Tag Archives: Decade in Film

Half A Decade In Film – 2013

The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.

It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew  McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.

It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…


Rush

Rush Chris HemsworthHappiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.

Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.

Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.

There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.

The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.

Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempo (aka The House of the End Time)

house at the end of timeThere’s no turning back

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.

I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.

A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.

Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.

The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.

We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.

It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.

The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.

If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.

Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


A Field In England

A072_C001_1001IE“Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right?
Whitehead: Is that not usual?
Friend: Not in Essex.

Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.

Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.

I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!

Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.

The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIMFortune favours the brave, dude.

Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?

So why were we watching this again?

I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.

You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.

So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!

Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.

If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Matterhorn

matterhornYeah

This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.

Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.

We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!

Half A Decade In Film – 2012

To bastardise a famous Eric Cantona quote: 2012 was a great year for film. Failed Critics was born.

Yes, this humble, modest, unassuming (what?) and shambolic film blog and podcast had its inaugural year less than a third of a decade ago. Beginning life as James Diamond’s personal blog, The Failed Critic, as he attempted to watch through the entire IMDb Top 250 list (and, suitably enough, failed to do so), it quickly expanded to include a weekly podcast and half a dozen other writers and contributors. Almost three years later and here we still are, if a little podgier larger than we were back then…

As we continue our quest to bring you the Failed Critics’ favourite films of the first half of this decade, it’s to 2012 that we look back on. A year when a James Bond film grossed over $1bn worldwide; when Peter Jackson introduced HFR to the mainstream with his first return to Middle Earth since The Lord of the Rings ended; and when people suddenly started to take Ben Affleck seriously again.


Dredd

Judge Dredd Still ImageNegotiation’s over. Sentence is death.

There’s a thing I do when I write something that someone else might read. If I’m reviewing anything, be it a film or a game or whatever, before I start writing I watch the trailer for it. Mainly so I know how far I can go with spoilers. If it’s in the trailer, it’s fair game to talk about. I do it when I’m spit-balling ideas on what to write and I can fully load my notes with stuff before I watch or play whatever I’m reviewing.

When I watched the trailer for Dredd to get the ideas flowing before I watched it that night, all the shivers I got the first time I saw it came back and I realised I’d made the right choice in my pick of 2012.

Judge Dredd was the only comic book I read as a kid. I still have my dog-eared copy of The Dark Judges on my bookshelf. So when I saw that trailer on a trip to the flicks, the teenager in me screamed! 13 year old me still hasn’t forgiven me or Sylvester Stallone for the abomination that was Judge Dredd. Stallone and his damn ego ruined the one comic book I love and seeing the trailer for Dredd showed me hope!

Turns out, that was pretty well placed hope. Dredd‘s story of a Judge and his rookie taking down a drug ring based in an apartment block is uncomplicated, brutal and just outstanding. Forget that awful “The judges are good guys really” thing from Sly’s film, Dredd is single-mindedly lethal and 100% the judge that fans wanted in the film adaptation of Mega City One.

Karl Urban’s Dredd is excellent. You can finally forget that terrible moment you saw Judge Dredd’s face (and it was Stallone) and place your faith comfortably on Urban’s gruff, uber-masculine chin and its outstanding acting ability. I had to fight against every fibre of my being wanting to stand and cheer when he says the iconic “I am the law”. Lena Heady is terrifyingly brilliant as the brutal head of the drug empire in the Peach Trees tower block. Going up against Dredd needs balls and smarts and Heady’s “Mama” has both, in spades. The two going at each other is a sight to behold for Dredd fans. Now, if we could only get a sequel.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


The West Memphis Three

unnamedIf I focused on the things I can’t change, the things that have hurt me, what people have done to me, then they would have already broken me.

2012 was the year of the documentary feature for me and I’m going to give them some love in this week’s Half A Decade In Film. Jackie Siegel in The Queen of Versaille, she had me shouting at the screen and holding my head in my hands. Joyce McKinney told her ‘Mormon in Chains’ story, in Errol Morris jaw-dropping and sleaze fuelled Tabloid. Things got even weirder by the time The Imposter hit our screens… this actually happened, really and truly. I’ve seen the dramatised version of this and they tone it down to make Frederic Bourdin’s tale even vaguely believable. Right there is a mind blowing triple bill, but its another triple bill that tops 2012. The West Memphis Three.

Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelley & Jason Baldwin and their tangle (understatement of the decade dropped in there) with the Arkansas justice system. In three ground breaking and truly eye-opening films we follow their story in Paradise Lost (1996), Paradise Lost 2 – Revelation (2000) and finally Paradise Lost 3 – Puragtory arrives to conclude matters. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky had no idea how this project would pan out and even if you’d told them, they’d never have believed you. If you don’t know their story, then it has to be seen to be believed, don’t go Googling though – go in knowing nothing and you’ll take away so much more. If you’re curious, but not convinced by investing 7 hours of your time to watch all this, Peter Jackson (yes, that one) & Amy Berg put out another film West of Memphis in 2012; this covers everything in a couple of hours, but the reality is, that simply doesn’t do their story justice.

Incredulity, rage and many, many tears is what awaits you here. Two decades of story telling warrants seven hours of your time.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


El Ultimo Elvis (The Last Elvis)

the last elvisHave you ever felt that you’ve done everything? That you’ve reached all your goals?

The recent “Best Film” Oscar for Birdman will, hopefully, result in interest being shown in the back catalogue of Armando Bo, co-writer of Birdman and the writer/director of this wonderful drama from Argentina.

Despite the name, this is NOT a film aimed at Presley fans. I don’t, knowingly, own any Elvis records and yet absolutely love this film; it’s a story about fandom taken to levels that far exceed what most people would class as obsession.

Carlos “Elvis” Gutiérrez is a Buenos Aires based Elvis Presley impersonator. Other than the fact that he is a fat, sweaty, bloke crowbarred into a sparkly jumpsuit, he doesn’t much look like Elvis but he most certainly does sound like him. The problem is Carlos isn’t content to just sound like him, he’s focused on being Elvis.

He spends the day working in a washing machine recycling factory with headphones clamped to his ears. When he visits his, understandably hostile, ex-wife he constantly calls her Priscilla, her name is Alejandra. His daughter and his car are both, naturally enough, named Lisa-Marie.

When Alejandra is badly injured in a car crash, Carlos has to put his “big plan” on hold to look after his daughter. The bulk of the film follows the relationship he attempts to build with Lisa-Marie and his spiralling, deeply damaging, obsession starts to change the way you feel about him. Is he a harmless crank, to be allowed his passion, or is he a selfish jerk?

Carlos is played by John McInerny, an American professional Elvis impersonator. The producers initially hired him to coach an Argentinian actor for the live performance segments of the film, apparently he won them over to such an extent they gave him the part instead. Considering he is not an actor by trade, his performance throughout the whole film is nothing short of wonderful. He is completely believable in the part. He plays the numerous emotional scenes superbly and, needless to say, the musical performances are of a very high quality. The only part of his performance that is hard to judge is his speech. I do not speak Spanish so am not qualified to comment. It sounds authentic to me but could well be a Dick Van Dyke abomination to a native speaker, and we all know how horrific that is.

Infuriatingly, the polish of this jewel gets a little rubbed by the horribly heavy handed direction of the end of the story. There’s nothing wrong with the writing or the acting, but the way the climax is handled visually really does grate. That most dreaded of Crime Against Film-Fan Humanity, the montage, gets a pretty full work out, the accompanying music takes a distinct turn for the worse too.

It’s nowhere near enough to spoil the film but it’s an annoying feeling to take away with you at the end of a great watch.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Intouchables

intouchablesWe listened to your classics. Now it’s time to listen to mine.

During this year I had noticed a film advertised at the cinema, a French film called The Intouchables, yes even Cineworld were showing it. Yet the poster didn’t really inspire me to see it, just a standard promo shot of Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, it really was quite lacklustre. I remembered Cluzet from Tell No One back in 2006, but had no idea who Omar Sy was, I couldn’t even be bothered to look him up on IMDB; I was that unimpressed with the one-sheet.

During the films second week a friend turned to me and said “have you seen Intouchables?” I said I hadn’t. He just said “you really need to see it, it’s fantastic.” I had to take the next afternoon off to go and see it on this recommendation. I’m so glad I did. Intouchables ended up being one of my favourite films of the year, in a year which included Avengers, Skyfall, Amour and Rust & Bone, it really was a good year for French films.

Aside from the recommendation, my expectations were still very low. I really wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this film. From the opening sequence as Sy drove Cluzet through the streets of Paris, the stunning cinematography accompanied with a fantastic score; a wonderful piano piece from Ludovico Einaudi. I was hooked. The sombre opening the scene changed as Sy’s explosive personality coned the local police after been caught for speeding that they were in an emergency and needed to get to the hospital, the whole mood changed. Cue September from Earth Wind and Fire and Sy and Cluzet singing along in the car escorted by the police, from sombre to comical effortlessly. I was then taken back in time and to the story of Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and Driss (Omar Sy) first encounter together and how the relationship between these two people turned into a truly remarkable friendship. I really want to be coy about the circumstances of both men, how they become friends because I really don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it. Also I don’t want to put people off either, I know people are not interested in films regarding certain conditions or situations, or even the poster…

Cluzet is remarkable as Philippe, it must have been one of his toughest acting jobs. I really did believe him, a sombre man due to his condition, the life sucked out of him. Then Sy as Driss is equally as good, filling the film with his personality, his fun and bringing life back to Philippe. There are scenes which make you howl with laughter, and scenes which make you want to cry, in both happiness and sadness. The emotional range I went through watching this film was incredible, with a perfect ending which always makes me smile.

The direction and writing from both Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano is assured, they never over cook the drama or under cook the comedy, the balance is perfect. Along with one of my favourite mixed soundtracks of all time, the Einaudi score pieces are sublime and with a good mix of songs as well. A remarkable film and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do watch it.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Avengers Assemble

avengers“Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

Marvel’s The Avengers. The Avengers. Avengers Assemble. “That film with Ironing Man and Captain USA and Thaw and that green dude Bulk.” Whatever you want to call it, the Marvel juggernaut finally hit full steam (if juggernauts are powered by steam?) crushing lesser comic book films in its path. It is actually one of four 2012 releases to have grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide (Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit being the others) and currently sits at 3rd in the all time highest grossing films list. Regardless of your opinion on comicbook movies, if you didn’t see Avengers, then I haven’t done the maths but I believe that means you simply weren’t on this planet upon its release.

Indeed, as voted for by listeners of the podcast way back when, it came out top of the pile in our first ever Failed Critics Awards. Whilst time and a rewatch has slightly softened my initially held incredibly high opinion of Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up blockbuster, it’s still a movie that I thoroughly enjoy. After leaving the cinema, thinking about what I’d just witnessed, I couldn’t think of a similar type of movie that I had seen done as well as this, nor one that was more fun. It had it all. Whilst the likes of Nolan and Snyder had tried to make superhero films that were gritty and a touch more realistic relatively speaking, Marvel had decided to stick more closely to what their readers and film fans wanted; a cartoony, humorous, ludicrously over the top actioner. Not only that but with Whedon at the helm, they had a guy who knew how to write light-hearted and entertaining characters. And who knew that he could direct action scenes involving multiple heroes, aliens and giant multi-dimensional worm things so well?

So, as mentioned, over the past couple of years, I’ve come to perhaps enjoy a couple of other movies released in 2012 slightly more, such as Looper and The Raid, yet none have ever topped that experience I had of walking out of the cinema believing I had just seen “my generations Star Wars“. The child-like excitement, the satisfying buzz and relief I felt that they had finally nailed what a comic book film should be has never left me and it still remains one of my favourite movies of its kind.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


And there we go, another year down, and only two more to go! As with previous articles, we’re more than happy to debate the relative merits of all the films above, or if you just want to contest our decisions entirely, simply leave a comment below and tell us where we’re going wrong. We’ll return next week with (yes, you guessed it) our 2013 article.

 

Half A Decade In Film – 2011

2011 seems so long ago now. It’s hard to imagine films even existing back then. The fields were all green, the sky unpolluted and movies were just a figment of the imagination.

That’s clearly not true. But certainly Failed Critics didn’t exist until the following year, so anything that went before it was obviously just practice until our arrival. Film criticism in particular wouldn’t reach its zenith until 2012 with the inception of this website (……)!

OK, so that might not be true either! Nevertheless, Liam, Paul, Mike, Andrew and Owen all return for another entry to our Half A Decade In Film series as they cast their minds back all those years and each take a look at their favourite film of 2011 as we continue with our Decade In Film spin-off series.


Source Code

© 2010 Vendome PicturesAny soldier I’ve ever served with would say that one death is service enough.

It seems insane to say it now, but I wasn’t always a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Not least of all because just typing his name for this article brings up that obnoxious squiggly red line that tries to convince me that I can’t bloody spell!
I liked his earlier films. Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are great. But for the most part they are great in spite of Mr Gyllenhaal’s inclusion. I tended to judge him more on rubbish films like The Day After Tomorrow and stuff I just didn’t like, like Donnie Darko and with those in mind I just never saw the appeal of Jake and his performances. Until I saw Source Code that is.

The weird thing is that Gyllenhaal’s performance wasn’t anything special! It wasn’t crap, but it was one of those times when you could name any number of half decent actors that do the role just as well. But the direction, was absolutely superb and anyone in the role of Gyllenhaal’s Army Pilot would have been great as Duncan Jones (the guy that made the excellent Moon) dragged the best out of everyone involved.

Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an Army Pilot who’s last memory is of being on mission in Afghanistan. Suddenly waking up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) he takes a few minutes to figure out what is going on and where he is. In those minutes, his train explodes and kills everyone on board.

Waking from the explosion like a bad dream, Stevens is told he is part of an experiment called “Source Code” and he is being used to stop a terrorist attack that is due to happen in the next few hours having already blown up a commuter train. He is being sent back to relive the last few minutes on that train and find the bomber.

Annoying and silly tacked-on “Hollywood” ending aside, what should be a so-so plot to an average screenplay (written by the guy that wrote Species 3 and 4, for Christ’s sake) is brought to brilliant life with Duncan Jones’ direction as Gyllenhaal thrillingly races against the clock time and time again in a sci-fi Groundhog Day with a shorter memory span, for a generation that’s grown up with The Matrix!

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Super 8

super 8“According to my Uncle Seth, an accident like this is exceptionally rare.”

After the success of  JJ Abram’s Star Trek, there was a buzz about Super 8, a creature-feature which many now consider to be Abrams homage to the Spielberg films of the 80’s. There are some similarities that’s for sure; it uses the same heartbeat, the same suspense and creates a great character dynamic that some of Spielberg’s films have used. Yet it never really reaches the dizzy heights or emotions that those kinds of films hit. E.T broke your heart, The Goonies made you really care about a bunch of misfit kids, and Close Encounters left you in awe. Super 8 never gets there for me, yet that said it is still a great film and one which really does entertain me.

Abrams doesn’t just follow one Spielberg film, he amalgamates a collection of them. A group of friends: not as misfit as the Goonies but pretty close. The broken home: here the family is ripped apart by tragedy and the husband left to bring up his son in a haze of grief and loneliness. Friendships torn apart and rebuilt, romance and of course let’s not forget about the alien. The alien is along ET’s path, while it’s a bit more ferocious then ET, Abram’s alien is just as lost and alone has the little planet loving alien we all cried over (well some of us) back in the 80’s. Being held in captivity and under constant scrutiny and testing, all the alien wants to do is go home.

Once the alien escapes after the rather over-the-top yet quite spectacular train crash, the hunt is on, a town in fear, the military spinning the truth and we are back to Close Encounters. Objects going missing, strange sounds in the distance and of course we need one of the kids to go missing as well. Abram builds the tension from the train crash slowly and surely to he finally reveals his alien in all its glory. While I do like the final third of the film, the ending seems a little flat after everything which has come before it. I was just lacking a real connection to the alien, the kids or even the grieving father and son, and it just feels a nice and satisfactory end to the film, but it doesn’t really spoil it for me.

There isn’t really that much I dislike about Super 8 (except the end). It has a superb score from Michael Giacchino, some wonderful cinematography from Larry Fong and a really solid cast of kids and adults. Kyle Chandler is superb as the father, along with the gang of kids led by Joel Courtney and the wonderful Elle Fanning, they all give solid performances from a decent script. Visually the look of the film is stunning, the train crash without doubt one of my favourite scenes of the whole film. As I said Abram’s is channelling Speilberg but never really pulls it off completely but even so it’s a rather brave attempt and one of my favourite films of 2011.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

rise of the apesPlease, Mr. Jacobs! Lives are at stake! These are animals with personalities, with attachments!

I’ve written and talked extensively about my fondness for the Planet of the Apes films, book, comics, TV show and remakes. Most recently in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I explain a little about the time I first saw Rise of… in the cinema upon its release (coincidentally on my birthday!)

At the time, I absolutely adored it. After the terrible trailer showing apes leaping off bridges onto helicopters, I half expected a dreadful, CGI filled blockbuster with less redeeming qualities than Tim Burton’s attempt to tell Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet tale. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this clever little sci-fi began to carefully tell a story of an old man with dementia, a potential cure being tested on an ape (Caesar) that begins to grow in intelligence, learns to communicate and, er, leads an uprising.

I’ve since watched it a couple of more times and although that surprise is obviously no longer present, it’s still no less entertaining. It’s everything that’s required of a sci-fi blockbuster. It’s got heart, a great story, decent performances (brilliant performances in the case of Andy Serkis and John Lithgow), an epic climax and it looks utterly breathtaking.

The fact that director Rupert Wyatt and his writers got the tone so absolutely spot on that it completely fits in with the Planet of the Apes franchise, yet felt fresh and modern in a way that some of the dated original sequels don’t any more, is testament to not only their ability, but also to the source material. Quite simply, as much as I loved Conquest of and Escape from, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the series since 1968. And probably the best science fiction blockbuster released between District 9 and a certain Marvel movie a year later.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


The Yellow Sea

the yellow seaDon’t forget it. If you forget it, your family’s all dead.

One of my favourite Korean films is The Chaser (2008), the tale of a cop/pimp and a serial killer, which as the title suggests, has an awful lot of chasing. The team behind it, director (Na Hong-jin) and stars (Kim Yun-seok & Ha Jung-woo) team up again for The Yellow Sea. That the phenomenal The Chaser was a debut effort put The Yellow Sea top of my ‘to see list’ for 2011.

It’s a simple set up, gambling debt ridden cab driver is offered a way out of his problems……..go to Korea and kill someone. It takes a while to get going, and I can’t deny the simplistic plot is then burdened with a sub-plot about his wife and a small army of characters that you don’t care about or are just not fleshed out that well. So why do I love this film so much…?

…A good Korean gangster caper needs the following ingredients. A completely inept Police force, people being hit around the head repeatedly, ridiculous melodrama, no guns, the main protagonist being outnumbered to a ridiculous degree in fights and chase scenes and of course, close combat involving knives.

The Yellow Sea does all of this. It’s very, very stabby…..and axey….and er…large unidentified animal boney…if it can be used to beat, stab and kill people, it will be. Rivers of blood, things being chopped off, lots of screaming and of course….lots of chasing. This is to The Chaser, what The Raid 2 was to The Raid. All the fun of the first film is there, but they’ve shoe-horned in a proper film too.

I’ve seen this 3 times, this was my first look at the slimmed down directors cut for US audiences. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the main characters, and that alone made this my favourite film of 2011.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Le Havre

le havreYou don’t deserve such a good wife. You’re not worth her.” “No-one is, so I’ll do.

Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre is a wonderfully karmic comedy drama set in the titular French port.

Marcel Marx is a financially struggling shoeshine who comes across a young Gabonese boy desperately trying to hide. The shipping container he and his compatriots stowed away had been delayed & diverted from its intended destination of London and opened by heavily armed immigration authorities. The boy, Idrissa, is the only member of the party to make a bolt for the door and get away.

The film follows Marcel’s struggles to help the boy evade capture and make his escape across the Channel to join his mother in London.

They face numerous obstacles; Marcel’s wife’s seemingly terminal illness, the media frenzy about immigration issues, the government authorities’ high profile crack down and the local police have Marcel marked down as chief suspect.

Those familiar with Kaurismaki’s work will recognise many of his signature touches. It’s a simple story about the basic, human decency of ordinary people. All his usual trademarks are present, the constant cigarette smoking, the dog, the importance of music and the wonderfully wry, deadpan humour.

One of the most interesting characters is Monet, the local Inspector. His morals and motives are far from obvious, you are kept guessing right to the end of the film. His encounters with Marcel are so uncomfortable. Is he speaking “Off Duty”, as he claims? Is he genuinely warning Marcel that the net is closing in out of compassion? Or is he slyly trying to wheedle out information by putting Marcel at ease? He brings to mind a slower moving, morose version of Columbo. Hardly surprising, as both are clearly inspired by Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich.

A highlight, maybe not entirely for the right reasons, is the Charity Concert performance of French recording artist Little Bob, making a cameo appearance. Imagine an elderly Ewok dressed in 1980’s biker leathers and you’re on the right lines.

The only slight disappointment in the whole film is the performance of Kati Outinen as Marcel’s wife Arletty. A truly superb actress, she is somewhat restricted by her character’s illness, but this is still far from the level of performance she’s given in any of Kaurismaki’s other films.

A hugely enjoyable film, with compassion and decency as its main themes.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Five films there that span a few different genres and continents but are all equally as excellent as each other, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or, maybe you don’t agree and think we’ve erroneously overlooked an obvious choice? Let us know in the comments section below. Otherwise, you’ll have to stew in your own angry juices until we return next week with five of our favourite films released in 2012.

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1973

This week Owen gives us a run down on his favourite 5 films from 1973. A year in which Nixon is inaugurated for his second term as President of the USA despite the ongoing Watergate scandal, in a blow to male chauvinists everywhere, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a game of tennis, and one of the Premier League’s greatest midfielders ever, Claude Makelele, was born. Oh, and some film stuff happened too.

5. Enter The Dragon

Enter the DragonDon’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!

What a year for Bruce Lee’s finest film to fall on. Almost any other year in the 70’s and this would be either 1st or 2nd choice.

From the opening bout between Lee and a young Sammo Hung, to its climactic and iconic hall of mirrors scene, this kung-fu classic delivers on just about every level. Charisma oozes out of Lee like blood from Jackie Chan’s face (true fact: Lee actually smacked Chan in the face with a stick in this film). Although he died before its premiere, it’s often the film most people will think of first when asked to name a Bruce Lee movie (not a fact: I may have made that up.)

The plot focuses on 3 central characters; obviously Bruce Lee being one of those; the other two are Roper, a tough, gambling, debt-ridden American played by John Saxon; and Williams, an African American martial arts master played by Jim Kelly. They are invited to take part in a fighting tournament on an island by a mysterious fellow called Han. Lee’s role is to find evidence of Han’s criminal ways, (human trafficking, opium peddling, murder and so on) but instead, he ends up fighting him. YES! Result.

It is truly the master of all kung-fu films, influencing everything from Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme films, to computer games and cartoons for years and years after. Fantastic choreography on the fight scenes, particularly a huge brawl in which Lee dispatches about 50 henchmen, with uber cool characters and a memorable score too. It’s brilliant.

4. The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man“Sergeant Howie: And what of the TRUE God? Whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?

Lord Summerisle: He’s dead. Can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.”

Of the small batch of the “folk-horror” sub-genre of films that came into existence in the mid-late 60’s to its near demise in the mid 70’s, films such as Witchfinder General and Picnic at Hanging Rock, there were none greater than The Wicker Man. Laden with accolades and awards despite being a fairly obscure film for many years, Robin Hardy’s British horror is one of the most influential of its kind not just from this whole decade, but of any decade.

It tells the story of a devout Christian Scottish policeman, played sublimely by Edward Woodward, who answers an anonymous letter from Summerisle, a small, coastal and isolated island. A young girl has gone missing, Sergeant Howie plans to get to the root of the problem.

The Wicker Man is one of those films that no matter when you see it; young or old, in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s or 00’s, it will still have an impact on the viewer. The fact it relies on generating this eerie atmosphere, thanks in no small part to Christopher Lee’s unnerving performance as the pagan Lord of Summerisle, is what helps it to stay quite fresh. Because the plot takes place on a remote island with a community walled off from the rest of the world, it also seems quite a believable story. It could happen, right? There could really be this community of mostly naked, fire dancing, underrage drinking, premaritall shagging, all night partying, free spirited people …. actually, it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Wait, before you rush off to TripAdvisor looking for the best deal on the nicest sounding Scottish coastal island you can find, it’s probably worth noting the whole sacrificing business these fictional pagans get up to. It seems to put a bit of a downer on Sergeant Howie’s trip, in any case. Makes for a fantastic film, though.

3. The Last Detail

the last detailBuddusky: He don’t stand a chance in Portsmouth, you know. You know that, don’t you? Goddamn grunts, kickin’ the shit outta him for eight years… he don’t stand a chance.

Mulhall: I don’t want to hear about it.

Buddusky: ‘Maggot’ this, ‘maggot’ that… Marines are really assholes, you know that? It takes a certain kind of a sadistic temperament to be a Marine.

One of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. And there have been a few! The Last Detail is just one of those films that makes you realise how incredible and versatile an actor he really is. Not to take anything away from Randy Quaid as the young offender ‘Meadows’, who is being escorted to prison by two experienced naval officers, Nicholson (Buddusky) and Otis Young (Mulhall). Meadow’s is a great character and Quaid is a good actor, but all 3 of the main cast together are fantastic. They each bring something different to the table, something unique about their characters and their performances.

The main theme that runs through The Last Detail is one of ‘justice’. Not so much what’s right, but what each of them in turn consider to be ‘just’. Whether it’s the scoffing when they learn that Meadows is being sent to prison for 8 years just for stealing $40, or as the journey progresses and Buddusky tries to give Meadows his last taste of freedom. It doesn’t really try to make you think about what’s right and wrong, more that it implies if you have any sense of justice then how much should Meadows be entitled to. Is it just that Buddusky and Mulhall’s characters are overcompensating for their lack of freedom (Otis constantly expresses how much he loves the Navy, it could be implied that he’s lying to himself or trying to convince himself of it) or is it because they genuinely feel that Meadow’s deserves to live a little before his life is ruined over nothing much at all?

It’s an entertaining film that has a lot of points to make, with some really good, complex characters and one of those classic film journey stories.

2. Serpico

serpico2The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier

Sidney Lumet’s biopic of 60’s New York cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) who stood up to the corruption within the police force is undoubtedly one of his finest achievements. And this is a director who has also made Network, Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men!

Serpico falls during an unrivalled run of exceptionally high quality films and performances by Al Pacino. The Godfather (72), Serpico (73), The Godfather: Part II (74) and Dog Day Afternoon (75) is just an incredible run of movies. Four straight years, one amazing film after the other. All of them are films almost any other actor would kill to have been a part of. Not only that, but they’re his 4 best performances too. I can’t think of a single film he’s starred in that’s better than any of these.

Pacino is sometimes mocked for becoming something of a parody of himself in his later career. Honestly, I didn’t really think much of his performance in Heat. But when you watch him at the top of his game, such as he is as Frank Serpico, it honestly doesn’t matter. He could only ever appear as a cross eyed, dress wearing, window licker of a sidekick to Rob Schneider in every film for the rest of his career, it won’t matter as he’s still going to go down as (quite rightly) one of the greatest actors of all time.

Oh, and, erm, the film is pretty good too.

1. The Exorcist

The ExorcistThere are no experts. You probably know as much about possession than most priests. Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. And if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you’d know it’s like saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.”

Yes, the greatest film of 1973 is none other than box office record breaking demonic possession horror, The Exorcist. Famous for having ambulances parked outside the cinema ready to rescue those viewers who would pass out from fright or scream themselves to death (maybe)! It does mean that Mean Streets, Westworld and the final Planet of the Apes film (pre-Burton) miss out, but how could they hope to compete with such an immeasurable success as this?

When I first watched The Exorcist as a young ‘en, it was at my mate’s house. Most of my friends at the time had already seen the grainy VHS copy that had been passed around school, and were all scared half to death by it. When I finally got around to watching it, I seem to remember it being a bit silly, not very scary and quite frankly hilarious.

Oh, the folly of youth! Having since then rewatched The Exorcist a few times (including one ill fated attempt at watching it on an outdoor screen on a freezing cold night in a park in Reading) I can safely say it is one of the most terrifying, disturbing and powerful horrors ever committed to film. It never just goes straight into the more gruesome bits, as some might expect. It builds tension and suspense slowly, spending a good chunk of time developing the characters before dumping their situation in front of you.

It’s the gradual realisation that an exorcism is their only hope, and the way it’s portrayed in the characters of the mum (Ellen Burstyn) and the priest/psychiatrist (Jason Miller), both generally rational people, is extremely well written. The transformation that Linda Blair, who plays the unfortunate possessed young girl ‘Regan’, goes through during this process broke the mould of every film that came before it. Not only is it the fact that what’s happening to a young girl that causes the audience such distress, but the sheer brutality and offensiveness of it was like nothing anyone had seen.

I’ve always had a slight problem with the ending. I think it’s slightly let down by how suddenly the pace of the film quickens and then stops very sharply; but it’s only really a problem because the rest of the film is at such an already high standard. It is one of the most well written, properly scary and important horror films ever created. A must for any fan of the genre.

A Decade In Film: The Noughties – 2003

This week, Gerry gives us his top five from 2003 – be sure to check out the entries for 2002, 2001 and 2000 if you haven’t already done so. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these so please get in touch with a comment or on twitter.

5. Finding Nemo

FindingNemo460“The dropoff? They’re going to the dropoff? What – what are you insane? Why not just fry them up now and serve them with chips?”

It’s not my favourite Pixar film, but that’s like saying Stairway to Heaven isn’t my favourite Led Zeppelin song – it’s still fucking good, it just happens to have been created by people who reach greater heights. Gorgeous to look at and full of charm, the storyline and characters are perhaps a little weaker than others in the stable; this, of course, still means that they are superior to the vast majority of animated films and lots of ‘normal’ films too. The voice cast is so outstanding I’m not even going to highlight anyone in particular. This film was a long time in the making (3-5 years) and it shows in the attention to detail. Gorgeous and, a decade on, firmly established in the pantheon of family classics for young children and former children alike.

4. Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

ROTK Viggo“Then let us be rid of it… once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you… but I can carry you!”

The culmination of a growing mastery of epic fantasy over the preceding years, Jackson’s final installment is often derided for having about 27 endings, but that ignores the excellence that goes before it. It’s very hard for me to decide between the three LOTR films and I will continue to argue that they are one of the rare examples of films that, as a trilogy, are much greater than the sum of their parts. Still, a visually wonderful and enthralling film with iconic battle scenes and the closing of one of western narrative’s great achievements – what’s not to like?

3. Kill Bill Vol 1

Kill bill uma thurman“Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”

Stylish, witty and chocked full of violence, Kill Bill is one of my favourite Tarantino films (and I really like Tarantino). Uma Thurman is great, the references are too numerous to count, and the story clips along at a lovely pace. This sums up what Tarantino is about for me – his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema shines through, while his control as a director is superb. The result is just a really fun film. Slightly better than Vol 2 in my opinion, although I am quite eager to see the original cut of both as a (very long) single film.

2.Elf

Elf Will Ferrell“First we’ll make snow angels for a two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookiedough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle”

Yes, Elf. The joint best Christmas film ever made (alongside It’s A Wonderful Life, obviously) which sees Will Ferrell’s Buddy as a human adopted by elves who goes to New York City to find his real parents. This is a film that can only be described as charming from start to finish. The supporting cast is pretty good all round, especially a short turn from Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones) as a ridiculous children’s author, but this is undoubtedly Ferrell’s film. This was a great year for Ferrell, with Old School close to making this list too. Most remarkable is David Berenbaum’s screenplay – his first – and the fact that, in his second proper outing as a director, Jon Favreau marked his arrival as a director with genuine potential thanks to his understanding the nature of Hollywood cinema magnificently. Honestly, it’s a Christmas institution in my household and I know it is for many of my generation – I challenge you to watch Elf and not smile, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

1. Te Doy Mis Ojos (Take My Eyes)

Take My Eyes“Where it reads ‘home’ read ‘hell’. Where it reads ‘love’ there is pain”

This is a remarkable film. The simple fact that it won seven Goya awards in 2004 (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars) including Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor and Lead Actress should indicate to you quite how much quality is bursting from every scene here. But let me make a disclaimer early on: this film is brutal. It depicts some dark depths as far as humanity is concerned. This most certainly isn’t one to watch on a romantic night in (trust me, I’ve watched this with my girlfriend) unless you’re in a very established relationship. It tells the story of Pilar and Antonio, a couple in the wonderful city of Toledo. The opening scene shows Pilar leaving him due to the abusive nature of their relationship, moving in with her sister, Ana. As she tries to rebuild her life, Antonio goes to anger management classes. Slowly but surely, they begin to interact again. We are presented unflinchingly with a troubling examination of abusive relationships, the powerful effect they have on the victim and those around them, and the strange irresistible pull of the abuser despite all the horrors they have committed. Luis Tosar’s Antonio is one of the outstanding performances of the decade, making the film worth watching for that alone. But this is truly brilliant in many aspects. In a way that European cinema seems to manage so much better than Hollywood, the characters are not black and white. This is no hero and villain affair. We feel sympathy where we ‘shouldn’t’, anger and annoyance towards those who are ostensibly in the right. Yes, Antonio is an awful human being but we see the sides of him that make Pilar still love him. We are exasperated at her lacking the strength to completely cut him off. This cuts to the core of Spain’s problems with domestic violence and is in fact sociologically significant, as it helped catapult the debate into the limelight after decades of awkward silence. A woman dies every week at the hands of her partner in Spain. Watch this and you will understand the horror of that experience, one that is unfortunately repeated in countless homes all the time*. But you will also understand a little more about people.

*The death rate for domestic violence in the UK is actually higher than this, but we don’t talk about it – perhaps we need to have films like Tyrannosaur reaching a much wider audience to stimulate debate? You know, get powerful dramas about the dark side of society on general release with big marketing? Accept that as a nation we are capable of appreciating more than CGI and loud noises? Just saying, Hollywood obsessed shitty cinema chains; you can do what you like with that suggestion. I suspect nothing and more ‘John Carter on 15 screens for a fortnight’ crap. Rant over.

A Decade in Film: The Sixties – 1962

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.

Firstly, an explanation for the delay in posting this Decade in Film piece. When I chose (got stuck with) the 1960s, I didn’t realise how many great films from the decade I hadn’t seen, and therefore needed to watch for this project. I had a huge list of films on my shortlist for 1962, but I just wasn’t able to watch them all. Preferring instead to write blogs about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. I know. 

5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

TheManWhoShotLibertyValance“Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance”

John Ford directed many of the important and iconic classic Western films, but for me this is probably his finest. Unlike much of his filmography, which was filmed on location in glorious Technicolor, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was mostly shot on a soundstage in Hollywood, and in black and white. Some argue that Ford was so determined to make this film that he was willing to do it on a low budget, while Lee Marvin (who played the eponymous villain Liberty Valance) claims that Ford made a conscious decision to enable him to utilise the use of light and shadows in telling a different kind of Western story. Either way, it’s my personal favourite film of his; an opinion I share with none other than Sergio Leone, who remarked that it was the only Ford film that showed pessimism.

It stars Ford-favourite John Wayne as Tom Doniphon, a farmhand who rescues young and naïve lawyer Ransom Stoddard (played by James Stewart) who is left for dead by Liberty Valance and his gang. The two men grow closer, and over time Stoddard continues his run-ins with Valance, culminating with the shoot-out that gives the film its name. Told in flashback, this is a brilliantly layered exploration of honour, and the effects of undeserved fame.

4. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

whatever_happened_to_baby_jane“You mean all this time we could have been friends?”

A brilliantly dark and twisted tale of sibling rivalry, this film is positively Hitchcockian in terms of the tension it delivers, and the black humour of the central performance of ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson (Bette Davis). The film opens on a precocious Baby Jane Hudson entertaining the crowd in a music hall. After the show she reveals her spoilt brattish side, while bullying her older sister Blanche. As the years pass though, Blanche (Joan Crawford) becomes the toast of Hollywood and a fine actress in her own right, while Jane becomes increasingly paranoid and jealous of her older and more successful singer. Suddenly, Blanche’s career is cut short in a tragic car accident, and Jane becomes her full-time carer.

We join the pair a number of years later, with Jane acting more like a prison warden than a carer for the fragile Blanche. With Blanche’s savings dwindling, she plans to sell the family home, and this pushes Jane over the edge. The following hour is a genuinely disturbing portrayal of domestic abuse, and the real-life mutual loathing Davis and Crawford shared must have been a factor in their deliciously vicious chemistry. Things were so bad that when Davis was nominated for an Oscar for her role, Crawford actively campaigned against her, and even went as far as accepting the eventual winner’s (Ann Bancroft) award on her behalf.

3. Lolita

Lolita“I want you to live with me and die with me and everything with me!”

The poster exclaimed “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?”, and even to this day the power of Vladamir Nabakov’s novel challenges censors (you can’t even search for the film on Google with SafeSearch on). Chosen as Stanley Kubrick’s follow-up project to Spartacus, Lolita is an odd and at times downright disturbing film. Although there are minor differences between the novel and the film, the story of Professor Humbert Humbert’s relationship with the teenage daughter of his landlady remains intact.

Interestingly, the changes to the film demanded by the censors betray a bizarre moral compass. They demanded that the age of the Lolita be changed from 12 in the book, to 14 in the film. Also, Sue Lyon was cast in the eponymous role because she was more physically developed than other actresses up for the part. The fact that it was somehow more acceptable to portray child abuse because the victim was a little older and looked more like a grown woman shines a light on the hypocrisy inherent in most forms that censorship takes.

As for the film, well it’s a Kubrick film which in my opinion is as good a stamp of quality as you are likely to find in cinema. It’s surprisingly both utterly depressing, and brilliant funny in places, helped in no small part by a virtuoso performance from Peter Sellers as Humbert’s nemesis, Clare Quilty. Seller and Kubrick would go on to repeat the magic to even great effect just a few years later…

2. To Kill a Mockingbird

to-kill-a-mockingbird“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, this is one of the few films where I genuinely regret not reading the book beforehand. This really caught me by surprise with its depth, as I was under the impression it was merely a courtroom drama that dealt with the issue of race. Far from it.

Gregory Peck in the role that many think he was born to play, warm-hearted attorney Atticus Finch. A single parent in a small town in the Deep South during the depression, Finch takes up the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Despite the town turning against him one-by-one, including folk who have been helped out by Finch’s wisdom and kindness in the past, Atticus fights a seemingly hopeless cause in trying to win a man his freedom, and change the hearts and minds of his community. At the same time, his children are growing up, and rapidly losing the innocence in a world that doesn’t make any sense to them. It’s a brutal film at times, and one that made me genuinely angry while watching it. Powerful stuff.

1. Cape Fear

Cape-Fear“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!”

In what may be a surprise for some, I have placed a different film featuring Gregory Peck as a persecuted lawyer in the number one slot for this year. While To Kill a Mockingbird is a brilliant film with a lot to say, Cape Fear is simply one of the most frightening films I have seen. Not frightening in a jumpy horror way, rather in that the violence inferred in this film is terrifyingly real, and seemingly inevitable.

Peck plays Sam Bowden, an attorney who witnessed an rape by the vile Max Cady Robert Mitchum), and whose testimony put Cady away for eight years. However, Cady is now out on parole, and is determined to get his revenge. What’s most chilling about Mitchum’s performance is the matter-of-fact way he goes about intimidating Bowden. Acting with cocksure impunity, he stays just the right side of the law, and at one point even turns the tables on Bowden after an attempt to vigorously persuade Cady to leave town backfires.

While I haven’t seen the Martin Scorsese remake starring Robert DeNiro, the Simpsons episode (Cape Feare, with that rake scene) inspired by the film is almost certainly my favourite ever movie reference on TV, and for that alone it deserves the top slot on this list.

You can read James’ choices for 1961 here, and find the entire Decade in film series here.

A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1972

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 the highest grossing film star of all time made his debut (it’s Samuel L Jackson, of course), the porno Deep Throat was the sixth biggest hit of the year, and Pong became the first ever commercially successful video game (thanks, Wikipedia!)

5. Solaris

Solaris 1972“Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit. “

I first read about Solaris in a book called Why Aren’t They Here? by Surendra Verma, which primarily explores (amongst other theories) the Fermi paradox. Put simply, if intelligent alien civilizations exist, and the universe is as vast as we think it is, then why haven’t they made contact with us yet? One of the many possible answers for this could be that we have no way of communicating with them, even if it were physically possible to meet them. A famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once proposed that “if a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand it”. What he means is, even if an animal could physically speak a language to us, our points of reference would be so far apart, it would just be gibberish. We wouldn’t be able to understand a word that lion said, much less recognise it was attempting communication.

What does this have to do with Solaris? Well Andrei Tarkovsky‘s enormously important Russian sci-fi film, based on a Polish novel of the same name, is about this giant, living, liquid planet that attempts to communicate with the humans that are trying to study it. Ultimately, as Wittgenstein predicted, it’s impossible for them to fully understand each other. It’s a story of love and loss that explores the depths of the human mind/imagination with some thought provoking imagery and mind-meltingly complex ideas.

I have to admit, Solaris is mostly on this list out of respect for what it achieved and for the concept behind it. I like to think I can occasionally watch these long, slow, art-house films and enjoy them. Truth is, I found Solaris a really difficult film to watch. Patience is a virtue supposedly, but when you’re watching a film where (for what seems like an eternity) all you’re watching is nothing more than a camera attached to the front of a car as it travels down a motorway, you kind of forget that! I think a lot of the more artistic visual elements of the film went over my head somewhat. However, rarely do you see such an intelligent and thought provoking sci-fi film that I think it can just about nudge blaxploitation horror picture ‘Blacula’ out of my top 5 films for 1972.

4. Fist of Fury

Fist of Fury Bruce Lee“Whenever you’re ready, I’ll take on any Japanese here.”

Whether you accept that there are 4 or 5 full feature films, and whichever film of those is your favourite, one thing that seems to be universally acknowledged is that Bruce Lee was an icon of early 70’s cinema. His legacy has endured over the decades, influencing film writers, directors and stars. He made Asian cinema (or at least Kung-Fu films) the phenomena it is in the West. I don’t need to go on about this. I’m not the first to point this out, I won’t be the last, nor am I the most qualified!

What I love most about talking to people about Bruce Lee’s films is everyone seems to have taken away something different from his movies. I watched Fist of Fury, Enter The Dragon and The Big Boss when I was a young teenager, first getting into movies. Before then, he was just someone I knew from the poster my artistically talented uncle had drawn. There was something about that image of Lee (which looked a little bit like this) that drew me in. He just looked so cool in that poster and the young impressionable me wanted to see just how cool he actually was. As I watched those films (and as I got older Game of Death and Way of the Dragon too) I realised how cool he actually was. Answer: very.

Despite being his second major film, and also starring as Kato in his own TV show, Green Hornet, (including cameo’s in the Adam West Batman series) it was Fist of Fury that launched him into movie superstardom. It’s a simple mystery plot in which Lee is subjected to bigotry and prejudice by the Japanese. It’s not the plot that made the film so endurable. It’s Lee. It’s the cool one liners he delivers mixed with the impressive action/fight sequences that he choreographed himself. It’s that recognisable shriek as he kicks someone in the gut, dispatching baddies with one blow. It’s the character of Chen and how nobody other than Lee could’ve played him in the same way. It’s quite simply an excellent kung-fu film that any fan of the genre should watch and adore.

3. Deliverance

deliverance burt reynolds“Goddamn, you play a mean banjo!”

If there’s one thing writing these Decade in Film articles are good for, then it’s for forcing me to finally get around to watching some classic films. The flip side to that is films I really love and originally included in my top 5 have to make way for films that, as it turns out, are just undeniably better. Take, for example, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is now losing out on a top 5 ranking position thanks to John Boorman’s Oscar nominated film about 4 guys who go on a trip down the Cahulawasse river in the arse end of the American south that they won’t forget.

Until this week, I’d only ever seen clips of Deliverance. Hell, I could even play part of the duelling banjos song on my guitar despite never having watched the whole of the film! Now that I have seen it, as Matt Lambourne so accurately predicted would happen, I now “understand a number of long-standing cultural references towards it that may have gone over my head before”. It is so influential on other survival films.

I love Burt Reynolds anyway, and even without his moustache, he was still awesome here. He has all the best lines, looks the most bad-ass and has probably the most interesting character too. Although John Voight may have something to say about that; he also has a very interesting character. There’s a lot that makes this film memorable, from the “skweeee” scene, to the fantastic soundtrack. Don’t be like me. If you get the chance to watch Deliverance, do it!

2. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

aguirre“I, the wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I’ll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen.”

I don’t have much knowledge of the Spanish conquistadores beyond what is taught at a very basic level at school and what the BBC kids sketch show Horrible Histories has educated me in! So what struck me most in Werner Herzog’s tale of the notorious Don Aguirre and his quest for the mysterious cities of gold (dododo do doo doo, aaahhh) was how real the film felt. I can only liken it to something like the David Simon HBO TV series, The Wire (bear with me here…) It’s a culture and a place I have virtually zero experience or knowledge of beyond fictional representations through TV and film etc, yet the world they have created is so utterly believable that I never question it. I accept that it is mostly likely exactly how these people lived, how their journey unfolded, how the jungle and the river sounded, how it looked, etc.

The title character, Aguirre (played sublimely by Klaus Kinski,) is incredible and it’s not difficult to believe he was as “mad” as he is portrayed as being here. He’s a constant and menacing presence throughout the whole film. The way the film is shot is almost like Aguirre is breathing down your neck, watching your every move, and it’s very uncomfortable. Effective! But uncomfortable.

One other thing I loved about this film (there are much better parts of the film involving all manner of themes about betrayal, love, history, slavery and all that jazz, but something that stood out for me) was the music! I loved that bloke playing the pan-pipes. That tune he whistles is infectious. The whole film is superb though and fully deserves to be on this list.

1. The Godfather

The Godfather“Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?”

The Godfather. Of course, The Godfather. What else but The Godfather? It had to be The Godfather. A film so critically and commercially successful that only the insane would leave it off a list of their favourite films from 1972, never mind not have it as first choice. I mean, come on. As enjoyable as the British horror film ‘The Asphyx‘ starring Robert Powell is, or as deeply disturbing as Wes Craven’s directorial debut ‘The Last House on the Left‘ is, there’s no way any film was going to top Francis Ford Coppola‘s masterpiece.

From the very first scene to the last, The Godfather is undeniably a fantastic example of film making. The swagger that all the characters carry with them, thanks mostly the faultless performances of some unbelievably well written characters by absolutely everyone involved, makes the film feel so real. It’s a tragic story about the collapse of man, the sense of being trapped in a “family” that you can not escape, a destiny that you are doomed to, but at the heart of it is this ideal of love and togetherness.

There are massively conflicting emotions you get from the film, things you know that are not right, but you can’t help it anyway; wanting characters like Don Corleone to recover, to improve, to do well, despite knowing that he is exactly the sort of person that you hope you never have to encounter in your life, is testament to the creativity that has gone into creating this iconic character from the make up, to the costume, the setting, the direction and least of all the acting. It’s a breathtaking performance from Superman’s dad and Oscar winner Marlon Brando, which is rightly regarded as one of the absolute best in cinematic history.

I’m not sure I can actually say all that much else about it that hasn’t been uttered a million times before by people able to put into words their thoughts much more eloquently than I could, so I’ll cut my review short right here. But suffice to say, it’s a film that is timeless and a classic for a reason.

You can read Owen’s choices for 1971 here, and find the entire Decade in film series here.

A Decade In Film: The Noughties – 2002

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

As this is podcaster Gerry’s idea, he’s nabbed the noughties. Here he gives us his top five from 2002 – be sure to check out the entries for 2001 and 2000 if you haven’t already done so. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these so please get in touch with a comment or on twitter.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-large-pictureI think we might have made a mistake leaving the Shire, Pippin.

The first was a towering achievement of storytelling and fantasy narrative brought to life on screen; the follow-up continued that great work and showed a generation of film fans and aspiring film-makers what epic productions are like. With more action than its predecessor, The Two Towers stepped up the cinematic intensity and silenced criticisms from some corners that the films were long and boring. Jackson builds steadily towards a triumphant final hour centred around the battle at Helm’s Deep, a battle scene which absolutely captivated my imagination as a 13 year old watching this in the cinema. I have, of course, since seen many epic films with epic battle sequences but this film is often a benchmark to compare them with. Podcast listeners will know I moaned about The Hobbit recently but as you may guess from this series, I bloody love TLOTR trilogy, and a decade on The Two Towers remains a staggering achievement, a lesson to us all on how to do exciting fantasy drama on a massive scale.

4. Spirited Away

spirited-away-large-picture-1Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember. 

Studio Ghibli films are widely regarded by cine-literate people as outstanding. Yet the majority of the population seem blissfully unaware of their work. Spirited Away is much like their other films – it gets to the heart of childhood and imagination, transporting us forward into a hitherto unseen world of the creator’s making while simultaneously catapulting the viewer back to their own youth, that sense that magic lurked so close that a wrong turn could mean you winding up in a vastly different reality to your own. That is precisely what happens in this film. Chihiro’s family end up getting lost and wandering into an abandoned theme park – her greedy parents eating the tempting food left seemingly unattended and, of course, being transformed into pigs. Fans of Disney and particularly Pixar will find much to love in this classic animation, both in thematic content and the rich visuals our senses are practically assaulted with from the word go. I don’t think it quite matches up to My Neighbour Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies (note to Matt Lambourne – they’d better be 1 and 2 for 1988) but nonetheless, this is better than 90% of the kids films you will ever see – whether you’re a nostalgic adult or a child who hasn’t yet lost that wonder at the potential marvels of the world around them. [I’ve included this for 2002 as it was released in Japan in 2001, film festivals around the world in 2002 and in the UK in 2003, making 2002 the middle ground in such a confusing and drawn out release schedule]

3. Punch-Drunk Love

punch drunk love adam sandlerI have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.

I’m not going to lie to you – I only watched this film about a month ago. I absolutely loved it. No, in fact, I fell in love with it. A mild introduction to art-house cinema for the uninitiated (or soft-core art house if you like), Punch-Drunk Love is a quirky tale featuring Adam Sandler as a possibly autistic, possibly partially psychotic entrepeneur who falls for slightly-less-odd Emily Watson.  Despite the backdrop of constant belittlement from his seven sisters, their romantic journey begins, alongside Sandler’s efforts to disentangle himself from a scam he fell into by ringing a phone sex line to chat about his life. It sounds weird and it is a bit, but if you doubt Sandler’s credentials for this then you’ve obviously never listened to Mark Kermode before. Literally the only downside to watching this film is that you will now be even more annoyed by the constant stream of utter shit Sandler is churning out these days when he is capable not only of genuinely funny films like Happy Gilmore but also excellent serious acting performances like he puts in here. Psst Adam, here’s a hint – make more films with people like Paul Thomas Anderson and less with Dennis Dugan and you might be ok.

2. City of God

city-of-godYou need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas. 

A gripping tale of corruption, poverty and crime in the underbelly of Rio de Janeiro, City of God did wonders for Brazilian cinema. I actually studied a module on Brazilian cinema in University purely based on the fact that in doing so I could watch City of God again and find out the context behind it. For all the complex and important social issues it explores, City of God has a fairly standard cinematic trope at its core: two boys grow up in the same place, take different paths in the face of external pressures, yet their lives always seem to be intertwined and meet with dramatic consequences. Famed for its use of first-time actors taken from the streets of the favelas themselves (even including the mother of one of the real-life criminals depicted in the film), there is a brutal realism to Cidade de Deus that some viewers may find unpalatable. In my view it is that harsh realism which makes the film so powerful and for it to be viewed as anything other than a strength is missing the point entirely. This war between drug lords really happened. It wasn’t nice. With brilliant cinematography that captures the lo-fi 70s vibe of the time whilst still producing stunning visuals and some iconic shots, it is no wonder that the film remains one of the most successful and well-known films in ‘world cinema’ to UK viewers. Fernando Meirelles hasn’t made the move to Hollywood big-shot as many predicted but is trying to make himself the Brazilian Almodóvar. Speaking of my mate Pedro…

1. Talk to Her

On the face of it, Hable con Ella is a pretty odd film. It centres on the solitude and inner turmoil of two men who bond over the beds of the female coma victims who they care for, the gradual entanglement of their lives – whilst in parallel the events leading up to the film’s present are slowly unravelled in flashbacks. There is a quiet power to the film which draws the viewer into this world so deeply that it is impossible to forget. Essentially, old Pedro tests how far he can push an audience (again), this time in terms of how much you’re willing to forgive because you like someone. I often say this about foreign films on the podcast but THIS IS WHAT CINEMA IS ABOUT. Tremendous performances, a director whose vision is so clear and whose skill is so well-developed that they are able to interweave symbolism and narrative to devastating effect, a story which engages throughout and an exploration of wider themes and societal issues without being preachy or ever failing to entertain.

Like all of his films are to some extent, at heart this is an exploration of gender roles. We have the two male leads crying over a performance at the ballet; a female bullfighter who is harsh and masculine, while her boyfriend is vulnerable and openly emotional; a male nurse; and a now infamous scene from the film-within-the-film which seems outrageously shocking, but is in fact less shocking than what it masks. There are a number of genuinely haunting scenes in Talk to Her, precisely because we are drawn into the drama so powerfully by the cast and crew. Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti are mesmerising. Almodóvar was under some serious pressure after the global success of All About My Mother and this was what he came up with.

In my opinion it’s his finest work – in a catalogue of films that most people in Hollywood would be proud to have in their DVD collection, let alone make. This is cinema. This is art without being arty or pretentious. This is a film about humanity, morality, imperfection, societal conditioning, sex, solitude, normality, mental illness… There is a disturbing, unsettling effect as you question your morality and precisely why you feel sympathy or empathy at certain points. It pushes you to think outside normality and ask questions of yourself and the world because it has engrossed you so totally and manipulated you so delicately. That, for me, is what cinema is.

A Decade in Film: The Sixties – 1961

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.

We return after the Christmas break with Editor James Diamond’s favourite films from 1961; the year that gave us Michael J. Fox.

5. The Guns of Navarone

The Guns of Navarone“First, you’ve got that bloody old fortress on top of that bloody cliff. Then you’ve got the bloody cliff overhang. You can’t even see the bloody cave, let alone the bloody guns. And anyway, we haven’t got a bloody bomb big enough to smash that bloody rock. And that’s the bloody truth, sir.”

This is exactly the kind of movie Hollywood used to do well, and with regularity. A big ensemble war film with big stars (Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn), and a story so heroic it bathes in the blood of its defeated enemies. It tells the story of a crack group of soldiers and specialists who set out to defy all logic and destroy the eponymous Nazi cannons that are making the rescue of British forces from the island of Crete impossible.

Directed in style by J. Lee Thompson (who made one of the great war films in Ice Cold in Alex, and went on to direct Peck in Cape Fear), The Guns of Navarone is a classic example of the stories that the victors of horrific wars have been telling for thousands of years. It’s important to remember that this was made only 15 years after the end of the Second World War; a conflict that many of the cast and crew had fought in. By the end of the decade though Hollywood had a new war to obsess over, and the triumphant tone of their WWII films gave way to the self-doubt and self-recrimination of their Vietnam films.

4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at TiffanysWe’re alike, me and cat. A couple of poor nameless slobs.

This is the first of four adaptations from novels in my list, and it’s interesting to note that Hollywood has always been a magpie of stories. At least the audiences of the time can count themselves lucky that the studios only had books and stage productions to bastardise for their enjoyment, unlike today where films take their ‘inspiration’ from sources as diverse as television shows, computer games, and even board games.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on a Truman Capote novella, and directed by Blake Edwards (who would go on to direct The Pink Panther). The reason it’s in this list though, and the reason for its enduring presence in poster form in homes across the world, is down to two words. Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn’s iconic Holly Golightly is the ridiculously beautiful peg on which this film hangs. Sure, Hannibal from The A-Team does a good job as the struggling writer who falls in love with Holly, and the source material is transferred to the screen with care, but without Hepburn this film is forgotten within a few years. Her dizzying ability to flit from extrovert socialite to vulnerable country girl is at the heart of this film; the highlight being her rendition of Moon River, which shows you don’t need to be an incredible singer to break hearts with your voice. Something Russell Crowe could’ve learned before filming Les Miserables.

Ironically, Capote never wanted Hepburn for the role, and pushed very hard for Marilyn Munroe to be cast. Munroe’s agent thought the moral ambiguity of the role would damage her career (in the original novella Holly has a lesbian affair, takes drugs, and acts more like a prostitute at times) and persuaded her to pass. The rest is history.

Just don’t mention Mickey Rooney’s Chinese landlord character…

3. 101 Dalmatians

101 Dalmatians Cruella De Vil

“My only true love, darling. I live for furs. I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn’t?”

I have been umming and ahhing about putting this film on my list. My childhood memories are of a great Disney caper film, with cute talking dogs, and a terrifying villain in the shape of Cruella De Vil. That was enough to earn it a spot on the list. Then my two-year-old daughter became obsessed with it, and we watched it every night for a month.

I’m pretty sure than any film subject to such intense interrogation would start to reveal some flaws (except maybe Back to the Future), and sadly this is the case with 101 Dalmatians. It’s not perfect, and it’s not really that brilliant. It does however still feature a fantastic villain, and it heralded a sea change in animation technology which dominated the industry for the next twenty years.

The story is simple enough, with Pongo the dog playing cupid to fix up his bachelor owner with a mate, and snag himself a bitch in the shape of Perdita. Their resulting litter of puppies becomes the envy of Cruella De Vil (the prototype Patsy Stone) who wants to make a fur coat out of them. So far, so grim. The puppies are kidnapped, and Pongo and Perdita venture off to rescue them. It’s pretty standard stuff if I’m honest but, thanks to my daughter, it will forever be etched into my brain.

2. Pit and the Pendulum

Pit and the PendulumYou will die in agony. Die!

This is another of those films I discovered in doing the research for this series. Quite why I hadn’t chanced upon it before I’m not sure. After all, any film directed by the legendary Roger Corman, and starring the national treasure that is Vincent Price is fine by me.

Very loosely based on a short-story by Edgar Allen Poe, Pit and the Pendulum is set in 16th century Spain at the time of the Inquisition. Price stars as Nicholas Medina, an uncharacteristically (for Price, at least) meek and humble lord who has recently lost his wife, Catherine. John Kerr is the unapologetically American-sounding brother of Catherine, who visits Medina to investigate the circumstances of her death. Over the first hour spooky things start to happen in the castle, and Nicholas reveals that he saw his father torture and inter his mother over an affair. Then Price finally gets to cut loose, and the last act is far more shocking, entertaining, and genuinely ghoulish.

Shot in only 15 days, the film is a remarkable testament to what a talented director and magnetic screen presence can achieve on limited resources with an average script.

1. Yojimbo

Yojimbo“I’m not dying yet. I have to kill quite a few men first”

Akira Kurosawa is the missing link between the classic Western genre and the Spaghetti Westerns that became popular in the 1960s, with Sergio Leone arguably perfecting the genre by the end of the decade. Without Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo though, it’s hard to imagine anyone could have made The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in America.

Kurosawa applied his cinematic filter to the work of John Ford (Stagecoach, The Searchers) to produce a film that is not only a homage to a genre, but adds something entirely new to its ecosystem. The themes and plot of the film are familiar, and the shots are ‘classic’ Western framing; but the editing, the violence, and the anti-hero nature of the protagonist were new to Western audiences. By the time Leone remade this as A Fistful of Dollars, the landscape of Westerns had already morphed into a more ambiguous, revisionist tone.

Toshirô Mifune plays the Ronin, a samurai whose master is dead and who now roams the lands of feudal Japan looking for freelance work where he can find it. He wanders into a town beset by violence, run by two opposing war lords who make plays to recruit the powerful stranger. The Ronin has other plans though, and conceives a dangerous game to play the opposing factions off against each other.

As is common in all of Kurosawa’s films, the violence is brief and is never needless or gratuitous. At its heart this is a film about human nature, greed, and the power of fear. Make no mistake though, there is still some kick-ass sword-fighting. It’s also very funny in places and its position in the IMDB Top 250, and at number one in my list, is fully deserved.

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.

A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1970

5. The Man Who Haunted Himself

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“I’m Pelham… I AM!”

Up until the other week, I actually had Hercules In New York, the debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as my first entry on this blog piece. However, after watching a clip of the film edited down to around a minute on YouTube I realised I couldn’t justify including it, no matter what nostalgia would have me believe, because it is truly diabolical.

Well, how lucky am I then that whilst on my crusade to watch more Roger Moore films (as a part of the upcoming Bond special podcast) I somewhat accidentally discovered this wonderfully dark psychological-thriller?

(The answer is “very”.)

1970 was an almost “inbetween” year for Roger Moore. By the time this film was released, he was already a household name. Not because he was Bond, James Bond; he was still yet to play 007 for another 3 years! But because of his role in one of the highest rated British TV shows of the 60s, The Saint. Wanting to show he was more than just a camp heroic adventurer, he collaborated with British director Basil Dearden and showcased a rather more serious side to his acting ability.

I’m not much of a Bond fan. When I was younger, I preferred Sean Connery (much to my dads disapproval) although as I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate and prefer Moore’s take on Ian Flemming’s iconic character. But it’s here, and not in the world of secret spy espionage, that I think I have found my favourite film of Moore’s.

Shot like a mystery thriller with elements of the film noir genre about it, copiously straddling various different answers to its myriad of questions before finally drawing the curtain back and revealing what has been going on all along – it plays on the concepts of identity theft, of schizophrenia and psychosis. It spends time developing the story, enhancing the mystery element and finally in getting the best out of and then delivering an exquisite performance from its star actor. Combined with a fantastically early 70s look, a late 60s swing and a very catchy theme tune by Michael J Lewis (that even now creeps into my subconscious every so often and loops around my head all morning) the effort that has gone into it definitely paid off. And it’s infinitely better than Hercules in New York. Sorry, Arnie.

4. The Horror of Frankenstein

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“Anything I bring you will be so fresh it would get past the government meat inspector”

Frankenstein and his wretch have gone through many, many different incarnations. Like characters in the book, endlessly and hopelessly chasing after one another, many famous directors and actors have chased what made Mary Shelley’s classic so encapturing. Whether you’re talking about probably the most famous interpretation by James Whale with Boris Karloff as the monster, or a more light-hearted affair with Mel Brooks’ comedy Young Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus has captured the imaginations of many artists / film makers.

Perhaps none more so than Hammer Horror who, even if not qualitatively, have most definitely quantitatively been chasing that elusive creature. In The Horror of Frankenstein (a remake of their first colour horror film – The Curse of Frankenstein) Hammer Horror favourite Ralph Bates stars as a youthful, early on in his career, Baron Von Frankenstein and a pre-Darth Vader David Prowse as the monster.

It may be unintentionally funny for the most part, but this is a classic Hammer Horror film and one of the first that I saw. It is quite far removed from the classic telling of the story, although the basic principles of the plot are vaguely similar. However, the best bit about the whole film was easily spotting the “goofs” and the huge plastic boobs that all the women had. Classic Hammer Horror. Cheesy, camp, a bit silly and quite entertaining.

3. Beneath the Planet of the Apes

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“The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!“

Yep, power, naked merciless force and making sure Charlton Heston is the hero in the end regardless of what went down in the rest of the story. That’s the only thing that counts. Probably more so than the first two points, actually.

If you don’t happen to be as much of a fan of the film adaptations of Pierre Boulle’s French novel “La Planète des singes” as me, you might be surprised to know that despite it being Earth all along, there were actually 4 sequels that followed Franklin J Schaffner’s 1968 classic sci-fi blockbuster Planet of the Apes. Not counting Tim Burton’s awful attempt at rebooting the franchise, of course. And not counting the fantastic Rise of the Planet of the Apes either.

Beneath, directed by Ted Post (of Hang Em High and Magnum Force fame), is the first of the sequels and quite possibly the weakest too. It is a crazy mish-mash of ideas that are quite interesting and clever individually (human cults that worship a bomb, the forbidden zone actually being explored a bit further, the various cultures within the Apes society etc) but they come together like Blur covering a Kinks song (pop culture references from the 90s.. hmmm, how about Metallica working with Lou Reed instead? Yeah, that’ll do.)

But if you overlook its (many, many) flaws, it’s a quite decent sci-fi film and a welcome addition to the franchise. The only way to watch it is to immerse yourself in their world and just go with the flow. If there’s no other reason to watch it, then do it so you can watch the excellent two sequels that followed this!

2. Patton

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“There’s only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.”

To be honest, as great a line as that is, I could have picked almost any quote from this Franklin J Schaffner (he of Planet of the Apes fame, as you will have just read) directed Oscar winning biopic of the notorious General George S Patton.

Like the first film on this list, it’s another that I only saw the first time very recently. However, I came very close to giving up on it after 60 minutes into its 170 minute run time. If not for having such a spectacular opening speech delivered with such an assured promise that there was more to come by George C Scott as the unforgiving Patton, I might have done just that. But I stuck with it, and I am so glad I did.

For what is quite an impenetrable film for almost an hour, it sure does get a hell of a lot better. There is a very clear turning point in this film where the characterisation of Patton starts to rapidly develop into this incredible on screen presence. The kind you would expect from a screenplay written by Francis Ford Coppola, just before he started work on The Godfather.

What I find most interesting about Patton is that for a war film, it never really felt anti-war. It has messages about the futility of war, about the bureaucracy and the harshness of war. But it doesn’t condemn it. The fact it is a biopic, and showing you war the way the General did, through eyes that see the glory and pride of war, it’s unlike a lot of other films of its type (or, at least, of its type that I’ve seen) and definitely one of the most interestingly directed too.

1. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

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“He’s not even Italian and you’re making him risk his life!”

Dario Argento’s first full directorial debut  lands the much coveted place of first on my list of favourite films of 1970. I’m sure Disney are absolutely gutted that The Aristocats hasn’t topped the list.

But Argento’s giallo film fully deserves this spot. It may be a very up-and-down film – the first 20 minutes are excellent, the next 10 minutes quite poor, the following 10 minutes excellent again, and so on – but this decision was never in any doubt in my mind.

As good as the opening speech of Patton was, the scenes here where the protagonist, Sam, an American crime-fiction writer, witnesses a murder in an art gallery in Rome, absolutely tops it. If I may just stereotype an entire nation for a moment; in true Italian fashion, the whole film (but particularly those first few moments) are so incredibly stylish. It oozes cool from every pore.

The whole experience of witnessing the mystery of the plot unravel and then immediately cloud itself in secrecy again is incredibly exciting. It’s like witnessing a director at the very top of his game, and not one who is directing his first feature film. It’s masterful. It’s such a gorgeous film in almost every respect. Every scene is like an incredibly intricately painted portrait of the characters. Even when the plot is slightly letting the film down (the ending is weirdly tiring and disappointing compared to the rest of the film), it’s easy to overlook it and just get wrapped up in this strong visual element.

That is why my first choice on this very long blog post is the first of Argento’s Animal Trilogy (of which I’d also recommend the equally awesomely titled Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and makes this as good a place as any to stop writing, I think!