Tag Archives: Clint Eastwood

Sully

“It’s funny. I don’t feel like a hero.”

Round two of “based on a true story” season sees me a little conflicted. I wasn’t sure I was going to go see it because I really do not like Tom Hanks or the films he’s in. But on the other side of that coin, I adore Clint Eastwood as an actor (and even more as a director) and I try to watch everything he does. So when I finally made the decision to go and see Sully: Miracle on the Hudson I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Set in the immediate aftermath of US Airways captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) heroic ditching of his Airbus into New York’s Hudson River after losing both engines to a birdstrike, Sully tells his story and that of his co-pilot First Officer Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Specifically how they fought to prove that the events of January 15th 2009 played out in the only way that they could have.

Hailed by the press and the public as a hero, Sully is being railroaded by the investigative team who are looking to call the incident a “pilot error” and end his career. The captain has to fight the NTSB trying to blame him, the PTSD and the nightmares haunting him. With the press hounding him and his family, Sully tries to maintain his composure in the days following those few career and life defining moments in the cockpit.

Splitting the story between the captain’s predicament with the people investigating him and letting us get to see the two hundred and something seconds that made him a hero, Sully is a wonderful little bit of filmmaking that absolutely blew me away. More amazing is that it keeps the running time down to a tight ninety-six minutes, which isn’t just a miracle for an award-chasing true story, it’s a miracle for Clint Eastwood to make a film without flab and keep it down to a more palatable length.

Performance wise, I admit that I was very, very impressed with Tom Hanks. A man that I don’t usually bother watching on screen not only convinced me that he was an average guy in a beyond average situation, but he convinced me that he was struggling with it too. The man played it like your dad was the guy thrown into this extraordinary position; and like it was your dad, you desperately wanted to be there for him when things went sideways and to cheer for him at the good parts.

Now, I’m not going to go out and catch up with every Hanks film I’ve missed over the years, but I certainly won’t instantly dismiss any of his films from hereon in. Not for a little while anyway.

A little more understated, Aaron Eckhart was a pleasure to watch. As he and Hanks went mano-a-mano, moustache vs moustache, to see who could take the title of “most likely to have been fighting The Red Baron in a previous life” competition, the pair make a decent on-screen duo. The former Harvey Dent actor certainly holds his own with Hanks and makes the role his own.

Much less of a surprise, for me, was the quality in Clint Eastwood’s direction. I’ve loved the man for as long as I can remember and while his politics – and his chair berating – may be a little off for me, his films always deliver. Yes, even American Sniper and its rubber baby!

But what got me with Sully was something I wasn’t expecting. I remember the splash down happening all those years ago and I thought the same thing everyone else did: “Holy shit, the dude landed a plane in a river!” However, the thing that weirdly never crossed my mind was what people who weren’t on the plane must have thought. Eastwood does an amazing job of giving the audience a post-9/11 fear in the pit of their stomach while they watch the film.

Suddenly, we are seeing flashbacks of Joe Average public out of the blue watching another distressed passenger jet flying at building height in – not over, in – New York City. With very little effort, you’re sat with a puckered asshole as the combined fears of one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world comes true. It’s outstanding work from the veteran director.

The biggest problem with Sully is that there’s not much to say about it. It’s a good thing too, because I can tell you it’s an excellent film and you can just go and watch it and enjoy it. It’s a true story that almost everyone knows, so it’s more about the filmmaking and the performances than it is having to get every detail of a story no-one knows across. Suffice to say, in a weekend that has two “based on true events” Oscar-bait films, Sully is the one to watch.

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Failed Critics Podcast: The Not-so-bad Four

magnificent-seven

Yeehaw, listeners! It’s a darn tootin’ mighty fine show we’ve got for you this week. Hosts Steve ‘the kid’ Norman and Smilin’ Owen Hughes are joined by pardners The Liam With No Surname and Django Brooker for a special westerns triple bill episode.

Their pistols are cocked and ready to fire on each of their favourite three westerns in honour of this week’s big new release, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun amongst others.

A ‘west’ inspired quiz opened the podcast with the score delicately poised at 2-2 between Owen and Steve, who was just one loss away from watching the abhorrent Killer Bitch. There was also time for a short chat about the furore over the latest images from the Jumanji sequel.

Join us again next week for reviews of Deepwater Horizon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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American Sniper

By design, American Sniper has nothing to say which makes it a waste of both my time and yours.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Film Fact Based FracasLike it or not, a war film is inherently political.  The act of war is inherently political and ideological, so a war movie, by extension, has to be about something.  A “just the facts” war movie is a documentary and even then many have things to say about war and/or the people being forced to fight in it – Restrepo, for example, ends up making a sharp point about how war can affect the men and women forced onto the front lines, and the absolute mess that comes from having to establish relations with citizens whose language you don’t speak and who do not trust you at all, purely by stepping back and “just showing the facts”.  A non-documentary film, though, cannot subscribe to that and needs an overall point to power it, otherwise it’s just wasting the viewer’s time.  Something to say about the war, about PTSD, about politics, about the men and women who pull the triggers, something, anything.

American Sniper, the newest film from director Clint Eastwood, has no point.  By design, it has absolutely no point to make.  When faced with the task of adapting the life story of Chris Kyle (here portrayed by Bradley Cooper), a decorated war hero who went on four tours of Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and whose official recorded kill count of 160 makes him the deadliest sniper in US military history, Eastwood and the film’s writer, Jason Hall, have opted to simply print the legend.  “Just the facts.”  Consequently, American Sniper is a film that goes out of its way to avoid making any point whatsoever, which is the single worst possible thing it could do.

See, again, war films are inherently political.  War films about the Iraq war, one of the most political wars of at least the last 30 or so years, are especially inherently political.  The conflict is so muddled, so ideologically driven in such different ways, so tied to the current world landscape, and such a mess that any film made about it or set during it is going to make a point regardless of how hard it tries not to.  American Sniper, therefore, most resembles the Modern Warfare-era Call of Duty games.  Those are war games set in the Middle East that just want to be fun video games and not make any major ideological points.  However, by aiming to do that, they do, in fact, end up taking a side: that side being jingoistic pro-war slightly xenophobic glorification, insidiously so.

And that’s what American Sniper ends up doing.  Without even meaning to, it glorifies the war, its subject, and the murdering of any being who even dares resemble a terrorist because of its desire to try and make a “just the facts” film.  Because there can be no such thing as a “just the facts” dramatisation because a film has to decide and construct certain things that will get in the way of “just the facts”.  A filmmaker will bring their own personal baggage and ideologies to a film and that will influence them on what they end up doing, consciously or unconsciously.  So Kyle’s shots are always justified, the American military’s response is always justified, and the war is always justified because the film refuses to linger on any of the aftermath, or to characterise any of the Iraqis as anything other than Western-hating insurgents – save for one Sheik which is the film equivalent of “I can’t be racist, one of my best friends is Iraqi!” – because Eastwood and co. are all trying so hard to avoid making a point.  The irony of a film trying so hard to avoid saying anything about the Iraq war ending up saying something is not lost on me, but is completely lost on the film.

Then there’s the character of Chris Kyle himself who, once again, the film completely refuses to try and say anything about.  Kyle is a man with a ridiculously long kill list, who went on four tours, had a loving wife (played thanklessly by Sienna Miller) and family back home, and who struggled with severe PTSD upon finally remaining at home… and yet, despite spending two hours and ten minutes in his company, the film has nothing to say about the man.  Nothing about his upbringing, nothing about his time overseas, nothing about why he keeps re-enlisting despite having a loving wife begging him to stay home, nothing.  It utterly refuses to dig into his psyche and figure out why he does what he does, instead presenting the things he does as stuff he did.

This, ultimately, means that the film also fails as a biopic about Chris Kyle.  Bradley Cooper is trying really hard – in a relaxed manner that isn’t straining for awards consideration like Eddie Redmayne was in The Theory Of Everything, another film with nothing to say about its subject – to find the character of Chris Kyle and what makes him tick, but the script gives him next-to-no material to work with on that front.  Occasionally, we will be given the slightest slither of an insight into Kyle – there’s a sequence late on where he quietly begs a child he has lined up in his sights to not go for the recently dropped RPG, as well as a very understated scene in a bar when he returns home early – but then we’re back to this cold, distant, closed-off look at what he done did, with pretty much every other time that the film threatens to question what makes him tick – usually signposted by his wife asking him point blank “Why do you keep going back?” – immediately cutting away before anything can be revealed.

As a result, the extent of the film’s insight into what made Chris Kyle the man he was boils down to “When he was a young boy, his dad took him hunting and gave him a talk about being a man who stands up to bullies.  Also, he’s just such a goddamn patriot.”  And maybe it really is that simple.  Maybe he really was just a man who wanted to save the lives of his fellow and prospective fellow soldiers, and maybe he really was just a man who didn’t question or self-reflect on his actions.  There is a difference, though, between a portrait of a man like that and a film that doesn’t want or can’t be bothered to reflect on a man like that, and American Sniper is the latter.  This is a film that relegates Kyle’s fight with PTSD to a barely five minute montage near the end and doesn’t have the guts to spend any time on the circumstances leading up to and surrounding his (off-screen) murder, because those would risk having to actually probe Kyle psychologically and that goes against the apparent “just the facts” edict that seemingly informed the whole production.

American Sniper is not a badly-made film – there’s Cooper’s aforementioned performance, Eastwood is able to extract some decent tension out of some scenes, and there are times when the film threatens to start on the road to making a point – save for a prominently featured plastic baby standing in for a real one, but it is a completely pointless one.  Yes, it insidiously promotes and glorifies a jingoistic patriotic attitude towards war, but that’s completely by accident.  The fact is that American Sniper has nothing to say about war.  Not about Iraq, not about the men and women who fought there, not about its subject Chris Kyle, not about the moral quandaries behind his actions and most certainly nothing about PTSD or his post-war life.  It has nothing to say and the fact that it actively goes out of its way to avoid having an intentional point or something to say is infuriating.

In other words, it’s two hours and ten minutes of active squandering of anything interesting to say.  It is literal timewasting that inadvertently pushes a glorified pro-war viewpoint.  If it were open about it, I’d still disagree with the film, because of my own staunch anti-war and anti-violence beliefs, but I’d at least respect it for being open about it and saying something.  Instead, American Sniper is a film that runs out the clock for two hours and ten minutes of admittedly well-made pointlessness.  That offends me.

Callum Petch likes to destroy all the things that bring the idiots joy.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 26/12/14 – 28/12/14

Unbroken takes home a silver medal, Into The Woods busts out The Gambler, Big Eyes sees little money, The Interview did alright, [Insert Tasteless Joke About American Sniper Beating Selma Here], and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Ah, yes!  That great American tradition of spending Christmas and its surrounding weekend at the cinema in order to try and force the family to shut up for 2 hours!  As a Brit, I don’t get to experience this joy as all of our cinemas inconsiderately shut down on Christmas Day, like the people who work there have families they’d rather go home to or something.  In any case, the majority of Americans chose to spend their Christmas returning to the cinema to re-watch that film they all saw last week.  The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies easily beat off all comers to retain the #1 spot with $41 million in ticket sales and only a 24% drop between weekends, the softest for any instalment of The Hobbit trilogy (sort of, considering the fact that last weekend came after a Wednesday opening that burnt off some demand).

In fact, Americans chose to spend a lot of their moneys re-seeing films from prior weekends over the holidays, even the ones that don’t deserve it.  Night At The Museum 3 leapt up 20% between weekends because being sad about the passing of Robin Williams really does bring families closer together (not sarcasm, I’m speaking from experience), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 jumped up 27% in its sixth week to prove that, yes, this series is still a juggernaut that will make all of the money despite what the haters will say, and Annie increased by 5% presumably because a whole bunch of confused families didn’t realise Into The Woods came out this week.  Elsewhere, The Imitation Game went nationwide in 747 theatres and smashed its way into the Top 10 because everybody is in love with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I don’t quite get why, but it’s a thing nonetheless.

The holiday weekend was also the last opportunity for studios to get their films out in time to be considered for awards season, hence the flood of new releases.  Leading the charge was Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken which surprisingly smashed its way to the Christmas Day number 1 slot and then rode that momentum to a strong number 2 finish.  That, however, only happened because Into The Woods opened on 600 less screens; it ended up losing the battle for second by only $700,000 even though it had a higher per-screen average, so these two may switch places when the actuals come in.  Much less successful was the Mark Wahlberg-fronted The Gambler which only managed $9 million over the three-day weekend, sinking after a strong $5 million Christmas Day performance.

In limited release news, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper ran rampant on the competition, making $610,000 from 4 theatres over the weekend ($850,000 including Christmas Day) for a per-screen average of $152,000, the third highest opening per-screen average of any live-action film ever.  Slightly less successfully but still a major success nonetheless was the opening of Selma, which took $590,000 from 19 screens ($912,000 incl. Christmas Day) for a per-screen average of $31,053.  The inexplicably-not-nominated-for-Best-Foreign-Film Two Days, One Night finally received a US release and took $30,600 ($48,200 incl. Christmas Day) from two screens, whilst Leviathan managed $15,200 ($23,000 incl. Christmas Day) from two screens.  FILMS!!!

And lastly – good lord, this was a busy weekend – The Interview, after a whole bunch of utterly ridiculously insane and awful events, finally got a last minute go-ahead to be screened in select cinemas.  So, after all of that hoopla, the film managed to take $1,811,000 ($2,851,000 including Christmas Day) from 331 screens for an average of $5,471 per-screen.  Decidedly average, but that doesn’t count the fact that many of these were hastily-arranged at the last minute with few showings and the fact that the film has apparently made an extra $15 million over the weekend with its simultaneous VOD release.  Depending on how that holds, we could be looking at the start of something new in film distribution, here.  Time will tell, but for now I’m pretty sure Sony will be calling this somewhat of a success.

Oh, and lastly lastly, Big Eyes, the new Tim Burton film and the best thing he’s made in at least 7 years (if you like Sweeney Todd) as well as a pretty bloody good movie in its own right, collapsed on 1,307 theatres with just under $3 million for 15th place.  Dammit.


hobbit

Will the circle be Unbroken by this Full List?  Let’s go Into The Woods for the last time this year to find out!

Box Office Results: Friday 26th December 2014 – Sunday 28th December 2014

1] The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

$41,420,000 / $168,522,000

The more I think back on The Hobbit trilogy, the less and less I like it.  I find more faults, the stuff I like rescinds further into the background, and the stuff I dislike becomes more pronounced in my mind.  The Lord Of The Rings, meanwhile and which I saw for the first time in the same two week period in which I saw The Hobbit, rises more and more and more in my estimations the more I think back on it, and I really, really liked The Lord Of The Rings when I saw it.  I still don’t hate The Hobbit, but man I wish Peter Jackson had just moved on from LOTR instead of making a lower-quality facsimile of it.

2] Unbroken

$31,748,000 / $47,341,000 / NEW

Saw this on Friday and ultimately left rather cold.  Its intentions are pure and Jack O’Connell gives another commanding lead performance – now making him 3 for 3 this year – but its structure is a complete mess, any influence The Coen Brothers may have had on the screenplay has been near-totally scrubbed away by endless rewrites that make it more awards-baity and Jolie just doesn’t know when to stop overcooking certain scenes.  Nothing about the film gives me any indication that Jolie was purely aiming for awards with this one, but the finished product seems perennially missing a “For Your Consideration” watermark over 75% of its reels and so nothing truly landed for me.  Shame.

3] Into The Woods

$31,021,000 / $46,105,000 / NEW

Drops here in two weeks, which is a surprisingly quick turn-around for a Disney film, I gotta say.  Still, really looking forward to this; there’s a lot of actors and actresses that I really like in it and I am dying for a musical that’s damn proud of its musical foundations and nature right about now.  Yes, I am still angry about Annie.

4] Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb

$20,600,000 / $55,307,000

Still not an outstanding performance since the film inexplicably cost $127 million to make – and if you’ve actually seen the film, you’ll get why I refuse to believe that figure – but any film that increases its weekend takings by 20% from opening weekend at least deserves a modicum of respect tipped in its direction.

5] Annie

$16,600,000 / $45,835,000

Speaking of Into The Woods, The 2014 Failed Critics Awards results were revealed last week (*plug plug*) and Emily Blunt in Edge Of Tomorrow didn’t even make the shortlist for Best Actress in yet another example of why democracy doesn’t work.  (*flips table in disgust and storms out*)

6] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

$10,000,000 / $306,656,000

Just $26 million away from taking the #1 Domestic Movie of 2014 spot away from Guardians Of The Galaxy.  It’s got a good chance at making it, too, since Tak3n isn’t due out for another two weeks and the general dead zone of January (although it actually doesn’t look that bad this year) means that there’s a large opportunity for it to slowly earn small increments each week in the cinemas that keep it around.  I think this is actually going to be rather close, folks!

7] The Gambler

$9,300,000 / $14,300,000 / NEW

Transformers: Age Of Extinction is still the highest grossing film of the year worldwide by a good margin.  Just thought I’d bring the mood down a little bit.  Thanks for nothing, Mark Wahlberg!

8] The Imitation Game

$7,930,000 / $14,631,000

The wrong Benedict Cumberbatch movie is getting all of the money.  Yes, you damn well perfectly know which film I am talking about.

9] Exodus: Gods And Kings

$6,750,000 / $52,517,000

So, this came out in the UK this past weekend and I was circle-jerked to hell and back.  The Cineworld website said that there were only 3D screenings, but when I got there on Friday they insisted that there were actually 2D screenings, but those ended up overlapping with Unbroken so I pushed Exodus to Saturday instead.  By the time I had finished Unbroken, however, I felt more than a little burnt out when it came to watching movies.  It’s been The Great List Blitz 2014, you see, where I watch a whole bunch of films I missed and re-watch some films that fell out of my memory somewhat over the course of a very cramped couple of weeks to prepare for list-making season, and it had taken its toll on me somewhat.  So I got to thinking, “Do I really want to give over 3 hours of my life to a film I am 95% certain is going to be horrendous tripe?  Big Eyes at least has the potential to be good.”

And, in the end, on that Saturday, I decided that no, I didn’t much fancy giving over 3 hours of my life to Exodus: Gods And Kings.  So I saw Big Eyes and then went home.  And you know what?  I feel great about that!  Now let’s all point and laugh at Exodus one last time before moving on with our lives.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

10] Wild

$5,415,000 / $16,364,000

I suspect that this will experience a resurgence of major proportions when the Academy comes a-calling for Reese Witherspoon, much like what happened when Dallas Buyers Club kept revolving door-ing its way in and out of the list this time last year.  So this is not a farewell, this is a see you tomorrow.  Christ, I just sounded so f*cking pretentious…

Dropped Out: Big Hero 6, Top Five (goddammit, America), P.K., Penguins Of Madagascar (GODDAMMIT, AMERICA!)

Callum Petch got time to kill, got folks to kill, on overkill.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

A Decade In Film: The Sixties – 1964

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.

This list might have ended up a bit Vincent Price top-heavy, with potentially four out of my five choices being films he starred in from this year. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen three of his movies released in 1964 and to give some others a chance, I’ve only included two of them below. This is also the only year in the entire Decade In Film series in which I could’ve included one of my favourite directors, Carl Theodor Dreyer. I say “could’ve” because Gertrud is by far and away my least favourite of his films, as I explained in my review on this podcast. Two popular choices also missing out are: Goldfinger, as I haven’t seen it since I watched it on VHS as a kid (listen here or here for our James Bond special podcasts from 2012); and Mary Poppins, because I haven’t seen it since I watched it on a VHS as a kid – and didn’t think much of it then, either! So, onto the first Vincent Price movie…

5. The Last Man on Earth

last man on earthThis is Robert Morgan. If somebody can hear me, answer me. For God’s sake, answer me!

Warner Bros. announced this week that they will be rebooting the I Am Legend franchise.

a) Rebooting? Surely they mean they’re doing yet another adaptation of the absolutely brilliant Richard Matheson sci-fi novel, I Am Legend?

b) Franchise? How on Earth do you turn something about the last man alive, one with such an iconic ending, into a movie franchise?

I suppose the bigger question is, why do we even need another reboot of Matheson’s classic story? The answer would most likely be that there’s yet to be a truly faithful adaptation that captures that desperation of being the only one left in a world overrun with cannibalistic vampire-like creatures that makes the original book so magnificent. However, if any of the four film adaptations (I’m including the Asylum’s mockbuster I Am Omega in that) most closely resembles the novella, then it is this apocalyptic movie starring the unnecessarily dapper Vincent Price as “Morgan” (instead of “Neville”). A plague has swept through Europe, eventually reaching the US, killing off everybody and leaving Price as the last surviving human.

It’s split into three sections, with the beginning very similar to the book; it’s all about Morgan’s paranoia and loneliness, struggling to cope with his situation. It never really touches on his burning desire for human contact like the book does (particularly of the female variety), but it does set up the middle of the film quite nicely. The majority of which is told in flashbacks, showing you the plague first reaching the US and how it destroyed his friends, family and work (as a scientist, trying to cure the plague.) The final third is … well… I don’t want to give it away as it is better to go in knowing nothing about it.

There are flaws, particularly around the scripting of certain scenes. Matheson himself part-wrote the script, but it still feels like a slightly convoluted mess on occasion. Essentially, Vincent Price carries a lot of the film all on his own. If he was any less of an actor, then this film would not be as enjoyable as it is.

4. Lord of the Flies

lord of the fliesLet me speak. I’ve got the conch. Which is it better to be? A pack of panting savages, like you are? Or sensible, like Ralph is? Which is better, to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?

No, you aren’t mistaken. Vincent Price isn’t in this. Although I will refrain from comparing it to the book or any other adaptation, like I did with The Last Man on Earth, as quite ashamedly, it’s the only version of Lord of the Flies that I’m familiar with. And that is only because I watched it last week in preparation for this article. I somehow made it to 28 years of age without realising what the bloody hell people were referring to when they used phrases like ‘having the conch’. It’s best I don’t explain what I thought they meant.

Released in the UK in July 1964, almost one whole year since its initial release in the USA and three years since it first went into production, Lord of the Flies couldn’t be more British. Set during the war with a group of children from an array of backgrounds, stranded on a desert island, left to their own devices, they begin to revert into little more than tribal savages. Establishing their own laws and hierarchy, the film (and presumably the novel it’s based on) uses the children to highlight every facet of human indecency. Without existing society and morals to guide humanity, this cynical view of mankind is as disturbing as it is believable.

The acting may be a bit ropey from some of the children, but the friendships and bonds they form appear as natural as their tropical surroundings. Peter Brook does well to make sure the emotional beats are all in tune rather than sloppy or muddled, allowing the demise of certain characters to truly carry depth and meaning.

3. The Masque of the Red Death

masque of red death

The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.

My second (and final) Vincent Price film on this list. It’s actually the second Edgar Allan Poe inspired gothic horror movie that Price and director Roger Corman collaborated on in 1964; the other being the not-quite-as-good The Tomb of Ligeia. It shouldn’t be any surprise that this highly rated tale of the maccabre is listed here. After all, it features in the 1001: Movies You Must See Before You Die list as well as being described by Corman himself as one of his personal favourites.

Price stars as the Satan worshipping Prince Prospero. A plague is afflicting his town, which makes people start to bleed through the pores of their skin until they die. He brings all the local nobility to his abbey to avoid the plague. After treating them like garbage, he holds a fancy dress party and notices a strange guest who he believes to be his master, the Lord of the Flies (which neatly ties into my list! Cheers, Poe!)

If you’re expecting a camp Hammer Horror, you may be disappointed. The Masque of the Red Death is in fact a chilling and incredibly atmospheric film. It may be a little over-dramatic on occasion, even perhaps a tad “arty-farty” (as legendary b-movie director Sam Z. Arkoff described it) but it is one of Price’s best. The final 10-15 minutes during the infamous dinner party are despairingly grim. The whole film is a bit ‘off’, disturbing you and making you feel uncomfortable even when there doesn’t appear to be much actually happening that is too upsetting (by horror-film standards, at least). But that party… it sends shivers down my spine just remembering it!

I don’t recall it ever specifying when or where it is set, but being a Poe adaptation, it feels very 16th or 17th century European. With its gothic architecture and poetic dialogue, it goes some way to explaining why there is a very black / dark quality to it – as well as the fact that the always brilliant Vincent Price is a woman stealing Satan worshipping psychopath, of course! Other, earlier Roger Corman films, such as The Terror or A Bucket of Blood are enjoyable in their own right. However, this is clearly a much more refined, much more disturbing and, well, a much better film.

2. A Fistful of Dollars

a fistful of dollarsWhen a man with .45 meets a man with a rifle, you said, the man with a pistol’s a dead man. Let’s see if that’s true. Go ahead, load up and shoot.

In 1964, with his remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo transferred to the wild west, Sergio Leone forever redefined what it meant when you referred to a film as a “western”. Kurosawa himself was heavily influenced by the American western movies he saw, particularly those of the legendary John Ford. B-movie westerns were already a well established part of the genre’s history by the 60’s. Cheap to make and compelling stories, they were the backbone of Hollywood’s success through the 1930’s. It also wasn’t exactly unheard of to remake foreign films and set them in the American West. Hell, even in the same year that A Fistful of Dollars came out, another Kurosawa film, Rashomon, had been remade as The Outrage, starring Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit. But it was Leone and Clint Eastwood that turned the “spaghetti western” it into something unique and special.

Just like in Yojimbo, as chosen in James’ Decade In Film article for 1961A Fistful of Dollars tells the story of a town split in two, plagued by rival gangs. In his first appearance as The Man With No Name, later reprised in the rest of the Dollars trilogy, Clint Eastwood strolls into town looking to solve the dispute whilst at the same time profiting from it. Partly to amuse himself, partly because of his deep-down sense of justice.

There is nothing to dislike about this film. Well, unless you really want to see more hats shot off heads, which doesn’t occur until later Leone movies! Or unless you’d have preferred to see Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson as the man with no name, both of whom were preferred ahead of Eastwood for the role initially. Hard to imagine as he is so synonymous with these movies now – and deservedly so. He’s effortlessly cool and impossibly handsome in a movie full of style. From Ennio Morricone’s iconic score, to the expertly shot action sequences, it is easily one of the best films of the decade.

1. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

dr strangeloveGentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!

General “Buck” Turgidson: Hmm… Strangelove? What kind of a name is that? That ain’t no Kraut name is it, Stainesey?
Mr. Staines: He changed it when he became a citizen. Used to be Merkwürdigliebe.

Stanley Kubrick. If I have a favourite director, then Stan is that man. Even though he was inducted to our highly coveted prestigious Corridor of Praise last year, it still seems like he isn’t appreciated as much as he should be. For many people – critics, movie makers and fans alike – he is the greatest director of our time. Timeless movies like Dr Strangelove do nothing to dispel that reputation.

Essentially it’s Kubrick’s black comedy about a crazy general in the American army who orders a nuclear strike against Russia. The President and his lackeys then try to stop the attack after it’s revealed that the Russian’s have a Doomsday device. In probably his greatest role(s), Peter Sellers plays at least three different characters and he’s undeniably brilliant as each of them. He has some exceptionally funny lines that are endlessly quotable; when playing the titular Dr Strangelove, the moment he calls the president Mien Fuhrer by accident, he has me in stitches every single time thanks to his exquisite delivery. I cannot overstate his performance enough.

It is just an absolutely brilliant film. It’s funny, brilliantly acted (I often think George C. Scott is under-appreciated in this), full of great characters and iconic scenes. Every time I watch it, I know I’m guaranteed to laugh my arse off and it’s just further proof that Kubrick, no matter which genre he turned his attentions to, was a master at what he did.

Best Films on TV: 24 – 30 June 2013

Site editor James Diamond presents his picks for the best films on terrestrial television this week in increasingly inaccurately titled blog.

300 This is SpartaMonday 24th June – 300 (ITV2, 9pm)

If, like me, you were disappointed by Man of Steel and Zack Snyder’s by-numbers impressions of Christopher Nolan and Terence Malick, then sit back and watch the film that really announced him as an exciting director to watch. Viscerally violent and almost comically homoerotic in equal measure, it’s also fun to spot the now-very-recognisable actors on display here including a young Magneto, a brunette Cersei Lannister, and a particularly shifty McNulty.

Tuesday 25th June – The Outlaw Josey Wales (5USA, 11pm)

Clint Eastwood’s second Western as a director (after 1973’s High Plains Drifter) and although he was clearly still learning the craft at the time, this film owes more than a passing resemblance to Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy. Set before and during the American Civil War, Eastwood also stars as the farmer who joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and pledges to take revenge on the Union soldiers who killed his family.

Wednesday 26th June – The Rock (BBC3, 10pm)

BBC3 continue their screenings of one of the most impressive purple patches in cinematic history, known by historians as the ‘Cage Action Era’. This week it’s The Rock, starring everyone’s favourite bonkers anti-hero, alongside a suitably grumpy and charismatic Sean Connery. For tenuous and barely explained reasons, Ed Harris is the army general who has gone rogue and is holed up in Alcatraz threatening to release chemical weapons across the western seaboard. A stark reminder that Michael Bay used to make quite fun films.

Thursday 27th June – The Blair Witch Project (Horror Channel, 9pm)

For all my usual aversion to the found footage genre, I actually really enjoyed this film on release, and it’s staggering to think of the hype surrounding a film made for less than $10k back at the end of the nineties. Obviously the success of the film lead to over a decade of mostly poor and badly made imitators, but for a few brief moments a horror film shocked the mainstream cinema-going public and moved the goalposts in favour of young film-makers with tiny budgets.

Friday 28th June – The Talented Mr Ripley (More4, 9pm)

I’m sure everyone will have already seen The Running Man (Film4, 11.20pm) and Starship Troopers (BBC1, 11.25pm) more times that I’ve said I don’t get ‘found footage’ films on the Failed Critics podcast. So I am going to recommend this thriller from the late Anthony Minghella, starring Jude Law and Matt Damon. Damon plays the titular Mr Ripley, an underachiever who blags a job to retrieve a millionaire’s son (Law) from his Italian sojourn in the 1950s. The fantastic central performances are matched only by the beauty of the Italian locations, and Minghella’s change in tone midway through the film just about holds together. An art-house ‘guilty pleasure’ in many respects.

Saturday 29th June – Stardust (Film4, 1pm)

This Matthew Vaughn adaptation of a Neil Gaiman book is about as close as this generation has got to its version The Princess Bride. A classic tale of a simple young man drawn into a fantasy world in the 1800s when he retrieves a fallen star, only to discover the star is a young woman (Claire Danes) being pursued by three witches (led by Michelle Pfieffer). Rober DeNiro steals the show as a crossing-dressing pirate, while even Ricky Gervais manages not to grate too much during his cameo.

Sunday 30th June – Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Film4, 11am)

I recently lauded this as my one of my two favourite Stanley Kubrick films on Failed Critics Podcast (along with A Clockwork Orange) and every viewing always seems to make me love it more. Despite Kubrick’s reputation for cold and harsh direction of his actors, he famously said that directing Peter Sellers in this was easy, as all he had to was make sure he always had at least three cameras pointed at him. A fine example of how satire and comedy can sometimes be the most frightening way to confront our worst fears.

Also on television on a brilliant day for film is Groundhog Day (5*, 2.15pm), Fantastic Mr Fox (Channel 4, 4.55pm), and Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Sky One, 8pm).

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.

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.