Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Failed Critics Podcast: Silence is Golden (Globes)

SILENCE

Bad episode titles, published at 3am, and two miserly gits moaning about the world? It can only be the return of Failed Critics Podcast in 2017!

Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are on their Todd for the first podcast of the new year to talk about Scorsese’s latest drama, Silence, as well as supernatural hocus pocus shenanigans in The Invitation. The pair also end up chatting about the iconic Steven Spielberg after Steve’s first ever watch of The Color Purple – and perhaps more surprisingly, Owen’s first ever watch of Schindler’s List.

In the news, there’s a chat about Carrie Fisher’s passing, which leads to a discussion about the use of CGI to replace actors in movies. We also quickly skim through the winners and losers of the recent Golden Globes and the speeches that were worth paying attention to.

Join us again next week for reviews of La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

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Failed Critics Podcast Beyond

STAR TREK BEYOND

Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, boldly going where we’ve only been once before. That is to say, it’s another episode without any guests!

Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are left to their own devices, and yet still end up discussing two new releases. They review the latest sci-fi franchise to become a trilogy in Star Trek Beyond – well, one of them can review it as the other hasn’t seen it (all) – as well as Spielberg’s adaptation of everybody’s favourite childhood author, Roald Dahl’s classic, The BFG.

Elsewhere on the show, the duo run through as many of the trailers from San Diego Comic Con as they could get their hands on, plus Steve’s reaction to The Ouija Experiment, his booby-prize for losing last week’s quiz. There’s also enough time for some appreciation for The Purge films ahead of next month’s release of Election Year, as well as a quick appreciation for Andy Samberg’s latest comedy, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which is also due out exactly one month from today.

Join us again next week for a special triple-bill episode loosely connected to the forthcoming Olympics!

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Failed Critics Podcast: The Good Bridge of Dinosaur Spies

bridge of spies 15

We’re back to our normal routine today with Steve Norman and Owen Hughes joined by Callum Petch. There’s not a single professional comedian amongst them after the first episode of Paul Field and James Mullinger’s Underground Nights popped up in your podcast subscription software of choice this past weekend.

And what a bumper crop of new release reviews we have in store for you! Four new movies that have hit your cinema screens recently, including: The new Pixar dramedy, The Good Dinosaur; Black Mass, a crime biopic starring Johnny Depp; a film that Callum describes as “perfect” in Carol; and cold war drama Bridge of Spies, the latest Spielberg and Hanks collaboration.

All of this plus a look at the new Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers and a bunch of other stuff that we’ve seen this past week. Callum boldly goes where millions of others have gone before and inducts himself into the Star Trek universe via the original motion picture. Meanwhile, Steve talks us through a post apocalyptic horror like so many more before it with Hidden and rounds up this season of The Walking Dead. There’s also still time for Owen to talk about a film that very few have seen before after attending the test screening of The Comedians Guide to Survival, a movie starring James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) about the life of James Mullinger (yes, that guy from Underground Nights).

Join Owen and Steve again for more “film related nonsense” with returning guest Andrew Brooker.

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Half A Decade In Film – 2011

2011 seems so long ago now. It’s hard to imagine films even existing back then. The fields were all green, the sky unpolluted and movies were just a figment of the imagination.

That’s clearly not true. But certainly Failed Critics didn’t exist until the following year, so anything that went before it was obviously just practice until our arrival. Film criticism in particular wouldn’t reach its zenith until 2012 with the inception of this website (……)!

OK, so that might not be true either! Nevertheless, Liam, Paul, Mike, Andrew and Owen all return for another entry to our Half A Decade In Film series as they cast their minds back all those years and each take a look at their favourite film of 2011 as we continue with our Decade In Film spin-off series.


Source Code

© 2010 Vendome PicturesAny soldier I’ve ever served with would say that one death is service enough.

It seems insane to say it now, but I wasn’t always a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Not least of all because just typing his name for this article brings up that obnoxious squiggly red line that tries to convince me that I can’t bloody spell!
I liked his earlier films. Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are great. But for the most part they are great in spite of Mr Gyllenhaal’s inclusion. I tended to judge him more on rubbish films like The Day After Tomorrow and stuff I just didn’t like, like Donnie Darko and with those in mind I just never saw the appeal of Jake and his performances. Until I saw Source Code that is.

The weird thing is that Gyllenhaal’s performance wasn’t anything special! It wasn’t crap, but it was one of those times when you could name any number of half decent actors that do the role just as well. But the direction, was absolutely superb and anyone in the role of Gyllenhaal’s Army Pilot would have been great as Duncan Jones (the guy that made the excellent Moon) dragged the best out of everyone involved.

Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an Army Pilot who’s last memory is of being on mission in Afghanistan. Suddenly waking up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) he takes a few minutes to figure out what is going on and where he is. In those minutes, his train explodes and kills everyone on board.

Waking from the explosion like a bad dream, Stevens is told he is part of an experiment called “Source Code” and he is being used to stop a terrorist attack that is due to happen in the next few hours having already blown up a commuter train. He is being sent back to relive the last few minutes on that train and find the bomber.

Annoying and silly tacked-on “Hollywood” ending aside, what should be a so-so plot to an average screenplay (written by the guy that wrote Species 3 and 4, for Christ’s sake) is brought to brilliant life with Duncan Jones’ direction as Gyllenhaal thrillingly races against the clock time and time again in a sci-fi Groundhog Day with a shorter memory span, for a generation that’s grown up with The Matrix!

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Super 8

super 8“According to my Uncle Seth, an accident like this is exceptionally rare.”

After the success of  JJ Abram’s Star Trek, there was a buzz about Super 8, a creature-feature which many now consider to be Abrams homage to the Spielberg films of the 80’s. There are some similarities that’s for sure; it uses the same heartbeat, the same suspense and creates a great character dynamic that some of Spielberg’s films have used. Yet it never really reaches the dizzy heights or emotions that those kinds of films hit. E.T broke your heart, The Goonies made you really care about a bunch of misfit kids, and Close Encounters left you in awe. Super 8 never gets there for me, yet that said it is still a great film and one which really does entertain me.

Abrams doesn’t just follow one Spielberg film, he amalgamates a collection of them. A group of friends: not as misfit as the Goonies but pretty close. The broken home: here the family is ripped apart by tragedy and the husband left to bring up his son in a haze of grief and loneliness. Friendships torn apart and rebuilt, romance and of course let’s not forget about the alien. The alien is along ET’s path, while it’s a bit more ferocious then ET, Abram’s alien is just as lost and alone has the little planet loving alien we all cried over (well some of us) back in the 80’s. Being held in captivity and under constant scrutiny and testing, all the alien wants to do is go home.

Once the alien escapes after the rather over-the-top yet quite spectacular train crash, the hunt is on, a town in fear, the military spinning the truth and we are back to Close Encounters. Objects going missing, strange sounds in the distance and of course we need one of the kids to go missing as well. Abram builds the tension from the train crash slowly and surely to he finally reveals his alien in all its glory. While I do like the final third of the film, the ending seems a little flat after everything which has come before it. I was just lacking a real connection to the alien, the kids or even the grieving father and son, and it just feels a nice and satisfactory end to the film, but it doesn’t really spoil it for me.

There isn’t really that much I dislike about Super 8 (except the end). It has a superb score from Michael Giacchino, some wonderful cinematography from Larry Fong and a really solid cast of kids and adults. Kyle Chandler is superb as the father, along with the gang of kids led by Joel Courtney and the wonderful Elle Fanning, they all give solid performances from a decent script. Visually the look of the film is stunning, the train crash without doubt one of my favourite scenes of the whole film. As I said Abram’s is channelling Speilberg but never really pulls it off completely but even so it’s a rather brave attempt and one of my favourite films of 2011.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

rise of the apesPlease, Mr. Jacobs! Lives are at stake! These are animals with personalities, with attachments!

I’ve written and talked extensively about my fondness for the Planet of the Apes films, book, comics, TV show and remakes. Most recently in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I explain a little about the time I first saw Rise of… in the cinema upon its release (coincidentally on my birthday!)

At the time, I absolutely adored it. After the terrible trailer showing apes leaping off bridges onto helicopters, I half expected a dreadful, CGI filled blockbuster with less redeeming qualities than Tim Burton’s attempt to tell Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet tale. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this clever little sci-fi began to carefully tell a story of an old man with dementia, a potential cure being tested on an ape (Caesar) that begins to grow in intelligence, learns to communicate and, er, leads an uprising.

I’ve since watched it a couple of more times and although that surprise is obviously no longer present, it’s still no less entertaining. It’s everything that’s required of a sci-fi blockbuster. It’s got heart, a great story, decent performances (brilliant performances in the case of Andy Serkis and John Lithgow), an epic climax and it looks utterly breathtaking.

The fact that director Rupert Wyatt and his writers got the tone so absolutely spot on that it completely fits in with the Planet of the Apes franchise, yet felt fresh and modern in a way that some of the dated original sequels don’t any more, is testament to not only their ability, but also to the source material. Quite simply, as much as I loved Conquest of and Escape from, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the series since 1968. And probably the best science fiction blockbuster released between District 9 and a certain Marvel movie a year later.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


The Yellow Sea

the yellow seaDon’t forget it. If you forget it, your family’s all dead.

One of my favourite Korean films is The Chaser (2008), the tale of a cop/pimp and a serial killer, which as the title suggests, has an awful lot of chasing. The team behind it, director (Na Hong-jin) and stars (Kim Yun-seok & Ha Jung-woo) team up again for The Yellow Sea. That the phenomenal The Chaser was a debut effort put The Yellow Sea top of my ‘to see list’ for 2011.

It’s a simple set up, gambling debt ridden cab driver is offered a way out of his problems……..go to Korea and kill someone. It takes a while to get going, and I can’t deny the simplistic plot is then burdened with a sub-plot about his wife and a small army of characters that you don’t care about or are just not fleshed out that well. So why do I love this film so much…?

…A good Korean gangster caper needs the following ingredients. A completely inept Police force, people being hit around the head repeatedly, ridiculous melodrama, no guns, the main protagonist being outnumbered to a ridiculous degree in fights and chase scenes and of course, close combat involving knives.

The Yellow Sea does all of this. It’s very, very stabby…..and axey….and er…large unidentified animal boney…if it can be used to beat, stab and kill people, it will be. Rivers of blood, things being chopped off, lots of screaming and of course….lots of chasing. This is to The Chaser, what The Raid 2 was to The Raid. All the fun of the first film is there, but they’ve shoe-horned in a proper film too.

I’ve seen this 3 times, this was my first look at the slimmed down directors cut for US audiences. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the main characters, and that alone made this my favourite film of 2011.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Le Havre

le havreYou don’t deserve such a good wife. You’re not worth her.” “No-one is, so I’ll do.

Written and directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Le Havre is a wonderfully karmic comedy drama set in the titular French port.

Marcel Marx is a financially struggling shoeshine who comes across a young Gabonese boy desperately trying to hide. The shipping container he and his compatriots stowed away had been delayed & diverted from its intended destination of London and opened by heavily armed immigration authorities. The boy, Idrissa, is the only member of the party to make a bolt for the door and get away.

The film follows Marcel’s struggles to help the boy evade capture and make his escape across the Channel to join his mother in London.

They face numerous obstacles; Marcel’s wife’s seemingly terminal illness, the media frenzy about immigration issues, the government authorities’ high profile crack down and the local police have Marcel marked down as chief suspect.

Those familiar with Kaurismaki’s work will recognise many of his signature touches. It’s a simple story about the basic, human decency of ordinary people. All his usual trademarks are present, the constant cigarette smoking, the dog, the importance of music and the wonderfully wry, deadpan humour.

One of the most interesting characters is Monet, the local Inspector. His morals and motives are far from obvious, you are kept guessing right to the end of the film. His encounters with Marcel are so uncomfortable. Is he speaking “Off Duty”, as he claims? Is he genuinely warning Marcel that the net is closing in out of compassion? Or is he slyly trying to wheedle out information by putting Marcel at ease? He brings to mind a slower moving, morose version of Columbo. Hardly surprising, as both are clearly inspired by Dostoevsky’s Porfiry Petrovich.

A highlight, maybe not entirely for the right reasons, is the Charity Concert performance of French recording artist Little Bob, making a cameo appearance. Imagine an elderly Ewok dressed in 1980’s biker leathers and you’re on the right lines.

The only slight disappointment in the whole film is the performance of Kati Outinen as Marcel’s wife Arletty. A truly superb actress, she is somewhat restricted by her character’s illness, but this is still far from the level of performance she’s given in any of Kaurismaki’s other films.

A hugely enjoyable film, with compassion and decency as its main themes.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Five films there that span a few different genres and continents but are all equally as excellent as each other, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or, maybe you don’t agree and think we’ve erroneously overlooked an obvious choice? Let us know in the comments section below. Otherwise, you’ll have to stew in your own angry juices until we return next week with five of our favourite films released in 2012.

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Seventies

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

Back again this week after successfully tackling the sixties (even if we do say so ourselves), our regular contributors to the series come up with a list of five-of-the-best for the nineteen-seventies. Owen and Mike are back along with our talented guest writers AndrewPaul and Liam, generously imparting their experience on us to tell us what are their favourite horrors of the 1970’s.

After the counterculture movement that occurred in the nineteen-sixties, what emerged in its place in the seventies (particularly with regards to the world of film) was something more artistic and radical. Directors were riskier, braver and perhaps even less subtle in their political motivations. There was no room for John Wayne to glamorise The Green Berets any more. Instead, the harsh reality of the toll the Vietnam War took was the topic of many films, from The Deer Hunter to Apocalypse Now. Director’s like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, John Carpenter etc etc emerged out of their shells and produced some of the greatest and most challenging works ever. Horror films became edgier, darker and more popular with a mainstream audience than they had ever been before. Halloween, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these movies terrified audiences and inspired film makers; and the best thing is, to this day they still continue to do so. We begin by looking at our particular favourites of this revolutionary decade, starting with…


 Jaws (1975)

jaws

Here lies the body of Mary Lee; died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity.

January 1976 and a visit to the Classic in Hastings to see Jaws. A stupidly excited 6 year old going to an evening showing of, “that film with the big shark in”. Circle seats (as was a birthday treat) secured, would’ve been a kia-ora and a choc-ice too. That music….even now sends shivers down your spine. Cinemas were pitch black during films in the 70’s, latecomers had to be shown to their seats by a torch wielding usherette. Booming audio, an enormous screen, total darkness.

Being transported to Amity, the terrifying opening scene, the respite as the sun drenched community springs into holiday mode. But always that sense of something unpleasant about to happen…..and when the underwater scene arrived. To this day, it’s still crystal clear, the heart stopping, terrifying moment that severed head bobs out. It’s just as effective now, as my daughter who was a similar age when I watched it with her, nearly jumped out of her skin. There are more horrific films from the era, and more frightening I’m sure, but to have been frightened by Jaws in its original cinema run was a real privilege that’s stayed with me forever.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Omen (1976)

the omenHere is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.”

I always remember liking The Omen as a kid; the dogs, the great music and of course quite literally the child from hell; the name Damien now etched in the folklore of horror films. Yet it’s only recently that I’ve come to see just how good The Omen actually is.

Richard Donner’s slick direction, his stunning use of wide shots coupled with some beautiful cinematography gives the film a fantastic look. Whilst it’s a little dated now, it still looks better than most films from that time. Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score is breath-taking, adding to the film’s constant dread, you cannot but think of this film when you hear “Ava Satani”.

Like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Donner doesn’t rely on gore or cheap scares as he allows the story to build to a frightful climax between father and son and one of the best endings in modern horror. Yet Donner still manages to shock with a number of well-crafted deaths throughout the film.

The screenplay is fine, but it’s the cast that truly makes this film work; there are strong performances all round. Harvey Stephens ‘Damien’ is evil personified; such a fantastic performance and pivotal to the film’s success. Peck and Remick as Damien’s parents are both excellent, while the supporting cast of Whitelaw, Troughton and Warner are all outstanding. Whitlelaw delivers one of the creepiest Nanny’s I’ve see in any film; a suitable ally for the evil Damien.

I liked The Omen, I like it more now I’ve grown up, my favourite horror film from the 70’s.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Dawn of the Dead (1978)

dawn of the deadSomething my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Vodou. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, ‘When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.’

If George A Romero defined what a zombie film actually is with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead (as chosen by Andrew in our last article), then it is with Dawn of the Dead that he reclaimed the mantle of master of horror from a succession of pretenders to the throne throughout the early part of the decade.

Wry and satirical, pre-empting the capitalist self-serving boom in the eighties by setting the majority of the movie inside a brand new shopping mall – “they’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here” – it is as biting in its message as the brain-munching zombies themselves.

From its explosive beginning as Kevin Foree and Scott H. Reiniger raid an apartment building infested with the undead, to the aggressive invasion of the fortified mall by a motorbike gang led by Tom Savini, when there’s no more room for zombies, the humans shall tear shit up instead. As friction rises between helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge) and his TV Exec wife Francine (Gaylen Ross), it impacts on the trapped foursome as a whole, forcing them to confront the horrors inside as well as outside of their confines.

Throw in a memorable soundtrack by Goblin, a sophisticated and darkly comical story (written by Romero) and a marauding horde of blood thirsty corpses and you’re left with not only one of the best horrors of the seventies, but possibly one of the best movies of all time.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Alien (1979)

AlienCrew. Expendable.

Towards the end of the 70’s, most horror sub-genres had their rules and tropes set in stone. But Sci-Fi horror didn’t quite find its feet until 1979, when Ridley Scott scared an entire generation into sleeping with the lights on with Alien.

Until then, the only real Science Fiction in “Sci-Fi Horror” came on the form of dodgy body snatching pods and the “Thing from Outer Space”. Writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon would change that by introducing arguably the most terrifying monster in horror movies. The “Xenomorph”.

Ordered to investigate a distress call on a strange planet, Tom Skerritt and his misfit blue-collar crew (including Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and John Hurt) find nothing but an arachnid with a desire to attach itself to John Hurt’s face. A quarantine and a few experiments later and the thing seems to fall off like an old scab, appearing to leave Mr Hurt unharmed. You know, until he decides to give birth in the scariest, bloodiest way possible at the breakfast table!

What follows is possibly the scariest hour in film history. A dark, claustrophobic hunt for a seven foot bio-mechanical looking tower of teeth and more teeth while it, in turn, is hunting for Dallas (Skerritt) and his crew. Alien’s genius is in its simplicity. There is no complicated reason the creature kills. It just does. It’s not angry at its mum or its school councillor. It’s a killing machine, plain and terrifyingly simple and it’s coming for the unarmed, unprepared crew.

Alien solidified so much on its release. It made Sigourney Weaver a household name. It gave Ridley Scott his first massive success. But most importantly, it gave film lovers everywhere a reason to be fearful of heartburn more than three decades later.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nosferatu – Phantom Der Nacht (1979)

nosferatuThe absence of love is the most abject pain.

This version of the oft told vampire legend has many highs and lows, yet still manages to come out head and shoulders above any other version I’ve seen.

It’s beautifully shot in some wonderful locations, the lighting, tension building, long and lingering scenes stay in the memory. Klaus Kinski’s performance in the lead role is one of his finest. He brings an agonised, almost pitiful quality to the Count, without losing the base nature of the creature.

Isabelle Adjani’s portrayal of Lucy is extremely good. Her appearance in this is why Alison Brie looked so familiar to me, the likeness is very strong. This version of Lucy is brave (once she stops fainting) clever and cunning in her attempts to save her husband, Jonathan.

It’s Jonathan that brings the main low point. Bruno Ganz just isn’t very good in this. Guilty of terrible overacting in parts, both facial & body movements seem farcical in some scenes.

A hugely enjoyable film, even its faults are oddly entertaining. I’ve used the German title deliberately, see the German language version rather than the English. It’s far better, the English one really accentuates the faults and dulls the brilliance.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, picking our top five horror films of the eighties, where things will undoubtedly be louder, cruder and cooler.

Lincoln

Lincoln

Spielberg and Day-Lewis combine to produce a worthy, in every sense, Oscar-contender.

Another week, another film about America’s murky history of slavery. Although Lincoln touches on similar themes to its Oscar rival Django Unchained, it is as far from Tarantino’s exploitation Western as you could possibly imagine. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the eponymous president, and tells the story of his struggles to end the American Civil War and abolish slavery.

A week is a long time in politics, and while Lincoln doesn’t feel quite that long, its 150 minute running time is going to be a sticking-point with some members of the audience. Especially as the film is less an epic biopic of ‘America’s greatest president’, and more a political procedural that spans a mere few months after Abe is re-elected for a second term. Lincoln best describes himself, and the film, early on when telling a young black soldier who has just fought at Gettysburg, “I’m used to moving at a deliberate pace”.

Thankfully, the slow pace of the film gives the performances time to breathe, like a fine red wine. And make no mistake; this film is packed with excellent performances. Day-Lewis is far more introspective and restrained as Lincoln than in his Oscar-winning performance in There Will Be Blood; the subtlety and exhaustion he brings for the part is arguably even more impressive than his turned-up-to-eleven histrionics as Daniel Plainview. The supporting cast are also very impressive; particularly Tommy Lee Jones as the radical who has to compromise his beliefs for a smaller victory in the House of Representatives, and James Spader as the oily lobbyist demonstrating that politics has always been a dirty game of favours and threats.

This is Spielberg’s best film in years, in no small way due to his decision to treat his audience as adults who can follow a convoluted political plot with a host of characters. At times Lincoln feels like an educational history programme with exceptionally high production values. Lincoln’s predilection for solving arguments in his cabinet by telling folksy anecdotes never tires, and one in section he quotes Euclid’s first common notion that “things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other”. A lot of credit should go to screenwriter Tony Kushner for allowing the audience to make the comparison to equal human rights without it being spelled out to them.

However, the film is not flawless. Sally Field feels wasted in an underwritten role as Lincoln’s wife Mary, and the role of women in this film generally seems to be one of quiet obedience. It also suffers from bouts of sentimentalism which has long been a problem with Spielberg’s work, and which reach their nadir in an epilogue with more endings than Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. Minor issues aside, this is a welcome return to form from one of Hollywood’s great directors.

Failed Critics Podcast: Django Unchained

Django Unchained Waltz FoxxThe Failed Critics are back, and we’re here to SHUT YOUR BUTT DOWN! This week we review Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood-soaked and highly controversial (no change there) epic, Django Unchained.  One of us wasn’t that impressed. We’ve got your curiosity, but do we have your attention?

Also this week; James reviews a history lesson with exceedingly high production values in Lincoln, Owen talks (but not much) about The Village, and Gerry finally gets round to seeing Magic Mike (the horny devil).

We’re back next with reviews of Zero Dark Thirty, The Last Stand, and we induct a very special Austrian ass-kicker into our Corridor of Praise.

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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.

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1981

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

Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1981.

5. Condorman

Condorman“Have you seen this report on this Condorman? He is an AMATEUR, do you hear? He is NOT an agent of the CIA! He is a WRITER OF COMIC BOOKS!”

Every so often, a movie comes to the fore that is so inherently bad, that it ends up being brilliant. There are a few that I particularly enjoy as guilty pleasures, such as Streetfighter and perhaps more recently Iron Sky. However the original film from my childhood that falls into this category is ‘Condorman’.

The plot surrounds comic book writer, Woody (Michael Crawford), who insists that all his creations must be able to perform their talents in real-life before he commits them to paper. However he is struggling to legitimise his latest creation, a flying crime-fighter called Condorman – as depicted in the opening scene where he fails to fly with mechanical wings from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Hilarity prevails as Woody bumbles his way into the affairs of the CIA & KGB as he pushes the real-life boundaries of his Condorman creation too far, posing as the former’s newest top agent. The action is awkward, yet stupidly funny, imagine Jason Bourne played by Basil Fawlty and you have a good idea of where this ends up.

The movie is anything but cold-war espionage coolness personified; after all it is a Disney movie. However the cast somewhat legitimises the erratic nature of the subject matter with the late Oliver Reed playing the leading bad-guy as Krokov the KGB operative and the lovely Barbara Carrera (Never Say Never Again) as the film’s love interest. It also adds some entertaining action set-pieces and a very cool car-pursuit scene featuring a fleet of souped-up Porsche 911’s that even the Fast & The Furious would be envious. Condorman’s own vehicle would impress even Bruce Wayne!

It goes without saying that this film gets nowhere near the IMDB top 250, it even has a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However it does hold a cult status amongst fans that keeps interest in the franchise alive and an updated version beckons as part of Disney’s new vision for the future. I personally, cannot wait!

4. Escape From New York

escape from new york“When I get back, I’m going to kill you”

Painted in the doldrums of a decaying future, revolutionists have hijacked Air Force One and crashed landed the jet into Manhattan Island. The island is now an impregnable fortress used to house all of America’s most dangerous criminals. The US authorities, unable to send in a mass force for fear of endangering the captive president’s life can only rely on one man.. Snake Plissken.

The role of Snake goes to Kurt Russell, who really shakes off his image as a pretty faced child actor as the down and dirty, super cool and unflappable ex-Special Forces operative. This movie is also a continuation of a mini love-affair between actor and the film’s director John Carpenter, the likes of which weren’t again seen until Tim Burton got his hands on Johnny Depp!

Escape from New York is all atmosphere. The film is shot entirely during the night time and danger lurks around every corner of the rotten Metropolis. It very much reminds me of the nihilist future as depicted in 1979’s ‘The Warriors’ and continued later this decade in ‘The Running Man’. The action is far from snappy, it’s somewhat clumsy and lacks finesse. But the slick nature of the characters, such as Isaac Hayes as the Prison Boss ‘The Duke’ allows you to really take in a rough 90min action ride.

Other notable performances come in the form of Western star Lee Van Cleef as the slimy police boss ‘Hauk’ and Adrienne Barbeau as the most distracting on screen cleavage for the whole year! It’s not hard to see why John Carpenter put a ring on it.

The Snake Plissken role sets a good model for movie anti-heroes, smooth lines, tough and fearless but ultimately doing bad things for good causes. The soundtrack adds to the dystopia portrayed nicely and encapsulates the period of time well.

The franchise spawned 2 sequels much further down the line, both with much bigger budgets, however Escape from New York delivers an unintended grittiness that can only be enforced by a lack of funds and ultimately delivers a much darker tone to the movie.

3. An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London“Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others”

Thoroughly British in it’s almost slapstick delivery, ‘An American Werewolf in London’ has everything, from awkward and uneasy comedy to brutal gore-scenes for hardened fans of the genre.

The film follows David (David Naughton), an American tourist who survives a Wolf attack that kills his best friend. Oddly some of the films most curious moments come from scenes were his dead friend re-visits him as a Zombie to warn him of his impending transformation into a Werewolf and that the bloodline must end for his victims to rest in peace.

Naturally, David does not take heed of the warnings, unsure of if his friend’s visits are a figment of his imagination or indeed the truth. Eventually the beast is unleashed upon London town and makes for a wonderfully cold trail of death that is uncompromising in its lack of fan-fare.

The whole movie is shot on location in the UK and I most admit that I find that the UK movie industry just does these movies far better than our Hollywood counter-parts, see ‘28 Days Later’ as an example. There is something far more sinister about the Middlesex moors and the cold, wet alleys of London than the steamy neon nightlife of New York for example.

No, AWIL does not over-complicate, it removes any unnecessary dramatics and creates frightening scenes of bloodlust, yet somehow you still feel charmed by our leading man. In a decade dominated by American Horror, this film collected an Oscar for it’s gruesome use of make-up and shows one of the most painful looking transformation scenes that I can recall. It’s very much a genre-defining classic and a must see for all horror fans.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark“I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance, you’re talking about the boogie man. Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am”

It goes without saying that Raiders could easily have been my #1 pick for 1981. Harrison Ford became probably the biggest Box Office star over a 5-year period in which everything LucasArts and Steven Spielberg churned out turned to absolute gold.

Ford plays the whip-wielding Indiana Jones, archeological & occult expert who is sent on a mission to recover the lost Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the hands of Nazi Germany. I should not need to go into itty-bitty details about the plot; we’ve all seen at least one Indiana Jones movie. Partly this misses out on #1 movie for 1981 mostly because it’s not actually my favourite film from the original trilogy.

Alas, however Raiders is a magnificent piece of action-adventure cinema. Shot in many luscious and beautifully exotic locations, it’s oh so easy on the eye. Ford brings charisma to the Indiana Jones character in equal measure as he did Han Solo, perhaps even more so.

The film is renowned for some of its action set pieces, such as the rolling bolder booby trap during the opening sequence and the hilarious standoff between Indy and the Sword wielding Egyptian soldier. It’s a great story of exciting action, peril in abundance and a story of good vs. evil, as the Nazis are ever willing to take up the bad guy role.

The now famous John Williams assortment is the final piece of the jigsaw although he sadly lost out to Vangelis’ score for Chariots of Fire in the Oscar prizes. The movie however did collect 4 Oscars and cemented the credentials of Spielberg and Lucas, setting up a golden area for the two during the early 80’s, as well as spearheading Harrison Ford for a career beyond StarWars.

Raiders takes its place high amongst its peers on the IMDB top 100 as one of the most memorable and fun movies of the decade.

1. Das Boot

Das Boot“Cheeks together, balls in their hands and belief in the Fuhrer in their eyes. They’ll calm down soon enough..”

It goes without saying that ‘Das Boot’ is one of the toughest watches of any film I’ve ever happily enjoyed watching. For starters, I am reviewing the extended version of an already epically long movie, weighing in at over 3 hours which for any film is a tough ask! However being a sub-titled movie it requires a certain dedication that adds to the viewing experience as you are slowly sucked into the despair felt throughout the movie.

The movie follows a German U-Boat crew who depart on a mission to intercept Allied convoys across an already faltering and mis-directed Axis line of blockades in the Mid-Atlantic. As the film begins we find the fledgling crew celebrating in a debauched leaving party, seemingly unaware of the miserable existence that awaits them under the Ocean’s surface. However, Ship Captain Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow) is starkly aware of the dangers that await his inexperienced crew.

The movie quickly plunges from indulgence to desperation as our crew is continually faced with overwhelming odds against the Royal Navy and mis-direction from their superiors. Gradually the viewer is proverbially grabbed by the throat and dragged into a nerve-wracking journey of strained human relationships and the mental breakdown of a threat that you can often only hear, but rarely see.

Prochnow is superb as the battle-weary Captain and director Wolfgang Petersen makes so much from so little real-estate in the claustrophobic metal tube. This would be regarded as Petersen’s 1st great work and perhaps his best ever before eventually working on more mainstream titles such as The Neverending Story, Troy and The Perfect Storm.

However it really is ‘Das Boot’ that delivers his most heavyweight punch and sets the benchmark high for other great Submarine movies that followed, such as Hunt For Red October and K-19: The Widowmaker. The movie ends on the most sombre of moments. After suffering heavy damage and effectively been sunk, the crew manage to revive the crippled boat and reach sanctum at La Spezia port, only to be attacked and destroyed by an Allied Air-Raid as they leave the ship.

The credits roll as the Captain lives just long enough to watch his boat sink at port and keel over and die with the rest of his crew. Like any good war movie, Das Boot reminds you at all times during war just when you think there is light at the end of the tunnel, all hope is brutally snatched away.

Das Boot is not just a great Submarine movie, it’s a fantastic movie in it’s own right which rightfully takes it’s place amongst the IMDB Top 100 and is my movie of 1981.

See the five films Matt picked for 1980 or check out the full A Decade in Film series so far.

Whine on You Crazy Diamond – Found Wanting

Welcome to another helping of the scooped-out mind-innards of yours truly. This week I want to talk about a style of film-making and, some might say, a genre in its own right – Found Footage.

On Saturday I went to see Paranormal Activity 4 (featured on this week’s Failed Critics Review podcast) and it reaffirmed all of the issues I have with found footage films. They are completely unrealistic, and actually alienate me as a viewer.

First let’s look at the reason people make found footage films. The bottom line is that they are cheap. Very, very cheap. The original Paranormal Activity only cost about $15,000 to make, and The Blair Witch Project was also made for peanuts. Studios love these films because they represent a low-risk green-light decision, especially in the horror genre which, more than any other genre it seems, has an inbuilt audience who are willing to give films a chance.

The reason these films are so cheap to make is not just because they don’t use expensive sets and equipment, but also because the people involved are cheap to hire. From the director, to the screenwriter (especially with a number of these films improvised in nature), to the actors (usually unknowns who are cheap, and this also helps make them seem more realistic. No one is going to believe Brad Pitt in a found footage movie).

So from a business point of view I totally get it. I even admire these films.

But from an artistic point of view?

The other argument I have heard in support of found footage films is that they are ‘more realistic’ and that in the horror genre this makes them scarier. This is where I have to disagree. In my opinion, found footage films are less ‘realistic’ than any stop-motion film, CGI-powered superhero film, or badly dubbed and bloodily violent 1970s kung-fu film.

Let me explain.

Cinema has been around for over 100 years. In that time, as a species we have evolved our perception of cinema as art-form and entertainment, and can now put ourselves in a state of suspended disbelief when watching a well-crafted film. When I watch The Exorcist, or Ringu, I forget that I am watching a film and get drawn into the horror that the characters are facing. This is despite the fact that I am seeing things that I couldn’t possibly see in real life – including camera angles and special effects. A well-directed and shot film feels ‘real’.

So any attempt to consciously make a film appear real has the opposite effect on me. My suspicions are instantly raised. I can’t suspend my disbelief and find myself asking questions – why are they talking about boring things in a film? Who ‘found’ this footage? Why are they recording this seemingly random set of events?

And that’s the killer for me – I spend the majority of every found footage film questioning why a character is filming that particular footage. Once a film sets itself up as being ultra-realistic, the slightest crack in the façade ruins the whole pretence. I have the same issue with 3D films presenting themselves as being more immersive, when in fact the opposite is true – but that’s for another day…

DVD – New out this week is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – and you can hear what we thought of that on the podcast here. Instead, why not treat yourself to one (or both) of the lovely re-releases of classic films available for the first time on Blu-ray. Steven Spielberg’s E.T., or Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

TVLayer Cake. Film 4 on Fri 26 Oct at 9pm. If you’re not going to see Skyfall on Friday night, then why not watch Daniel Craig’s breakthrough performance in Matthew Vaughn’s debut film that is that very rare thing – an excellent, modern British gangster film.

Lovefilm InstantClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). If you’ve heeded my advice above and forked out on the Blu-ray release of E.T., then make an extra-terrestrial night of it and watch Spielberg’s other ‘they came from the stars’ classic from the era in which he could do no wrong.

Netflix UKDreams of a Life (2011). Recently discussed on the Failed Critics Review, this fascinating documentary investigates the circumstances around the death of Joyce Vincent who died in her bedsit aged 38, and lay undiscovered for three years.