Another month into Andrew Brooker’s self-imposed challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days. See how he’s been getting on below.
Listen. Focus on the rain. Can you hear it? Find the rain. Now, once you’ve found it… sink into the pod!
Yes, this week’s main review on the Failed Critics Podcast is the chilling black comedy/horror/psychological thriller, Get Out. Let Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Tony Black lull you into a false sense of security and then fill your head with nonsense for the following 60 minutes.
Things temporarily go all weird on the latest episode as the team try to have a somewhat sensible conversation about the representation of black characters in mainstream media following Thandie Newton’s recent comments.
However, the regular What We’ve Been Watching section soon brings a sense of normality to proceedings as reviews of Simon Amstell’s mockumentary, Carnage, friend of the podcast Jonathan Sothcott’s We Still Kill The Old Way, our fifth best film of last year Green Room, and rebooted comedy Ghostbusters all feature.
Join us again next week for a mighty morphin’ good time.
“These timelines are so confusing.”
2016 has been a real arse of a year, hasn’t it? With only a few days until this awful, awful year is behind us, I thought I would take a few words – OK, a lot of words – to share with you not only my challenge of the last twelve months, but my 365 day long journey towards failure.
I’ve been writing regularly for Failed Critics for more than a year now; closer to two, in fact. Between forcing Owen to constantly edit my pointless rants into something readable (sometimes two or three times a week) and being lucky enough to be invited to appear on the podcast every few weeks, I’m always watching something. But I got to the end of last year and thought that, considering what was becoming start a large part of my life, I wasn’t watching nearly enough. So I set myself simple enough challenge…
A film a day throughout 2016. That’s at least 365 unique films by the time we hit New Year’s Day 2017. They didn’t need to be brand new films, although of course some would have to be, but the list just needed to have 365 films on it.
Sadly, I failed. Miserably.
I started so well too. All those award season films we didn’t get until the new year and all those blu-rays I got for Christmas padded my numbers out nicely early on. With me making a real effort to watch everything in time for the Oscars podcasts in February, everything was looking peachy. The start of my year was looking great.
An early guest spot on fellow Failed Critic Tony Black’s Pick-a-Flick podcast in time for The Hateful Eight meant I banged through three Quentin Tarantino films in one night as preparation, not only filling in my spreadsheet super quick, but giving me the chance to have a night off. Similar super-fast binges followed for specials on South Korean cinema, Shane Black’s filmography and Batman Vs. Superman. It was all going so well.
Then, Deadpool happened.
Within our little echo chamber of people, there are a couple of things I’ve become a bit notorious for this year. The second of these was my explosion of hate and abuse that was my Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie review. A few hundred words of such utter contempt for a film that saw some of the worst things I’ve ever written put to paper for all to see. Everyone seemed to love it.
But the first was the fact that in its short theatrical run, I managed to see Deadpool ten times in the various cinemas local to me that, even with various Unlimited cards to my name, I still paid to see several times. It became the first movie this year that I pre-ordered on American iTunes to ensure I could watch it again as soon as possible, as well as buying a lovely looking steelbook blu-ray when it came out in the U.K.
As of right now, 2016 has seen me watch The Merc with the Mouth an insane sixteen times. But as great as that is, it had a pretty detrimental effect on my list of watched films. Filling out numbers with multiple viewings is great – more on that in a bit – but I wanted a unique film every day; and it was starting to look like it’d be a tough one to pull off now.
Months pass and, while I’m certain I’m going to fall short, I’m kept pretty busy. Between watching entire series’ within franchises before their latest instalments come out (*cough* The Purge: Election Year *cough*) and enjoying Suicide Squad enough to fit in multiple screenings, my numbers aren’t looking too bad. This might even be doable. Especially by the time August came around.
Baby’s first FrightFest!
I’m a long time horror fan. It’s usually my genre of choice and going to Fright Fest has been a dream of mine for years. This writing nonsense was the perfect (extra) excuse to spend a couple of hundred quid and get my arse to London. Sadly, work commitments (namely: hating my job), meant that my trip was kind of gimped and I could only manage three of the five days. But I saw some amazing stuff, including Rob Zombie’s latest gorefest, 31. It broke into my top ten instantly and is another film that I’ve paid to watch at least three times since I first saw it – including a trip to the hallowed grounds of the Prince Charles Cinema to see it on the big screen again.
Three days of non-stop horror added something like twenty films to my list in a short space of time. A welcome boost to my spreadsheet. The introduction of “Netflix of Horror” service Shudder to the UK certainly didn’t hurt either.
One of the reasons I set myself this challenge was because there was so much stuff taking up film watching time that I wanted to make space for more. But I also wanted to share it with the family. Obviously, my three year old can’t be watching Ringu, Suburra or Pet Sematary – all films that are on the list – but there’s a huge amount of children’s films that we can watch together. I could kill two birds with one stone; I can show Nikita a variety of films, avoiding the dross that is kid’s TV, and pad out my numbers during the day.
This backfired horribly. Instead of getting a ton of extra films on my list, I ended up watching thirteen films 83 times. EIGHTY THREE! This included sixteen views of Big Hero 6. We watched Zootropolis eight times, all of them at the cinema; and one ‘movies for juniors’ trip to see Kubo and the Two Strings, not at all influenced by the bollocking I took from Callum Petch for having not watched it yet. (Excellent little film, by the way). But, you know, she’s also squeezed in multiple watches of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and the much hated Ghostbusters reboot, so I’m not going to complain too hard, even if the little git did ruin my numbers!
Of course it’s all well and good me blaming everyone else for me failing this ridiculous challenge. Once October rolled around, I had no one but myself to blame. It turned out that convincing Failed Critics head honcho Owen to give up his feed to me and my mate to chat bollocks about video games once a fortnight was the easy part to starting the Character Unlock podcast. Losing a night to record and a night (sometimes two) to editing eats away at your valuable film watching time. More than that, if you wanna talk about games, it helps if you’ve played them first! There goes more hours that could have been spent with my hands down my pants watching films. Damn, whatever was I thinking?
And that brings us to today. Where I’m sitting in the house on my own watching Scuzz TV and writing this instead of adding more films to my list. It’s no wonder I failed at this challenge this year. Hitting a little over half of the intended 365 unique films, I managed a measly 213. Once I tallied up the films I’d watched multiple times, whether it be with the little one or because I was weirdly obsessed with Ryan Reynolds’ spandex covered arse, my total is a slightly more respectable 344. Still not good enough, but I’m getting there.
So what does 2017 hold? Well, I’m looking to try the same challenge again once January kicks in, but I’ll be happy if I can beat this year’s numbers. I’ll be leaving Letterboxd aside and sticking to my Numbers spreadsheet and hoping for the best. With several long running franchises getting sequels this year, I’ll be binging through collections like Alien, Saw and The Fast and the Furious early on. I have every intention of hitting FrightFest stronger this year and getting to a few shows at the London Film Festival after having to skip it this year.
This time around though, I’m dragging you lot along with me. To try and force me to keep better track of what I’m doing, and hopefully to embarrass me enough to actually work at it, I’ll be putting together a monthly article covering the best and worst of what I’ve seen that month and hopefully start a bit of a running tally. I might not make it to 365, but I’m damn sure going to have fun trying. See you in January.
Every week Owen Hughes rides the Failed Critics steam train from host Steve Norman’s caravan park in Swanage all the way to guest Andrew Brooker’s residence in Milton Keynes, stopping at the exact same point along the way to peer through the windows of the FC HQ in Oxford.
Unfortunately there are no affairs or murders for him to observe and fantasise about, only a depressed version of himself wondering why the bloody hell he sits through these uninspiring movies that 2016 keeps on churning out. Specifically the latest to cross the team’s path, The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt.
This week’s journey also pulls in at the games and tech podcast Super Pixels Radio stop. Failed Critics debutant Elliot Beverley chats with Owen about the animated stop-motion family movie, Kubo and the Two Strings.
We also have the buffet cart stocked with the latest trailers from the New York Comic Convention. It’s got all of your favourites only slightly overpriced, including Power Rangers, John Wick 2, Iron Fist, and the new Resident Evil and War of the Planet of the Apes teasers.
In What We’ve Been Watching, Brooker leaves the quiet carriage to shout about the Ghostbusters extended edition, while Steve shimmies out of the bog after feeling less than Supersonic to review the new Oasis documentary, as well as revisiting The Martian for the first time since its cinema release.
Join us again next week for a triple bill of film franchises that should’ve ended before reaching a trilogy.
Welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, where the traditionally entirely-male line-up has been replaced, with hosts Stephanie Norman and Olivia Hughes, and their guests Andrea Brooker and Brianna Plank – and if anything, it’s an improvement over the originals.
The re-imagined, re-booted, re-failed foursome review the comedy film that seemingly hasn’t been able to escape public opinion over the past fortnight (for both good and bad reasons) – that is Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth.
The Ghostbusters appreciation doesn’t stop there for one of the guests, as prior to our main review, Brooker enthused over fan-doc Ghostheads, which is available on Netflix. As, coincidentally, is the latest Netflix Original, the sci-fi fantasy drama Stranger Things, which receives heaps of praise from both Steve and Owen. We’re all about the praise on this episode apparently as Brian also lavishes some on Guy Ritchie’s spy-comedy from last year, The Man From UNCLE.
There was even room this week for the group to discuss the Emmy nominations and for Steve to not mess-up the quiz!
“Welcome to the good old days of New York.”
I’ve just walked out of my local cinema in one piece. I survived the latest trip to my local Cineworld thinking that this might be my final act. For the last few months we’ve been bombarded with basement dwelling imbeciles trying to convince us that the remake/reboot/reimagining of bonafide 80’s classic Ghostbusters was going to ruin our childhoods, destroy the ozone, melt the polar ice caps and bring about the apocalypse with its evil plan to replace all the ghostbusters with ladies. With lady parts. Who have the audacity to have boobs, and lady periods, and god knows what else. Leg wax perhaps?
This isn’t to say I went in hopeful. It is a remake after all, and if there’s something I really crave with my cinema going, it’s something original. But… Well, you gotta try everything haven’t you?
Years after going their own separate ways, paranormal investigators Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) find themselves working together again. Joined by nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), the team soon find themselves digging around haunted houses and God-knows-what as reports of ghost sightings around the city of New York need looking into. When subway worker and local historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) gets the shock of her life coming face to face with a ghost in the tunnels under the city, she quickly joins the girl ghoul hunters and the four become the Ghostbusters.
Wouldn’t you just know it? Turns out that the increased ghost sightings have been done on purpose. Someone is out to release generations of angry, trapped spirits, and with them begin an apocalypse. With the world against them, the team must spring into action and stop the maleficent ghosts and the end of the world.
Let’s get this out of the way early. It’s ok to be a bit hesitant about this film. A 50/50 reboot/remake of Ghostbusters was never going to garner much in the way of good vibes. It’s not ok, however, to act like an entitled, selfish, sexist asshat about it. Watch it, don’t watch it, I don’t care. Just don’t be a dick about it.
Now that’s out of the way, a little positivity.
Ghostbusters is great. It’s more than great, I loved every second spent watching it and I can’t wait to go watch it again. That’s not to say it’s perfect, of course it’s not. But it’s absolutely worth your time, in my humble opinion.
Paul Feig, the guy behind films like The Heat and Bridesmaids has modernised this classic and given new life to it; in turn bringing a few of the best comedic actors – of any gender – into the limelight and letting them have a bit of fun with the characters they are playing.
The originals had a real sense of fun and adventure in them. Their tone was never serious and still gets laughs out of me to this day. This lovely little reimagining of their story keeps all of those feelings there for you. You never feel like you’re not having a ton of fun, and it even manages to whip up a surprise or two along the way; for both us and for the New York natives hunting beasties.
The beauty of this film lies in the chemistry of its stars. In absolutely no time at all, the leading ladies have gelled together not only as a fresh-faced ghostbusting team, but as an awesome little comedy troupe. With a steady stream of one-liners and physical gags that hit the mark almost every time, it’s evident in every scene that our new ghostbusters are having a great time in front of the camera.
Maybe my favourite part though, is how no one thought it necessary to have analogue representations of the previous team. There’s no lady Peter Venkman, there’s no female Egon. All of the previous characters’ traits are represented (more or less) but there’s no one person filling each role; and considering how easy it would have been to have a selection of carbon copies, that’s possibly the bit that impresses me the most.
In fact, Jones’ Patty Tolan is the closest to a direct comparison there is, being the non-scientist of the group and more or less tripping into the job; she’s almost the mirror image of Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zedmore. But even then, as the historian of the group, she definitely shows more purpose than the classic character in it for “the steady paycheck”. Also getting the gender reversal treatment is the Ghostbusters’ receptionist; out is Annie Potts’ feisty Janine and in is the gorgeous but dumbass Kevin Beckman, with Chris Hemsworth having a whale of a time in the role.
And I tell you, considering how much of a fan of her I am, I was surprised to see the awesome Melissa McCarthy upstaged and out-laughed at almost every step by the little known – at least here in the UK – Kate McKinnon. Her Holtzmann is laugh-a-minute brilliance that will get her an army of insta-fans with her role here. Me included.
If we can step away from the controversial stars for a few minutes though, I’d love to chat a bit about the film.
I would comfortably say that Ghostbusters is probably the most well put together and well-paced comedy I’ve seen in quite some time. Feig’s films – as I’ve said plenty of times before – have been pretty hit and miss for me and his pacing is definitely one of his biggest problems. He doesn’t always know what to keep and what to cut; something very obvious with this film. With four Saturday Night Live improvisation specialists in your bill, there’s going to be times when you have to cut something you love to help the pacing.
Luckily, this time around, the comedy hits the right notes so frequently that you don’t feel the film sagging and you can happily enjoy your two hours without so much as a boring scene or a bit of dead air. In a twist from the usual “all the best bits are in the ads”, somehow, we got all the worst bits in the marketing leading up to the film’s release. The flat jokes aren’t any better in the film, the jokes that fall on their face in the trailers still fall on their face in the film, but they’re 90 seconds of gags in a two-hour movie. If ever there was a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a film on its trailers, Ghostbusters is it.
Of course, you can’t have a ghost film without a few ghosts, and here’s where I had a bit of a tough time. The ghosts look great, they really do. They’re beautifully detailed and once you’ve gotten used to them, they’re a great addition to the film. Unfortunately, and I am very aware this is just how I saw it, they reminded me far too much of the awful spooks in the even worse The Haunted Mansion; not a good film to be bringing into the minds of your audience when you’re trying to get them to enjoy your flick!
But, they do fit into the film nicely. Their aesthetic is eventually important to the film and you know what? If I have to reach for the style of ghosts you chose for your film in order to drag out a negative, you ain’t doing that bad a job.
Is Ghostbusters perfect? No, of course it’s not. It’s a sci-fi action comedy about ghost hunting in New York. But it’s a barrel of fun. There’s never a dull moment, even in the early half hour while the film finds its footing and you’re not sure if this is going to work. But with enough cameos to embarrass your average Kevin Smith production and a solid job done by everyone on both sides of the camera, in Ghostbusters we have the year’s first proper summer blockbuster. I can’t wait to watch it again.
Welcome to this week’s episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, with your hosts … erm … Stan? Stuart? Stephen? Steve, Steve Norman, that’s the fella, and Owen Hopkins– I mean, Hughes. They’re joined by Andrew Brooker to review, look at, discuss, scratch their heads and generally mull over the latest Fox-driven superhero movie, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Before all of that, the trio run through the latest film news to cross their paths; namely the trailers for Ghostbusters (and why it might be OK to not like it), Star Trek Beyond, The Purge: Election Year and Independence Day: Resurgence. There’s also room for a discussion about Nicolas Winding Refn’s plans to remake Witchfinder General, as well as an astonished glance towards the impressive cast list of Thor: Ragnarok, boasting the likes of Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban and Jeff Goldblum.
As ever, the ongoing, never ending quiz battle between Owen and Steve rages on, this week pitting the latter against Brooker as they try to work out which X-Men names are real and which Owen has simply made up. In What We’ve Been Watching: Steve revisits a the first and the most recent of the X-Men movies prior to his trip to see Apocalypse; Brooker MC’s over Magic Mike XXL; and Owen gushes over cult zombie classic The Return of the Living Dead.
Join us again next week for a special movie-star triple bill episode.
In this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, it’s time for a crossover episode! Inspired by the news that 21 Jump Street and Men In Black will be merging for a new upcoming comedy, Steve Norman and Owen meet Paul Field and try to come up with some ideas for other movie characters and franchises that they would like to see crossover during the triple bill segment of the podcast.
Meanwhile, they try not to cross the streams when talking about the latest Ghostbusters trailer after its release earlier this week. We also have a wide range of movies to review! Owen takes a look at Studiocanal’s DVD release of the Stanley Milgram biopic, Experimenter, starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder. Paul checks out Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy after the hype over the supposed “scariest trailer ever”. Elsewhere, Steve rethinks his opinion on big-dumb-action-film Battleship, but has his opinion reaffirmed on the Men In Black series.
It’s also, like, our 200th episode, or something. Apparently.
On an audio-pod adventure, they got hit by cosmic rays. And the four would change forever, in some most fantastic ways! Oh, Steve Norman is sarcastic, Brian Plank’s unusually polite. Carole is obsessed with Bill Murray, and Owen’s opinions are a crock of shite. Call for Four… Failedastic Four!
Yes, that’s right listeners. This week’s main release review is the not particularly well received [ahem] latest superhero film from Josh Trank, Fantastic Four. Or Fantfourstic if you’re going to take the poster literally (and we do.) We try to work out what exactly didn’t work and why it didn’t work with our special guests Carole Petts and Brian Plank, both of whom contributed to the Avengers Assemble and The Incredible Hulk episodes respectively in our Avengers Minisodes series from earlier in the year.
Staying with the comicbook theme, the team also take a look at the divisive Deadpool trailer that officially launched last week and react to the news that Bill Murray will be cameoing in the new Ghostbusters film. There’s even enough time for: Brian to spread the joy of Pixar’s recent hit, Inside Out; Carole questions the BBFC and their decision to rate The Diary of a Teenage Girl as an 18; Steve continues to be impressed by Ben Affleck’s directorial prowess with Gone Baby Gone; and Owen stares into the Heart of Darkness by watching Apocalypse Now.
Join us again next week for reviews of Pixels, Paper Towns and The Man From UNCLE.
A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1984, a year that had lots of good films but only a select few great films..
By Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)
Based on the George Orwell classic of the same name and directed by Michael Radford, Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a dystopian alternative reality whereby the populous are enslaved by a totalitarian government under the watchful eye of the supreme leader known only as Big Brother.
Nineteen Eighty-Four paints a painful and all too realistic view of what big-government without restraint could be like. I happened to watch this for the first time after Netflix launched in the UK just a couple of years ago and I was taken aback by how relevant this is as a pre-cursor to a society that has been conditioned to accept mass-CCTV and government intrusion of their privacy almost as a given.
John Hurt is excellent in the lead role as Winston, a man who longs to love and lust and think for himself, all emotions that are outlawed by the state. The mighty Richard Burton makes his final silver-screen appearance as the state’s brutal iron-hand O’Brien and plays the role with just enough restraint to make him even more sadistically sinister. The film makes great use of colour to remove any touch of individualism from society, everything is steel, grey and cold which further establishes the mindset of a society bred to work for the exclusive benefit of the state.
Without going into spoilers, this isn’t a film to watch if you are looking for a happy-ending. Everything plays out with a ruthless and calculating efficiency of a state built as a machine. As I understand, the film may not quite live up to the splendour of the novel; however, when watched with a clear mind it is astonishingly profound as modern society continues to live under the influence of the metaphorical Big Brother.
Let’s get one thing straight from the get go. This is not a Vietnam movie, but I was somewhat drawn to it initially due to my interest in Vietnam movies. The 80s has a boatload of them, however Birdy is more of a psychological examination that just happens to feature a voyage into Vietnam for the two main protagonists, Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al (Nic Cage).
The film follows 2 high school friends who are eventually separated and are sent to Vietnam. Birdy is already dealing with mental issues of feeling outcasted from his peers and has an unusually intense fascination with birds and flight. It later becomes apparent this is a metaphor for wanting to flee from the burdens of his life, however the trauma and mental fatigue of the war causes this rather innocent fascination to become an all-consuming fixation as his mental state deteriorates and he eventually winds-up in asylum.
Thankfully, the War element does not get in the way of a complex tale of friendship and adversity but merely acts as a vehicle to deliver to the mental breaking point for the Birdy character. Nic Cage, in an early and refreshing role, performs admirably as the linchpin buddy that keeps Birdy mentally balanced in the real-world. Given that he must act with his face behind bandages for the large parts of the film shows great acting dexterity that is lacking from some of his later performances.
Modine is more Private Pyle than Private Joker as a good all-american kid who finds solace through delusion and again has to dig deep into the actor’s toolbox to perform a role with no human persona during the most intense parts of the movie.
Director Alan Parker does a magnificent job in making a movie that is hard to remove from the psyche – again, for not especially positive reasoning. The story is far from triumphant and is quite depressing in places and is hardly box-office material. However, that is not meant to dissuade you from seeing this film. It is one that lingers in the memory and you’ll find few characters as interesting or as touching as Birdy.
If there are movies that can pretty much stereotype a decade, then The Terminator surely has to be on the shortlist. Made with little expectation for box-office success, the pressure was off to deliver a fully adult orientated science-fiction romp for a then little known director, James Cameron.
The film throws you into the deep-end right from the opening sequence, whereby Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time to modern day Los Angeles and turns up butt-naked and looking to acquire his target, Sarah Connor who would eventually give birth to the leader of mankind’s last line of rebellion against the enslaving machines.
At the same time, the rebels from the future send back one soldier to protect her, thus beginning a deadly cat and mouse pursuit between the 2 human targets and an unstoppable force brought menacingly to the screen by Schwarzenegger.
Where The Terminator succeeds is in convincing the viewer that this complex sci-fi story could indeed be a far-out possibility. The mythology is established very quickly in the film through the flashbacks of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) that portrays the bleak future that mankind has created in its pursuit of technological advancement.
That said, it’s popcorn friendly at the core. Arnie puts in a fantastic stone-cold performance as the villain of the film and given his enormous physique is entirely convincing as a killing-machine. Linda Hamilton shows great versatility initially as the 80s damsel in distress to slowly maturing into a heroine as she comes to terms with her role in mankind’s future.
The action satisfies, plenty of gun-battles and well choreographed car-pursuits ensure the momentum of the film is heightened throughout as the Terminator is in constant pursuit of the vulnerable human heroes.
Curiously, The Terminator doesn’t even make the top 10 highest grossing movies of the year. This goes to prove what an incredible following the film drew from the home video market and a master-stroke (deliberately or otherwise) in Cameron waiting a further 8 years to give a baiting fan-base the sequel they so longed for.
The Terminator leaves a fantastic legacy in establishing James Cameron as one of the hottest directors in the business setting him up wonderfully for his like Sci-Fi extravaganza in Aliens whilst taking Biehn along for the ride as well as bit-parters Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, whilst firmly establishing Schwarzenegger as one of Hollywood’s hottest action stars.
Ghostbusters is a long standing love for many movie-goers, myself included. It’s probably the oldest memory I have of watching movies; those classic old RCA red-spine VHS tapes were pretty unique and haven’t left my memory in all this time. I could ramble on about why Ghostbusters is great and it only narrowly missed out on the #1 spot for 1984 in my assessment. However, Failed Critics has its very own Ghostbusters superman. So to tell you why Ghostbusters is so good and still so revered to this day, I hand over to Failed Critics own, Carole Petts.
On the occasion of Ghostbusters’ 30th anniversary, I wrote for the Guardian about why this silly science-fiction comedy has ensured in the public consciousness for so long. I’ve tried many times to pinpoint why this is my favourite film of all time, and honestly, it always comes back to the fact that it makes me laugh without fail; that every joke is as fresh now as it was when it was filmed. I’m clearly not alone in this – some of my favourite viewings have been with an audience, who clearly adore the film as much as I do (validating my devotion somewhat, it has to be said) and will quote and laugh along with me all the way through. You simply can’t ask for anything more from a comedy film.
The plot is actually an archetypal product of the early 80s age of Reaganomics. Three Columbia University parapsychologists – Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, at the top of his 80s comedy game) are stripped of their public sector funding and forced to start their own business hunting and trapping spooks. Coincidentally, a massive paranormal event is brewing which will bring about ‘a disaster of Biblical proportions’, so that’s handy. The aforementioned calamity is personified by two Central Park West neighbours – Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, showcasing hitherto unknown comedic muscle) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis, underrated here but who then received many deserved leading roles as a direct result). The whole shebang is brought to a show stopping finale when the destroyer of worlds is summoned in the form of a giant marshmallow man trademark beloved of Boy Scout camps across America. Stupid? Of course it is. But it’s endearing, and funny, and touching at times as well.
I wasn’t old enough to see Ghostbusters when it was released at the cinema – indeed I had a VHS taped from a TV screening, and only saw the full, uncut version for the first time when I was 18 and received the DVD for Christmas (it still appals me that Egon swears and Ray appears to receive a blowjob from a ghost). I was the perfect age to be scared by the library ghost and the Class 5, full-roaming vapour in the hotel, named in the cartoon as Slimer. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Alien, and to know that Sigourney Weaver was the world’s number one female kick-ass action hero at the time this film was made. But I knew this film was going to stay with me for the rest of my life. As I’ve gotten older, it’s taken on many different meanings to me – I’ve known what it’s like to be part of a public sector organisation that suddenly no longer needs you, and to be thrown into the real world (although I hasten to add my departure was not precipitated by making up test results in order to impress pretty ladies). But if this film has taught me anything, it’s to have faith in my own abilities. And that everyone has three mortgages nowadays.
Once upon a time in America is a Sergio Leone film. No, it’s THE Sergio Leone film! Set in prohibition era New York, the film transcends almost 4 decades following a gang of young hoodlums who engage in petty crime and rise to eventual bosses of the local bootlegging industry. The film is told from the viewpoint of Noodles (Roberto De Niro) who after 30 years of exile returns to New York after a member of his former gang makes contact him with, simultaneously blowing his new identity.
The film segregates beautifully across a complicated time-line and fills the viewer in via well executed flashbacks on the gang’s struggles in a Jewish ghetto in the 1920’s as children and their progression to adults consumed by the greed, lust and power that eventually destroys the gang and their friendships. De Niro is slick and at the top of his game, whilst James Woods puts together what I think is his strongest performance as the overly ambitious and ruthless Max.
The placing of the film amongst the all-time greats is hotly contested, partially due to the varying number of cuts available for the film. On its original release, a heavily edited version was compiled at the request of Warner Bros. At only 139 minutes in length it was a commercial and critical disaster and was put together against the wishes of Leone to attempt to squeeze more screenings per day of the movie and remove concerns over the graphic content.
However, many a critic would praise alternative cuts that remained more faithful to the original Leone edit, with Sight & Sound polling the movie in their top 25 films of all (at #10) and director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, etc) ranking it as the best movie depicting the prohibition era. Given that Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather to work on this project, he had immense belief in the story and his ability to deliver a crime epic that would become his legacy.
I am often surprised at how few people I speak to that enjoy crime movies that have not seen Once Upon a Time in America. That said, to be enjoyed at its best requires a good 3 hours or so dedication making it a tough watch, but boy is it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of The Godfather or Goodfellas or other films of that variety, this is a must watch. Sergio Leone signs off with what is his final and greatest masterpiece, and without question is the best film of 1984.
You can find more of our revitalised Decade In Film articles so far here, from 1963-2004.
Join us in a new weekly article taking a peek the week in film. Steve, the beloved host of our weekly shambolic film podcast, gives his opinion on some of the top stories this week.
by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)
And that feeling is one of happiness after seeing the fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy this week. The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been met with universal acclaim and huge box office takings.
I have seen some great films in the last 12 months from Oscar nominated The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave to inspirational sports documentary Next Goal Wins and none of them made me want to sit down and watch them again the same day. With Guardians I would have happily gone back to the cinema in the evening to view it a second time.
James Gunn was let loose with the studio’s riskiest film considering the characters are not that well known among the general population and perhaps lack the same draw as Iron Man or Captain America.
But a fun trailer, five star reviews, great performances, hilarious jokes, a banging soundtrack and stunning visuals have turned this into a contender for Marvel’s best film yet.
Inbetweeners a Rock and a Hard Place
It is always a worrying sign when movies forgo press screenings or advance screenings but hopefully this will not be the case with the imaginatively titled ‘The Inbetweeners Movie 2’.
The first film, set during Simon, Will, Neil and Jay’s first lads’ holiday, was a surprising success, raking in £45m at the box office and managed to bridge the gap between sitcom and feature film that many comedies fail to do.
Milligan, Cleese, Everett…Brent?
Ricky Gervais has announced plans to bring his most iconic creation (no, not Karl Pilkington) David Brent to the big screen.
Brent first appeared in mockumentary sitcom ‘The Office’, written by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and became one of the funniest characters in British TV history and even breaking America leading to a US spinoff version.
Brent came back for Comic Relief and a few Youtube videos and despite fears of a dead horse being flogged Gervais retained the humour of Wernham Hogg’s finest.
Gervais on the big screen has generally not been a success and it remains to be seen if Merchant will be back to co-write but hopefully this will be more Alpha Papa and less Mr Bean’s Holiday.
Who You Gunna Call? Paul Feig!
The director of Bridesmaids and The Heat has been linked with taking the reins of the third Ghostbusters film which could star an all-female lead cast (no immature ectoplasm jokes from me).
Why we quite need a third Ghosbusters film I don’t know.
Next week, Steve will return to give us another round up of the latest in film news.
With a festive season packed full of brilliant films on TV, Owen picks the cream of the crop for you over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day itself and Boxing Day. Whilst it’s 4 days shorter than the usual Best Film on TV article, it’s practically bursting with quality movies, starting with….
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (ITV4, 12.10) – A favourite of ITV’s as it seems to be on at least once a month recently, it doesn’t make it any less worthy of your time. Starring Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and ol’ Blue Eyes himself Frank Sinatra, this psychological thriller about a returning POW who’s been brainwashed by the commie Koreans is as nightmarish as it is absorbing.
It’s a Wonderful Life (Channel 4, 13.10) – Whilst the proposed sequel is still some way off development, it wouldn’t be Christmas if this wasn’t on TV now would it? Last year we actually outlined exactly why you should see this in James and Kate’s 12 Days of Christmas series.
Fantasia (BBC2, 16.15) – Believe it or not, this is actually the terrestrial premiere of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, despite the fact it was released some 73 years ago now. Blending classical music with spell-binding, magical animation, it’s sure to draw in a huge number of viewers young and old to marvel at the splendour of classic Disney.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Film4, 00.45) – Adapted into a feature film by Finnish director Jalmari Helander from his own short film, this is a Christmas film like very few others! As a horror-comedy about a young boy that discovers the real Santa, an evil child stealing monster, is trapped in the mountains of his home town, it quite obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously! You will either love or hate it. If you stay up to watch it, it could even be the first film you see on Christmas day!
Children of Men (ITV4, 01.05) – Not Christmassy at all. In fact, I don’t even like Children of Men. However, director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity made it into the top 10 of 2013 in the Sight and Sound list and was mostly enjoyed by our podcast team and by Carole, our roving reporter at the London Film Festival, so one of his earlier sci-fi films about a world where women have stopped giving birth may appeal to the cinephiles out there looking for something a little bleaker this Christmas.
The Red Shoes (BBC2, 08.50) – The best Powell & Pressburger film that I’ve seen, The Red Shoes is about a ballet.. but don’t let that put you off like it threatened to do to the uncultured swine that I am. It is truly excellent. The actual ballet scene itself is mesmerising. The hissing romance between its two superb lead performers, Moira Shearer and Marius Goring, stuns the film into one of the most enchanting and mesmerising I’ve ever seen. Atmospheric, beautiful, tense. amazing, spectacular, illuminating… I could go on!
Gone With The Wind (Five, 10.15) – The episodic structure to this epic Civil War southern romance story from 1939 starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh means you can quite easily dip in and out of it between your view getting blocked by nan standing in front of the tele and helping with the tidying up without really missing much. If you make it to the end in one sitting, complete with sitting through ad breaks, then frankly my dear, I’m proud of you.
Casablanca (Five, 14.35) – Another film I don’t care too much for but is hailed as a classic is Michael Curtiz’s Oscar winning war time political-romance drama Casablanca. Taking a look at the profile page for the film over on Letterboxd, only one reviewer has given it anything less than 5 stars; even they gave it 4.5 stars! That, my friends, is a rarity. I would wager it will be a while again before I see the likes of that. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.. ok I’ll drop the cheesy quote-jokes.
Toy Story 3 (BBC1, 15.20) – Whilst it has been argued that Pixar are on the decline as of late, it’s hard to beat watching one of their films on Christmas Day. BBC seem to have developed a tradition of showing their movies on the 25th December, and this year they have decided to air the eleventh highest grossing film of all time. Indeed it was even nominated for an Oscar in 2011! Financial and critical success might suggest Pixar are far from a spent force, but nothing they have released since the third instalment of their Toy Story franchise has come close to matching its achievements.
The Muppets Christmas Carol (Channel 4, 16.35) – As I’m yet to pick a proper Christmas family movie, taking a peak at the schedule, it’s got to be the Muppets Christmas Carol. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you why you should be watching this. It’s plainly obvious.
Big Fish (Film4, 16.50) – Ewan McGregor plays the son of a dying father in this fantasy adventure film. I don’t tend to pick many Tim Burton films for these Best Film on TV articles, however I will make an exception for Big Fish as it’s the time of forgiving. It might just be the last good film he made.
Ghostbusters (5*, 16.55) – If Big Fish.. ain’t your thing.. what else should you watch? Ghostbusters!
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (BBC3, 20.30) – Ah, good ol’ Indy. Reliable, entertaining Indy. Proper Christmas day evening adventure film Indy. If you, like many other incorrect people, consider Temple of Doom to be a bit shit, you could wait for The Last Crusade on Boxing day at 20.00… or even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is on BBC1 at 18.05 on Friday.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (BBC1, 00.40) – With the release of Anchorman 2 last week, the long awaited sequel, BBC1 are giving you the chance to go back and watch where it all started. Arguably Will Ferrell’s greatest comedy creation pits the out-dated news anchor against an up-and-coming female counterpart. If you’ve had a bit to drink, just realised the time, and can stomach staying up just another hour and a half, then this is the perfect tonic.
The Host (2006) (Film4, 01.30) – As per my review on the latest podcast, this South Korean creature-feature about a mutant creature from the Han River in Seoul is tons of fun. Grotesque and hilarious, with a great cast of people recognisable from lots of other Korean films, such as Kang-ho Song (the vampiric priest in Thirst, and also in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), and Doona Bae (who was also in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance as well as one of the best films of the year in Cloud Atlas), it is rightly regarded as one of the country’s best.
Ben Hur (More4, 11.45) – It’s just not Christmas without Ben Hur. Sword and sandal epics are what Christmas TV needs; Ben Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, Jason and the Argonauts, etc. It’s the time of year where it’s acceptable to watch an hour or so of a 3+ hour long film before giving in and changing channel, yet still feeling proud of yourself. Hopefully you time it just right so that you tune in just as the chariot race scene begins.
Paths of Glory (ITV4, 12.05) – Stanley Kubrick is a favourite of the Failed Critics team, even being inducted into our illustrious Corridor of Praise this year. His anti-war film from 1957 may be rather more tame than his more famous war film, Full Metal Jacket, but it is still just as impressive. It pits Kirk Douglas as the commanding officer, defending a group of soldiers facing a court martial. It’s bold and powerful, arguably the best of Kubrick’s pre-Strangelove films.
Fantastic Mr Fox (More4, 18.10) – Wes Anderson can be an acquired taste for some, but his quirky stop-motion animation based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book is a great film to wind down to after a long and tiring day of unwrapping presents, cooking a massive dinner, and pretending to be pleased at your annual gift set of Dove for Men from Boots.
Sightseers (Film4, 21.00) – As far as road trip films go, Ben Wheatley’s sinister and darkly comic story of a young couple from Redditch, serial killing their way through a caravan holiday, is one of the best, most disturbing and hilarious of its kind. It even made it onto James’ top 10 of 2012 list last year. If that isn’t recommendation enough, then I don’t know what is.
Horror of Dracula (BBC2, 00.10) – Remember when you were young and these Hammer Horror films used to be on TV really late at night? Me neither. I’m too young for that. But my dad assures me this was the case. Dracula, starring Sir Christopher Lee as in the titular role and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, is arguably one of their finest. Certainly one of their most iconic and justifiably so.
This week, the ghoulish Owen HuooooOOOoooOOooooOOoooooooooooghes picks the most gruesome and pant-wettingly terrifying horror films on TV, alongside the most pant, er, dryingly films in this Halloween special.
What to watch: Final Destination, Channel 5, 10.55pm – A group of kids trying to outrun Death himself opens itself up to some of the most creative character-deaths in the genre. Despite being 13 years old, it has aged surprisingly well. The story is inventive and darkly comic; like watching a supernatural movie version of an episode of Casualty. That’s meant to be a positive comment, by the way.
What not to watch: House of Wax, ITV2, 11pm – Unfortunately this isn’t the 3D House of Wax from the 1950’s featuring the all time great Vincent Price. Instead, this is the Jaume Collet-Serra remake (I use that term loosely) from a few years ago. Instead of featuring of the most iconic actors of the horror genre, it has the utterly terrible Paris Hilton. Do not watch this if you’re looking for some late night scares. You won’t find them here.
Tuesday 29 October
What to watch: The Last Exorcism, Film4, 1.05am (Wednesday morning) – Found footage horrors aren’t for everybody (as our dear leader James will testify) but this combines the best of both found footage and possesion films to give us something particualrly frightening. It might not be the most original or groundbreaking 90 minutes of celluloid you’ll ever see, but you could do far worse this week.
What not to watch: Jeepers Creepers, 5*, 9pm – May be slightly harsh to say not to watch this early noughties supernatural tale of a demon hunting down some road tripping college kids, as the first half of Jeepers Creepers is fairly enjoyable. However, from the one and only time I’ve seen it (back in 2001 in the cinema) I remember laughing at how much it fell to pieces in the second half. From not-bad to utterly-terrible in the same amount of time it takes you to say “be eating you”.
Wednesday 30 October
What to watch: Drag Me To Hell, 5*, 9pm – It’s something of a mixed week for 5*. Each evening they will be showing a horror at 9pm, some worth watching, some not worth watching, and some I’ve not even bothered watching. On Wednesday though is Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi‘s return to the twisted and the gory with what is both hilarious and sickening all at the same time and such a welcome relief after the travesty that was Spider-Man 3. More of these please, Mr Raimi!
What not to watch: ??? – Between End of Days on Film4, and Hannibal on ITV2, I’m not sure I can pick a terrible film for you tonight as I’ve not seen either of them. It’s a pretty baron evening for horror on Wednesday. Just stick with Drag Me To Hell is my advice. Or get a DVD. Or Netflix. Or… anything really. It’s only one more day ’til Halloween, Silver Shamrock.
Thursday 31 October – HALLOWEEN!
What to watch: Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages, Film4, 1.10am – I’d love to tell you why you should also be as excited as I am about the screening of this Danish silent movie from 1922, but without having seen it myself yet, it would be somewhat hypocritical of me. What you should know is that this early mockumentary into the relationship between mental illness and witch hunts is very well regarded. I, for one, have been waiting to watch this for a long time and am very excited by it.
What not to watch: Halloween II, 5*, 9pm – You know, there actually isn’t an awful lot wrong with this sequel to the game-changing slasher John Carpenter original, but on a night where the dead will rise from their graves and the ghosts all come out to play, it’s not worth spending your time on this unless you really, really like the original. Like, really like it.
Friday 1 November
What to watch: Kill List, Film4, 00.30am (Sat) – Ben Wheatley’s British film about two contract killers (Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley) and some very peculiar jobs they take is perhaps best described as “not for everybody”. The cult elements that are very reminiscent of The Wicker Man make it something of an acquired taste but if you ask me, it’s one of the best British horror films for a long time.
What not to watch: Halloween: Resurrection, BBC1, 11.50pm – Why shouldn’t you watch this? Well, let me explain the synopsis to you. Busta Rhymes has an internet reality TV show where he invites people to stay in the childhood home of notorious serial killer, Michael Myers. I’m pretty sure you can guess the rest. And yes, it really is that bad.
Saturday 2 November
What to watch: Death Becomes Her, ITV3, 12.50pm – As the standard of horror films over the weekend diminishes somewhat, I thought it would be a good idea to show that not all films you can watch at Halloween have to make you jump or shit yourself. Some can just be downright amusing but with a supernatural element to them. Such as this Robert Zemeckis 90’s comedy featuring Bruce Willis as the husband caught in a feud between two women played by Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn who discover a magic elixir that promises them youth and beauty forever. It’s just a fun way to spend an afternoon, with a great comic turn by hard-man Willis.
What not to watch: Sabrina the Teenage Witch, 5*, 4pm – Like most kids growing up in the 90’s who had access to Nickelodeon, I also enjoyed the TV series featuring Melissa Joan Hart as a young girl living with her crazy witch aunts and their talking cat. But even as a kid, I knew that by making a film, they had taken it too far. Do. Not. Watch. This. Not even for nostalgic value. Spare yourself.
Sunday 3 November
What to watch: Ghostbusters, Channel 5, 1pm – It’s hardly Halloween without watching one of the best comedies ever made. Thank you Channel 5 for saving us the hassle of having to write to Points of View to complain. I suppose it can be argued that it’s actually the best movie on TV all week and I’m pretty sure you won’t see any complaints from the rest of the Failed Critics team about that.
What not to watch: Hocus Pocus, Film4, 4.45pm – OK, maybe it’s me, but I just don’t like this film. I never really enjoyed it as a kid, and when I’ve tried to watch it again now I’m older, it still doesn’t do anything for me. It’s very dated and not all that funny either. It’s also the only other supernatural film I could find on TV on Sunday and it’s nowhere near as good as Ghostbusters. It kind of “won” by default.