The low-fi, B-movie Thriller lives on in Bushwick. Still isn't very good.

Bushwick appears to have been afforded a level of respect above that normally granted to low budget Thrillers, starring a recently ex-wrestler. For reference, see early John Cena vehicles The Marine and 12 Rounds, or rather, don't.

Some snappy pacing and a dedication to grit aside it's difficult to see why Bushwick has been elevated out of its particular allotted place. Dave Bautista, the man formally known simply as Bautista, has shown significant promise in Guardians Of The Galaxy, but here he's back being another ex-wrestler who can't really act, given a sound mix which unkindly suggests he can barely speak. Predictably he does finally get a shouty moment to prove he can act/annunciate, barking at co-star Brittany Snow just before he breaks down and gives her his life story.

That odd couple are paired together when Lucy (Snow) emerges from the subway with her boyfriend (soon departed) to find her old neighbourhood of Bushwick at war. With whom exactly isn't made clear and the film is all the better for it the longer it isn't made clear. When one of the black-suited men is finally cornered and spills the beans on the 'plan' (after Bautista has performed the obligatory 'looks like a scrap, might be a wrestling move' on him) mouths start to open and eyes start to widen. Really? Is that really the excuse for the film's violence? Are we expected to believe that one of the antagonists sat down and seriously thought that was going to work? Does he also have a job as a Scooby-Doo scriptwriter?

The logic then is lacking and the same goes for the co-director's (Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott) exploration of the themes on show. Bushwick is a multicultural, integrated neighbourhood and whilst the antagonists think it should just roll over, the residents are banding together to fight back. Cue scenes of orthodox Jews charging armed men with assault rifles and the local gang (or 'club', if you believe the leader's mother) supplying munitions to the citizen uprising. It's a nice idea, but it's muddled and ill-explored. There seems to be scope in Lucy's family to explore the idea of strength through integration and harmony, for example, but her sister is introduced far too later in proceedings to matter, which also ends up undercutting some of the plot machinations.

Murnion and Milott shoot mainly in close-up and behind the characters, following them at close quarters as they navigate the warring streets. This produces effective imagery of armed men disappearing behind the car Lucy and Stupe (Bautista) are using to hide and exiting, frame right. It's effective on this level of budget and whilst it doesn't entirely convince you that Bushwick is now Iraq, it does get close. Too soon though there's a lack of logic as to why the characters are going where they are going. There's an almost videogame level of hopping from place to place to get this person or complete this quest. It becomes an excuse for another effective scene behind a car, a reason for the characters not to just stay in a flat and wait it out, rather than anything more involved. That fact is eventually proven when the finales start and your emotional engagement stays at home.

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.

Quick awards season takes: Three Billboards, The Post, Molly's Game

There is plenty of talk at the moment around a The Post ‘backlash’, which I must admit to me seems like a misnomer. Was it a film that garnered a massive amount of support to begin with? It sits with just a 6.6 average on IMDb and a 65% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The critic Rotten Tomato score is admittedly better at 86%.

Still, it’s not as if there have been unequivocal raves for it and I’m on board with not unequivocally raving for it. Spielberg’s recent cinema has, for me, lagged behind his contemporaries, lacked dynamic plotting and visual flourish and, most surprisingly of all for this director, followed some fairly turgid pacing.

The Post is the apex of that trend. It plays as if Spielberg hasn’t seen the newsroom covered on film before. There’s none of the tension or drive of Spotlight, none of the thrill of Zodiac. And that’s before we get on to the All The President’s Men references, which raised The Post for me from dull and flaccid to downright irritating.

The film covers the period immediately before All The President’s Men and is therefore almost obligated to touch on it. But the way that this happens, placing itself in the All The President’s Men continuum, has a smack of arrogance about it. Does Spielberg deserve licence to give himself such a lofty perch? On balance, yes, probably; but his film does not. We are a whisker away from Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) meeting a young journalist who introduces himself as either Woodward or Bernstein, prompting a double-take of James Bond-pigeon proportions. It’s unsophisticated, plain of message and lacking in thrills.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a brighter watch, although not to the point where I felt it troubling my top 10 of the year (constantly in progress here).

This is the first Martin McDonagh film I’ve felt mixed on, rather than at one end of the spectrum or the other. I admire the morals of the film and the attack on the ills of the world, the intricacies of being human and making mistakes and the plain wrong.

That said, in doing all of that, McDonagh comes across a little like a highly strung film student; someone who knows right from wrong and is going to lay all of that out over a couple of hours, so that we do too.

In doing so he leaves himself a lot to resolve and only manages a portion of it. One character turns into an omnipotent controller of the plot and the other characters within it. Another goes through an about turn that chimes as much with his previous roles as it grates against his initial casting against type. The victim in the central murder is lost somewhere in everything else that is going on. Perhaps that’s a fair reflection of the familial chaos that follows such an event.

The performances stick with you above anything else. Lucas Hedges shows Manchester By The Sea was no fluke. Woody Harrelson does his thing and can continue to do it until the end of time. Sam Rockwell is impressive. Frances McDormand is a titan and deserves awards recognition. Abbie Cornish bizarrely fails to mask her Australian accent on a regular basis. Caleb Landry Jones’ drawl is, for probably the first time ever, not completely distracting.

Giving much more trouble to my top 10 consideration was Molly’s Game, during which Jessica Chastain gets to take on a series of moronic powerful men and Idris Elba acts as the audience’s moral guide. Elba’s character is at once impressed by Chastain’s Molly and uncertain of her aims and values. As he attempts to unpick them so do we.

There are two missteps that belie the fact that Aaron Sorkin is a longtime writer but first time director. A scene where Molly is assaulted is shot with horrible fades and generally gives the impression that Sorkin has never directed a piece of very physical ‘action’ before, nor asked anyone how he should do it. Late on, he manufactures two characters together in a way that doesn’t make sense and could surely have been solved in the script.

That script though is impressive and Sorkin proves that he can keep up with himself. He has described the film as his typical mid-budget adult Thriller; the only things he knows how to write and now, demonstrably, direct. If screenplay is everything and this is by one of our greatest living screenwriters then, hey, it must be good to a degree. The real skill is in that negotiating of Molly's morals. Sorkin has spoken of how he was never in doubt of where Molly lay on a spectrum of good and evil, but the film paints in enough shades of grey to both keep you guessing and keep the character sympathetic.

Elba, released from the mumbling shackles of his iconic Bell and Luther roles, really impresses. His future is more intelligent and more cerebral than Bond; interestingly a similar arc that Chastain continues to tread.

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.

Mudbound: Netflix's Oscar-winner?

The Netflix business model revolves around offering something for everyone so that no-one can refuse a subscription. This 'all things to all people' mentality is clearly working so far (depending on how far you dig into the accounts), with one significant area still 'under development': feature films. Looking down a list of 'Netflix films' you could probably pick one or two that interest you, whatever your tastes, but there's little there that's truly unmissable. Do Ricky Gervais fans need to see Special Correspondents? Will Steven King completists subscribe just for Gerald's Game?

If Netflix were to get an Oscar winner though, things change. People seek out Oscar winners. They are unmissable. You can see where Netflix's thinking is going. In the coming year they will release films like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, another that falls into that category, but first comes Mudbound, a genuine Oscar contender, at least in some of the acting categories.

And acting is where most of the film's merit lies. All of the characters here are uncomfortable in their present situations to some degree (except Jason Clarke's Henry, who should be), which invites terrific turns of conflict and inner angst. Director Dee Rees grants most of the major characters with a segment of Malickian monologue, over Malickian imagery, which gives each star their moment in the spotlight/beatific corn field. Carey Mulligan, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige are all terrific. The latter is amongst the favourites for Best Supporting Actor. Garrett Hedlund still cannot quite shake the feeling that his efforts are greater than their end results, but those efforts are at least there.

The film tells the story of a white family (led by Clarke) working the same land as a black family (led by Morgan) in rural Mississippi, both during World War Two and in the immediate post-war period where both families welcome home a younger family member who has been away fighting (Hedlund and Mitchell). The issue with the film is that that is a big melting pot of characters, socico-economics, race, gender and plot and Rees never manages to balance it all satisfactorily.

Pappy (Jonathan Banks), for example, the senior member of Henry's clan disappears for a vast swathe of the narrative, proving finally to be a dramatic plot device waiting to be revealed, rather than a true character. Another white family, working for Henry, are introduced and seem to be heading somewhere, but you have to watch very closely for their conclusion, which arguably doesn't match that moniker. Each character has a complex relationship with every other on the farm but a massive amount of the most interesting ones get only lip service. Henry and Laura (Mulligan) are set up as on a rocky road from Mulligan's early narration, yet they get more and more time to show that rocky road in full trundling travel. The few interactions that Mulligan has with Blige are delicious, but they are just that: few and far between. The excuses for why characters aren't developing with other characters properly get thinner and thinner. 'Henry always seemed to be away when something happened', Laura tells us at one point.

The film ends on a genius piece of suggestive fancy, a bittersweet note of hope, which hints at what this could have been had a little more refinement been utilised elsewhere. As it is, Mudbound may well be Netflix's first Oscar winner. But it doesn't quite earn an 'unmissable' tag.

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.

Cartoon Saloon's The Breadwinner: just how bleak do you like your animation?

I've recently rewatched Cartoon Saloon's Song Of The Sea with my nineteen-month old, albeit in three thirty-minute stints. Whilst every nuance of the plot might not quite have been absorbed, it is fair to say that it had an effect. There were sections watched in complete stillness, mouth agape. When Ben, the protagonist of the film, comes to an emotional realisation late on, and sheds a tear, there was a rubbing of eyes from the small one on my own sofa. During the climax, Cú, an old English sheepdog, spurred on by two spirit dogs, races home, with Ben and his sister Saoirse on his back, as the music stirs a crescendo. Most of that section was absorbed whilst bouncing around the sofa, shouting at the screen in two minutes of pure joy. It's the first time anything on film has produced that sort of reaction.

It's with mixed emotions then that I watched Cartoon Saloon's latest, The Breadwinner, alone. Directed by Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret Of Kells with Song Of The Sea's director, Tomm Moore, the film tells the story of Parvana (Saara Chaudry), an eleven year-old girl growing up in Afghanistan. When her father is arrested and taken away by the Taliban, Parvana disguises herself as a boy so that she can support her older sister, mother and younger brother.

From very early on, The Breadwinner created an uneasy feeling in my stomach, which I never shook off until the end credits. There is genuine and repeated heartache here, not just in the reveals and the developments of the plot, but in the very fabric of the film. Mark Kermode often quotes Roger Ebert's assertion that films are 'empathy machines' and never is that more true than here. The Breadwinner confronts the hardships of the world - and the very specific hardship of this time and location - in such a matter of fact manner that it is impossible not to be moved by what it has to show. There will be guilt too. The idea that the events of the story happen in a world to which we all share citizenship seems preposterous. How can we allow it? How did we allow it?

Twomey's film shows Cartoon Saloon refining their animation style to new heights. The content matter is belied by the gorgeous and fluid animation and sound design. Like Song Of The Sea, there are diversions to slightly different animation styles throughout, mainly to a story Parvana tells in segments throughout the film about a young boy from a village challenging an evil force which has taken the village's supplies. 'Is it a happy story, or a sad story?', Parvana's friend asks at one point. 'Just you wait and see', comes the reply.

Both the film within the film and The Breadwinner itself take a similar approach. By the conclusions, you can read happiness or sadness, or maybe just life. That's about as a bold a message from a 'children's' animation as you're likely to receive. If you or your children found Inside Out too emotional or cerebral then be warned: this is another level entirely.

Which leaves me in something of a quandary. This is 'notable' in the truest sense of the word. It's a western animation that deals with major social questions in a mature, considered and gorgeous way. It is currently in my top ten of the year list and I suspect that it will stay there. It is also, I would suggest, too bleak for most children under thirteen (it has a PG-13 rating in the US), which means that it will be some time before I can sit down with my son and enjoy Cartoon Saloon's latest. That feels a little like a missed opportunity. If some of this story could have been balanced by a little more lightness then the message of the film could have made it beyond the thirteen-and-above audience and to Cartoon Saloon's core crowd. Perhaps that's being too harsh on a film that dares to tell a story many would have rejected and, because of that, creates something of true significance.

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.

Quick awards season takes: Lady Macbeth and, erm... Despicable Me 3

Awards season is here! In Hollywood's head this means glitz and glamour. In reality, John Travolta is dusting down his tux, ready to prowl the red carpets performing all kinds of 'hilarious' 'shenanigans'. Meanwhile, studios are organising their pushes for awards-likely releases, which brings me neatly on to...

Lady Macbeth, which will probably feature at a few of the independently-minded awards and may sneak onto the BAFTAs in some way shape or form. The writing debut of Alice Birch and the feature debut of director William Oldroyd, the film looks lovely, but nevertheless manages to leave you sitting in a slightly uncomfortable manner. Some of this may be my own fault. For whatever reason (and I'm aware it should be fairly obvious) I did not have where the film was going pegged and the change in tone over what appeared to be an interesting sexual awakening drama left me a little cold. It's a cop out, but I need to see it again: the feeling I left with - of the character handling being flat-footed - may be down entirely to my expectations of where it was going to go.

That said, there are definite areas that smacked of 'first draft'. The story, based on a novel by the Russian writer, Nikolai Leskov, hinges on a character losing the power of speech when she has information to share that would stop the plot in its tracks. In writing terms that's a whisker away from everything being a dream and in directing terms it's never sold well enough to make you forget it. The opening is also a little too full of hints about Katherine's (Florence Pugh) wild nature. She talks of being 'comfortable outside', whilst other characters mix thinly veiled metaphors about animals being tied up for too long. Pugh is good but overall and, again, on first viewing only, it didn't live up to some of the effusive praise it has received.

At the other end of the spectrum, Despicable Me 3 starts with two minions becoming DJs after the opening action sequence. Their hit of choice is Ricky Martin's 1995 'classic' Un, Dos, Tres, Maria which tells you all sorts of things about how out of touch the film is and how clever the 'jokes' and musical cues are going to be.

Universal is pushing Despicable Me 3 for Best Animated gongs, but really this is the franchise running its course. The writing and jokes are lame compared to the first two films and even the minions offer little respite this time round. The story ideas test the definition of that word, opting for the 'long lost sibling' angle and doing very little of interest with it beyond the initial, obvious, 'surprise' jokes.

Worse, the film seems to have completely lost sight of what crowds of children want to watch. Even adults are likely to be a bit non-plussed by the ex-child TV star villain, complete with eighties tash, charmless robot companion and near constant glitterball accessory. What nine year-olds will make of jokes pitched around Rubix cubes is anyone's guess, but as someone who actually knows what a Rubix cube is, I'm happy to tell them that they weren't funny.

It lost me at Un, Dos, Tres and never offered anything that suggested that decision was in any way isolated or forgivable.

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.

Picking up the pieces of the Saw franchise in a post-"torture porn" world

The following article contains references to plot details for the first seven films in the Saw franchise.

Thirteen years after its original release, I will still defend the original Saw as a worthwhile and cleverly structured horror thriller, even if its low-budget production and corny performances haven't stood the test of time as well as its plot twists. "Perhaps you enjoyed Se7en. This often goes up to Ei8ht" was the pull quote from Peter Bradshaw's Guardian review slapped on the film's DVD cover, emphasising the echoes of David Fincher's earlier (and far superior) neo-noir with added brutality to be found throughout James Wan's first mainstream directorial effort.

Importantly, Saw was not the film which earned the series its position at the centre of the "torture porn" trend which dominated the horror genre for the opening decade of the twenty-first century. That dubious honour went to the first sequel, 2005's Saw II, which ventured down the bigger-equals-better route by expanding the claustrophobic primary setting of the first film from a repulsive abandoned bathroom to an entire derelict building. The ante was also upped considerably in terms of the sadistic "games" set up by John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer, moving from the psychological minimalism building to horrific self-sacrifice seen in the first film, to a gleefully unpleasant house of horrors designed to cause maximum suffering and splatter throughout.

If Saw II marked the franchise's first undeniable steps into the torture porn arena, then the third film was the point at which it plunged in headfirst and never looked back. The ante was upped once again, and whilst the series arguably takes place in an extreme reflection of our own world from the very start, it's still hard to accept Saw III's traps could believably be planned and executed by Jigsaw even with the help of his disciples as revealed in subsequent installments - I mean, who has access to that many putrid pig carcasses?

Away from the increasingly convoluted and unpleasant traps, Saw III was also the final installment to give a script credit to the original film's writer Leigh Whannell, making it the series' swansong in terms of narrative coherence or sense of craft. Whilst the second sequel was a far cry from Saw's twisting thriller plot, at least it made sense and involved characters we vaguely cared about. It's fitting that Jigsaw himself dies at the end of the third film, as this is where the series' life should have ended as well.

Instead, we were "treated"  to another four installments which cater pretty much entirely to the torture porn crowd. The traps may make less sense, but hey, at least they get the blood gushing, the guts splattering, the victims screaming and the audience wincing. Away from the gore, however, there's little within any of the closing four Saws of worth. Each of the main "games" in these films is essentially a lazy rehash of elements lifted from Saw II and Saw III featuring characters in whose survival we're given no reason to invest.

By far the biggest error post-Saw III was the series' shift increasingly further away from Jigsaw - given a hokey and entirely unnecessary origin story through flashbacks - and onto Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), eventually revealed to have been Kramer's accomplice since before the events of the first film. Thanks to Bell's convincing performance and the groundwork laid in the first few installments, Jigsaw was an intriguingly paradoxical antagonist providing the franchise with a solid core even as other elements continually deteriorated. Hoffman offered none of that: a stock bent-copper-cum-serial-killer with a clichéd and thinly drawn motive, performed by Mandylor with as much nuance as a pair of industrial-sized ice blocks to the head (take a bow, Saw IV).

Seven years after Saw: The Final Chapter seemingly drove the very last nail into Jigsaw's coffin, an eighth installment, simply titled Jigsaw, will attempt to resurrect the series once again at the end of October. There's no doubt that horror tastes have changed since torture porn's heyday in the early years of the noughties. The more traditional approach of films such as The Conjuring and its sequel and spin-offs, the social commentary approach of Get Out and, most recently, the brazenly nostalgic coming-of-age slant on Stephen King's It all offer horror experiences distinctly removed from the later Saw films' thinly-plotted splatter-fests. Jigsaw therefore not only has the task of rebooting the franchise from a position of practically zero critical credibility; but also needs to prove to those of us who were there at the beginning, before the torture porn aspect displaced everything else, that the entire concept of the Saw films isn't simply a relic of the recent past that should have been left to rot.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his PhD. He's also on and Twitter.

The place of the Western in 2017: Ti West's In A Valley Of Violence

The fact that the Western is a genre intensely linked to the state of play in American culture, sociology and theology is a statement approaching cliche. The discussion of the modern place of genre entrants is inseparable from its roots in (predominantly) white American expansion and the pejorative meaning of 'the American way'.

In one of the latest entrants to the genre, director Ti West shows an awareness of what the genre can consider. Like many of his contemporary forebears though, West doesn't seem to know exactly what the Western has to say today. In A Valley Of Violence proves both that the genre is alive (or at least present) and confirms that it has largely said all it has to say.

We begin with Paul (Ethan Hawke), happening across a luckless priest (Burn Gorman) swigging from a whiskey bottle. After a predictable encounter where Paul and canine companion Abby prove their metal, Paul makes it to Denton where the ridiculous Gilly (James Ransone) 'rules' the roost like a fratboy banker on coke.

Gilly, though overplayed wildly by Ransone, is more or less the sole new idea when it comes to contemporary relevance. Surely destined to be played by Ben Foster had he not gone on to bigger and better things, the character treats his woman (a wasted Karen Gillan) terribly, brags to his friends without substance and is both criticised and humoured by his father (John Travolta) in equal measure. It's a nice idea, but Ransone's execution leaves something to be desired and the character lacks the menace you need in an antagonist.

The film is then notable in the minor sense for the ideas it has which have been considered better elsewhere, though still with fairly little genre progression.

The apex of the film turns at around the halfway point. The sequence itself is unremarkable, featuring as it does a predictable death and a decision by Ransone which passes Bond-villain-stupid and makes it to Scooby-Doo-lazy. At that point though, West gives himself half a film to carry out the titular violence. Open Range has done this. Open Range has also done this significantly better. West shoots and choreographs with little flair and Eric Robbins' photography is a long way from, say, Robert Richardson's work on The Hateful Eight, even allowing for the latter's much-hailed non-digital approach.

West, best known for his work in the Horror genre, bring elements of that to the finale but, again, he's been beaten to the punch recently. Bone Tomahawk is a genuinely nasty Western/Horror cross that really goes for the grisly elements, and follows through with character moments that fit. West settles for a few close-ups of bloodied people and a heightening of the strings in Jeff Grace's already too-obvious score.

On the plus side, when the script is lazily having Hawke explain backstory by way of talking to Abby, there's some really great work from Travolta. Though now mainly appearing in forgettable tumbleweed and awkward red carpet encounters, the veteran reminds us that he has the gravitas Ransone is lacking and the smart delivery to make rapid fire delivery sing. Apart from a disappointingly low-key conclusion, he elevates West's film whenever he is on screen.

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.