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Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 8 – August, You Slice

Another month on in his year in review series, Owen takes a look at some of the films that he’s seen this past August. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

these final hours 2015Anyone who has been following the website and podcast over the past few months might have noticed that for a little while now, we’ve been going a bit Danny Dyer crazy. Not, like, mugging off slaaaags as per his persona. I mean, we’ve been covering a lot of Danny Dyer stuff.

In last month’s article, for example, I talked about how his tweet at the Failed Critics meet up in July played a part in cheering me up after some rather gutting news. We then had our most popular individual episode since 2012 when we inducted Dyer into our Corridor of Praise. Basically, we haven’t shut up about him. Throughout August, particularly in the couple of weeks leading up to that particular podcast, I watched a boat load of his movies. I’ll try not to talk about them all here [if you really want you can read my short reviews of them all over on Letterboxd] to spare you from being subjected to the same material over and over again.

Instead, I’m going to kick off this month’s article by talking about something completely original for this series: a b-movie sci-fi horror…

…What?


Week 1 – Saturday 1 – Sunday 2 August 2015

Saturday – HARDWARE (1990); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

hardware 1990In my July In Review article, the very last film I talked about was a documentary called Lost Soul. It follows director Richard Stanley’s doomed attempt to bring HG Wells’s novella The Island of Doctor Moreau to the silver screen back in 1996. It led to me immediately afterwards searching frantically online for a copy of said film to stream with no luck whatsoever. However, I did find Stanley’s two previous feature length movies available on Netflix, starting with his futuristic, dystopian, science fiction thriller Hardware. As you may have already ascertained from the title, the plot can essentially be boiled down to “cyborg gone bad”. It has the claustrophobic paranoia of Alien crossed with the relentlessness of The Terminator, made for a fraction of the cost of either film. Anyone who has been following these articles will know that during the past eight months, despite already having some degree of fondness for b-movies, one particular director, Albert Pyun, has really grabbed my attention of late. Richard Stanley’s Hardware is very reminiscent of Pyun’s style, with a nuclear ravaged world and killer-robot running rampage in an apartment, although it is somewhat smaller in scale. Where Pyun’s ambition is to always tell as epic an adventure as is possible, it maybe stretches him further than his budgets would sometimes allow. When he pulls it off, I love it. When he’s been a bit too ambitious, obviously it leaves his films rather painful to watch. Stanley seems as aware of his restrictions and tries to utilise them as much as possible. Hardware isn’t a perfect movie; indeed the last 20 minutes seem very repetitive and ends rather tamely. There are so many different ideas all crammed into an hour and a half that it convolutes things slightly too. But there’s a lot to admire here. Visually, I absolutely adored it. From the design of the robot to the red and orange tint across the picture, it is beautiful to look at all the way through. The world building is great to start with but kind of gets thrown out of the window at the mid-way point to turn it into a more close-knit horror, but is interesting all the same. All in all, despite knowing what happened to Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau, Hardware just made me all the more keen to find it and question the reputation of it being one of the worst films ever made!


Week 2 – Monday 3 – Sunday 9 August 2015

Monday – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)SOUTHPAW (2015)Tuesday – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), Fantastic Four (2015); Wednesday – Dust Devil (1992); Thursday – Top Gun (1986); Friday – Ginger Snaps (2000); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

southpawI could continue this Richard Stanley theme and talk about Dust Devil, his next feature after Hardware, but I won’t say any more than simply: I didn’t enjoy it as much. I could also discuss the two Mission: Impossible films that I enjoyed – alas, I found them largely forgettable and, as such, have… er… forgotten most of what they’re about beyond Cruise-gon’-Cruise. Instead, I want to explain why Southpaw was the film I was most looking forward to seeing this August and why it didn’t actually live up to my expectations. I actually picked Southpaw on our Summer Preview Podcast back in May, mostly because I was excited to see if Jake Gyllenhaal could improve on his performance in Nightcrawler last year. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.) The fact is, his performance is good enough to warrant a film like this; the way he transforms himself so he’s hardly recognisable in each role is thoroughly impressive. But Southpaw as a whole simply turned out to be a film that is just good enough. It keeps coming back to me. It’s just good enough. Good enough for me to have not felt like I’d wasted two hours in the cinema. Good enough for me to say it wasn’t disappointing. Good enough for me to have liked a lot about it. But it’s not great and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. Perhaps the story is little more than OK, with a Rocky-meets-Raging-Bull quality to it? Boxing films do seem to follow a pretty standard pattern, whatever culture they’re from. It doesn’t matter if it’s South Korea’s Crying Fist or a very Clint Eastwood Million Dollar Baby; they are typically about a character falling on hard times, facing adversity and then redeeming themselves. Maybe the lack of anything new or original is why I’m struggling to think of any reason that this would be anywhere near my top 10 of the year so far list, despite not actually disliking it? It’s just good enough. Nothing more and that’s a real shame.


Week 3 – Monday 10 – Sunday 16 August 2015

Monday – Apocalypse Now (1979); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – The All Together (2007); Friday – Devil’s Playground (2010); Saturday – The Other Half (2006); Sunday – Next Goal Wins (2014), WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001)

wet hot american summerLike a lot of other people, I have since found out, I too was tricked by the pretty terrible TV advert for the new Netflix prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. It didn’t appeal to me at all, despite Callum raving about it on our podcast not too long back. The cast looked impressive, but it had something off-puttingly Scary Movie / Epic MovieMeet The Spartans / other-shit-parody-movie about it. However, I knew it had cult status and I fancied watching a comedy film – something that The All Together and The Other Half had failed to deliver earlier in the week! So, despite going into Wet Hot American Summer with some degree of trepidation, it actually delivered a very smart, mostly laugh out loud comedy full of self-parody, fantastic comic-performances and made me re-think how I’d interpreted that TV ad for the Netflix series. I’m certainly glad that I watched the film first as even though the show is a prequel (made 15 years after the first film – something hilarious in itself) it does have a heck of a lot of call backs and set ups for the movie that have great pay-offs that I otherwise would have missed out on. Also, I’m aware that they very rarely all appear on screen together, but to get some of this cast back on board is simply amazing. Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper etc are all so much more well known now compared to back in 2001, yet still fit together like they’ve been planning a prequel show all this time. I highly recommend it for some quick consistent giggles and advise against letting that fucking advert put you off.


Week 4 – Monday 17 – Sunday 23 August 2015

Monday – The Island of Dr Moreau (1996); Tuesday – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015); Wednesday – The Wraith (1986); Thursday – VENDETTA (2013)Friday – Dead Man Running (2009); Saturday – Soldier (1998), Piranha 3DD (2012); Sunday – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

VendettaIf I’m going to pick any Danny Dyer film to talk about in this month’s article, it’s got to be the revenge thriller Vendetta, featuring an appearance from James Mullinger and produced by Jonathan Sothcott, both of whom appeared on that Corridor of Praise podcast I mentioned at the top of the page. The plot is very straight forward as British soldier (Danny Dyer) goes AWOL, returning to the UK to catch the scumbags who have burned his parents alive. It’s very nicely shot, there’s a lot of violent revenge enacted on people who “deserve their comeuppance” (described by The Guardian as revenge-porn) and it’s entirely unapologetic about it. If that’s your thing, then you are quite likely to love Vendetta. It’s probably the most grown-up performance from Dyer who, although having the reputation as a geezer and/or gangster, is usually playing the likeable, fallible, boy-ish good looking fellow in a group, not the rampaging murderer. In this, he properly is the hardened cold-killer and nails the role. Paul Field basically pressured me into buying this on blu-ray and it turned out to be a good decision as it’s an entertaining low-budget British thriller. It’s actually a shame that there’s no sign of a sequel just yet as they can’t “get Danny out of Walford” for the foreseeable future.


Week 5 – Monday 24 – Monday 31 August 2015

Monday – The Business (2005), The Football Factory (2004); Tuesday – Outlaw (2007); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – White Chicks (2004); Friday – THESE FINAL HOURS (2015)Saturday – The Guvnors (2014); Sunday – American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987), Sinister 2 (2015); Monday – [absolutely nothing]

these final hoursWe’ve talked about this Australian pre-post-apocalyptic (a genre term I’m pretty sure I coined) on the podcast in recent weeks, particularly as it was shown at FrightFest this year – although I actually found it on US Netflix. Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, starring Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek), Sarah Snook (Predestination) and Jessica De Gouw (Arrow, Dracula), as mentioned on the pdocast it does start off a bit like a music video. You’re not really invited to connect to the story nor the characters as a series of expositional dialogue sets things up alongside a show of bright, shallow visuals. It’s safe to say that it didn’t grab me straight away and I immediately thought it’d be a tediously dull wasted concept. However, once I got past the opening credits and the first five minutes, things suddenly get very dark. Whilst on the surface it appears to be as bleak as hell about humanity when facing a crisis – hey, let’s all get pissed, do a load of drugs and party until our skin is burnt from our bodies in 12 hours time – it does showcase some brightness in how we interact with each other. That there’s good in some of us. As the protagonist James stumbles across a young girl who has been separated from her family (played brilliantly by Angourie Rice), he decides to help her find her dad; at first reluctantly, but eventually it takes him on a course to see visit his mother, make peace with some friends and discover something about himself (albeit a little bit too late!) As far as these stories go, it never quite gets as distressing as something like The Road, but if you’re into an apocalyptic story that doesn’t feature either vampires or zombies, this might just be for you.


And that’s it! I’ll be back next month to recap what I’ve been watching throughout September. Until then, leave a comment if you’d like or just ignore the entire article completely. Your call.

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

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

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

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

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

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

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


Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 July 2015

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

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


Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 July 2015

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

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


Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 July 2015

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

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


Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 July 2015

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

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


Week 5 – Monday 27 – Friday 31 July 2015

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

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


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