Despite reports of different creative visions for this episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes haven’t left the project, but have brought on board Underground Nights co-host Paul Field to delve into some film news and reviews.
Every week we bring you the best of the films on UK free-to-air television. Well, we say the best…
This week’s selections are brought to you by site editor James Diamond, just so you know where to send the abuse.
Monday 11th March – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Sony Movies at 10.50pm)
Kenneth Branagh’s unfairly maligned retelling of the classic monster tale (although Branagh banned all mentions of the ‘m’ word on set, and insisted that Robert De Niro’s character be referred to as ‘The Sharp-Featured Man’). Frankensein is a wonderfully atmospheric film, and in my opinion has dated far better than Francis Ford Coppola’s companion piece Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which Coppola was originally scheduled to direct).
Tuesday 12th March – Micmacs (Film 4 at 9pm)
Another of my blind recommendations, and another film that I shamefully own and haven’t actually gotten around to watching. In this case my ignorance is as confusing as it is unforgivable, as director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favourite directors. The synopsis suggests some kind of live-action Wallace and Gromit meets the A-Team, as a group of social misfits conspire to bring down an arms manufacturer. Expect the kind of visual flair and optimistic heart that made everyone fall in love with Amelie and Delicatessen.
Wednesday 13th March – Superbad (5* at 9pm)
While we have seen a number of cheap, unfunny, and often bizarrely unlikeable teen comedies in the last few years, I honestly think Superbad is up there with the best of this particular genre. It’s not particularly clever, or ground-breaking, but this story of teen outcasts and their desperate mission to belong shares it’s lineage with the great films of John Hughes, and is the equal of the original American Pie. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill provide the heart of the film, but it’s Christopher Mitz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, and Bill Hader’s adventures that provide the film’s high points.
Thursday 14th March – There Will Be Blood (BBC2 at 11.20pm)
I’m going to be honest – I don’t really get all the fuss about Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s obviously a talented director, who gets brilliant performances from his actors (Daniel Day Lewis won one of his record-breaking three Best Actor Oscars in his performance here as Daniel Plainview), but often for me the whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. I’m yet to love a PTA film. That said, There Will Be Blood is as close as I have gotten to loving one of his films.
Friday 15th March – Three Kings (ITV2 at 11.45pm)
Wow, this was tough choosing, and there’s certainly plenty of choice on television tonight if my of the day doesn’t take your fancy (Rocky 3, Fight Club, Love Actually, and The Baader Meinhof Complex for starters). I’m going for Three Kings, the story of US soldiers during the first Gulf War who discover a trove of Kuwaiti gold stolen by Saddam, and plot to sneak it out of Iraq. Director David O. Russell showed with Silver Linings Playbook that he is very adept at mixing great comedy with crushing drama, as well as getting great performances out of his actors. George Clooney is, well, George Clooney, but the most surprisinglt great performances come from Mark Whalberg and Spike Jonze. Yep, this Spike Jonze.
Saturday 16th March – Short Circuit (SyFy at 7pm)
For me the weekend is all about lounging around with your family and friends, watching the same films that thrilled you as a kid. Sometimes you’re left with the taste of unreliable nostalgia crapping in your mouth as you realise that the film that you loved as a kid is actually pretty substandard. You try and make light of the situation as your partner gives you a look that says “seriously, I wasted my afternoon of this?” You’re left trying to make light of it, or pretend you only ever really liked it in an ironic way, but the damage is done. Your wife will never respect you again, and your children are just hoping to God you never meet their friends.
I promise you, this DEFINITELY WON’T happen with Short Circuit. It’s near perfect.
Sunday 17th March – Tremors (ITV4 at 9pm)
Another of my favourite films growing up, and another film that definitely stands the test of time (helped in no small measure by the fact that it’s practically impossible for cheaply made b-movies to age). Kevin Bacon stars as one of a small number of townsfolk cut off from the outside world by an unseen creature picking off the inhabitants one-by-one. Genuinely bonkers, and utterly lovable 50s horror homage.
Spielberg and Day-Lewis combine to produce a worthy, in every sense, Oscar-contender.
Another week, another film about America’s murky history of slavery. Although Lincoln touches on similar themes to its Oscar rival Django Unchained, it is as far from Tarantino’s exploitation Western as you could possibly imagine. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the eponymous president, and tells the story of his struggles to end the American Civil War and abolish slavery.
A week is a long time in politics, and while Lincoln doesn’t feel quite that long, its 150 minute running time is going to be a sticking-point with some members of the audience. Especially as the film is less an epic biopic of ‘America’s greatest president’, and more a political procedural that spans a mere few months after Abe is re-elected for a second term. Lincoln best describes himself, and the film, early on when telling a young black soldier who has just fought at Gettysburg, “I’m used to moving at a deliberate pace”.
Thankfully, the slow pace of the film gives the performances time to breathe, like a fine red wine. And make no mistake; this film is packed with excellent performances. Day-Lewis is far more introspective and restrained as Lincoln than in his Oscar-winning performance in There Will Be Blood; the subtlety and exhaustion he brings for the part is arguably even more impressive than his turned-up-to-eleven histrionics as Daniel Plainview. The supporting cast are also very impressive; particularly Tommy Lee Jones as the radical who has to compromise his beliefs for a smaller victory in the House of Representatives, and James Spader as the oily lobbyist demonstrating that politics has always been a dirty game of favours and threats.
This is Spielberg’s best film in years, in no small way due to his decision to treat his audience as adults who can follow a convoluted political plot with a host of characters. At times Lincoln feels like an educational history programme with exceptionally high production values. Lincoln’s predilection for solving arguments in his cabinet by telling folksy anecdotes never tires, and one in section he quotes Euclid’s first common notion that “things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other”. A lot of credit should go to screenwriter Tony Kushner for allowing the audience to make the comparison to equal human rights without it being spelled out to them.
However, the film is not flawless. Sally Field feels wasted in an underwritten role as Lincoln’s wife Mary, and the role of women in this film generally seems to be one of quiet obedience. It also suffers from bouts of sentimentalism which has long been a problem with Spielberg’s work, and which reach their nadir in an epilogue with more endings than Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. Minor issues aside, this is a welcome return to form from one of Hollywood’s great directors.
The Failed Critics are back, and we’re here to SHUT YOUR BUTT DOWN! This week we review Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood-soaked and highly controversial (no change there) epic, Django Unchained. One of us wasn’t that impressed. We’ve got your curiosity, but do we have your attention?
Also this week; James reviews a history lesson with exceedingly high production values in Lincoln, Owen talks (but not much) about The Village, and Gerry finally gets round to seeing Magic Mike (the horny devil).
We’re back next with reviews of Zero Dark Thirty, The Last Stand, and we induct a very special Austrian ass-kicker into our Corridor of Praise.