Tag Archives: Werner Herzog

Failed Critics Podcast: Winterval Special 2015

gremlins

Ding dong, merrily on high – Steve’s pants are wet and minging.

Don’t worry. He just got a bit over-excited on last week’s Star Wars podcast. But before Steve worked himself up into that state, you can listen to his usual mildly-subdued-self as he hosted our Christmas special podcast, recorded the week before he exploded in a fit of fan-geekery over The Force Awakens.

Joining him in our festive celebrations during this most unholy Winterval and non-religion-specific season are Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank. As is tradition, we start off with a Christmassy quiz – quite possibly the worst quiz we’ve had on the podcast all year. Possibly ever. But moods are soon lifted as the team run through which Christmas movies they’ve been watching over the holiday period.

In lieu of any main releases to talk about, we have a special triple bill where each member of the crew pick their films of Christmas past (favourite first watch of a non-2015 film during this year), Christmas present (favourite 2015 release) and Christmas future (which movie they’re most looking forward to in 2016). It really isn’t as confusing as I’ve made it sound.

There’s still one more podcast to go this year – our Failed Critics Awards end of year wrap up (deadline for votes is 27th Dec) – so you can join us again later this month. Until then, Merry Christmas from all of us here at Failed Critics!

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

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

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

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

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

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

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


Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 July 2015

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

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


Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 July 2015

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

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


Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 July 2015

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

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


Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 July 2015

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

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


Week 5 – Monday 27 – Friday 31 July 2015

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

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


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

Failed Critics Podcast: Ant-Man

ant man 1Welcome one and all to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are this week joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne to review big-budget pint-sized Marvel superhero movie Ant-Man! There’s both a spoiler-free discussion on the film and a return of our ‘spoiler alert’ right after the end credits where we go into more specific details.

Also featured on this week’s podcast: Owen discusses the 1970’s Werner Herzog movie Stroszek; Brooker finally manages to get his hands on The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds; Matt is back to say a few things to say about Terminator Genisys; and Steve puts him through the Danny Dyer film The Other Half ….with very good reason!

There’s even time for the group to mull over the Attack On Titan trailer, talk about our latest celeb Twitter follower after the very first Failed Critics meet up and we “react” to the as yet unreleased Spectre trailer.

Join us again next week for the return of our TV Special in honour of the biggest new release this week. No, not Southpaw. No, not Inside Out either. No, not even Maggie.

“Oh no. Oh Hell no! Surely you don’t mean… it’s not….. it can’t be… no way….??”

Yes way. It’s the eagerly anticipated release of Sharknado 3!

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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!

Life Itself

Life Itself is a beautiful love letter to, well, life itself.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

life itself 2Full Disclosure: I owe Roger Ebert pretty much everything.  If it weren’t for him, I would more than likely not be sat here right now talking to you – through the medium of text – about movies.  I was about 10/11 years old when, one random day, I stumbled upon the now defunct At The Movies website.  I don’t quite remember what brought me there, but I remember the site housing an archive of nearly every single review that the show had broadcast in the 15 or so years that that particular version had existed.  I also distinctly remember losing many days after school to that archive.

As a child, I had a fondness for film but a majorly strong one.  I mean, how could I really?  I was a kid and hadn’t yet figured out what exactly I was interested in, besides videogames and cartoons (not much changes, I know).  Ebert was one of the first to really change that in me.  The way that At The Movies was structured and presented, mixing the formal with the casual near-effortlessly, hooked my attention and seeing Ebert and Gene Siskel – and, eventually, Richard Roeper – trade strong opinions about a medium I didn’t realise meant so much set off some kind of light bulb in my head.  “These people get paid to talk about movies!”

This is not to discount Ebert’s written work, of course.  The man had a way with words that managed to convey this wonder about films that I had previously never heard of or would not normally have sought out, and made them things I needed to see or avoid.  He was able to do this for 10 Year-Old Me, reading articles and reviews intended for an audience way older than I at the time; a testament to the sheer power he had with words, both written and spoken.  His was the voice that pushed me a bit deeper into the world of film and his was the first voice to awaken a desire in me to try writing critically.  His influence is so great in me that I can’t imagine a version of me that made it to this point without that initial tangible moment as a kid.

When I heard the news of his passing on April 5th of 2013, via Twitter as is so often the case nowadays, I closed the door of the bedroom of my house – to ensure that none of my family members could come in and ruin the moment with their casual insensitivity – and I cried.  I cried for a good 5 minutes and I was miserable for a good hour or so afterwards.  Roger Ebert was a goddamn hero to me and the loss of his life hurt like nothing else had hurt me before.  After wallowing for a while, however, I chose to watch a film.  In my mind, that was the only true way to react to the news, to re-immerse myself in the medium that had inspired him in the way that he inspired me.

I ended up watch The Fast And The Furious, in my attempts to get caught up in time for Furious 6Apparently the man would have approved.

Now, before you ask, yes, there is a reason why I told you all this.  Personal bias disclosure is only one of them.  I wanted to get across why a documentary about Roger Ebert cannot solely be about Roger Ebert.  The reason why he was so beloved, why he remained at the forefront of film criticism right up until his death, and why his passing was mourned by so many is because of the different ways he affected us, the people who paid witness to his various works.  To make a documentary solely focussed on Roger Ebert, one that looks purely at his life, his accomplishments and legacy in a dry, laser-focussed way that leaves “Roger Ebert was a swell guy” as the sole thematic thread for proceedings, would be to do the man a disservice and to misrepresent precisely why he was so important.

Life Itself, then, doesn’t do that.  Its director, Steve James – whose 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams was fiercely championed by Ebert throughout his life – recognises the futility of such an endeavour.  Instead, Life Itself is a documentary about love, life, sickness, death, film, culture, television, art, relationships, and so much more with Ebert himself as the focal point around whom the film pivots.  This is not just a film about Roger Ebert, although he is its central figure, and that is the thing’s stroke of genius.  This is the kind of film, I firmly believe, that really does have something for everyone, where anyone can view it regardless of their preferences or prior knowledge on the subject and get something strong and something different out of it.

On the surface level, as a documentary about the life and times of noted film critic Roger Ebert, it more than does its job.  As expected, James interviews a whole bunch of people that Ebert had a strong connection with – from colleagues at The Chicago Sun Times, to filmmakers, to his wife Chaz, to the owner of a bar that Ebert would frequent in his early days – and the film goes into varying amounts of detail on the things worth noting about the man – At The Movies, his relationship with Gene Siskel, the time he wrote Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls for Russ Meyer.  All very standard and how you do.

What sets it apart is the presentation.  I’m not referring to the visual style – talking heads, file footage, a very good impression of Ebert by Steven Stanton who quotes from Ebert’s memoir frequently – I’m talking more about the tone, the mood.  This is a joyous film, a celebratory film, and that infectious spirit and energy fuels the film for its two hour runtime.  It’s not a hagiography, and it’s not free of heartbreak and scenes of great sadness, but that celebratory nature underlines the effect its subject had on those who came across his work and adds up to this genuinely inspirational aura that emanates from it.  I had a great big smile on my face for the vast majority of the length of this film, and learnt a tonne about the man and what made him tick, too – specifically the lengthy segment dedicated to his yearly patronage to the Conference Of World Affairs.

But, as previously mentioned, Life Itself is not just about what Ebert has done.  It’s also just as much about the impact he had on those he interacted with, and the film touches on these in a number of small-scale case studies.  Martin Scorsese relates just how important Ebert’s first review of Who’s That Knocking At My Door? was to him, Ramin Bahrani goes into detail about his friendship with Ebert and how vital that was in aiding his career artistically, Werner Herzog explains why Ebert is the only person he has dedicated a film to.  It would have been easy to go wide with this, to look at his influence on a wider scale and interview tonnes of people with their own short little stories, but that would downplay the human element and the fact that the film minimises the number of these stories – and giving the ones that do come up time to breathe – makes them connect that much more strongly.

Then, of course, there is his relationship with Gene Siskel, which provides its own narrative and thematic thread – one of rivalries and friendships.  Seeing the beginnings of their relationship, their simmering contempt for one another, and watching it defrost and blossom into this competitive yet friendly rivalry where begrudging respect gives way to playful teasing is a genuinely joyful thing to behold.  The way it contrasts a set of outtakes from an earlier episode of their show – where their bickering is very much mean-spirited and openly-hostile – with a later episode of their show – lighter, more tongue-in-cheek, affectionate – is masterful.  Even those who aren’t already familiar with their dynamic should be clued in with exactly how close their bond ended up by the time that the film has to address Siskel’s untimely passing.

Which brings me to the film’s focus on sickness and death.  The mostly chronological telling of Roger’s life is infrequently broken up by scenes shot with Roger in the hospital just a few months before his death, and Life Itself does not pull a single one of its punches here.  Quite simply, a hell of a lot of this footage is excruciatingly hard to watch as Ebert – without a lower jaw, surgically removed to help slow down the spread of his cancer, and the ability to speak – soldiers on towards a death he knows is coming, although unsure of exactly when, and of which he is powerless to do anything to stop.

These scenes are brutal, especially the further into the documentary we get as even Roger Ebert fails to muster up the energy required to put on a brave face for the camera the worse his condition gets.  Yet, they represent an incredibly frank and truthful look at the process of sickness and slow debilitating death.  Heartbreakingly miserable one minute, uncomfortably hard-to-experience the next, surprisingly funny every so often.  In one of the film’s stand-out scenes, Ebert has Steve James film the process that he has to go through to ingest food and water.  It legitimately affected me in this deep, personal way – seeing somebody I look up to and respect the hell out of in this vulnerable reliant state dredged up memories of seeing my Granddad in hospital before he finally succumbed to cancer – but Ebert is the very first to lighten the mood, almost proudly declaring that they have filmed something that nobody else has likely ever filmed before.

I spent at least the last half hour of Life Itself in near-non-stop floods of tears of various kinds.  When I noted that the film doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to depicting Ebert’s final few days, I damn well meant it.  Seeing the last of his resolve fade away, so soon after the film had covered Gene Siskel’s death, really hit home for me.  But it is not manipulative, or exploitative, or anything that connotes poor taste.  What it is is honest.  It is honest and genuine in a way that I have yet to experience from any other movie that I can recall.  And yes, part of that is due to my prior stated admiration for Ebert and part of that is due to my own personal baggage, but for a film to so masterfully and so frankly look at death in a way that brings up my personal baggage without it feeling crass astounds me.  In a good way.  It’s genuine and it provides a fine compliment and counterpoint to the celebration of life that fuels the rest of the film.

No film this year has touched me, affected me, and spoken to me in the same way, the same style, or the same quality as Life Itself has managed to.  This is one of those films that can offer something for pretty much everyone, even though its appearance seems like it will only appeal to a hyper-specific group.  It is a celebration of life, an honest look at death, a punishing look at sickness, an uplifting look at the effect that one person can have on those who interact with him directly or indirectly, an inspirational reminder of the power of film, and a fitting tribute to one of the most important men in film criticism.

It is all of those things but it is also, for me, an intensely personal document of the things I love, the people I aspire to be even a hundredth as good as, the things and concepts that terrify me most in life, and a pure shot of feel-good inspiration.  Life Itself is an indescribably beautiful film that speaks to me in a way that few films do.  Everybody should see it immediately.

Life Itself is available to buy and rent on iTunes.  It will be released on DVD on February 23rd 2015.

Callum Petch lived for a year, in a bed by the window.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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.

The Greatest Documentaries of All Time – A Rebuttal

On Friday 1st August 2014, Sight & Sound revealed the winner of their Greatest Documentaries of All Time poll. It was the 1929 silent documentary from the USSR, Man With A Movie Camera. Paul, making his debut on Failed Critics, has some choice words to say about a number of the inclusions in their top 10 list and picks the films that should be there instead. None of which feature potatoes.

by Paul Field (@pafster)

There’s a list of the best documentaries ever made knocking about, published by Sight & Sound. For those that don’t know, it’s a monthly publication about film (not films, or movies mind, it’s definitely film). The list has been compiled by 237 critics, curators and academics. Of course it has. If ever there was a self-aggrandizing pissing contest of a list, “no, I adore the 46 second 1895 classic, ‘La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon’“. I bet they don’t you know, they just want their peers to think that they do.

I even gave some of the ones I’d not seen a watch. My favourite was The Gleaners & I, an experimental (uh oh) French documentary about potatoes, old fridges, weird animal animations and some avant-garde jazz. A poorly made mess that has nothing to say and is quite frankly a pile of shit, yet is lovingly gushed over by these clowns – sorry, curators and critics. At one point, I went to watch another of the titles, only to discover a run-time of over 10 hours. TEN HOURS!

As a list of documentaries that have historical significance, sure, fill ya boots, but that these are the ‘best’ documentaries ever made is absurd. There’s only a few of their picks I’d include. So, whilst I theatrically stick a middle finger up at their effort, here’s a far more friendly and accessible list: lunatics, love, sex, crime, douche bags, heroes and freaks abound in these films. If you’re looking for footage of a lens cap swinging in the breeze set to jazz? Move on, this wont be for you.

10. Capturing The Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki) 2003

Jarecki set out to make a film about children’s entertainers and it turned into something very, very different. Who do you believe? Sinister, revelatory and downright shocking.

american movie9. American Movie (Chris Smith) 1999

Laugh and cry your way through Mark Borchardt and his merry band of inept friends attempting to make a movie, in what is one of the finest ‘car-crash’ documentaries ever made.

8. Winnebago Man (Ben Steinbauer) 2009

Jack fucking Rebney, fucking swears like fuckery. Watch Steinbauer track down the man behind the Winnebago sales video outtakes that started life being passed around on VHS.

7. The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield) 2012

More rubber necking a car crash as we spend time with Jackie Siegel as she attempts to build the world’s biggest (and most vulgar) house. It’s all going so well until the financial crisis hits (although their idea of cutting back and ours… not quite the same thing and will make your blood boil over even more).

6. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) 2005

Werner Herzog, you crazy loveable fool you. Here he documents bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, a man who believed Bears trusted him and he could approach and touch them. See how that works out for him…

5. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris) 1988tabloid

This is the only entry that features on the top 10 of both lists. Errol Morris changed the way investigative documentaries are made. People talk about influential or important, this paved the way to save lives.

4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon) 2007

You might think this is about a rivalry over Donkey Kong (a 1980’s video game), but it’s not, it’s about what is the biggest douche bag ever committed to celluloid. Fist chewing cringe overload of the finest order.

3. Tabloid (Errol Morris) 2010

Joyce McKinney and the Mormon in Chains, it’s so completely batshit crazy, that you’ll be struggling to believe this really happened. Just when you think it can’t get any stranger…. It does.

2. The English Surgeon (Geoffrey Smith) 2009

The heart-warming, heartbreaking and utterly wonderful tale of English Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, as he spends his free time travelling to and helping patients in the Ukraine. A proper tear jerker is this, no chance of a dry eye in the house.

image02

1. Paradise Lost 1996, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations 2000, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory 2011, (Berlinger & Sinofsky)

The West Memphis Three case, covered by three investigative docs by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, over a period of 16 years. The journey (and trust me, this is a journey) that Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley take is tragic, terrifying and utterly compelling viewing that should be seen by everyone.

So there we have it, that list will make you laugh and cry and doesn’t feature potatoes, trust me, unless you’re a curator then you’re balls deep in a 1934 Russian experimental mining documentary and don’t care anyway.

Addendum:

Honourable mentions here of those that missed the cut, but are absolutely worth your time and any and all could appear in that top 10. Great Hip Hop Hoax, I Think We’re Alone Now, TalhotBlond, Hell House, Project Nim, Searching for Sugarman, Bronies: The Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, F*CK, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Shooting Bigfoot, 101, Cleanflix, The Cove, Gasland.

You can find the full Sight & Sound list here and see just what got Paul quite so worked up exactly. 

Failed Critics Podcast: Thor 2, Philomena, and liking scary movies

Thor 2 The Dark World Chris HemsworthAfter a long break during which some of us watched a lot more films than others, we’re back with a belated Halloween special, as well as reviews of Philomena, Bad Grandpa, and Thor: The Dark World (with the inevitable return of Spoiler Alert).

Joining us this week for his pod debut is Matt Lambourne, providing us with a fresh perspective and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Jackass films. Don;t worry though, we’re not forgetting our pretentious cinematistas, as Owen and James discuss the 1922 Danish silent horror documentary Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages and Werner Herzog’s retelling of Nosferatu.

Join us next week for our long-awaited Gravity review.

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A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1972

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 the highest grossing film star of all time made his debut (it’s Samuel L Jackson, of course), the porno Deep Throat was the sixth biggest hit of the year, and Pong became the first ever commercially successful video game (thanks, Wikipedia!)

5. Solaris

Solaris 1972“Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit. “

I first read about Solaris in a book called Why Aren’t They Here? by Surendra Verma, which primarily explores (amongst other theories) the Fermi paradox. Put simply, if intelligent alien civilizations exist, and the universe is as vast as we think it is, then why haven’t they made contact with us yet? One of the many possible answers for this could be that we have no way of communicating with them, even if it were physically possible to meet them. A famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once proposed that “if a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand it”. What he means is, even if an animal could physically speak a language to us, our points of reference would be so far apart, it would just be gibberish. We wouldn’t be able to understand a word that lion said, much less recognise it was attempting communication.

What does this have to do with Solaris? Well Andrei Tarkovsky‘s enormously important Russian sci-fi film, based on a Polish novel of the same name, is about this giant, living, liquid planet that attempts to communicate with the humans that are trying to study it. Ultimately, as Wittgenstein predicted, it’s impossible for them to fully understand each other. It’s a story of love and loss that explores the depths of the human mind/imagination with some thought provoking imagery and mind-meltingly complex ideas.

I have to admit, Solaris is mostly on this list out of respect for what it achieved and for the concept behind it. I like to think I can occasionally watch these long, slow, art-house films and enjoy them. Truth is, I found Solaris a really difficult film to watch. Patience is a virtue supposedly, but when you’re watching a film where (for what seems like an eternity) all you’re watching is nothing more than a camera attached to the front of a car as it travels down a motorway, you kind of forget that! I think a lot of the more artistic visual elements of the film went over my head somewhat. However, rarely do you see such an intelligent and thought provoking sci-fi film that I think it can just about nudge blaxploitation horror picture ‘Blacula’ out of my top 5 films for 1972.

4. Fist of Fury

Fist of Fury Bruce Lee“Whenever you’re ready, I’ll take on any Japanese here.”

Whether you accept that there are 4 or 5 full feature films, and whichever film of those is your favourite, one thing that seems to be universally acknowledged is that Bruce Lee was an icon of early 70’s cinema. His legacy has endured over the decades, influencing film writers, directors and stars. He made Asian cinema (or at least Kung-Fu films) the phenomena it is in the West. I don’t need to go on about this. I’m not the first to point this out, I won’t be the last, nor am I the most qualified!

What I love most about talking to people about Bruce Lee’s films is everyone seems to have taken away something different from his movies. I watched Fist of Fury, Enter The Dragon and The Big Boss when I was a young teenager, first getting into movies. Before then, he was just someone I knew from the poster my artistically talented uncle had drawn. There was something about that image of Lee (which looked a little bit like this) that drew me in. He just looked so cool in that poster and the young impressionable me wanted to see just how cool he actually was. As I watched those films (and as I got older Game of Death and Way of the Dragon too) I realised how cool he actually was. Answer: very.

Despite being his second major film, and also starring as Kato in his own TV show, Green Hornet, (including cameo’s in the Adam West Batman series) it was Fist of Fury that launched him into movie superstardom. It’s a simple mystery plot in which Lee is subjected to bigotry and prejudice by the Japanese. It’s not the plot that made the film so endurable. It’s Lee. It’s the cool one liners he delivers mixed with the impressive action/fight sequences that he choreographed himself. It’s that recognisable shriek as he kicks someone in the gut, dispatching baddies with one blow. It’s the character of Chen and how nobody other than Lee could’ve played him in the same way. It’s quite simply an excellent kung-fu film that any fan of the genre should watch and adore.

3. Deliverance

deliverance burt reynolds“Goddamn, you play a mean banjo!”

If there’s one thing writing these Decade in Film articles are good for, then it’s for forcing me to finally get around to watching some classic films. The flip side to that is films I really love and originally included in my top 5 have to make way for films that, as it turns out, are just undeniably better. Take, for example, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is now losing out on a top 5 ranking position thanks to John Boorman’s Oscar nominated film about 4 guys who go on a trip down the Cahulawasse river in the arse end of the American south that they won’t forget.

Until this week, I’d only ever seen clips of Deliverance. Hell, I could even play part of the duelling banjos song on my guitar despite never having watched the whole of the film! Now that I have seen it, as Matt Lambourne so accurately predicted would happen, I now “understand a number of long-standing cultural references towards it that may have gone over my head before”. It is so influential on other survival films.

I love Burt Reynolds anyway, and even without his moustache, he was still awesome here. He has all the best lines, looks the most bad-ass and has probably the most interesting character too. Although John Voight may have something to say about that; he also has a very interesting character. There’s a lot that makes this film memorable, from the “skweeee” scene, to the fantastic soundtrack. Don’t be like me. If you get the chance to watch Deliverance, do it!

2. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

aguirre“I, the wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I’ll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen.”

I don’t have much knowledge of the Spanish conquistadores beyond what is taught at a very basic level at school and what the BBC kids sketch show Horrible Histories has educated me in! So what struck me most in Werner Herzog’s tale of the notorious Don Aguirre and his quest for the mysterious cities of gold (dododo do doo doo, aaahhh) was how real the film felt. I can only liken it to something like the David Simon HBO TV series, The Wire (bear with me here…) It’s a culture and a place I have virtually zero experience or knowledge of beyond fictional representations through TV and film etc, yet the world they have created is so utterly believable that I never question it. I accept that it is mostly likely exactly how these people lived, how their journey unfolded, how the jungle and the river sounded, how it looked, etc.

The title character, Aguirre (played sublimely by Klaus Kinski,) is incredible and it’s not difficult to believe he was as “mad” as he is portrayed as being here. He’s a constant and menacing presence throughout the whole film. The way the film is shot is almost like Aguirre is breathing down your neck, watching your every move, and it’s very uncomfortable. Effective! But uncomfortable.

One other thing I loved about this film (there are much better parts of the film involving all manner of themes about betrayal, love, history, slavery and all that jazz, but something that stood out for me) was the music! I loved that bloke playing the pan-pipes. That tune he whistles is infectious. The whole film is superb though and fully deserves to be on this list.

1. The Godfather

The Godfather“Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?”

The Godfather. Of course, The Godfather. What else but The Godfather? It had to be The Godfather. A film so critically and commercially successful that only the insane would leave it off a list of their favourite films from 1972, never mind not have it as first choice. I mean, come on. As enjoyable as the British horror film ‘The Asphyx‘ starring Robert Powell is, or as deeply disturbing as Wes Craven’s directorial debut ‘The Last House on the Left‘ is, there’s no way any film was going to top Francis Ford Coppola‘s masterpiece.

From the very first scene to the last, The Godfather is undeniably a fantastic example of film making. The swagger that all the characters carry with them, thanks mostly the faultless performances of some unbelievably well written characters by absolutely everyone involved, makes the film feel so real. It’s a tragic story about the collapse of man, the sense of being trapped in a “family” that you can not escape, a destiny that you are doomed to, but at the heart of it is this ideal of love and togetherness.

There are massively conflicting emotions you get from the film, things you know that are not right, but you can’t help it anyway; wanting characters like Don Corleone to recover, to improve, to do well, despite knowing that he is exactly the sort of person that you hope you never have to encounter in your life, is testament to the creativity that has gone into creating this iconic character from the make up, to the costume, the setting, the direction and least of all the acting. It’s a breathtaking performance from Superman’s dad and Oscar winner Marlon Brando, which is rightly regarded as one of the absolute best in cinematic history.

I’m not sure I can actually say all that much else about it that hasn’t been uttered a million times before by people able to put into words their thoughts much more eloquently than I could, so I’ll cut my review short right here. But suffice to say, it’s a film that is timeless and a classic for a reason.

You can read Owen’s choices for 1971 here, and find the entire Decade in film series here.

Failed Critics Podcast: Les Miserables

Do you hear the critics sing?

Podding the thoughts of angry men,

They are the musings of a people who won’t watch Rock of Ages again,

When the bleating of the fool,

Echoes the bleating of the drunk,

There is podcast about to start when tomorrow comes!

That’s right, James has finally managed to persuade the critics back into the cinema to see another musical, and hopefully this time they won’t want to kill him afterwards. Also on our big return we review new releases Gangster Squad, The Sessions, The Impossible, and Quartet.

Join us next week as we review Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The D is silent, the podcast won’t be…

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

New Release: Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher Tom CruiseBefore I review the film, I feel like I need to address the controversy regarding the casting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. Clearly fans of the novels are loyal and passionate people, and many were up in arms at the prospect of ‘short-arse’ Tom Cruise playing the man-mountain Jack Reacher. Someone even hysterically told me that it was the same as Whoopi Goldberg being cast as Harry Potter. Well, apart from the fact that it was an American action star being cast as an American man in an action film.

But Cruise isn’t tall enough, they cry. And? I read a brilliant point on a forum I frequent where someone quite reasonably asked if there was a major plot-point where Jack had to reach something on a very high shelf. Lee Child likely wrote that Reacher was 6’5” as literary short-hand for being physically menacing. Luckily, in films, we don’t need words to paint a picture; the director can just paint a picture instead. And the picture that Christopher McQuarrie paints with his Tom Cruise-shaped oil and canvas is one of a physically imposing man who doesn’t give a solitary shit whether you think he should be six feet tall.

As for the film, it’s a grizzled action-thriller that could have come straight out of the nineties. And, as such, it’s quite a rare and entertaining thing indeed. The plot concerns an apparently open-and-shut case involving a former military sniper killing five people and refusing to talk to the police other than to call for Jack Reacher. Reacher is an one man A-Team, a soldier of fortune who drifts from town to town using public transport. Hopefully the next film sees him tackling someone playing dubstep through their tinny phone speakers. Basically if you’re in trouble, and no-one else can help you, and you can find him…

Well, you know the score.

Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins provide perfectly capable support as the inevitable love interest/defence lawyer and her District Attorney father. Werner Herzog shows up in a rare screen performance as the antagonist, and his voice steals every scene it is in. I would pay good money for an audio book of ghost stories read by Herzog. In fact I’d pay good money to hear Herzog read aloud the Facebook terms and conditions.

Back to Cruise and his apparent inability to play the unstoppable force of Jack Reacher. I haven’t read the original books, so I’m not sure if the main problem I had with the film is the fault of the source material or the adaptation. Jack Reacher is presented as one of the smartest and toughest men on the planet, and he’s also an expert marksmen and incredible driver. At no point in the film is he in anything more than the mildest of peril and, because of this, the film lacks tension and urgency, especially in the final third of a pretty long film. Even James Bond has to escape capture now and again, and he often has to use an inflatable helicopter with a laser-sighted staplegun or some such to facilitate it. Reacher just solves mysteries with the ease of Sherlock Holmes while kicking ass like Jean-Claude Van Damme. It all seems a little too easy. He doesn’t even need a notebook for fuck’s sake.

I know some Lee Child fans will hate me for this, but the characterisation and some of the plotting of Jack Reacher was pretty predictable and clichéd, and it was only the charisma of Cruise, and particularly Herzog, plus the stylish direction of McQuarrie that made it such fun.