Tag Archives: My Neighbour Totoro

Best Films on TV: Christmas to New Year 2015

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Every 23rd December, for the past three years, we have released our pick of the films being shown on freeview TV over the Christmas schedule. Last year’s choices were made by Paul Field, but returning to this Failed Critics Christmas tradition is site editor Owen Hughes. It practically guarantees less Carry On movies and probably more big budget blockbusters…

A couple of years ago, we were regularly posting lists of films that we would recommend for the week ahead. Oh, how times have changed. It seems these days that with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, we’re less bothered about waiting for films to be shown on TV and instead watching whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is great! Except that it’s reduced these articles to annual posts.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a look through the TV schedule to see what tat is being pushed on us this year and tried to sift out some of the dross (although Steve will be pleased to know that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is being shown on Christmas day at 11am) and chosen five decent-to-good movies each day in the run up to 2016.

Christmas Eve –

Finishing work early tomorrow? Want something to just stick on when you walk through the door to get you in a Christmassy mood? Well, stick Channel 4 on at 2.15pm and get straight into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Alternatively, if you’re sick of that bloody film already, try out the Robert Zemeckis animated A Christmas Carol over on BBC One at 2.20pm (it’s the version that I talked about on our Winterval Podcast this week). If you prefer your Scrooge’s to be real rather than cartoony, then stay up wrapping last minute presents until half past midnight for the 1951 version on Channel 5 starring Alastair Sim as the miserly grump. For those of us who relate a bit too much to Ebenezer, and can’t be arsed with this Christmas nonsense – bah humbug – then watch Karl Urban as the Mega-City One Judge, jury and executioner in Dredd on Film4 at 11.25pm or switch over to BBC Two five minutes later for one of Hitchcock’s best with Dial M For Murder.

Christmas Day –

We’ve had two of the most well known adaptations of Dickens’ novel, so why not start the afternoon with Channel 4 and give the other two a watch on Christmas day itself? Starting at 1.45pm with The Muppet Christmas Carol, they swiftly follow it up at 3.45pm with Bill Murray doing his thing in Scrooged. Later that evening, BBC Three have a double bill of animated movies that are safe to watch with granny, the kids, your other half or on your todd with Toy Story at 7.30pm and How To Train Your Dragon straight after it at 8.45pm. For something not at all schmalzy, sentimental or saccharine, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until much, much later in the evening as the Coen Brothers change the mood entirely at 00.05am on ITV4 with the hilarious 90’s comedy The Big Lebowski. Or, like, that’s just my opinion that it’s hilarious, man…

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

It may be somewhat twee, and I’m aware Wes Anderson isn’t for everyone, but if there’s a better film on TV for you to crawl out of your hangover with after getting up extremely late than Fantastic Mr Fox on Channel 4 at 11.25am, then I couldn’t find it. You can time it right to fit in a quick turkey sarnie and a fresh cuppa between it finishing and Jurassic Park starting over on ITV at 1.20pm, reminding you just how good the original was after Jurassic World swept the box office clean earlier this year. Really though, you should be watching the football. I believe that’s what Boxing Day was invented for. Once Final Score has finished, switch over to the horror channel at 6.40pm for the intense Spielberg thriller, Duel. Film4 can round off a very late evening with two modern British classics in crime thriller Sexy Beast (11.25pm) and Scottish sci-fi – and one of our favourite movies of 2014 – Under The Skin (1.10am).

Sunday 27th –

That’s the Christmas movies well and truly out of the way now and it’s Studio Ghibli to the rescue as we kick off the day with one of their most celebrated works, the charming My Neighbour Totoro. Flick over to Channel 5 at 2.25pm to see one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s most revered western, The Searchers, starring the Duke himself, John Wayne. Starting at 4.05pm on BBC One is a fantasy movie returning to where it all began with Oz: The Great and the Powerful, which is actually quite a nice, funny little family movie. You can choose how you’d like to round off the day with one of the following two. Personally, I’d go for one of my favourite discoveries of the year, Cronenberg’s body-horror Videodrome (the horror channel, 10.50pm) over Channel 4’s showing of The Inbetweeners 2 at 11.10pm, that both Steve and Callum tore to pieces.

Monday 28th –

You maniacs! You haven’t yet set your reminder! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to Hell! Well, at least until Monday morning at 10.15am when you switch on More4 and watch the original Planet of the Apes – AND THEN later that day you’ll be fully prepared for Film4’s 6.55pm screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At 8.30pm on BBC Three is Kung Fu Panda 2 (read why that’s a good thing in Callum’s brilliant piece from his DreamWorks retrospective). For something a little more… grown up… Steven Soderbergh’s movie Behind The Candelabra (BBC Two, 9pm) features one of Michael Douglas’s best ever performances. Finally, if the forgettable Terminator Genisys hasn’t already disappeared entirely from your memory, then James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day will wipe the last remnants from your mind on Film4 at 1.15am.

Tuesday 29th –

Channel 4, 2.30pm, Coraline. Film4, 6.10pm, Master & Commander. ITV2, 9pm, The Shawshank Redemption. ITV, 10.25pm, American Pie. My pick of the lot: Channel 5, 10.45pm, Erin Brockovich. That’s your lot. We’re running out of quality films on TV as the year comes to a close and I’m running out of patience trying to make these films sound interesting. However, if you think Tuesday’s films read a lot like a list of movies you’re glad that you’ve seen once but probably have no intention of ever watching again, just wait until you see what’s lined up for Wednesday…

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

We’ve got a run that starts with ITV2 at 5.45pm and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth (that I actually thought was quite enjoyable) with The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFilm4 will help change the tone to something surprisingly fun with Denzel and Wahlberg teaming up for crime-comedy Two Guns at 9pm. Tune into the horror channel at 10.45pm for some Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse horror at Planet Terror. Furious 7 may have already been voted for in quite a number of people’s submissions to the Failed Critics Awards, but Channel 4 go back a couple of sequels to Fast Five at 11.05pm. Afterwards, prepare for Joy with Film4’s showing of The Fighter at 1.10am.

Thursday 31st –

And here we are! New Year’s Eve and what better way to see off 2015 than with, er, well, The Adventures of TinTin on BBC One at 10.55am. (That was a rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) More adventures are afoot with a rare screening of The Rocketeer on Channel 4 at 1.10pm and – a Pixar film guaranteed to make you cry – Up, over on BBC One at 2.50pm. I will be at a New Years party by this time (oooh get me) but if you fancy a night in watching movies to bring in 2016, then BBC4 honour Bob Hoskins, who sadly passed away this year, with Made In Dagenham at 10.55pm. Film4 are going slightly more modern and again doing the whole David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper / Robert De Niro thing and are showing Silver Linings Playbook at 11.10pm.

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 4 – April Fool

With the fourth entry in his continuing year in review series, Owen casts a glance over the films he’s been watching throughout April 2015. As with each of the previous articles in the series, Owen will be breaking down the month by week, providing a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Oh boy. This is getting a bit embarrassing. I think I better just stop promising to catch up on my Werner Herzog films because yet another month has passed where I’m still so far behind on them. In fact, I’m so far behind on a huge pile of movies that it’s getting a bit ridiculous. I’m not even going to make excuses this time (Daredevil) as to the reasons why so many days (Daredevil) listed below indicate that I’ve seen “absolutely nothing” (Daredevil) on them. There’s no (Daredevil) point. I just haven’t seen anything (Daredevil) on those days. I’m sorry. (Daredevil) That’s how it is. The website itself has been a bit manic, as you can probably tell if you’ve been on here over the past 4 weeks. I doubt we’ve ever published so many podcasts in such a short period of time before!

What I did end up watching last month doesn’t seem to follow any rhyme nor reason. A lot of them were classic films I watched because I felt like I had to after Amazon kept posting them to me and I had little else important to do or things I’d rather be watching. I did squeeze in another couple of Albert Pyun movies during April, which I’m quite proud of. A shame that neither were exactly good; they certainly weren’t better than March’s Heatseeker, Cyborg or Adrenalin even. But there weren’t any specific themes I was chasing. No science fiction binges, no run through of a studios output. Just an assortment of stuff.

Anyway, enough waffling. On with the reviews…


Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 April 2015

Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Opera (1987); Friday – Little Norse Prince (1968); Saturday – MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

totoroI haven’t always been the biggest Studio Ghibli fan. It took a long time before I came around to their work. The fantasy movies they produce, whilst spectacular to look at, just don’t hit me emotionally. Visually they’re unbelievably impressive pieces of art that absolutely deserve the admiration they get. However, there’s only so much that pretty pictures can do for a film to stop it from being boring. If the story isn’t all that great, then that’s where these films have faltered for me in the past. Their films such as Whisper of the Heart, Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday and Grave of the Fireflies, those that are more tightly based in reality, or playing on nostalgia, these are the films of theirs that I enjoy most. There are a few exceptions, such as Miyazaki’s story of two young sisters who find their new forest home has some unusual neighbours. The message of the film is to respect nature and look after your family, not forgetting where you come from, and as such the whole movie is just nice and fuzzy. It’s a sweet little story; at times sad, tense and perilous, but so sweet and fun. You can’t help but like every single character, from the two sisters, to their father, the dustbunnys and the cat bus, and of course the eponymous Totoro. It’s the first time I’ve watched it since learning of the supposed reality behind the story (seriously, do not click this link if you don’t want to ruin My Neighbour Totoro for yourself forever) which did have an overwhelmingly depressing effect on the movie, but it was still just as good as it was the last few times I’ve watched it.


Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 April 2015

Monday – Splash (1984), The Dark Crystal (1982); Tuesday – JOHN WICK (2015); Wednesday – Captain America (1990); Thursday – The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

john wickCallum actually wrote a really good review of John Wick for the site about why you should watch this film, and we did talk about it on the podcast earlier in April. But I feel like even that hasn’t given the film enough exposure, so I’m going to talk about it again here! John Wick is the least-American American-thriller I’ve seen for a long time. It’s clearly an action film heavily influenced by the ultra violent brilliance coming out of Asia in films such as The Raid, The Chaser, The Man From NowhereDrug War, etc more so than it is by anything Liam Neeson has done of late. When I say that John Wick is brutal – watching Keanu Reeves play an ex-hitman getting revenge on the idiot son of a mob boss who was stupid enough to steal his car and kill his puppy – then I mean it is brutal. Even though here in the UK it’s rated a fairly tame 15, do not be alarmed. It is hardly Taken 3 levels of softened, jump-cutting guff. It has a strong cast (Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, etc) all led by Keanu having something of a Reevesival (consider that term well and truly coined). I really enjoyed Man of Tai Chi, which was his directorial debut, but it’s good to see him doing well again in something like this. It’s a very entertaining, completely over the top, full throttle thriller. Again, as I said on the podcast and on Twitter shortly after watching it, John Wick bullseyed every target it aimed at. A thoroughly enjoyable wince-inducing actioner.


Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 April 2015

Monday – SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – The House by the Cemetery (1981); Friday – Cœur fidèle (aka The Faithful Heart) (1923); Saturday – Lost River (2015); Sunday – Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

sunriseI think I’ll avoid the wrath of Steve by not talking about Star Wars (which is still not very good, sorry!), nor repeat myself by sighing over Lost River, and will instead pick F.W. Murnau’s very highly rated silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It’s only my second ever watch of this film, although it was my first time watching my recently acquired shiny new Eureka ‘Masters of Cinema’ Blu-ray. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Sunrise is still an excellent film. Whilst previously I’ve always thought very highly of this, I always remembered the middle part of the film being substantially weaker than its opening and closing thirds. I doubt I could tell you why exactly now, as I feel like I’ve not only enjoyed the film overall much more on this second viewing, but I think I might even appreciate its structure more. The build up to the collapse of Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien’s marriage was fantastically well constructed in the earlier part of the film, right before O’Brien succumbs to the alluring Margaret Livingston and her promises of taking him to the city, if he can murder his wife and make it look like an accident. The despair and kooky frolicking that follows the dark and grim first 30 minutes or so didn’t come across half as disjointed as the last time I saw it. Instead having the opposite effect of being almost tragic, knowing how close they were to ending it all. Murnau does a truly brilliant job at showing you that love between two people can be a magical, binding and unbreakable thing, particularly through its portrayal in the ending of the movie. But I won’t spoil it! Suffice to say, if you’ve ever put off watching this because it’s in that slightly pretentious looking Sight & Sound list, don’t hold out any longer. Take the risk! It’s definitely worth a chance.


Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 April 2015

Monday – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930); Thursday – Master and Commander (2003), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – Gattaca (1997); Sunday – Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975), Infernal (2015), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

all quiet on the western frontProbably most notable for being the first film to ever win both Outstanding Production and Best Director at the Academy Awards, no I’m not talking about Age of Ultron. Christ. God no. All Quiet on the Western Front finally made its way into my DVD player last month. Last year, I got hold of a pre-release copy of the restored documentary Forgotten Men, which was released three years after Lewis Milestone’s award laden movie, but dealt with a similar concept. Whereas All Quiet… follows a group of young German soldiers who enlist to help protect “the Fatherland” full of enthusiasm and naivety, but soon learn the harsh realities of war in the trenches, Forgotten Men featured interviews with veterans of the Great War. What both share in common is strong anti-war messages, as well as being genuinely upsetting at times. The tragic loss of life, the impact war had on the lives of ordinary people all for a cause they don’t fully understand, living ‘between the wars’ as we now know it to be, it makes for an unsettling and uncomfortable story. Nevertheless, the direction and cinematography of Milestone’s movie (originally released as a silent film before being re-released as a “talkie”) make it stand out as one of the most important war movies of all time as well as one of the best.


Week 5 – Monday 27 – Thursday 30 April 2015

Monday – Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015); Tuesday – The Sting (1971); Wednesday – STREET FIGHTER: ASSASSINS FIST (2014); Thursday – Maps to the Stars (2014), Rocking Cambodia: Rise of a Pop Diva (2015)

street fighterI think it must have been back in 2013 when randomly on Twitter I was followed by an account that apparently represented a new Street Fighter series that was in production. Being a fan of the video games in my youth, as well as the animated films and even the live-action movie (ahem, JCVD), I have to admit it did peak my interest and I gave their website and YouTube channel a butchers. One thing that struck me fairly quickly was the sheer attention to detail that had gone into every single martial arts fight that they were working on, as well as the attempt to really make this a focused look at the relationship between Ryu and Ken. Having now seen the final product after its release on Netflix, it’s even more clear how devoted to the project that Joey Ansah, who directs and features in the film itself as Akuma, certainly was at capturing a story first and a video game tie-in second. Whilst it’s not a flawless victory (apologies for throwing in a Mortal Kombat reference) with much of the films generous run time of 150+ minutes taken up by work-out sessions, montage moments and plenty of training, it does look very impressive. British actor Christian Howard plays Ken Masters, but also coordinated and choreographed a lot of the fight scenes in this film and that’s where the movie shines. It looks exactly how a Street Fighter film should, with some exceptionally well shot action. It’s probably a bit long and a bit slow for anyone who’s not a fan of the games to stick with right through to the end, but I enjoyed it and have my fingers crossed that they’ll continue the series in some form or another. Whether it’s as another webseries or even another film, I’ll be back for more.


And I’m pretty much done for this article and actually releasing it within a few days of the end of the month for a change. It’s also probably the first of these monthly articles that all four films I’ve chosen are ones I’ve enjoyed as opposed to having a bit of a rant about some. I’m not sure how that happened, but there you go. As always, I’m happy to discuss any of the above in more detail or argue why I liked each of them, or even have a conversation about any of the others I’ve seen and not reviewed! Just leave a comment in the box below or message me on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you in a month’s time!

And like that *poof* he’s gone!

jmsJust over two-and-a-half years ago I started yet another blog that, like the previous ones, would inevitably hold my interest for a month or so until I got distracted by some new shiny things. I started it with the lofty ambition of watching all of the IMDB Top 250 films, and generally trying to fill the gaps in my cinematic tastes and knowledge.

On one hand it was a categorical failure, as I’m still well over 70 films away from completing the set. However, if the underlying aim was to get me watching and writing more about film, and to put me in touch with an online community of some of the loveliest film fans in existence, then colour me a winner (as well as a sentimental old fool). Besides, any top 250 film list that doesn’t contain a single Powell/Pressburger picture isn’t worth the pixels it’s displaying on.

And that’s why I’m really quite sad about moving on. While Failed Critics has been online I’ve doubled the number of kids at home, moved house to accommodate said kids, and found myself in the rare and privileged position of developing a career that I not only enjoy, but am actually quite good at. Something eventually had to give, and although I’m going to miss this place I know I’m leaving it in the very capable hands of our podcast’s own Owen Hughes, Steve Norman, and Carole Petts; as well as a loose collection of brilliant writers – all of whom have been brilliant to read and elevated the site far beyond what I ever hoped to achieve on my own.

I’ve had some fantastic experiences while running the site, attending the Prometheus premiere (and becoming life-long mates with Jason Flemyng and Benny Wong); watching a weekend of David Bowie films at the ICA; and a couple of great years at the Glasgow Film Festival where I got to feel like a ‘proper’ critic for two weeks. I’d like to thank everyone I’ve ever spoken to about film on Twitter, and everyone who has ever read an article on the site or downloaded the podcast. Every single one of those page views or downloads has made this mid-thirties man inordinately happy.

I’ll still be watching films, talking about them on Twitter, and keeping my Letterboxd ratings up-to-date. And maybe in time I’ll even get around to popping back on the podcast, or helping run the annual awards. For now though, please continue to visit the site and support the brilliant work Owen has already been doing while I’ve been otherwise engaged. I can’t wait to see what he does with the place.

Until then, let me leave you with my ten (sort of) favourite films that I saw for the first time while running the site. I think they sum up the era pretty well.

The Raid/The Raid 2

One of the earliest films we reviewed for the podcast back in 2012, and the opening still fills me with nostalgic glee. I only need to see that blue Sony Pictures Classics title card to be transported back to the John Woo/Chow Yun Fat Hong Kong action films of the late 80s/early 90s, but The Raid follows up on this promise and was the most fun I had in a cinema that year. The sequel (out on DVD next week) is a completely different, but just as impressive beast. Not many films had such a unanimous affect on the podcast team.

The Lego Movie

Currently sat at the top of my 2014 ‘Best of’ list, and it’s going to take something pretty special to budge it. I can’t imagine that I would have made a beeline to see it on the preview weekend if I hadn’t been running a film site, let alone paying to see it again the following week. But Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s anarchic, brave, and playful animation is so funny that I don’t care how much of an advert it is.

The Before films

In an early podcast, I remember Gerry McAuley almost blowing a gasket over how much he hated Before Sunrise, the Richard Linklater film starring a young and gloriously pretentious Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. At roughly the same time we had an argument over (500) Days of Summer, which he enjoyed and I felt was trite, overwhelmingly kooky, and horribly shallow. I then went and watched Before Sunrise, and very quickly followed it up with Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Much like Mia Wallace suggests everyone is either a Beatles or a Stones fan in Pulp Fiction, I have a theory that you’re either a (500) Days of Summer or a Before… fan. Pick a side.

Barry Lyndon

In the weeks running up to our Stanley Kubrick podcast special I was l living and breathing Kubrick. Already my favourite director, I relished the chance to revisit some of my favourites (A Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove, 2001) as well as delve into a few that I had missed (Paths of Glory, The Killing, Lolita). It was this recommendation from Owen though that completely blew me away that week. Barry Lyndon’s episodic nature and purposely static action may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was utterly bewitched by this gorgeous and entertaining masterpiece.

My Neighbour Totoro/Grave of the Fireflies

Before I started Failed Critics I had never seen a Studio Ghibli film. Let that sink in. Then in our second podcast we had a Triple Bill of Films with Child Protagonists, and Gerry chose (I think) both My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, released as a double bill in 1988. During their recent theatrical rerelease I took my daughter to see My Neighbour Totoro as the first film that she really watched at the cinema (great hipster credentials for the future!), but chose to watch Grave of the Fireflies on my own. Which was lucky as I basically sobbed non-stop through most of it. Simply the finest anti-war film I’ve seen, and up there with Life is Beautiful in terms of raw emotional reactions I’ve had to films.

Christiane F

Another brutal punch-to-the-stomach of a film. I saw this as part of Bowiefest and, while the Thin White Duke makes an appearance in concert and his music forms the soundtrack, the star is Natja Brunckhorst, who plays the titular character. Based on the real life memoirs of a 14-year-old drug addict and sexually exploited child, it is an incredibly stark and realistic portrayal of 1980s Berlin. As hard-hitting as it gets.

Avengers Assemble

This was our first ever ‘Best Film of the Year’ winner, and is still the touchstone for the podcast team in terms of how to do a comic book film. If we have a catchphrase on the podcast, it’s probably “this is one of the best comic book/action films since Avengers”, and it’s easy to see why it gets so much love. A brilliantly warm and funny script from director Joss Whedon, pitch-perfect performances from all (particularly Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Hiddlestone), and the sense that Marvel are risking everything and succeeding on such an ambitious project. I’ll never tire of watching this film.

The Intouchables

This French comedy really shouldn’t work. ‘Immigrant and petty thief somehow ends up with a job looking after a millionaire paraplegic, and hilarity ensues’ sounds like an Adam Sandler movie pitch that Awesome-O would come up with in the seminal South Park episode. But this film above all others is the only one still undefeated in terms of my recommending it to people and their enjoying it. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love it?

Rust and Bone

I’m a big fan of naturalistic French sex/relationship dramas, so when this film combined that genre with an incredible performance from Marion Cottilard and a brilliant soundtrack it seemed destined to be my favourite film of 2012. A story of violence, redemption, and killer whales dancing to Katy Perry’s Firework, and if that doesn’t make you want to watch it then I give up. Oh wait, I already am.

The Act of Killing

In my view not only the best film of last year, but simply one of the most important films ever made. This Indonesian documentary looked into a brutal and horrifying era of that country’s history, but rather than presenting the facts of the genocide that occurred in the 1960s the film gives the perpetrators of mass murder the opportunity to discuss and recreate their crimes in their favourite cinematic styles. What could have been a horribly crass piece of filmmaking ends up making the viewer look directly into the abyss of the darkest aspects of human behaviour. Essential viewing.

Best Films on TV: 16 – 22 December

This week sees a return of our best film on TV articles. If you’re ‘bah humbugging’ your way through December, Owen is here to tell you what to watch out for this week.

Deep Blue SeaMonday 16 December – Deep Blue Sea (Five, 22.00)

Bah! It’s that time of year again where nothing is on TV but half-baked Christmas specials and those awful family Christmas movies starring kids you’ve never seen in anything else, getting all teary eyed at the magic the Yule tide brings. Thankfully, Five have seen sense and decided it put on a film about super-intelligent sharks, chomping their way through an underwater facility made up of scientists and Samuel L Jackson. Merry Christmas, every one.

Tuesday 17 December – Ping Pong (Film4, 23.05)

Although I would dearly love to choose Zoolander for the umpteenth time, what with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty due out soon and because it’s a very funny comedy, I am most intrigued by this documentary Film4 are showing. Released last year, it tells of an elderly man given a week to live and his trip to China to compete in a world senior ping pong competition (instead of setting up a meth lab to provide for his kids, a la Walter White.) With lots of good write ups and purely because it sounds so unusual, I reckon this will be the best film on TV on Tuesday. Yes. Even better than the generically sounding ‘A Star for Christmas’ on Five.

Wednesday 18 December – A Field In England (Channel 4, 00.20 (Thu morning))

Didn’t get a chance to see Ben Wheatley‘s trippy film about a group of deserters in the English Civil War? Well here’s an early Christmas present for you from Channel 4 who are repeating one of the most bizarre releases of 2013. Divisive amongst those who saw it, not just our podcast team, you’ll either think it brilliant or “pretentious shit”. (It’s brilliant, by the way.)

Thursday 19 December – The Social Network (Film4, 21.00)

Christmas can often be the time of year for taking stock of what you have in life and laughing hard at those losers who don’t got what you got lolz. Ahem. The Social Network is one such opportunity to do that, as you can point and sneer at Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of crushingly obnoxious super-rich loser and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. It’s also a pretty good film, which is something of a bonus.

Friday 20 December – Die Hard (E4, 21.00)

Oh, alright, I suppose I better pick at least one Christmas film this week. But if I have to, then it’s going to be John McTiernan‘s Godfather of all action movies, Die Hard. Starring Bruce Willis as the shoeless cop trapped in a building overrun with terrorists, trying to rescue his wife, what could be more Christmassy than that? Yipee kayay mother fuc–I mean, father Christmas.

Saturday 21 December – The Young Victoria (BBC2, 17.25)

For something a bit more mellow after the previous bout of fists, guns and blood, look no further than Emily Blunt giving one of her best performances to date as Queen Victoria in this period drama. Romantic, tragic and amusing, it is far better than it had any right to be. I’m trying to remember if she gives any speeches about reforms, pensions, and places her and Albert visited that year, but none spring to mind.

Sunday 22 December – My Neighbour Totoro (Film4, 11.00)

Are you sick of us recommending this yet? Is it because you still haven’t gotten around to watching it? Is that because there’s something wrong with you? Well, consider this a final warning.. or… recommendation (sounds less threatening that way.)  Studio Ghibli’s animation is sweet, funny and delightful. But, if you are feeling a bit depressed, you could check out ITV4. They’re showing men killing each other for petty reasons starting with All Quiet on the Western Front at 11.45, followed by Paths of Glory. Never Let Me Go on Channel 4 at 10.25 should be enough to leave you heartbroken and lost for breath should you not be able to get a copy of Up on DVD. Although, if you really must watch a proper Christmas film this week, then Scrooged starring Bill Murray is also on Channel 4 at 4.30. With all these good films arriving on one day, it’s like Christmas has come early. Sorry.

Failed Critics Podcast – COP: Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor TotoroWelcome to a mini-edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, and in this special episode we pay tribute to the latest inductee into our Corridor of Praise, the Japanese masters of animation Studio Ghibli.

James, Owen, and Gerry discuss their favourite Ghibli films, as well as discussing the history of the studio, and it’s impact on opening new eyes to world cinema, as well as exploring its influence over Disney and Pixar.

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Film4’s Studio Ghibli season: The highlights

Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4's Studio Ghibli season
Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4’s Studio Ghibli season

Today marks the beginning of two and a half weeks of cinematic excellence on Film4, as their Studio Ghibli celebration begins. Of course, very few people will have time to watch them all (Owen Hughes of this parish will probably manage it) so we thought it would be useful to pick out five to watch. These five would provide a perfect entry point into the magical world of Studio Ghibli but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are a large number of great films in their canon and I urge you to watch as many as you can – I will certainly be taking the opportunity to catch the ones I haven’t yet seen.

Wait, Studio Ghibli? What the hell is that?

First, a little intro to Studio Ghibli for those unfamiliar with this powerhouse of Japanese animation. Set up by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985 following the success of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the studio has always prioritised artistic integrity over commercial appeal. This, famously, has extended to a “no cuts” policy when distributing internationally; Harvey Weinstein, upon suggesting that Princess Mononoke be cut to give it more commercial appeal, received a Samurai sword in the post with an accompanying message of “no cuts” from the film’s producer*. Frequent themes are nature (and man’s destruction of it), childhood and magic. The studio is notable for its frequent use of female leads who are very different from the typical Disney Princess.

Of the ten highest-grossing films in Japanese history, Ghibli has produced four of them – including number 1, Spirited Away. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer and director of Toy Story among others, describes Miyazaki as “the world’s greatest living animator”. Outside of Disney and Lasseter himself, it is hard to think of anyone who has had more influence on animated films.

Spirited Away – Tuesday 26th, 6.30pm [subtitled]; Saturday 6th April 4.35pm [dubbed]

Previously discussed here and here, this is one of my favourite films. I’ll leave it to the BBC’s Jamie Russell, writing in 2003:

With none of the sentimentality of Disney nor the computerised sheen of Pixar, this traditional animé even blows the brilliant Finding Nemoout of the water. It’s epic story is more imaginative, rousing and luscious than anything American animation has produced since the halcyon days of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsIn two hours Miyazaki offers more magic and innovation than most animators could manage in over two decades.

Princess Mononoke – Wednesday 27th, 6.05pm [subtitled]; Wednesday 10th April, 1.10pm [dubbed]

The highest-grossing film in Japanese history until Titanic came along and ruined everything, this is a Princess tale unlike anything Disney has provided. Set in an imagined 14th Century Japan where humans and forest creatures live side-by-side, there is a surprising complexity and ambiguity to this tale. The familiar tropes of animated fantasy in the West are gone here: no black-and-white morality with a valiant hero and a damsel in distress for Miyazaki and co. Instead we find that everyone has their reasons and not everything about them is bad; in terms of educating children how the world works, this is far better than the classic Disney tale. Visually stunning throughout, whilst the film may appear a little impenetrable on the surface please don’t be put off – Princess Mononoke is a landmark in animation.

My Neighbour Totoro – Saturday 30th, 4.55pm [dubbed]

Again, I’ve written about Totoro before so I will leave it to the great Roger Ebert to describe this, the only competitor with Toy Story in my mind for the title of best animated film:

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy… Whenever I watch it, I smile, and smile, and smile… It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.

Howl’s Moving Castle – Monday 1st, 4.35pm [dubbed]; Friday April 12th TBC [subtitled]

Surprisingly, this film is based on a book by a Welsh children’s author and Miyazaki himself is a big fan of the country; its predecessor and sister film Castle in the Sky draws heavily on his experiences of the Welsh Miner’s Strike a couple of years before its release. Not quite achieving the clarity of thought and purpose of his previous efforts, this is nonetheless a tremendously entertaining film. Here we see Sophie, a young girl, transformed into a witch and journeying to the aforementioned castle to free a fire demon from a curse in the midst of a war.

Grave of the Fireflies – Friday 5th, 12.15am

Takahata’s tale of two children struggling to survive among the bombs in late WWII Japan is more ‘adult’ than the other films here, as evidenced by it being on late at night. One of the most powerful war movies ever made (seriously), this remains the only film to make me cry. You have been warned. That said, don’t be put off by the tragic element at all. The opening scene reveals that our narrator is dead so we know throughout that this is a doomed story; however there is joy, as well as sadness, to be found in the life he tells us about. That is the real power of the film – the characters are brilliantly formed and  we care about them. This is a tale of two lives, innocently caught up in war and the societal breakdown accompanying it. That an animation can feel so real and so relevant is testament to the skill of all involved.

*Miyazaki explains: “…I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”

Best films on TV – week commencing 25th March 2013

Here is my selection of the best films showing on UK free-to-air television this week. Yes, these are the ‘best’ ones in my opinion, not some kind of universal truth. Tweet me about how wrong I am if you like but I’m hardly going to change my mind!

The Battle Royale of 'Battle Royales'Monday 25th March – The Godfather: Part II  (Film4, 9pm)

You watched The Godfather on Sunday at 9 right? We did tell you in last week’s article before you start claiming ignorance. Just like 24 hours earlier, it’s an unusual day when this film isn’t the best film on TV. Pacino is outstanding, the story is phenomenal, it’s a classic of cinema. I don’t really need to say anything else. You will be up to nigh on 1am though, which isn’t great if like me you are boring and like to get 8 hours a night, every night.

Tuesday 26th March – Spirited Away (Film4, 6.30pm)

Today marks the start of Film4’s Studio Ghibli season, which everyone should be taking advantage of. Like a Japanese Pixar/Disney, Studio Ghibli is a byword for top-notch animation. Spirited Away found fame in the West by winning the Best Animated Film Oscar in 2003 and, slightly more prestigiously, being recognised as one of the year’s best films by yours truly on a site not a million miles from here. The film tells the story of a young girl who, on the way to moving to a new house, finds herself in a magical spirit world trying to save her parents who have been turned into pigs (happens to me all the time). It encapsulates childhood, fantasy and the sense of magical wonder we all unfortunately seem to lose when we hit puberty; frankly, if you don’t like this film you and I are probably not going to get on. A masterpiece.

Wednesday 27th March – Copycat (More4, 10pm)

On a truly magnificent day for films, I’m avoiding the two obvious choices quite simply because otherwise this will look like a Film4-sponsored piece). Nonetheless, an evening of Princess Mononoke (6.05pm) followed by The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (9pm) might be bum-numbing but it sounds bloody fantastic to me. Assuming people have lives, though, set those to record and watch Copycat, the 1995 tale of Sigourney Weaver’s agorophobic criminal psychologist trying to catch a serial killer who seems to be a fan of a whole bunch of other serial killers. It’s not as good as The Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, films it clearly draws heavily upon, but if you like either of those you will find a lot to enjoy here. Sigourney reckons this is the performance she’s most proud of, which should be enough to sell it to you, and it’s a shame this got lost amongst a deluge of serial killer thrillers in this period.

Thursday 28th March – Doubt (BBC4, 10pm)

Yes, the 2nd LOTR film is on tonight. Watch that if you haven’t seen it already. I think pretty much everyone who wants to has, though, which makes Doubt today’s best film. Quite simply, if you like good acting, you will like this film. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman do battle in mesmerising fashion, supported by an astonishing Amy Adams (who showed the world she should be taken seriously with this performance) and future Oscar nominee Viola Davis. In fact, all four got Oscar nods – PSH for best supporting actor, Streep for best leading actress and Adams and Davis competing for the supporting actress gong – along with writer/director John Patrick Shanley for best adapted screenplay. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be – a combination of Heath Ledger, Slumdog Millionaire, Kate Winslet and, most bizarrely, Penelope Cruz (in forgettable Woody Allen Spaniard vehicle Vicky Cristina Barcelona) denying this excellent film success.

Friday 29th March – Battle Royale (Film4, 12:55am)

I don’t care what anyone says, The Hunger Games is a poor man’s Battle Royale. And I liked The Hunger Games quite a lot. Which means, beloved reader, Battle Royale is bloody outstanding. It’s as shocking today as it was on release (which I’ve written about previously) yet despite the copious amounts of gore, communicates a deeper message. Like the best of all art, it tells us something about society as well as entertaining. ‘Like Tarantino, but they’re Japanese’ as a mate once said.

Saturday 30th March – My Neighbour Totoro (Film4, 4:55pm)

Possibly the animated film that has filled me with joy more than any other (and I really do like animated films), My Neighbour Totoro is Studio Ghibli at its finest. Of course, you’ll have already watched Spirited Away on Tuesday so by now you will have an idea of the sheer magic that is a Hayao Miyazaki film. This 1988 masterpiece tells the story of two young girls who discover that the woods around their new home are inhabited by magical creatures. All I can say is that on its initial release in Japan this was only available as a double-bill with Grave of the Fireflies, which sounds like the most perfect combination imaginable if one wanted to represent all the aspects of childhood on screen. Watch it. Love it. Worship it. Rave about it to all your friends and family. Wish you had a real Totoro as a constant companion. Remember how bloody amazing being a kid was. Yes, it really is that good.

Honourable mention today for The Secret in their Eyes (BBC4, 9.50pm), the quite brilliant Argentinian film that took home Best Foreign Language Oscar 2010 and currently sits ahead of Rocky, The Exorcist and others at #155 on the IMDB 250 [in fact, it’s rated 8.1 – the same as Mary and Max which we discussed on a recent podcast]. Totoro followed by this would make an excellent evening’s viewing, most certainly.

Sunday 31st March – The Girl Who Played With Fire (Film4, 11pm)

On an Easter Sunday packed with cinematic choice, this was a hard one. There’s such a feast of films, you could go for a theme. Family films or Westerns for instance. The Goonies or True Grit (the original) might occupy your afternoon from 1.30 and 1:45pm respectively. Then you could move on to Arrietty (5.15pm) or the best Western ever Wild Wild West (5.55pm). That last one was a joke before you start tweeting me.

This Scandinavian powerhouse of a film is rather good though. There may or may not be an American remake but proper cinema fans will want to see the (superior) Swedish trilogy, with the excellent Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. Violent, thrilling and with a powerful storyline – what’s not to like? 

A Decade In Film: The Noughties – 2002

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

As this is podcaster Gerry’s idea, he’s nabbed the noughties. Here he gives us his top five from 2002 – be sure to check out the entries for 2001 and 2000 if you haven’t already done so. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these so please get in touch with a comment or on twitter.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-large-pictureI think we might have made a mistake leaving the Shire, Pippin.

The first was a towering achievement of storytelling and fantasy narrative brought to life on screen; the follow-up continued that great work and showed a generation of film fans and aspiring film-makers what epic productions are like. With more action than its predecessor, The Two Towers stepped up the cinematic intensity and silenced criticisms from some corners that the films were long and boring. Jackson builds steadily towards a triumphant final hour centred around the battle at Helm’s Deep, a battle scene which absolutely captivated my imagination as a 13 year old watching this in the cinema. I have, of course, since seen many epic films with epic battle sequences but this film is often a benchmark to compare them with. Podcast listeners will know I moaned about The Hobbit recently but as you may guess from this series, I bloody love TLOTR trilogy, and a decade on The Two Towers remains a staggering achievement, a lesson to us all on how to do exciting fantasy drama on a massive scale.

4. Spirited Away

spirited-away-large-picture-1Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember. 

Studio Ghibli films are widely regarded by cine-literate people as outstanding. Yet the majority of the population seem blissfully unaware of their work. Spirited Away is much like their other films – it gets to the heart of childhood and imagination, transporting us forward into a hitherto unseen world of the creator’s making while simultaneously catapulting the viewer back to their own youth, that sense that magic lurked so close that a wrong turn could mean you winding up in a vastly different reality to your own. That is precisely what happens in this film. Chihiro’s family end up getting lost and wandering into an abandoned theme park – her greedy parents eating the tempting food left seemingly unattended and, of course, being transformed into pigs. Fans of Disney and particularly Pixar will find much to love in this classic animation, both in thematic content and the rich visuals our senses are practically assaulted with from the word go. I don’t think it quite matches up to My Neighbour Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies (note to Matt Lambourne – they’d better be 1 and 2 for 1988) but nonetheless, this is better than 90% of the kids films you will ever see – whether you’re a nostalgic adult or a child who hasn’t yet lost that wonder at the potential marvels of the world around them. [I’ve included this for 2002 as it was released in Japan in 2001, film festivals around the world in 2002 and in the UK in 2003, making 2002 the middle ground in such a confusing and drawn out release schedule]

3. Punch-Drunk Love

punch drunk love adam sandlerI have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.

I’m not going to lie to you – I only watched this film about a month ago. I absolutely loved it. No, in fact, I fell in love with it. A mild introduction to art-house cinema for the uninitiated (or soft-core art house if you like), Punch-Drunk Love is a quirky tale featuring Adam Sandler as a possibly autistic, possibly partially psychotic entrepeneur who falls for slightly-less-odd Emily Watson.  Despite the backdrop of constant belittlement from his seven sisters, their romantic journey begins, alongside Sandler’s efforts to disentangle himself from a scam he fell into by ringing a phone sex line to chat about his life. It sounds weird and it is a bit, but if you doubt Sandler’s credentials for this then you’ve obviously never listened to Mark Kermode before. Literally the only downside to watching this film is that you will now be even more annoyed by the constant stream of utter shit Sandler is churning out these days when he is capable not only of genuinely funny films like Happy Gilmore but also excellent serious acting performances like he puts in here. Psst Adam, here’s a hint – make more films with people like Paul Thomas Anderson and less with Dennis Dugan and you might be ok.

2. City of God

city-of-godYou need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas. 

A gripping tale of corruption, poverty and crime in the underbelly of Rio de Janeiro, City of God did wonders for Brazilian cinema. I actually studied a module on Brazilian cinema in University purely based on the fact that in doing so I could watch City of God again and find out the context behind it. For all the complex and important social issues it explores, City of God has a fairly standard cinematic trope at its core: two boys grow up in the same place, take different paths in the face of external pressures, yet their lives always seem to be intertwined and meet with dramatic consequences. Famed for its use of first-time actors taken from the streets of the favelas themselves (even including the mother of one of the real-life criminals depicted in the film), there is a brutal realism to Cidade de Deus that some viewers may find unpalatable. In my view it is that harsh realism which makes the film so powerful and for it to be viewed as anything other than a strength is missing the point entirely. This war between drug lords really happened. It wasn’t nice. With brilliant cinematography that captures the lo-fi 70s vibe of the time whilst still producing stunning visuals and some iconic shots, it is no wonder that the film remains one of the most successful and well-known films in ‘world cinema’ to UK viewers. Fernando Meirelles hasn’t made the move to Hollywood big-shot as many predicted but is trying to make himself the Brazilian Almodóvar. Speaking of my mate Pedro…

1. Talk to Her

On the face of it, Hable con Ella is a pretty odd film. It centres on the solitude and inner turmoil of two men who bond over the beds of the female coma victims who they care for, the gradual entanglement of their lives – whilst in parallel the events leading up to the film’s present are slowly unravelled in flashbacks. There is a quiet power to the film which draws the viewer into this world so deeply that it is impossible to forget. Essentially, old Pedro tests how far he can push an audience (again), this time in terms of how much you’re willing to forgive because you like someone. I often say this about foreign films on the podcast but THIS IS WHAT CINEMA IS ABOUT. Tremendous performances, a director whose vision is so clear and whose skill is so well-developed that they are able to interweave symbolism and narrative to devastating effect, a story which engages throughout and an exploration of wider themes and societal issues without being preachy or ever failing to entertain.

Like all of his films are to some extent, at heart this is an exploration of gender roles. We have the two male leads crying over a performance at the ballet; a female bullfighter who is harsh and masculine, while her boyfriend is vulnerable and openly emotional; a male nurse; and a now infamous scene from the film-within-the-film which seems outrageously shocking, but is in fact less shocking than what it masks. There are a number of genuinely haunting scenes in Talk to Her, precisely because we are drawn into the drama so powerfully by the cast and crew. Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti are mesmerising. Almodóvar was under some serious pressure after the global success of All About My Mother and this was what he came up with.

In my opinion it’s his finest work – in a catalogue of films that most people in Hollywood would be proud to have in their DVD collection, let alone make. This is cinema. This is art without being arty or pretentious. This is a film about humanity, morality, imperfection, societal conditioning, sex, solitude, normality, mental illness… There is a disturbing, unsettling effect as you question your morality and precisely why you feel sympathy or empathy at certain points. It pushes you to think outside normality and ask questions of yourself and the world because it has engrossed you so totally and manipulated you so delicately. That, for me, is what cinema is.