Tag Archives: Al Pacino

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 5 – May: Pacino, Pyun, Papa & Perfection

The fifth entry in Owen’s continuing year in review series sees him mull over the movies he’s watched during May. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

An Evening With Al Pacino At Eventim ApolloThere is, and there is what you would like it to be.

That’s a quote attributed to Plato by Al Pacino’s character Big Boy Caprice in the 1990 crime comedy Dick Tracy. I’m not sure if Plato ever said it, but who cares? It’s a line that has, for some inexplicable reason, stuck in my mind ever since I heard it whilst watching Warren Beatty’s movie for the first time late last month. I literally thought it over and over for about 45 minutes whilst mowing the front lawn this past Saturday, out in the sunshine, mind wandering as it does during these menial tasks, trying to work out the saying’s meaning without going all Phaedrus. Why, of all the quotes from all of the 33 films I’ve watched in May, did this particular line from some pretty crappy (although multiple Oscar winning) comicbook adaptation stand out?

Short answer: I’ve no idea. I think maybe it’s just because it sounds quite cool in the same artificial way that Dick Tracy tries to be. In the film, as in all movies and life in general, there is what there is and there isn’t what there isn’t.

Therefore, I came to the conclusion that there are two ways to interpret the quote. The optimistic way is that ‘stuff just is what it is right now’, but you can always strive for something better; to shape something the way you want it to be (yes, that is me shoe-horning in an Alpha Papa reference, seeing as how I’ve watched the film twice this month).

Or, there’s the pessimistic way of looking at it, which is what I would personally subscribe to. And it’s also kind of the same with movies, for the record. Things are what they are, and you can accept them for that, but they can never be perfect. A movie exists as it is, but there’s always going to be a better movie, or a better way of making the movie. No matter how much you like it, or love it, or want to tell everyone you know about how amazing it is, it just is what it is, and there’ll be another way that you would like or prefer it to be. It’s why I struggle to ever give anything 10/10, or ★★★★★/★★★★★, or two thumbs up or six golden bananas or 100g of dogs bollocks or a full kinky duck or whatever your rating method may be!

I’m not a perfectionist, I just have a problem with the word – or the concept of – ‘perfect’, which is defined as: “as good as it is possible to be.” Nothing is perfect. If you move the goal posts of what’s ‘possible’, then it ceases to be perfect. In the case of a movie, as objective as you might try to be when rating a movie, subjectivity and relativity will always seep in.

If you listened to the recent podcast, you might have heard me talk about the Al Pacino Q&A I went to in Hammersmith last month. I spent a few days/weeks catching up on some of his more well known works that have slipped through the net somewhat during my film watching career (and reviewed a few below, and mentioned one above). I also rewatched one or two of his classics, including a film lauded by many as the perfect film, The Godfather; or, at least, the film that’s held up as an example of the best that it’s possible for a film to be. But The Godfather is only perfect relative to other films. As soon as something better comes along, it ceases to be perfect. Else, are we to believe that L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat is the perfect film? Literally the absolute best that it was possible for that movie to be at the time? Technically speaking, at least. Especially as there were no comparator margins. But it too could be considered flawed now we look at it in hindsight, comparing it to the potential that could be made of the techniques available. Similarly, the same can be said for all films. None of them are perfect. Not even my beloved Night of the Living Dead, as much as it pains me to say it!

It’s not just films, though. Nothing is perfect in the sense that it can never ever possibly be better. The sun isn’t perfect, it’s just the best it’s possible for it to be right now. Al Pacino isn’t the perfect actor, he’s just at times in his career put in the best performance that it was possible to do in his films. Our podcast isn’t perfect! It’s quite clearly limited by both Steve and I’s ……. well, it’s just limited by both Steve and I.

I do think there’s still optimism to be found in that, though. Just because something can’t ever be eternally inexplicably infallible, doesn’t mean it can’t actually meet the actual definition of ‘perfect’ as we know it to be. Things in life that are as perfect as it’s possible for them to be. Such as b-movie director Albert Pyun’s creativity and ambition, or the Alan Partridge movie….

….hey look, that almost resembles a segway into my actual reviews of stuff I’ve watched this month and I can knock the pretentious pseudo-intellectual nonsense on the bonce. You should go read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance instead afterwards to see the thoughts of someone who is actually clever talk about ‘quality’ in a much more meaningful and coherent way.


Week 1 – Friday 1 – Sunday 3 May 2015

Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – OMEGA DOOM (1996); Sunday – Frankenweenie (2012)

omega doomAlso in the podcast I linked to above in the intro (with the Al Pacino Q&A), at the beginning, just before the quiz, Steve reviewed an Albert Pyun film that I made him watch. Which, if you’ve been reading any of the previous four articles in this series, you might have been expecting to happen at some point. I gave Steve the option of watching any number of Pyun films, but he picked this particular movie, starring Rutger Hauer as the titular robot ‘Omega Doom’, in a post-apocalyptic future whose ‘evil circuits’ had been destroyed. Blade Runner it ain’t. The plot basically revolves around Doom as he pits two gangs against each other in a small town, both of whom are scared of the presumed extinct human race leading an uprising. Think Yojimbo, or A Fistful of Dollars, but with 1990’s, black-shades wearing, lame-joke making, red-lipstick clad, unemotional, menacing cyborgs. Steve described Omega Doom (rather unfairly, I might add!) as “a bit dumb, a bit annoying, a bit crap”. I tried to explain that the charm of Pyun is all about the concept of his films and the scope of his projects, regardless of his budgetary restraints. But it appears that rather unfortunately, Albert Pyun just isn’t for everyone. A shame, because I genuinely have loved watching his movies this year and would hold this specific example up as maybe his most accessible – and possibly even his best film. As much as I like his Jean-Claude Van Damme led 1980’s classic Cyborg (as discussed on our JCVD Corridor of Praise podcast), Omega Doom is certainly his most well realised. OK, so it’s not perfect………..


Week 2 – Monday 4 – Sunday 10 May 2015

Monday – Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Unfriended (2015); Tuesday – FALSTAFF – CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1967), The Man With the Iron Fists 2 (2015); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Kung Pow (2002); Friday – Repulsion (1965); Saturday – Vertigo (1958), The Punisher (1989), Cube²: Hypercube (2002); Sunday – Lake Placid (1999), Spooks: The Greater Good (2015), Prometheus (2012)

falstaffYes, that’s right, on May the 4th I watched a Star Wars movie. But in my defence, I was gonna anyway! I swear! It wasn’t planned that way to coincide with some Twitter trend. However, continuing my theme from the last article where I refused to talk about any of the Star Wars films, I’ll not be discussing them here either. And just to prove a point, I don’t only watch b-movie sci-fi films with a ridiculous (/equally awesome) premise. Sometimes I watch “proper” films. Like, black and white ones an’ that about plays and cultural things, y’know… For example, during the second week of May, I watched Falstaff, the film that Orson Welles himself described as his favourite of his own movies. That might just be down to the fact that he adored Shakespeare’s recurring character of Sir John Falstaff, who the famous, influential and iconic film maker stars as in this rough adaptation of a number of the Bard’s plays. I can’t purport to be super-knowledgeable about Welles, about Shakespeare, or about Henry V (surprising as that may be..!!) but the reason I’ve chosen this to talk about above all of the others on the list is partly to issue a public apology. I’m sorry everyone. This film did nothing for me. I chose to watch it for two main reasons: firstly, it’s Orson Welles. Secondly; it was research. Preparation for when we eventually get around to finishing the Decade In Film series. And I mention that because it’s unlikely I’ll include this film in my eventual list. The dubbing was very off-putting, although I can understand the rationale behind it from a technical point of view. It’s worht mentioning that the big Battle of Shrewesbury sequence that the film is famous for was extremely well done and gave it that epic feeling of having hundreds of extras, even if there were only a handful. But by the end, it felt like a box ticking exercise. One to disappointingly chalk off the list as “seen”, but not really enjoyed.


Week 3 – Monday 11 – Sunday 17 May 2015

Monday – Brainsmasher: A Love Story (1993) ; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Invasion (2007), Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire (2010); Thursday – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015); Friday – Pernicious (2015), V/H/S Viral (2014); Saturday – THE CROW (1994); Sunday – Spawn (1997), What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

the crowInitially, when I first drafted this list, I really wanted to talk about The Crow in this bit. It was the first time I’d seen it in well over a decade and it was so much better than I remembered. I didn’t care about the cheesy electric guitar this time, I didn’t mind the crying goth anti-hero, or the crying long-haired flannel-shirted bad guy, or any of that! And then I thought, “no, what I really want to talk about is Mad Max: Fury Road, which was gloriously fucking spectacular”. But it seems somewhat greedy to go over Mad Max yet again, especially after Brooker and Jackson Tyler already joined us on the podcast to have a natter on its awesomeness for about half an hour. So, back to The Crow I go. Hand on heart, it was way better than I had expected it to be. I actually only sought it out after seeing a tweet from Brooker about his new blu-ray. Not only did the film take me by surprise, but Brandon Lee was also surprisingly excellent too. Not just in the way that the context around the film makes him seem posthumously, knowing how unfortunate he was to die on set with just 8 days before production wrapped on what would become by far and away his biggest, most successful film – not too dissimilar to his father Bruce Lee dying before getting to see just how successful Enter The Dragon would become. The Crow is undeniably melodramatic (in the best kind of way) and incredibly atmospheric. Strange to think that it was brought to us by the same director responsible for the shower of shit that is Knowing.


Week 4 – Monday 18 – Sunday 24 May 2015

Monday – Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow (1993); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Scarface (1983); Thursday – Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995); Friday – …And Justice For All. (1979), In The Loop (2009); Saturday – ALPHA PAPA (2013); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

alpha papa“In England we have a saying for a situation such as this, which is that it’s difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.” Yeah, In The Loop is great, isn’t it? “Never, never criticize Muslims; only.. only Christians. And Jews a little bit.” Yeah, Alpha Papa is great, isn’t it? Yeah. Both are great, aren’t they? Considering that Alan Partridge is the best comedy character to come from these shores (or any shores, for that matter), and that The Thick of It is one of the best sitcoms to come from these shores (or any shores, for that matter), it’s not surprising that they both became such fantastic films. Intelligent, well crafted and, above all else, hilarious. On my train trip to London, I needed something to watch on the commute. With both of these available on iPlayer, there didn’t seem any point looking for anything else. In The Loop on the way down, Alpha Papa on the way back the following day. If I had to choose a favourite, then the Alan Partridge Movie nudges it. The evolution of that character from the obnoxious sports reporter and radio-turned-TV chat show host of the early 90’s, to the local radio disc jockey for North Norfolk Digital (Norfolk’s best–North Norfolk’s best music mix) – via one of the funniest sitcoms ever (I’m Alan Partridge), a stupendous webseries-turned-T V show (Mid Morning Matters) and the genius piece of work that is I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan – is so good it makes me swell with pride that the human race is capable of producing something fictional that is as good as this. I saw Alpha Papa in the cinema twice and both times cried with laughter. I’ve seen it half a dozen times since and each time laughed until it hurt. In fact, I even watched it the following week (as you’ll see below!) and I still laughed like an idiot. I’ve seen this film with both Partridge and non-Partridge fans and seen them all with tears in their eyes when watching Steve Coogan’s greatest creation. I voted for it as one of my favourite films in our 2013 Awards, and I stand by that. And, it’s still on iPlayer too if you have yet to watch it.


Week 1 – Monday 25 – Sunday 31 May 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – Scent of a Woman (1992); Wednesday – Dick Tracy (1990); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The Panic in Needle Park (1971); Saturday – THE GODFATHER (1972); Sunday – Alpha Papa (2013)

godfatherI suppose I better talk about this Q&A with Al Pacino a little bit. My first reaction to Pacino wasn’t one of awe at what a presence he was in the room, but more like “wow, I never knew that the guy who played Michael Corleone and Tony Montana was so camp!” This chap, who I had always assumed was a bit macho, was actually leaping out of his chair to sing show tunes as soon as someone in the audience even finished saying The King & I. Other startling observations from the evening were that: he loved Shakespeare’s character of Richard more than is healthy; that he is genuinely very cool; and that he hated working on The Godfather so much that every day throughout filming, he hoped the studio or Francis Ford Coppola would fire him. It later transpired that my wife had never seen The Godfather (not as a result of the Q&A) as she doesn’t like gangster films. As is kinda normal, I think. Me? I love crime dramas and thrillers. So this past weekend, I forced her to sit through the second best film of all time (according to IMDb’s Top 250, anyway.) It was, as it always has been every time I’ve seen it, exceptional. Everything about it is tremendous. The build up of Michael’s character, the portrayal of the family, the acting on show from the likes of Pacino, Brando and Duvall, and yes, even the camera angles. I’ve already explained why I love it in our Decade In Film articles though, so you can go check that out if you’re actually bothered.


And that’s it. Job done. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do. As ever, I’m more than happy to chat about these films in more detail in the comments below or you can message me on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you next month!

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Failed Critics Podcast: Child Performances Triple Bill

poltergeist

They’re heeeerrrrreeeee….

And by ‘they’, we of course mean ‘we’. We’re here to host another triple bill edition of the Failed Critics Podcast!

This week, Mike Shawcross and Matt Lambourne step into the fold along with regulars Steve Norman and Owen Hughes as they each pick their three favourite child performances in film. From sweary little girls, to doom-bringing seven year old boys, we’ve covered all of the best young performances that we could fit into 100 minutes of podcast.

Amongst that, we did still manage to squeeze in a quick round up of who-won-what at the Cannes Film Festival, which closed this week. In keeping with the Cannes theme, Mike even watched a film called The Beaver that was first screened at the festival a few years back, starring Mel Gibson. And, as if we’d planned it (we didn’t), Matt also watched a Mel Gibson movie as he looks back on the original 1979 Australian rampage film Mad Max. Meanwhile, Owen recounts his experience this past weekend at a Q&A with Al Pacino, whilst Steve quickly runs through 2012’s Avengers Assemble and the latest season of Game of Thrones.

Join us again next week as we look at Pacino’s latest project Danny Collins, as well as the Rock’s new disaster movie San Andreas.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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P.S. If you can’t wait a whole week to hear Steve & Owen’s voices again …… check out the second ever Quizcast, this time hosted by Tony Black of Black Hole Cinema (or listen to the original Quizcast here).

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1974

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

I am fully prepared to get a bit of stick for this one. I know how popular Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are, but I just couldn’t fit them into the list. Similarly, whilst researching this article, I found a few films to watch specifically in preparation for writing this piece and none of those could break the top five either. A rather surreal coming of age / life retrospective Japanese film called Pastoral: To Die In The Country narrowly missed out, whereas Phase IV, about some scientists observing super-intelligent ants in the desert that are threatening to overthrow humanity, did not miss out by such a close margin. I also gave John Carpenter’s Dark Star another go having turned it off half way through on a previous attempt. I made it to the end this time but wish I’d switched it off at the midway point. Needless to say, the following five films just could not be topped, no matter how hard I tried.


5. The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue

living deadYou’re all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes. Drugs, sex, every sort of filth!

I’m slightly cheating by including this in my Decade In Film: 1974 list. Technically this low-budget Italian zombie horror, set in deepest darkest Cumbria (yes, not technically where Manchester is located, I know, I know, but don’t tell director Jorge Grau that) wasn’t released in the UK or the US until 1975. However, in its original limited theatrical run in its home country, it just scraped into 1974 by the rotten peeling skin of its blood drenched teeth.

If the title doesn’t sound familiar to you, then maybe you know of it by one of the fifteen other names it goes by? Let Sleeping Corpses LieDo Not Profane the Sleep of the DeadDon’t Open the WindowZombi 3? Or even the rather playful sounding Weekend with the Dead? Whatever you know it by, it is but one of the many dubbed Italian/European zombie movies that flooded out of the continent in the 70’s-80’s, like a ghost galleon full of flesh eaters ready to commit a cinematic zombie-holocaust. Some of which were better than others; specifically, this little English countryside graveyard b-movie.

Like so many good zombie movies, its real message is buried underneath the living dead that occupy the screen. An anarchic anti-establishment theme is predominantly the main focus, as a couple of kids on their way to the Lake District run into trouble. Accused of being murderers, just like every other good-for-nothin’ hippy cult like they’ve got in that there ‘merica, our protagonists fail to convince the authorities of their innocence as, quite frankly, the idea that the atrocities are actually being committed by walking corpses instead does indeed sound preposterous. Tonally it’s rebellious and youthful, whilst stressing the point that not all young kids are hoodlums. So just back off, dude! Never trust the man, man!

It begs, borrows and steals from a variety of other genre movies from the era, most notably the 1968 originator of the (then modern) zombie-movie, Night of the Living Dead. From the outbreak being caused by radiation, to the one building under attack in the middle of the countryside with no signs of escape – even to the fact that there’s a single zombie shuffling his way over to a woman in a graveyard – it owes a lot to George A Romero and is not ashamed of this. Yet it still manages to achieve a unique identity of its own on the whole. The gore (as these films are so often judged on) is top notch and very effective despite the obviously low budget. It may not scare your regular z-fan, but it definitely has something interesting to say and a lot to admire, even for the most experienced of dead-heads.


4. The Conversation

the conversationI’m not following you, I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.

Francis Ford Coppola’s first of two releases in 1974 coming out just weeks ahead of the other (that happens to be arguably his most celebrated movie – but I’ll come to that in a little while). The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a secretive, paranoid, surveillance.. erm, guy? A spy, if you will. He becomes riddled with guilt and suspicion when he begins to suspect that the people he’s spying on may be murdered, depending on the outcome of the work he’s been hired to do.

It’s quite a slow burning character driven drama, rather than a typical goofy espionage thriller of the era. There’s not a single belly-dancer to be seduced or secret criminal lair with its midget butler in sight. Whilst Hackman is very good, as you would expect, a lot of his role requires a steady calmness with twinges of desperation. It’s a convincing portrayal of a (perhaps) hypocritical but moralistic devout Catholic, and it’s through his performance as much as it is the writing that you understand why he doesn’t share his personal life with others. Not just because of the nature of his work, but it’s also down to his borderline schizophrenia; he’s obsessed with the notion that people just like him will be listening to and monitoring everything he says and does. And as well we all know, just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.

In that regard, whilst the supporting cast (John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr etc) are all excellent, it’s the character of ‘Harry’ who quite rightly dominates everything. He’s such a strong character to base the film around that the other members of the cast are sadly reduced to mere distractions.

There’s a tendency for The Conversation to get a bit trippy. Personally, the dream sequences weren’t my cup of tea, although it’s important to recognise their role in developing Harry. You could argue that the constant looping of the audio of the recorded conversation is necessary, but no less annoying when played for the 30th time. But there is no arguing that this Oscar nominated film is one of the best of the seventies.


3. Chinatown

chinatownLoach: What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slammed a bedroom window on it?
Jake Gittes: Nope. Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?

Whilst investigating a seemingly routine adultery case, our P.I. finds himself embroiled in a case much larger than anything he could have expected. And I’m sorry, but if the thought of Jack Nicholson playing a private detective in a neo-noir thriller doesn’t at the very least even slightly raise your interest, then you might as well give up on watching movies altogether. That’s it. End of the line for you, pal.

Nominated for eleven different categories at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Roman Polanski’s mystery thriller is as revered by its peers as it is by critics and regular movie watchers alike. Criminally, it only picked up one of those awards, for its screenplay written by Robert Towne – who also happened to pen the screenplay for another Jack Nicholson film called The Last Detail, which featured in my 1973 list. The competition it was up against in 1974 was fierce, but in almost any other year, it would not be too difficult to have imagined it running away with every award going. From the classic crime-noir direction employed by Polanski with shadows and light in perfect harmony, to each and every spectacular performance (particularly Nicholson and Faye Dunaway) and even the costumes and cinematography. Every aspect of this movie is meticulously crafted into something extraordinary.

The plot is full of mystery and intrigue, which is in debt primarily to its wonderfully characteristic script. But the performances, the visual flair and snappy delivery of some tremendously witty lines of dialogue are all to be applauded. It’s packed to the rafters with homages and odes to the film noir genre, whilst itself being a gloriously entertaining genre-piece. The style, the look, it’s got it all. It seems unbelievable that there could be two better films than it released in the same year, but that just shows how tough these Decade In Film articles can be!


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

texas_chainsaw_massacre_1_lc_03Well now, look, you boys don’t want to go messin’ around some old house. Those things is dangerous. You’re liable to get hurt. You don’t want to go fooling around other folks’ property. If some folks don’t like it, they don’t mind showing you.

Tobe Hooper announced himself as a director to look out for in the 1970’s with this remarkably scary, intense, sickening and twisted original horror. The reputation it still holds today (in the UK especially) is that of one of the most notorious “video nasties”. A chainsaw wielding, mentally handicapped, leather-mask wearing, violent psychopath did not lend itself kindly to the rating systems of the 70’s and 80’s and thus grew a cult of die hard fans for what is unquestionably one of the most iconic and influential horror films ever made.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is completely and utterly horrendous – and not in a ‘it’s really bad’ way. No, when I say “horrendous”, I mean in a ‘truly scares you half to death’ way. One of the most important life lessons I think anybody could learn from Hooper’s horror is to never knock on a strangers door if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, where the locals have already warned you away, you’ve met a psycho hitch-hiking hill-billy already that day and you find some human teeth scattered around the front porch. I, for one, have followed this advice ever since seeing this movie and I’m still alive today. Let it never be said that this film is nothing if not educational.

There are plenty of scenes here to totally mess you up for a long time after seeing them for the first time, but without spoiling specific scenes, the worst moment that stayed with me for a while afterwards is most definitely the scene with the Grandpa. Just… Jesus. Wow. I’m sure anybody reading this who has already seen the movie will know exactly to which moment I am referring. The brutality of some scenes in the film towards a group of pretty much innocent kids, coupled with the almost nonchalant delivery of its violence via the nightmarish Sawyer family, is masterful and terrifying. The slamming of the metal shutters could send shivers down the spine of a polar bear. The sign of a great horror movie is in how long it lingers in your mind and subconscious after you’ve hit that “stop” button. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not leave your thoughts for days. It is just that good.


1. The Godfather: Part II

godfather 2 2In my home! In my bedroom! Where my wife sleeps and my children play with their toys!

As good as every film in this list is, how many can claim to have had quite as significant a cultural impact as Francis Ford Coppola’s epic gangster series?

Continuing from where the previous film (and best of 1972) left off, Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael Corleone, now the head of the Family (upper case ‘F’). He tries to expand and protect their business, whilst also keeping his family (lower case ‘f’) together. With no Marlon Brando in the sequel to play the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, we instead get to see his back story and arrival in the US in the early 20th century, as played by Bobby (oooOOOH) De Niro (aaaaAAAHH).

The debate that has raged over the decades since their release is mainly over which of the Godfather films is the best. Very rarely does ‘The Internet’ agree on anything, but it’s almost a unanimous decision that both movies are exceptional. Looking to see which of the two is the most well regarded, however, can induce fits of nausea. Just edging it between the two in the popularity stakes (according to IMDb’s Top 250) is the first film, which sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? As good as De Niro is and as brilliantly as Pacino steps up to being the face of the film, it misses a certain something that Brando brings. Him not being there perhaps means there’s more room for the other actors to expand into; and maybe he outshone everyone else in the original a smidgen. He was unequivocally the star of the film. I know it’s slightly unfair as there’s just no possible way to have included him in Part II without it overshadowing everyone involved in this sequel, but I missed the ol’ broken jawed mob boss.

Other than that one tiny personal niggle, there is practically nothing separating the two in terms of quality. I certainly can’t fault it. The development of Michael and the rich tapestry woven for Vito is impossibly complex and executed to near perfection. The third and final film in the trilogy is an utter embarrassment, but these two original movies made fifteen years prior are two of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. From how beautiful the sets are, to how superb the music is; from how stunning the performances are, to how emotional the story is. Even, yes, the camera angles. They are unparalleled in the genre. Hell, they’re probably even unmatched by any film from the decade. Maybe even the century!

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.

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.

Best films on TV – week commencing 18th March 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1992

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

Strictly Ballroom

strictly ballroom‘You really are a gutless wonder!’

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

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

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

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

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

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

The Mighty Ducks

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

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

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

A Few Good Men

a-few-good-men‘I want the truth!’

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

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

Scent of a Woman

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

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

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

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