Tag Archives: Jack Nicholson

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1974

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

I am fully prepared to get a bit of stick for this one. I know how popular Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are, but I just couldn’t fit them into the list. Similarly, whilst researching this article, I found a few films to watch specifically in preparation for writing this piece and none of those could break the top five either. A rather surreal coming of age / life retrospective Japanese film called Pastoral: To Die In The Country narrowly missed out, whereas Phase IV, about some scientists observing super-intelligent ants in the desert that are threatening to overthrow humanity, did not miss out by such a close margin. I also gave John Carpenter’s Dark Star another go having turned it off half way through on a previous attempt. I made it to the end this time but wish I’d switched it off at the midway point. Needless to say, the following five films just could not be topped, no matter how hard I tried.


5. The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue

living deadYou’re all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes. Drugs, sex, every sort of filth!

I’m slightly cheating by including this in my Decade In Film: 1974 list. Technically this low-budget Italian zombie horror, set in deepest darkest Cumbria (yes, not technically where Manchester is located, I know, I know, but don’t tell director Jorge Grau that) wasn’t released in the UK or the US until 1975. However, in its original limited theatrical run in its home country, it just scraped into 1974 by the rotten peeling skin of its blood drenched teeth.

If the title doesn’t sound familiar to you, then maybe you know of it by one of the fifteen other names it goes by? Let Sleeping Corpses LieDo Not Profane the Sleep of the DeadDon’t Open the WindowZombi 3? Or even the rather playful sounding Weekend with the Dead? Whatever you know it by, it is but one of the many dubbed Italian/European zombie movies that flooded out of the continent in the 70’s-80’s, like a ghost galleon full of flesh eaters ready to commit a cinematic zombie-holocaust. Some of which were better than others; specifically, this little English countryside graveyard b-movie.

Like so many good zombie movies, its real message is buried underneath the living dead that occupy the screen. An anarchic anti-establishment theme is predominantly the main focus, as a couple of kids on their way to the Lake District run into trouble. Accused of being murderers, just like every other good-for-nothin’ hippy cult like they’ve got in that there ‘merica, our protagonists fail to convince the authorities of their innocence as, quite frankly, the idea that the atrocities are actually being committed by walking corpses instead does indeed sound preposterous. Tonally it’s rebellious and youthful, whilst stressing the point that not all young kids are hoodlums. So just back off, dude! Never trust the man, man!

It begs, borrows and steals from a variety of other genre movies from the era, most notably the 1968 originator of the (then modern) zombie-movie, Night of the Living Dead. From the outbreak being caused by radiation, to the one building under attack in the middle of the countryside with no signs of escape – even to the fact that there’s a single zombie shuffling his way over to a woman in a graveyard – it owes a lot to George A Romero and is not ashamed of this. Yet it still manages to achieve a unique identity of its own on the whole. The gore (as these films are so often judged on) is top notch and very effective despite the obviously low budget. It may not scare your regular z-fan, but it definitely has something interesting to say and a lot to admire, even for the most experienced of dead-heads.


4. The Conversation

the conversationI’m not following you, I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.

Francis Ford Coppola’s first of two releases in 1974 coming out just weeks ahead of the other (that happens to be arguably his most celebrated movie – but I’ll come to that in a little while). The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a secretive, paranoid, surveillance.. erm, guy? A spy, if you will. He becomes riddled with guilt and suspicion when he begins to suspect that the people he’s spying on may be murdered, depending on the outcome of the work he’s been hired to do.

It’s quite a slow burning character driven drama, rather than a typical goofy espionage thriller of the era. There’s not a single belly-dancer to be seduced or secret criminal lair with its midget butler in sight. Whilst Hackman is very good, as you would expect, a lot of his role requires a steady calmness with twinges of desperation. It’s a convincing portrayal of a (perhaps) hypocritical but moralistic devout Catholic, and it’s through his performance as much as it is the writing that you understand why he doesn’t share his personal life with others. Not just because of the nature of his work, but it’s also down to his borderline schizophrenia; he’s obsessed with the notion that people just like him will be listening to and monitoring everything he says and does. And as well we all know, just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.

In that regard, whilst the supporting cast (John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr etc) are all excellent, it’s the character of ‘Harry’ who quite rightly dominates everything. He’s such a strong character to base the film around that the other members of the cast are sadly reduced to mere distractions.

There’s a tendency for The Conversation to get a bit trippy. Personally, the dream sequences weren’t my cup of tea, although it’s important to recognise their role in developing Harry. You could argue that the constant looping of the audio of the recorded conversation is necessary, but no less annoying when played for the 30th time. But there is no arguing that this Oscar nominated film is one of the best of the seventies.


3. Chinatown

chinatownLoach: What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slammed a bedroom window on it?
Jake Gittes: Nope. Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?

Whilst investigating a seemingly routine adultery case, our P.I. finds himself embroiled in a case much larger than anything he could have expected. And I’m sorry, but if the thought of Jack Nicholson playing a private detective in a neo-noir thriller doesn’t at the very least even slightly raise your interest, then you might as well give up on watching movies altogether. That’s it. End of the line for you, pal.

Nominated for eleven different categories at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Roman Polanski’s mystery thriller is as revered by its peers as it is by critics and regular movie watchers alike. Criminally, it only picked up one of those awards, for its screenplay written by Robert Towne – who also happened to pen the screenplay for another Jack Nicholson film called The Last Detail, which featured in my 1973 list. The competition it was up against in 1974 was fierce, but in almost any other year, it would not be too difficult to have imagined it running away with every award going. From the classic crime-noir direction employed by Polanski with shadows and light in perfect harmony, to each and every spectacular performance (particularly Nicholson and Faye Dunaway) and even the costumes and cinematography. Every aspect of this movie is meticulously crafted into something extraordinary.

The plot is full of mystery and intrigue, which is in debt primarily to its wonderfully characteristic script. But the performances, the visual flair and snappy delivery of some tremendously witty lines of dialogue are all to be applauded. It’s packed to the rafters with homages and odes to the film noir genre, whilst itself being a gloriously entertaining genre-piece. The style, the look, it’s got it all. It seems unbelievable that there could be two better films than it released in the same year, but that just shows how tough these Decade In Film articles can be!


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

texas_chainsaw_massacre_1_lc_03Well now, look, you boys don’t want to go messin’ around some old house. Those things is dangerous. You’re liable to get hurt. You don’t want to go fooling around other folks’ property. If some folks don’t like it, they don’t mind showing you.

Tobe Hooper announced himself as a director to look out for in the 1970’s with this remarkably scary, intense, sickening and twisted original horror. The reputation it still holds today (in the UK especially) is that of one of the most notorious “video nasties”. A chainsaw wielding, mentally handicapped, leather-mask wearing, violent psychopath did not lend itself kindly to the rating systems of the 70’s and 80’s and thus grew a cult of die hard fans for what is unquestionably one of the most iconic and influential horror films ever made.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is completely and utterly horrendous – and not in a ‘it’s really bad’ way. No, when I say “horrendous”, I mean in a ‘truly scares you half to death’ way. One of the most important life lessons I think anybody could learn from Hooper’s horror is to never knock on a strangers door if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, where the locals have already warned you away, you’ve met a psycho hitch-hiking hill-billy already that day and you find some human teeth scattered around the front porch. I, for one, have followed this advice ever since seeing this movie and I’m still alive today. Let it never be said that this film is nothing if not educational.

There are plenty of scenes here to totally mess you up for a long time after seeing them for the first time, but without spoiling specific scenes, the worst moment that stayed with me for a while afterwards is most definitely the scene with the Grandpa. Just… Jesus. Wow. I’m sure anybody reading this who has already seen the movie will know exactly to which moment I am referring. The brutality of some scenes in the film towards a group of pretty much innocent kids, coupled with the almost nonchalant delivery of its violence via the nightmarish Sawyer family, is masterful and terrifying. The slamming of the metal shutters could send shivers down the spine of a polar bear. The sign of a great horror movie is in how long it lingers in your mind and subconscious after you’ve hit that “stop” button. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not leave your thoughts for days. It is just that good.


1. The Godfather: Part II

godfather 2 2In my home! In my bedroom! Where my wife sleeps and my children play with their toys!

As good as every film in this list is, how many can claim to have had quite as significant a cultural impact as Francis Ford Coppola’s epic gangster series?

Continuing from where the previous film (and best of 1972) left off, Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael Corleone, now the head of the Family (upper case ‘F’). He tries to expand and protect their business, whilst also keeping his family (lower case ‘f’) together. With no Marlon Brando in the sequel to play the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, we instead get to see his back story and arrival in the US in the early 20th century, as played by Bobby (oooOOOH) De Niro (aaaaAAAHH).

The debate that has raged over the decades since their release is mainly over which of the Godfather films is the best. Very rarely does ‘The Internet’ agree on anything, but it’s almost a unanimous decision that both movies are exceptional. Looking to see which of the two is the most well regarded, however, can induce fits of nausea. Just edging it between the two in the popularity stakes (according to IMDb’s Top 250) is the first film, which sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? As good as De Niro is and as brilliantly as Pacino steps up to being the face of the film, it misses a certain something that Brando brings. Him not being there perhaps means there’s more room for the other actors to expand into; and maybe he outshone everyone else in the original a smidgen. He was unequivocally the star of the film. I know it’s slightly unfair as there’s just no possible way to have included him in Part II without it overshadowing everyone involved in this sequel, but I missed the ol’ broken jawed mob boss.

Other than that one tiny personal niggle, there is practically nothing separating the two in terms of quality. I certainly can’t fault it. The development of Michael and the rich tapestry woven for Vito is impossibly complex and executed to near perfection. The third and final film in the trilogy is an utter embarrassment, but these two original movies made fifteen years prior are two of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. From how beautiful the sets are, to how superb the music is; from how stunning the performances are, to how emotional the story is. Even, yes, the camera angles. They are unparalleled in the genre. Hell, they’re probably even unmatched by any film from the decade. Maybe even the century!

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Failed Critics Podcast: Riddick, Richard Curtis, and Dr Zaius

BTTF Doc BrownThe Failed Critics Podcast is here, with another helping of shambolic film discussion that will make you wish you could go back in time to the moment you downloaded it and punch yourself square in the throat.

This week’s episode sees us review Richard Curtis’ time-travel rom-com About Time, as well as choosing our favourite time travelers in Triple Bill. We also review the latest Vin Diesel vanity project, Riddick, and catch up on great films you have have missed like Robot and Frank, and Whisper of the Heart.

Finally, we said a sort of goodbye to Gerry McAuley, who missed this week’s recording and is now merely a part-time contributor. It’s okay though, as miserable northerners with a Spanish fetish never die…

Join us next week as we review Rush, Insidious 2, and look at the relationship between movies and video games in time for the release of GTA V.

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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.

Failed Critics Podcast – COP: Stanley Kubrick

stanley_kubrickToday we are honouring one of the single greatest film directors to have ever picked up a camera. A man who not only created some incredible films, but who changed the world of film-making on a stylistic and technical level over and over again.

When we set up our Corridor of Praise, one of the entry requirements was that any inductees must not have won an Oscar in their main category, and the fact that tonight’s subject never received an Oscar for direction is a travesty. Still, the Academy’s loss is our gain, as it means we get to devote a whole episode to my favourite director, and I think probably the podcast’s overall favourite director.

Jack Nicholson said “Everyone sort of acknowledges he’s ‘the man’, and I still feel that underrates him”.

Martin Scorsese thinks that “One of his pictures is worth 10 of someone else’s”

Eight of his 13 films are in the IMDB Top 250, and TEN of them are in the Sight and Sound Top 250 poll published last year.

Welcome to the Failed Critics Corridor of Praise, Mr Stanley Kubrick.

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A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1992

A continuing series in which the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Kate chose the nineties, because she actually used to watch films back then. This week she tackles 1992.

Strictly Ballroom

strictly ballroom‘You really are a gutless wonder!’

The first, and lesser known, of the three Baz Luhrmann films that make up the Red Curtain Triology, Strictly Ballroom could well be described as the Australian Dirty Dancing. Paul Mercurio is Scott Hastings, a ballroom dancer who’s all set to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, until he starts trying to throw his own non-standard dance shapes. So far, so very Johnny Castle. Tara Morice is Baby/Fran, the timid beginner with the frizzy perm and enormous glasses, that of course she’s able to dance without, because being a champion dancer is all about conquering The Fear, and not about being able to see where you’re putting your feet at all.

The film showcases the cut-throat world of competitive professional ballroom dancing, using a supporting cast who resemble a Christmas Panto special of Neighbours. Unlike Luhrmann’s later efforts, it doesn’t star anyone particularly famous, but nonetheless went on to become one of the most successful Australian films of all time. Great song at the end, too.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

the-hand-that-rocks-the-cradle‘When your husband makes love to you, it’s MY face he sees. When your baby’s hungry, it’s MY breast that feeds him. Look at you! When push comes to shove… you can’t even breathe!’

As will become clear upon reading my full Decade in Film choices, Early Nineties Thrillers is one of my favourite movie genres. At age 13, my main occupation was the giving and receiving of slumber parties. Such films were the perfect viewing at these parties, scary enough to watch in the dark in the middle of the night, with enough references to sex to provide copious embarrassed teenage giggles. This one charts the tale of the brilliantly named Peyton Flanders, a sadistic widow who poses as a nanny in order to destroy the woman who wronged her, and steal away her family.

Rebecca De Mornay is just wonderful as glassy-eyed Peyton, manipulating and driving slowly insane the mother she is supposed to be hired to help; even managing to turn her against her best friend Marlene (Julianne Moore in full wise-cracking side-kick mode). From the director of L.A. Confidential (seriously!), this story of home-wrecking and wind chimes was never going to trouble The Academy. But there’s some nasty business with an asthma inhaler, an epic shovel fight, and even death by greenhouse. Which is sometimes all you need.

The Mighty Ducks

mighty-ducks‘Did you really quack at the Principal?’

Emilio Estevez is a hot shot lawyer, sentenced to coach a junior ice hockey team as community service after being caught drink driving. It kind of sells itself, doesn’t it? The movie trilogy that launched Joshua Jackson‘s extensive career, (He’s in Dawson’s Creek. He doesn’t play Dawson.) and stars distinguished English actor Joss Ackland as Hans, all round mentor, sage, and hockey stick seller.

The Ducks are a rabble of street kids, perpetually bottom of the league, but with an abundance of spirit. Luckily, it turns out Coach Bombay (Estevez) and ice hockey have history. And, once he’s ditched the chip on his shoulder and the ridiculous limo, he and the Ducks go far. Indeed, in the follow up movie D2 they represent the USA in (something similar to) the Olympics. It’s one of a handful of films which is bettered by its sequel (see also my next year’s entry into A Decade in Film). However this original is where the heart of the team is born. Besides, you have to watch this one first to learn what a Triple Deke is.

A Few Good Men

a-few-good-men‘I want the truth!’

In a court house of the United States government, one man will stop at nothing to keep his honour, one will stop at nothing to find the truth, and Kevin Bacon has the most remarkable haircut you ever did see. Aaron Sorkin wrote the oft-quoted screenplay after hearing about a similar case in Guantanamo Bay, on which his sister was a military attorney. The Sorkin trademark ‘walk & talk’ also originated in this movie.

Despite winning precisely nothing at the Oscars, critics and the box office deemed it a hit, and it went on to be the most commercially successful work of hero director Rob Reiner. A veritable all-star cast, including Tom Cruise at his preppy nineties peak, Jack Nicholson chugging on cigars and shouting ‘I’m gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull!’, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland and plenty of others. A Few Good Men is a largely court room based tale of honour, loyalty and Code Reds. It’s also a pretty great advert for never joining the Marines.

Scent of a Woman

Scent-of-a-Woman‘Out of order — I’ll show you out of order! You don’t know what out of order is, Mr. Trask! I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind.’

Based on the Italian film of the same name (but in Italian, obviously), Al Pacino stars as retired Jack Daniels fuelled curmudgeon Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade; and an even fresher-faced than normal Chris O’Donnell as the prep school student employed as his aide over the Thanksgiving Weekend. The pair embark on high jinks, soul searching and the Tango to the backdrop of the Waldorf-Astoria, Hollywood’s favourite New York based bed & breakfast.

A hidden gem of a film, which seems to have passed a lot of people by. Leaving aside the fact that director Martin Brest went on to write & direct what is frequently cited as one of the worst movies of all time, Scent of a Woman is a must see. The first two hours make for a pretty excellent tale, and include their own heart-warming almost ending. But it’s the last 30 odd minutes, at the disciplinary committee, which are just pure, unadulterated, watch with your mouth hanging open, Pacino. Nominated on seven previous occasions, this is the one that finally got him the acting Oscar. As if they even needed to take a vote that year. Hoo-ah!

Check out Kate’s choices for 1990 & 1991, or the full Decade in Film series. 

The Departed (2006), Infernal Affairs (2002)

There are some films that you just know you’re going to like even before they begin. The Departed was one of those for me.

How could it not be good? Directed by Martin Scorsese. Big names like Matt Damon, Leonardo Di Caprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen.

Even Mark Wahlberg was supposed to be good in it.

And so it proved. The plot can sound a lot more complicated than it really is. It’s cops, led by Sheen, versus gangsters, led by Nicholson. Each side has a mole in the other camp, Di Caprio the cop turned mobster and Damon the opposite. And each mole is trying to identify their rival mole, in order to protect their own cover.

It’s a black and white tale really. Di Caprio has spent so long on the wrong side of the law that it’s beginning to eat him up. You can see in every scene how passionately he wants to draw a line underneath his undercover days, go back to a normal life. All he has to do is deliver Nicholson. Meanwhile, Damon, for want of a better phrase, is a sneaky piece of shit. I couldn’t help taking an immediate dislike to his character.

One thing that does take a bit of getting used to is the Boston accent on show. Before this film I had no idea there was such a thing, and it can take a minute or two to tune your ear to it. But it’s almost a character in itself and really adds to the pace and the rhythm of the dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, Wahlberg’s performance is one for the ages. It’s not just the foul content of his lines, but the venom with which he spits them out (and no, that’s not a reference to his hip hop days as Marky Mark).

It’s not Scorsese’s greatest film, by any stretch, and you’ll never hear a worse Irish accent than that attempted by Ray Winstone. But it’s a fantastic way to spend two and a half hours

Or at least, that’s what I thought before this week, when I sat down to watch Infernal Affairs on Netflix.

Infernal Affairs is a Hong Kong film from 2002, and was the ‘inspiration’ for the Departed. It’s basically the same story, but in Cantonese. And it is out-of-this-world brilliant.

For starters, there’s the sheer speed at which the story rattles along. The Departed’s running time is 151 minutes. Infernal Affairs gets the job done in 101 minutes, the best part of an hour less. There’s no dawdling about, it gets on with it and sucks you in immediately. The placing of the respective moles is over within a matter of minutes, before we even see the title of the film.

I thought that Di Caprio’s performance was the very embodiment of quiet desperation, an undercover cop on the edge. I was wrong – Tony Leung is on a different planet. It’s a heart-breaking display, a guy watching, absorbing everything, in the hope that he can take down the top Triad – Sam, played by Eric Tsang – and get back to a life he knew before.

Any time his secret identity was at risk of being exposed, my heart was in my throat, pounding, even though thanks to the Departed I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen.

Tsang is another who puts his American successor in the shade. Nicholson is smarmy and charming, but I never really bought him as a ruthless gangster. Tsang on the other hand oozes charisma and quiet menace. His eyes were utterly chilling.

And what of the Triad’s man inside the police, Inspector Lau (Andy Lau)? It’s a very different performance to Matt Damon’s. Here is a man fighting himself – and his Triad leaders – to find out who he really is, whether he wants to be defined by his relationship with the Triads or move beyond it. I found him a far more sympathetic character, one who is aware that his mistakes have caused the deaths of good people and who feels genuine remorse for that.

There isn’t the clumsy love triangle that the Departed attempts, and the film is all the better for it.

According to IMDB, the Departed is the 52nd best film ever made, with an average rating of 8.5, compared to Infernal Affairs’ rating of 8, leaving it in 210th place. If everybody who rated the Departed were made to watch Infernal Affairs, I fully expect that positioning would be switched.

Great films stay with you long after the credits have ended. I enjoyed the Departed, but once it was over, I didn’t think about it (beyond the odd delayed chuckle at a Wahlberg line). In the 24 hours since I finished Infernal Affairs, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I implore you to watch it. You won’t regret it.

John Fitzsimons is the editor of personal finance website lovemoney.com and writes about things other than money to keep him sane. His wife still hasn’t forgiven him for subjecting her to Green Street simply for the chance to hear Frodo sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”.

@johnthejourno

BATMAN WEEK – Batman Begins Here

In honour of this week’s release of  The Dark Knight Rises, Failed Critics is going quite literally Batshit mental as we devote the site for one week only to the Caped Crusader. Today our very own Gerry McAuley gives us a brief summary of the main influences on Christopher Nolan’s trilogy from the comic book world. So you can seem knowledgeable to your friends on the way in to the cinema, obviously!

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Batman – after all, D.C. Comics’ flagship superhero has infiltrated popular culture quite successfully in his 70+ years of life. Film adaptations since 1989 have revived the franchise and put a new spin on a hero who for most people was previously associated with the annoyingly camp and light-hearted original series (and 1966 film) starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Bats.

What fewer are aware of though is that the darker interpretation which began with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and was continued 16 years later by Christopher Nolan (I prefer to forget the Schumacher films in between) reflects a shift in tone in the comic world too. In 1986, Frank Miller – who would of course go on to write Sin City and 300, both of which became hugely successful films – wrote The Dark Knight Returns, the gritty tale of a jaded 55 year old Batman who was forced to come out of retirement and save Gotham again.

The gap between The Dark Knight and the sequel would seem to be based on Miller’s story, as Batman has been chased out of Gotham for eight years after taking responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes. Of course, Tom Hardy’s Bane first gained prominence in the Knightfall story arc in the early 90s, so Nolan’s universe is hugely reliant on recent Batman interpretations. As will be seen later, another Miller title, Batman: Year One, is a major influence on Batman Begins.

Another huge name in comics had also helped revive Batman in the late 80s. Alan Moore is probably known to most film fans through adaptations of his work: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell are all based on his publications, although Moore dislikes all film interpretations of his comics/graphic novels. Just a year prior to Burton’s film being released, D.C. published Moore’s one-off graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, a dark examination of the Joker’s madness that interspersed his origin story with his twisted attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. The disturbing tone of the story, which involved the Joker shooting Gordon’s daughter in the spine and paralysing a character who was also Batgirl, explored the morality behind the Batman/Joker battle and was undoubtedly a huge factor in the performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger in their respective film roles. For instance, the Joker has varying memories of how he came to be:

“Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight famously provides differing accounts of how he got his scars, which his comic book counterpart does not have – just one example of the different ways the Batman mythology can be interpreted.

The strongest influence on Nolan however seems to have been Batman: The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s 1996-1997 epic. So strong was that influence that Nolan and David Goyer, the co-writer of the trilogy, provided an introduction to the latest edition of the graphic novel. Although taken from an interview in 2006, just before principal photography began on TDK, both men cite the influence Long Halloween had on both movies and surely the third instalment too.

“When you’re putting together a Batman film, people always ask, ‘Are you looking at this comic book or that comic book?’ And the truth is you look at all of them. As a filmmaker, though, The Long Halloween was one Batman story that really drew me in in terms of cinematic potential… to integrate the more fantastical elements of Batman, most notably the villains, within the context of the real world, strike a balance that felt credible [The Long Halloween] was a great inspiration to us in terms of tonality.”

And with that, allow me to make some suggestions for those of you who are curious about exploring the Batman legend further. Nolan’s trilogy is so epic in scope that one cannot help be drawn in to that world; given that, it seems appropriate to focus on the more recent interpretations which have that gritty, realistic feel.

The place to start is Frank Miller’s Year One, which tells the origin story better than anything else and was recently voted the greatest Batman story ever by IGN. Goyer cites it as one of the three main influences on him in Batman lore and this is clear in Begins. There are various versions of the book around and crucially for those of you who don’t find comics appealing, an animated film of the story was released in 2011 which very faithfully follows Miller’s original.

The next stop should be The Long Halloween, which takes place early in Batman’s career and takes in a staggering number of the rogues gallery of villains our hero faces. If Year One is the basis of Begins, this is obviously the foundation of TDK. Harvey Dent’s story will be very familiar and the Nolan interpretation is largely faithful to Loeb’s story. Furthermore, the subtle differences between the two will give a new appreciation of Nolan’s skill – for instance, he plays with the viewer by having a gun pulled on Dent in the courtroom, a threat which Dent confidently disarms; in Long Halloween, this is a much more pivotal moment which I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, familiar Batman fans had a different moment of suspense and surprise with that particular scene.

Moving on, The Killing Joke is utterly brilliant and really gets to the heart of how small the differences are between good and evil, exploring how our reactions to difficulties can shape both our lives and the world. Yes, there is much more to Batman than you might think. As an aside, there’s a book called Batman and Philosophy which highlights just how many issues are present in the Dark Knight’s struggles against evil.

Once you’ve seen how the Joker began, it seems logical to look at his first battle with Batman – step forward The Man Who Laughs, which takes place in the same early years as Long Halloween, seemingly straight after Year One. Then we can move away from these early Bat adventures and look at something totally different in style. Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious earth is another journey into madness and the fine line that separates good from evil, as Batman enters the asylum to save the staff from the villains who are holding them hostage. Those who have played the game of the same name will find this familiar territory but the presentation is astonishingly different. This is as close to art as Batman gets in my view and is essential reading. More on the games in a forthcoming article by the way…

With a view to The Dark Knight Rises, the main villains could do with a look too. Bane, as mentioned, appears in Gotham in the Knightfall trilogy and Hardy’s version is apparently much more true to the original than the horrible portrayal Schumacher had Robert Swenson give in Batman & Robin. For Catwoman, choices abound and both Long Halloween and Year One feature a certain Selina Kyle. Hush is the most recent title to have an interesting portrait of Bruce and Selina’s complex relationship and is visually stunning.

To finish off, of course The Dark Knight Returns is a must. I’ve already spoken about the content and the impact of the story but it bears repeating that this is far, far more than ‘just a comic’ as many tend to dismiss Batman stories – as if comics cannot be a serious medium. Hopefully, reading some of the above will correct that impression and give you the added bonus of really knowing what you’re talking about when watching the films with your mates, rather than just blagging it based on the info I’ve given you.

Gerry will be discussing this article as well as a myriad of other Bat-things on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast Batman Special.