Tag Archives: Enter the Dragon

Failed Critics Podcast: Your Unconventional Desire

focusAs always, your illustrious host Steve Norman and ever present Owen Hughes lead the way through a tightly packed episode. Coming into your earholes to review the 18-rated, arse-ticklingly rude 50 Shades of Grey is Failed Critics debutant, Paul Field. Also joining them this week is Matt Lambourne, mainly so he can recount the story of why he didn’t see the (not so) erotic flick.

The team also craftily knocked out reviews for two other new releases before climaxing with 50 Shades of Grey, as Will Smith’s latest con-film Focus, as well as mind-bending time-travel thriller Predestination also get the once over.

They also somehow found room to squeeze in an extra couple of reviews. Paul filled us in on Korean revenge film I Saw The Devil (as reviewed in the Half Decade In Film article this week); Owen got slightly topical with space-hopping sci-fi Virtuality; and our pal Matt welcomed Die Hard and Enter The Dragon to the party.

Tune in again next week to hear less innuendos, in addition to the results of our Academy Award prediction quiz.

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For your chance to win a few crumby randomly selected second hand DVD’s that we no longer want, simply comment on this article with your picks for each of the 11 categories below! The winner will be the entrant with the most correct guesses. In the event of a tie, the winner will be chosen at random. The term ‘winner’ is used lightly.

1 – Best Picture
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole
Boyhood – Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson
The Imitation Game – Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman
Selma – Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
The Theory of Everything – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten
Whiplash – Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster

2 – Best Director
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

3 – Best Actor
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher as John Eleuthère du Pont
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper as Chris Kyle
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game as Alan Turing
Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as Riggan Thomson / Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything as Stephen Hawking

4 – Best Actress
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night as Sandra Bya
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything as Jane Wilde Hawking
Julianne Moore – Still Alice as Dr. Alice Howland
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl as Amy Elliott-Dunne
Reese Witherspoon – Wild as Cheryl Strayed

5 – Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall – The Judge as Judge Joseph Palmer
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood as Mason Evans, Sr.
Edward Norton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as Mike Shiner
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher as Dave Schultz
J. K. Simmons – Whiplash as Terence Fletcher

6 – Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood as Olivia Evans
Laura Dern – Wild as Barbara “Bobbi” Grey
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game as Joan Clarke
Emma Stone – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as Sam Thomson
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods as The Witch

7 – Best Original Screenplay
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

8 – Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper – Jason Hall from American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore from Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson from Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten from Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle from his short film of the same name

9 – Best Animated Feature Film
Big Hero 6 – Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
The Boxtrolls – Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
Song of the Sea – Tomm Moore and Paul Young
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

10 – Best Foreign Language Film
Ida (Poland) in Polish – Paweł Pawlikowski
Leviathan (Russia) in Russian – Andrey Zvyagintsev
Tangerines (Estonia) in Estonian and Russian – Zaza Urushadze
Timbuktu (Mauritania) in French – Abderrahmane Sissako
Wild Tales (Argentina) in Spanish – Damián Szifrón

11 – Best Documentary – Feature
Citizenfour – Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutsky
Finding Vivian Maier – John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam – Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
The Salt of the Earth – Wim Wenders, Lélia Wanick Salgado and David Rosier
Virunga – Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

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Failed Critics Podcast: Talkin’ ’bout Picking Our Globes

foxcatcherDISCLAIMER: If you’ve downloaded this podcast in order to torture ears belonging to either you or somebody else with horrendous screeching sounds and unbearably loud-then-quiet distortion, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Steve and Owen somehow managed to keep the podcast from trying to destroy itself and have produced their first actual audible episode of 2015. Quite the achievement, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Not only is the sound quality bearable, but our debutant guest this week, Andrew Brooker, chimes in with some great reviews of Foxcatcher, Into The Woods and The Salvation that are well worth a listen.

The trio also mull over the results of last weekend’s Golden Globes;  review the upcoming Reese Witherspoon movie Wild;  and lay into Olivier Megaton for somehow making Taken 3 worse than it was expected to be. There’s even time for Steve and American sports fan Brooker to discuss Draft Day and for Owen to go on even more about Bruce Lee with Enter The Dragon.

Join us next week for reviews of new releases American Sniper and Whiplash.

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Bruce Lee: A Retrospective

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

With Callum Petch still on a break from his regular DreamWorks Animation: A Retrospective series this week, Owen steps in to fill the void. Unfortunately, his knowledge of DreamWorks compared to Callum’s is fractional, so instead he’s sticking to what he knows; that happens to be action movies and their stars. In particular, perhaps the most iconic of them all, the legendary Bruce Lee.


fist of fury

The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.

Post the 1930’s, has there ever been a single actor who so drastically revolutionised the cinematic fortunes of one country on a global scale quite like the iconic Cantonese martial arts master, Bruce Lee? I don’t want to turn this into an amateur biography page, but it’s important to give some context before I go on to talk about his movies.

Born in San Francisco in 1940 (but raised in Kowloon) to a famous opera/film actor father and wealthy mother, he returned to the United States at the age of 18 when his parents were worried for his safety. Supposedly with a contract out for his life at one stage after beating up the son of a triad member, he eventually settled in Seattle, attending high school and working as a part time waiter at a family-friend’s restaurant. Graduating from University and still pursuing his keen interest in martial arts, specifically Wing Chun, a skill he developed whilst training under the [then] living legend, Yip Man; Bruce eventually created his own unique fighting style known as Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist), the “style of no style”, which he taught classes in.

A well respected businessman, a genuine martial arts master and from 1967 after co-starring in The Green Hornet TV series, Bruce Lee would go on to become one of the most recognisable pop-culture icons and celebrated movie stars of all time. This despite being the lead actor in just one American movie, 1973’s Enter The Dragon. Tragically, he would die from a cerebral edema a week before it went on general release and would never know just how massively successful it would be.

Cynically suggested by some as being the astronomical success he was almost solely due to his untimely death, that simply isn’t true. Comparisons are commonly made with the likes of Jim Morrison, River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, even Heath Ledger, for having such a lasting legacy ultimately due to his unfortunate passing, it’s important to remember that Bruce Lee was already a huge star on the other side of the world anyway.

He is also far from the only iconic movie star to come from the relatively tiny (but densely populated) island of Hong Kong. To name but a few; Sammo Hung, Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Stephen Chow, Jet Li, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung and of course Jackie Chan, they all hail from this little region of southern China. It’s impossible and probably unfair to comment on how well known they would have been if not for Bruce Lee, but by starring in the first big budget Kung Fu film produced in America, he certainly made it easier for them!

I don’t know how most people nowadays first come across Lee and his fellow countrymen’s films. I introduced a friend of mine to him just last year and even now, over 40 years later, Enter The Dragon still stands up as an excellent and thoroughly entertaining film. He just seems to be on TV hardly even half as often as I remember him being when I was younger. He’s talked about even less.

My first experience with Kung Fu movies probably occurred during my first year of secondary school in the late 90’s. My dad used to work nights back then, but me and my younger brother would stay up and watch the midnight-film seasons on the Sci-Fi Channel (that’s right kids, the Sci-Fi Channel, not the SyFy Channel). They would sometimes show a series of anime films, where I’d discover things like Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Perfect Blue, Violence Jack, Wind of Amnesia and other movies my mum probably didn’t realise we were way too young for. By the same token, the Sci-Fi Channel were also responsible for my first viewing of movies like Drunken Master, Master With Cracked Fingers, Fist of Legend and the entire filmography of one Bruce Lee.

It’s partly the reason that I’m writing this article right now. I have such a strong emotional connection to these movies. Deep down, I’m still that 11 year old kid who was mesmerised by the wavy hands of Mr Lee, the unbelievably cool way he danced across the screen and his high-pitched yelling as he battered large bearded Western white men or caricature Japanese bad guys. Despite having re-watched Enter The Dragon and First of Fury on numerous occasions over the years, it struck me recently that I hadn’t seen his other films for the longest time. Using a bit of extended annual leave from my real job, I did what most people would do in that situation and used a couple of those days to re-watch his five most important feature length films. Beginning in chronological order with…


1] The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury) (1971)

Budget: Unknown (low)

Gross: HK $3,197,417. North America: $2,800,000 (US/ Canada rentals)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

Already a hugely popular figure in his native Hong Kong, it’s rumoured he used to receive more fan mail for his role as Kato on the TV show The Green Hornet than its lead actor, Van Williams. It’s because of this, as well as his experience in minor roles in various TV shows and films whilst growing up, on top of his reputation for his respected Kung Fu skills and his relationship with producer Raymond Chow that were pivotal in his casting in Lo Wei’s kung fu film. Keen to forge his own path after recently parting company with the Shaw Brothers who planned to pull out of Hong Kong, Chow had an awful lot riding on the success of this movie and his faith in Bruce Lee.

Sworn to non-violence, the plot sees Lee play Cheng, a poor immigrant to Thailand, who joins his extended family’s ice factory. After he uncovers a sinister plot, he breaks his vows and kicks a lot of arse.

Despite some good visual gags (e.g. a man being punched through barn wall and leaving an exact silhouette outline, or flinging a bird cage into the air with it hooking on a tree branch perfectly etc), the trademark humour is still there as well as some very entertaining and surprisingly violent fight scenes. Whether pummelling people or stabbing them to death, it is actually incredibly brutal. The ending of the movie had to be edited for American release to bring it down from an ‘X’ to an ‘R’ rating due to the gruesome nature of it. However, it takes a long time for any decent action scenes to happen and suffers from being rather jilted, particularly as Lee isn’t the top billed actor. Although, that doesn’t stop him from overshadowing James Tien.

It’s not the strongest story, nor does it really showcase Lee’s philosophy in quite the way I assume he hoped it would. Not that it mattered as it broke him into the Hong Kong mainstream as The Big Boss became the highest grossing film in their history. It gave Lee the level of exposure that he craved across the rest of South East Asia which would be instrumental in his increasing success.


2] Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) (aka The Iron Hand) (1972)

Budget: $100,000 (estimated)

Gross: HK $4,431,423. North America: $3,400,000

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

If you’ve been following our Decade In Film series at all, you may have already seen just how much I love Bruce Lee films. In my 1972 article, I included Fist of Fury (as I’ve always known it, although there is some evidence to suggest that its true title should be Fists of Fury). It surpassed the previous domestic box office records of The Big Boss and if his previous film shot him into fame, then this is the one that truly made him an international star.

In a very pro-China plot, Lee plays Chen Zhen, the brightest student at a martial arts school who are challenged by some Japanese thugs and who goes on to avenge the death of his master at their hands. It’s not an altogether uncommon theme for HK films of the time. Bruce himself lived under the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during his childhood for a short while and though the film portrays some rather, erm, broad stereotypes, it serves to both instil some pride in his home nation as well as act as a showcase for his Jeet Kune Do.

Which it definitely does with aplomb. The choreography of the fight scenes in Fist of Fury far surpasses those of The Big Boss. You just get the impression that in his second feature working with Lo Wei, they really figured out exactly how best to shoot the hand to hand (or hand to nunchuku) combat sequences. Whether taking on an entire dojo full of students and their master, or hypnotically waving his hands to confuse and disorientate his European opponent, it looks better in almost every aspect.

His character became so popular in fact that he has been reinterpreted many times since. He was the inspiration for the semi-remake Fist of Legend, with Jet Li taking on the mantle. He’s still popular even today with Donnie Yen taking over in 2010’s Legend of the Fist. But it would not be Lee’s most iconic film. That was still a year away from release.


3] Way of the Dragon (aka Return of the Dragon) (1972)

Budget: HK $130,000

Gross: US $85 million [according to Wikipedia, with citation needed]

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

In many ways, though he reportedly wasn’t keen on its release in the West, it was incredibly popular upon a re-release in 1974, a year after Bruce Lee’s death. After working on two films produced by Golden Harvest, where he was given more creative freedom than was usual for Hong Kong films of the time, Lee formed his own production company Concord Production Inc with Raymond Chow. This meant that for their first production, Way of the Dragon (a play on Bruce’s Chinese screen name meaning Little Dragon) Bruce took on the producing, writing, directing and acting responsibilities, giving him complete control of the film.

Set in Italy, it was also his first to be based in Europe rather than Asia. Working at a restaurant in Rome, Tang Lung (Lee) and his uncle get in trouble with the local mafia. After taking down a gang of heavies in the alley outside their restaurant, things go from bad to worse. Embroiled in various assassination attempts, he is challenged by different combatants, escalating all the way to a showdown with his one-time real life sparring partner and close friend, Chuck Norris.

Tang’s introduction to the audience is his arrival at an airport; an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar customs and languages. After stuffing himself with too many bowls of soup and unbuttoning his trousers, it becomes apparent that Lee does not intend to treat his project too seriously. He wants it to be fun, as well as entertaining and educational. Unfortunately, it would be Lee’s only completed directorial effort, but contains some of his most revered work. An improvised sparring scene with Chuck Norris around the Flavian Amphitheatre is testament to his aptitude in front of and behind the camera.


4] Enter The Dragon (1973)

Budget: $850,000

Gross: HK $3,307,520.40. US $25 million. $200 million (worldwide)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

An as then unprecedented budget for America’s first co-produced (Warner Bros (US) and Golden Harvest (HK)) kung-fu movie helped convince Bruce Lee that the States were about to take him and his movies seriously. With director Robert Clouse at the helm, whom he knew from working with on Ironside, he even interrupted production half way through his own fourth film, The Game of Death, to return to the US and take the lead role. It would turn out to be the correct decision as not only has it so far grossed approximately $200 million worldwide, it gained him significant exposure and forever thrust him into the public’s conscious.

Things could so easily have gone wrong for Enter The Dragon. Tonally, it’s closer to 70’s exploitation movies than to a lot of other action movies of its time. There’s somewhat excessive nudity, violent deaths and a Bond-esque villain called Han who has organised a mixed martial arts tournament on his private island. Films of this ilk have often been derided, but there is something undeniably special about this particular one. John Saxon and Jim Kelly may spend a lot of their time busy lookin’ good, but they too are excellent additions to the series and are more than just a diverting side-story. Yes, OK, they’re both American – one of whom happens to be a white male – but in a roundabout way, they seek to represent a harmonising of cultures in society. A coming together of people from all over the world indiscriminately. Han’s purpose is to find the best fighter on Earth, whether that’s a debt-ridden Caucasian American, or a street wise African-American, a bruiser from New Zealand, or a Shaolin martial artist. Ethnicity is as unimportant to the characters as it was important for the film industry to have such a diverse cast.

The film also featured cameos and minor roles from the likes of Sammo Hung, Bolo Yeung and a fresh-faced Jackie Chan;  an actor who would go on to become the closest thing to a “face” that Golden Harvest and kung-fu films would have after Bruce Lee’s death. Enter The Dragon would excite, inspire and influence a whole generation of film makers. Heck, it probably still inspires people in all forms of the entertainment industry, such is its longevity and timeless quality.


5] Game of Death (1978)

Budget: Unknown

Gross: HK $3,436,169

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

It was later on in the year of 1972 that filming was suspended on the movie Bruce Lee hoped would become his best and most personal project to date. Intended to finally be the picture that could display his Jeet Kune Do to its fullest; showing no matter how good other forms of martial arts were, it was his free-flowing, adaptive style that would triumph over their rigidity. A metaphor for life and indeed his own career.

Supposedly, he actually managed to shoot over 100 minutes of footage of The Game of Death before halting production temporarily. Alas, most of that has apparently been lost in the Golden Harvest archives, leaving just 39 minutes of original footage of Lee in his famous yellow jump suit, demonstrating his prowess with nunchucks, bamboo canes and of course his fists and feet on the top three levels of the pagoda. Footage that was originally meant to be the film’s main centrepiece.

Rising through the five levels of the Korean wooden pagoda with his chums, using his own developed technique to dispatch each enemy in order to reach the top and claim an unknown treasure that he could trade with the gangsters who’ve kidnapped his brother and sister, each battle is even more climactic than the last. Unfortunately only three of these fights were recorded; one against Dan Inosanto and the other featuring Ji Han-Jae before meeting former basketball star (and real life student of Bruce Lee’s), the 7ft 2in tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the top floor.

Whilst the actual full plot is never disclosed during the footage recorded, leaving it like some weird sort of home invasion film where Bruce rises through the floors of the pagoda beating up the inhabitants on each level for no real purpose, it is exceptionally well shot and choreographed.

And still makes more sense than the plot of the re-editing of Lee’s original The Game of Death into 1978’s posthumous Game of Death! Released five years after his passing, with a completely different plot about an actor called Billy Ho (played by about four different actors in total, all acting as stand ins for Bruce Lee) and some nonsensical guff involving facial reconstruction and assassination attempts, it blends a limited amount of original footage with entirely new shots by Enter The Dragon director, Robert Clouse. In fact, it opens with the fight scene from Way of the Dragon between Lee and Norris, which wasn’t even shot for The Game of Death! For all intents and purposes, like a lot of Brucespoiltation, it was a cash in as much as it was a chance for Bruce Lee’s fans to have one last opportunity to see their hero on-screen again, albeit via archival footage. It’s a shame that it’s so insufferably dire for the most part.


I suppose after watching these films, I’m still not entirely sure whether my fondness for the films is mostly because of the nostalgia I hold towards them, or if it’s because they’re actually that good. That said, I am absolutely certain that at least three of them definitely hold up due to their innovative style and for their sheer entertainment value. The most important lesson to learn from Bruce Lee and his movies can be summed up with my favourite quote of his from Enter The Dragon:

Don’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!

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.

Best Films on TV. Week commencing 4th March 2013

We’re trying to add a little order and class to the proceedings, so from this week we’ll be publishing our popular (but erratic) #bestfilmonTV recommendations from Twitter in advance. This weeks films have been chosen by podcast contributor and prolific film consumer, Owen Hughes.

fightscenes-rocky-590x350Monday 4th March – Rocky, Channel 5 at 23.00

One man against the odds, down and out on his luck, the girl, the drunk friend, the montage, the music; sure Rocky is about as cheesy and American as feel good movies can be, but this Oscar winning film has heart and gets better every time I see it. Which happens to be about 2 and half times since June last year as it’s on TV all the time. If you miss it on Monday, it will no doubt be on again a week later. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be the best film on TV that day!

Tuesday 5th March – Enter The Dragon, ITV4 at 22.00

I love Jean-Claude Van Damme. I love the fighting tournament films he’s made. But seriously, they would not be in existence if not for this undeniable classic Kung-Fu film starring Bruce Lee at the absolute pinnacle of his career. From the title, to the fight sequences, all the way through to the funky soundtrack, Enter The Dragon is about as cool as movies can get.

Wednesday 6th March – Romulus and the Sabines, Movies4men at 17.20

It’s not often we recommend a movie from the freeview channel Movies4men, and whilst probably not technically the best film on TV (The Truman Show and City of the Living Dead are also on TV on Wednesday) there is something quite charming about it. It’s an Italian film starring Roger Moore that I wouldn’t have seen if not for our Bond special podcast. If you have even just a passing interest in sword and sandal films, give it a try. I won’t promise that you won’t be disappointed, but it’s something a bit different, isn’t it!

Thursday 7th March – In Bruges, Channel 4 at 23.25

(Review courtesy of Gerry McAuley) – In Bruges sticks in the memory for being such a surprise. Let’s be honest, you don’t expect films with everyone’s favourite sex addict Colin Farrell as a main star to be very good. In actuality he is brilliant in this, bringing his character to life quite wonderfully. Add in the excellence of Gleeson and Fiennes and you have a genuinely hilarious film, with some brilliant dialogue, a decent story and that intangible quality always strived for but all-too-rarely achieved – that these people are a bit like me and therefore this is far more interesting than it otherwise might’ve been. I’m also willing to bet that if you’ve seen this before, the wry grin on your face at the memory of it is likely to make you realise that In Bruges merits a re-watch or three.

Friday 8th March – Kull the Conqueror, ITV4 at 23.35

Kevin Sorbo as a barbarian warrior king. Is that not just exactly the kind of film you expect to be on ITV4 at half past 11 on a Friday evening or what? I can’t really proclaim it as the best film on TV as I’ve never had the pleasure of watching it. What you can do is watch this safe in the knowledge that Steve (our illustrious podcast host) will also have to watch this eventually as he embarks on his challenge to plough through the films on Wikipedia’s list of box office bombs. Good luck with that, Steve.

Saturday 9th March – Ginger Snaps, Horror Channel at 00.40

My initial plan here was to pick the more broadly appealing Tarantino film Kill Bill Volume 1 as the best film on TV on Saturday. That’s now whatyou want though, is it? You can watch Kill Bill any other day of the week as it’s on practically all the time. What you need is to stay up really late and watch this very turn-of-the-century, end-of-the-90s, low-budget, teen-horror, coming-of-age, b-movie werewolf film.

Sunday 10th March – The Wizard of Oz, Film4 at 17.00

There are a shed load of good films on TV on Sunday, but with Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great & The Powerful coming out this Friday, maybe it’s time to revisit the original and surprisingly dark classic. The 1939 musical adventure film is also on the IMDb top 250 chart so if there’s no other reason to watch it, then treat it as a box ticking exercise. Cross that one off the list and set yourself up for the first big post-Oscars blockbuster all in one go.

For helpful reminders of when each film is on during the week, follow our Twitter account @FailedCritics