The best films on TV over Christmas

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Every 23rd December, for the past three years, we have released our pick of the films being shown on freeview TV over the Christmas schedule. Last year’s choices were made by Paul Field, but returning to this Failed Critics Christmas tradition is site editor Owen Hughes. It practically guarantees less Carry On movies and probably more big budget blockbusters…

A couple of years ago, we were regularly posting lists of films that we would recommend for the week ahead. Oh, how times have changed. It seems these days that with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, we’re less bothered about waiting for films to be shown on TV and instead watching whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is great! Except that it’s reduced these articles to annual posts.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a look through the TV schedule to see what tat is being pushed on us this year and tried to sift out some of the dross (although Steve will be pleased to know that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is being shown on Christmas day at 11am) and chosen five decent-to-good movies each day in the run up to 2016.

Christmas Eve –

Finishing work early tomorrow? Want something to just stick on when you walk through the door to get you in a Christmassy mood? Well, stick Channel 4 on at 2.15pm and get straight into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Alternatively, if you’re sick of that bloody film already, try out the Robert Zemeckis animated A Christmas Carol over on BBC One at 2.20pm (it’s the version that I talked about on our Winterval Podcast this week). If you prefer your Scrooge’s to be real rather than cartoony, then stay up wrapping last minute presents until half past midnight for the 1951 version on Channel 5 starring Alastair Sim as the miserly grump. For those of us who relate a bit too much to Ebenezer, and can’t be arsed with this Christmas nonsense – bah humbug – then watch Karl Urban as the Mega-City One Judge, jury and executioner in Dredd on Film4 at 11.25pm or switch over to BBC Two five minutes later for one of Hitchcock’s best with Dial M For Murder.

Christmas Day –

We’ve had two of the most well known adaptations of Dickens’ novel, so why start the afternoon with Channel 4 and give the other two a watch on Christmas day itself? Starting at 1.45pm with The Muppet Christmas Carol, they swiftly follow it up at 3.45pm with Bill Murray doing his thing in Scrooged. Later that evening, BBC Three have a double bill of animated movies that are safe to watch with granny, the kids, your other half or on your todd with Toy Story at 7.30pm and How To Train Your Dragon straight after it at 8.45pm. For something not at all schmalzy, sentimental or saccharine, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until much, much later in the evening as the Coen Brothers change the mood entirely at 00.05am on ITV4 with the hilarious 90’s comedy The Big Lebowski. Or, like, that’s just my opinion that it’s hilarious, man…

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

It may be somewhat twee, and I’m aware Wes Anderson isn’t for everyone, but if there’s a better film on TV for you to crawl out of your hangover with after getting up extremely late than Fantastic Mr Fox on Channel 4 at 11.25am, then I couldn’t find it. You can time it right to fit in a quick turkey sarnie and a fresh cuppa between it finishing and Jurassic Park starting over on ITV at 1.20pm, reminding you just how good the original was after Jurassic World swept the box office clean earlier this year. Really though, you should be watching the football. I believe that’s what Boxing Day was invented for. Once Final Score has finished, switch over to the horror channel at 6.40pm for the intense Spielberg thriller, Duel. Film4 can round off a very late evening with two modern British classics in crime thriller Sexy Beast (11.25pm) and Scottish sci-fi – and one of our favourite movies of 2014 – Under The Skin (1.10am).

Sunday 27th –

That’s the Christmas movies well and truly out of the way now and it’s Studio Ghibli to the rescue as we kick off the day with one of their most celebrated works, the charming My Neighbour Totoro. Flick over to Channel 5 at 2.25pm to see one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s most revered western, The Searchers, starring the Duke himself, John Wayne. Starting at 4.05pm on BBC One is a fantasy movie returning to where it all began with Oz: The Great and the Powerful, which is actually quite a nice, funny little family movie. You can choose how you’d like to round off the day with one of the following two. Personally, I’d go for one of my favourite discoveries of the year, Cronenberg’s body-horror Videodrome (the horror channel, 10.50pm) over Channel 4’s showing of The Inbetweeners 2 at 11.10pm, that both Steve and Callum tore to pieces.

Monday 28th –

You maniacs! You haven’t yet set your reminder! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to Hell! Well, at least until Monday morning at 10.15am when you switch on More4 and watch the original Planet of the Apes – AND THEN later that day you’ll be fully prepared for Film4’s 6.55pm screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At 8.30pm on BBC Three is Kung Fu Panda 2 (read why that’s a good thing in Callum’s brilliant piece from his DreamWorks retrospective). For something a little more… grown up… Steven Soderbergh’s movie Behind The Candelabra (BBC Two, 9pm) features one of Michael Douglas’s best ever performances. Finally, if the forgettable Terminator Genisys hasn’t already disappeared entirely from your memory, then James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day will wipe the last remnants from mind on Film4 at 1.15am.

Tuesday 29th –

Channel 4, 2.30pm, Coraline. Film4, 6.10pm, Master & Commander. ITV2, 9pm, The Shawshank Redemption. ITV, 10.25pm, American Pie. My pick of the lot: Channel 5, 10.45pm, Erin Brockovich. That’s your lot. We’re running out of quality films on TV as the year comes to a close and I’m running out of patience trying to make these films sound interesting. However, if you think Tuesday’s films reads a lot like a list of movies you’re glad that you’ve seen once but probably have no intention of ever watching again, just wait until you see what’s lined up for Wednesday…

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

We’ve got a run that starts with ITV2 at 5.45pm and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth (that I actually thought was quite enjoyable) with The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFilm4 will help change the tone to something surprisingly fun with Denzel and Wahlberg teaming up for crime-comedy Two Guns at 9pm. Tune into the horror channel at 10.45pm for some Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse horror at Planet TerrorFurious 7 may have been voted for in quite a number of people’s submissions to the Failed Critics Awards, but Channel 4 go back a couple of sequels to Fast Five at 11.05pm. Afterwards, prepare for Joy with Film4’s showing of The Fighter at 1.10am.

Thursday 31st –

And here we are! New Year’s Eve and what better way to see off 2015 than with, er, well, The Adventures of TinTin on BBC One at 10.55am. (That was a rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) More adventures are afoot with a rare screening of The Rocketeer on Channel 4 at 1.10pm and – a Pixar film guaranteed to make you cry – Up, over on BBC One at 2.50pm. I will be at a New Years party by this time (oooh get me) but if you fancy a night in watching movies to bring in 2016, then BBC4 honour Bob Hoskins who passed away this year with Made In Dagenham at 10.55pm. Film4 are going slightly more modern and again doing the whole David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper / Robert De Niro thing and are showing Silver Linings Playbook at 11.10pm.

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special (S3 Ep2)

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special (S3 Ep2)

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When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground. But the game of the Failed Critics Podcast is a bit more accommodating and has more of a flexible work-life balance. Plus it has much less incest too.

This episode is part two of our third TV Special podcast, featuring Owen Hughes as host in place of Steve Norman. As in part one, Owen is joined by Matt Latham from The Bottle Episode and Failed Critics founder James Diamond.

With the Emmy’s chat firmly done and dusted, the team move onto answering some tough, insightful and deeply ponderous questions such as “what TV show did you used to hate but now really like”, and “what is the best new TV show of the year”. You know, the sort of questions you just don’t hear anybody else deal with.

We’ll be back to our regular output next week with Steve returning to hosting duties as we review Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

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Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special (S3 Ep1)

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special (S3 Ep1)

 

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The Failed Critics TV Special revolution will not be televised, brother. Although, it will still be a conveniently downloadable audio podcast. No change there, then.

However, what is different, for our third TV Special episode, there’s no Steve Norman. Instead, Owen Hughes leapt into Steve’s upholstered velvet host’s chair whilst it was still warm, swivelled himself around, and read questions from the teleprompter to our special guests for this episode. Owen was joined by both Matt Latham from the TV blog and podcast, The Bottle Episode, and returning to us like the prodigal son, former head-honcho at FC HQ, James Diamond, now co-running the Diamond and Human podcast.

With so much content to get through, you may consider saving this episode and box-set binging later in the week with the release of Part Two. Going massively over-time and blowing the entire Failed Critics Entertainment Budget on one two-part special, we just had so much to talk about that we’ve had to split our TV Special in half. In part one, we have our Primetime Emmy Award themed quiz, inspired by the recent announcement of the nominations for the 67th annual awards and our reactions to them. And to give you a taste of what’s to come in part two, the trio also respond to the first question asked of them, “what is the best ongoing show of 2015?” Spoiler: it wasn’t Masked Spooner.

Join us again later in the week for less Emmy’s chat and more Q&A’s, and the team each pitch an idea for a TV show that they’d like to see brought back from the dead.

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Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special 2.5

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special 2.5

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Welcome to possibly the most offensive, extraordinarily explicit episode of the Failed Critics Podcast to date. Which probably suggests our guests this week need no introduction! But for the sake of posterity, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Andrew Brooker and Paul Field.

To tie into last week’s release of Entourage: The Movie, a spin-off from the popular HBO series, “the boys” have turned this episode into a TV Special. Not quite a full continuation of the first two entries to our previous TV Specials (part 1 & part 2), this is more like a TV Special 2.5 with a full third entry coming in the next few months.

In it, the quiz gets a TV-make-over, the team talk about what TV shows they’ve been watching lately and we have a full review of the Entourage film. We’re even releasing this episode a couple of days early as it will take you a week to finally finish listening to it as it comes in at an impressive (daunting?) 1 hour and 45 minutes long.

Join us again next week as Callum Petch joins us to review the animated comedy Minions, a spin off from the highly successful and popular Despicable Me franchise.

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Fifteen Million Merits (S1 Ep2)

Fifteen Million Merits (S1 Ep2)

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I haven’t got a speech. I didn’t plan words, I didn’t even try to. I just knew I had to enter the Fifteen Million Merits episode of Black Mirror series one into our 100 Greatest TV Episodes list!

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

fifteen million merits 2 Despite churning out a tidal wave of daytime TV shows, borderline freak-show “documentaries” and surprisingly off-kilter comedy shows, Channel 4 have a knack for occasionally producing intelligent, entertaining and edgy TV dramas. For example, Babylon began this week after a successful pilot / one-off episode (directed by Danny Boyle) back in February. In the past few years, they’ve also been responsible for shows like Charlie Brooker’s zombie-satire Dead Set, the comedy-drama Misfits and more recently the really quite excellent Utopia.

However, I want to focus on a mini-series they produced almost three years ago; the Twilight Zone-meets-Tales of the Unexpected anthology series, Black Mirror. Each episode of Black Mirror was different; entirely new cast, different story set in different realities, with different writers and directors even. The one thing that linked the series was creator Charlie Brooker’s influence on the absurdly twisted humour and satire of the “Twitter generation”.

Whilst the series as a whole (and last year’s second series) was fantastic, one episode in particular that stood out was the second episode from the first season starring the vastly underrated Daniel Kaluuya & Jessica Brown Findlay in a futuristic anti-utopian society. Living in stacked glass rooms no bigger than a prison cell, the occupants of this shiny facility are constantly bombarded with adverts, propaganda and strict rules flashing uncontrollably on the screens around them. Imagine living inside a Facebook news feed that simultaneously has constant porn-pop-ups. It’s that. Inescapable promotions, videos and nonsense.

To survive costs the characters in the story money – or, rather, it costs them merits. Whether for a squirt of toothpaste or a piece of fruit from a vending machine, it all costs varying amounts of credit. Merits can be mainly earned by watching certain shows or by pedalling on exercise bikes to produce enough energy to keep the self-fulfilling lifestyle going. Which is exactly what Kaluuya’s character does in order to earn enough merits to send Abi, the girl he’s fallen for, to a talent show. If her singing impresses the judges and she’s successful, she could be saved from this worker-drone life. But if not….

Looking at the entire six episodes of Black Mirror, this episode, written by Brooker’s wife Konnie Huq and directed by Euros Lyn, it might seem like the least subtle of the lot. Obviously the satire is focussed on the need to constantly be instantaneously satisfied, of the social media culture that has developed and the supposed Generation Y. But it’s so exceptionally well executed that any lack of subtlety it may be accused of can easily be forgiven.

I remember finding out that Konnie Huq – primarily known as a presenter of Blue Peter – had penned Fifteen Million Merits and being utterly flabbergasted. Not because I didn’t think Konnie was intelligent! But the writing here was so vastly superior to a million other Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four dystopian knock-off films and TV shows that I half expected it to be been written by a seasoned veteran film writer, not a children’s TV presenter. It deals with social class, of the workers and them, with an awareness and sophistication often lacking in similar narratives.

On top of all that, the story is heart-stopping, emotional and completely absorbing. Consumerism is given a kicking alright, just as you might expect, but the despair-driven tension surmounts any obstacles presented by the relatively short run time of 60 minutes or the desire to get a message across to the viewer. Certain scenes are overwhelmingly moving and left me open mouthed, gasping at what I’d just witnessed. It also features one of the best conclusions to any TV episode aired in the UK. Call to arms speeches are so passé these days but this is something else! The delivery and performance by Daniel Kaluuya is exceptional.

It’s bleak, it’s relentless but it’s an incredible hour of modern TV. So many films released in the last few years have tried to tackle a similar scenario. The penultimate film in the Hunger Games franchise is due out this time next week, but this one little episode of TV says so much more – and way more eloquently – in a snippet of the combined run time of the Hunger Games movies.

I’ll end it here in true sixth-form rebellious nature with a quote from a punk song called The Decline by NOFX. It somehow seems strangely apt. “And so we go on with our lives. We know the truth but prefer lies”. Well said, Fat Mike. Well said.

The rest of our 100 Greatest TV Episode articles can be found here.