viggo Mortensen’s finest performance, and he has a bucket load of those to choose from. Useless bit of trivia for you, it was the last Hollywood film to be released on VHS. (MFBbonus: Knock Off, 5USA+1, 12.25am – remember when Jackie Chan made those slightly jokey, fun, Hong Kong kung-fu capers in the 90’s? This is basically Van Damme’s attempt at that. Ignore Rob Schneider, if you can.)

Thursday 11th April – Twins of Evil (horror channel, 9pm)

Assuming not everybody has Sky Atlantic to catch Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, Thursday’s best film comes in the form of Hammer Horror’s 1971 oft parodied vampire film, Twins of Evil (despite the fact it narrowly missed out on a place in my favourite films of 1971.) With the gravitas of Peter Cushing tying it all together, plenty of large-chested scantily-clad young ladies, and lashings of bright red syrup–I mean blood, it’s about as typical a HH as it’s possible to get. In a good way! (MFBbonus: Replicant, Sony Movie Channel, 1am – the second film where Van Damme plays two separate characters (an evil serial killer + his clone) although perhaps not as good overall as Double Impact. Also, it features Merle from The Walking Dead as a cop. It’s honestly a very good, very sad, and very serious film.)

Friday 12th April – Mean Streets (BBC2, 12.10am (technically Saturday but close enough to still be Friday’s choice!)

Eight different films could’ve easily made today’s choice, but with most of them appearing on TV channels I’ve already used, and seeing as Mean Streets is a damned fine film, I figured this is as good a choice as any. It may be a little rough around the edges, but it shows flashes of the brilliance that was to come from Martin Scorcese. Harvey Keitel and Bobby De Niro are also superb here too. (MFBbonus: Hmm you’ll have to take the day off. There’s no Van Damme film on TV on Friday. How very disappointing.)

Saturday 13th April – Rocky III (Channel 5, 4.25pm)

I pity the fool who hasn’t seen the third Rocky film (see what I did there?) Something of a half-way point in the series, shifting from the sentimental mushyness of the first two films to the montage-laden epicness of Rocky IV; Rocky III is at an interesting impasse. It also happens to feature the best “bad guy” in the series (better than Ivan Drago) in the shape of Mr T as Clubber Lang! (MFBbonus: Sudden Death, ITV4, 9.05pm – as close to Die Hard as Van Damme got, he plays a security guard who protects an ice hockey arena from a terrorist attack. Yeah.. it’s quite a bit “Die Hard”ish. Good fun though!)

Sunday 14th April – Land of the Dead (ITV4, 11.25pm)

Well, I couldn’t not pick a zombie film, could I? Particularly when it’s a George A Romero one, at that! This is the movie that Romero said he wanted to make when he made Day of the Dead, if he’d had the budget for it back in the 80’s. Land of the Dead is the first in his modern ‘Dead’ trilogy, and features some of his best and most clever work. See if you can spot a cameo from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright too! (MFBbonus: there actually isn’t a Jean-Claude Van Damme film on TV on Sunday as far as I can tell. I’m sure you can find one online if you’re desperate. Wake of Death is on Crackle.com for free! Try that if you like.)

A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1972

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

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

5. Solaris

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

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

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

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

4. Fist of Fury

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

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

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

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

3. Deliverance

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

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

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

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

2. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

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

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

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

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

1. The Godfather

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Films on TV. Week commencing 4th March 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Opening: Letterboxd opens its doors to the public

letterboxd

“If I had one day when I didn’t have to be all confused and I didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged some place. You know?”

Maybe you don’t know, but that’s a quote from James Dean in the film Rebel Without A Cause who would have been 82 today! But that’s not why today is special.

No, today is worthy of celebration because the social networking site for sharing film reviews, logging your watch history and creating reams of lists about your favourite films that other people hate, Letterboxd, is now open to the public.

Gone are the days when you (the public, the externals, the “others”) would need invites from people like me (the users, the internals, the “guys with the invites”) to get on there. You can now create a free account. Just go to the home page and follow the steps for registration. You could even get a Pro account if you prefer, which gives you access to some slightly fancier things like your “year in review”.

I started using Letterboxd just before joining the Podcast team early last year. I saw it as a way of consolidating my reviews which were saved all over the place (Facebook notes, forums, Google Documents, even in emails) into one single website that held all of my reviews. I spent a week or so transferring them all onto the site, making sure I logged as many dates as possible so I could use the “diary” function on there. I meticulously sorted the “tags” for each review, making searching for them in the future a doddle. Yes, a doddle. I am a massive nerd, all of those stats and data are important to me, and luckily for me it seems that Letterboxd shared my opinion.

Here’s some behind the curtains knowledge for you about how I go about preparing for our ever increasingly obscure triple bill podcasts; I just use Letterboxd. I search for the films that fit the description (although I’m sure James, Gerry and Steve would debate that) using a keyword, and invariably someone else has always created a list similar. I sort them by the films I’ve rated highly when logging them in my diary. Et voila! The tough part is then writing the review, but this site has made everything so much easier!

That’s enough waffling! If you want a place with a really helpful community of people that are always happy to talk about films, comment on your reviews and have interesting things to say, then use Letterboxd. If you just want a place to log your personal thoughts on films, keep track of what you’ve watched and when you watched it, and what your rating of said film is, then use Letterboxd. If you’re a stalker and just want to see the films I’ve watched prior to me talking about them on the podcast, follow me on Letterboxd. Enjoy!

Visit our Meet the Critics page to find out which of our writers are using Letterboxd. 

(We have no affiliation with Letterboxd, and we don’t do sponsored posts. We just genuinely love this site.)

A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1971

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

This week the podcast’s Owen Hughes looks back on a year when likely Star Wars Episode VII director Matthew Vaughn was born, Walt Disney World opened in Florida, and Margaret Thatcher stole the milk of a nation’s children.

Sorry. I know this is breaking the unwritten rules slightly, but I felt like I needed to give an introduction (read: disclaimer) for this article. When I first started to draw up my list of 5 favourite films from 1971, I thought it’d be simple. I knew my top 3 at least, definitely my top film anyway, and that meant it was just a case of picking two others. Easy, right?

Well, no. Drat. Double drat! What seemed initially quite simple proved actually rather difficult. Not just because trying to find 5 films I loved was hard, but I realised quite how many classics of the year I hadn’t actually seen. The French Connection, Shaft, Get Carter, Vanishing Point… all of these films aren’t present on my list purely because I haven’t seen them yet and didn’t get a chance to before writing this article. Sorry again.

But I have left off other “classics” such as the George Lucas début in THX-1138, John Wayne’s Big Jake and Monty Python’s feature length sketch comedy And Now For Something Completely Different; that’s because I have seen them, I’m just not a fan! (Sorry.)

Doesn’t this just highlight what a quality year for film it was, though? There’s so many films people would consider classics that I haven’t even included (ooh ooh I forgot, I haven’t included Escape From The Planet of the Apes either even though I’d rate it higher than at least one of the following) and I still managed to come up with 5 favourites. Well, 6, really. I’ll explain what I mean with my first choice:

5. Countess Dracula

countess_dracula“Don’t you realise you get uglier each time you get old, and that you can’t go on killing forever?”
“Why not?”

I think from now on I’m going to start all of my birthday greeting cards with the first line of that quote.

If you can’t tell from the title and the decade the film is from, Countess Dracula is a Hammer Horror production. In my 1970 article, I included The Horror of Frankenstein. I wanted to include the Peter Cushings film Twins of Evil (my “6th favourite”) in this list – including Hammer films might be a recurring theme throughout my Decade in Film articles – but I’ll limit it to just 1 per year!

If you were to ask a group of people which historical figure is most often associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I think the vast majority would be able to tell you it’s Vlad “The Impaler” Dracul. Fair enough, I think. There’s lots of evidence to suggest Stoker’s now iconic character was largely inspired by the Wallachian prince. However, tales of Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Báthory (played here fantastically well by Ingrid Pitt – even if her voice was famously dubbed over) also inspired aspects of Stoker’s Dracula. The legend goes that she bathed in the blood of virgins and tortured and killed over 600 people. Quite the character, you might say. A bit of an oddball, perhaps. A downright nutter, even. Ripe for being turned into a horror film then. Especially if you already have the set from an older/abandoned film with a castle and courtyard ready to be used.

Director Peter Sasdy takes the legend of Elizabeth and adds a supernatural element to it. He keeps the crazy in her personality but tries to turn this despicable monster into a tragic, lonely widow who longs for the attention of a young man and would do anything to get it. When she discovers that the blood of virgins dramatically revitalises her youth for short periods of time, she embarks on a gruesome path of murdering her young servant girls and local gypsies until her ultimately destructive lifestyle reaches its grisly end.

Unlike a lot of other Hammer films, the horror element is just a little bit too tame in Countess Dracula. It’s secondary to the drama of the film, meaning it feels like a tragic love story with some scares rather than the opposite way around. But it’s a film that grew on me the more I thought about it. Once I got over the initial disappointment over how little it felt like a horror film, I started to appreciate how good it actually was as a romance story, and so came to the conclusion that it should make this list just ahead of Twins of Evil.

4. Duel
duel“Come on you miserable fat-head, get that fat-ass truck outta my way!”

Steven Spielberg teamed up with Richard Matheson in 1971 to make a film for TV (which later they turned into a feature film.) It was based on a short story Matheson wrote about a man driving home on one of those long American highways they have out there. Route something or other. You know the kind. It’s a straight, long, dusty road. It’s hot. It’s empty. And there’s a crazy lunatic chasing you with his massive truck. You know the sort. See it all the time.

Wait a sec, what was that last bit? A crazy lunatic in a big-rig? Sounds like the kind of paranoia-fiction that would be perfect if written by someone like Richard Mathe– oh, right, yeah.

And it is VERY Matheson. If you’ve ever read any of his works before, or seen any films based on his stories, you’d know that he is the master of paranoid science fiction. Whilst this film is science-less, it is a very tense story. It’s not like, say, Jeepers Creepers, which features a man in a truck chasing down some American kids and is only really any good until it gets all supernatural and generic. Duel is just pure terror and fear driven (‘scuse the pun) by the unwaveringly suspenseful scenario. Forget the character development, forget the hidden meaning. Wipe the sweat from your eyes, get a glass of water, and chill the fuck out, because the dread this film drudges up will make you not want to get in a car at any point in the near future (*more on this later!)

Speaking of which, this sense of dread is expertly transferred from page to screen by Spielberg. As Dennis Weaver suffers whilst he is mercilessly pursued by a terrifying, reckless, faceless truck driver across the American highway, so too does the viewer. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck whilst watching this and I felt extremely uncomfortable.

The film does have a bit of a “made-for-TV” vibe but that’s probably because it was originally a made-for-TV film! It doesn’t matter, a good story and a good film are just that regardless of budget. I watched this film for the first time the day before my driving test (*yeah, not the best idea in hindsight – although I did pass first time. Yes I am gloating.) Maybe that influenced my opinion slightly, who knows, but it is definitely a well made, tense, and scary film.

3. Johnny Got His Gun
johnny got his gun“Joe: When it comes my turn, will you want me to go [to war]?”
“Father: For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son.”

Please remove all boot laces and belts, put away any floss and bed sheets before watching this film and please make sure all chairs are bolted to the floor. Dalton Trumbo’s adaptation of his own anti-war novel (of the same name) is a very dark, very deep film about a soldier who on the very last day of the Great War has his arms, his legs and his face blown off by a grenade, leaving him with what’s known as “locked-in syndrome”. With no way to hear or see what’s going around him, no way to move, no way to talk or communicate anything, no way to even know if he’s dead or alive for a while, thought brain dead by the doctors and nurses in the hospital bed where he now permanently resides, Joe is stuck with just his own mind and memories to occupy him.

Although the film is most recognisable for the clips taken from it for the music video for the Metallica song ‘One’, it still doesn’t really prepare you for the full impact of the film as a whole.

It’s totally engrossing and although I enjoyed watching it, it’s not an experience that should be replicated frequently for fear of an ensuing crippling depression. The concept is frightening and the execution of this concept is done very well. Joe tells you his own story through flashbacks to his younger days and conversations with his dad about war, life and death. He has debates with himself about worth and quality, about faith and religion, and eventually learning to accept what has happened to him. Well, it’s less “accept” and more that he grows to realise what life he now has.

It’s a very memorable, thoroughly bleak and a severely underrated (or, rather, under-appreciated) film that raises questions you might never have asked yourself, so in that sense, it is definitely worth a watch… But you might want to have something a bit lighter to watch afterwards just to take the edge off! Maybe don’t watch it if you’re a bit sensitive, like.

2. Dirty Harry
dirty_harry“District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you’ve got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I’m saying is that man had rights.”
“Harry Callahan: Well, I’m all broken up over that man’s rights.”

In the introduction, I mentioned some films I haven’t had time to watch in the lead up to writing this article. Dirty Harry almost became one of those films. Bit of background: back when my wife worked on Sundays, I used to have the whole day to myself. I would spend the whole day watching Sky Sports Super Sunday and film after film after film (and walking the dogs, doing housework, etc (just in case she ever reads this…)) One of those Sundays, after a particularly long day of watching terrible film after terrible film and getting a bit fed up with it all, I decided to watch Dirty Harry. I got 10 minutes into it, looked at my watch and thought “fuck this”. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, more than I wasn’t immediately grabbed by it. I was tired and I really had to pull myself out of the sofa before I became permanently glued to it.

That was some 4 or 5 years ago now. Since then, I bought the box set of all 5 Dirty Harry films on DVD. And since then (which coincidentally was also about 4 or 5 years ago) I put off attempting to re-watch Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood’s legendary film until last month, having always thought of it as “that film I didn’t like the start of and got a bit bored by”.

My, my. How wrong I was.

As I’m sure everyone is already aware, Dirty Harry is a cop who we follow as he tracks down a serial killer, and he’s just about the coolest cop you’ll ever see (well, he’s no Mr Sidney Poitier) The dialogue is a lot sharper, but also it’s much stronger too. The acting is about 10x better, with Eastwood putting in a, quite frankly, awesome performance.

The iconic scenes that I’d seen parodied or quoted many times before, but without ever seeing the originals, still kept some impact. The final scene was excellent in that regard, totally caught me off guard.

It’s just a really great cop drama. I should’ve stuck with it the first time I tried to watch it, I would’ve massively appreciated it after a long day of largely rubbish films, but that’s inconsequential now. I’ve seen it and I loved it and it’s probably the second best film of 1971.

1. A Clockwork Orange

a_clockwork_orange“But enough of words, actions speak louder than. Action now. Observe all.”

The only debate I had to have with myself about including this as my first choice was not around its merits as a film. Any of my droogy-woogs reading this who have listened to the podcast before will know I am a huge Stanley Kubrick fan. A Clockwork Orange is one of his absolute best. I love Anthony Burgess’ novel, I love this film, I love Kubrick. But the more keenly observed readers will know that A Clockwork Orange wasn’t actually released in the UK until 1972. In fact, it only just made it into a 1971 release in the US as it was released mid-way through December.

All I’ll say to that is: shut up. IMDb, Wikipedia and Letterboxd all list it as 1971, so it’s staying on this list.

The film stars Malcolm McDowell as Alex, a fan of lashings of the old ultra-violence in a dystopian vision of Britain. He’s oomny, oozhassny and downright baddiwad I should say and commits some rather vicious crimes, gets arrested, and subsequently “volunteered” for an experimental new treatment to mend him.

It has plenty of the old red red krovvy, the lovely big groodies and ultra-violence mixed in with an absolutely majestic score. Just like Kubrick’s previous film (and in my opinion, his greatest work, 2001: A Space Odyssey) the blend of classical music with ear-bleeding sounds and screeches work together to create at least a dozen mesmerising scenes. Bathing quite powerful visual scenes of really quite terrifying violence with their contrasting songs of Beethoven to Singin’ In The Rain, it’s a remarkable achievement of vision and genius.

What I think would have been Kubrick’s biggest challenge with this film was not the conversational nature of its plot and characters and getting it past the censors, but transferring the written language from the novel to screen without it seeming ridiculous. Kubrick manages to intelligently weave this into the film like the magician he was like the viewer had always been speaking in this dialect. It makes the whole film seem like poetry enacted.

Anyway, I won’t warble on about it too much more, o my brothers, just to say that it made me smeck and razdrez in equal measure. (Sorry – final time – for the lame A Clockwork Orange speak.)

See the five films Owen picked for 1970 or check out the full A Decade in Film series so far.

A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1970

5. The Man Who Haunted Himself

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“I’m Pelham… I AM!”

Up until the other week, I actually had Hercules In New York, the debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as my first entry on this blog piece. However, after watching a clip of the film edited down to around a minute on YouTube I realised I couldn’t justify including it, no matter what nostalgia would have me believe, because it is truly diabolical.

Well, how lucky am I then that whilst on my crusade to watch more Roger Moore films (as a part of the upcoming Bond special podcast) I somewhat accidentally discovered this wonderfully dark psychological-thriller?

(The answer is “very”.)

1970 was an almost “inbetween” year for Roger Moore. By the time this film was released, he was already a household name. Not because he was Bond, James Bond; he was still yet to play 007 for another 3 years! But because of his role in one of the highest rated British TV shows of the 60s, The Saint. Wanting to show he was more than just a camp heroic adventurer, he collaborated with British director Basil Dearden and showcased a rather more serious side to his acting ability.

I’m not much of a Bond fan. When I was younger, I preferred Sean Connery (much to my dads disapproval) although as I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate and prefer Moore’s take on Ian Flemming’s iconic character. But it’s here, and not in the world of secret spy espionage, that I think I have found my favourite film of Moore’s.

Shot like a mystery thriller with elements of the film noir genre about it, copiously straddling various different answers to its myriad of questions before finally drawing the curtain back and revealing what has been going on all along – it plays on the concepts of identity theft, of schizophrenia and psychosis. It spends time developing the story, enhancing the mystery element and finally in getting the best out of and then delivering an exquisite performance from its star actor. Combined with a fantastically early 70s look, a late 60s swing and a very catchy theme tune by Michael J Lewis (that even now creeps into my subconscious every so often and loops around my head all morning) the effort that has gone into it definitely paid off. And it’s infinitely better than Hercules in New York. Sorry, Arnie.

4. The Horror of Frankenstein

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“Anything I bring you will be so fresh it would get past the government meat inspector”

Frankenstein and his wretch have gone through many, many different incarnations. Like characters in the book, endlessly and hopelessly chasing after one another, many famous directors and actors have chased what made Mary Shelley’s classic so encapturing. Whether you’re talking about probably the most famous interpretation by James Whale with Boris Karloff as the monster, or a more light-hearted affair with Mel Brooks’ comedy Young Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus has captured the imaginations of many artists / film makers.

Perhaps none more so than Hammer Horror who, even if not qualitatively, have most definitely quantitatively been chasing that elusive creature. In The Horror of Frankenstein (a remake of their first colour horror film – The Curse of Frankenstein) Hammer Horror favourite Ralph Bates stars as a youthful, early on in his career, Baron Von Frankenstein and a pre-Darth Vader David Prowse as the monster.

It may be unintentionally funny for the most part, but this is a classic Hammer Horror film and one of the first that I saw. It is quite far removed from the classic telling of the story, although the basic principles of the plot are vaguely similar. However, the best bit about the whole film was easily spotting the “goofs” and the huge plastic boobs that all the women had. Classic Hammer Horror. Cheesy, camp, a bit silly and quite entertaining.

3. Beneath the Planet of the Apes

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“The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!“

Yep, power, naked merciless force and making sure Charlton Heston is the hero in the end regardless of what went down in the rest of the story. That’s the only thing that counts. Probably more so than the first two points, actually.

If you don’t happen to be as much of a fan of the film adaptations of Pierre Boulle’s French novel “La Planète des singes” as me, you might be surprised to know that despite it being Earth all along, there were actually 4 sequels that followed Franklin J Schaffner’s 1968 classic sci-fi blockbuster Planet of the Apes. Not counting Tim Burton’s awful attempt at rebooting the franchise, of course. And not counting the fantastic Rise of the Planet of the Apes either.

Beneath, directed by Ted Post (of Hang Em High and Magnum Force fame), is the first of the sequels and quite possibly the weakest too. It is a crazy mish-mash of ideas that are quite interesting and clever individually (human cults that worship a bomb, the forbidden zone actually being explored a bit further, the various cultures within the Apes society etc) but they come together like Blur covering a Kinks song (pop culture references from the 90s.. hmmm, how about Metallica working with Lou Reed instead? Yeah, that’ll do.)

But if you overlook its (many, many) flaws, it’s a quite decent sci-fi film and a welcome addition to the franchise. The only way to watch it is to immerse yourself in their world and just go with the flow. If there’s no other reason to watch it, then do it so you can watch the excellent two sequels that followed this!

2. Patton

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“There’s only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.”

To be honest, as great a line as that is, I could have picked almost any quote from this Franklin J Schaffner (he of Planet of the Apes fame, as you will have just read) directed Oscar winning biopic of the notorious General George S Patton.

Like the first film on this list, it’s another that I only saw the first time very recently. However, I came very close to giving up on it after 60 minutes into its 170 minute run time. If not for having such a spectacular opening speech delivered with such an assured promise that there was more to come by George C Scott as the unforgiving Patton, I might have done just that. But I stuck with it, and I am so glad I did.

For what is quite an impenetrable film for almost an hour, it sure does get a hell of a lot better. There is a very clear turning point in this film where the characterisation of Patton starts to rapidly develop into this incredible on screen presence. The kind you would expect from a screenplay written by Francis Ford Coppola, just before he started work on The Godfather.

What I find most interesting about Patton is that for a war film, it never really felt anti-war. It has messages about the futility of war, about the bureaucracy and the harshness of war. But it doesn’t condemn it. The fact it is a biopic, and showing you war the way the General did, through eyes that see the glory and pride of war, it’s unlike a lot of other films of its type (or, at least, of its type that I’ve seen) and definitely one of the most interestingly directed too.

1. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

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“He’s not even Italian and you’re making him risk his life!”

Dario Argento’s first full directorial debut  lands the much coveted place of first on my list of favourite films of 1970. I’m sure Disney are absolutely gutted that The Aristocats hasn’t topped the list.

But Argento’s giallo film fully deserves this spot. It may be a very up-and-down film – the first 20 minutes are excellent, the next 10 minutes quite poor, the following 10 minutes excellent again, and so on – but this decision was never in any doubt in my mind.

As good as the opening speech of Patton was, the scenes here where the protagonist, Sam, an American crime-fiction writer, witnesses a murder in an art gallery in Rome, absolutely tops it. If I may just stereotype an entire nation for a moment; in true Italian fashion, the whole film (but particularly those first few moments) are so incredibly stylish. It oozes cool from every pore.

The whole experience of witnessing the mystery of the plot unravel and then immediately cloud itself in secrecy again is incredibly exciting. It’s like witnessing a director at the very top of his game, and not one who is directing his first feature film. It’s masterful. It’s such a gorgeous film in almost every respect. Every scene is like an incredibly intricately painted portrait of the characters. Even when the plot is slightly letting the film down (the ending is weirdly tiring and disappointing compared to the rest of the film), it’s easy to overlook it and just get wrapped up in this strong visual element.

That is why my first choice on this very long blog post is the first of Argento’s Animal Trilogy (of which I’d also recommend the equally awesomely titled Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and makes this as good a place as any to stop writing, I think!