The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Alan Parker (1944-2020)

So, 2020 continues its relentless campaign of awfulness with the death of Sir Alan Parker. The double Oscar-nominated director passed away on July 31st, at the age of 76.

Born in Islington, London, Parker began his career as a copywriter for an advertising agency- Collet Dickinson Pearce (CDP), before going on to write and direct commercials. He was responsible for an iconic series of adverts for Cinzano vermouth, starring Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter. Encouraged by his colleagues David Puttnam and Charles Saatchi- who were planning on going into films- Parker wrote his first screenplay, a romantic comedy-drama called Melody (1971) which was directed by Waris Hussein and starred Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, and Jack Wild. He directed a small second-unit sequence for the film, which is included in the final version. Whilst the film wasn't a huge hit in the UK, it found a market in Japan. 

After directing a couple of shorts and a TV movie (The Evacuees) for which he won a BAFTA TV Award, Parker made his feature film debut with the rambunctious, genre-blending musical-comedy-mob-movie Bugsy Malone (1976). Based on stories he would tell his children on long car journeys, Parker also wrote the screenplay and took his son's suggestion that the heroes should all be children. Starring Scott Baio in the lead role, with support by John Cassisi as mob boss Fat Sam, and Jodie Foster as seductive gangster's moll Tallulah, it's an unbridled joy, with the violence replaced by "splurge guns" and custard pies and a couple of musical numbers that have now become standards. 

How do you follow a glitzy musical with a cast of children? Well, if you're Parker, your second feature film is the gritty biographical crime drama Midnight Express (1978). Based on a memoir by Billy Hayes- an American college student caught and sentenced to four years in a Turkish prison for drug smuggling- it's a world away from the splurge gun shenanigans of Bugsy Malone. Dark, violent, and uncompromising, the film stars Brad Davis as Hayes, with support by Randy Quaid, Paul Smith, and John Hurt (who would receive his first Oscar nomination for his performance as Max). On its initial release, it would often be shown in a double-bill with Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival, the film would go on to be nominated for six BAFTAS (winning three, including Best Director), eight Golden Globes (winning six), and six Oscars- including the first Best Director nod for Parker. Ultimately, the film won two Academy Awards- Best Adapted Screenplay for Oliver Stone's script, and Best Original Score for Giorgio Moroder's totally synthesised score.

Parker returned to the musical for his next film, Fame (1980). The story of eight students at the New York City High School For The Performing Arts, it's become known for its titular song (belted by Irene Cara), a lot of legwarmers, and has also been adapted for a stage musical. Following this, he directed Shoot The Moon (1982), a drama starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton as a husband and wife whose marriage dissolves when the husband leaves for a younger woman. In 1982, he directed Pink Floyd: The Wall (based on the band's 1979 concept album of the same name). Parker originally intended to only produce the film but stepped in to direct the live-action segments when original director Michael Seresin and animation director Gerald Scarfe couldn't come up with a cohesive vision for the film. A fractious working relationship with Roger Waters soured the experience, with Parker later calling the film "the most expensive student film ever made."

In 1983, Parker was instrumental in setting up the Directors Guild Of Great Britain (which sadly closed in 2015). In 1984, he directed Birdy, a drama about two friends returning from the Vietnam War, which starred Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine. Nominated for the Palme d'Or, it also won the Grand Prix Special du Jury at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. This was followed up by the psychological horror thriller Angel Heart (1987), in which a New York private detective (Mickey Rourke) takes a missing persons case from a mysterious benefactor (Robert De Niro) which turns his life into a living hell... A gothic pot-boiler which telegraphs its twist from the very beginning- Louis Cyphre? Really?- it's nonetheless an interesting entry into what was already an eclectic career. 

Parker's next film was Mississippi Burning (1988). Based on a real-life case where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964, this weighty crime thriller stars Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as the two FBI Agents sent to investigate their disappearance. With a sterling supporting cast, including Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Michael Rooker, Kevin Dunn, and Frances McDormand, the film is gripping and (sadly) still relevant. At the 1989 Oscars, the film was nominated for seven awards- including Best Actor for Hackman, Best Supporting Actress for McDormand, and Best Director for Parker (his second nod)- and won one, for Peter Biziou's cinematography. 

Parker began the 1990s by directing Come See The Paradise, a war drama which focused on the internment of Asian-Americans in prison camps after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Starring Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita, it has been described as "the most deliberate example of Oscar-bait" in a study by sociologists from UCLA. Despite making no impact on the Academy, it was still nominated for the Palme d'Or (his fifth and final nomination). 

His next film- The Commitments (1991)- was much better received by audiences and critics alike. The raucous tale of the rise and fall of a Dublin soul band (based on a novel by Roddy Doyle), it stars Colm Meaney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Bronagh Gallagher, and Andrew Strong, and its amazing music - including "Try A Little Tenderness", "Take Me To The River", and "Mustang Sally"- ranks amongst the very best movie soundtracks. Following The Commitments was The Road To Wellville (1994)- another literary adaptation (this one based on a novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle)- about the health facility run by the eccentric Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (played superbly by Anthony Hopkins; yes, it is the same Kellogg as the cornflakes). 

In 1996, Parker went from a sanitarium in Michigan to the streets of Buenos Aires when he directed the big-screen adaptation of Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical about the life of Argentinian First Lady  Eva Perón. An adaptation of the musical had been mooted since 1977 with various names attached or considered at various points for the main roles of Eva, her husband Juan, and Che (the narrator) including Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Raul Julia, John Travolta, and Patrick Swayze. The roles were taken by Madonna, Jonathan Pryce, and Antonio Banderas respectively. In all honesty, Madonna's previous filmography was what might be generously called a little patchy; here, she absolutely excels as Eva and (rightly) won the Best Actress Golden Globe for her turn. Pryce gives a wonderfully solid turn as Perón, whilst Banderas gives fire and passion to Che. Filming took place in Argentina: the production was even given permission from then-President Carlos Menem to use the balcony of the Casa Rosada for the iconic "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" sequence. Paying tribute to Parker, Lloyd Webber described him as "one of the few directors to truly understand musicals on screen” and Evita is a shining example of that. 

In 1998, Parker was made Chairman of the Board of Governors of the British Film Institue (BFI) and was announced as the first Chairman of the UK Film Council- a body formed to distributed lottery money to the newly resurgent British film industry- in 1999 (the UK Film Council would be abolished in 2010 in what Parker described as "a petulant, political act"). He closed the 1990s with another literary adaptation- Angela's Ashes (1999), based on Frank McCourt's memoir, and starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle as Frank's parents. 

As the new millennium dawned, Parker stood down as Chairman of the BFI but continued his work with the UK Film Council, and received a knighthood for services to the film industry in the 2002 New Years Honours. His final film as director came in 2003 with The Life Of David Gale. Starring Kevin Spacey as an anti-death-penalty activist condemned to death for the murder of a fellow activist, Laura Linney as his ill-fated colleague, and Kate Winslet as the investigative journalist who attends Gale during his final days, it's a well-meaning but utterly stodgy and unsubtle meditation on capital punishment which hinges on a very morally suspect act, and failed to set the box-office or the critics alight- Roger Ebert famously gave it zero stars, stating "The last shot made me want to throw something at the screen".

When awarded the BAFTA Fellowship in 2013 (essentially the British Academy's lifetime achievement award), he discussed directing, saying that "as I get older, the attraction of being up to my knees in Mississippi mud is growing less and less. Film-making is a physically hard job... That isn’t the kind of life I want any more.Having said that, I truly miss the cameraderie of the film set. A lot of directors prefer the solitude of the editing process, but I revel in the craziness of what a film set is. I do miss that." At the time, he didn't see the BAFTA Fellowship as a metaphorical carriage clock (essentially a "thank-you-for-all-your-hard-work-and-goodbye") stating that " Scorsese got it last year, but I don’t think he’s out of work”.

Two years later, Parker announced his retirement from directing. During a masterclass at the 2015 Bari International Film Festival, he said: “Directors do not improve with age: they repeat themselves, and while there are exceptions, their work generally does not get any better. This is the reason why I have decided not to make any more films.” However, in a 2017 interview with The Observer, Parker was more direct, claiming an argument with a friend over funding was the catalyst: "Fighting for the films and punch-ups with money men had become my default mechanism and I didn’t like that. I pulled the plug on the project and on my career.” In 2015, he donated his personal archive- some 70 boxes of documents covering nearly half a century of film-making, to the BFI's archive in Berkhamstead. 

After giving up directing, Parker focused on painting, holding his first major exhibition in 2017. 

In terms of unmade films, Parker said he had one regret, which was not getting a film version of Willy Russell's musical Blood Brothers made; negotiations with money men went nowhere, apparently. During his masterclass at the Bari International Film Festival, he said that he'd been offered the chance to direct a Harry Potter film but turned it down, saying. “I didn’t like it, I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t interested in it”. Had he assayed the fantasy world of Hogwarts, I have no doubt he would have produced something remarkable and very different. 

Parker has been described as "a chameleon" who "never made the same film twice". It is difficult to think of another filmmaker who has had such a varied and eclectic filmography, tackling different genres and styles with a seeming grace and ease. 

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

News From Comic-Con 2020

This year's Geek Mecca- a.k.a. San Diego Comic-Con- was (unsurprisingly) cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, they decided to move it online for Comic-Con@Home which ran from July 22-26. Over 350 panels, covering TV, film, and comic-books, took place over the five-day convention, with many still available to watch online.

Some highlights of the event included a panel on how the seventh season finale of The Blacklist was partially animated due to filming being shut down; an interesting discussion on why horror is (and always has been) a Queer space; An Evening with Kevin Smith; and a panel celebrating fifteen years since the release of Constantine (starring Keanu Reeves as the titular Hellblazer), which saw Reeves joining director Francis Lawrence and produer Akiva Goldsman to discuss the film and an intended sequel that was, sadly, never made.

With a lot of major film franchises not present at the event, the news coming out of Comic-Con this year might seem a little sparse, but there was still a lot of interesting stuff to whet our appetites for the rest of the year and into 2021.

The New Mutants

Given the utter saga it's taken to get this film finished, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it would just limply drop on a streaming service, especially given the coronavirus situation. Not so. As of time of writing, the film is still set for a cinema release on August 28th and director Josh Boone has pretty much said he doesn't care how the film gets released, just that it does. During the panel, the opening scene of the film was shown and it's...  interesting.

What's even more interesting is that, prior to Disney's acquisition of Fox's film assets (which includes X-Men), this was going to be the first in a trilogy of films. Had the sequels come to fruition, the characters of Warlock and Karma would have been introduced, and the "Inferno" storyline- which sees a demonic invasion of Earth- would have been adapted.

Jurassic World: Dominion

Having recently started filming again at Pinewood Studios, director Colin Trevorrow announced in the "Directors on Directing" panel that Jurassic World: Dominion would go back to using animatronic dinosaurs (used extensively in the original Jurassic Park trilogy) rather than relying on CGI and visual effects.

Trevorrow stated that “We’ve actually gone more practical with every Jurassic movie we’ve made since the first one, and we’ve made more animatronics in this one than we have in the previous two".

Bill & Ted Face The Music

Not only was a new trailer shown for the third Bill & Ted movie, it was announced that- due to the current state of things- the film would open simultaneously in cinemas (where possible) but also on demand on September 1st. 

Killroy Was Here

During the previously-mentioned Evening with Kevin Smith, the filmmaker dropped a trailer and discussed his upcoming low-budget horror anthology Killroy Was Here

Based on the iconic but mysterious graffiti of a cartoon man with a large nose peering over a wall (first originating during the Second World War among GIs), it offers a fictionalised account of its origins whilst showing several shorts featurng the character. Smith previously discussed the project by saying "This is a monster movie in the sense of a classic morality tale. No one wants to see you spill the blood of innocents, but when someone crosses the line and goes bad, you get to make them pay in horrible ways, and the audience cheers. We wanted to make an anthology film in the vein of ‘Creepshow.’ Killroy is like the Golem, the Boogeyman and the Grim Reaper combined."

Students from Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida participated in the project, which stars regular Smith collaborator Jason Mewes. There's no official release date but Smith says it will "probably" be released by early 2021.  

TV trailers and news

- A trailer for the second series of His Dark Materials, the fantasy adventure based on Philip Pullman's books, was shown, with Terence Stamp, Simone Kirby, Jade Anoukam and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (as the voice of Andrew Scott's daemon) announced as joining the cast. 

- Amazon's The Boys has been renewed for Season 3 (before Season 2 has even aired), with an aftershow (hosted by Aisha Tyler) also planned.

- Hulu's new Marvel show Helstrom (based on a character who, initially, was the Son of Satan) got a trailer, and a release date; the 10-episode series will air on October 16th

- Season 11 of FXX spy spoof comedy Archer got a trailer, and a release date: it will premiere on Wednesday 16th September

Release schedule delays

This news wasn't officially announced at Comic-Con but came out at the end of last week. 

- Mulan: perhaps the biggest surprise is the removal of Niki Caro's live-action adaptation of Mulan from the release schedule; originally due on August 21st, it was hoped that this could at least salvage something of the 2020 summer blockbuster season. But with Christopher Nolan's Tenet also removed from the schedule (before yesterday's news that it will open internationally before the US), it seems that studios and distributors have finally accepted that this summer is going to be a bit of a write-off. No new date has been given. 

- The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson's whimsical paean to the press has also disappeared from Disney release schedules as well. 

- Star Wars movies: Disney have announced that the three planned Star Wars movies (presumably one being directed by Taika Waititi) will now be released in December 2023, 2025, and 2027.

- Avatar sequels: the Avatar sequels (2-5) will now be released in December 2022, 2024, 2026, and 2028, meaning Disney gets Christmas sewn up for most of the 2020s.

- Death On The Nile - whilst still planned for release this year, this "sequel" to Murder On The Orient Express which will see Kenneth Branagh reprise the role of Hercule Poirot has been pushed back to October 23rd

- A Quiet Place Part 2: John Krasinski's horror sequel will now be released on April 23rd 2021 (instead of September 4th this year)

- Top Gun: Maverick - for those who feel the need, the need for speed, you'll have to wait a little bit longer to see Tom Cruise back in one of his most iconic roles; instead of a Christmas 2020 release, it will not hit screens on July 2nd 2021. 

Monday, 27 July 2020

Olivia de Havilland (1916-2020)

We are saddened to hear of the passing of the iconic actress Dame Olivia de Havilland. The double Oscar-winner, and the last surviving major cast member of the cast of civil war epic Gone With The Wind (for which she received her first Oscar nomination), passed away in Paris on July 25th at the age of 104.

Born in Tokyo in 1916 to British expatriate parents, de Havilland was the older sister to another actress- Joan Fontaine. In 1919, after her parents divorced, she moved with her mother and sister from Japan to California. Making her film debut in 1935 in Alibi Ike (opposite Joe E. Brown), one of her earliest film roles was in Max Reinhardt's star-studded adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) as Hermia, opposite James Cagney, Dick Powell, and Mickey Rooney. 

Also in 1935, she made the first of eight films with Errol Flynn, playing Arabella Bishop in Captain Blood (1935). They would also star together in The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) (where she played Maid Marian to Flynn's Robin), and The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex (1939). The chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland was evident and palpable, and the two admitted to having "crushes" on each other. It is speculated that they were actually deeply in love and de Havilland even said that Flynn had proposed to her, but she turned him down as he was married to someone else at the time. 

At the age of 22, de Havilland was cast as Melanie Hamilton, the virtuous and placid counterpoint to the wayward Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), in Gone With The Wind. de Havilland gained the first of her five Oscar nominations- and her only Best Supporting Actress nod- for her performance, although famously lost to her co-star Hattie McDaniel who became the first African-American actress to be nominated for, or win, an Oscar. de Havilland was loaned out from Warner Brothers to play the role, despite Jack Warner's initial resistance to the idea. 

de Havilland's second Oscar nomination came in 1942 when she was nominated for Best Actress for playing Emmy Brown in Hold Back The Dawn (1941). Joan Fontaine was also nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941), making it the first time a pair of siblings were nominated for Oscars in the same category. Fontaine famously won, and it is rumoured that an already fractious relationship turned to estrangement. 

After playing such a strong role in Hold Back The Dawn, de Havilland demanded better roles from Warner Brothers rather than the "sweet young thing" roles she was getting. On refusing to take the roles, she was suspended for six months then- to add insult to injury- was told she would have to make up that lost time at the end of her contract. Incensed, she sued Warner Brothers- and won the case. In what became known as the "de Havilland decision", the court ruled that not only did de Havilland have to make up the time, but that performers would be limited to seven years. Essentially, the ruling meant studios could no longer treat their performers as property, and helped to bring the studio system to an end. 

In 1946, de Havilland gained a second Best Actress Oscar nomination- and her first win- for playing Josephine Norris- an unwed mother who was forced to give up her child to avoid scandal and follows her son's life from afar- in To Each His Own. In her acceptance speech, she set (and still holds) the record for the most people thanked in an Oscar acceptance speech, by thanking 27 different people! She was also offered the role of Mary Hatch Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life (1946) but turned it down; it was eventually taken by Donna Reed. She also played twins in the noirish drama The Dark Mirror (1946), where it's often unsure whether you're watching the "good" twin or "bad" twin.

Her next Oscar nomination came for playing a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum, but cannot remember how she got there, in The Snake Pit (1948), an acclaimed portrait of mental illness and (for the time) a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal, although it hasn't aged well. At the end of the 1940s, she appeared as Catherine Sloper in The Heiress (1949), an adaptation of Henry James' novella Washington Square, and won her second Best Actress Oscar for playing the naive young woman targeted by a fortune-hunter but who finds her dignity when she rejects her emotionally abusive father and would-be suitor. 

She was offered the role of Blanche DuBois in the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) but turned the role down; she reportedly refused saying "a lady just doesn't say or do those things", but she had recently given birth to her son and couldn't relate to the material. The role was taken by her Gone With The Wind co-star Vivien Leigh. Instead, de Havilland took roles on Broadway (in Romeo And Juliet and Candida) and took the role of the enigmatic Rachel Ashley in My Cousin Rachel (1952), opposite Richard Burton.  

She moved to Paris in the mid-1950s and her film and TV appearances became more sporadic. In 1962, she published Every Frenchman Has One, a wry autobiographical account of her attempts to adapt to French life. In 1964, she appeared in a double-bill of dark thrillers; first was Lady In A Cage as a wealthy woman terrorised by a group of hoodlums when she gets trapped in the elevator in her building. Secondly, she took the role of Miriam Deering in the southern gothic mystery Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) opposite Bette Davis; the role was meant to be taken by Joan Crawford to reunite the What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? stars but, after a few weeks of shooting, Crawford withdrew. de Havilland is a brilliantly cool, scheming foil against the showier performance of Davis, and it ranks as one of her finest performances. In 1965, she became the first female president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. 

In the 1970s, de Havilland took roles as the Mother Superior in Pope Joan (1972), Emily Livingston in disaster movie Airport '77 (1977) [having passed on playing Lisolette Mueller in The Towering Inferno (1974)], and Maureen Schuester in Irwin Allen's horror-thriller The Swarm (1978). Her last film role came in 1979 as the Queen Mother in The Fifth Musketeer, but she continued to appear in TV movies, including Murder Is Easy (1982), The Royal Romance Of Charles And Diana (1982), and Anastasia: The Mystery Of Anna (1986) for which she won a Golden Globe. Her final role came in the TV movie The Woman He Loved, about the relationship between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. 

Despite no longer appearing on screens, de Havilland was still very highly thought of, not only in Hollywood but throughout the world. She was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Hertfordshire in 1998 and, when she made an appearance at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003, to introduce the Oscar Family Album segment, she received a four-minute standing ovation. She was presented with the National Medal of Arts in 2008 by President George W. Bush. In July 2016, to honour her 100th birthday, she was named Turner Classic Movies Star of the Month and, two weeks before her 101st birthday, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2017 Birthday Honours. She is the oldest woman to receive this honour. 

However, de Havilland would come back to public life in 2017 when she sued Ryan Murphy Productions and the FX network for defamation, due to what she considered an inaccurate portrayal of her in the mini-series Feud: Bette And Joan. She was played by Catherine Zeta-Jones as a gossip, and particularly took offence to a scene which has her calling her sister a "bitch". In her lawsuit, de Havilland claimed this portrayal damaged her “professional reputation for integrity, honesty, generosity, self-sacrifice and dignity". However, the lawsuit was dismissed in 2018. She petitioned the Supreme Court for a hearing, but was denied the opportunity to present her case.

In an interview with The Indepedent, de Havilland discussed her career saying “I feel not happy, not contented, but something else. Just grateful for having lived and having done so many things that I wanted to do and have also had so much meaning for other people.”

She has made an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape, and will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Countdown: Top 10 Most Razzie-Nominated (And -Winning) Films

If you've seen our most recent Lockdown Special, you'll have seen at the end that we mention the IMDB Bottom 100 films list; there's some dreadful stuff on there that we'll no doubt be exploring soon. 

So (you'll have to imagine my best Carrie Bradshaw impersonation) I couldn't help but wonder... what are some of the worst films ever made? Now, as you know, I'm an awards geek (sorrynotsorry) and a film is often judged by its Oscar wins (see Matt's comment about Once Upon A Time In America in the Lockdown Special). And, as regular readers/listeners/viewers will know, the yang to the Oscars yin is... The Golden Raspberry Awards, which also celebrates its 40th year this year. 

So I figured I'd do a bit of research and come up with a list of the 10 films with the most Razzie nominations (and wins). This includes any superlatives they may have been nominated for, or won (eg. Worst Film Of The Decade or Worst Of Our First 25 Years).

So, strap yourself in for a quick romp through some of cinema's biggest flops, disappointments, and bizarre ideas. Brace yourselves!

1. Showgirls (1995)
dir. Paul Verhoeven, starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon
15 nominations, 8 wins

This tawdry tale of a young woman who wants to become a dancer in Las Vegas is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, so it's no surprise that the Razzies decided to pile both the nominations and the awards on. At the 1996 awards, it won 7 awards, including Worst Picture; lead actress Elizabeth Berkley was singled out for two awards (Worst Actress and Worst New Star) whilst the rest of the cast escaped unscathed- despite Worst acting nominations for MacLachlan and Gershon, as well as Robert Davi, Alan Rachins and Lin Tucci. Verhoeven actually accepted his Razzie for Worst Director in person! (He was the first person to do so). It also won Worst Picture Of The Decade (for the 1990s) and was nominated for Worst Drama Of Our First 25 Years in 2005.

2. The Lonely Lady (1983)
dir. Peter Sasdy, starring Pia Zadora, Lloyd Bochner, and Bibi Besch
13 nominations, 6 wins

Another torrid tale of an idealistic young woman looking to achieve success and getting exploited along the way (although here, she's a screenwriter wanting to make it big in Hollywood) The Lonely Lady is an adaptation of a Harold Robbins novel and an unmitigated mess. Winning its 6 awards in 1984, including Worst Picture, actress Pia Zadora had already won a Worst Actress Razzie the previous year for Butterfly, so added to that with a second. It's telling that director Peter Sasdy never directed another film; his resume shows a lot of TV work after this blot. It was nominated for Worst Picture Of The Decade (for the 1980s) and was also nominated for Worst Drama Of Our First 25 Years in 2005.

3. Jack And Jill (2011)
dir. Dennis Dugan, starring Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, and Katie Holmes
12 nominations, 10 wins

The Razzies dishonour the worst of cinema, so imagine how bad a film has to be to get a clean sweep of every category. Well, Jack and Jill is that film. It's the first film in Razzies history to win every single category. It had multiple nominations in the Worst Supporting acting categories (Nick Swardson and Katie Holmes being nominated but their co-stars Al Pacino and David Spade taking the awards; yes, David Spade won Worst Supporting Actress; yes, it is that kind of a film; no, I don't get it either). Sandler was reportedly paid a cool $20m dollars to make this utter dreck, so I would imagine he's not particularly bothered. 

4. Gigli (2003)
dir. Martin Brest, starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, and Al Pacino
11 nominations, 7 wins

What was originally a mob movie turned into a romantic comedy to capitalise on the real-world relationship between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Which might explain why there's a sex scene between the two of them, despite Lopez's character being a lesbian. So much to unpack in that statement, so little time... Another film that's universally accepted as one of the worst ever made, it won 6 Razzies in 2004- including the Big Five (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay)- and added a seventh in 2005 as the Worst "Comedy" Of Our First 25 Years. Dropped from UK cinemas after only a week, due to the dreadful reviews it received, Gigli also provided the kiss of death for Brest's career; after films like Beverly Hills Cop, Scent Of A Woman, and Meet Joe Black, the negative experience of making this film meant Brest retired from directing once it was over. 

5. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (2012)
dir. Bill Condon, starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
11 nominations, 7 wins

The Razzies were always pretty unkind to the Twilight films; all but the first film got at least four nods. However, prior to this, despite all the nominations, the Twilight films had only won one Razzie before, when Jackson Rathbone was named Worst Supporting Actor for Eclipse. Time to make up for lost ground. Here, they pulled a Lord-Of-The-Rings-at-the-Oscars and awarded the final act of the saga the most awards. With seven awards, this soapy, poorly-acted, badly-written and utterly dismal film franchise finally bit the dust. Oh, no, I forgot... their vampires don't turn into dust. They sparkle in the sunlight. Sparkle. Vampires. Shouldn't. Sparkle. Along with Worst Picture and Director, sullen charisma vacuum Kristen Stewart took Worst Actress, with Taylor Lautner as Worst Supporting Actor. 

6. Mommie Dearest (1981)
dir. Frank Perry, starring Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, and Steve Forrest
11 nominations, 6 wins

Faye Dunaway was convinced that this biopic of the late actress Joan Crawford and the tumultuous relationship she had with her adopted children (especially her daughter Christina, who penned the salacious tell-all book the film is based on) would get her another Oscar. Instead, it got her a Razzie. To this day, Dunaway is known to stop interviews if anyone dares mention the film, even though the film is now considered something of a camp cult classic (and was even marketed as such by Paramount once they found out that people were attending out of a morbid curiosity). Along with Dunaway's Worst Actress win, and Worst Picture, it also won two Worst Supporting acting awards for Steve Forrest (as Greg Savitt) and Diana Scarwid (as the older Christine) and Worst Screenplay. It also won Worst Picture of the Decade (1980s) and was nominated for Worst "Drama" Of Our First 25 Years. 

7. Batman & Robin (1997)
dir. Joel Schumacher, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, and Chris O'Donnell
11 nominations, 1 win

We've spoken a lot about how much of a guilty pleasure this film is for us, so very little bears repeating, except for this: you know a film is bad when the director apologises for it (which Joel Schumacher did on a couple of occasions). It's certainly not as bad as it's painted; there's some fun to be had if you look for it. Despite 11 nominations (it was nominated for the most Razzies that year)- for everything from Worst Picture to Worst Screen Couple, Worst Original Song and Worst Reckless Disregard For Human Life And Public Property- the film winded up only winning one Razzie: Alicia Silverstone was named Worst Supporting Actress (beating her co-star Uma Thurman). They should be thankful they were nominated in the same year as The Postman...

8. Battlefield Earth (2000)
dir. Roger Christian, starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, and Forest Whitaker
10 nominations, 9 wins

Based on a work by L. Ron Hubbard, Battlefield Earth was something of a passion project for John Travolta (no surprise there, given the whole Scientology thing...) but something went desperately wrong with the film and it's ended up as this sprawling incoherent, visually muddling mess. Plans for a sequel got quietly shelved. It won in every category it was nominated in at the 2001 awards (with a second Worst Supporting Actor nod for Forest Whitaker), although wasn't nominated in every category. Forest Whitaker has expressed his regret for taking part, and Barry Pepper had said he would have shown up to accept his Worst Supporting Actor Razzie in person had he known about it! Screenwriter J.D. Shapiro actually did show up in person and accepted the Worst Movie Of The Decade (2000s) award, and it won Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years, beating out Mommie Dearest, Showgirls, and The Lonely Lady for the dubious honour. 

9. Bolero (1984)
dir. John Derek, starring Bo Derek, George Kennedy, and Andrea Occhipinti
10 nominations, 6 wins

There's a fine line to be walked when it comes to "erotic" movies. You can go too far and end up with a crass exploitative mess verging on actual pornography, or end up not going far enough in which case it's about as sensual as a bucket of cold custard. Bolero veers wildly between the two extremes. Bo Derek stars as a young woman whose sexual awakening leads to a journey around the world to find her ideal lover. Already, things are starting to clench (and not in a good way). But here's where the line gets massively crossed: actress Olivia d'Abo was fourteen (yes, fourteen) and appears in nude scenes throughout the film. Released unrated in the US (wonder why?), d'Abo was one of the six "winners" (getting the Worst New Star award) with the film also winning Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Musical Score (which included music by celebrated composer Elmer Bernstein). What a sorry state of affairs. 

10. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)
dir. Arthur Hiller (as Alan Smithee), starring Ryan O'Neal, Coolio, and Eric Idle
10 nominations, 5 wins

A quick lesson. "Alan Smithee" was the official Director's Guild pseudonym used on a film when its director disowns it and doesn't want their name on it. After director Arthur Hiller (who'd previously directed Love Story, The Man In The Glass Booth, and Silver Streak) used the credit for this shambles, the DGA deregistered the name, making this the last Alan Smithee film. Produced and written by Joe Eszterhas (who wrote Showgirls)- and who produced his own cut of the film which was preferred by the production company, over Hiller's (which prompted him to disown the film)- it's a bloated mess, aiming for "satire" and failing miserably. Eszterhas received three Razzies alone for this film- Worst Supporting Actor, Worst New Star, and Worst Screenplay- with Worst Picture and Worst Original Song completing the list of wins. Eric Idle (who plays filmmaker Alan Smithee who wants to disown his film... yeah...) said he was disappointed not to get a Razzie nomination for his performance. 

Other films that just fell outside the Top 10 but have still got a shedload of nominations and (in some cases, wins) are: 
  • Freddy Got Fingered (2001) - 10 nominations, 5 wins
  • Butterfly (1982) - 10 nominations, 2 wins
  • I Know Who Killed Me (2007) - 9 nominations, 7 wins
  • Cats (2019) - 9 nominations, 6 wins
  • Rocky IV (1985) - 9 nominations, 5 wins
  • Wild Wild West (1999) - 9 nominations, 5 wins
  • Swept Away (2002) - 9 nominations, 5 wins
  • The Last Airbender (2010) -  9 nominations, 5 wins

What an absolute shower of cinematic atrocities we have here. So much wasted potential. So much wasted money. So much wasted celluloid. But... one thing I hope that you take away from reading this litany of crapulence is this: if films this dire, this dreadful, this irredeemably shit can be made, there's hope for us all. 


Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Watchers Film Show: Lockdown Special 6

Our sixth Lockdown Special is here!

In this edition, we take a look at the IMDb Top 250 films countdown, and pick one that we haven't watched and report back on it. A film show reviewing films... how unusual!

Biting social satire, the vagaries of a Warwickshire accent, and a long-owned but never-watched DVD all come into play in this edition, which will be the last Lockdown Special as the UK is now starting to come out of lockdown; fear not, we will be returning to our usual audio/podcast shows!

In case you missed them, here are our previous Lockdown Specials:

Here are also our Feelgood Films posts, if you want some suggestions for cheery films to get you through these trying times:

Monday, 6 July 2020

Ennio Morricone (1928-2020)

The Watchers are saddened to hear of the death of composer Ennio Morricone. The iconic and prolific composer- who composed scores for over 500 films and television shows in his six decade career, and whose pieces have been used in over 300 others- sadly passed away today (July 6th) at the age of 91.

Born in Rome in 1928, Morricone studied at Rome's Santa Cecilia Conservatory (enrolling at the age of 12), where he specialised in trumpet. After graduating, he found work as a composer and arranger for Italy’s national radio network, wrote music for theatre and television, and occasionally acted as a session musician for film score recordings. In his own words: "Most of these scores were very ugly, and I believed I could do better".

Morricone's first soundtrack credit came in 1961, when he provided the score for Luciano Salce's Il Federale [The Fascist]. He continued to compose for Italian light comedies and costume pictures, and was asked by director Sergio Leone to score his upcoming Western A Fistful Of Dollars (1964). It would be the start of a working relationship that would last three decades, and would become one of the most well-known director/composer pairings in cinema history. 

Budget strictures limited Morricone's access to a full orchestra, so he had to get creative. Instead of using full orchestral arrangements, Morricone used gunshots, cracking whips, whistles, voices, the mouth harp, trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar to create a soundtrack that was unusual but true to the director's vision. He would score the other films in the Dollars Trilogy: For A Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966).

The score for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is considered to be one of the most influential film soundtracks of all time; it has sold sold over three million copies worldwide, and the main theme- which resembles the howling of a coyote- received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Theme in 1969 (the Dollars films were released in America around three years after their Italian releases). In 2009, the soundtrack was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Other pieces from the soundtrack which have taken on a life of their own are "The Story Of A Soldier", and "The Ecstasy Of Gold" (which has been used as the intro music at Metallica concerts, and the outro music at the Ramones').

In total, Morricone scored six movies in total for Leone: the three Dollars movies, as well as Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), A Fistful Of Dynamite (1971) and Once Upon A Time In America (1984). In a career that boasts over five hundred scores, it's a relatively small part of his output but a part for which Morricone was always recognised; indeed, he was known in interviews (conducted in Italian, as he was not fluent in English) to sharply remind his interviewers about how small a part of his output this actually is, and also how relatively small his work on Westerns were. 

Morricone always said "I'm not linked to one genre or another" and, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, provided scores for diverse films, such as Gillo Pontecorvo's war drama The Battle Of Algiers (1966), Elio Petri's crime drama Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and Dario Argento's horror thriller The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). He also provided the score for Don Siegel's war adventure Two Mules For Sister Sara (1970),  Pier Paolo Pasolini's romantic comedy-drama The Decameron (1971), John Boorman's horror sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and Édouard Molinaro's comedy La Cage Aux Folles (1978). He also composed the official theme for the 1978 FIFA World Cup.

In 1979, Morricone received the first of his six Oscar nominations for his score for Terrence Malick's romantic drama Days Of Heaven (1978). Although he lost the Oscar to fellow Italian Giorgio Moroder (for Midnight Express), he did win the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music at the BAFTAs. Morricone's music for the controversial crime drama Butterfly (1982) - starring Pia Zadora, Stacy Keach, and Orson Welles- received two very conflicting award nominations; he was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards, one for Worst Musical Score, and one for Worst Original Song for "It's Wrong For Me To Love You" (shared with lyricist Carol Connors, although he lost both to a song and the score from The Pirate Movie); proving that all art is subjective, the song was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song! (It didn't win that either; it went to Christopher Cross for "Arthur's Theme")

Throughout the 1980s, Morricone's scores include John Carpenter's sci-fi horror The Thing (1982, which was also nominated for a Razzie for Worst Score), Richard Fleischer's fantasy action-adventure Red Sonja (1985), Roman Polanski's mystery Frantic (1988), Brian De Palma's war drama Casualties Of War (1989, which was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Score), and Pedro Almodóvar's romantic comedy-drama Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (also 1989)

Morricone's beautiful and moving score for Roland Joffé's historical drama The Mission (1986) is amongst his best, and is known for its main theme,"Gabriel's Oboe" (representing Jesuit missionary Father Gabriel's attempt to use his oboe to beguile the indigenous tribes of South America and convert them to Christianity). It won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Score, and was nominated for but didn't win the Oscar. In 2001, Morricone said "I definitely felt that I should have won for The Mission. Especially when you consider that the Oscar-winner that year was 'Round Midnight, which was not an original score. It had a very good arrangement by Herbie Hancock, but it used existing pieces."

The following year, Morricone scored The Untouchables for Brian De Palma. His score won the Grammy for Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score and the BAFTA for Best Score, as well as getting Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. Morricone also won the BAFTA for the score for Giuseppe Tornatore's poignant drama Cinema Paradiso (1988), which he scored with his son Andrea and with whom he shared the award. 

Throughout the 1990s, Morricone's scores included Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990); Barry Levinson's biographical crime drama Bugsy (1991, which was nominated for the Golden Globe and the Oscar); Wolfgang Petersen's action thriller In The Line Of Fire (1993); Mike Nichols' horror romance Wolf (1994, which was nominated for a Grammy and a Fangoria Chainsaw Award); Barry Levinson's thriller Disclosure (1994); Giuseppe Tornatore's romantic drama The Star Maker (1995, nominated for a Grammy); Dario Argento's horror The Stendhal Syndrome (1996, Morricone's second Fangoria Chainsaw Award nomination); Adrian Lyne's adaptation of Lolita (1997); Warren Beatty's comedy drama Bulworth (1998, nominated for a Grammy); Giuseppe Tornatore's romantic drama The Legend Of 1900 (1998, which won the Golden Globe), and Dario Argento's horror version of The Phantom Of The Opera (1998). 

In the early 2000s, Morricone scored Giuseppe Tornatore's romantic comedy-drama Malèna (2000, nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar), Brian De Palma's sci-fi thriller Mission To Mars (2000), and Liliana Cavani's crime drama Ripley's Game (2002). In 2001, he conducted two symphonic concerts dedicated to his film scores at the Barbican Centre. This was the first time he performed in London. Two years later, for his 75th birthday, he conducted a concert of film music at London's Royal Albert Hall playing music from a selection of his compelling scores. In 2007, Morricone was awarded an Honorary Oscar "for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music". He was given the Award by Clint Eastwood, who translated Morricone's acceptance speech into English. 

Morricone's association with Quentin Tarantino began back in 2003, when the director used "Death Rides A Horse" in Kill Bill: Volume 1 and used several musical themes from the Dollars trilogy in Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). Further excepts were used in Death Proof (2007) and Inglourious Basterds (2009); at one point, Morricone was due to score the latter, but didn't feel he could work effectively with the timescale he was given. For Django Unchained (2012), he composed a new song- "Ancora Qui"- and had several existing pieces used in the score. After working on this film, Morricone said he would probably never again collaborate with Quentin Tarantino, since he didn't like the way he "places music in his films without coherence" and "never giving enough time". 

However, three years later, Morricone provided the score for Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Opening the film is "L'Ultima Diligenza Di Red Rock", a sweeping, menacing seven-minute suite of brass and strings. He was nominated for two Grammys- one for Best Instrumental Composition, and Best Soundtrack- and won both the BAFTA and Golden Globe. He received his sixth Oscar nomination- and won. At 87, Morricone became the oldest winner of a competitive Academy (and was until James Ivory won for his screenplay for Call Me By Your Name two years later).

Morricone is one of those rare film composers who non-film fans are aware of (in the same vein as, say, John Williams or Danny Elfman). His prolific and eclectic compositions have become indelibly linked to some of the most iconic film images, and the music and film worlds are lesser for his passing. 

Grazie, Maestro.