Classic Intel: The Firm - Online Review

'If The Firm was made today the budget would be single-figure millions, it wouldn't have a chance at getting Cruise and it would be on the checkout aisle shelves of TESCO for £6 within months.'

At the time this won't have seemed like the case but The Firm, released in 1993, heralds the veritable end of the Thriller genre as we knew it in the 1980s and 1990s. With a good plot, script and star, Sydney Pollack's take on the John Grisham novel doesn't need much Action or even budget (it was made for $42 million and took $158 million). It doesn't give its audience the answers to its mystery easily, or make any claim that 'hero' Mitch (Tom Cruise) isn't in some ways complicit in his own downfall. It's a great example of the Thriller done properly, focusing on plot and reveal, bait and hook. If it was made today the budget would be single-figure millions, it wouldn't have a chance at getting Cruise and it would be on the checkout aisle shelves of TESCO for £6 within months. Hey ho.

Pollack also knew how to do this genre like the back of his hand. You can recognise in The Firm much of the paranoia on display in Three Days Of The Condor, which the director made almost twenty years previously. Instead of Robert Redford at the height of his powers in Condor, here he has a Tom Cruise in his prime, just before the days of the Cruise/Wagner productions that took him from 'A-List' to 'the only person on the list'. The Firm marks the end of a run of films that started with Top Gun in 1986; an incredibly dense collection of nine films in just seven years that cemented his power, all of which are seminal in their own way, with the possible exception of Far And Away, which I haven't seen. After this there is only 1994's Interview With The Vampire, before the franchise-building of Mission: Impossible begins and Cruise's career goes into the stratosphere.

The Firm's problems are nitpicks, but nevertheless present. The security guy at 'The Firm' (Wilford Brimley) isn't half as scary as he needs to be, for a start, completely failing to convince that he can orchestrate the two distinctive assassins who carry out much of the plot's darker deeds. Considering too that the film takes place in Memphis, there's little sense of place in a city that has oodles of it. A much-parodied scene of Cruise doing backflips with a street performer is as close as it gets, hinting that perhaps there was something there in the script at some point, but its isolation only serves to show that there's nothing else of its ilk anywhere else in the film. Mitch's suburban house could be in up state New York or Oregon. A late plot movement also relies on a relationship between Avery (Gene Hackman) and Mitch's wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), but that relationship is never there on any level. When Avery shows up at the school Abby works at he is about as out of place as anything else in the film. It doesn't work and serves only the area of the plot which requires Avery and Abby to be in the same place at the right time.

The rest of the film though is a classic and close-to-perfect Thriller. Mitch is neither smart enough to see through the money offered him to the problems, nor stupid enough to never have been offered the money in the first place. His orchestrated downfall, whilst away with Avery, is made believable by Pollack's direction and the script's nous; Mitch's relevant intelligence is again balanced, as he avoids one type of honey pot, only to fall for another. Small elements like this build, until the point is reached at which Mitch's has accumulated enough intelligence to extract himself from threat. The neat ends are perhaps tied a little too tightly but, nevertheless, you can't argue that it's not satisfying.




The Firm was playing on Netflix.


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.

Selma - Online Review

'at its centre there is a near-epic performance by David Oyelowo that makes you wonder just whether those voting in Oscar-ville were watching this properly'

Ava DuVernay's 'snubbed' Selma is sometimes slow enough of pace and directorial verve to understand why it failed to titillate The Academy in some categories, but at its centre there is a near-epic performance by David Oyelowo that makes you wonder just whether those voting in Oscar-ville were watching this properly. A respected actor playing a real-life person in a politically and socially charged 'true life' film that then didn't get an acting nomination? Oyelowo's performance should have been lapped up by voters, and an inquest commenced into why it was not.

Away from the awards, DuVernay succeeds in both painting a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) and finding new lenses through which to examine his life and his work. There's a constant frame throughout Selma, for example, that though King preached peace, his tactics for effecting social change relied on the violence of others. When this didn't happen, his message was diminished and his battle moved on to somewhere else. This feels new, honest and needle-thread-like in its pinpoint awareness. King comes off as no less great because of its inclusion, whilst DuVernay comes off as more so.

Selma focuses on the events surrounding demonstrations in the town of the title, narrowing the scope of DuVernay's portrayal of King to make it manageable. There's some tension though between elements of King's wider life and work that the director obviously felt the need to include and that initial approach of reducing King down to one event for the purpose of the film. Some of the sections with King's family and, in particular his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) feel a little tacked on, as do some sections of president Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) consulting with Hoover (Dylan Baker) and arguing with racist governor George Wallace (Tim Roth). By contrast, support from Wendell Pierce, Giovanni Ribisi and Alessandro Nivola, to name just three of an eclectic and outstanding cast, is welcome and developed, but somewhere the balance is off. One-hundred and twenty-eight minutes is long for a film which, at the outset, narrowed its focus to avoid spreading itself too thinly.

That said, Selma is rarely less than satisfying, balancing the location-set demonstrations with much tighter character clashing (at its best during Oyelowo and Wilkinson's handful of scenes together). A stricter or more expansive edit, to balance out the various elements, could have seen something even more special.




Selma was playing on Blinkbox.


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.

Like Someone In Love - Blu-ray Review

'The jazz club-like opening, played out in dark corners and neon, which moves on to a taxi tour of Tokyo is evocative, but more so of 'somewhere' than necessarily that particular city.'

If you look at writer/director Abbas Kiarostami's past work closely, you'll find a film called Five Dedicated to Ozu. After watching Like Someone In Love, the director's clear nods to and respect of YasujirĂ´ Ozu are even more obvious. This is a film made in Ozu's image, a quiet Drama where the camera acts as passive observer to the sometime-foibles of the on screen characters.

At the film's heart are excellent performances by Rin Takanashi and Tadashi Okuno, as a call girl and her elderly client. Takashi (Okuno) orders Akiko (Takanashi) to his apartment but then proceeds to lord it over a slightly strange evening where his desire seems to be a paternal need to cook for and look after the young girl. Things develop when Takashi meets Akiko's abusive boyfriend.

The jazz club-like opening, played out in dark corners and neon, which moves on to a taxi tour of Tokyo is evocative, but more so of 'somewhere' than necessarily that particular city. The mixture of the old and the new, mirrored in Takashi and Akiko's relationship, brings out an idea that the characters are living outside of their time. Akiko's aunt, who features in a heartbreaking scene, is shot waiting underneath an old statue, surrounded by neon, as Akiko sweeps past on her way to her new job.

Kiarostami is also clearly interested in ideas of family, lineage and paternity. The obvious is the role Takashi grows into, becoming de facto father for Akiko, who seems lost in the city. Look closely though and the same ideas are peppered throughout the film. Akiko's boyfriend wants to marry her, but is clearly struggling to contain an inner rage and become a 'family man'. More subtly, on the several occasions we wait with the camera outside Takashi's apartment, every passer-by is dragging a child further down the street, whilst inside Takashi is trying to drag Akiko into 'proper' adulthood.

Like Someone In Love is slow and patient and it won't be to everyone's tastes because of that, but if you can relax into it, Kiarostami has successfully depicted a film a modern day Ozu might make, with all of the gentle positives that brings with it. More of this please.





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.

Shaun The Sheep Movie - Blu-ray Review

'There is plenty of invention and charm in the storytelling that somewhat makes up for the simplicity of the story being told'.

Much like powerhouse CGI animation studio Pixar, so consistent is the quality of the work of Aardman Animation that it makes more sense to judge new releases against their own back catalogue over anything else. Aardman are the reigning kings of stop-motion, a position they have arguably now held for over twenty years. The studio's style and attention to detail is their unmistakable calling card, making every new release a charming feast for the eye that brims with personality.

Shaun The Sheep Movie is no different in that respect. Aardman's fingerprints are all over this, if you'll pardon the pun. The world of Shaun and his flock is brilliantly realised, with The Big City in which the woolly ones find themselves recognisably serving as several British metropolises in one. The characters too, whilst some of the simplest offerings from the studio, join the long list of Aardman creations it's hard not to become enamoured with incredibly quickly.

That simplicity is something which permeates much of Shaun The Sheep Movie, and ultimately becomes its greatest limiting factor. Being spun off from a children's TV series, it's no surprise that the film is aimed first and foremost at the younger members of the audience. There are a handful of references clearly there for the adults, but when compared to the studio's last feature film The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! or anything from Aardman's Wallace And Gromit franchise - in which Shaun made his first appearance - Shaun The Sheep Movie undeniably falls a little short in terms of universal appeal.

When it comes to plot, co-writers and directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzack also keep things simple. It's a wise choice for a child-focused approach, but does make Shaun The Sheep Movie feel a little too comfortable in its episodic nature. Again, compare the narrative here to Aardman's past work, or indeed other critically-acclaimed animated children's cinema of recent years, and there's no denying that Burton and Starzack could have afforded to challenge themselves a little more here and there.

That said, there is plenty of invention and charm in the storytelling that somewhat makes up for the simplicity of the story being told. That the film has no spoken dialogue at all, and that this never becomes a problem for Burton and Starzack, is testament to the pair's creative ingenuity. There are also some lovely animation set pieces scattered throughout, with an early sequence involving a runaway caravan proving particularly memorable.

Shaun The Sheep Movie is undeniably funny, perfectly enjoyable and infectiously endearing; but it also never manages to stretch Aardman into doing anything new or different from what we've seen from the studio before. That said, in bringing a TV series with an average episode time of seven minutes to the big screen, Burton and Starzack's film is most definitely a success. Anyone under ten, or anyone watching with youngsters of that age, can easily add an extra star to the score at the end of this review.



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.

The Road To Spectre: Lazenby's Early Exit, Connery's Return (1969-1971)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'Whilst Lazenby as the lead is undoubtedly a key issue, to lay all of On Her Majesty's Secret Service's problems directly at his feet is entirely unfair'.

The films that marked the Bond franchise's transition from the 1960s to the 1970s saw the first genuine period of uncertainty, perhaps even crisis, for both the series and its future. Sean Connery's desire to leave the role of 007 had germinated following Goldfinger, growing during Thunderball and You Only Live Twice to the point where he was reportedly not speaking to series producer Albert Broccoli whilst making the fifth film. Connery's exit meant a new actor playing Bond on the big screen for the first time, with the part ultimately going to George Lazenby, a choice roundly criticized upon his debut in the role in 1969.

Unfortunately, time has done little to improve Lazenby's brief tenure in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Whilst never terrible, Lazenby simply fails to imbue his version of the secret agent with the same swagger and charisma Connery had embodied from Dr. No onwards. To be fair, Lazenby is far more convincing during the action and fight scenes, with the extended ski chase sequences during the final act some of the film's most enjoyable of all. Unfortunately however, as the longest Bond film yet (a title it would hold onto until the Daniel Craig era), On Her Majesty's Secret Service has some serious pacing issues, failing to deliver much action at all for the first ninety of its bloated one hundred and forty minutes.

An opinion which has gathered momentum in recent years is to declare On Her Majesty's Secret Service as one of the strongest Bond films helmed by one of the weakest Bonds. But, whilst Lazenby as the lead is undoubtedly a key issue, to lay all of the film's problems directly at his feet is entirely unfair. Peter R. Hunt, directing his first and only Bond film after serving as editor on the previous five, seems decidedly unsure on the tone he wants for his film. The gadgetry is dialled down considerably, but the camper style is more prevalent than ever; Hunt even has Bond inexplicably break the fourth wall during the pre-titles sequence. The casting issues don't begin and end with Lazenby either. Telly Savalas as Blofeld fails to achieve anywhere near the success of Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice and, thanks to some clumsy scripting and direction coupled with his lack of suitability for the role, at times feels like a different character all together.

Thankfully, Diana Rigg as Tracy Di Vicenzo counterbalances these shortcomings by providing one of the most well-rounded and satisfying love interests seen in a Bond film before or since. The entire romantic subplot between Bond and Tracy is undoubtedly On Her Majesty's Secret Service's strongest element, feeling well-structured and providing a number of pleasingly emotional scenes, with Rigg bringing out the best of Lazenby's performance away from the action.

Initially contracted for seven appearances as 007, Lazenby chose instead to leave the franchise after a single film. Whilst casting for a new Bond recommenced, at this stage there was only one man the studio executives at United Artists wanted to put on the black tux once again...


Connery was lured back to the series for one more turn as Bond for a salary of $1.25 million - a record amount for a single-film deal at the time. A film that has come under considerable critical fire from its initial release onwards, Diamonds Are Forever is in many ways a perfectly satisfying entry into the series. Whilst there are definite moments throughout where Connery looks and feels too old for the part, and others where he has clearly lost his enthusiasm for the role, there are also a satisfying amount where the actor brings a pleasing vitality back to Bond after Lazenby's muted performance. A mid-film car chase through the streets of Las Vegas is particularly memorable, providing one of the film's highlights whilst proving that Connery was finishing his time as Bond well before Bond finished him.

There are other elements to enjoy here too, such as the genuinely unsettling homosexual hitmen Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) - criticised for their exaggerated characterisation when the film was released, but who in hindsight feel ahead of their time when compared to the likes of Skyfall's Silva. Charles Gray becomes the third actor to take on the role of Blofeld, improving considerably on Savalas' take on Bond's nemesis despite being given by far the most extravagant and theatrical version of the character to deliver.

The main problem with Diamonds Are Forever is the irksome feeling that pretty much everyone involved is simply going through the motions throughout. Whilst previous Bond films may have adhered to a formula, there was always an underlying enthusiasm to them, something which this seventh outing too often lacks.

The plot is relatively basic, offering an unremarkable diamond smuggling narrative which gives way in the second half to a somewhat ridiculous SPECTRE master plan. This is also arguably the most cartoonish Bond film released up to this point in the series, with Bond's escape from a research lab by joyriding a moon buggy through the desert perhaps typifying the approach of returning Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton. It's not enough to stop Diamonds Are Forever from being an entertaining watch for much of its running time, but it does hammer home how seriously the Bond franchise needed freshening up at this point in its history.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever


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.

Vacation - Cinema Review

'Far better than it perhaps deserves, or indeed anyone expected a return to this franchise to be'.

The "soft reboot" train continues to gather pace as it chugs across 2015, with franchises from all areas of cinema's past jumping on board showing flagrant disregard as to whether a new entry is either wanted or needed. Vacation is perhaps one of the strangest selections from the current part-sequel-part-remake crop for the simple fact that, despite the affection the 1983 original National Lampoon's Vacation is held in by many, it's hard to imagine anyone particularly hankering after either a continuation or update of either the original film or its franchise. With three sequels already spawned, the last of which - Vegas Vacation - appeared in 1997 to a distinct lack of fanfare, perhaps the Griswalds were best left in the 20th Century.

In spite of this, however, Vacation for the most part manages to capture what made the original such an easy film to enjoy. This is unchallenging entertainment that's light on plot development and heavy on throwaway laughs which, far more often than not, hit their target. Vacation never feels like a desperate attempt at modernising the 1983 film either. Aside from a slightly forced gag about "liking" Facebook photos and a few jokes about the technology housed in the family's Albanian-made car, much of the humour here wisely isn't tied into a specific time period, potentially future-proofing Vacation to an extent from becoming dated. Likewise, a few welcome references to the original are included, but anyone who's never heard of Marty Moose or Walley World before now will also be just fine.

Road movies are by definition much more about the journey itself than the reason it's being made, something Vacation keeps in mind through delivering what could in many ways be a series of vignettes on a sketch show. Inevitably, some are more successful than others, but most offer at least a few satisfying laughs. The cameos crop up regularly but are not overdone, including a welcome if somewhat brief return from Chevy Chase and Beverley D'Angelo, and the most successful by far from Chris Hemsworth as the well-endowed brother-in-law of Griswald patriarch Rusty (Ed Helms).

The main cast also keep things enjoyable. Christina Applegate is reliably entertaining if a little underutilised; Helms meanwhile channels Chase's performance from the original, largely getting away with it whilst never reaching quite the same level of success. Vacation won't win any prizes for originality or innovation, but it's also undemanding and fun - as well as turning out far better than it perhaps deserves, or indeed anyone expected a return to this franchise to be.




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.

Foxcatcher - Blu-ray Review

'a slow burn narrative that has the dubious 'benefit' of a true life conclusion that's barely believable'

Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is a quietly impressive film, with a showcase for Steve Carell, an actor not often blessed with the label 'significant screen presence' but, nevertheless, one of the finest screen presences going.

The concept of presence is a slightly misquoted one, which often seems to be bestowed on actors with some sort of heft; Tom Hardy in... everything. Vince Vaughn in TV's True Detective. Josh Brolin in... a Mercedes-Benz advert. But presence is something else, a level of watchability that means you gravitate towards actors whenever they're on screen, or that prompts them to stand out amongst a collection of other talented performers. Carell, in ageing and substantial nose make-up, has this here as John du Pont, but he also had it in last Summer's The Way Way Back, playing an Average Joe schlubb. As a comic actor, he's great; as a dramatic one he could be outstanding, which he is here.

The film is more of a mixed bag, a slow burn narrative that has the dubious 'benefit' of a true life conclusion that's barely believable. Miller plays his cards the only way he can really, keeping the events of the finale from view, but that still doesn't change the fact that they jar and alter the film; what is essentially a quiet character study becomes something else very suddenly.

The subtext is more interesting, but nothing without a more consistent on screen experience. DuPont might have the gunpowder, but he lacks the tinder to light it. Perhaps that analogy is falsely representative; DuPont has the gun, the gunpowder and the tinder, but he has no idea where to fire it, how to get the desired reaction. He is American excess and imperialism, marauding through long, lonely lands (his palatial estate), uncertain how to exert influence over them, to bring what he and his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) might term success.

It's a beautiful film, with noble intentions to expand its tragedy out into something wider than its own, narrow, focus. But ultimately, the film's well-told narrative of American over-reaching, punctuated with a blatant undercurrent of not having the ability to fulfil dreams, never surprises (beyond the jarring finale), becomes compelling or establishes a higher gear at which to operate. It's never a dull film, but it does flatline throughout, dragging you, rather than leading.





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.