Jackie - Cinema Review

'By tackling his subject at a low ebb, Larraín forces himself to ask new questions and find new answers. In doing so he produces a film that muses on big themes and subjects; our ability to know ourselves, grief, legacy and mortality.'

You could easily argue that the approach director Pablo Larraín takes in Jackie is a tad unfair. Whilst other Biopic subjects get their moment of glory depicted on screen, here Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) gets what you presume were the worst weeks of her life. This is a film about a notable first lady and yet Larraín's decision to focus on this period guarantees that much of her life and work is ignored. Jackie only concerns itself with Mrs Kennedy's reaction to her husband's assassination.

That choice, though potentially a problem for some, is precisely why Jackie works and why several critics have described it as 'unconventional' and unlike your standard Biopic. By tackling his subject at a low ebb, Larraín forces himself to ask new questions and find new answers. In doing so he produces a film that muses on big themes and subjects; our ability to know ourselves, grief, legacy and mortality.

Those ideas are perhaps most fully realised in the scenes that make up the framing device; a conversation between Jackie and an unnamed reporter (Billy Crudup). These scenes not only anchor the story (Jackie is giving her first interview, some weeks after JFK's death), but can also be read as the battle between storyteller and subject; director and story. Jackie and the reporter often talk at cross purposes. Crudup often says the wrong thing, stumbling through questions. At the beginning of their meeting, Jackie tells him that she will vet the story: this will be 'her version' of what happened, a description that works on many levels. The scenes work without reservation. Crudup understands his supporting place and Portman shines. Larraín gets what he was after: an uncertain probing of someone that we cannot hope to know in one-hundred minutes (yes, this is also unconventional in Biopic terms due to its merciful brevity).

Larraín does all this with an unsentimental air towards Jackie and her husband, though by the end this has perhaps thawed a little. Jackie is arguably a difficult, spiky character for much of the film, particularly in her conversations with the journalist but then, why shouldn't she be? Though the director is unsentimental, that doesn't mean that there is no room for tenderness or sympathy. You can though explore those feelings in ways other than melodrama; a genre this is about as far away from as it could ever hope to get.

The bravura scene in the film, Jackie's choosing of JFK's burial plot in Arlington, doesn't depict pristine white gravestones in neat rows. The location is shot on a wet, misty morning; stains rub the stones and Jackie finishes it with mud covering her famously pristine fashion choice. She is on a mission of exploration, not a journey of reverence. 'It cannot be a normal plot', she exclaims, as she sets out. The internal fears around legacy are externalised and turned into a wading traipse through the graveyard. There's irony too, come the finale. For all Jackie's battles throughout the film to secure the legacy of her husband, what will she be remembered for? Her moment of realisation could perhaps be considered a touch tragic, but Portman plays it as though the character has few regrets. The character says at one point that she has been selfish, but that scene suggests that she has never paused to consider how she will be remembered, only her husband.

The sole scenes where Larraín's exploration goes awry are in the conversations between Jackie and another unnamed character: the priest (John Hurt). Whilst the story's big themes are kept as subtext for the most part, here they become text. Noah Oppenheim's script forgets its naturalistic care and goes all explicit. The priest even gets to a point where he tells Jackie a parable and then bothers to explain that the parable relates directly to her. The scenes feel like bad Terrence Malick and Larraín seems to know it. His cuts become sudden and non sequitur and the tempo of the film is lost for a moment.

It only ever disappears in these sections though. For the whole this is simultaneously controlled and free-wheeling. In accepting that he has no hope of finding the 'true' Jackie, Larraín frees himself to investigate why that might be and postulate as to how close he can get. Perhaps he doesn't get anywhere near. But when your film is this successful at examining such large ideas in such a sophisticated way, does it matter that much?




Jackie is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th January.


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.

The Witness For The Prosecution - TV Review

'The finale is so ridiculously rushed, and achieved via a vast swathe of coincidence, that you don't have time to reflect on what is supposed to be a heart-rending close.'

We were treated during last year's holiday season TV to And Then There Were None, a sterling Agatha Christie adaptation that kept you guessing and proved a treat to relax with over three nights on the BBC. At the time I suggested that it might make for a welcome annual event; the same cast and crew tackling a different Christie story every year.

Whilst that might have been impractical it was at least pleasing to see another Christie story on the schedule this year. The Witness For The Prosecution, based on a play by the author, tells the tale of Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), seduced by Emily French (Kim Cattrall) and then accused of her murder. Defended by a snuffling, shambling Mayhew (Toby Jones), Voles' wife Romaine (Andrea Riseborough) appears key to whether it was he who dunnit.

With a strong cast then and the pedigree of last year, it is strange to find that this is such a weak offering. Cut from And Then There Were None's three episodes to a meagre two, the story barely has time to function, let alone earn some of its more significant moments. Mayhew's sympathy with Leonard, for example, is meant to be linked to the death of his own son, but there's never time to establish that thread. The finale is so ridiculously rushed, and achieved via a vast swathe of coincidence, that you don't have time to reflect on what is supposed to be a heart-rending close.

Meanwhile, director Julian Jarrold, who has plenty of experience with this sort of thing, seems lost. The dry ice machine goes into overdrive on the London backstreet sets and Jones is directed to turn in a performance that hardly plays to his everyman strengths. If you're not bored of his coughing by the end of the first episode then don't worry: there's more on the way.

The show does, tentatively, consider stepping in to gender politics on occasion. Emily's carefree approach to relationships is touched on and the dynamic between Leonard and Romaine is key to the mystery but like the rest of The Witness For The Prosecution there seems to be little time for this sort of thematic sightseeing. What that means is that the show feels less like an investigation or a mystery; more like a factual, punctual, telling of an actual case. The approach spoils the reveal of the finale, as well as making for a generally unsatisfying two hours.





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.

Humans: Series Two - TV Review

'Continually does what the best sci-fi should do: offer a sense of escapism whilst also asking intelligent questions about the world you'll return to after watching'.

The first series of Humans offered a conclusion which simultaneously tied up enough of its many story arcs satisfyingly whilst also providing plenty of scope for creators Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley to continue matters. Success with both critics and audiences meant that a second series was announced before the final episode of the first had aired, giving Vincent and Brackley the chance to show us what happened next for their characters and, more enticingly, go deeper into the parallel present in which Humans is set.

By the closing scenes of series two, there's a definite sense that the show's creators have gambled on Humans being renewed a lot more than they did in series one, the end of the final episode clearly intended to lead into a continuation of the story. As such, should the gamble not pay off, then the frustration of a tale in some ways half told will be much harder to ignore than if Humans had remained a self-contained eight episode drama in 2015. That the most watched episode of this series received almost 1.5 million fewer viewers than the least watched episode of the last means that a third run of episodes is anything but a sure thing.

Which is a shame, because as well as providing plenty of scope for the series to continue, Humans' second run also offers a continuation of many of the strengths seen in the first. The returning cast resume their strong performances, with Gemma Chan and Will Tudor taking their portrayal of synths Mia and Odi respectively to impressive, emotional new heights in particular. Whilst it's necessary that a few of the last series' key players don't return, new additions such as Dr. Athena Morrow (Carrie-Ann Moss) and sinister synth Hester (Sonya Cassidy) more than make up for it.

The main flaw here is that Vincent and Brackley do little to remedy the relative shortcomings of the first series, in that once again there is a bit too much going on for them to fully explore everything in just eight installments. One or two elements introduced early on are forced to take a back seat for a few episodes before being concluded somewhat perfunctorily, whilst a punt is taken to leave others on a cliffhanger in the hope of the series' renewal.

Issues such as these are continually dwarfed by what the series gets right, however. There's a well-crafted sense of evolution from the ideas central to series one, with the world of Humans and the characters within it explored in new, thought-provoking and believable ways. The journey of Hester throughout the overarching narrative is an excellent example, as is the realignment of the relationship between Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson) by the final episode. Most importantly, this continually does what the best sci-fi should do: offer a sense of escapism whilst also asking intelligent questions about the world you'll return to after watching. There's a reason the series is called 'Humans' and not 'Synths', a detail never forgotten throughout.




Humans: Series Two is currently available on All4 in the UK, and will debut on Monday 13th February 2017 on AMC in the US.

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

Morgan - Blu-ray Review

'There's enough within Morgan to make both the film and its director's future worth watching'.

As a directorial debut, Morgan is caught somewhere between lingering feelings of shameless nepotism (you may have heard of director Luke Scott's father Ridley, who just happens to have a producer credit) and the promise of future potential. Whilst the younger Scott has clearly picked up something of the elder's eye for a pleasing shot - the opening aerial views of a coastline and a bridge cleverly made to appear uncannily alien attest to that - there's also a distinct feeling that his film might lack some of its more impressive attributes if he weren't the son of the man who directed Blade Runner.

For starters, Morgan boasts a cast the average Oscar contender would envy. Brian Cox, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti and Toby Jones are all here among other reliable talents, lending Scott's debut some serious weight in the acting department which you suspect might not be there without his dad's involvement. Whilst it's somewhat frustrating that some of the roles for the big names are little more than extended cameos, the film undoubtedly benefits overall from their presence, with Dr. Shapiro's (Giamatti) appearance in a central scene opposite Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) arguably the film's strongest sequence.

Scott instead leans more heavily on younger, less established players to fill the prominent roles in his debut, a decision which bears mixed results. Twenty-year-old Taylor-Joy, who turned heads with her breakthrough performance in The Witch last year and is nominated for the Rising Star Award at this year's BAFTAs, puts in a comprehensively strong turn combining her already proven ability for unsettling supernatural fare with some impressive action sequences opposite Kate Mara in the lead role. In comparison to Taylor-Joy, however, the rest of Scott's less established cast members are satisfactory at best and struggle to make any sort of impression, although the somewhat hokey dialogue from Seth Owen rarely gives them a great deal to work with.

Owen's ideas are also problematic, in that there's little here which hasn't been done before. The central premise of an outsider testing an artificial human is strongly reminiscent of 2015's Ex Machina, whilst the shady scientific research company behind Morgan feels as though it could be a subsidiary of Weyland-Yutani. But, whilst the script might not be that original, Scott makes it work by injecting mystery and tension in the right places; clandestine allusions to "Helsinki", a prior incident left almost entirely unexplained, work particularly well. The plot become both less interesting and a little too dour during the action-oriented final act - a decision not helped by some irritatingly choppy editing from Scott - but there's enough within Morgan to make both the film and its director's future worth watching.
 



Morgan was released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 9th January 2017.


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

The Walk - Blu-ray Review

'Gordon-Levitt is an actor increasingly known for fairly unsubtle performances and, as such, he's perfect for showman Petit... if only Zemeckis hadn't layered the film with an equal amount of loudness to complement it.'

If you've seen The Walk by now, or even its trailer, then you'll be aware that star Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks with a French accent. Picture, if you will for a second, that your non-French friend turns round and affects a French accent. It's perhaps likely to be done for comedic effect and sound at least a little silly, maybe even pretentious.

Your ability to enjoy The Walk therefore rests for the most part in how soon you can get over JGL's performance, something not generally aided by Robert Zemeckis' direction, which plays up the 'Frenchness' of Philippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt) in a way only an American eye could. Yes, this is a film featuring a mime performance and sundry cavorting around attractive French streets. Gordon-Levitt is an actor increasingly known for fairly unsubtle performances and, as such, he's perfect for showman Petit... if only Zemeckis hadn't layered the film with an equal amount of loudness to complement it. The effect is that Petit's desire to walk between the Twin Towers seems almost frivolous for a time; funny and twee rather than daring.

Though that is a problem with the film, the other major problem in the composition here comes the fact that The Walk is shot in 3D. It's a largely unheralded factor of the 3D fad that shooting a film in this way changes a director's style. Auteur theory becomes less relevant and '3D theory' settles in. There are shots in The Walk, for example, that stand out as unusual; for Zemeckis or anyone else, but because they serve the 3D - zooming into and out of things, whizzing the camera closer than usual to objects - they make the cut. This will be 3D's greatest legacy. In however many years time it takes for us to move on from it you will still be able to look back at a technology which fundamentally imprinted itself on how film's are shot.

All of which says that The Walk has little to offer but, in fact, in amongst some of the obvious missteps and somewhat bizarre presentation, there resides a formulaically fun film, wrestled into a heist-like structure by Zemeckis. JGL's frivolous lead is backed up by people who lend things a bit more heft (notably James Badge Dale, late on) and after the history of Petit is dispensed with and the plan starts to build, The Walk becomes an well-wrangled Thriller.

It also features a bravura sequence involving the execution of the walk itself, which sees the film achieve its payoff where it so easily could have registered a disappointing damp squib. Yes, the pretentiousness of Petit and the treatment of his feat is hard to take sometimes, mainly because it is rammed down your throat from all angles. But when the performer is simply allowed to perform, when Zemeckis gives him attention rather than Attention, the film does find a level of beauty and philosophical splendour that wasn't always apparent in the early running.





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.

Bad Santa 2 - Cinema Review

'Where Bad Santa emerged as an unexpected pleasure for many, Bad Santa 2 is firmly one of the guilty variety from the very start'.

Bad Santa 2 is essentially the film everyone expected Bad Santa to be. The original had the influence of the Coen Brothers at its core, offering a surprising tale of redemption beneath the dark humour and expletive-laden dialogue; the sequel, however, more often takes influence from another pair of fraternal filmmakers - the Farrellys - parading its sex jokes and brazenly un-PC humour without troubling itself too much with attempts at replicating the hidden charms of the original. Where Bad Santa emerged as an unexpected pleasure for many, Bad Santa 2 is firmly one of the guilty variety from the very start.

Simply put, your opinion of Mark Waters' belated sequel will rest solely on how much it makes you laugh. If you weren't a fan of Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) in 2003, then you'll almost certainly despise him thirteen years later. Those who enjoyed the original because of its lewd and unabashed comedy may discover less to love here, but will nonetheless find themselves letting out enough genuine guffaws at Willie's far from triumphant return to enjoy what Bad Santa 2 has to offer.

Plot is never Waters' primary concern, coming up with enough of a reason for Willie and his former partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox) to reunite, embark on a new festive heist and of course don the Santa and elf get-ups respectively once again. The addition of Willie's estranged mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) initially feels unnecessary; but the misanthropic chemistry between Thornton and Bates makes it work, allowing Sunny to fit comfortably into the exaggerated and amoral Bad Santa universe.

The choice to bring back the now 21-year-old Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) from the first film initially works well, although the character struggles to find his place for much of the middle section and is largely sidelined as a result. Waters' late attempt to recreate the emotional elements of the original's climax is decidedly rushed, but thanks to the relationship developed over two films between Willie and Thurman it works far better than it has any right to.

What makes Bad Santa 2 work more than anything else is Thornton's return to the title role. Willie Soke is never likely to be the actor's most critically admired role, but it deserves to go down as one of his most entertaining. Waters' film is always at its best when putting Willie front and centre: a public run-in with an upbeat and well-meaning fellow St. Nick is a particular highlight, as is a shamelessly contrived sequence of Willie interacting with a string of youngsters telling him what they want for Christmas. In fact, had Waters opted to focus solely on inventing opportunities to showcase Thornton at his deplorable hilarious best, he might have been able to break away a little more from the lingering sense of his film being an inferior if enjoyable copy of the original.




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

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them - Cinema Review

'Newt Scamander, arguably one of the least interesting characters ever to come from Rowling's imagination'.

As one of the most financially - if not always critically - successful cinematic franchises of the 21st Century, it should have come as a surprise to no one that it would take a lot more than reaching the end of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novel series to stop Warner Bros. from making more magic-fuelled movies. Enter Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the first in a planned five-part prequel series to the Potter films and the ninth entry in an overarching franchise the studio now calls "J. K. Rowling's Wizarding World". Yes, whether you like it or not, Harry Potter has become just one character in the growing dramatis personae of yet another multi-million-dollar cinematic universe.

As the opening chapter in a new story, Fantastic Beasts is about as good as it was ever going to be,  showcasing both the opportunities and the pitfalls of the early stages of universe expansion on the big screen. There are inescapable problems here, perhaps the most critical of all being protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), arguably one of the least interesting characters ever to come from Rowling's imagination. Newt is a personality vacuum, and Redmayne's stilted performance is nowhere near strong enough to lift him out of his bland foundations. As such, the character's comic scenes are rendered uncomfortably awkward whilst the attempted sparks of romance between Newt and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) largely fall flat.

The narrative too struggles in the same way as some of the weaker entries in the original Potter series, with too many elements which Rowling as screenwriter fails to develop satisfyingly. A subplot involving newspaper mogul Henry Shaw Sr. (Jon Voight) and his sons Henry Jr. (Josh Cowdery) and Langdon (Ronan Raftery) is particularly wafer thin. Rowling's script also wavers in authenticity here and there: having gone to some lengths to emphasise that transatlantic wizards use the term "No-Maj" rather than "Muggle" to describe non-magical folk, having an American character refer to the "toilet" instead of the "bathroom" feels both jarring and amateurish.

The film essentially lives or dies by its ability to transport the audience back into the familiar cinematic realisation of the magical universe built up over the previous eight films, and it's here where Fantastic Beasts thankfully shines consistently. Returning to direct after helming the closing half of the Potter series, David Yates arguably understands how to bring Rowling's extraordinary world to life on the big screen better than anyone. Settings such as the MACUSA headquarters are brilliantly realised with fond recollections of Gringotts and the Ministry Of Magic from Yates' previous efforts. Whilst they are mostly relegated to sideshow status, the beasts of the title also provide much of the film's wonder and amusement, with the platypus-like Niffler surely destined to become a firm favourite for many.

The flimsy plotting and characterisation is explained (but not excused) through confirmation in the final act that Fantastic Beasts is merely a precursor for the story that Rowling really wants to tell: that of the rise of previously peripheral Potter character Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The numerous name checks throughout suggest that a whole film of scene-setting will hopefully be worth it in the long run for devoted fans, but that still leaves this opening chapter to be continually propped up by its success in evoking nostalgia for a film series which only concluded five years ago.




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