Tag Archives: David Bowie

Failed Critics Podcast: La La Late

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Well it seems we were a little hasty this week in recording the podcast. If only we’d have waited another 12 hours, we could have discussed the actual nominations for the Academy Awards and not just speculated. Although it doesn’t seem to matter as we were broadly correct in our predictions and round-up our thoughts in a brief news section to open the show proper (after Steve Norman hosts the long-delayed quiz finale between Owen Hughes and Callum Petch).

Speaking of delays – apologies to those of you who were expecting an episode last week. Fate conspired against us on a number of occasions when we wanted to record.

But don’t worry! Even though record-breaking La La Land was not released this weekend but seven days earlier, we still bung it in with both Manchester By The Sea and animated comedy Sing in the new release reviews. We also found time to run through some other movies that we’ve been watching of late as Steve gets creeped out by Robin Williams in One Hour Photo, Owen raves about sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale, and Callum regales us with his story of a trip to see Labyrinth for the first time.

Join us again next week for our T2: Trainspotting review, plus our usual load of shambolic nonsense.



Failed Critics Podcast: The Hateful Bolshoi Bowie Overdogs


With the tragic passing of one of British music’s most iconic people earlier this week, our latest episode features a touching tribute to the pioneer that was the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Jareth the Goblin King or just simply ‘David Bowie’. Failed Critics founder and Bowie super-fan, James Diamond, returns for a short emotional farewell to one of the most inspirational figures of this and last century.

We even dug up a clip from an episode we recorded back in 2012 when James went to the inaugural Bowiefest in London and have edited into the post-credits of this week’s podcast.

Elsewhere, Steve Norman hosts with Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne back for reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, The Hateful Eight, starring Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and more. Loads more. More than eight others.

Owen also reviews the fly-on-the-wall documentary Bolshoi Babylon, from the producer of Man On Wire and Searching for Sugarman, about the historic ballet theatre company in Moscow and all of its recent scandals. Meanwhile, Brooker indulges himself with the surfer-cop-classic Point Break in preparation for the imminent remake’s release.

We even took a few minutes to scratch our heads over the Golden Globe categories, never-mind the winners that were announced this past weekend.

Join us again next week for reviews of Creed, Room and The Revenant.




2013 in Review: A Soundtrack

I’ve always loved film soundtracks, but ever since I’ve been film blogging they have pretty much replaced radio and MTV in being my primary channel for discovering new music and previously undiscovered classics. So, just as l did last year, here is my ‘Cinematic Soundtrack of the Year’, starring my favourite musical moments from film in the last twelve months.

Cuddly Toy by Roachford – Alpha Papa

Unfairly overshadowed by another Oscar-winning, tightly shot close-up musical performance (more on that later), the sight of Steve Coogan lip-syncing to forgotten 80s ‘classic’ Cuddly Toy while driving to work in his sponsored car let me know that everything was going to be okay with the one film I was desperate not to fail this year. It stayed true to the spirit of the TV show (in fact it’s very reminiscent of Alan’s air bass guitar to Gary Numan’s ‘Music for Chameleons’ in series 2), while laying down a marker for how this very British sitcom was going to expand onto our cinema screens by spending 3 minutes on one joke, which would have been unthinkable in a 27-minute programme.

Silver Lady by David Soul – Filth

Filth’s soundtrack is one of my favourites of the year, featuring a great Clint Mansell score as well as a number of interesting covers and rediscovered classics. However, the pinanacle of the film’s marriage of bizarre imagery and 70s soul comes in a scene where David Soul arrives in a car, picking up Shauna Macdonald (playing the wife of James McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson). The ensuing car journey has Soul singing his own ‘Silver Lady’, complete with glamorous backing singers in the back seat. Utterly bizarre and hilarious.

I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix) by Lykke Li – Blue is the Warmest Colour

This must have been a huge hit in France, not only featuring on the soundtrack to Rust and Bone (my film of 2012), but even more memorably in this year’s Palm d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour. In a picture notable for its lack of a conventional score, the party scene where Adele finds some much needed familiarity with her friends and family comes to life with this brilliant track.

Can’t Forget by Cliff Martinez (feat. Mac Quayle & Vithaya Pansringarm) – Only God Forgives

Like Nicholas Winding Refn’s last film Drive, Only God Forgives is scored superbly by Cliff Martinez. The highlight for me being the karaoke performance of a softly spoken, samurai sword-wielding police office played with an unearthly grace and calm by Vithaya Pansringarm. The scens of him singing his heart out to a room of impassive stony-faced colleagues was unnerving and almost Lynchian in its banal nightmarish qualities.

Space Oddity by David Bowie (and Kristen Wiig) – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Pipping the films use of the brilliant Arcade Fire track Wake Up is the moment where Kristen Wiig enters a bar in Greenland, dressed in winter clothing and with a guitar slung over her shoulder, and starts to sing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. A wondrous collision of incredible music and Ben Stiller finally seizing the day as my cinematic proxy made this one of my favourite moments in a cinema all year. Seriously, it was like porn to me.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite by Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, and Emma Thompson – Saving Mr Banks

Any film featuring the near-perfect songs from Mary Poppins was always going to end up on this list, but even I was surprised by how affected I was by this film’s exploration into the themes and motivations behind the creation of Disney’s finest film. The moment that PL Travers (Emma Thompson) and the song-writing Sherman Brothers (BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman) finally reach a moment of understanding and conciliation over the climactic Mary Poppins is a joyous scene.

Let It Go by Idina Menzel – Frozen

This Disney musical is huge return to form for the animation studio that has struggled in Pixar and Dreamwork’s shadow over the last decade. But while other studios stagnated this year, Disney produced their best film since the renaissance of the early nineties. Frozen, based on a classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, looks absolutely fantastic and features songs comparable to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but with a post-Wicked twist. Idina Menzel’s (who has history as a Disney princess from Enchanted) performance as Elsa at the mid-way point of the film is the perfect marriage of stunning animation and incredible vocals.

I Dreamed a Dream by Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables

I simply couldn’t look beyond this as my choice for musical moment of the year. I’ve been a huge fan of the original musical ever since my wife persuaded me to grow up and forget my preconceptions about musical theatre, and it has been a long wait to see the musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel finally make it to the big screen. Luckily, the film didn’t disappoint (let’s just pretend Russell Crowe didn’t happen) and Tom Hooper’s film gained Oscar nominations and a place in my films of 2013 list.

The moment of the film that most sticks in the mind though is that incredible sequence where Anne Hathaway rescues one of theatre’s great songs from the hands of Susan Boyle. The close-up, the impassioned vocals, and the sobbing endeared Hathaway to a legion of new fans, and rightfully won her an Oscar.

These tracks, and more, are available on this collaborative Spotify playlist. We’d love you to add your favourite soundtrack music that we missed.

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.



Bowiefest Day Three – Review

After the intensity of Bowiefest Day Two (four films, three over two hours long and all of them pretty bleak – with only a 15-minute break between each screening), the final day of Bowiefest looked like being a walk in the park. A couple of musicals and a 50-minute TV documentary featuring lashings of Bowie performing live. I even managed to pop out for some food at one point!


First up was Labyrinth – the film that co-curator Oli Harbottle told us before the showing was his first foray to the cinema, and that Bowie’s codpiece “had stayed with him ever since”. For many this is David Bowie, with the film being an influence on a great number of people of a certain age – in some cases more than his music. It was certainly my introduction to David Bowie (both the man and his music). It’s the Top of the Pops ‘Starman’ moment for a great many thirty-somethings.

It’s a sign of how deep down the rabbit-hole that Day Two had taken me that this review was very nearly as dark as anything I had seen the day before. My notepad is full of scribblings like this:

Dreams within dreams

Sarah’s room = the Usual Suspects notice board

Fantasy driven by sexual awakening. Puberty

“Your mother is a fucking aardvark” (I’m sure I heard this in the background of a scene)

The 99%. “It’s not fair” “You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is”

50 Shades!!! (nope, me neither).

I may need some counselling after this weekend.

Luckily my childhood-self pulled my through and I was able to enjoy Labyrinth for exactly what it is – a wonderful fairy-tale featuring some of Jim Henson’s best work, a charming script from a Python (Terry Jones), and David Bowie at his theatrical best.

What is great about Bowie’s performance here is that he’s just enjoying himself. There’s no sense that all of this is somehow beneath him. He embraces the chance to entertain an entirely new audience that brings with it different challenges and rewards (rather like Rik Mayall’s utterly captivating rendition of George’s Marvellous Medicine for BBC’s Jackanory).

Absolute Beginners

I was a little worried about this screening. Julien Temple’s film was a massive commercial flop on release, and hasn’t even gone on to be a cult late-night television or DVD hit in the intervening years.

Based on the 1959 novel by Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners is a theatrical, stagey musical detailing the rise of the teenage in London in 1958. The opening half of the film is a very jaunty story about a young couple in love who lose each other to a modicum of fame and fortune – each selling out their integrity in different ways. The second half is a far darker exploration of the Notting Hill race riots (although there’s still plenty of West Side Story-esque dance-fight scenes).

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s actually a lot better than I remember, and dare I say – even underrated? Colin (Eddie O’Connell) and Crepe Suzette (Patsy Kensit) have to deliver a few duff lines and bits of cod-psychology, but we believe them and ultimately want them to be together. David Bowie plays evil advertising executive Vendice Partners, a cross between Don Draper and Mephistopheles who corrupts Colin by singing ‘That’s Motivation’ on a giant keyboard. Even Lionel Blair is half-decent! Simply put, if that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun then you may want to avoid Absolute Beginners.

Alan Yentob in conversation with Jeremy Deller about CRACKED ACTOR

Bowiefest closed with the most-anticipated event of the weekend – a very rare screening of the 1974 BBC documentary Cracked Actor (followed by the director Alan Yentob in conversation with Bowie fan and Turner-winning artist/film-maker Jeremy Deller).

For those of us who have had to make do with excerpts of the documentary on YouTube for the last few years this was a real treat. Not only was the picture in great condition, but hearing the sound of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour through the excellent ICA sound system was fantastic.

Afterwards Jeremy Deller described this as “Bowie’s best onscreen performance”, and after seeing so many of them this weekend I could not argue with that. Bowie’s paranoia and the effects of the cocaine he was using at the time are punctuated by moments of brutally honest truths. The mask never slips though, and Bowie is in complete command of himself, and this film.

The influence of Cracked Actor can be felt in a number of surprising places. Obviously the live music elements of the Diamond Dogs tour have gone on to influence pretty much every stadium tour that followed, but it’s influence can also been keenly felt in the world of comedy. Yentob revealed that Carl Reiner used one of the cameramen from Cracked Actor for This Is Spinal Tap, and there’s a moment where Bowie is reading out the label of one of his Japanese costumes and translates for us as “dry-cleaning only” in such a way that Ricky Gervais MUST has based elements of The Office on this documentary.

And that is that. Bowiefest has been a huge success with multiple sell-outs of events, and plans to take it on the road in early-2013. More than that though, it has been a timely reminder of the incredible talent of David Bowie. Although he has earned his retirement many times over, the world is a slightly less wonderful place without him working.

I would like to thank Oli and Natasha, and the excellent and friendly staff at the ICA London for delivering such a wonderfully run event.

If you want to hear more about Bowiefest, this weeks Failed Critics Review will feature an extended report.

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…

Bowiefest Day One – Review

Today sees the start of a film festival that I had never dared dream happen. A festival celebrating the cinematic work of David Bowie. Despite thinking that this appealed to me, and me alone, tickets have been selling so fast the ICA have had to schedule further screenings of Labyrinth and The Hunger to satisfy demand.

For the next three days I will be watching ALL THE BOWIE (which I believe is the internet-approved vernacular) and reporting and reviewing everything for you lucky, lucky Failed Critics readers. There may even be something special for our podcast listeners…

Culture Now: Woody Woodmansey in conversation with Tom Wilcox

This is a film site, so I can won’t say too much about this wonderful event as it was purely focused on the music of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

What I will say is that Woody Woodmansey is a very warm and compelling individual, who shone a light on some dark corners of the era in question.

One of the most interesting things I learned this afternoon was that before recording Hunky Dory, Mick Ronson returned to his childhood piano teacher in Hull to ‘finish his studies’ and learn arrangement. His first arrangement after that? Life on Mars.

It was also interesting to hear the Bowie/Spiders creative process at the time. Ziggy Stardust was recorded in just a week, due to the fact the band never did more than 3 takes of a song. Woodmansey explains “When you do it a third time you’re repeating. Not creating.” In fact while recording the first take of Jean Genie, Trevor Bolding hit a wrong bass note. Although the band got ready to go again, Bowie said “that’s the take”. Bolding tried to explain that he’d made a mistake, but Bowie said he actually liked it. Fascinating insight.

We were also treated to an exclusive announcement while Woodmansey was discussing the influence Ziggy had on many contemporary artists. He and Bolder will be playing Ziggy in full at Hammersmith Apollo in April with guest musicians. I personally cannot wait.

Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture

If I had a time machine the first thing I would do wouldn’t be to go back and kill Hitler, or look at dinosaurs. No, I’d travel back to Hammersmith Odeon on 3rd July to see the last ever gig by Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

This was the infamous gig where Bowie “had to break up the band”, which was news to drummer Woody Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder.

Tonight’s screening is preceeded by a few words from Mick Ronson’s sister Maggie. She shared with us her memories from the tour, and I’ll happily admit I nearly shed a tear in the cinema once more.

Once the film started I felt closer to the events than ever before. Not just because of the excellent screening facilities at the ICA, but because I’m watching it with a large group of people all here for the same purpose. We tap our feet in unison. We laugh at the same places during the intimate, almost cute, backstage footage, and we cheer and applaud like crazy at the end of every song.

What really comes across in this film is how much of a band the Spiders from Mars where, and how they were vital for Bowie’s sound at the time. He may have dispensed with their service services by the time Diamond Dogs was recorded, but you could argue he tried, and failed, to recreate that vibe for the rest of his career. Ronson especially takes centre stage on a number of occasions to showcase his incredible talent.

Finally, it was great to see a number of kids in the audience. You are never too young to watch this film. And you can never watch it too many times.

And that’s that for Day One. A nice easy start to the festival that highlighted what I already knew about David Bowie – that he’s a musical genius and the run of Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane is up there with any artists’ most creative period in human history.

Tomorrow we get our teeth into more complex and controversial arguments about Bowie’s worth as an actor.

Things I’ve learned today: The Ronson family still drink ‘Ziggy Specials’ – advocat, brandy, and lemonade. Ouch!

Quote of the day: “We liked Velvet Underground, but I didn’t think they played well. I didn’t think Lou sang well. Sorry Lou”. Woody Woodmansey on a major influence on the sound of Ziggy Stardust.