The Conjuring 2 - Cinema Review

'The most reliable mainstream horror franchise currently out there, which says as much about the present standing of the genre as it does about Wan's films'.

With The Conjuring 2, writer-producer-director James Wan has established The Conjuring series as the most reliable mainstream horror franchise currently out there, which says as much about the present standing of the genre as it does about Wan's films. Both this second installment and the original film offer straightforward, traditional Hollywood horror done well. They're far from perfect and never do anything as interesting as more innovative genre offerings such as Green Room or The Witch, but Wan knows what he's doing with an able cast, and at the moment that's enough to place The Conjuring at the top of the horror series rankings.

What this means for The Conjuring 2 is that it generally gets the same things right as the first film, but rarely does anything to resolve the problems. The initial set-up of the sequel is remarkably familiar: we may have moved ahead six years and shifted from America to England, but the focus is still upon a large family traumatised by spooky goings on that Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are eventually called upon to help. As such, none of the Hodgson children outside of Janet (Madison Wolfe) receive a great deal in the way of development, much like the children of the Perron family in the previous film.

On the paranormal investigation side, Wan does develop Ed and Lorraine further here, but again relies too heavily on Wilson and Farmiga's sterling performances to carry the characters and their narrative. British investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) is given a single scene to relate a backstory that's never referred to again, which is one more than parapsychologist Anita Gregory (Franka Potente) who remains thinly drawn and vaguely antagonistic throughout.

Whilst some familiar issues do return, so does Wan's knack for compellingly-told "based on a true story" horror. The Enfield Poltergeist case is used as an effective base for some genuinely creepy moments throughout, upon which Wan builds a satisfying additional story arc woven around the Warrens themselves. Despite the lengthy running time of well over two hours, The Conjuring 2 never drags. However, Wan does indulge himself a bit too much during the middle act - a scene where Ed leads an Elvis sing-along with the Hodgson children is painfully reminiscent of The Sound Of Music and has no place here - causing the finale to feel somewhat more hurried than you'd like it to be.

In the end, the good within The Conjuring 2 outweighs the bad, leaving the franchise in a strong position to potentially continue - after all, the casebook of the real Warrens has plenty of material left for Wan to plunder should he choose to do so. A hypothetical third installment, however, would need to do more than trot out the same formula yet again, in order elevate the series from the solid yet safe entertainment The Conjuring franchise has provided so far.




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.

Money Monster - Cinema Review

'The story simply fails to resonate as it should thanks to some disappointingly safe fictionalising during the final act, which could easily have been replaced with one of countless recent historical examples to improve matters'.

From one perspective, director Jodie Foster is unfortunate that Money Monster has been released only a matter of months after The Big Short. Adam McKay's mostly-non-fictional comedy-drama put the 2008 financial crisis front and centre of all that it does, and the director made no bones about his feelings towards those who helped manufacture the crisis or what happened during the years that followed. In comparison, the plot of Money Monster - not based on real life but just as tied to the fallout of 2008 - feels somewhat limp. The big reveal of what shady-CEO-cum-pantomime-villain Walt Camby (Dominic West) has actually been doing with his investors' money during the denouement just pales in comparison to anything reported, or indeed recreated in films such as McKay's, during the last eight years.

To be frank, however, Foster should have recognised the somewhat hokey '90s thriller feel of the script's climax all the way back in 2012 when she was first attached to direct. Even if Money Monster had predated The Big Short, its story arc would still have felt remarkably out of touch with the post-2008 world. Making comparisons with superior films sharing a similar theme feels a little too generous: the story simply fails to resonate as it should thanks to some disappointingly safe fictionalising during the final act, which could easily have been replaced with one of countless recent historical examples to improve matters.

It's a shame, because up to the reveal of its central mystery Money Monster builds a satisfying set-up between its key players. In what initially looks like an excuse for George Clooney to prat around in a variety of silly costumes, Lee Gates gradually transforms into one of the actor's most interesting and developed characters of the last few years. His relationship with Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), the director of his titular TV show, is a world away from that seen between Clooney and Roberts in the Ocean's trilogy, but achieves the same pleasing chemistry despite the fact that the two share only minutes of screen time together.

Most successful of all, however, is the dynamic achieved between Lee and Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), the man who takes him hostage live on his own show. Money Monster is at its best when Lee and Kyle are trading lines with Patty directing the situation through Lee's earpiece in both a literal sense and, at times, to make the on-air hijacking better viewing. The satire here is occasionally too blunt, with many of the messages about the television audience's reaction to what they're seeing done better before (The Truman Show immediately comes to mind as a superior example). But when Foster gets these elements right - mostly during the film's middle act - Money Monster is genuinely both insightful and entertaining in a way you wish the director had achieved throughout.




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: Robin Hood (1973) - Blu-ray Review

''Boy are we in debt', intones Allan-a-Dale (a rooster, voiced by US singer Roger Miller), unwittingly providing the battle cry for a generation of millenials.'

Disney's 1973 anthropomorphic retelling of Robin Hood has made it into the news recently, by virtue of having been cited by Zootropolis directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore on a number of occasions (here to do with design) as a key text in the creation of their new family-friendly hit.

Howard and Moore have a point in their pursuit of 'classic' Disney anthropomorphism. Recently it feels as though the studio have focused more on their princesses and princes stories and, though there have been examples of them retaining their past focus, there is an argument that some of the animal-led charm of properties like Robin Hood, The Jungle Book and The AristoCats has both been lost and is ripe for a reevaluation.

On the other hand, nostalgia can play funny games with your definition of 'quality'. I watched the VHS of Robin Hood on repeat in my youth and to hear it remarked on again as something of a lost Disney tentpole made all kinds of sense.

But, then again, the film has always been something of a Disney lightning rod. Plentiful offerings from the studio at the time re-used animation from other films, but somehow Robin Hood's use seemed the most egregious. The feeling that you were watching something not quite new enough was amplified when Little John, a large fun-loving bear, warmed up his vocal chords to reveal another Phil Harris performance. Harris, who is superlative, had also seen his distinctive tones put to use as Baloo some six years prior. Yes, the narrative had lots of trademark madcap fun, but Robin (Brian Bedford) himself is largely a wistful, lovelorn presence, swept along like a dream whilst other characters experience the sharp end of Prince John's (Peter Ustinov) taxes.

That the Robin Hood story at all was chosen as a tale Disney wanted to tell, however, is something worthy of note. Yes, Disney tell moral tales, and tell them well, still to this day, but it's difficult to imagine them picking a story now with taxes at heart (this isn't a retelling of Robin Hood where John is reduced to merely being blanket 'evil'), particularly after George Lucas' misguided early noughties foray into trade federations. 'Boy are we in debt', intones Allan-a-Dale (a rooster, voiced by US singer Roger Miller), unwittingly providing the battle cry for a generation of millenials. Miller's songs, which pepper the film, are like Robin himself; melancholy, with the sparkle of surpressed mischief.

For all its subtext though, its lovely hand-drawn animation, and the warm character art, there is a sparkle lacking here, which has more to do with the fact that Robin Hood has largely been marginalised from the Disney canon than anything else. The rampage through King John's fayre, setup to trap Robin, is the only key piece of action before the conclusion and too often the director, Wolfgang Reitherman, lets the film drift into Robin's laidback sensibilities, rather than Saturday morning silliness. It's lovely, but it's not compelling for long enough to justify a full on reevaluation.





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.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season Three - TV Review

'With three seasons under its belt, one of the positives to take from this offering is that S.H.I.E.L.D is starting to gain the confidence to consider ideas outside of its immediate sphere of influence.'

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D continues to be something of a TV enigma, a throwback to Saturday night Sci-Fi serials of the Nineties with at least equal part exposition to attractive 'monster of the week' innocence. It shouldn't work and it often doesn't, but there's also often a satisfying episode or two which does what good TV should do and wraps you up in a large blanket of a world which doesn't really exist.

On the plus side for the third outing of Marvel's flagship TV show, the lessons from Season Two have been carried over and S.H.I.E.L.D Season Three again features a beginning-to-end plot thread (the search for Hydra's 'god'), which informs every episode on at least some level. It's no mean feat to manage a central thread through twenty-two episodes and weave in a satisfying sub-plot, with the agents attempting to tackle inhuman-murdering inhuman Lash, and the show deserves more credit than it often gets for doing so. The finale probably chooses the right character allegiances (although there's an odd-looking trail for Season Four) and hints at directions which are new enough to justify your continued involvement with Marvel's offering.

On the other hand, there's a prime example too here of the damage the Marvel universe can do to itself. Constantly looking for new opportunities, there are big decisions at the half-way point for agents Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki). Having initially offered an uncertain presence, those two have become a highlight for the show, with Hunter in particular a fantastic, humour-filled alternative to the too straight faced Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), whose development and continuing presence here is still a weak point. As the Marvel Universe calls (but not, it seems, with any substance) the agents get an emotional apex in Parting Shot (S3E13), on a par with anything the series offers. The high-point though is with sacrifice and the momentum of the show dips for some time.

With three seasons under its belt, one of the positives to take from this offering is that S.H.I.E.L.D is starting to gain the confidence to consider ideas outside of its immediate sphere of influence. The position of outsiders has always been fertile ground for comic books which feature those from other planets and on more than one occasion, S.H.I.E.L.D enters a political fray by discussing its inhuman collection of characters as 'illegal aliens'. Similarly, though less successfully, the relationship between Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) continues to be one of the better examinations of quasi father/daughter roles mainstream TV has managed, in the main because Bennet's character is never helplessly at the whim of Gregg's. Those two elements rarely get anything beyond a surface view, but at least there's scope for their discussion.

Though it tells its assigned arc well, the tale of the Hydra god is never quite as satisfying as Season Two's long thread and ultimately this season is missing one or two memorable characters and the same number of memorable episodes to stand out. Lash, for example, morphs into a perfect antihero, but he's never given long enough to shine. In a show that runs for this long every season there must have been room, so whilst S.H.I.E.L.D entertains again, it's not with the level of polish attained during the last run.





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.

Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, and getting things right (and wrong) with established comic book CUs


Having watched both of the latest entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and X-Men Cinematic Universe (herein referred to as the MCU and XCU to save my aching digits), my thoughts about the two films have very much aligned in terms of my feelings towards comic book cinema and CUs as a whole. Not in terms of my reaction to both films, mind: I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America: Civil War and had an overwhelmingly mixed-to-negative response to X-Men: Apocalypse. But whilst the former proved the far superior film to the latter, both films arrived at their respective finished products through differing approaches to the same problem - how do you keep a well-established and ever-expanding CU fresh?

The first point to consider is character, and in particular the main character. In the build-up to Civil War, many simply assumed that the film would be more akin to "Avengers 2.5" with its large cast of both new and returning characters, leading to questions as to why the film was carrying the Captain America branding at all. In truth, Civil War is a Captain America film before anything else for the simple reason that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is undoubtedly the main character.

From the opening moments onwards, this is his story. Civil War is about Rogers' journey from where the film picks events up after both Age Of Ultron and The Winter Soldier before it. It's primarily about his relationships with other characters, most prominently Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Rogers' refusal to comply with the Sokovia Accords, which would impose UN control upon the Avengers, is a key part of the narrative, but it's his unfaltering commitment to Barnes that drives the plot and much of the emotional core of the film.


Looking at Apocalypse, it's hard to know whose story director Bryan Singer is telling. The title would suggest En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) himself, and yet the character and his motives are so hazily laid out that calling his progression through the film a story feels generous. His initial set-up provides intrigue, but from there he simply fails to resonate as anything more than a stock antagonist with seemingly unlimited power until this becomes inconvenient to the plot.

Other candidates for primary character include both Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), but looking at both at the start and the end of the film reveals that little has actually happened to either of them on their journey from one point to the other. Lehnsherr's arc starts at a point that makes little sense based on what we know of the character, unfolding a weak narative based around loss that ultimately goes nowhere and leaves the character little to do beyond the opening act. Xavier meanwhile is exactly the same at the end as he was at the start, minus his hair of course.

Something which is becoming increasingly prevalent in comic book movies is the ever-expanding roster of heroes and villains making up the cast, a factor which is common to both Civil War and Apocalypse, although the former once again proves far more successful than the latter. Civil War's handling of its supersized superhero count is effortless: the well-established characters are wisely allowed to continue doing what they do best, allowing directors Anthony and Joe Russo to pleasingly introduce and re-introduce newer faces.

Perhaps most pleasing of all is the way the directors handle those characters who sit somewhere in the middle. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) may only make an extended cameo appearance, but what we see of him is well written and builds on his origin story debut of last year, integrating and embedding the character further into the MCU roster without ever trying to do too much in a film that already has plenty going on. Arguably most successful of all is the introduction of Spider-Man (a perfectly cast Tom Holland) into the MCU. Civil War wisely eschews what The Amazing Spider-Man franchise did with the superhero, as well as being different enough to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy to feel fresh. It's a snappy and efficient introduction to a character who's already had two films devoted to iterations of his origin story, and really doesn't need a third.


In contrast, Apocalypse struggles to handle its whopping roster of mutants from very early on. The more established members of the current X-Men trilogy that began with First Class, such as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), feel severely underwritten, and Lawrence's performance here essentially feels like a half-hearted retread of her Hunger Games character Katniss Everdeen.

The first hour sees director Bryan Singer hurry between so many different plot threads it's a struggle to invest in any of them. Many characters from the original X-Men trilogy are reintroduced, but none are given enough development. Two of Apocalypse's Four Horsemen - Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) - never get beyond one dimension, and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) doesn't fare a great deal better. As such, whilst the performances from the new cast members are generally fine, on the whole they pale in comparison to those seen in the original films. This, coupled with the vague motives of Apocalypse, leads to a final act where it's simply very hard to care about anything that happens.

That's not the case in Civil War, which does a superb job in getting you to care about pretty much everyone involved. As I said before, the bond between Rogers and Barnes is at the core, but this is a film littered with relationships. There is of course the fraught professional and personal relationship between Rogers and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), arguably the most important here after that of Rogers and Barnes, particularly during the closing act. But the Russo Brothers build satisfying and authentic relationships from remarkably little in places you might not expect. The interaction between Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is set up wonderfully, as is the humorous friction between Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Barnes, to cite just two examples.


It's a key part of a larger reason for Civil War's success: the humanity within everything on screen. Much of the plot centres around the human impact of the Avengers' actions, offering a different perspective on the outcome of Age Of Ultron. Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is in many ways the polar opposite of Ultron, in that he is arguably the most human antagonist the MCU has given us yet.

Apocalypse goes in the opposite direction, providing perhaps the most unsympathetic perspective of the XCU we've seen in any film of the franchise. The closing battle in particular offers little more than wanton destruction with no consideration of the countless anonymous people dying off camera as we watch the mutant showdown. Man Of Steel was condemned for doing this three years ago, and it's an equally justified criticism here.

It's also endemic to another overarching problem with Apocalypse: it offers nothing new. This ninth installment of the franchise drags the XCU back to the unhallowed low points of The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine in both its ideas and execution. Compared to Days Of Future Past, where Singer was deservedly praised for his innovation and imagination in tying together the original and prequel narratives within the franchise, here the director honestly feels bored with both his own film and the XCU in general.

As the thirteenth film in the MCU, however, Civil War feels as though it consistently attempts to do something different within the franchise, and far more often than not succeeds. Of course, this isn't a complete reinvention or departure from what we have come to expect from the MCU, but it's also most certainly not a retread of any of the previous films in the franchise. Perhaps most importantly of all, it feels by the end as if an undeniable shift has happened within the MCU, forcing the franchise to continue trying new things as it progresses along the seemingly infinite path ahead. In contrast, all whoever ends up directing the sequel to Apocalypse has to look forward to is picking up the pieces Singer has left behind and somehow trying to restore the franchise back to its former glory.


Captain America: Civil War

X-Men: Apocalypse


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.

House Of Cards: Season Four - Online Review

SPOILER WARNING: The below article contains spoilers covering Seasons One, Two, Three and Four of House Of Cards.

'At heart this is liberal-leaning critique of anyone in office, a curtain peeler that shows us not only our ruler's ruthless natures, but that their chaste outward appearances hide infidelities and outre sexualities just like those they lord it over'

With this fourth season of one of Netflix's flagships, House Of Cards creeps ever closer to being something of great promise that never quite delivers. Continuing a trend started with the death of Peter Russo and flowing through the same fate of Zoe Barnes onwards into sundry other misdeeds of now-President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), Cards continues to set up cracking plot lines only to masochistically avoid concluding them in a satisfactory manner.

Season Four's failed attempts to end plot lines begun as long ago as Season One include the criminally wasted Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), whose end is brought about during S4E5, at the hands of Meechum (Nathan Darrow). Goodwin's end and the way in which it is conceived is criminal enough, but spare a thought for poor Meechum, whose simultaneous passing signifies a large part of House Of Cards' failings.

This is a series with ideas and promise, prepared to go further than others (the finale, for example, is brave and shattering). At heart this is liberal-leaning critique of anyone in office, a curtain peeler that shows us not only our ruler's ruthless natures, but that their chaste outward appearances hide infidelities and outre sexualities just like those they lord it over. The show is occasionally at its uncomfortable best when it lifts Frank's and other's skirts up. In Meechum (and Barnes, and others) the show had a character destined to take this story to the wider world, but showrunner Beau Willimon seems to always burn the house he has built down just before the investigators can arrive to collect the evidence. Meechum departs with not a whiff towards his sexual fling with Frank and Claire (Robin Wright), so what exactly was the point of setting it up? Titillation? It was hardly presented that way. By S4E11 we're back in this sort of good territory, exploring diverse, hidden sexualities. By this point I've given up expecting that the plot involving Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) and the Underwoods will have any level of satisfying conclusion.

To return to Lucas Goodwin, Cards problem beyond these almost throwaway moments that could be more is that it gives the same treatment to definitively more substantial plot threads. Goodwin's thread had essentially personified the state vs media battle and, by the time that battle makes it to public eyes at the end of this season, several of its participants have been dispatched in some way or another; Goodwin and Barnes amongst them, Kate Baldwin (Kim Dickens) in a very odd rewrite which takes her right to the fringe of this season. The payoff of the media v president battle, which has seen huge screentime and asked much of the audience's attention, is one face-off between Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) and Underwood, leading to something of a damp squib of a story publication. House Of Cards showrunner has not seen Spotlight or All The President's Men.

This sort of thing keeps happening during the show. Characters and plot threads set off down one arc, only to pivot screaming and unheeded down another. During Season 4, two new potential skeletons in the closet are setup for Underwood, in the form of a mad data guy and the manipulation involved in getting Underwood a new liver. Neither are paid off by the season finale.

The show also seems to hit the reset button following the events of Episode 5. Having spent the first few episodes focusing on the politics surrounding oil supply and demand - that most zeitgeist of topics - the writers pivot to give greater focus to new Underwood antagonist Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). But why wasn't he the focus from the start and, even given the fact that Conway and his selfie-snapping wife make for perfect Underwood targets, he's not exactly a particular standout from a real-life US political rat race which features Donald Trump vs the Clinton empire.

And that, really, is one of the show's new main problems. It is competing against real life which is, to an extent, even more 'out there' than any fiction House Of Cards can create, certainly in this muddled, unfocused, unfinished form. In seeking to show the unseen, Willimon's efforts are too often drawing veils over unexciting narratives, where they should be providing a microscopic look at some of the world's more important people and events.




House Of Cards was streaming 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.

Classic Intel: Save The Green Planet - DVD Review


Describing Save The Green Planet as 'a little odd' is to describe Boris Johnson as the same thing. Yes, it's accurate, but it doesn't really get to the slightly nefarious heart of the matter. This is an 'odd' film, in a long tradition of genre hopping South Korean offerings that are far from the norm, but that doesn't tell of all that is going on.

Most interestingly, director Joon-Hwan Jang plays fast and loose with our sympathies and the film's morals. 'Hero' Byeong-gu (Ha-kyun Shin) is presented to us initially as a slightly deranged crusader against capitalism, whom we can all root for. He kidnaps corporation head Man-shik (Ha-kyun Shin) with apparent love interest Su-ni (Jeong-min Hwang) providing significant assistance and the film apparently sets out on a tale of an outsider underdog, succeeding against the state - and spotting an alien invasion - before they do.

But as the narrative develops and Byeong-gu's treatment of Man-shik becomes fewer parts cruel, more parts viciously violent, the film pivots. You're left (intentionally) wondering if Byeong-gu is actually genuinely the mentally unstable murderer some within the film believe, rather than potential saviour of humanity as genre convention and his initial presentation here would dictate. The dichotomy between those two potential outcomes leaves some level of problem. Where genre-crossing within South Korean cinema is normally one of its joys, here it threatens to confuse. During the humorous bits, should we be laughing with Byeong-gu or grimacing? Once the police get involved, are we rooting for Byeong-gu to get away or the police to catch him?

What evolves is something strangely to similar to 2010's I Saw The Devil, as various characters come to muse on lost opportunities to stop the goings on in the plot, whilst simultaneously making singularly bad contributions to stop said goings on. Where that film had a clinically simple conflict at its heart however, this film has a myriad of facets to contend with; from said aliens, to the dubious tonal morals, to the relationship between Byeong-gu and Su-ni. It's often a mess. One of the police characters is initially setup as a master detective, potentially the real hero of the story, before he is undercut by becoming a Clouseau-like gag magnet.

Equally problematic is that the Horror elements of the tale are never that scary and the Comedy elements never that funny. A good gag about Byeong-gu's dog is set up and delivered as though it is the film's sole good gag. In all it's disappointingly underwhelming, especially given the effort to concoct a plot that adds alien invasion to the usually diverse elements of South Korean genre offerings.





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.