Daredevil: Season One - Online Review

'This is Marvel doing something it rarely does: slow burn. Daredevil has patience by the bucketload, to the point where it perhaps has too much.'

Marvel have often been accused over the last few years (and for longer than that in fact) of skewing young in their output, certainly from a film point of view. Big budget films need big returns though, which means that a PG or 12 certificate will always be the aim. It's unlikely Tony Stark will ever become a full on alcoholic, foul-mouthed version of himself. Marvel's darkness needs to come from somewhere else.

Which is definitively what Daredevil is going for. Right from the first trailers, this looked like a series deliberately aiming older, something which the Netflix partnership and 15-rating confirms. This is Marvel's attempt to tell an adult story in an adult way. It's a familiar superhero territory but a brand new uncharted tone. Marvel may be well-practised at this genre by now, but with this much uncertainty, who knew which way Daredevil would go.

The good news is that Daredevil does largely succeed in its tone. This is a series that, a few episodes in, has one of its key characters chop off another character's head using only a car door and a lot of anger. You rarely see Hell's Kitchen, New York, during the day and when you see it at night the glum light is only brightened by neon sign reflections and faint glows from desk lamps. The exterior shots are dark and threatening, the interior shots (many of which admittedly look a little too set-like in HD) create lurking-shadow corners in grim buildings with abandon.

What it doesn't quite nail is story. This is Marvel doing something it rarely does: slow burn. Daredevil has patience by the bucketload, to the point where it perhaps has too much. Keeping the hero out of his true role (read: costume) to the point that it does is very brave, but it also misses the point of the build-up somewhat. The best example of an origin story is still Batman Begins, which kept its suited hero off screen for an age but then had the good grace to give him probably half a film's worth of pay-off. Daredevil has no such satisfaction level.

What it does manage is a terrific villain, presented in a way that makes the inevitable Avengers-shaped hole palatable. Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a Hell's Kitchen villain with a megalomania and lack of superpower that means he doesn't quite justify a smiting from Mjolnir. Instead, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) approaches him almost like a legal case, building up the argument to take him down. If there is one complaint it's that the two don't get much head-to-head or face-to-face time. On the small occasions they do, Daredevil crackles. D'Onofrio is outstanding, a complete contrast from his presence in, say, Jurassic World. In his hands Fisk is an imposing monster of unbridled fury and discipline.

He isn't enough though to paper over the cracks which make this series a sometime-spotty experience. Sub-plots are picked up and dropped. Stick (Scott Glenn) for example, is given an episode and a bit before he disappears. Several of that episode's goings on aren't explained by the season end. There's an impression made but certainly not to the point where it lasts. Murdock and Fisk both get back stories, but at times the former especially feels like distraction and filler. There's build-up and then there's obfuscation for obfuscation's sake. Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) gets a lot of the face time Fisk should get, although at least there is pay-off. Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) gets a good arc, but Foggy (Elden Henson) spends at least one whole episode late on moping, as yet more backstory (Foggy and Murdock's) is doled out.

It's certainly promising and the approach in multiple areas is spot-on, but it also has first season set-up syndrome and this much patience, after a time, is wearying.




Daredevil is currently 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.

Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight - DVD Review

'Falstaff is reportedly the role Welles aspired to play throughout his career, and his fervour for and obsession with Shakespeare's unmistakeable character comes through in every single moment of the actor's flawless turn'

Alongside Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh, Orson Welles is one of the 20th Century's great filmmakers who was born to put Shakespeare on the big screen. Whether you consider his 1965 film Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight to be the best of Welles' Shakespearean works or not, it's a film that it's hard not to be immensely impressed by, and one that's even harder to fault.

As a cinematic achievement, Chimes At Midnight is nothing short of stupendous. Adapted from Welles' stage production of the same name, the director and actor sets himself the Herculean task of carving the story of Sir John Falstaff (Welles) from no less than five of Shakespeare's plays, with particular focus on Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2. It's a monumental undertaking from which most filmmakers would surely recoil, but which Welles takes on with aplomb. That the film was made on a relatively small budget of around $800,000 US only makes the director's achievement all the more astounding.

Crafting elements from a quintet of Shakespearean works into a two hour film may sound like an near-impossible task, but Welles makes his cinematic miracle seem easy. There are characters and plot points here and there which unsurprisingly feel trimmed down from their original form, but never to the point of detracting from the overall film. Everything that is here feels worthwhile, blended together superbly from Shakespeare's timeless source texts to chronicle the ups and downs of Falstaff's relationship with Hal (Keith Baxter), the wayward Prince Of Wales, who later becomes King Henry V.

The performances of Welles' cast are faultless, with particular stand-out turns coming from renowned Shakespearean actor John Gielgud as King Henry IV and Baxter as Prince Hal. The star throughout Chimes At Midnight, however, is without question Welles himself. Falstaff is reportedly the role Welles aspired to play throughout his career, and his fervour for and obsession with Shakespeare's unmistakeable character comes through in every single moment of the actor's flawless turn.

The actor embodies Falstaff entirely, with Welles bringing to life his drunken anarchic roistering just as well as he does his poignantly impassioned scenes. There are even echoes of some of the Bard's other creations to be found, such as in Welles' facial expressions channelling Lear during the final scenes. It's a Shakespearean performance for the ages, setting the bar by which all other screen Falstaffs will surely continue to be measured long into the future.

Welles' extraordinary skill as a director is also clear to see throughout Chimes At Midnight. His choice of shooting angles and framing is regularly breathtaking, with the camera used from perhaps every possible position to gain the unique look and feel of the film throughout. Scenes in Henry IV's castle are opressive and isolating; anything at the Boar's Head Tavern discombobulating and frenetic; and the scenes of the Battle of Shrewsbury at the film's centre jaw-droppingly brutal and chaotic.

Chimes At Midnight is the film Welles himself claimed was his favourite amongst his own works, above other Shakespearean adaptations of Macbeth and Othello and even what is considered by many to be the director's defining work, Citizen Kane. Whether or not it ranks as your number one Welles film, or your top Shakespearean film adaptation, Chimes At Midnight is undoubtedly a cinematic masterpiece outstanding in both achievement and execution.




Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight is released on newly restored 50th Anniversary UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 29th June 2015.


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.

San Andreas - Cinema Review

'If it wasn't so staid in much of its execution, this could almost be a parody of the likes of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow'.

So rigidly does director Brad Peyton stick to the tried-and-tested formula of modern entries into the disaster genre throughout San Andreas that, if it wasn't so staid in much of its execution, this could almost be a parody of the likes of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Watching at times feels like a challenge to see how many clich├ęd outcomes you can predict based on Peyton's hackneyed set up.

A central character who is one half of a separated couple? That'd be Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), San Francisco fireman who specialises in air rescue. A new love interest on the scene of questionable moral character? Step forward Ioan Gruffud's Daniel, who initially seems to go against this stock stereotype, before being thrown back into it full force by Peyton to the point of caricature. Female characters whose main purpose is to be rescued by the men? Check. Scientists who make a breakthrough just too late to save the day? Check. The long and predictable list goes on.

These elements might not be so problematic if they were delivered with any hint of originality, but Peyton never even comes close to straying outside the genre's comfort zone. Even worse is the film's narrative, which starts by piling one derivative device onto another before becoming split between two equally unfocused plots. There's the team of Ray's daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) alongside cartoon English brothers Ben (Hugo Johnston-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson) wandering around an earthquake-torn San Francisco; and Ray - reunited with his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) - searching for Blake, which largely involves him expertly commandeering several types of transport. Whilst one of these stories may have a pursued goal, neither ever feels as if its going anywhere meaningful.

There are two factors that keep San Andreas afloat. The first is the effects-driven destruction sequences, which are impressive throughout. An early scene based at the Hoover Dam kicks things off well, giving a taste of what's to come later; whilst a later sequence based around a tsunami preparing to engulf California provides some genuine thrills and even a few sparks of invention, making it arguably the best Peyton's film has to offer.

The other saving grace is a handful of good casting decisions. Paul Giamatti is an excellent choice for earthquake chasing scientist Dr. Lawrence Hayes, bringing just the right balance of authentic intelligence and exaggerated apocalyptic-prophesying to the character. The other smart choice here is in fact Johnson as the lead, with the former pro-wrestler delivering the necessary level of over-the-top conviction and believable action-man credentials to help carry the film through its lowest points. It's not enough to save San Andreas from being a largely forgettable by-the-numbers disaster movie, but it does mean there are enough moments of respite to rescue Peyton's film from being truly terrible.




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.

Masters Of Cinema #114 - A Letter To Three Wives - Blu-ray Review

'The director at times works the mystery element to his favour, pleasingly keeping the identity of Addie's chosen husband indecipherable until the end of the final act'.

A product very much of its original 1940s release period, whilst also commenting on the universal issues that come with marriage and relationships in general, A Letter To Three Wives creates an intriguing mystery throughout its first act set-up. On the morning of a charity boat ride and picnic, the titular three wives - Deborah (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) and Rita (Ann Sothern) - receive a letter addressed to all of them from a fourth woman, the unseen Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm). The letter states that, by the time they are reading it, Addie will have run away with one of their husbands, but neglects to tell them exactly whose. The trio then spend the rest of the day agonising to varying degrees as to whether their spouse is the unfaithful one.

It's a simple but effective framework upon which director Joseph L. Mankiewicz can build his film around. The director at times works the mystery element to his favour, pleasingly keeping the identity of Addie's chosen husband indecipherable until the end of the final act. Through the respective stories of Deborah, Lora Mae and Rita told in flashback, there are reasons to suspect all three men, as well as ample evidence to believe each of them would remain faithful.

Mankiewicz's assembled cast ensure the performances in A Letter To Three Wives are of consistently high quality. Whilst all six of the actors making up the central couples are strong, of particular note are Darnell, who manages to make Lora Mae an ambitious gold-digger and a dry-humoured likeable presence; and Kirk Douglas as Rita's husband George, who also provides a great line in witticisms whilst playing the mildly emasculated schoolteacher (Rita earns considerably more than him writing radio dramas) with effortless humility.

The film's structure - three extended flashbacks, one focused on each couple, bookended by an opening and closing act set in the present - garners mixed results. Each of the individual stories gives us some pleasing insight into the lives of each husband-and-wife pair, but at times feel too bogged down in domestic melodrama. The mystery introduced in the opening act is often pushed too far into the background to deliver the intrigue and excitement that were initially promised. The three flashbacks also feel too discretely told, and would have benefited from being intertwined more with each other. Deborah and her husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn), for example, are entirely absent from the second and third flashback narratives, making their involvement in the concluding segment of the film feel somewhat stilted compared to the other two couples.

A Letter To Three Wives is entertaining, well made and solidly performed, whilst also giving some fascinating insight into what was important to middle class Americans hoping to climb the social ladder during the mid-20th Century. But it's also a film that lacks the narrative excitement and intrigue - something which its set-up almost certainly had the potential to more effectively engender - to make it genuinely memorable.





Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

A Letter To Three Wives is released in the UK on Monday 29th June 2015


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 Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Blu-ray Review

'It's almost like Madden intentionally makes you believe he's churning out an inferior copy of his first film, just so he can pull the rug out from underneath you'. 

Having enjoyed the charming and inoffensive Britishness of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without ever being wowed, I went into The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel essentially expecting two more hours of much the same. Except, perhaps, with a little charming and inoffensive transatlantic suaveness gently stirred into the mix thanks to the addition of Richard Gere to the sequel's talent roster.

From one perspective, that's exactly what is delivered. Director John Madden in many ways sticks to the formula that made his first film the surprise runaway success it became. The returning cast of veteran British talent largely deliver the same light entertainment as before, with none (save perhaps for one notable exception) ever stretching themselves, but never needing to in order to deliver what Madden requires from them. Gere fits into the sequel like a man settling into a cosy armchair whilst wearing a snug pair of Hush Puppies - entirely comfortable, entirely relaxed, and entirely happy to be so.

Initially at least, Madden also seems happy to keep things just as safe in terms of the story second time around. If anything, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at first feels somewhat less adventurous than its precursor. The director largely opts for British sitcom style humour during the first half, including Norman (Ronald Pickup) becoming convinced he's accidentally put a hit out on ladyfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle); a line of uncomfortable witticisms from hotel owner Sonny (Dev Patel) about the fact many of his clientele are going to die soon; and one particular subplot centred around new hotel guest Lavinia (Tamsin Grieg) lifted almost wholesale from the Fawlty Towers playbook.

It's perfectly entertaining and yet somewhat disappointing at the same time, suggesting Madden has happily ventured into the lazy cash-in area of sequel-making. But at the start of the second hour, there's a distinct upturn in both the tone and the quality of the film, shedding its light-hearted humour for greater depth and emotional weight. It's almost like Madden intentionally makes you believe he's churning out an inferior copy of his first film, just so he can pull the rug out from underneath you when he reveals that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in fact that rarest of pleasures: a sequel that is notably better than the original.

The second half sees a number of the subplots take unexpected turns - there were at least two twists which took me completely by surprise, raising the film a good few notches further in the process - and many characters previously presented as stock figures or comic relief are allowed to develop more satisfyingly. Perhaps most impressive of all is Maggie Smith's performance as Muriel, who started off as a hackneyed racist figure in the first film and is transformed by Smith's touching and authentic turn during the second into one of the franchise's most affecting characters.

Despite the strength of the closing hour, Madden does trip up once or twice. Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas' (Bill Nighy) romantic narrative feels undernourished after being established as a central pair during the first hour, and there's at least one key plot thread that is never properly resolved come the end. But whilst The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might fall short of ever proving to be a film of genuine excellence, it certainly comes pleasingly close - perhaps surprisingly so - at a fair few points throughout its enjoyable two hours.




The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 29th June 2015. 


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.

Classic Intel: The Chaser - DVD Review

'blends the understanding of genre seen in Memories Of Murder, with the grimly dark absurdist humour of The Host and the anti-heroic humanity of Oldboy'

Hong-jin Na's remarkable The Chaser shows off all that is great about South Korean cinema, blending the understanding of genre seen in Memories Of Murder, with the grimly dark absurdist humour of The Host and the anti-heroic humanity of Oldboy. That those films can even be referenced is one thing, but there's something else too: The Chaser can stand up to all of those and may even be better than a couple of them.

As with Memories Of Murder, The Chaser takes what looks like a very simple Cop Thriller and then layers it not only with entertainment but with all of the above elements. The moral quandaries, which come thick and fast both within and outside of the film, begin from the off when we are introduced to our 'hero' (Yun-seok Kim), who turns out to be a belligerent ex-Cop who has turned himself into a small time pimp. There's perhaps a hint at his humanity early on, when he goes to rescue a girl from a violent client, but there's also more than a hint that he sees his charges as purely business assets. As far as noble protagonists go, Joong-ho is no role model.

He is however, at least better than Young-min Jee (Jung-woo Ha), the type of preppy on-screen killer Elijah Wood has played a handful of times now. Hong-jin not only has the confidence in his film to reveal Young-min as the killer straight away, he then revels in it, crafting a perfect end to the first act as the killer's capture is complicated by, of all things, a man throwing excrement at Seoul's mayor. As the two threads collide and Joong-ho is dragged into having further involvement in the narrative than just finding his girls, The Chaser speeds up rather than slowing down, delighting in the fact that it can share most of its secrets with you and still have something left in the tank.

The grimness escalates as Joong-ho continues the search for Mi-jin (Yeong-hie Seo) and Hong-jin resolutely rejects following Hollywood convention. It's not happy, but somehow it is still satisfying, though 2008 is far too late for a film to be relying on an 'out of signal' mobile phone to drive the plot.





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.

A Most Violent Year - Online Review

'Chandor really struggles to make an exciting film out of a set up where the lead is devoutly going to avoid several of the things that can make such films exciting'

J.C. Chandor could hardly have had a better start to his feature writing/directing career. Margin Call is close to perfect. I haven't seen All Is Lost but it was reviewed positively by Ben on this very blog and did well at the festivals, if not the end of year awards. For his third effort, Chandor turns to 1980s New York and A Most Violent Year, a film which left me wondering if he is about to become a talent who suffers from heightened expectations.

A Most Violent Year is not a terrible film. It looks great, it has a fantastic lead performance from Oscar Isaac, great support from Jessica Chastain and a good pitch: during the most violent year in the city's history, oil dealer Abel (Isaac) attempts to stay on the straight and narrow whilst his competitors (or someone else) try to derail his business through illegal means.

The problem is that Chandor really struggles to make an exciting film out of a set up where the lead is devoutly going to avoid several of the things that can make such films exciting. It doesn't take a gigantic leap to place Abel on a similar arc to Michael Corleone, slowly being pulled down into internal and external struggles, where various influences push him further towards a criminal enterprise he is already reluctantly a part of. One of the fascinating aspects of the film is that Abel is already on a decidedly dodgy legal footing, pursued by David Oyelowo's DA. Scenes where Abel protests (and apparently wholly believes) his honesty are followed by moments of him squireling documents away from police reach under his mansion. Chastain looms in the background, threatening to unleash her father (some sort of local gangster?). When Abel walks into a meeting of local oil dealers and tells them to 'stop... just stop', he is surely aware his language could be the plea of innocence or the threat of violence.

That should all be fascinating, but Chandor never succeeds in making the Drama that replaces the crime and the action compelling. There's hugely little payoff, for one thing, the only sub-plot that gets definitively finished being the one involving a trucker (Elyes Gabel) who has been previously robbed. Chandor loves a metaphor and you wonder if Julian (Gabel) stands in for the other honest folk Abel wants to stand with, but who lack his money, influence and retained lawyers. It's a nice thought, but it adds little to the success of the narrative.

Meanwhile, the director focuses too often on scenes that add little. Abel is obsessively pursuing the purchase of a refinery because he 'needs to own it' for him to feel successful in business (another bit of narrative irony: Anna (Chastain) is central to the business but Abel categorically does not own her). It should be a minor character illustration, but instead it becomes a major focus. Other elements lose out. There's little confrontation with Lawrence (Oyelowo), for example, and Abel's competitors and the perpetrators of the crimes against him are hardly seen, with only Alessandro Nivola given even a little to do. More importantly, Abel and Anna's relationship gets few moments to show the obvious crackle between them (though a scene on a highway is good). Think of this sort of power struggle done well (never better recently than in Netflix's House Of Cards) and this is inert by comparison.

The emergent film from all of that is brave, ignoring the genre conventions of the 1960s-1980s gangster film to instead build a character piece around an unknowingly conflicted focal point. It could have worked, could have been compelling and I wanted it to be both, but it simply isn't, with Chandor replacing the missing elements only with substandard drama. His first miss, but still, there's solace in Meat Loaf: two out of three ain't bad.




A Most Violent Year 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.