Tag Archives: Errol Morris

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 7 – July Meets and Danny Dyer Tweets

Continuing his ongoing year in review series, Owen runs through some of the films that he’s watched in July. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

143955551975437What the hell happened, July? You used to be cool. The month started out with such optimism. Life was good. Failed Critics was on the up and with an ever increasing number of downloads and visitor numbers to the site every day following the switch to Acast in May, the outlook was positive. Arranging guests to appear on the next three months worth of podcasts was a doddle and the exciting first ever real-life meet up in London was edging closer.

And then, on the afternoon of Thursday 16th July just before the meet was due to take place, like a punch to the gut knocking the wind out of me, I found out that I was to be made redundant from my full time job. Not through any fault of my own either, but because it was cheaper to outsource my team’s role to a contractor. Bummer. A few drinks with some pals that weekend, the worst hangover I’ve ever had and one extraordinary new follower on our Twitter account (DANNY-FUCKING-DYER) later and things started to feel more optimistic again.

Whilst things have worked out for the best now, and from next month I will be a fully enrolled student for the first time since I was 15 years old, it’s both a scary and quite exciting time in my life! It took a lot of hard work and time for me to make this decision. Therefore, for July, the knock on effect (and what I’m certain that readers will perceive as the absolute worst thing to come out of losing my job…!) is that in researching the options I had available to me, I had hardly any spare time later on in July in which to watch films. It’s a good job I ploughed through a few of those nearly three hour long classics earlier in the month, eh?

Anyway, here’s a run through of the films that I actually did manage to see…


Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 July 2015

Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – DEATH WISH 3 (1985)Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – 88 (2014), Terminator Genisys (2015); Sunday – Machete (2010)

death wish 3Not that I was expecting it to be, but Death Wish 3 is nowhere near as good as the original 1974 film starring Charles Bronson as a vigilante ex-cop getting revenge on some criminals. Directed by Michael Winner, a man who (as I’m sure we can all agree) was a massive twat, what Death Wish 3 shares in common with the original is how it notoriously descends deeper and deeper into a right-wing rant about modern societal values. However, whilst Death Wish has its faults, it was at least a proper movie. When Cannon Group created the first sequel, Death Wish II, eight years later with one half of its long-term contracted mega-expensive movie stars (i.e. Bronson, the other being Chuck Norris) it was, by and large, contemptible re-hashed shit. Nevertheless, it made enough money for the studio to be convinced it was a commercial success and another sequel was commissioned. Of course it was commissioned. This is Cannon we’re talking about. They probably commissioned ten Death Wish sequels, designed posters for 50 and pitched 100 before eventually folding. Playing up to the crass vulgarity that its audience so clearly demanded, Death Wish 3 is much more comfortable in being exactly what it is. There’s no integrity here. The biggest achievement is that it was released at all, but with Golan & Globus behind it, I suppose it’s not that surprising. It’s often held up as the only good sequel in the franchise (admittedly I haven’t yet seen Death Wish 4, but Death Wish 5 was … OK) and I can see why. It is completely over the top, ridiculous in the extreme and so very, very eighties. I mean, I still wouldn’t call it a good film; imagine The Purge but with doddery old man Bronson as the protagonist. It’s not far off that quality. Nevertheless, morally dubious nature and an out-right rejection of anything com’nist aside, taking its politics with a pinch of salt and admiring it as a daft action-verging-on-exploitation film, it has its occasional entertaining popcorn moments and could have been a Hell of a lot worse.


Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 July 2015

Monday – The God of Cookery (1996); Tuesday – The Abyss (1989); Wednesday – Hoop Dreams (1994); Thursday – Red Beard (1965); Friday – 30 For 30: Straight Outta L.A. (2010)THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988)Saturday – The Lost Gold of the Highlands (AKA Garnet’s Gold) (2014); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

the thin blue lineIt was about this time last year that Sight & Sound revealed the winners of their Greatest Documentaries of All Time poll. You might remember that soon afterwards, Paul Field issued a rebuttal on our site listing his personal favourite documentaries. There was only one film to make both of his and the S&S list, and that was Errol Morris’ critically acclaimed investigation into the American penal and judicial system that had sentenced a man for the murder of a policeman on little more than circumstantial evidence. Whilst there is a bigger picture discussed about how people in the US at the time could be convicted of crimes, at its core there is of course a very real case to be made for saving the life of one individual who was the victim of what Morris perceived to be a broken bureaucratic and prejudiced system. Paul described the film best when he said “Errol Morris changed the way investigative documentaries are made. People talk about influential or important, this paved the way to save lives.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Aside from being absorbing in its narrative and genuinely emotional without needing to be as highly manipulative as its contemporaries often are, the impact that The Thin Blue Line had is recognisable and virtually insurmountable. It is a breathtaking achievement that undoubtedly deserves the adoration it has garnered.


Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 July 2015

Monday – Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011), Ted 2 (2015), LAND OF SILENCE AND DARKNESS (1971)Tuesday – Heart of Glass (1976); Wednesday – Stroszek (1977); Thursday – Touch of Evil (1958); Friday – Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Kickboxer (1989), Ant-Man (2015); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

land of silence and darknessI had a fortnight of quality films smack bang in the middle of July, with one or two exceptions (ahem, Ted 2). If in the previous month I felt my love for film slipping away ever so slightly after some of the dirge I’d sat through, the first couple of weeks in July had me reacquainted with exactly why I do what I do. I finally got around to watching the last few Werner Herzog movies on my Sky Planner, something I’d been promising to do since watching The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser back in January. I’ve raved about Stroszek on the podcast already and the intentional dreamlike nature Heart of Glass just confused, disoriented and scared me. Continuing with the documentary theme of above, I also watched Encounters at the End of the World, which was fine although far from Herzog’s best. However, it was in Land of Silence and Darkness, the touching portrayal of a snapshot in the life of the death-blind German woman, Fini Straubinger, that I found the most inspiring of the bunch. She was truly a remarkable woman who used her drive, determination and talents to enhance the lives of so many other people. Whether helping a young boy who was blind and deaf since birth to feel music, or taking her friends on trips, or arranging meetings for similarly afflicted people, it’s enough to make me feel emotional just remembering specific scenes. In the most poetic (and probably pretentious) way possible, watching the trust that a different young chap puts in somebody else to do something as simple as enter a swimming pool; it produces a swell of emotion. It’s uplifting, heartbreaking and immensely powerful all at the same time. Fini’s story is inspirational and Herzog captures a kind of abstract beauty in the way that in the face of this cripplingly lonely disability, her strength of character saw her achieve far more than most able-bodied folk ever could. Let’s just say that it certainly put a lot of trivial personal dilemmas into perspective somewhat.


Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 July 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Hyena (2015), Last Man Out of Vietnam (2015); Thursday – Sharknado 3 (2015); Friday – Coherence (2014), CREEP (2015)Saturday – Silent Running (1972), Inside Out (2015); Sunday – Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)

mark duplassFour days in a row without watching a film; that must surely have been a first for me this year! Notwithstanding Thursday’s SyFy channel debut of Sharknado 3, those days that I did see a film, I think I chose well. Some half-decent new releases, a couple of great recommendations picked up from our Best of 2015 Thus Far list, plus two legitimate classics; it was what I can only describe as a solid week. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the lot was Creep, the mockumentary horror-thriller starring, written and directed by Patrick Brice. I didn’t have particularly high expectations of Creep. If anything, I anticipated a slightly run-of-the-mill, cheap looking, pretty average thriller but instead found it a well paced and suspenseful indie horror. The binding ingredient that excels it to a higher rung on the ladder than most is its star, Mark Duplass. He is absolutely fantastic as the unsettlingly odd, terminally ill man who hires a freelance videographer (Brice) to record his remaining days to give to his as yet unborn baby. Admittedly I haven’t seen Duplass in too many films; maybe just Safety Not Guaranteed, Parkland, Zero Dark Thirty and one episode of The League. Yet I would easily call it by far the best performance of his that I’ve seen. He is properly creepy and unnerving and it may even be one of the best performances of the year. The film itself slightly veers off course in the last 5-10 minutes and ends up somewhat trite but otherwise I’d give it a solid 8/10.


Week 5 – Monday 27 – Friday 31 July 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – Irreversible (2002); Wednesday – Wild Tales (2015); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2015)

lost soulFinally for this month, another documentary to end on. One that tracks the tumultuous production of Richard Stanley’s fated adaptation of HG Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau. Particularly with Josh Trank getting a lot of flack from critics at the moment about his recent Fantastic Failure, for anyone interested in learning just how badly things can go wrong on set with a director out of his depth and an interfering studio, I’d highly recommend giving Lost Soul a watch. Of course we’ll never get to see the fully realised original vision Stanley had for Dr Moreau, which is a huge shame, but at least it makes for an interesting story with anecdotes of the crazy Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando’s antics! As for the quality of the documentary; it is a fascinating story to tell, but it was slightly garbled in its structure. For example, without having seen 1996’s Island of Dr. Moreau, I didn’t even know David Thewlis was in the bloody film until I caught a glimpse of him in the background of a still with Brando and Kilmer. Never mind the fact that he stepped in to replace Rob Morrow, whose departure isn’t covered in any significant detail. Similarly, Ron Pearlman is entirely absent too. With both Thewlis and Pearlman declining to appear, it does leave a rather noticeable hole in the documentary. Nevertheless, it is largely an entertaining documentary. And just like Marco Hofschneider – and presumably every other man on set – we’re all basically jealous that we aren’t Val Kilmer. What a guy.


And that’s it. Apologies again for posting this midway through the month and not closer to July! But if you see any opinions above that you agree/disagree with, or would like to chat about any of the other films mentioned, leave a message in the comments box below. Otherwise, I’ll be back next month!

The Greatest Documentaries of All Time – A Rebuttal

On Friday 1st August 2014, Sight & Sound revealed the winner of their Greatest Documentaries of All Time poll. It was the 1929 silent documentary from the USSR, Man With A Movie Camera. Paul, making his debut on Failed Critics, has some choice words to say about a number of the inclusions in their top 10 list and picks the films that should be there instead. None of which feature potatoes.

by Paul Field (@pafster)

There’s a list of the best documentaries ever made knocking about, published by Sight & Sound. For those that don’t know, it’s a monthly publication about film (not films, or movies mind, it’s definitely film). The list has been compiled by 237 critics, curators and academics. Of course it has. If ever there was a self-aggrandizing pissing contest of a list, “no, I adore the 46 second 1895 classic, ‘La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon’“. I bet they don’t you know, they just want their peers to think that they do.

I even gave some of the ones I’d not seen a watch. My favourite was The Gleaners & I, an experimental (uh oh) French documentary about potatoes, old fridges, weird animal animations and some avant-garde jazz. A poorly made mess that has nothing to say and is quite frankly a pile of shit, yet is lovingly gushed over by these clowns – sorry, curators and critics. At one point, I went to watch another of the titles, only to discover a run-time of over 10 hours. TEN HOURS!

As a list of documentaries that have historical significance, sure, fill ya boots, but that these are the ‘best’ documentaries ever made is absurd. There’s only a few of their picks I’d include. So, whilst I theatrically stick a middle finger up at their effort, here’s a far more friendly and accessible list: lunatics, love, sex, crime, douche bags, heroes and freaks abound in these films. If you’re looking for footage of a lens cap swinging in the breeze set to jazz? Move on, this wont be for you.

10. Capturing The Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki) 2003

Jarecki set out to make a film about children’s entertainers and it turned into something very, very different. Who do you believe? Sinister, revelatory and downright shocking.

american movie9. American Movie (Chris Smith) 1999

Laugh and cry your way through Mark Borchardt and his merry band of inept friends attempting to make a movie, in what is one of the finest ‘car-crash’ documentaries ever made.

8. Winnebago Man (Ben Steinbauer) 2009

Jack fucking Rebney, fucking swears like fuckery. Watch Steinbauer track down the man behind the Winnebago sales video outtakes that started life being passed around on VHS.

7. The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield) 2012

More rubber necking a car crash as we spend time with Jackie Siegel as she attempts to build the world’s biggest (and most vulgar) house. It’s all going so well until the financial crisis hits (although their idea of cutting back and ours… not quite the same thing and will make your blood boil over even more).

6. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) 2005

Werner Herzog, you crazy loveable fool you. Here he documents bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, a man who believed Bears trusted him and he could approach and touch them. See how that works out for him…

5. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris) 1988tabloid

This is the only entry that features on the top 10 of both lists. Errol Morris changed the way investigative documentaries are made. People talk about influential or important, this paved the way to save lives.

4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon) 2007

You might think this is about a rivalry over Donkey Kong (a 1980’s video game), but it’s not, it’s about what is the biggest douche bag ever committed to celluloid. Fist chewing cringe overload of the finest order.

3. Tabloid (Errol Morris) 2010

Joyce McKinney and the Mormon in Chains, it’s so completely batshit crazy, that you’ll be struggling to believe this really happened. Just when you think it can’t get any stranger…. It does.

2. The English Surgeon (Geoffrey Smith) 2009

The heart-warming, heartbreaking and utterly wonderful tale of English Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, as he spends his free time travelling to and helping patients in the Ukraine. A proper tear jerker is this, no chance of a dry eye in the house.

image02

1. Paradise Lost 1996, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations 2000, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory 2011, (Berlinger & Sinofsky)

The West Memphis Three case, covered by three investigative docs by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, over a period of 16 years. The journey (and trust me, this is a journey) that Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley take is tragic, terrifying and utterly compelling viewing that should be seen by everyone.

So there we have it, that list will make you laugh and cry and doesn’t feature potatoes, trust me, unless you’re a curator then you’re balls deep in a 1934 Russian experimental mining documentary and don’t care anyway.

Addendum:

Honourable mentions here of those that missed the cut, but are absolutely worth your time and any and all could appear in that top 10. Great Hip Hop Hoax, I Think We’re Alone Now, TalhotBlond, Hell House, Project Nim, Searching for Sugarman, Bronies: The Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, F*CK, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Shooting Bigfoot, 101, Cleanflix, The Cove, Gasland.

You can find the full Sight & Sound list here and see just what got Paul quite so worked up exactly.