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Failed Critics Podcast: The Not-so-bad Four

magnificent-seven

Yeehaw, listeners! It’s a darn tootin’ mighty fine show we’ve got for you this week. Hosts Steve ‘the kid’ Norman and Smilin’ Owen Hughes are joined by pardners The Liam With No Surname and Django Brooker for a special westerns triple bill episode.

Their pistols are cocked and ready to fire on each of their favourite three westerns in honour of this week’s big new release, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun amongst others.

A ‘west’ inspired quiz opened the podcast with the score delicately poised at 2-2 between Owen and Steve, who was just one loss away from watching the abhorrent Killer Bitch. There was also time for a short chat about the furore over the latest images from the Jumanji sequel.

Join us again next week for reviews of Deepwater Horizon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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The Magnificent Seven

“I seek righteousness, as we all should. But I’ll take revenge.”

Can you believe it? Just as I say one of the best films of the year is a Western in a time when both modern and classic style westerns are either lacking or simply not a thing anymore, along comes the second one is as many months that isn’t only excellent, but has all those classic hallmarks that made the greats from all those years ago, well.. great.

Now in their third collaboration together (after Training Day and The Equalizer) director Antoine Fuqua and average Joe badass for hire Denzel Washington return to us with a remake of a remake of a remake, The Magnificent Seven.

When landowner and businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing) rolls into Rose Creek wanting to take control of the little town, killing a bunch of people and threatening the rest, newly created widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett, The Equalizer) goes in search of someone to help her rescue her town from the merciless industrialist.

As luck would have it, she finds Sam Chisholm (Washington), a lawman who seemingly wants nothing to do with her problem until Bogue’s name come up. Setting out to recruit a few more guys good with guns, Chisholm assembles The Magnificent Seven. Sharpshooter and gambler Josh Farady (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Chris Pratt) is the first to join and is sent off to grab legendary soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (I will go with Training Day‘s Ethan Hawke) and his sidekick Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun, of I Saw The Devil and The Good, The Bad, The Weird fame), while Chisholm goes to find outlaw Vasquez (From Dusk til Dawn‘s Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

Coming along for the ride and helping to build an army from the small town’s residents are skilled tracker and famous Indian hunter Jack Horne (Daredevil‘s Vincent D’Onofrio) and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Senmeiser, soon to be seen in the Westworld remake).

But even with this collection of certified badasses, Rose Creek is going to need more than a slight miracle to overcome the land baron and his army of hired guns.

Now, it must be fifteen years since I last saw, well, any iteration of The Magnificent Seven – or Seven Samurai – so I had to go into this latest version of the classic as if I was watching a brand new film and not compare it to any of the others. And as such, I reckon The Magnificent Seven is a damn fine film.

Every member of the cast has their part to play, and does so perfectly. Even as the film quickly becomes the manly-man filled, trope-infused guns and trench coats film you expect it to, every single person feels perfect in their place.

This is a huge thing for me. The announcement of Chris Pratt joining the production previously left me worried for the film. I was concerned that he was being brought in for comic relief and not because he was the right man for the part; but boy was I wrong. In fact, Pratt’s presence in this film, while not entirely straight-faced, is one of the more seriously played roles here. Second only to that of the near silent Native American, most of Farady’s jokes actually fall rather flat, with several of his cast mates enjoying much better one-liners.

And like I said, everyone here is perfect on screen, but one man I reckon needs special mention (and it’s not Mr. Washington, as you may think). While Denzel has been awesome in recent years, he’s often just playing the near invincible ass kicker character that he perfected back in the days of Man on Fire‘s John Creasy. While he’s just as awesome here, in his perfect black getup that even out in the desert never seems to get a spec of dust on it, he’s not the man I’m talking about.

I’m talking about Vincent D’Onofrio; a man I’ve been a fan of for decades (literally) who outshines everyone he’s on the screen with with his wise-cracking, near-psychopathic tracker Jack Horn. This bear of a man, so often overlooked, is easily the best and purest bad ass on that screen. From his introduction to the end credits, he’s a joy to watch.

Antoine Fuqua’s direction is superb. A man who got famous with films like Training Day does a fantastic job of capturing the old west look and feel, giving us that ‘comfortable slippers’ vibe while still managing to feel somewhat fresh.

Action feels fast and frenetic, balanced out with slower moments for story and exposition; the film keeps the pace spot-on and interesting in every frame. The Magnificent Seven‘s two hour and change run-time doesn’t feel long or drawn out. Instead of praying for it to be over, I found myself wanting more. A rarity for this most masculine of action genres.

All in all, The Magnificent Seven feels like a return to those Westerns we all used to love. The ones that Film4 delight in putting on during weekday afternoons. The ones your old man used to watch. It’s a killer cast having a ton of fun working for an excellent director and it shows. This remake of a classic is destined to be a classic, in and of itself in years to come. It is, in a word, magnificent.

Terminator Genisys

Whilst it’s great to see Arnie back in the leather jacket, and although it’s an improvement on the previous two films in the franchise, Terminator Genisys is far from reaching the impossible heights that James Cameron set.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

terminator genisysSet in the year 2028, Joel Kinnaman plays Murphy, a brutally murdered cop who — wait a second. Sorry. I appear to have started this article off by reviewing the 2014 remake of RoboCop. Let me try again. Ahem…

Space. The final frontier. Or rather the first of many frontiers for director JJ Abrams as he and Chris Pine — Oh man! I appear to have done it again. I’ll try once more.

With a surprising and disappointing lack of Colin Farrell getting his ass to Mars, the Total Recall reboot is — Oops!! This is trickier than it looks.

OK. For real this time.

It’s very rare in Hollywood for a much beloved franchise to get a reboot some years later and turn it into a huge success. For every Jurassic World, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are ten alternatives. After The Halcyon Company fought hard to acquire the rights for the Terminator series, they produced the bore-fest that was 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Alas, it was critically panned and the company folded not long after the film’s release due to various financial difficulties, despite making a profit on McG’s futuristic sci-fi actioner.

Thus with the rights to the series not reverting back to James Cameron until 2018, we now have Terminator Genisys (that’s without the colon in the title, unless you’re from America in which case you do get a colon), the fifth instalment of the franchise that began way back in 1984 with Cameron’s original movie. Although an argument could be made for placing this as the sequel to the original The Terminator, rather than the fifth in a series, and in the process wiping T2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation completely out of cannon. Not to mention the short lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re all ultimately pointless as director Alan Taylor (and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier) retcon the entire job lot.

Or… do they?

You see, the plot and the placement of Genisys within the sequence of movies is almost as convoluted as the history of who has owned the franchise itself at various points over the past 30 years. Its opening scenes are almost carbon copies of the original, albeit with less visible buttocks and silhouetted Arnold Schwarzedongs as this is a 12A certificate film, after all. It also cuts out the Kyle Reese narrated opening scene of a Terminator drone flying over a dystopian future wasteland, kicking off instead immediately with a T-800 (played by an Arnie body-double) arriving in 1984 with a flash of light shortly before approaching a group of punks on Washday Eve. Then things get a little less familiar. Waiting for our original Terminator is a visibly older version of the killing machine, dubbed “Pops”, and the two duke it out in a bout of fisticuffs.

As it transpires, this “good” Terminator, Pops, was mysteriously sent back in time even earlier to await the appearance of the 84 Terminator in a plot device that sends ripples through the timeline, distorting all manner of logical and illogical story lines. Jumping from the altered past to the future-future, we’re then treated to a show of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) taking out Skynet in the final battle. An enactment of an event that the original Kyle Reese (in Cameron’s movie) talked about occurring. Only now, it isn’t the final battle, as Skynet had one last trick up its sleeve. Back to the past, and Reese (now also naked and in need of a hobo’s trousers) is on the run from yet another Terminator in a 1984 that is unlike the one he expected. Waiting for him is a dreaded T-1000, played by the often under-appreciated Lee Byung-hun doing his best Robert Patrick impression. Apparently, the unassuming waitress Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Reese went back to save was now never a waitress at all, but is in fact a heavily armed survivor ready to take the impending apocalypse head on. She’s also apparently fully prepared for Kyle’s arrival and his involvement in her future, and invites Reese to come with her if he wants to live. And so begins the unravelling of an entire woolly-jumper-only-wardrobe’s full of threads after one tiny quizzical tug.

I realise that all sounds rather confusing, so to help you understand all this, here’s a quick summary. You ready? Stuff that we don’t really know about yet (wait for the sequel) has now happened in the alternate-past (1973) that has affected the current-past (1984) leading to alterations in the future-future (2029) that have changed Judgement Day in the prior-past (the mid 1990’s) to the new-present (2017). Clear as day, right?

And yet, despite this convoluted soft reboot, struggling to grasp when and what is taking place is not actually that difficult. In fact, whilst you’re watching what is yet another generic blockbuster blueprint executed to the required standard for a generic summer blockbuster box-ticking exercise, having to think about how each set piece fits alongside the other is a welcome relief. If you’re worried about whether you will be able to keep up, then have no fear. Exposition is your friend. “Mr Exposition” to be precise, played by JK Simmons, who helpfully pops up every so often to either personally explain what’s just happened, or to ask the other characters in the film if they wouldn’t mind quickly filling him (i.e. us) in on everything, just in case we missed it. You might mistake that for me complaining about Simmons. I’m not. I only wish he were in it more and had better dialogue to work with. The same could be said for Lee Byung-hun. Both actors were incredibly underused.

My major beef with this fifth instalment isn’t even to do with the acting, which a lot of other reviewers seem to have taken issue with. Jai Courtney – who I’m not ashamed to admit to have defended in public before – he in particular is used as a stick to beat the film with and I’m not entirely sure why. After speaking to Failed Critics writer Nick Lay about it, he told me that people dislike Courtney because “he just seems to be the type of lead that comes off a dull production line”. I get that. When you see him compared to actors like Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch etc, I totally see where folks are coming from. He’s good looking, well built, gradually getting bigger and better roles in bigger and better movies (or at least more expensive movies) without the average Joe being able to recognise his name if you sent them a CV with photo and portfolio of work. But still, I like him. He’s perhaps not made the best choice of film yet (let’s not talk about A Good Day To Die Hard or I, Frankenstein ever again), but he’s got charisma and can genuinely act, unlike a lot of his comparators. Like a lot of things about Terminator Genisys, Jai Courtney is fine.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is fine. Regardless of the fact she spends more time literally kicking arse than Linda Hamilton in the second Terminator film, she still seems less like an arse-kicking heroine and more like an adequate requirement for the story. But she’s fine. No better or worse than she’s been in Game of Thrones, for example. Jason Clarke (no relation), playing a slightly larger role than was perhaps expected in this time-hopping fiasco, is also fine. No better or worse than he’s been in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty or last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for example.

I don’t really care what anyone else says about “The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator”, “Pops”, “Uncle Bob” or whatever you want to call him, it’s always great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the role. In the atrocious Terminator 3, he remained one of the best things in it, both in terms of his performance and having the best individual lines and scenes. Again here, he’s the outstanding performer. There’s call-backs aplenty to the more humorous wise-cracking T2 interpretation of the character, with the third film’s goofyness toned down considerably. Expanding on the idea that he potentially has the capacity to not just fake human emotions in order to better integrate himself into society and ultimately infiltrate human rebel bases, but actually organically acquire and increase his own emotional depth over time, effecting his decisions, ties quite nicely into the overall arc of the movie reflecting Skynet’s ultimate aim. It might come across as corny, but have you seen Judgement Day recently? Exactly. Original film aside, they’ve all had their fair share of cheese.

Technically speaking, Terminator Genisys hits the majority of the right notes. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s also not boring. It makes you laugh whilst simultaneously turning the action set pieces into progressively bigger and louder (and usually dumber) old fashioned fun. Sure it might sound a bit complex at first glance, but it’s actually a bog standard A-Z time-travel 12A family blockbuster. And that is its biggest problem. There are zero risks taken here. If there’s any part of the plot that veers from the already tried-and-trusted big-budget formula, I must’ve missed it. Having not just one, but a number of high-tech killing machines who stop at nothing until you are dead, it should be far more menacing a movie than it actually is. Instead, any moments of potential darkness are bizarrely steered well clear of, either through deus ex machina or – more often than not – characters just doing the complete opposite of the easiest / simplest solution in order to prolong events.

Need to kill Sarah Connor? Need to save Sarah Connor? Need to have certain events still happen to ensure the future works the way you want? Need to change the past radically to keep things how they are? It’s all a load of complete and utter nonsense that follows neither rhyme nor reason. Complete and utter gibberish with things happening simply for the sake of continuing the story longer than would realistically be necessary. But, I didn’t hate it. It’s dumb, but so are so many other movies of this ilk.

Come five years time, if somebody asks me whether [scene A] happened in Terminator Genisys, Star Trek Into Darkness, Jurassic World or Men In Black III, I won’t have the foggiest. It’s as indistinguishable from the next $155m movie as any other before it. However, if you scratch hard enough, you’ll be able to glimpse the relatively decent concept buried underneath the astonishingly stupid and generic exterior. I can think of worse ways to spend two hours. Hell, I can think of two worse films within the actual franchise that this film belongs to!

Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.

Owen Hughes: 2014 Reviews Part 1 – Jan-Jun

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

I know technically that title doesn’t really make sense as I’m not about to post two-thousand and fourteen reviews, but it sort of rhymes. Following in my colleague Callum Petch’s footsteps with his top and bottom 10 movies of 2014 lists – and of course after the Failed Critics Awards winners were announced on our end of year podcast last month – I wanted to share my personal review of the last 12 months. Because… why not. It’s my film blog and I’ll cry if I want to. However, rather than provide a list of my favourite films, and given how much I enjoyed writing my Horrorble Month article back at the end of October, I wanted to adopt a similar format for a whole year in review.

As I mentioned in the top of that article, I watch what I would consider to be a lot of films. Indeed, from 1 January to 31 December 2014, I watched a total of 534 films. Not all of them good, either. In fact, exactly 250 of those I gave 3 stars out of 5 or less to. All the same, I just love watching films. Even the not-so-good ones. They’re worth it for the times you occasionally stumble across a film that thoroughly changes the way you think and feel about movies; about life; about, well, anything and everything, really. Films such as A Bittersweet Life, Ikiru, Poetry, The Great Beauty, The Great White Silence, The Act of Killing, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nashville……. A Bucket of Blood, even! All films that I watched for the first time in 2014, and all of which were astonishing in their own way and have left a heavy impression.

So, without further ado, I’m going to go through each month, listing my favourite 10 first time watches from each (in no particular order of preference) and discuss one of those that profoundly changed my opinion on films. For the sake of argument, I’m going to exclude those that were actually released in the UK in 2014 as I’ve talked about all those that I wanted to on the podcast. This is more of a “new discoveries” list. Also, like Callum, I will be splitting it over two parts (January – June, and July – December).


bittersweet lifeJanuary – The Yellow Sea (2010); A BITTERSWEET LIFE (2005); Brotherhood (aka Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War) (2005); The Housemaid (1960); Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003); Annie Hall (1977); The Informer (1935); The Hustler (1961); A Serious Man (2009); The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

During our end of year awards podcast, James asked each of us what we’ve learned from films in the past year. Matt made a very salient point that one should always seek to broaden their horizons. Not to be afraid to try something new or different. It’s an opinion that immediately resonated with me as, if you can’t tell from the titles above, half of those listed are Korean movies. It was towards the tail end of 2013 I finally started to get into films by Korean filmmakers, but that carried on right through to 2014. Within four days of the new year, I discovered Kim Jee-woon’s beautifully unpleasant romantic gangster thriller, A Bittersweet Life. Something about it was so… different. So unusual. So extraordinary. I’d already seen films like New World, I Saw the Devil, Oldboy etc, all films that deal with violence and, to an extent, organised crime… but this? It blew me away. It married that familiar raw savageness with an astounding beauty as the remarkably talented high-ranking Lee Byung-hun (due to star in Terminator: Genisys this year) deals with the consequences of falling in live with his bosses girlfriend. It’s grim, unrelenting and astonishingly exquisite. I doubt I’ll see another film like it.


act of killingFebruary – The Thin Red Line (1998); THE ACT OF KILLING (2012); Poetry (2010); Yojimbo (1961); The Skin I Live In (2011); Rushmore (1998); The Tree of Life (2011); Howl (2010); Ran (1985); Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Regardless of how some folk wrote off Joshua Oppenheimer’s profoundly moving and downright incredible documentary as little more than torture porn (they couldn’t be more wrong if they tried) (oh, wait, they could as some critics who claimed that didn’t even watch it), The Act of Killing was very highly thought of here at Failed Critics. I like to think I can stomach quite a lot when it comes to violence in films; I’ve been watching 18 rated movies for as long as I can remember! But the atrocities that former executioner Anwar Congo and his team re-enact churned my insides. Not necessarily because of the brutality of them, but the way in which these Indonesian death squad members jokingly tell Oppenheimer and his crew about how they would execute people, and the fact they are so disassociated with it despite fully, honestly and cooperatively explain the acts committed is haunting and chilled me to the bone. Whilst clearly giving Anwar enough rope to hang himself with, it’s not just about showing up these people for the monsters they are. There’s a real journey being captured on screen and I have never been so satisfied with a resolution to a documentary in my entire life than I was when the ugly, unbearable truth forced itself out of Anwar’s every orifice.


ikiruMarch – K2: The Killer Summit (2012); Cutie & The Boxer (2013); The Stranger (1946); The Lady Vanishes (1938); Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (2013); Mother (2009); IKIRU (1952); Throne of Blood (1957); eXistenZ (1999); The Mission (1986)

Before Film4 began their Akira Kurosawa season in February, the only movies of the acclaimed Japanese director’s that I’d seen were probably his most famous two, Rashomon and Seven Samurai. Both of which I’d liked, neither of which I’d loved. However, watching Yojimbo, Sanjuro, The Hidden Fortress, Ran, Throne of Blood and finally Ikiru in quick succession immediately changed my opinion on him. I finally saw what all the fuss was about. None changed my opinion quite in the same way as his tale of a boring old bureaucrat called Kanji Watanabe (played affectionately by Takashi Shimura) being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The title of Ikiru literally translates as ‘living’; poignant in so many ways. Of course, it’s poignant because Kanji is dying, but also because he comes to the realisation that he’s not yet done and still has some living left to do. It’s amazing to think that although it was made on the other side of the world and over half a century ago, it crosses any cultural divide to try and inspire people to make the most of their lives. To not waste away your time on this planet working for a faceless company that doesn’t care about you. Go places, experience things, meet people, love someone and have a good time. It’s a beautiful innocence that is neither saccharine, naive nor insincere. If it takes a dying man to inspire people to live, then so be it. It certainly seems more easy to accomplish than building a blue-meth empire, in any case.


32_Toni_Servillo_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito_05313.JPGApril – Stoker (2013); The Foul King (2000); Shiri (1999); Desperado (1995); Attack the Gas Station (1999);  (1963); Breathless (2008); THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013); Badlands (1973); Volver (2006)

I watched Fellini’s  just under a week before sitting down to watch Paolo Sorrentino’s film that had somehow rather unbelievably beaten The Hunt to best foreign language film at the recent Academy Awards. There are certainly similarities between the two; they’re both Italian, quite existential and assess where one finds beauty in life. Albeit through Fellini’s it’s mostly through women, in Jep’s world (Toni Servillo) he finds it in the city of Rome. The film is mostly just about the retired critically acclaimed author Jep wandering around town, meeting friends old and new, seeing the world as if experiencing it for the first time. However, that is where the real beauty lies. Whereas I wasn’t quite as blown away by Fellini’s 1963 thought-provoking classic as I’d hoped to be, I was more absorbed in Sorrentino’s film. It has been labelled as pretentious in some of the reviews I’d read prior to watching The Great Beauty, and it’s easy to understand why, but it is as hilarious as it is contemplative. The clever writing appears to be very knowing; an exchange between Jep and a highly pretentious artist early on in the film, whereby she is completely demolished by Jep during an interview. Brought to tears when trying to describe the vibrations she claims to live for, it was one of the funniest scenes I’d seen all year. But that’s just Jep. The effortlessly cool persona that Toni Servillo brings to the roll meant I could’ve spent all day hanging around with him, walking the streets of Rome in the middle of the night, and I’m damn well sure I’d have never gotten bored.


the damned unitedMay – The New World (2005); Late Chrysanthemums (1954); Day of Wrath (1943); Out of the Furnace (2013); Metro Manilla (2013); THE DAMNED UNITED (2009); The Selfish Giant (2013); Short Term 12 (2013); The Exorcist III (1990); Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas (2013)

I am a red blooded male from Great Britain. Phwoar, women eh! Oooh I love well done steak, me. Football? Get in! And so on and so forth. OK, you got me, that’s a slight exaggeration… but I do love football. And I am from the UK, therefore I know about the greatest manager England never had, the multiple league and cup winning legend that was Brian Clough. I was also aware of his ill-fated spell as Leeds United manager in the 70’s and that a few years ago, a film starring one of Britain’s greatest modern actors Michael Sheen was in it. Even so, I wasn’t that bothered about watching it. Don’t get me wrong, sports movies are all well and good, but they’re hardly ever worth going out of your way for. A rise, a fall and a rise again is probably one of the most over-used plots within the genre and that’s all I expected from The Damned United. How foolish I was. It took a train journey to London with nothing else on iPlayer worth downloading to my tablet than Tom Hooper’s movie before I finally gave it a chance and I absolutely loved it. Obviously, it’s not a bog standard sports movie so much as it is a short biopic tracking a rivalry only one half is aware of. I’m sure it probably takes a few liberties with some facts, but it was one of the finest acted dramas I watched all year. Sheen is somehow even better than he was in Frost/Nixon. He’s such a fantastic actor and is supported by a great cast of British/Irish talent including Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Giles Alderson, Maurice Roeves, Stephen Graham and plenty of others. The direction is equally as impressive but it’s what was achieved by the actors involved that really left a lasting impression.


peppermint candyJune – Punishment Park (1971); The Man from Earth (2007); The Show Must Go On (2007); PEPPERMINT CANDY (1999); The Borderlands (2013); You’re Next (2013); La Haine (1995); Green Fish (1997); Filth (2013); Save the Green Planet! (2003)

Back to South Korea again, I’m afraid, as I look at one of my favourite films from Lee Chang-dong, a man who over the course of the last 12 months became one of my most highly rated filmmakers working today. Although, I say “today”, between his work for the Korean government, it did take the multiple award winning 60 year old 13 years to release five films, with the last of those released in 2010. It was with each new film that I found myself in complete adoration of him. From Poetry back in February, to Green Fish and then Peppermint Candy in June, I knew I had found a director who had never made anything less than an astonishing film. In fact, I started to watch Peppermint Candy straight after finishing Green Fish, but stopped eight minutes in for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to really give my full attention to it, as I knew I would still be thinking about Green Fish; and secondly, because I wanted to wait until my wife was home so she could watch it too. It struck me as a movie that was better shared and I think it was worth the wait. Peppermint Candy was just about perfect on almost every scale. From the reverse-linear narrative that begins with a man killing himself and working backwards through his life, chronicling his various exploits in love and work. It’s so layered and has such depth that it’s almost as if it’s the story of a real person and not a work of fiction. A moment towards the beginning of the movie where Yongho (Sol Kyung-gu) meets a woman he hasn’t seen for a long time is as emotional and powerful as anything you’re likely to find anywhere else. Combined with the expertly structured narrative, the ingenuity of the story and the gorgeous cinematography, Peppermint Candy firmly established itself as one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. It’s almost inconceivable that it’s not even Lee Chang-dong’s best film!


Thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon to conclude the series looking at my favourite films from July through to December.