Now You See Me 2 - Cinema Review

'Radcliffe in particular is clearly here for the "LOLs", relishing every moment of playing a character of questionable integrity'.

Louis Leterrier's Now You See Me proved that a flashy summer blockbuster can get by well enough on the strength of its cast alone even with some rather large gaps in the logic of its plot. Taking over directorial duties for the sequel, Jon M. Chu fails to pull off the same trick twice, offering a film that not only struggles to offer any semblance of sense within its own story, but actually causes the first film to make even less sense than it already did.

Returning writer Ed Solomon is clearly uninterested in constructing a coherent narrative beyond the opening act, which sees the Four Horsemen - J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and new member Lula May (Lizzy Caplan) - re-emerge a year after the end of the first film only to have their comeback hijacked and the group unwittingly transported from America to Macau. It's around the point soon after the group's arrival in China at which Harrelson is revealed to also be playing Merritt's twin brother Chase - which involves the actor donning a curly wig and ridiculous teeth - that the level Chu is aiming for becomes abundantly clear.

Once the Horsemen have met technology tycoon Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), Now You See Me 2 devolves into a logic-free series of events combining action and heist sequences with CGI-heavy magic. Chu desperately wants his film to become the conjuring equivalent of Ocean's Eleven, but never even comes close to matching the worst bits of Ocean's Twelve. By the time we reach the ludicrous finale, it's fairly apparent that nobody behind the camera is even trying to make matters hang together in a way that makes sense any more.

Every new thread that Solomon introduces is one that neither he nor Chu can be bothered to develop properly. Whether it's Atlas' ambition to lead the Horsemen, the teased romance between Jack and Lula, or Jack and Merritt teaching each other their respective specialisms, you won't care about any of them. Worse still is the fact that Solomon apparently couldn't be bothered to return to the first film to provide any continuity between it and the sequel. One revelation in particular at the very end not only beggars belief within Now You See Me 2's own story, but essentially renders everything that happened in Leterrier's original as irretrievable nonsense.

In the end, the only thing Chu's film has going for it is that everyone in front of the camera (aside from a particularly po-faced Michael Caine) is fully aware that what they're making is blockbuster garbage, and therefore has as much fun with it as they can. Radcliffe in particular is clearly here for the "LOLs", relishing every moment of playing a character of questionable integrity, even if it's a poorly written one. What that adds up to is a film that's very dumb, occasionally fun, but that never aspires to be anything more.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Ghostbusters (2016) - Cinema Review

'None of the four leads are terrible, but none are anywhere near strong enough to lift Ghostbusters out of its real problems'.

Whilst I refuse to make it the main focus of my review, the torrent of vitriol that has cascaded around Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot ever since it was first announced has to be addressed in some manner. So I'm getting it out of the way early on: the female quartet leading the film as the new version of the eponymous team are not the source of the film's problems.

That's not to say they shine either: Kristen Wiig is entirely forgettable, and whilst Melissa McCarthy delivers a far more understated and palatable performance than in her previous collaborations with Feig, she's still not great. Leslie Jones is okay, but isn't strong enough to break free from the occasions (of which there are too many) where Feig attempts to derive humour from her character her being a loud black woman. Which leaves Kate McKinnon to deliver the only successful comedy performance through a character made up of wild idiosyncrasies and cultural references which, when stripped away, leave nothing at the core.

That might sound like I'm contradicting myself, but I'm not: none of the four leads are terrible, but none are anywhere near strong enough to lift Ghostbusters out of its real problem, namely that Feig's film is a structural and narrative mess. After rushing to bring his new team together in the first act, the director then allows matters to drag during the middle section for no reason, before delivering a finale heavy on CGI and light on everything else. There's an attempt to conclude a story arc between Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Abby Yates (McCarthy), but when it's been forgotten since the start of the film with zero development in between, this of course feels entirely artificial.

Outside of the Ghostbusters team, Feig's characters comprehensively fall flat. Chris Hemsworth has shown he can make comedy work from time to time in the MCU, but here as idiot receptionist Kevin every joke fails. One-dimensional antagonist Rowan's (Neil Casey) trite backstory feels as though it probably took Feig and his writing partner Kate Dippold approximately five seconds to think up, and is dismissed by the film's heroes just as quickly. The cameos by several 1984 cast members are a mixed bag: Dan Aykroyd's is brief but successful, Bill Murray's is unnecessarily drawn out and self-indulgent, the rest fall somewhere in the middle.

Add to this the fact that Feig clearly doesn't know what he wants his Ghostbusters to be. There's an awkward mismatch between the elements clearly aimed at children and those that could only appeal to older members of the audience. An early fart joke (such is the level Feig generally aims for) is a prime example, starting out as a childish giggle before ill-advisedly transforming into something much more adult. As a filmmaker, Feig is simply not accomplished enough to make Ghostbusters work as something which appeals to both kids and grown-ups, ultimately presenting a film haphazardly directed from a script which simply isn't funny enough.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD - DVD Review

'Whilst the link to Vertigo is established fairly successfully, that chapter of the film becomes more and more outlandish as it widens the net to claim that 2000AD has influenced every bit of pop culture you can think of.'

If watching the filmic history of a slightly niche, counter-culture comic sounds like you might be about to spend a lot of time listening to beardy middle-aged white guys talk, whilst strategically placed in front of shelves of attractive books then you've pretty much got Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD down pat.

In fairness to Paul Goodwin's Documentary, this is a problem addressed on screen, shortly after the first female contributor to the film has been shown at the twenty-three minute mark. It's a mature discussion about the problem of gender representation in comics and the sexist trends of the industry and it's handled well by all involved, until it is undercut by the fact that one of 2000AD's greatest crimes isn't covered until a later section. The segmenting of the comic's ridiculously tone deaf adverts identifies them as a one-off. Nothing at all to do with the industries underlying sexism, no, not at all sir. Still, Grant Morrison gets some of the too-heightened tension around the debate spot on: try and write for women and you get told off, deliberately avoid it and you also get told off. Just focus on good stories and see what happens, seems to be the mantra.

It's not the only mantra Goodwin manages to reveal. Throughout the film there's a bubbling undercurrent of discussion about the commercialism of art. Many of the writers and artists featured bemoan the poor pay and practices of UK comics, but few are defensive about their move to the American market. In a way, why should they be? The poor practices of 2000AD in terms of pay and rights has been well documented and largely undisputed, though the fact that much of the talent seeps back from the US to at least guest at 2000AD speaks to a level of spiritual attachment that goes beyond whether your cheque is in dollars or pounds.

Some of the discussions prove less fruitful. The incomparably sweary Pat Mills comes across as egotistical, even for a film full of creatives who are by nature at least semi-egotists. He contradicts himself on several occasions and seems less impassioned and more unreasoned as the film progresses. If Goodwin wanted to cast his net for a villain then surely here he is. Mills is part of this story, yes, but his belligerent badgering adds little to it. As a long-standing fan of Vertigo it was interesting to see the parallels drawn with 2000AD, presented here as its forebear and nurturing ground. Whilst that link is fairly successful, that chapter of the film becomes more and more outlandish as it widens the net to claim that 2000AD has influenced every bit of pop culture you can think of. It's a great publication, and this is a largely a successful history of it, but the deserved criticisms of 2000AD could perhaps have been a little sharper and the praise of it perhaps a little less fawning.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

The Water Diviner - Blu-ray Review

'Crowe's direction proves - satisfyingly enough for film scribblers everywhere - to be the mirror of his on-screen presence; unfussy, solid, steeped in a desire to marry grandstanding with heft, presence and satisfaction.'

The Water Diviner may go down in history as the film which gave reason to hope about Jai Courtney's acting abilities. Playing a sympathetic Australian Lieutenant Colonel, who helps Russell Crowe's bereft father in his search for his sons' bodies, Courtney isn't quite a revelation. He is though a solid, likeable presence, someone who you can happily watch and even notice appreciably in support. It's a marked improvement.

Courtney is not the main story here however, for that is surely Crowe, making his directorial debut, whilst turning in a reliably dependable star turn. Crowe's direction proves - satisfyingly enough for film scribblers everywhere - to be the mirror of his on-screen presence; unfussy, solid, steeped in a desire to marry grandstanding with heft, presence and satisfaction. This is, after all, the man who famously delivered 'are you not entertained?' with such gusto.

The answer to that question in relation to The Water Diviner is a fairly unequivocal 'yes'. Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios' script does a good job of boiling down the horrors of the battle of Gallipoli into the microcosm of Connor (Crowe) and his sons. The presentation might be a little light on the 'horror' element, but the film is set largely after the battle and Crowe respectfully shoots the story with a mixture of melancholy and soft-focus romance for 'the east'.

In fact, Crowe is surprisingly at home with the melancholy and the romance when compared with the handful of times he has to direct the action. A trench-based charge, in particular, looks like something out of Blackadder and an un-needed climax occasionally has the feel of an iPhone castle defence game.

Meanwhile, in the softer focus area, Connor fosters a relationship with Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko). Crowe battles to keep this both relevant and on the right side of taste, considering the character has lost his entire family in tragic circumstances. The Water Diviner does just about manage it, but there's tension throughout.

If there's one single thing you can pick out from the film about Crowe's direction, it's that he's not quite there in terms of balancing a host of competing elements, which have the potential to jar against each other. The motif of the titular water diviner, for example, flits into and out of the film, suggesting a near mystical element but never quite committing to it. The muddled history of the region too is explored fairly poorly, with one nation added into the fray at the conclusion to serve as the aggressor the plot needs at that point. The balancing issues though feel resolvable and it's a pleasure to find a film from a debut director that's both base-level satisfying and competently composed.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Classic Intel: Whisper Of The Heart - Blu-ray Review

'In a roundabout way, this is Studio Ghibli's answer to Inside Out'.

Looking at the UK Blu-ray cover art for Whisper Of The Heart, you'd be forgiven for thinking that director Yoshifumi Kondō had followed in the footsteps of Studio Ghibli co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in bringing a fantastical story to the screen for his directorial debut. In fact, what Kondō presents is far more grounded in reality, although you get the feeling that the somewhat misleading nature of the artwork - also used on the 1995 Japanese theatrical release poster - is at least partially intentional.

To put it another way, Kondō litters his film with fantasy red herrings. Again and again, the director playfully leads the audience up the garden path, bringing Whisper Of The Heart to what feels like the brink of becoming a modern fairytale before allowing the narrative to continue on just as naturalistically as before.

Main character Shizuku (Yōko Honna) is the driving force behind this approach. A fourteen-year-old schoolgirl growing up in Tokyo, Shizuku is obsessed with reading and spends much of the first half of the film looking for her own storybook adventure to begin. After following a cat who sat next to her on the train, Shizuku laments that "it felt just like the start of a story" when the animal seemingly gives her the slip.

As it becomes ever clearer that Whisper Of The Heart is not going to transform into fantasy, the journey we see Shizuku take through the narrative becomes increasingly satisfying. In a roundabout way, this is Studio Ghibli's answer to Inside Out delivered twenty years earlier - just a few months before Pixar released their debut feature, in fact. Working from Miyazaki's dependably charming script, Kondō's focus is on that transitional period of uncertainty where you're no longer a child but not yet an adult. Shizuku's negotiation of this time in her life feels entirely genuine as she deals with the pressures of exams, relationships both familial and romantic, and working out what she wants her life to be about.

The main problem within Kondō's film is one of balance. The opening hour at times feels a little aimless in terms of narrative, taking too long here and there to achieve less than it should. This coupled with a few instances of excessive sentimentality - particularly the final scene - means that Whisper Of The Heart isn't perfect. But it is still another expertly crafted offering from Studio Ghibli, made all the more precious by becoming Kondō's sole feature film. The director, who was expected to become Miyazaki and Takahata's successor, died in 1998 before he could direct another release for the studio. Had Kondō been able to fulfil this destiny, there's little doubt based on the evidence here that Studio Ghibli would have been left in very good hands.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

99 Homes - Blu-ray Review

'The film is every man, bank and Realtor for themselves, with every moral sacrificed along the way in pursuit of self-protection.'

Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes is one part Thriller, one part angry polemic addressed at the state of things. Set at around the time of the economic downturn in the US, Bahrani's narrative sees Andrew Garfield's labourer Nash falling under the wing of Michael Shannon's ruthless real estate mogul Rick Carver, but their interactions are only half of what the film is about.

99 Homes real aim is directed at power and the divestment of the same throughout society. Nash, as the narrative progresses, moves from a position of powerlessness to a position where he seems to have a level of control over his own destiny. Very quickly, like a representation of a burgeoning middle class, Nash seems to have opportunity at his feet, the ability to escape his allotted societal level. Nash's power though is arguably illusory; a loan from Carver and those within the film who retain control. Nash, like most of us, may win minor battles, but the war is being fought in the stratosphere above his head, by people on pay grades with several more zeroes than he.

Not that that structure, around power, absolves Nash. If what the film aims for is systems, rather than individuals, then the sociological system it shows is perversely one of collective individualism. 99 Homes is at pains to show us not as communities, but as singular entities, aware only of our little bubble. Nash protects son Connor (Noah Lomax) and mother Lynn (Laura Dern) throughout the film, but in a scene which lays it on a bit thick he evicts an elderly gentleman with no family left to care for him. The film is every man, bank and Realtor for themselves, with every moral sacrificed along the way in pursuit of that self-protection. Nash doesn't actually do anything that bad within the film, but he does little good too. At some points, such as with the eviction of the old man, he just aggressively fails to be good. By the conclusion, the system has show him that, whatever he does, the over-riding structure will swallow him up regardless.

None of this works without Garfield and Shannon's performances (Dern too, in support, is fantastic). The former still cuts a slightly awkward screen presence, which makes him predisposed to this sort of role; the out of place young gun in a world he doesn't understand. Shannon, meanwhile, continues as this generation's finest screen presence. The frustrating thing about Rick Carver, the really infuriating thing, is that you buy into the charm beneath the menace. You want him to help the struggling Nash, just as much as Nash does, even though you are aware that you are witnessing a pact with the devil being sealed.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Classic Intel: Independence Day - Blu-ray Review

'Simply too entertaining far too often to hold even its most cringeworthy moments of patriotism against it'.

As affectionately held as it is by many who grew up during the 1990s, Independence Day is far from a classic. It's too long for a start, clocking in at a hefty two hours and twenty five minutes. There's plenty that could be stripped from its middle section: the detour to Area 51 could easily be pared down, and the sequence where the American military attempts to "nuke the bastards", in the words of President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), could have been excised completely.

The rampant pre-Team America jingoism continues to show the film's age more and more as time wears on. "It's from the Americans. They want to organize a counteroffensive" intones a British soldier, in an RP accent straight out of the 1950s, after receiving a telegram during the final act. "It's about bloody time!" replies his equally well-spoken brother in arms, as if the whole world has been sitting back and dutifully taking everything the alien invaders have been pummelling them with whilst waiting for the USA to swoop in and save the day.

In the world of Roland Emmerich, though, that's pretty much the case every time he threatens to blow the world up in the name of entertainment, with Independence Day setting the standard for the director's future efforts such as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. But where his 1996 film succeeds in making this work in a way that his later efforts do not is easy to see. Independence Day is simply too entertaining far too often to hold even its most cringeworthy moment of patriotism - that would be Pullman's ham-tastic motivational speech to a rag-tag band of Air Force pilots and, er, Randy Quaid - against it.

Even if you can't get on board with America saving the day, there's still plenty to like here. Will Smith's breakout performance as Steven Hiller showcases everything that would make the actor a blockbuster mainstay throughout the rest of the 1990s and beyond. Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson climbs a few rungs up the unlikely action hero ladder after his supporting turn in Jurassic Park, finding a pleasing balance before he would push things too far in The Lost World. It's Goldblum's chemistry with pretty much everyone else that holds much of Independence Day together so enjoyably, most notably with Smith during the finale but also with Judd Hirsch as his father Julius, the two actors forging a likeable double act throughout.

Whilst a few of the special effects are perhaps looking a bit tired now, many of them still hold up well thanks to Emmerich's keen eye for a memorable shot. The attack on the White House is the one everyone remembers, but the opening sequence showing footprints on the moon being wiped out by the reverberations of the alien mothership passing overhead is a personal favourite. Whilst it may not be a classic, it's hard to deny that Independence Day is still a lot of fun to return to regularly, something not so true for many other Hollywood blockbusters reaching their twentieth birthday.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.