Tag Archives: Stanley Kubrick

Owen’s 2015 In Film: Part 1 – Janur-hi-YAH!

In a brand new series, Owen will be taking a look at the films he’s seen during each month of 2015. The format will follow the same pattern as his A Horrorble Month article last year, breaking down the month by week, providing a review on one arbitrarily chosen film seen during that period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

ouaticWelcome to my new series! I think I better start as I mean to go on, by apologising. I’m aware that this seems like a rather self-indulgent project. There probably isn’t actually even an audience for this sort of thing. I mean, who really gives a shit what I’ve been watching over the past 31 days?

However, at the start of 2015, our most prolific writer, Callum Petch, went on a short break which prompted me to start writing a bit more often for the main site. It made me remember that as well as reading about films, talking about films and of course watching films, I also used to enjoy writing about them too before I got so lazy and left all the heavy-lifting to Callum. So, basically, you can consider this an exercise in egotism. Read it if you desire, but I’m writing this series for no better reason than because I want to!

Exactly as I began 2014, so had it also ended with me watching a boat-load of South Korean movies. In between the fantasy films, extended edition Lord of the Rings films and Hobbit preparation, I’d managed to squeeze in a few Kim Ki-duk’s and one or two other Korean movies into December. I fully expected to carry on along the same trajectory during January 2015, given that the final film of the year that I watched was Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country.

For one simple reason, that didn’t actually happen. Instead, partly because I decided early on in the year to re-watch Bruce Lee’s films for a retrospective I was planning on writing, I spent most of last month catching up on various martial arts flicks. Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, one or two others; I accidentally became hooked on their films, nostalgia and Cantonese films in general. Add to that the fact I also ended up on an A.I. / sci-fi binge, and the flood of new releases I was actually interested in seeing at the cinema, there simply wasn’t time for any Korean films, sadly.

Anyway! I’m sure you’ll see for yourselves how my month turned out. On with the reviews…


Week 1: Thursday 1 – Sunday 4 January 2015

Thursday – Pinocchio (1940), AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997); Friday – Birdman (2015), Becket (1964); Saturday – Rapture (1965), Predator (1987); Sunday – I’m All Right Jack (1959), Big Hero 6 (2015)

austin powersOK, I’m aware none of those listed above could in any way be classed as martial arts movies. My year actually started with a Disney movie and a film I haven’t seen for years as I recovered from a New Year’s party hangover. Clearly, Mike Myers’ spy-spoof from the 90’s is not the best film listed there. Yet his puerile and immature sense of humour was exactly what I was looking for on New Year’s Day. It may not have aged particularly well; there’s a debate to be made over how good it ever was in the first place, I suppose! However, there’s no case to be made for how clever the film is, or how intelligent the jokes are, because it’s nothing more than one throwaway gag after another. Playing both the cryogenically frozen shagadelic British spy from the swingin’ 60’s awoken 30 years later in the hip 90’s, as well as his arch nemesis Dr Evil hell bent on holding the Earth to ransom for the princely sum of one million dollars, Myers is just very fun to watch. I used to love the Austin Powers films. Back in secondary school, me and my mates must’ve watched it and its sequel on VHS about a hundred times over and it never seemed to get any worse. I can look at it now with slightly more objective eyes, but it was still a hoot and it was somewhat surprising how it frequently had me laughing like an idiot as if watching it for the first time all over again.


Week 2: Monday 5 – Sunday 11 January 2015

Monday – Exodus: Gods and Kings (2015); Tuesday –  Passport to Pimlico (1949), Unbroken (2015), The Theory of Everything (2015); Wednesday – The Collector (1965), Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013), The Big Boss (1971); Thursday – Taken 3 (2015), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter The Dragon (1973), Game of Death (1978); Friday – Alpha Papa (2013), The House of Usher (1960), Gremlins (1984); Saturday – Lost in Space (1998), The History Boys (2006); Sunday – PROJECT A: PART II (1987)

project a 2Obviously then, as you can see from the above, this is when my month really began. Having watched five Bruce Lee movies (six if you count the 40 minutes of the original Game of Death footage, or four if you discount GoD altogether) in little under two days during my final week off work over the Christmas period, I soon moved on to Jackie Chan’s back catalogue. Specifically a DVD I purchased for £2 on a whim back in December, Project A: Part II, Jackie’s follow up to his 1984 film. As well as being the star of this kung-fu comedy, he both wrote and directed it, and the influence of his idols like the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and so on are all over it. Just like they were doing for audiences 60 or 70 years before him, JC’s stunts here are both hilarious and genuinely thrilling. Like, in a similar way to Chaplin roller skating whilst blind-folded near a ledge in Modern Times, or Harold Lloyd dangling off a clock face in Safety Last, only with the danger and ingenuity increased ten-fold. Fighting off two men on a rickety construction, swinging off one bit whilst performing some amazing acrobatics off another bit, after swallowing a mouthful of chilli peppers, it is both excruciating to watch him put his life on the line for these stunts, and immensely entertaining. The plot to Project A: Part II is all over the place, the support characters are bland and the message (if it has one) is muddled, to say the least. But if it isn’t one of the best examples of Jackie’s talent at shooting comedic action sequences, then I don’t know what is.


Week 3: Monday 12 – Sunday 18 January 2015

Monday – Foxcatcher (2015), Wild (2015); Tuesday – The Ipcress File (1965); Wednesday – In Bruges (2008); Thursday – Whiplash (2015); Friday – 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) (Steven Soderbergh cut); Saturday – Armour of God (1986), Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990); Sunday – American Sniper (2015), The 36 Crazy Fists (1977), Once Upon A Time In China (1991)

2001I don’t think I’ve written or talked about any other film for Failed Critics as often as I have done with Stanley Kubrick’s pre-moon-landing science fiction feature, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just last week I included HAL in my A.I. In Film article. The week before I reviewed this exact cut on the podcast. It even made its way onto my Into ‘Stellar piece last year, never mind the Stanley Kubrick: Corridor of Praise we recorded two years ago. And yet, I could talk about it even more. The thing about 2001:ASO is, there are dozens of ways to interpret what happens throughout the course of the movie. Every time you watch it, you notice something new that you missed out on last time. Whilst this is certainly what I’d consider a positive aspect, it’s also something that prevents you from truly knowing the film intimately. Well, it does for mere mortals like you and I. For someone like Soderbergh, he managed to get to know Kubrick’s magnum opus better than most as he took it upon himself to edit the film and present the footage how he sees it, available to watch for free (legally) on his website. Rather than taking a knife to the masterpiece and tarnishing it forever, creating something new, he merely trimmed some scenes down, re-arranged the score, re-ordered footage and shortened the overall run time to present a feature that still prominently displays one of its most integral themes, albeit in a more direct format. Like the original, it still naturally progresses the acquisition of knowledge, displaying how ‘knowledge’ is a primary driver in the progression of mankind from ape to, erm, gigantic floating space infant. Plus, it’s actually quite refreshing in a way to only have to dedicate one hour and fifty minutes to the film, rather than over two and a half hours, and not feel like you’ve seen a lesser film.


Week 4: Monday 19 – Sunday 25 January 2015

Monday – Gravity (2013); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – CINEMA PARADISO (1988); Thursday – The Machine (2013); Friday – The Twilight Samurai (2002); Saturday – Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010), Iceman (2014); Sunday – Ex Machina (2015), Warriors Two (1978)

cinema paradisoI tweeted my ★★½  /  ★★★★★ Letterboxd review of Cinema Paradiso not long after writing it and it was met with what might be considered “controversy”. On a small, completely irrelevant and non-life threatening scale, of course. Still, it seemed to irk a handful of people whilst an even smaller amount nodded in agreement. I don’t know what to tell you or how to explain myself. It wasn’t like the film was an awful, sloppy, intolerable mess. It just seemed to play very heavily on a nostalgic vibe, of which appeared to be on a separate wavelength to me. The saccharine tone and tosh profundity left me stony faced and unaffected, but I’ve since been told the director’s cut (which adds another hour onto the whopping 155 minutes run time) makes it less mawkish. I’m not sure I could stand to watch it again as is, never mind with an additional 60 minutes on top of that, but that would definitely be the first issue I’d address if I were to improve the film (as if I’d know how to improve a film). It wasn’t all sickly-sentimental. Occasionally, even I couldn’t prevent my lips from raising at the edges into something resembling a smile, particularly during the triumphant final scene. It also managed to make me laugh sporadically throughout, but it never quite touched me on an emotional level which as far as I could make out was the only thing Tornatore’s movie was trying to do. Ergo, ★★½. Sorry.


Week 5: Monday 26 – Saturday 31 January 2015

Monday – Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing again!]; Wednesday – The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012), Sabotage (2014); Thursday – THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER (1974); Friday – The Road (2009); Saturday – Chinese Zodiac (2012)

kaspar hauserJeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (literally “Every Man for Himself and God Against All”) or as we know it here in the UK, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, came close to becoming my favourite Werner Herzog film last week. I’d been recommended it a year or two ago, but noticed that Film4 were holding a Werner Herzog Season and jumped at the opportunity to watch this (supposedly) true story of the 19th century German foundling. I’m going to review it in more detail on the podcast due out this week (look out for that!) but suffice to say, it’s bloody excellent. It took a certain degree of effort, patience and perseverance to get into it, as do most of Herzog’s best films, but it was absolutely worth it in the end. From the outstanding performance of its enigmatic (see what I did there) lead actor, Bruno S. (as he was credited) to the simply astonishingly well plotted story, it’s just magnificent. You can expect to see Heart Of GlassFitzcarraldo and Stroszek in next month’s entry to this series.


Phew! That’s it. I’m done. I’m only half joking when I say that I’m only writing this for my own personal benefit. If you’ve got any comments on the above, or if you want to talk about any of the other films I’ve listed then please leave a comment below or talk to me on Twitter. Until the end of February, adiós!

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Into ‘stellar?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Ever since man has first looked up at the stars, the question has been asked: What do you do when you see a space man? Yes, of course the correct answer is “you park in it, man” (please, please, hold your applause, you’re too kind).

However, for thousands of years, man has written Christmas cracker jokes looked up and wondered what lies beyond the blue skies of our planet’s atmosphere. For most people, it’s only led to further questions. How can “space” exist? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? From religion and faith, to science and theory, everyone seems to have their own opinion on what they like to imagine fills the vast expanse of the Universe and beyond. It takes people way smarter than this bozo to fully comprehend the question, never mind the answer. Luckily, it’s not just people cleverer than me who have thought about this question. There have been people with far more imagination who have been able to put their thoughts and ideas into film and literature.

Most recently Christopher Nolan did so with the terrific Interstellar. Which prompted me to create this article. What other movies are out there that deal with man’s exploration of space and time that are worth watching? Well, here are ten films that I would recommend you start with if you too are into ‘stellar (geddit?!) This list is by no means comprehensive, by the way. I’m fully aware big names such as the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises are missing, as well as this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is just 10 films I’d suggest watching if you enjoyed the adventure into space that was Interstellar!


event horizonEvent Horizon (1997) Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film, it tells the story of a crew comprising of captain Laurence Fishburne, doctor Sam Neill, (plus others) who investigate of a spaceship that went missing some years ago called the Event Horizon. It miraculously returned with no crew left on board. It transpires that what happened was not quite as simple as they might’ve first thought. Next to Alien, it’s the perfect example of how to create an intelligent, atmospheric, space-horror. Quotes seemed to be almost directly lifted from Event Horizon in Interstellar (particularly the discussion around wormholes). It also raises interesting questions around what Hell is (or could be?) Complete with great performances, especially those of Fishburne and Neill around the descent into madness. Think of it as Hellraiser meets Alien. A real gem of a movie.


Contact (1997)contact In 1994, Robert Zemeckis released what will probably be the film he is remembered for, Forrest Gump. Well, with the exception of Back To The Future, perhaps. But one film of his that seems to have directly inspired the story of Interstellar is Contact, with its daughter grieving for her father and potential contact with another as yet unidentified life form. Using the relationship between father and daughter, it tries to bridge a gap between science and religion, life and death, between hope and reality. The concept behind Contact and how / what that will be like with other dimensions or lifeforms is handled with grace, whilst Jodie Foster gives a performance worthy of a movie such as this. The cast also features Matthew McConaughey, the star of Nolan’s epic! It’s a shame the ending lets the film down a little, but the rest of Contact is well worth a watch.


europa reportEuropa Report (2013) After a crew are sent on a fact-finding mission to one of Jupiter’s moons (that would be the one called Europa…) they end up finding a bit more than they bargained for. I almost feel like I should disclaimer this movie to people as besides being a sci-fi set mainly in space, it’s also a found footage movie. If you can name another found footage movie set in space that’s better than this (Apollo 18 shouts will not be recognised) then congratulations, but I probably won’t believe you. It takes its time to find its feet, as the crew (Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist etc) slowly grow into their roles, but for a film that takes place mostly inside a tin can, there’s a fair amount of tension and drama to be found. The structure is slightly unsatisfactory and non-linear, but the ending will be what determines whether or not you’ll like this movie. Personally, I found the slightly existential journey surprisingly entertaining.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)2001 I couldn’t really let the opportunity to recommend one of the greatest ever movies – not just sci-fi movies – pass me by without at least name-checking it. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, shot one year before the actual moon landings (that if you believe some conspiracy-nuts, the man himself shot in a studio) is more of an exploration of life and being than it is about space travel, but if there’s a sci-fi movie released post 1968 that isn’t at least in some minor way influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’d be very surprised. Cerebral, contemplative and exceedingly beautiful. If you want to hear me rave about this film yet again, check out our Stanley Kubrick Corridor of Praise podcast.


solarisSolaris (1972) For the more cultured film fan, Tarkovsky’s very – very – art-house science fiction film about a living planets attempts to contact a man orbiting it will be one of your favourite sci-fi movies. The problem is, of course, how do you communicate with something that you have no way of understanding? In my Decade In Film article for 1972, I mention Ludwig Wittgenstein who proposed that “if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand it”. If our frames of reference are so far apart, so completely different, how could we possibly hope to even know when an alien species is attempting to communicate, never mind actually understand what it’s trying to say? The Fermi Paradox suggests that if aliens exist, why haven’t we heard from them yet? Well, perhaps they do try to contact us, but we don’t realise it. This is one of the driving principles behind Solaris, and beyond its 167 minute run time including lingering shots of ponds and motorways, and absolutely astonishing cinematography, it tries to answer some of these philosophical quandaries.


Moon (2009)moon A breakthrough semi-indie production in 2009, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a worker on a lunar station coming to the end of his three-year stint. I suppose he has what can be described as a crisis of personality as his shift draws closer to an end. Atmospheric and remarkably well written, if at times a little bit silly, Moon is a very entertaining movie. Similar to one aspect of Interstellar, it deals with being in space and having no reliable means of contact with Earth. Whilst there’s a heck of a lot more to Duncan Jones‘ relatively low budget British BAFTA nominated movie than simply isolation, it would seem almost rude not to suggest fans of Interstellar give it a go. 


this island earthThis Island Earth (1955) The 1950’s heralded a new age in sci-fi movies. The likes of Don Siegel and Jack Arnold probably led the pack with films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space (in 3D no less!) However, This Island Earth by Joseph Newman was an incredibly ambitious project. It had a somewhat turbulent production history, which resulted in Jack Arnold himself being brought on board as an uncredited director. The sections of the film set on distant worlds and intergalactic battles became a bit too expensive and was shorter than planned, but it’s still admirable for the intention behind the film as well as its anti-war messages. It’s also a lot of fun in that cult-50’s sci-fi movie kind of way.


A Trip to the Moon (1902)trip to the moon There’s a huge amount of things one could say about this wondrous, imaginative, inventive and wholly original fantasy story made over 110 years ago by the inspirational Georges Méliès. From a technical point of view, Le voyage dans la lune is splendid. Suffice to say, it’s very impressive; from the special effects of the exploding moon people, to the incredible! science!-exclamation!-mark! The illusions Méliès crafted required true imagination and creativity. He was one of the first to create a movie such as this, of course! Even now, this short film is fantastic – in every sense of the word.


loveLove (2011) After writing my car off in February this year, I began the long commute to and from work via bus. During this time, BBC iPlayer kept me from grinding my teeth to stubs on my journey. I downloaded a lot of movies and documentaries to my tablet from iPlayer, some I’d heard of, some that were completely new to me, such as this mixed bag. I read the premise via the app, thought it sounded like it could be a really neat little indie sci-fi… and in part, it was. There’s strands that run throughout about isolation, human connection and indeed love, that are thought provoking and unique as an astronaut finds himself stranded on a spaceship. But, at the same time, it comes across as a meandering, dull, bewildering mess. You will either love or hate the soundtrack by Angels & Airwaves. It may have worked better as a short film as it does feel like a pop video, but it is atmospheric and definitely unlike a lot of other movies on this list.


Gravity (2013)gravity I’ve purposefully left Gravity until the end of this list for a couple of reasons. One, you’re probably sick of seeing comparisons between Gravity and Interstellar by now. They were after all released by the same studio (Warner Bros) on the same date (7 November) and are both about space and gravity. The other reason is, just about everybody interested in seeing Gravity has by now seen it. However, the second best film of 2013 (according to Sight & Sound’s readers poll) in many ways laid the foundations for Interstellar. A sci-fi story that was taken seriously by critics, particularly at the big award ceremonies, and features some mind-boggling special effects. The story may be pretty simple, threatening to hold back what has the potential to be an all-time classic, but it is one of the best modern sci-fi’s and if you get a kick out of Interstellar, then Alfonso Cuarón’s film (clocking in at just ever so slightly over half the run time of Nolan’s blockbuster) should tick a few boxes for you. Oh, and watch it on as big a screen as possible. In 3D if at all possible. Honestly. 3D.


And that’s that! If you have any suggestions of your own or think I’ve missed some vital inclusions, or even if you have any recommendations for me, just post them below. You can find Owen’s Interstellar review here, and he will also be talking about it with Carole and Steve on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast!

A Decade In Film: The Sixties – 1964

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

This list might have ended up a bit Vincent Price top-heavy, with potentially four out of my five choices being films he starred in from this year. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen three of his movies released in 1964 and to give some others a chance, I’ve only included two of them below. This is also the only year in the entire Decade In Film series in which I could’ve included one of my favourite directors, Carl Theodor Dreyer. I say “could’ve” because Gertrud is by far and away my least favourite of his films, as I explained in my review on this podcast. Two popular choices also missing out are: Goldfinger, as I haven’t seen it since I watched it on VHS as a kid (listen here or here for our James Bond special podcasts from 2012); and Mary Poppins, because I haven’t seen it since I watched it on a VHS as a kid – and didn’t think much of it then, either! So, onto the first Vincent Price movie…

5. The Last Man on Earth

last man on earthThis is Robert Morgan. If somebody can hear me, answer me. For God’s sake, answer me!

Warner Bros. announced this week that they will be rebooting the I Am Legend franchise.

a) Rebooting? Surely they mean they’re doing yet another adaptation of the absolutely brilliant Richard Matheson sci-fi novel, I Am Legend?

b) Franchise? How on Earth do you turn something about the last man alive, one with such an iconic ending, into a movie franchise?

I suppose the bigger question is, why do we even need another reboot of Matheson’s classic story? The answer would most likely be that there’s yet to be a truly faithful adaptation that captures that desperation of being the only one left in a world overrun with cannibalistic vampire-like creatures that makes the original book so magnificent. However, if any of the four film adaptations (I’m including the Asylum’s mockbuster I Am Omega in that) most closely resembles the novella, then it is this apocalyptic movie starring the unnecessarily dapper Vincent Price as “Morgan” (instead of “Neville”). A plague has swept through Europe, eventually reaching the US, killing off everybody and leaving Price as the last surviving human.

It’s split into three sections, with the beginning very similar to the book; it’s all about Morgan’s paranoia and loneliness, struggling to cope with his situation. It never really touches on his burning desire for human contact like the book does (particularly of the female variety), but it does set up the middle of the film quite nicely. The majority of which is told in flashbacks, showing you the plague first reaching the US and how it destroyed his friends, family and work (as a scientist, trying to cure the plague.) The final third is … well… I don’t want to give it away as it is better to go in knowing nothing about it.

There are flaws, particularly around the scripting of certain scenes. Matheson himself part-wrote the script, but it still feels like a slightly convoluted mess on occasion. Essentially, Vincent Price carries a lot of the film all on his own. If he was any less of an actor, then this film would not be as enjoyable as it is.

4. Lord of the Flies

lord of the fliesLet me speak. I’ve got the conch. Which is it better to be? A pack of panting savages, like you are? Or sensible, like Ralph is? Which is better, to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?

No, you aren’t mistaken. Vincent Price isn’t in this. Although I will refrain from comparing it to the book or any other adaptation, like I did with The Last Man on Earth, as quite ashamedly, it’s the only version of Lord of the Flies that I’m familiar with. And that is only because I watched it last week in preparation for this article. I somehow made it to 28 years of age without realising what the bloody hell people were referring to when they used phrases like ‘having the conch’. It’s best I don’t explain what I thought they meant.

Released in the UK in July 1964, almost one whole year since its initial release in the USA and three years since it first went into production, Lord of the Flies couldn’t be more British. Set during the war with a group of children from an array of backgrounds, stranded on a desert island, left to their own devices, they begin to revert into little more than tribal savages. Establishing their own laws and hierarchy, the film (and presumably the novel it’s based on) uses the children to highlight every facet of human indecency. Without existing society and morals to guide humanity, this cynical view of mankind is as disturbing as it is believable.

The acting may be a bit ropey from some of the children, but the friendships and bonds they form appear as natural as their tropical surroundings. Peter Brook does well to make sure the emotional beats are all in tune rather than sloppy or muddled, allowing the demise of certain characters to truly carry depth and meaning.

3. The Masque of the Red Death

masque of red death

The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.

My second (and final) Vincent Price film on this list. It’s actually the second Edgar Allan Poe inspired gothic horror movie that Price and director Roger Corman collaborated on in 1964; the other being the not-quite-as-good The Tomb of Ligeia. It shouldn’t be any surprise that this highly rated tale of the maccabre is listed here. After all, it features in the 1001: Movies You Must See Before You Die list as well as being described by Corman himself as one of his personal favourites.

Price stars as the Satan worshipping Prince Prospero. A plague is afflicting his town, which makes people start to bleed through the pores of their skin until they die. He brings all the local nobility to his abbey to avoid the plague. After treating them like garbage, he holds a fancy dress party and notices a strange guest who he believes to be his master, the Lord of the Flies (which neatly ties into my list! Cheers, Poe!)

If you’re expecting a camp Hammer Horror, you may be disappointed. The Masque of the Red Death is in fact a chilling and incredibly atmospheric film. It may be a little over-dramatic on occasion, even perhaps a tad “arty-farty” (as legendary b-movie director Sam Z. Arkoff described it) but it is one of Price’s best. The final 10-15 minutes during the infamous dinner party are despairingly grim. The whole film is a bit ‘off’, disturbing you and making you feel uncomfortable even when there doesn’t appear to be much actually happening that is too upsetting (by horror-film standards, at least). But that party… it sends shivers down my spine just remembering it!

I don’t recall it ever specifying when or where it is set, but being a Poe adaptation, it feels very 16th or 17th century European. With its gothic architecture and poetic dialogue, it goes some way to explaining why there is a very black / dark quality to it – as well as the fact that the always brilliant Vincent Price is a woman stealing Satan worshipping psychopath, of course! Other, earlier Roger Corman films, such as The Terror or A Bucket of Blood are enjoyable in their own right. However, this is clearly a much more refined, much more disturbing and, well, a much better film.

2. A Fistful of Dollars

a fistful of dollarsWhen a man with .45 meets a man with a rifle, you said, the man with a pistol’s a dead man. Let’s see if that’s true. Go ahead, load up and shoot.

In 1964, with his remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo transferred to the wild west, Sergio Leone forever redefined what it meant when you referred to a film as a “western”. Kurosawa himself was heavily influenced by the American western movies he saw, particularly those of the legendary John Ford. B-movie westerns were already a well established part of the genre’s history by the 60’s. Cheap to make and compelling stories, they were the backbone of Hollywood’s success through the 1930’s. It also wasn’t exactly unheard of to remake foreign films and set them in the American West. Hell, even in the same year that A Fistful of Dollars came out, another Kurosawa film, Rashomon, had been remade as The Outrage, starring Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit. But it was Leone and Clint Eastwood that turned the “spaghetti western” it into something unique and special.

Just like in Yojimbo, as chosen in James’ Decade In Film article for 1961A Fistful of Dollars tells the story of a town split in two, plagued by rival gangs. In his first appearance as The Man With No Name, later reprised in the rest of the Dollars trilogy, Clint Eastwood strolls into town looking to solve the dispute whilst at the same time profiting from it. Partly to amuse himself, partly because of his deep-down sense of justice.

There is nothing to dislike about this film. Well, unless you really want to see more hats shot off heads, which doesn’t occur until later Leone movies! Or unless you’d have preferred to see Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson as the man with no name, both of whom were preferred ahead of Eastwood for the role initially. Hard to imagine as he is so synonymous with these movies now – and deservedly so. He’s effortlessly cool and impossibly handsome in a movie full of style. From Ennio Morricone’s iconic score, to the expertly shot action sequences, it is easily one of the best films of the decade.

1. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

dr strangeloveGentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!

General “Buck” Turgidson: Hmm… Strangelove? What kind of a name is that? That ain’t no Kraut name is it, Stainesey?
Mr. Staines: He changed it when he became a citizen. Used to be Merkwürdigliebe.

Stanley Kubrick. If I have a favourite director, then Stan is that man. Even though he was inducted to our highly coveted prestigious Corridor of Praise last year, it still seems like he isn’t appreciated as much as he should be. For many people – critics, movie makers and fans alike – he is the greatest director of our time. Timeless movies like Dr Strangelove do nothing to dispel that reputation.

Essentially it’s Kubrick’s black comedy about a crazy general in the American army who orders a nuclear strike against Russia. The President and his lackeys then try to stop the attack after it’s revealed that the Russian’s have a Doomsday device. In probably his greatest role(s), Peter Sellers plays at least three different characters and he’s undeniably brilliant as each of them. He has some exceptionally funny lines that are endlessly quotable; when playing the titular Dr Strangelove, the moment he calls the president Mien Fuhrer by accident, he has me in stitches every single time thanks to his exquisite delivery. I cannot overstate his performance enough.

It is just an absolutely brilliant film. It’s funny, brilliantly acted (I often think George C. Scott is under-appreciated in this), full of great characters and iconic scenes. Every time I watch it, I know I’m guaranteed to laugh my arse off and it’s just further proof that Kubrick, no matter which genre he turned his attentions to, was a master at what he did.

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: 24 – 30 June 2013

Site editor James Diamond presents his picks for the best films on terrestrial television this week in increasingly inaccurately titled blog.

300 This is SpartaMonday 24th June – 300 (ITV2, 9pm)

If, like me, you were disappointed by Man of Steel and Zack Snyder’s by-numbers impressions of Christopher Nolan and Terence Malick, then sit back and watch the film that really announced him as an exciting director to watch. Viscerally violent and almost comically homoerotic in equal measure, it’s also fun to spot the now-very-recognisable actors on display here including a young Magneto, a brunette Cersei Lannister, and a particularly shifty McNulty.

Tuesday 25th June – The Outlaw Josey Wales (5USA, 11pm)

Clint Eastwood’s second Western as a director (after 1973’s High Plains Drifter) and although he was clearly still learning the craft at the time, this film owes more than a passing resemblance to Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy. Set before and during the American Civil War, Eastwood also stars as the farmer who joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and pledges to take revenge on the Union soldiers who killed his family.

Wednesday 26th June – The Rock (BBC3, 10pm)

BBC3 continue their screenings of one of the most impressive purple patches in cinematic history, known by historians as the ‘Cage Action Era’. This week it’s The Rock, starring everyone’s favourite bonkers anti-hero, alongside a suitably grumpy and charismatic Sean Connery. For tenuous and barely explained reasons, Ed Harris is the army general who has gone rogue and is holed up in Alcatraz threatening to release chemical weapons across the western seaboard. A stark reminder that Michael Bay used to make quite fun films.

Thursday 27th June – The Blair Witch Project (Horror Channel, 9pm)

For all my usual aversion to the found footage genre, I actually really enjoyed this film on release, and it’s staggering to think of the hype surrounding a film made for less than $10k back at the end of the nineties. Obviously the success of the film lead to over a decade of mostly poor and badly made imitators, but for a few brief moments a horror film shocked the mainstream cinema-going public and moved the goalposts in favour of young film-makers with tiny budgets.

Friday 28th June – The Talented Mr Ripley (More4, 9pm)

I’m sure everyone will have already seen The Running Man (Film4, 11.20pm) and Starship Troopers (BBC1, 11.25pm) more times that I’ve said I don’t get ‘found footage’ films on the Failed Critics podcast. So I am going to recommend this thriller from the late Anthony Minghella, starring Jude Law and Matt Damon. Damon plays the titular Mr Ripley, an underachiever who blags a job to retrieve a millionaire’s son (Law) from his Italian sojourn in the 1950s. The fantastic central performances are matched only by the beauty of the Italian locations, and Minghella’s change in tone midway through the film just about holds together. An art-house ‘guilty pleasure’ in many respects.

Saturday 29th June – Stardust (Film4, 1pm)

This Matthew Vaughn adaptation of a Neil Gaiman book is about as close as this generation has got to its version The Princess Bride. A classic tale of a simple young man drawn into a fantasy world in the 1800s when he retrieves a fallen star, only to discover the star is a young woman (Claire Danes) being pursued by three witches (led by Michelle Pfieffer). Rober DeNiro steals the show as a crossing-dressing pirate, while even Ricky Gervais manages not to grate too much during his cameo.

Sunday 30th June – Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Film4, 11am)

I recently lauded this as my one of my two favourite Stanley Kubrick films on Failed Critics Podcast (along with A Clockwork Orange) and every viewing always seems to make me love it more. Despite Kubrick’s reputation for cold and harsh direction of his actors, he famously said that directing Peter Sellers in this was easy, as all he had to was make sure he always had at least three cameras pointed at him. A fine example of how satire and comedy can sometimes be the most frightening way to confront our worst fears.

Also on television on a brilliant day for film is Groundhog Day (5*, 2.15pm), Fantastic Mr Fox (Channel 4, 4.55pm), and Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Sky One, 8pm).

A Decade in Film: The Sixties – 1962

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.

Firstly, an explanation for the delay in posting this Decade in Film piece. When I chose (got stuck with) the 1960s, I didn’t realise how many great films from the decade I hadn’t seen, and therefore needed to watch for this project. I had a huge list of films on my shortlist for 1962, but I just wasn’t able to watch them all. Preferring instead to write blogs about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. I know. 

5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

TheManWhoShotLibertyValance“Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance”

John Ford directed many of the important and iconic classic Western films, but for me this is probably his finest. Unlike much of his filmography, which was filmed on location in glorious Technicolor, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was mostly shot on a soundstage in Hollywood, and in black and white. Some argue that Ford was so determined to make this film that he was willing to do it on a low budget, while Lee Marvin (who played the eponymous villain Liberty Valance) claims that Ford made a conscious decision to enable him to utilise the use of light and shadows in telling a different kind of Western story. Either way, it’s my personal favourite film of his; an opinion I share with none other than Sergio Leone, who remarked that it was the only Ford film that showed pessimism.

It stars Ford-favourite John Wayne as Tom Doniphon, a farmhand who rescues young and naïve lawyer Ransom Stoddard (played by James Stewart) who is left for dead by Liberty Valance and his gang. The two men grow closer, and over time Stoddard continues his run-ins with Valance, culminating with the shoot-out that gives the film its name. Told in flashback, this is a brilliantly layered exploration of honour, and the effects of undeserved fame.

4. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

whatever_happened_to_baby_jane“You mean all this time we could have been friends?”

A brilliantly dark and twisted tale of sibling rivalry, this film is positively Hitchcockian in terms of the tension it delivers, and the black humour of the central performance of ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson (Bette Davis). The film opens on a precocious Baby Jane Hudson entertaining the crowd in a music hall. After the show she reveals her spoilt brattish side, while bullying her older sister Blanche. As the years pass though, Blanche (Joan Crawford) becomes the toast of Hollywood and a fine actress in her own right, while Jane becomes increasingly paranoid and jealous of her older and more successful singer. Suddenly, Blanche’s career is cut short in a tragic car accident, and Jane becomes her full-time carer.

We join the pair a number of years later, with Jane acting more like a prison warden than a carer for the fragile Blanche. With Blanche’s savings dwindling, she plans to sell the family home, and this pushes Jane over the edge. The following hour is a genuinely disturbing portrayal of domestic abuse, and the real-life mutual loathing Davis and Crawford shared must have been a factor in their deliciously vicious chemistry. Things were so bad that when Davis was nominated for an Oscar for her role, Crawford actively campaigned against her, and even went as far as accepting the eventual winner’s (Ann Bancroft) award on her behalf.

3. Lolita

Lolita“I want you to live with me and die with me and everything with me!”

The poster exclaimed “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?”, and even to this day the power of Vladamir Nabakov’s novel challenges censors (you can’t even search for the film on Google with SafeSearch on). Chosen as Stanley Kubrick’s follow-up project to Spartacus, Lolita is an odd and at times downright disturbing film. Although there are minor differences between the novel and the film, the story of Professor Humbert Humbert’s relationship with the teenage daughter of his landlady remains intact.

Interestingly, the changes to the film demanded by the censors betray a bizarre moral compass. They demanded that the age of the Lolita be changed from 12 in the book, to 14 in the film. Also, Sue Lyon was cast in the eponymous role because she was more physically developed than other actresses up for the part. The fact that it was somehow more acceptable to portray child abuse because the victim was a little older and looked more like a grown woman shines a light on the hypocrisy inherent in most forms that censorship takes.

As for the film, well it’s a Kubrick film which in my opinion is as good a stamp of quality as you are likely to find in cinema. It’s surprisingly both utterly depressing, and brilliant funny in places, helped in no small part by a virtuoso performance from Peter Sellers as Humbert’s nemesis, Clare Quilty. Seller and Kubrick would go on to repeat the magic to even great effect just a few years later…

2. To Kill a Mockingbird

to-kill-a-mockingbird“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, this is one of the few films where I genuinely regret not reading the book beforehand. This really caught me by surprise with its depth, as I was under the impression it was merely a courtroom drama that dealt with the issue of race. Far from it.

Gregory Peck in the role that many think he was born to play, warm-hearted attorney Atticus Finch. A single parent in a small town in the Deep South during the depression, Finch takes up the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Despite the town turning against him one-by-one, including folk who have been helped out by Finch’s wisdom and kindness in the past, Atticus fights a seemingly hopeless cause in trying to win a man his freedom, and change the hearts and minds of his community. At the same time, his children are growing up, and rapidly losing the innocence in a world that doesn’t make any sense to them. It’s a brutal film at times, and one that made me genuinely angry while watching it. Powerful stuff.

1. Cape Fear

Cape-Fear“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!”

In what may be a surprise for some, I have placed a different film featuring Gregory Peck as a persecuted lawyer in the number one slot for this year. While To Kill a Mockingbird is a brilliant film with a lot to say, Cape Fear is simply one of the most frightening films I have seen. Not frightening in a jumpy horror way, rather in that the violence inferred in this film is terrifyingly real, and seemingly inevitable.

Peck plays Sam Bowden, an attorney who witnessed an rape by the vile Max Cady Robert Mitchum), and whose testimony put Cady away for eight years. However, Cady is now out on parole, and is determined to get his revenge. What’s most chilling about Mitchum’s performance is the matter-of-fact way he goes about intimidating Bowden. Acting with cocksure impunity, he stays just the right side of the law, and at one point even turns the tables on Bowden after an attempt to vigorously persuade Cady to leave town backfires.

While I haven’t seen the Martin Scorsese remake starring Robert DeNiro, the Simpsons episode (Cape Feare, with that rake scene) inspired by the film is almost certainly my favourite ever movie reference on TV, and for that alone it deserves the top slot on this list.

You can read James’ choices for 1961 here, and find the entire Decade in film series here.

Failed Critics Podcast – COP: Stanley Kubrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1971

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.

This week the podcast’s Owen Hughes looks back on a year when likely Star Wars Episode VII director Matthew Vaughn was born, Walt Disney World opened in Florida, and Margaret Thatcher stole the milk of a nation’s children.

Sorry. I know this is breaking the unwritten rules slightly, but I felt like I needed to give an introduction (read: disclaimer) for this article. When I first started to draw up my list of 5 favourite films from 1971, I thought it’d be simple. I knew my top 3 at least, definitely my top film anyway, and that meant it was just a case of picking two others. Easy, right?

Well, no. Drat. Double drat! What seemed initially quite simple proved actually rather difficult. Not just because trying to find 5 films I loved was hard, but I realised quite how many classics of the year I hadn’t actually seen. The French Connection, Shaft, Get Carter, Vanishing Point… all of these films aren’t present on my list purely because I haven’t seen them yet and didn’t get a chance to before writing this article. Sorry again.

But I have left off other “classics” such as the George Lucas début in THX-1138, John Wayne’s Big Jake and Monty Python’s feature length sketch comedy And Now For Something Completely Different; that’s because I have seen them, I’m just not a fan! (Sorry.)

Doesn’t this just highlight what a quality year for film it was, though? There’s so many films people would consider classics that I haven’t even included (ooh ooh I forgot, I haven’t included Escape From The Planet of the Apes either even though I’d rate it higher than at least one of the following) and I still managed to come up with 5 favourites. Well, 6, really. I’ll explain what I mean with my first choice:

5. Countess Dracula

countess_dracula“Don’t you realise you get uglier each time you get old, and that you can’t go on killing forever?”
“Why not?”

I think from now on I’m going to start all of my birthday greeting cards with the first line of that quote.

If you can’t tell from the title and the decade the film is from, Countess Dracula is a Hammer Horror production. In my 1970 article, I included The Horror of Frankenstein. I wanted to include the Peter Cushings film Twins of Evil (my “6th favourite”) in this list – including Hammer films might be a recurring theme throughout my Decade in Film articles – but I’ll limit it to just 1 per year!

If you were to ask a group of people which historical figure is most often associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I think the vast majority would be able to tell you it’s Vlad “The Impaler” Dracul. Fair enough, I think. There’s lots of evidence to suggest Stoker’s now iconic character was largely inspired by the Wallachian prince. However, tales of Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Báthory (played here fantastically well by Ingrid Pitt – even if her voice was famously dubbed over) also inspired aspects of Stoker’s Dracula. The legend goes that she bathed in the blood of virgins and tortured and killed over 600 people. Quite the character, you might say. A bit of an oddball, perhaps. A downright nutter, even. Ripe for being turned into a horror film then. Especially if you already have the set from an older/abandoned film with a castle and courtyard ready to be used.

Director Peter Sasdy takes the legend of Elizabeth and adds a supernatural element to it. He keeps the crazy in her personality but tries to turn this despicable monster into a tragic, lonely widow who longs for the attention of a young man and would do anything to get it. When she discovers that the blood of virgins dramatically revitalises her youth for short periods of time, she embarks on a gruesome path of murdering her young servant girls and local gypsies until her ultimately destructive lifestyle reaches its grisly end.

Unlike a lot of other Hammer films, the horror element is just a little bit too tame in Countess Dracula. It’s secondary to the drama of the film, meaning it feels like a tragic love story with some scares rather than the opposite way around. But it’s a film that grew on me the more I thought about it. Once I got over the initial disappointment over how little it felt like a horror film, I started to appreciate how good it actually was as a romance story, and so came to the conclusion that it should make this list just ahead of Twins of Evil.

4. Duel
duel“Come on you miserable fat-head, get that fat-ass truck outta my way!”

Steven Spielberg teamed up with Richard Matheson in 1971 to make a film for TV (which later they turned into a feature film.) It was based on a short story Matheson wrote about a man driving home on one of those long American highways they have out there. Route something or other. You know the kind. It’s a straight, long, dusty road. It’s hot. It’s empty. And there’s a crazy lunatic chasing you with his massive truck. You know the sort. See it all the time.

Wait a sec, what was that last bit? A crazy lunatic in a big-rig? Sounds like the kind of paranoia-fiction that would be perfect if written by someone like Richard Mathe– oh, right, yeah.

And it is VERY Matheson. If you’ve ever read any of his works before, or seen any films based on his stories, you’d know that he is the master of paranoid science fiction. Whilst this film is science-less, it is a very tense story. It’s not like, say, Jeepers Creepers, which features a man in a truck chasing down some American kids and is only really any good until it gets all supernatural and generic. Duel is just pure terror and fear driven (‘scuse the pun) by the unwaveringly suspenseful scenario. Forget the character development, forget the hidden meaning. Wipe the sweat from your eyes, get a glass of water, and chill the fuck out, because the dread this film drudges up will make you not want to get in a car at any point in the near future (*more on this later!)

Speaking of which, this sense of dread is expertly transferred from page to screen by Spielberg. As Dennis Weaver suffers whilst he is mercilessly pursued by a terrifying, reckless, faceless truck driver across the American highway, so too does the viewer. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck whilst watching this and I felt extremely uncomfortable.

The film does have a bit of a “made-for-TV” vibe but that’s probably because it was originally a made-for-TV film! It doesn’t matter, a good story and a good film are just that regardless of budget. I watched this film for the first time the day before my driving test (*yeah, not the best idea in hindsight – although I did pass first time. Yes I am gloating.) Maybe that influenced my opinion slightly, who knows, but it is definitely a well made, tense, and scary film.

3. Johnny Got His Gun
johnny got his gun“Joe: When it comes my turn, will you want me to go [to war]?”
“Father: For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son.”

Please remove all boot laces and belts, put away any floss and bed sheets before watching this film and please make sure all chairs are bolted to the floor. Dalton Trumbo’s adaptation of his own anti-war novel (of the same name) is a very dark, very deep film about a soldier who on the very last day of the Great War has his arms, his legs and his face blown off by a grenade, leaving him with what’s known as “locked-in syndrome”. With no way to hear or see what’s going around him, no way to move, no way to talk or communicate anything, no way to even know if he’s dead or alive for a while, thought brain dead by the doctors and nurses in the hospital bed where he now permanently resides, Joe is stuck with just his own mind and memories to occupy him.

Although the film is most recognisable for the clips taken from it for the music video for the Metallica song ‘One’, it still doesn’t really prepare you for the full impact of the film as a whole.

It’s totally engrossing and although I enjoyed watching it, it’s not an experience that should be replicated frequently for fear of an ensuing crippling depression. The concept is frightening and the execution of this concept is done very well. Joe tells you his own story through flashbacks to his younger days and conversations with his dad about war, life and death. He has debates with himself about worth and quality, about faith and religion, and eventually learning to accept what has happened to him. Well, it’s less “accept” and more that he grows to realise what life he now has.

It’s a very memorable, thoroughly bleak and a severely underrated (or, rather, under-appreciated) film that raises questions you might never have asked yourself, so in that sense, it is definitely worth a watch… But you might want to have something a bit lighter to watch afterwards just to take the edge off! Maybe don’t watch it if you’re a bit sensitive, like.

2. Dirty Harry
dirty_harry“District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you’ve got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I’m saying is that man had rights.”
“Harry Callahan: Well, I’m all broken up over that man’s rights.”

In the introduction, I mentioned some films I haven’t had time to watch in the lead up to writing this article. Dirty Harry almost became one of those films. Bit of background: back when my wife worked on Sundays, I used to have the whole day to myself. I would spend the whole day watching Sky Sports Super Sunday and film after film after film (and walking the dogs, doing housework, etc (just in case she ever reads this…)) One of those Sundays, after a particularly long day of watching terrible film after terrible film and getting a bit fed up with it all, I decided to watch Dirty Harry. I got 10 minutes into it, looked at my watch and thought “fuck this”. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, more than I wasn’t immediately grabbed by it. I was tired and I really had to pull myself out of the sofa before I became permanently glued to it.

That was some 4 or 5 years ago now. Since then, I bought the box set of all 5 Dirty Harry films on DVD. And since then (which coincidentally was also about 4 or 5 years ago) I put off attempting to re-watch Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood’s legendary film until last month, having always thought of it as “that film I didn’t like the start of and got a bit bored by”.

My, my. How wrong I was.

As I’m sure everyone is already aware, Dirty Harry is a cop who we follow as he tracks down a serial killer, and he’s just about the coolest cop you’ll ever see (well, he’s no Mr Sidney Poitier) The dialogue is a lot sharper, but also it’s much stronger too. The acting is about 10x better, with Eastwood putting in a, quite frankly, awesome performance.

The iconic scenes that I’d seen parodied or quoted many times before, but without ever seeing the originals, still kept some impact. The final scene was excellent in that regard, totally caught me off guard.

It’s just a really great cop drama. I should’ve stuck with it the first time I tried to watch it, I would’ve massively appreciated it after a long day of largely rubbish films, but that’s inconsequential now. I’ve seen it and I loved it and it’s probably the second best film of 1971.

1. A Clockwork Orange

a_clockwork_orange“But enough of words, actions speak louder than. Action now. Observe all.”

The only debate I had to have with myself about including this as my first choice was not around its merits as a film. Any of my droogy-woogs reading this who have listened to the podcast before will know I am a huge Stanley Kubrick fan. A Clockwork Orange is one of his absolute best. I love Anthony Burgess’ novel, I love this film, I love Kubrick. But the more keenly observed readers will know that A Clockwork Orange wasn’t actually released in the UK until 1972. In fact, it only just made it into a 1971 release in the US as it was released mid-way through December.

All I’ll say to that is: shut up. IMDb, Wikipedia and Letterboxd all list it as 1971, so it’s staying on this list.

The film stars Malcolm McDowell as Alex, a fan of lashings of the old ultra-violence in a dystopian vision of Britain. He’s oomny, oozhassny and downright baddiwad I should say and commits some rather vicious crimes, gets arrested, and subsequently “volunteered” for an experimental new treatment to mend him.

It has plenty of the old red red krovvy, the lovely big groodies and ultra-violence mixed in with an absolutely majestic score. Just like Kubrick’s previous film (and in my opinion, his greatest work, 2001: A Space Odyssey) the blend of classical music with ear-bleeding sounds and screeches work together to create at least a dozen mesmerising scenes. Bathing quite powerful visual scenes of really quite terrifying violence with their contrasting songs of Beethoven to Singin’ In The Rain, it’s a remarkable achievement of vision and genius.

What I think would have been Kubrick’s biggest challenge with this film was not the conversational nature of its plot and characters and getting it past the censors, but transferring the written language from the novel to screen without it seeming ridiculous. Kubrick manages to intelligently weave this into the film like the magician he was like the viewer had always been speaking in this dialect. It makes the whole film seem like poetry enacted.

Anyway, I won’t warble on about it too much more, o my brothers, just to say that it made me smeck and razdrez in equal measure. (Sorry – final time – for the lame A Clockwork Orange speak.)

See the five films Owen picked for 1970 or check out the full A Decade in Film series so far.

Failed Critics Review: Lawless

Brothers. Gangsters. Heroes.

That doesn’t apply to any of us, if we’re honest. Except maybe heroes. Steve chased someone from a kebab shop once.

We are critics though, and this week we’re tackling prohibition-era Shia the Beef-starring movie Lawless. We also hear from James as he struggles to wax lyrical about two of his favourite films so far this year – Berberian Sound Studio and The Imposter – as well as hearing reviews on Barry Lyndon and Glengary Glen Ross.

James was hungover and without notes, Gerry had only seen Lawless, Owen’s internet kept cutting out, and Steve was…well, Steve. Somehow we recorded a show.

Enjoy!

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