Tag Archives: Roger Corman

Failed Critics Podcast: Sausage Party

sausage-party

It’s getting a bit musky in the FC HQ this week as Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Callum Petch engage in their very own sausage party to review Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest collaboration. The foul-mouthed animated comedy pretty much divided the group down the middle, but you’ll have to listen to find out who hated it, who thought it was fine, and who loved it.

Elsewhere on the pod:  hooked on an Ashton Kutcher-fix, Steve reviews time-travelling sci-fi The Butterfly Effect;  Owen realises he should watch a film before coming on a film podcast so squeezes in a first viewing of Roger Corman’s Piranha;  and Callum revisits an old favourite in Scott Pilgrim vs the World to see if he still likes it in the same way as he used to.

Plus there’s quizzing, recommendations, chat about who is a chan of Jackie Fan (who isn’t a Jackie Fan chan?) and Callum comprehensively guides us through this year’s London Film Festival line-up.

Join the same trio again as well as the returning Tony Black next week for (sigh) Ben Hur.

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Owen Hughes: 2014 Reviews Part 2 – Jul-Dec

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Following part one of my year in review articles where I picked out my favourite first-time watch of each month in 2014 (excluding new releases) from January to June, it’s about time I got my arse in gear and wrote up my second and final piece. So here it is! Starting with July….


the great white silenceJuly – Samaritan Girl (2004); THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE (1924); Blue is the Warmest Color (2013); Forgotten Men (1933); Peeping Tom (1960); Excision (2012); Red Sorghum (1987); Amores Perros (2000); Splinter (2008); Audition (1999)

Originally released in 1924 but recently restored by the magicians who work at the BFI to a gloriously high definition standard, The Great White Silence uses real footage from Captain Scott’s two-year long ill-fated journey to the South Pole aboard the Terra Nova ten years earlier. Nevertheless, it is as provocative and inspirational now as I’m sure it would’ve been to those viewing it 90 years ago. I was completely taken by surprise with it. In fact, I’ve no memory of even adding it to my LOVEFiLM rental list! However it got there, I’m glad it did because I have never been taken aback by the breathtaking beauty in a documentary quite like I was with this. I had no idea that this 100 year old footage even existed, let alone that the expedition was immortalised by Herbert G. Ponting. It was absolutely fascinating to see Captain Scott and his crew trampling snow underfoot that had never seen human life before. The optimism in the air is captured tremendously well considering there wasn’t even any sound recorded, just film footage. Unsurprisingly, that does give proceedings a rather ominous tone given the fact we know what ends up happening to Scott and his four friends. It’s just a tremendous documentary and an incredible restoration to boot.


secret sunshineAugust – House (1977); Revenge of the Ninja (1983); The Battery (2013); American Movie (1999); The Battle of Algiers (1966); Doomsday Book (2012); Oasis (2002); SECRET SUNSHINE (2007); A Separation (2011); Pastoral: To Die in the Country (1974)

With a week in the middle of the month where I was away, and with FrightFest leading me to catching up on a few new-release horrors, I saw very few first time watches that weren’t actually released in 2014. However, for my birthday I did receive an imported copy of Lee Chang-dong’s (the guy who made Peppermint Candy, which I talked about in Part 1) Secret Sunshine. Starring one of my favourite Korean actors, Song Kang-ho, in a supporting role and Jeon Do-yeon absolutely batting it out of the park in the lead role, it’s one of the most moving and genuinely heart-touching performances I have ever seen. After moving from the big city to her recently deceased husband’s small home town in order to start over, and then suffering further tragedy as her only son goes missing, you are completely dragged under the waves of emotional outpouring with no strength to fight against the tides. As she’s constantly battered by family and friends, by well wishers and local creeps, in her fragile state she reaches out for something to soothe her pain. When she finds it in the communal church going community, Lee Chang-dong attempts to unearth exactly why religion and faith can protect someone from their grief, whilst all the time analysing and exploring the fragility of such a thing. It was such a traumatic watch for me that I literally had to take a break in the middle of the movie to go and get a cup of tea! But like with Peppermint Candy, like Poetry, Green Fish and like Oasis (which I also watched for the first time in August), it’s the complexity of the narrative interwoven with multiple layers of emotional depth that leave such a mark on the viewer and why even after pausing for a moment, I had to go back and finish the film. Alas, it was the last film of Lee Chang-dong’s I had left to watch, and it has left a hole in my cinematic heart because I know there’s no more feature length films directed by him out there left for me to consume.


ordetSeptember – American Mary (2012); The Importance of Being Earnest (2002); The Breakfast Club (1985); An Education (2009); The Midnight Meat Train (2008); Lord of the Flies (1963); ORDET (1955); Le Jour se lève (aka Daybreak) (1939); Potpourri (2011); Happiness: The Himalayan Boy and the TV Set (2013)

Released in the US as ‘The Word‘, Ordet is Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s only financially and critically (upon initial release) successful film in his entire canon. Whereas something like The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) may be one of my favourite ever films, as it is for a lot of other people too, it was a financial flop due to the surrounding controversy and lack of distribution / censorship resulting from that. His films were not always immediately accepted by critics, either. Vampyr was famously booed at festivals and became one of the leading factors in his nervous breakdown. However, back in September, you would not have heard me booing him nor his work as I became utterly engrossed with this extraordinary story. Much like Secret Sunshine come to think of it, the key aspect seems to be one of the human will power and ability of the mind, versus that of faith and religion. It tells the tale of three brothers, their devout father and Inger, married to one of the brothers who is agnostic, in a small 1920’s farming community. The youngest brother plans to marry a girl from another local “rival” community. The final brother is called Johannes, who is the most interesting character in the film by far. He used to study religious texts but has gone slightly insane and now thinks he’s Jesus Christ. As a film, it’s less about a story and more of a naturalistic look at people; how family and religion and faith all come together and what that means to different people. It may have a rather tepid pace, but this only forces you to think for yourself about what’s going on, about seeing beyond what’s there on screen, and look deeper into it. Of the five Dreyer films I’ve seen, it’s certainly the closest to bettering The Passion of Joan of Arc that he came.


corman's worldOctober – The Masque of the Red Death (1964); A Bucket of Blood (1959); The Fly (1986); The Fall of the House of Usher (1960); Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966); CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011); Fright Night (1985); The Intruder (1962); Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954); The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Seeing as how I’ve already written a lengthy article chronicling my attempts to watch a horror film every single day throughout October in my Horrorble Month piece, I don’t think there’s much point repeating myself! Suffice to say, I discovered during those 31 days leading up to Halloween that I am an enormous fan of Roger Corman. After inducting myself to his work primarily via Vincent Price when researching films for the Decade In Film: 1964 article, I became fascinated by him. At some point during the month I was recommended the documentary Corman’s World, which had as profound an effect on me as I think Life Itself appears to have done for Callum. Quite rightly a hero to many thanks to his plethora of b-movies, both those directed and the hundreds he produced, to fans and colleagues alike (indeed, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Peter Fonda, Dick Miller etc all pay tribute to him in the documentary). The ambition and drive that Roger Corman has is infectious and an inspiration. If you want to make a movie, then do it. Don’t wait for somebody to tell you that you can, or that you’re good enough. If you’re prepared to work hard and if you are talented, then you can make it. Eventually. Maybe.


nashville_b3.tifNovember – Life is Beautiful (1997); NASHVILLE (1975); Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988); My Bloody Valentine (1981); Creepshow 2 (1987); Panic Room (2002); Miller’s Crossing (1990); Monkey Shines (1988); Black Rain (1989); The Mummy (1959)

I did not do it! I did not pick The Room after Carole made us watch in for the podcast! I didn’t! It’s bullshit. I did not! Oh, hi folks. November was not a fantastic month for first time watches for me (excluding 2014 releases, of course). Barely any of those listed above scored any more than 3.5 stars out of 5. Well, excluding the Robert Altman directed, Joan Tewkesbury written musical drama Nashville, that is. As anyone who has read our Meet the Critics page will be aware, I bloody hate musicals. Even more so when it is essentially country music. To give a little bit of context as to why I ended up watching this; for much of November, my internet was down. This meant I finally had to open that envelope from LOVEFiLM (yes, it’s a perennial problem that I leave them on the side unopened for up to 6 weeks at a time before bothering with them) and put on the three hour long DVD. After 20 minutes in, I really wanted to give up on Nashville. It just wasn’t winning me over, I hated the music, it seemed completely devoid of plot and interesting characters, and was so, so slow. Even 20 minutes from the end, despite a vast improvement, I was still checking the digital display on my blu-ray player, trying to work out how long was left. And then…. it ended. And I was gutted. Quite unaware of exactly what had happened, it seems that despite my protestations at terrible country music, an inordinate run time and a lack of uniquely interesting characters, I was actually gutted that Nashville had finished. So I sat there, I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that actually, I had enjoyed it. More than enjoyed, I had really, really liked it. I realised that the character is the place, and the people, and the music, and all that it entails. The story is the simple story of life. Of celebrity, of love, of exploitation, of triumph, humiliation, of belonging, of culture, of family… of Nashville. It wasn’t just a well acted and well shot film. It was a key hole and I had been peering through it solidly for 160 minutes, confused, enthralled and unaware.


3-ironDecember – Brother (2000); Bait (2012); Skeletons (2010); Afflicted (2012); Labyrinth (1986); Willow (1988); Scrooge (1951); The Coast Guard (2002); L.A. Confidential (1997); 3-IRON (2004)

December became mostly a month of fantasy films. After watching the entire extended edition Lord of the Rings trilogy, and re-watching the two Hobbit films in preparation for The Battle of the Five Armies in November, I ended up ploughing through films like Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Willow, Legend, Krull and so on. Yet, it wasn’t any of these that were my favourite first time watches during December. In fact, towards the very end of the month, in that gap between Christmas and New Year, I watched a boat load of Kim Ki-duk movies. Moebius, his entirely dialogue free story of a boy whose mother cuts his penis off in his sleep and eats it in a revenge attack against her husband/his father for sleeping around, which is as weird as it sounds, ended up making my top 10 films of the year list when submitting my votes in the Failed Critics Awards. I already liked his films like Pieta and probably his most famous work Spring Summer Fall Winter… And Spring. Yet, I had a few movies on my DVD shelf that were unwatched and what ended up becoming my favourite films of his (and of the whole of December), watched on the penultimate day of the year, was 3-Iron. Whilst nowhere near as bizarre as Moebius, or even Pieta, it was even better. The plot begins following a young man who appears to reside in the shadows (metaphorically speaking), breaking into the houses of people who are away from their homes and spends the night there. He does a few domestic chores, takes a few photos of himself around the place, that sort of thing. It’s all a bit creepy, but ultimately harmless. Upon entering one home he assumes is unoccupied, he ends up meeting Lee Seung-yeon, who appears to be in an abusive relationship. I say “appears” because neither Lee Seung-yeon nor Lee Hyun-kyoon have any dialogue. At all. The message seems to be that love can transcend language. What you feel is not restricted to the sounds that you can make with your mouth. It’s the way that what’s unsaid is actually what’s being whispered the loudest that makes 3-Iron his most beautiful, soft and haunting film. The final 5 minutes are probably the best thing he has committed to film in his entire career.


And that’s it! My favourite 120 non-2014-release first-time-watches of each month from last year. With a bit of luck, 2015 will be just as consistent with each new discovery. Thanks for reading!

A Horrorble Month

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

I watch a lot of films. When I say “a lot”, I mean, a lot. I’m not boasting about this, I’m sure there are people who watch more and good luck to them! But there hasn’t been a week since the 20 – 26th August 2011 where I haven’t seen at least one film. In fact, the only week since then where I’ve only seen one film was 1st – 7th October 2011. Every week since, I’ve watched a minimum of two films within that seven day period. In 2012 I watched 464 films; in 2013 that rose to 555 films. So far this year, I’ve seen (according to Letterboxd + my private list of films I’ve yet to log on the site) 443 movies.

Yes. Exactly. For someone who doesn’t get paid to do this – who’s not employed by anyone as a professional film critic and holds down a full time job in a completely different industry – I’m fully prepared to accept that I do indeed watch a lot of films. A lot.

This month started no differently to any other from the past three years. I knew I was going to be writing a Decade In Film piece for 1964 soon and in the name of research had acquired a copy of the Vincent Price / Roger Corman classic from that year, The Masque of the Red Death. I watched it. I loved it. The following day, I had a look through my DVD’s to see if I had any other Roger Corman films floating about and there nestled in amongst the piles of unopened hard plastic cases on my shelves, on a three-films-on-one-disc collection, I stumbled across A Bucket of Blood. I watched it. I loved it. I began watching more and more Roger Corman and/or Vincent Price movies and before I knew it, by the 7th of October (amongst a few other movies) I’d seen at least one horror film per day.

It got me thinking; given that Halloween was a mere four weeks away, could I possibly make it to the end of the month, continuing on in the same vein; one horror film per day? I do watch lots of movies, but I am only human! Even I need a break every other day.

But there it was. A challenge had been set (by me) and I accepted (my own challenge). Fuck you, me! I’d show you (me) who’s boss (you/me). (Me.)

The key thing to establish before completing a challenge like this is setting what the parameters are. The most obvious thing to start with was to define exactly what I meant by a “horror film”. I did what any rational person would do and Googled it, taking the Wikipedia entry as 100% irrefutable evidence.

Horror is a film genre seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears…

…Horror films often deal with the viewer’s nightmares, hidden fears, revulsions and terror of the unknown.

Seems quite broad, doesn’t it? In the end, that turned out to be quite a helpful thing. As anybody who has listened to any of our ‘triple bill’ podcasts knows, I’m not too reliable when it comes to sticking within the boundaries of a particular topic. A little wriggle room meant, in theory, I could stretch from classic 50’s sci-fi and psychological thrillers, to Hammer Horror and good old fashioned ghoulish monster movies, should the need present itself. TV shows (The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and so on) or short movies would most definitely not be applicable. By film, I mean a feature film (that is, over 2400 seconds (or 40 minutes) in length).

The only other parameter left to establish was what did I constitute as “one per day”. Rather straight forward, perhaps, but what if I watched half a film on a Monday, fell asleep, and never went back to finish it? I decided that would not count. It had to be watched in its entirety that day for it to count. A couple of times due to various issues (such as internet cutting out in the middle of streaming a film on Netflix and not coming back on that day) a film had to be abandoned. If that was the case, it broke rule number 2 and was therefore not allowed.

I didn’t do this project for some sort of self enlightenment. I didn’t do it as a social experiment, or to make some kind of commentary on the film industry or film criticism either. I am simply an idiot with too much time on his hands who happens to have ready access to a film blog. Plus, it was kind of fun.

Below, I’m going to list the weeks through October and name each horror film that I watched per day. I’ll pick out one film to talk about. Are you ready? Let’s begin.


Week 1: Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 October 2014

Wednesday – Cannibal (2014), The Masque of the Red Death (1964); Thursday – A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964); Friday – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960); Saturday – Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961); Sunday – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)

witchfinder generalThis was not my first watch of Michael Reeves’ horror. Tragically dying from an accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of 25, this would be his fourth and final movie. It details an episode in the life of the infamous Witch Finder Generall, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) in the 17th century. Barbarically torturing women he denounces as witches, the film was originally heavily censored and notorious amongst horror fans. Ian Ogilvy plays a young Roundhead whose fiancée is taken and accused by Hopkins. Even watching this film a second time, knowing what is coming, it doesn’t make it any less brutal and horrific. If ever an ending to a horror film could be described as chilling, then it’s the final thud, thud, thud of this classic folk horror. And it’s impossible to let a review slip by without mentioning what a true genius Vincent Price was.


Week 2: Monday 6 – Sunday 12 October 2014

Monday – The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971); Tuesday – The Fly (1958); Wednesday – THE FLY (1986), The House of Usher (1960); Thursday – Madhouse (1974); Friday – Premature Burial (1962), The Wasp Woman (1959); Saturday – Black Sunday (1960), Night of the Blood Beast (1958); Sunday – This Island Earth (1955)the fly

As you can see from the above, I watched the fun and disturbing original film version of The Fly on the Tuesday of this week. It was enjoyable, fun and just a little bit twisted. However, immediately after it is David Cronenberg’s 1980’s Promethean body-horror retelling of this science fiction classic and it just blew the original out of the water. Or rather, as it happens, blew it out of the telepod. Starring Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, a research scientist innocently working hard to invent a device that can instantaneously teleport an object from one pod to another, he accidentally splices his DNA with that of a humble fly. Thus begins 90 minutes of some of the most gruesome and memorable special effects in horror cinema history. An intelligent, well paced and horrifying sci-fi movie, it sits just one tier below the similar all time greats such as Alien and The Thing.


Week 3: Monday 13 – Sunday 19 October 2014

Monday – Tales from the Crypt (1972); Tuesday – Vampyr (1932); Wednesday – The Thing from Another World (1951); Thursday – Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), The Ghoul (1933), The Bat (1959), ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1980); Friday – City of the Living Dead (1980), King of the Zombies (1941); Saturday – The Silence of the Lambs (1991); Sunday – Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

zfeZombie, Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters, whichever of the 34 titles listed on IMDb that you may know it by, Lucio Fulci and Elisa Briganti’s exotic living dead film is one of the finest movies to ever grace the zombie sub-genre. It ticks every box and then draws a few extra boxes underneath with a Sharpe and ticks those too. Whoever knew that what they really wanted from a zombie movie was to see one of the undead wrestling with a shark underwater? Certainly not me until I witnessed it. Since then, I have rated every other zombie film by how many shark-biting-zombies it has in it. Suffice to say, it’s never been topped.


Week 4: Monday 20 – Sunday 26 October 2014

Monday – FRIGHT NIGHT (1985); Tuesday – Dracula (1958); Wednesday – The Intruder (1962); Thursday – House (1986); Friday – The House of the Devil (2009); Saturday – Black Sabbath (1963), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985); Sunday – Creepshow (1982), Vault of Horror (1973), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)fright night

What a week this was! I could’ve chosen virtually any of them to talk about. Of all the films listed above featuring iconic vampires, this typical 80s comedy-horror about a teenager who believes his new neighbour is a vampire was the clear standout. I’d seen the 2011 remake before and found it be enjoyable (perhaps surprisingly so) but as one might expect, the original is best. Director Tom Holland would go on to find further success later in the decade with his most famous movie Child’s Play, but I honestly don’t think I had as much fun with any new discoveries this week than I had with Fright Night.


Week 5: Monday 27 – Thursday 30 October 2014

Monday – Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970); Tuesday – THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957); Wednesday – Island of Death (1976), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954); Thursday – Ils (Them) (2006), It Came From Outer Space (1953)

curse of frankensteinThis has not been my favourite week. In fact, you might say it has been horrorble (hey, hey, see what I did there??) thanks mainly to two depressingly crap 70’s exploitation films. However, one of those other movies has more than made up for that  on its own. This Hammer Horror film, the first to unite long time friends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (and the studios first colour movie) was a real gem. A frankly quite astounding financial success for the British film industry at the time, the movie took as much as possible from Mary Shelley’s original novel, added its own new-wave horror flavour and tried as carefully as possible not to infringe on any Universal Studios rights. Unrecognisable as being anything at all to do with the James Whale / Boris Karloff classic (because, well it isn’t), it’s uniquely identifiable with two genuinely impressive performances elevating a film from ‘decent’ to ‘immensely entertaining’ virtually by themselves.


I guess all that leaves is today, Halloween! Should I make it home alive, then tonight I will be watching another horror movie to complete my self imposed challenge. If I’ve learnt anything from this past month of watching horror film after horror film, then it’s been:

  1. I am now a fully paid up member of the Roger Corman fan club
  2. Mario Bava just does not do anything for me
  3. No matter how good some horror films are these days, you just cannot beat the classics

What will you be watching tonight?

Failed Critics Podcast: La Gone Girl, Le Back Boy

le jour se leveWelcome all to this week’s podcast! As mentioned on the last episode, Carole is taking a break this week so we turned to trusty stalwart James to fill in. He can’t do anything to prevent quiz controversy with Owen’s inept hosting. But then, neither could Carole. Nor Steve, now that we mention it.

Despite James’ temporary return, it’s actually Steve who somehow ends up being the most sophisticated and intellectual of the bunch. No, really. At least, that’s what the guys at EM Foundation thought prior to the podcast as they sent him a copy of the fully restored and fantastic 1930’s French poetic realism movie Le Jour se lève for review. And raise the tone of the pod to BBC4 standards he did, along with help from James sharing his opinion on the award winning documentary Print The Legend… before Owen brings us crashing back down to our usual BBC2 level with a review of the Roger Corman film A Bucket of Blood.

The main review this week is David Fincher’s highly anticipated Gone Girl, replete with a return for the spoiler alert section at the end – so stay tuned for that if you’ve seen the movie (Matt)!

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A Decade in Film: The Sixties – 1961

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

We return after the Christmas break with Editor James Diamond’s favourite films from 1961; the year that gave us Michael J. Fox.

5. The Guns of Navarone

The Guns of Navarone“First, you’ve got that bloody old fortress on top of that bloody cliff. Then you’ve got the bloody cliff overhang. You can’t even see the bloody cave, let alone the bloody guns. And anyway, we haven’t got a bloody bomb big enough to smash that bloody rock. And that’s the bloody truth, sir.”

This is exactly the kind of movie Hollywood used to do well, and with regularity. A big ensemble war film with big stars (Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn), and a story so heroic it bathes in the blood of its defeated enemies. It tells the story of a crack group of soldiers and specialists who set out to defy all logic and destroy the eponymous Nazi cannons that are making the rescue of British forces from the island of Crete impossible.

Directed in style by J. Lee Thompson (who made one of the great war films in Ice Cold in Alex, and went on to direct Peck in Cape Fear), The Guns of Navarone is a classic example of the stories that the victors of horrific wars have been telling for thousands of years. It’s important to remember that this was made only 15 years after the end of the Second World War; a conflict that many of the cast and crew had fought in. By the end of the decade though Hollywood had a new war to obsess over, and the triumphant tone of their WWII films gave way to the self-doubt and self-recrimination of their Vietnam films.

4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at TiffanysWe’re alike, me and cat. A couple of poor nameless slobs.

This is the first of four adaptations from novels in my list, and it’s interesting to note that Hollywood has always been a magpie of stories. At least the audiences of the time can count themselves lucky that the studios only had books and stage productions to bastardise for their enjoyment, unlike today where films take their ‘inspiration’ from sources as diverse as television shows, computer games, and even board games.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is based on a Truman Capote novella, and directed by Blake Edwards (who would go on to direct The Pink Panther). The reason it’s in this list though, and the reason for its enduring presence in poster form in homes across the world, is down to two words. Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn’s iconic Holly Golightly is the ridiculously beautiful peg on which this film hangs. Sure, Hannibal from The A-Team does a good job as the struggling writer who falls in love with Holly, and the source material is transferred to the screen with care, but without Hepburn this film is forgotten within a few years. Her dizzying ability to flit from extrovert socialite to vulnerable country girl is at the heart of this film; the highlight being her rendition of Moon River, which shows you don’t need to be an incredible singer to break hearts with your voice. Something Russell Crowe could’ve learned before filming Les Miserables.

Ironically, Capote never wanted Hepburn for the role, and pushed very hard for Marilyn Munroe to be cast. Munroe’s agent thought the moral ambiguity of the role would damage her career (in the original novella Holly has a lesbian affair, takes drugs, and acts more like a prostitute at times) and persuaded her to pass. The rest is history.

Just don’t mention Mickey Rooney’s Chinese landlord character…

3. 101 Dalmatians

101 Dalmatians Cruella De Vil

“My only true love, darling. I live for furs. I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn’t?”

I have been umming and ahhing about putting this film on my list. My childhood memories are of a great Disney caper film, with cute talking dogs, and a terrifying villain in the shape of Cruella De Vil. That was enough to earn it a spot on the list. Then my two-year-old daughter became obsessed with it, and we watched it every night for a month.

I’m pretty sure than any film subject to such intense interrogation would start to reveal some flaws (except maybe Back to the Future), and sadly this is the case with 101 Dalmatians. It’s not perfect, and it’s not really that brilliant. It does however still feature a fantastic villain, and it heralded a sea change in animation technology which dominated the industry for the next twenty years.

The story is simple enough, with Pongo the dog playing cupid to fix up his bachelor owner with a mate, and snag himself a bitch in the shape of Perdita. Their resulting litter of puppies becomes the envy of Cruella De Vil (the prototype Patsy Stone) who wants to make a fur coat out of them. So far, so grim. The puppies are kidnapped, and Pongo and Perdita venture off to rescue them. It’s pretty standard stuff if I’m honest but, thanks to my daughter, it will forever be etched into my brain.

2. Pit and the Pendulum

Pit and the PendulumYou will die in agony. Die!

This is another of those films I discovered in doing the research for this series. Quite why I hadn’t chanced upon it before I’m not sure. After all, any film directed by the legendary Roger Corman, and starring the national treasure that is Vincent Price is fine by me.

Very loosely based on a short-story by Edgar Allen Poe, Pit and the Pendulum is set in 16th century Spain at the time of the Inquisition. Price stars as Nicholas Medina, an uncharacteristically (for Price, at least) meek and humble lord who has recently lost his wife, Catherine. John Kerr is the unapologetically American-sounding brother of Catherine, who visits Medina to investigate the circumstances of her death. Over the first hour spooky things start to happen in the castle, and Nicholas reveals that he saw his father torture and inter his mother over an affair. Then Price finally gets to cut loose, and the last act is far more shocking, entertaining, and genuinely ghoulish.

Shot in only 15 days, the film is a remarkable testament to what a talented director and magnetic screen presence can achieve on limited resources with an average script.

1. Yojimbo

Yojimbo“I’m not dying yet. I have to kill quite a few men first”

Akira Kurosawa is the missing link between the classic Western genre and the Spaghetti Westerns that became popular in the 1960s, with Sergio Leone arguably perfecting the genre by the end of the decade. Without Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo though, it’s hard to imagine anyone could have made The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in America.

Kurosawa applied his cinematic filter to the work of John Ford (Stagecoach, The Searchers) to produce a film that is not only a homage to a genre, but adds something entirely new to its ecosystem. The themes and plot of the film are familiar, and the shots are ‘classic’ Western framing; but the editing, the violence, and the anti-hero nature of the protagonist were new to Western audiences. By the time Leone remade this as A Fistful of Dollars, the landscape of Westerns had already morphed into a more ambiguous, revisionist tone.

Toshirô Mifune plays the Ronin, a samurai whose master is dead and who now roams the lands of feudal Japan looking for freelance work where he can find it. He wanders into a town beset by violence, run by two opposing war lords who make plays to recruit the powerful stranger. The Ronin has other plans though, and conceives a dangerous game to play the opposing factions off against each other.

As is common in all of Kurosawa’s films, the violence is brief and is never needless or gratuitous. At its heart this is a film about human nature, greed, and the power of fear. Make no mistake though, there is still some kick-ass sword-fighting. It’s also very funny in places and its position in the IMDB Top 250, and at number one in my list, is fully deserved.