The Walking Dead: Season Four - DVD Review

'The zombie epidemic is consistently relegated to the background; a generic plot device to call upon when needed, but rarely the imaginative horror showcase seen in earlier seasons'.

Originally broadcast as two separate halves with a hiatus of around three months in between, Season Four of The Walking Dead feels distinctly like a pair of eight episode mini-seasons. It’s a narrative choice which makes this the most fractured season of the series yet, a problem heightened through some of the plot decisions made within those two blocks of eight.

The plot focus within the first half of the season – a deadly virus sweeping its way through the group of survivors, now larger than ever – deserves credit for exploring an idea often given little consideration within the zombie genre. The problem is that, in opting to turn into a grim, dystopian take on a medical drama, The Walking Dead may inadvertently have proven why most other writers and directors previously stayed away from this area: quite simply, it’s not actually that interesting to watch. Whilst we get some of the most genuinely realistic scenes the series has offered across all of its four seasons, too often this first half becomes slow and depressing viewing, allowing the action and conflict to take a bit too much of a back seat.

Tied into this issue is the presentation of the “walkers” themselves. Having previously provided highlights throughout each season thanks to Greg Nicotero’s superbly creative and gruesome special effects, here the zombie epidemic is consistently relegated to the background; a generic plot device to call upon when needed, but rarely the imaginative horror showcase seen in earlier seasons.

As Season Four heads towards its midpoint climax, things pick up with the re-emergence of The Governor (David Morrissey). The character’s return is welcome, but nonetheless feels hastily grafted onto the end of the season’s first half in a three episode block. Whilst undoubtedly providing the season highlight, there’s no doubt The Governor’s story as told here would have functioned much better as a slowly revealed subplot over the opening eight episodes, in a similar style to the multiple narratives of Season Three.

With the group finding themselves more splintered than ever at the start of Season Four's second half, so too does the narrative. The focus shifts between groups with pleasing control, but there are just too many stories being told for any of them to feel fully fleshed out over the eight episodes remaining. Some characters such as Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) are developed well; others, such as young sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), are less satisfying and feel as though they’re only being built up merely to serve as plot devices somewhere further down the line.

In the end, much of the success of Season Four of The Walking Dead is down to the series' strong cast. Even Andrew Lincoln manages to make his presence firmly felt despite Rick having stepped down from his leadership role at the start of the season. Other notable performances come from Scott Wilson as Hershel and Danai Gurira as Michonne, both of whom imbue any scene they are in with dramatic and emotional weight. With the series having recently returned for its fifth season on both sides of the Atlantic, let’s hope the drawn out and despondent disarray seen too often in Season Four is put to bed in quick and satisfying fashion



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.

Steven Spielberg Director's Collection - Always - Blu-ray Review

'Spielberg clearly wants to say something about grieving, acceptance and moving on, but too often cannot resist getting in his own way by cluttering his film with unnecessary fantasy clichés'.

Considered at the time of its release as something of a departure from Steven Spielberg's usual brand of cinema, one need only look at the films chronologically either side of Always in the director's back catalogue to see in hindsight just how comfortably it fits within his late eighties and early nineties output. Squarely before Always (and released in the same year) came Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, a film which revealed Spielberg's interest in religion and spirituality perhaps more than any of his previous work. His next film would be 1991's Hook, dealing with personal relationships through an overtly fantastical style and tone.

Despite being considerably different in both its story and intended audience, Always feels closer in execution to Hook than any other Spielberg film. The director in fact follows a remarkably similar narrative pattern in both films, firmly establishing a real world subtly tinged with fantasy through his opening act before letting the fantastical elements loose in a big way from act two onwards. Always' first half an hour proves to be the film's strongest, opening on an adrenaline-fuelled plane sequence and establishing a pleasing timeless quality to the narrative through the characters and settings introduced.

Spielberg based Always on Victor Fleming's 1943 film A Guy Named Joe (with which I'm entirely unfamiliar), updating the original World War II US Air Force backdrop to 1980s firefighting pilots, but retaining much of the classic Hollywood feel. Initially at least, the director sets out to tell an old-fashioned love story in an old-fashioned way, and his film is all the better for it. The foreshadowing elements Spielberg includes throughout his opening act leave little doubt as to what will happen to Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) before very long, but the director's expert craftsmanship ensures the film's events are no less tragic or emotional because of this.

Unfortunately, Always can't sustain the same level of success once the fantastical side of the story comes into play. Spielberg increasingly allows his film to become overly sentimental as the narrative progresses, disappointingly forcing the quirky and genuine relationship established between Pete and Dorinda (Holly Hunter) during the first act to become cheesier and cheesier. Spielberg clearly wants to say something about grieving, acceptance and moving on, but too often cannot resist getting in his own way by cluttering his film with unnecessary fantasy clichés.

Despite its flaws, what continually makes Always work as well as it does is the strong cast assembled by Spielberg. Dreyfuss and Hunter are superb throughout, as is John Goodman in a supporting role which, despite starting off the film as comic relief, develops steadily to allow the actor several opportunities to really show off his capabilities. Audrey Hepburn's appearance as the ethereal Hap is also a welcome piece of casting, making the actress' final role in a feature film here both unusual and memorable. Whilst on balance Always ends up amongst Spielberg's less impressive efforts, it nonetheless presents enough imaginative ideas, accomplished performances and enjoyable elements to make it worth seeking out.




The Steven Spielberg Director's Collection is available from Monday 13th October 2014.


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 #96 - Youth Of The Beast - Blu-ray Review

'reveals itself in a satisfyingly slow manner, allowing you to pretty much guess the first twist, whilst holding back its best to the final moments'

A surprisingly contemporary affair, which improves the less you know about it, Seijun Suzuki's 1963 Youth Of The Beast stakes Japanese cinema's claim of authorship on many of today's common Cop Thriller tropes. Twisting around eventually to reveal layers similar to something like The Departed - itself based on Infernal Affairs, another piece of Far Eastern cinema - Suzuki's tale of Yakuza in crisis proves a compelling watch, choc full of recognisable archetypes and satisfying if now familiar plot movements.

We begin with hoodlum Jo Mizuno (Jô Shishido), introduced to us beating someone up on the street for no reason, before attempting the same in a pachinko parlour. Eventually causing enough havoc to attract the attentions of the local Yakuza, Jo finds himself caught up in a pitched battle between gangs and in the internal battle within the first group he comes across. Turning politician, Jo spends the rest of the film turning the gang's actions to his advantage, whilst pursuing an agenda of his own.

The plot reveals itself in a satisfyingly slow manner, allowing you to pretty much guess the first twist, whilst holding back its best to the final moments. The gangs are painted as corporate entities: bureaucrats who Mizuno can play off each other with small manipulations and subtle planted ideas. There's a naivety to the gangsters that lets Jo twist them around his finger, something which plays into the reading that the film is at least partially concerned with the burgeoning youth of 1960s Japan. On at least three occasions, Jo is caught by one of other of the groups, at one point tortured with a knife under the fingernails, but on both occasions he manages to talk his way into release.

Youth Of The Beast's genre success comes not just from Suzuki's knowledge of the tropes his film moves within, but also from the film's willingness to invent upon these and/or to poke fun at them. 'You won't believe this, but alcohol and women are my weaknesses', says one gangster, with a knowing nod to his characterisation down the ages, in one hundred different films. Suzuki's punchline is the character's near-demise, whilst trying to charm a femme fatale, under the influence of alcohol.

The film does feature a kineticism indicative of its period, where Japanese cinema felt less confined (look for the handful of scenes in black and white, with splashes of red). Though it suits Suzuki's camera, and palette, you still can't help but feel that the stillness and contemplation of someone like Ozu would have heightened the drama. But then, in all fairness to Youth Of The Beast, rarely is that not the case when discussing cinema of any origin.





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.

Youth Of The Beast is released in the UK on Monday 27th October 2014


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.

Trailer Of The Week - Night At The Museum 3: Secret Of The Tomb

I must admit to having a slight soft spot for the first two Night At The Museum films; whilst being far from perfect, both offer some enjoyable family-oriented fantasy fun requiring low levels of brain activity. Based on the trailer for the third film however, it looks like the franchise has most certainly gone one installment too far. Every joke here falls flat, which makes you wonder just how bad the bits that didn't make it into the trailer are. The sequence with Rebel Wilson in particular is seriously painful. It's also a shame that this is to become the final live-action credit for the late Robin Williams, who at least seems to continue his spirited turn as Teddy Roosevelt quite well from the glimpses of the character that the trailer offers. 





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.

Steven Spielberg Director's Collection - 1941 - Blu-ray Review

'Spielberg regularly spends far too much time setting up a particular contrivance for the sake of one joke, sapping the comedy from the situation and rendering his film unpalatably artificial'.

By the time Steven Spielberg came to direct 1941, he already had both Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind under his belt, two films regularly regarded as amongst the director's very best. The screenplay comes from Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the writing partnership which would only a few years later craft the script for Back To The Future. So far, so impressive.

The cast too boasts an impressive array of big names: Hollywood veterans Robert Stack and Slim Pickens; international heavyweights Christopher Lee and Toshirō Mifune; contemporary star John Belushi, who had spent the 1970s making his name through the National Lampoon franchise; and two comedians at the start of their careers who would spend the 1980s making some of the most memorable cinema of the decade, Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. On paper, therefore, 1941 undoubtedly held the potential to be truly special - which makes it all the more baffling as to how the film became the unfunny mess it overwhelmingly proves to be.

There are occasional elements here which work. Aykroyd and Candy are reliably entertaining, but severely underutilised. Belushi too is his usual anarchic self, although his character here at times proves more irritating than many of his roles in other films. The film boasts some impressive sequences dotted throughout - a dogfight above downtown Los Angeles is a particularly memorable highlight. There are also sporadic laughs, perhaps inevitable through the law of averages when you consider how oversaturated with attempts at humour the whole film feels.

It's one of the key issues within 1941: the film simply tries far too hard to be funny, suppressing any opportunity for organic humour and making the finished product feel strained and overcooked. Many of the jokes feel uninspired, falling back on cheap visual gags or juvenile innuendo. Spielberg also regularly spends far too much time setting up a particular contrivance for the sake of one joke, sapping the comedy from the situation and rendering his film unpalatably artificial.

Fundamentally, however, the majority of the comedy 1941 attempts just isn't that funny. Spielberg feels unsure of the type of humour he's attempting, spending much of the first half aiming for the absurdity of the likes of Blazing Saddles but falling considerably short of the sheer silliness Mel Brooks' style of comedy needs to work. Elsewhere, Spielberg sets his sights on relatively more subtle genre parody (even lampooning his own past cinematic successes at a few points throughout), but again fails in ever making this feel like more than a half-hearted attempt.

Structurally, 1941 is a sprawling collection of uneven narrative threads. Spielberg sets several stories off within his opening hour, leaving a few with only a handful of introductory moments before coming back to them much later on. Those which receive more attention also suffer, lacking the substance and development needed to sustain interest in them. Whilst 1941 is consistently skilfully shot, Spielberg here feels self-indulgent - a fact evidenced no better than through the director's cut that adds an extra half an hour to the already excessive two hour running time of the theatrical version reviewed here.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of 1941 is the overwhelming feeling as you watch that, by this stage in his career, this type of film is simply beneath Spielberg as a director. Having made two of the defining films of the 20th Century, which went on to shape the direction of mainstream cinema for decades to come, 1941 is little more than an extravagant waste of Spielberg's considerable talent.



The Steven Spielberg Director's Collection is available from Monday 13th October 2014.


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.

Steven Spielberg Director's Collection - The Sugarland Express - Blu-ray Review

'With its baby-snatching premise, quirky felonious couple and increasingly ludicrous scenarios, The Sugarland Express was surely an influence on the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona some thirteen years later'.

Widely considered as Steven Spielberg's bona fide inaugural feature (although it would eventually receive a cinema release, 1971's Duel was in fact originally made for television), in hindsight The Sugarland Express sits in a wholly unenviable position within the director's canon. Its immediate antecedent, Duel is the more remembered film despite its more humble roots, still at times edging the position of Spielberg's true debut. And only a year later, Spielberg would direct Jaws, arguably the most important film he's ever made.

Taking that into account, it's perhaps understandable if not excusable that The Sugarland Express often gets overlooked. It's also a shame, as there's a great deal within the film to like. The central trio of William Atherton, Goldie Hawn and Michael Sacks, as husband and wife ex-cons and their kidnapped Texas patrolman respectively, form a solid core around which the plot can pleasingly unfold. Spielberg's direction, whilst not as striking as that seen in Duel, is consistently impressive especially when taking into account his relative inexperience at this stage of his career.

Spielberg's ambition in terms of tone is also impressive. The story veers from dramatic crime thriller to screwball comedy - with its baby-snatching premise, quirky felonious couple and increasingly ludicrous scenarios, The Sugarland Express was surely an influence on the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona some thirteen years later. It's a tonal blend which in less skilled hands could quite easily have fallen apart; although there are a few moments here and there where the shift in mood is a bit too severe to be comfortable, for the vast majority of his film Spielberg is in confident control.

There is intermittent evidence, however, as to why The Sugarland Express is less well remembered than many of the director's other films. After the palpably tense and often uncompromising Duel, Spielberg's approach to his own story (co-written with screenwriters Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins) often feels a little too safe. Lou Jean (Hawn) and Clovis (Atherton) are set up as antiheroes, but we never truly believe them to be bad people, just desperate and stupid in roughly equal measure. On the opposing side are the Texas police department, who again come across as inept but never genuinely heartless. Even Captain Tanner (Ben Johnson) is a bit too likeable for a senior Texas lawman. Spielberg sets up several opportunities to comment on or satirize law enforcement, the media and even the general public, but never musters the courage to really go for it, leaving The Sugarland Express enjoyable but lacking in genuine bite.

At around ten minutes short of the two hour mark, Spielberg's film feels like it could have been tighter. The story loses momentum for a stretch just past the sixty minute mark, and two relatively brief plot diversions - first onto a pair of Louisiana troopers, then onto a group of vigilante gun nuts - in particular feel like they could easily have been excised to make the whole thing feel more focused. As it stands, The Sugarland Express offers enough memorable moments of humour and drama to make it both a worthwhile and enjoyable watch, with the brilliantly tense finale a satisfying highlight on which to conclude. Overall, this may end up as one of Spielberg's more ordinary efforts, but the director's youthful spark is still apparent more often than not.




The Steven Spielberg Director's Collection is available from Monday 13th October 2014.


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.

Pompeii - Online Review

'Sutherland has a ball attempting something that may have been an English accent before he rolled it around his mouth and decided he didn't like it'

'Borrowing' a surprisingly large chunk of Gladiator's core story, Pompeii probably deserves some level of praise for casting its sights higher than your common or garden Paul W.S. Anderson film. Sure, this might not be entirely original and the clunky script is delivered with the usual over-directed flashing, but at least we're not in the realms of adding flying airships to 17th Century France and choosing Gladiator as a touchstone does at least give your film more chance of success than choosing Death Race.

In all fairness to Anderson too, he does know how to move a story onwards at pace and with clarity, and he benefits here from having the grumbling talent of Kiefer Sutherland as a bad guy, clearly labelled 'bad' from the very outset. Anderson does not paint in shades of grey and when he tries - such as with the poor good/bad characterisation of Aurelia and Severus (a wasted Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris) - he typically falls over into mawkishness, or failed sentiment.

The director is much more successful here whilst negotiating the overtly 'good' Milo and Cassia (Kit Harrington and Emily Browning) arc and populating it with choice miniature sections that advance the ominous rumbling from the volcano in the background as a key element, sure to show up in the final reel. The attempted escape by the gladiator-wrangler (Joe Pingue) before the rock and fire starts to reign down provides variety and a late night horse ride by one of Cassia's servants is effective.

Meanwhile, Sutherland has a ball attempting something that may have been an English accent before he rolled it around his mouth and decided he didn't like it. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje provides effective support for Harrington, who looks fairly at home in these surroundings, and his relationship with Cassia, whilst never quite believeable, does at least graduate to 'sweet'. Anderson might not have a great film within him, but if he can hone his wannabe-blockbuster craft to this sort of level, and keep it there successfully, then that will not necessarily be such a bad thing. Significant credit is also due to him for not skipping out on the tragedy of the finale, when in fact it would have been so easy to do just that.




Pompeii 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.