Tag Archives: The Man Who Knew Too Much

Failed Critics Podcast: Favourite Vacation Films

the inbetweeners movieBowing to the “crushing demand” of our followers who will not accept our apology over technical issues relating to our eagerly awaited ‘triple bill’ podcast, in its place this week we have this hastily cobbled together written article which you we hope you’ll accept by way of apology. The idea behind this weeks triple bill is we each pick our favourite three films where one of the main features involves a vacation.

First up getting us going we have Gerry:

  1. The Inbetweeners Movie captures the lads holiday/cheap holiday resort full of Brits experience better than anything else on film (even the mighty Kevin & Perry). Plus it was genuinely funny all the way through, a pleasant surprise considering how things usually go when a TV series moves to the big screen.
  2. Little Miss Sunshine chosen for its realistic representation of the average family holiday, this road trip follows a massively dysfunctional family as they journey to a child beauty pageant. Abigail Breslin quite rightly got a Best Supporting Actress nod for this, one of the finest performances by a child actor ever on screen. Smart, funny and often painfully realistic. A great film.
  3. Adventureland most of us can relate to spending a summer working a minimum wage job with an assortment of weirdos. Michael Cera and Kristen Stewart both perform admirably but Ryan Reynolds steals every scene he’s in. Also, K-Stew‘s annoying open mouth/disinterested scowl thing actually works great here; unfortunately I saw this before I realised she wasn’t acting and this is actually how she is in every film!

Next is James with his 3 favourites:

  1. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – While this may not be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces, it is still  a highly enjoyable murder-mystery romp that deserves further investigation. It stars James Stewart (who Hitch saw as a creative partner in a period that saw them make this film as well as Rope, Rear Window, and Vertigo) and Doris Day as an American couple on holiday in Morocco with their young son. They witness the murder of a foreign spy, and their son is kidnapped in an effort to keep them quiet, as the plot accelerates towards a conclusion in London where the Prime Minister is the target of an assassination. The film is most famous for its Oscar-winning song, Que Sera Sera, later adopted by football fans as the soundtrack for hopeful cup runs.
  2. Dirty Dancing – It’s difficult to imagine a film that divides genders as much as this 80s coming-of-age story of summer holidays, carrying watermelons, and putting people in the corner. If you approach the film with an open mind however, you will find a film that has not only aged better than many of its contemporaries, but is also quite enjoyable regardless of the equipment you were born with ‘down there’. Jennifer Grey stars as Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, the youngest daughter of a typical middle-class American family spending their summer vacation at Kellerman’s, a resort in the Catskill Mountains. Patrick Swayze is Johnny Castle, the resident dance instructor with a working class chip on his permanently unclothed shoulder. While the story itself may be a touch formulaic, the themes of the film explore growing up, privilege, and a remarkably even-handed view of abortion. I can’t guarantee the time of your life, but its ten the feminist tract that Sex & the City claims to be.
  3. Withnail & I – “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”. One of the most iconic (and quotable) British film of recent times, it’s amazing that Withnail & I was not only the film debut of director and screenwritier Bruce Robinson, but also the cinematic screen debut of Richard E. Grant as the eponymous Withnail. Filmed on a tiny budget, this film has gone onto influence a whole generation of British film-makers. Withnail, and his roommate Marwood (the ‘I’ in the title, played with beautiful understatement by Paul McGann) have had enough of spending the summer in their dingy London flat with only unidentified creatures in the filthy kitchen and a bizarre drug dealer (played by Ralph Brown who essentially reused the character for his appearance in Wayne’s World 2) for company. They decide to ask Withnail’s lecherous Uncle Monty to borrow his country cottage for a holiday, but don’t count on him showing up there with designs on poor Marwood. The film epitomises the badly planned British holiday, with terrible accommodation, shitty weather, and unfriendly locals. We can only stand back and watch as the boys attempt to drink through the pain and spiral into self-destruction.

Steve‘s triple bill choices were the first that saw some crossover. Here’s what he had to say:

  1. The Inbetweeners Movie – More or less what Gerry said. Really captures the essence of the first holiday without mum and dad, first lads holiday and everything that comes with it while continuing the brilliant high standard of the tv series without labouring a half hour episode into a 90 minute movie. The jokes are excellent, the soundtrack is pretty good, Simon is a fucking helmet though. Took him 3 series and most of a movie to bin off Carly who wasn’t even that fit anyway.
  2. Jaws – A pretty tenuous link to the holiday theme but ‘Don’t Go in the Water’ was a tag-line on some posters. Well if the film took place in December sharks would hardly be an issue would they? But with people on their summer vacations on Amity Island, the shark sparks the mayor et al into doing something about it as the loss of tourism dollars could ruin the place. With people on holiday being a catalyst and a great white shark the protagonist Jaws is the ultimate holiday/thriller hybrid.
  3. The other I can’t remember now but it just edged out Weekend at Bernies [This is a direct quote from Steve here. If he can’t remember what it was, what hope do I have?! – Owen]

Lastly, Owen‘s three choices are as follows:

  1. American Werewolf in London – Directed by John Landis, in fact I think the last time I spoke to it on the podcast was when we were doing our directors and actors that we’ve fallen out of love with triple bill, and Landis was one of my picks. The story is essentially the tale of two american backpackers who, as part of their trip, are in Yorkshire walking across the moors when they are attacked by a werewolf. One of them is killed, the other only injured who becomes a werewolf. I love this film, I’m long overdue for a rewatch as I like to try and watch it at least once every year. It’s got some classic scenes that even now are scary and very violent. The machine gunning Nazi werewolves are just bizarre and really are the stuff of nightmares. Aside from your regular run of the mill cabin-in-the-woods type of film, it’s the ultimate supernatural “holiday gone wrong” movie.
  2. Rogue – My second choice was one I only watched the other week actually. I very briefly mentioned it by name on last weeks podcast, but Rogue is an Australian creature-feature. It’s about a group of tourists from all over the world really. England, Ireland, America, a few domestic holidayers too from Australia. They go on a trip down a river to take photos of the local wildlife, which includes crocodiles. You can already see where this is going. They respond to a distress flare which is set off which leads them into a sacred holy part of the river that they’re not supposed to be in, when they’re attacked by a gigantic, angry, territorial crocodile who proceeds to eat and kill them one by one. It’s directed by Greg McLean who is a part of the so called Splat Pack of horror film directors, although Rogue is more about the tension of man vs nature than it is about being a gorefest. It’s got a decent group dynamic amongst the cast of characters, some really well thought out scenes and the CGI isn’t too bad either really. Definitely worth a watch.
  3. Deliverance – All 3 of my picks have been pretty grim haven’t they? I wanted to avoid stuff like Evil Dead and The Hills Have Eyes but ended up with 3 holiday films where people die in them anyway. My final choice then is John Boorman’s Oscar nominated film which is about 4 guys who go on a trip down a river but don’t encounter a crocodile. Instead they’re in the arse end of the American south where they get bummed by some local rednecks. It features Jon Voight, who is as great as he always is, but I really liked Burt Reynolds’ character. He’s properly taken to the whole idea of a lads holiday. He’s got his own fishing equipment which consists of a bow and arrow and some rope, so they can live off the land. He may not have his moustache but still looks pretty bad ass. I think it’s a great film, really memorable scenes here too. Two different ones for two very different reasons, but the duelling banjos scene is excellent. Didn’t quite make my top 2 picks for my decade in film article for 1972, it would’ve had to go some to beat Godfather, but is legitimately one of the best holiday films I could think of.

We also had some great suggestions from twitter! @filmproject13 sent in quite a few different picks including Hostel, Vacation and also mentioned Roman Holiday which I suppose does count, even if it isn’t quite a vacation film like the others. Sightseers was an inspired choice by @tylea002 and one both Owen and James were in agreement over, but he also had Before Sunrise/Midnight (but not Sunset!) in his list. A choice that slipped my mind when drawing up my picks was helpfully tweeted to us by @andrew_alcock which was the Norwegian zombie horror Dead Snow. A slightly more bizarre pick was @wily365 who tried (and failed) with his shout for Lion King, but also sensibly suggested Die Hard too.

Thanks to everybody else who indulged us on Twitter. Next week things should be back to normal with our World Cinema special. Join us then!

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Whine On You Crazy Diamond – Why ratings are a nonsense

Firstly, welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a regular weekly column. I’m a big fan of delusions of grandeur (especially Nicolas Cage’s acting career), and the opportunity to grant myself a weekly editorial has finally proven too much.

I thoroughly enjoy the weekly recording of the Failed Critics Podcasts (so much so that I have started guesting regularly on the Born Offside podcast as well), but those chats are usually focussed on specific films or genres. Sometimes I just want to talk about the film industry, or film criticism, in a more general fashion. I plan to share these thoughts with you here, rather than boring my poor family any more than I already do.

Seriously, at the moment unless I’m talking to my daughter in a ropey (and I think possibly racist) Sebastian from The Little Mermaid  accent, she’s just not interested.

I must also thank @jook from Twitter for coming up with the name for the column – after my rather piss-poor first efforts (that included ‘Diamond in the Rough Cut’ and ‘Bloody Diamond’).

What I want to talk about this week is ratings. Not the kind of ratings that get fantastic shows like Community or Arrested Development  axed (more about those shows on this week’s Failed Critics Review TV Special) – but the stars, marks out-of-ten, and thumbs-up/down that allow lazy/time-pressed readers to quickly decide which films to spend their hard-earned money/download limits on.

What got me thinking about this is a discussion I had with someone online about Looper. I enjoyed the film, and pressed for time and characters online I said I’d give it 8/10. My friend was stunned, and said he thought it was a 6/10 film, or a 7/10 “at a push”. After a little discussion, it appeared that we actually held very similar views – it’s just that, like my favourite teachers at school, I am a more generous marker.

The fact is ratings are almost useless. Not only will the differ from person to person due to the subjective reaction they’ll have to the film, but each critic is also marking from a completely different set of marking criteria – and this is especially true in the brave new world of free online ‘journalism’ where any old chump (such as yours truly) can set themselves up as a film reviewer.

Having spoken to a few of my online colleagues I have discovered vastly different marking criteria used to rate a film. Personally, I operate on a system of awarding 10 at the start of the film, and taking away marks as things annoy, disappoint, and plain disgust me. Just to add a little more complexity to my system, I will only award a film a maximum of 8 out of 10 for execution – a perfect genre piece like Dredd 3D for example did absolutely everything I hoped it would, but I couldn’t award it any more as there was barely a shred of originality to it (which would have lifted it to a possible 9), or that magic, intangible something that makes a film a 10/10 delight (for example Goodfellas is a classic 9/10 for me, while The Godfather just has that something extra that makes it a 10/10).

Other people I have spoken to would regard 6/10 as a pretty good mark – I would regard that as the mark of an exceedingly average film that added nothing new to the canon of cinema and was just about a pleasant-enough distraction for 2 hours. Someone else I spoke to said that there is no such thing as a 10/10 film, as they could only award 10/10 for perfection.

Basically ratings are useless. Even if you haven’t time to read a full review in a rush, without the context of ‘critical baggage’ the number of stars at the end of their considered thoughts might as well be hieroglyphics, or a picture of a badger. If you’ve not got time to read and compare one or two reviews, you’ll probably have more success if you choose a film at random and watch it without reading anyone else’s opinions beforehand. Try it.

What to watch this week:

DVD – Of this week’s new releases I have only seen Dark Shadows which I would urge everyone to avoid at all costs. You can find out why in more detail here. However after a manufacturing error which resulted in all the Blu-rays suffering from viewing problems, you can now find the self-referencing horror homage Cabin in the Woods back on shelves from today.

TV – The Man Who Knew Too Much. Film 4 on Fri 19 Oct at 4.45pm. James Stewart and Doris Day star in Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of an innocent man (surprise, surprise) on the run from mysterious forces. Lovely stuff.

Lovefilm Instant  – Candyman (1992). Recently added to Lovefilm Instant, this tale of the vengeful spirit of a former slave brutally murdering the residents of a Chicago housing project is the perfect warm-up for the release this week of Paranormal Activity 4, and the slew of horror films that will be filling our screens for the next fortnight. Go on, say Candyman five times in the nearest mirror*

*Failed Critics will not be held responsible for the appearance of supernatural killers, or your subsequent wrongful arrest for their crimes.

Netflix UK – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Relatively new to the UK catalogue, this is the archetypal ‘film of two halves’. Robert Rodriguez directs a ‘fresh-from ER’ George Clooney alongside Harvey Keitel, Julliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, and Quentin Tarantino. One part frontier heist-gone-wrong film, one part blood-soaked Vampire apocalypse film.