Tag Archives: Christiane F

And like that *poof* he’s gone!

jmsJust over two-and-a-half years ago I started yet another blog that, like the previous ones, would inevitably hold my interest for a month or so until I got distracted by some new shiny things. I started it with the lofty ambition of watching all of the IMDB Top 250 films, and generally trying to fill the gaps in my cinematic tastes and knowledge.

On one hand it was a categorical failure, as I’m still well over 70 films away from completing the set. However, if the underlying aim was to get me watching and writing more about film, and to put me in touch with an online community of some of the loveliest film fans in existence, then colour me a winner (as well as a sentimental old fool). Besides, any top 250 film list that doesn’t contain a single Powell/Pressburger picture isn’t worth the pixels it’s displaying on.

And that’s why I’m really quite sad about moving on. While Failed Critics has been online I’ve doubled the number of kids at home, moved house to accommodate said kids, and found myself in the rare and privileged position of developing a career that I not only enjoy, but am actually quite good at. Something eventually had to give, and although I’m going to miss this place I know I’m leaving it in the very capable hands of our podcast’s own Owen Hughes, Steve Norman, and Carole Petts; as well as a loose collection of brilliant writers – all of whom have been brilliant to read and elevated the site far beyond what I ever hoped to achieve on my own.

I’ve had some fantastic experiences while running the site, attending the Prometheus premiere (and becoming life-long mates with Jason Flemyng and Benny Wong); watching a weekend of David Bowie films at the ICA; and a couple of great years at the Glasgow Film Festival where I got to feel like a ‘proper’ critic for two weeks. I’d like to thank everyone I’ve ever spoken to about film on Twitter, and everyone who has ever read an article on the site or downloaded the podcast. Every single one of those page views or downloads has made this mid-thirties man inordinately happy.

I’ll still be watching films, talking about them on Twitter, and keeping my Letterboxd ratings up-to-date. And maybe in time I’ll even get around to popping back on the podcast, or helping run the annual awards. For now though, please continue to visit the site and support the brilliant work Owen has already been doing while I’ve been otherwise engaged. I can’t wait to see what he does with the place.

Until then, let me leave you with my ten (sort of) favourite films that I saw for the first time while running the site. I think they sum up the era pretty well.

The Raid/The Raid 2

One of the earliest films we reviewed for the podcast back in 2012, and the opening still fills me with nostalgic glee. I only need to see that blue Sony Pictures Classics title card to be transported back to the John Woo/Chow Yun Fat Hong Kong action films of the late 80s/early 90s, but The Raid follows up on this promise and was the most fun I had in a cinema that year. The sequel (out on DVD next week) is a completely different, but just as impressive beast. Not many films had such a unanimous affect on the podcast team.

The Lego Movie

Currently sat at the top of my 2014 ‘Best of’ list, and it’s going to take something pretty special to budge it. I can’t imagine that I would have made a beeline to see it on the preview weekend if I hadn’t been running a film site, let alone paying to see it again the following week. But Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s anarchic, brave, and playful animation is so funny that I don’t care how much of an advert it is.

The Before films

In an early podcast, I remember Gerry McAuley almost blowing a gasket over how much he hated Before Sunrise, the Richard Linklater film starring a young and gloriously pretentious Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. At roughly the same time we had an argument over (500) Days of Summer, which he enjoyed and I felt was trite, overwhelmingly kooky, and horribly shallow. I then went and watched Before Sunrise, and very quickly followed it up with Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Much like Mia Wallace suggests everyone is either a Beatles or a Stones fan in Pulp Fiction, I have a theory that you’re either a (500) Days of Summer or a Before… fan. Pick a side.

Barry Lyndon

In the weeks running up to our Stanley Kubrick podcast special I was l living and breathing Kubrick. Already my favourite director, I relished the chance to revisit some of my favourites (A Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove, 2001) as well as delve into a few that I had missed (Paths of Glory, The Killing, Lolita). It was this recommendation from Owen though that completely blew me away that week. Barry Lyndon’s episodic nature and purposely static action may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was utterly bewitched by this gorgeous and entertaining masterpiece.

My Neighbour Totoro/Grave of the Fireflies

Before I started Failed Critics I had never seen a Studio Ghibli film. Let that sink in. Then in our second podcast we had a Triple Bill of Films with Child Protagonists, and Gerry chose (I think) both My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, released as a double bill in 1988. During their recent theatrical rerelease I took my daughter to see My Neighbour Totoro as the first film that she really watched at the cinema (great hipster credentials for the future!), but chose to watch Grave of the Fireflies on my own. Which was lucky as I basically sobbed non-stop through most of it. Simply the finest anti-war film I’ve seen, and up there with Life is Beautiful in terms of raw emotional reactions I’ve had to films.

Christiane F

Another brutal punch-to-the-stomach of a film. I saw this as part of Bowiefest and, while the Thin White Duke makes an appearance in concert and his music forms the soundtrack, the star is Natja Brunckhorst, who plays the titular character. Based on the real life memoirs of a 14-year-old drug addict and sexually exploited child, it is an incredibly stark and realistic portrayal of 1980s Berlin. As hard-hitting as it gets.

Avengers Assemble

This was our first ever ‘Best Film of the Year’ winner, and is still the touchstone for the podcast team in terms of how to do a comic book film. If we have a catchphrase on the podcast, it’s probably “this is one of the best comic book/action films since Avengers”, and it’s easy to see why it gets so much love. A brilliantly warm and funny script from director Joss Whedon, pitch-perfect performances from all (particularly Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Hiddlestone), and the sense that Marvel are risking everything and succeeding on such an ambitious project. I’ll never tire of watching this film.

The Intouchables

This French comedy really shouldn’t work. ‘Immigrant and petty thief somehow ends up with a job looking after a millionaire paraplegic, and hilarity ensues’ sounds like an Adam Sandler movie pitch that Awesome-O would come up with in the seminal South Park episode. But this film above all others is the only one still undefeated in terms of my recommending it to people and their enjoying it. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love it?

Rust and Bone

I’m a big fan of naturalistic French sex/relationship dramas, so when this film combined that genre with an incredible performance from Marion Cottilard and a brilliant soundtrack it seemed destined to be my favourite film of 2012. A story of violence, redemption, and killer whales dancing to Katy Perry’s Firework, and if that doesn’t make you want to watch it then I give up. Oh wait, I already am.

The Act of Killing

In my view not only the best film of last year, but simply one of the most important films ever made. This Indonesian documentary looked into a brutal and horrifying era of that country’s history, but rather than presenting the facts of the genocide that occurred in the 1960s the film gives the perpetrators of mass murder the opportunity to discuss and recreate their crimes in their favourite cinematic styles. What could have been a horribly crass piece of filmmaking ends up making the viewer look directly into the abyss of the darkest aspects of human behaviour. Essential viewing.

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Failed Critics Review: Bowiefest and Total Recall

The return of the Fat White Duke – yep, James is back from London and is here to tell us about Bowiefest, the first film festival devoted to the cinematic work of David Bowie.

Also this week, the Failed Critics review Total Recall, a film that is definitely a remake of the 1990 Arnie classic, regardless of what the studio tells us.

We also discuss what we’ve been watching this week including The Hunger Games, Labyrinth, Very Bad Things, and Jean Claude van Damme’s classic Time Cop.

Join us on Friday for Triple Bill, where we choose our favourite true-life stories that we would love to see made into films.

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Bowiefest Day Two – Review

Although opening night was a fantastic experience, today was the day that Bowiefest really got going. Four films back-to-back that feature David Bowie throughout – three of them in leading acting roles. What I wasn’t prepared for was how exhausting the day would be. Physically (9 hours in a cinema seat with only a 10 minute gap between films), but also mentally – the first three films were all over 2 hours long and had themes ranging from the treatment of POWs in Japan during WWII to the child sex-trade. Thank God I’ve got Labyrinth to look forward to tomorrow.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

Nagisa Oshima’s first film for a western audience features Bowie as Jack Celliers; a rebellious Major in the British Army who surrenders himself to save a village and forms a complex relationship with his POW Camp Commander (also played by a ‘rock star’ – Ryuichi Sakamoto).

This is a fascinating clash of cultures on a number of levels, and the eponymous Mr Lawrence (played beautifully by Tom Conte) sums up the heart of the film towards the end saying “we’re all wrong”.

Bowie has said that this is his most credible performance, and it’s easy to see why. He’s not playing a version of himself here, rather he plays Celliers like a latter-day Lawrence of Arabia. This film is the perfect riposte to any lingering doubts about his acting ability.

The most interesting dynamic in the film though is Conte’s Colonel Lawrence (a British officer who speaks Japanese and tries to understand his Japanese captors) and Sgt. Hara, the Japanese second-in-command played by Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano in his first English-language film. The mutual respect is always on a knife-edge between these two soldiers, with Hara telling Lawrence during a particularly heartfelt scene that he would admire Lawrence “more if you killed yourself”.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence is a complex and layered study of duty, shame, and the unlikely relationships that develop during times of war.

The Man Who Fell To Earth

This film was Bowie’s first major acting role, and features him playing an alien who has come to Earth with the best intentions of saving his home planet, but who becomes seduced by the temptations of the human race. Sound familiar?

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a massively ambitious film from Nic Roeg, and it quite literally reaches for the stars. The story is a bit of a mess at times however, and its 139 minute run time is a sign that a stricter editor may have been able to pull together a tighter film.

Its saving grace is in the universally excellent performances. Bowie was cast by Roeg after seeing the Cracked Actor documentary, which featured the singer showing the signs of being a paranoid outsider that simply are Thomas Jerome Newton. Rip Torn is also captivating as the scientist who gives up his easy life of teaching and sleeping with students at a university to become Newton’s closest advisor.

There are a great number of brilliant ideas going on here, but the overall picture is arguably a little less than the sum of its parts.

Christiane F

Christiane F has been the real surprise of the festival for me. Directed by Uli Edel in 1981, this West German film follows the story of the title character as she goes from 13 year-old girl sneaking into a club called Sound to 14 year-old drug addict and, eventually, victim of the sex industry.

Shot on largely on handheld cameras, it’s a cinema verite look at a shocking underbelly in a modern (at the time) western city. The actors were almost all non-professional, and it’s incredible to think that Natja Brunckhorst (playing Christiane) was only 14 at the time of filming. I have not been punched in the stomach like this by a performance for a very long time.

Halfway through the film, the potential significance of the title is revealed, and the viewer spends the last half of the film feeling physically sick (on a number of occasions this is due to the shockingly realistic portrayal of drug addiction on screen), and by the end of the film I had to get out of the cinema just to catch my breath.

To compound my feelings, it was only after the screening I realised the film is based on the true-life memoirs of Christiane. This explains my feeling that at times this played out like an extreme public information video about the dangers of drugs. Christiane’s descent was predictable, with each step telegraphed at times – but it’s this predictability and inevitability which is at the heart of the films power.

An incredible experience.

The Hunger

Tony Scott’s debut film about ‘vampires’ is very eighties, schlocky, and quite a bit of fun. Catherine Deneuve plays Miriam, an Egyptian immortal who drinks the blood of her victims – but without fangs, or an aversion to sunlight. Part of this films problem is it doesn’t know if it’s a vampire piece or not.

Bowie plays her current lover, a 300 year-old cellist who starts to age rapidly (with some fantastic make-up for the time – certainly better than the recent attempt on J. Edgar). He seeks out the help of aging-specialist Dr Sarah Roberts (a very young Susan Sarandon). However, when Bowie ‘dies’, Miriam decides to seduce Roberts and make her the new companion.

I’ll be honest, it was late, and I was tired, but this was a pretty ridiculous film. The very graphic sex-scene between Deneuve and Sarandon seemed to produce more laughs than anything else in the audience, and the last half-hour was even more ludicrous.

However, there was still a lot of fun to be had and as an insight into the work of the recently deceased Tony Scott it was most interesting.

A tiring day, but a very enjoyable one. It was great to see some films I’d not seen in years on the big screen – and in a couple of cases the scratchy film added to the experience. Christiane F in particular will stay with me for a very long time.

One day to go…