Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 - Blu-ray Review

'a film at least worthy to hold a talking strawberry in the general direction of the Cloudy 1'

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 has no right to be as good as it is. The sequel to a terrific and original animated outing this, by very definition, must lose at least one of those things. In fact, by losing Chris Lord and Phil Miller, Cloudy 2 lost a lot more. You suspect it is more careful planning than 'luck', but even with Lord and Miller gone, even with the fact that this loses the sheer surprise of the first film, it has found Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn to carry the series on in a similar direction and they've produced a film at least worthy to hold a talking strawberry in the general direction of the Cloudy 1.

At least part of the key to the film's success resides in maintaining the madcap atmosphere of the first offering. By setting the narrative on an island filled with Foodimals (food/animal hybrids that have become sentient) Cloudy 2 guarantees that, no matter what the script is like, it will have the visual flair and in-jokes to keep you tittering. The joke about the leak (leek) in the car/boat does not get old enough to not raise a laugh the second time around and the constant slew of Foodimal-based punnery (Sasquash, Shrimpanzee, Watermelophant) peppers the visuals and script with constant simple delights. It's a joy to be back in this world: recognisable and developed in equal measure.

The script does though show signs of not quite being as well developed as its predecessor. Earl (Terry Crews, replacing Mr. T) has nothing as funny as his contact lens 'I have my eye on you' speech and is more reliant on being slightly louder than last time. In fact, there is definitely a fall-back here on making something loud if it's not quite funny enough to get a laugh. Flint (Bill Hader) screaming at the talking strawberry is funny, but it isn't exactly clever and just in case you miss the leek joke, the leek himself is there to cry in alarm at you. There's nothing here that's quite as well designed as the last film's laugh-out-loud sequences; the final chicken fight or Flint's Dad (James Caan) trying to use a computer.

The villain (Will Forte's Chester V) is a much better development, clearly riffing off the fashionable tech-savvy allure of, mainly, Apple and other leading industry giants. Chester's corporate elitism and intellectual strip-mining plays well against the slightly anarchic style of Cloudy 2 as a whole and, whilst he does show up implausibly during the conclusion, it is probably a good idea for the film not to attempt something quite as out there as the first effort's nightmarish chickens.

The greater focus on heart might hide some of the corporate cynicism (and lets not forget this is ultimately a film made with Sony money, no matter how liberal the main talents) but this is still hugely more entertaining than many animated sequels. Just look at the mass critical shoulder shrug in the general direction of Rio 2 compared to the delights this offers.





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.

Shakespeare 450: Othello (1995) - DVD Review

2014 marks what would have been William Shakespeare's 450th birthday. In celebration of this (and being something of a Shakespeare nut) Ben intends to spend the year taking in as many Shakespeare films as he can - from old favourites to new interpretations and everything in between.

'Fishburne’s Othello is pitch perfect for this version, making the character exotic and passionate whilst also believable and authentic'

The fact that Oliver Parker’s 1995 film of Othello was the first major cinematic version of the play to cast a black actor in the title role feels, when looking back nearly twenty years on, both surprising and shameful. It also highlights the awkward historical baggage that film adaptations of the tragedy still carry, with such renowned thespians as Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier and Anthony Hopkins all having donned blackface in the past to take on the role for the big screen.

Laurence Fishburne’s central performance is thankfully therefore the highlight of the Parker’s film. Fishburne’s Othello is pitch perfect for this version, making the character exotic and passionate whilst also believable and authentic. The actor’s ability to transform Othello from a level-headed and respected general to a genuinely frightening and tragically misled man is superb. His delivery of the Bard’s words with enunciated flourish is a delight, making Fishburne’s portrayal of the Moor of Venice arguably one of the best ever on screen.

Opposite Fishburne, Kenneth Branagh revels in the role of Iago. The first Shakespearean film adaptation for Branagh where he wasn’t in the director’s chair as well as in front of the camera, this is also the first time we see the actor play a Shakespearean villain on screen rather than a hero. Branagh makes Iago the Machiavellian delight he should be, clearly enjoying every moment of the character’s contorting personality and sly asides to the audience. Whilst this isn’t Branagh’s most memorable performance in a Shakespeare play on film - you get the feeling the actor is more comfortable when taking direction from himself - it’s certainly another solidly skilful and enjoyable one.

Fishburne and Branagh aside, the performances here sadly are at best forgettable, at worst really quite poor; Irene Jacob’s amateurish and flat portrayal of Desdemona, for example, is a distraction throughout. Spotting Michael Sheen’s first film appearance in a relatively minor role acting through a mildly ludicrous haircut will amuse film aficionados, but in all seriousness it’s a genuine shame that Parker fails to assemble a supporting cast as strong as his lead pair.

Unfortunately, Parker’s direction too lacks the flair to lift this off the screen. Creating a period piece faithful to Shakespeare’s original vision, the director rarely manages to make his film seem more than a by-the-numbers affair. It’s never bad, but neither does Parker’s Othello ever feel special or memorable in its craft. There are also a few haphazard excisions from Shakespeare’s original text, resulting in a handful of moments where the narrative notably stumbles - including during a particularly pivotal scene around the halfway mark.

Parker’s Othello ends up as an average of the strong and the weak elements within it. This is worth watching for Fishburne and Branagh as Othello and Iago alone. Through Fishburne’s ownership of the title role, this is also a significant cinematic event through the throwing off of the politically incorrect baggage of Othello films of the past. It’s therefore even more disappointing that almost everything else aside from the central duo here ends up feeling distinctly ordinary. As a faithful telling of Shakespeare’s tragic story, overall this does the job, but regretfully not much more.




Keep up to date with the Shakespeare 450 series 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.

Stories We Tell - Blu-ray Review

'Polley knows that she is part of the story and her feelings filter through gradually and with class. There isn't a hint of 'woe is me' about this, hardly a touch of indulgence, let alone over-indulgence.'

Sarah Polley's terrific Stories We Tell is a Documentary as much about documenting as it is about family, adultery and the life of the Polley family. At the beginning of the film, I wrote a note: 'home movie: how much do we really care about these people?' By the end it is clear that it doesn't really matter.

That said, we do care come the end, particularly about Sarah Polley herself, who sets out to document the secret behind her conception and her family's reaction to its reveal. Polley's approach is clinical, cold even, and during the first third it could perhaps seem as though she is deliberately trying to stay absent from a narrative that inherently concerns her. By the end there is no illusion: Polley knows that she is part of the story and her feelings filter through gradually and with class. There isn't a hint of 'woe is me' about this, hardly a touch of indulgence, let alone over-indulgence.

The fact that Polley does allow her feelings to show eventually is part of the cathartic wider concern of the film. Whilst Stories We Tell is here to tell us about the Polley family, it is also here to conceptualise and theorise the way different people see and treat the things that happen in their lives: their stories. Where a story might concern one person overtly, another may simultaneously react to it far differently. It is shown in the film most obviously by Harry Gulkin, who wants an element of the story told very much on his terms. Recognising that she has much right to dictate this as he does, Polley eventually overrules him.

Self-effacement and self-assessment are difficult things for many people, but certainly they are also things Polley wants to examine, and a big reason why she herself comes through so successfully in the final third. Adultery, as a filmic concept, is often shown as a large and over-bearing event, an action that affects a relationship in cataclysmic ways, often only causing over-wrought histrionics. There's none of that here. This is a willing and necessary contemplation of adultery, of the outcomes and of what happens next. The event to Polley is only a flash in the pan (shown by this film's version of a post credit sting), the aftermath is where mice and men are judged by their actions. It's refreshing, honest and very new when placed alongside other attempts to understand adultery on screen.

If there's any failing in Polley's narrative at all, it may be in the fact that there is no alternative available to her but to tell her story in a heavily edited and semi-fictionalised medium. Or maybe that in itself is perfect. Polley knows of this tension and, to her credit, draws attention to it, through how she depicts events in her narrative and her inclusion of discussions about how this film will look come its final version. It's a concept that will excite fans of everything meta and leave everyone else scratching their head. You get the idea that Polley would be absolutely fine with this. A remarkable and satisfying project, turned into a film of the very same.





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 - Gone Girl

I thought Zodiac was not only a terrific film by David Fincher but a very smart choice. Previously known as a Director who produces twisty Mysteries, Zodiac did not have a particularly grand reveal or twist: it was just a well-produced view of what we know about the case. Make your own conclusions. For that reason, Gone Girl feels like something of an odd choice, Fincher returning to both popular literary adaptation (after The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and more obvious Mystery (after the same). I don't know what the reveal is yet - I'm a third of the way through the book - but author Gillian Flynn is hinting at it like hell (and by 'hinting', I really mean: 'HINTING!!!!!!'). Flynn also produced the script for Fincher (her first), which just adds to the alarm bells currently ringing around this for me. The trailer does nothing to silence them.




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.

Noah - Cinema Review

'clearly a story of religion, but of no particular faith... Noah’s story in the hands of Aronofsky is a fascinating tale, but never a sermon.'

In tackling the Genesis flood narrative - the story most are likely to know as Noah’s Ark - director Darren Aronofsky has some complex and potentially tricky choices to navigate. The last major release Biblical Epic, Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, adapted arguably the most famous story from the New Testament and undoubtedly a defining moment in the Christian faith. As Aronofsky’s tale comes from the Old Testament, a solely Christian telling would be both inaccurate and insensitive.

It’s a factor the director tackles superbly throughout Noah. This is clearly a story of religion, but of no particular faith. Noah (Russell Crowe) and others throughout refer to “The Creator”, but the word “God” is not uttered once. References to the history of man from an Old Testament perspective are made all the way back to Adam and Eve, but again Aronofsky is careful in his choices, using just what he needs to bring us up to speed with the lineage of Noah and other key players but never preaching any discrete faith. Noah’s story in the hands of Aronofsky is a fascinating tale, but never a sermon.

The fact that Aronofsky then goes one further and manages to make his film simultaneously support and question the power and influence of religion is testament to his skill as a filmmaker. Noah is a character of inherent good but also of staunch faith to his Creator. The decisions he feels forced to make in following what he believes he has been chosen to do present a clear criticism of those who defend hurtful actions by doing them in the name of a higher power. It’s testament to Crowe’s strong performance that Noah, whilst transforming from the good and kind man of the film’s opening to a questionable, almost antagonistic presence during the third act, continues to come across as a sympathetic and believable character. It also makes his further development during the film’s epilogic final segment all the more powerful.

Putting religion to one side, Noah is an epic experience in the truest sense of the word. Scenes of the great flood commencing are breathtakingly powerful. Another sequence chronicling life since the beginning of time, expertly toeing the line between creationism and evolution, is spectacular and lends the film a sense of magnificence. Aronofsky shows his mettle in presenting the harshness and brutalilty of the film’s world when necessary, but never gratuitously. His willingness to include somewhat fantastical elements, such as the Watchers - fallen angels depicted as Harryhausen-esque golems - are likely to divide opinion but ultimately work in the director’s favour. The fact that Aronofsky adopts a solemn tone throughout (the fact that Anthony Hopkins’ Methuselah provides the closest thing to comic relief here speaks volumes) adds authenticity and helps you invest in just how seriously Noah takes all he is tasked to do.

The missteps in Noah are minor but conspicuous, and are largely highlighted by the many successes throughout the rest of the film. Aronofsky’s choice at several points throughout the first half of his film to shoot using a shaky handheld camera method feels at odds with the grandeur of his film; whilst the director is clearly hoping to bring you as close to the action as possible at these points, it only ever serves as a distraction. The focus of the third act more on issues within Noah’s family, particularly between Noah and his son Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ila (Emma Watson), Shem’s wife, whilst handled well can’t help but feel somewhat domestic, even trivial at points, when following the watery apocalypse presented during the second act. The decision to include a subplot involving Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) and ruthless king Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) feels like the biggest mistake Aronofsky makes, coming across as overly manufactured and adding little to the film’s overall narrative.

The errors here however are minor in comparison to the epically cinematic experience Aronofsky creates. This is a captivating film whether viewed as a religious narrative or just a really good story, told through the skill of a director confident in his own vision and ability. Noah is exactly what a 21st Century Biblical Epic should be; here’s hoping Aronofsky returns to the Old Testament for further source material to adapt in the future.





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.

True Detective: Season One - TV Review

'The main crux of True Detective isn't whodunit, it's whether the fallible Rust and Marty can survive.'

Great TV series leave a gap when they finish. Despite its excellent production values, I was ready for the last, meandering season of Game Of Thrones to go, and I haven't missed it during its absence. True Detective will leave a gap. A big gap. And I'm not sure the recently returned, much vaunted Game Of Thrones has the chops to fill it.

Where Thrones is oft-hailed as one of the sign-bearers for Nu TV, the kind that crosses film values and production to the small screen, it isn't really. Yes, it looks great and yes, there are recognisable names and yes, it has had a hell of a lot of money spent on it. It is still, however, dreadfully episodic and prone to huge dips as writers search for the necessary peaks of suspense, violence or joy to keep audiences watching.

True Detective has many more similarities with the movies. Like a true transposition of film into a longer medium, it stretches its story out by showing you more meaningful events, rather than building in superfluous detail. It rarely has recognisable dips that focus on backstory rather than plot (the second episode is something of an exception) and everything pivots around leads Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, as Detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. Did I mention it had bona fide film stars? It has them too. The decision to make this an anthology series (Season Two will not feature Rust and Marty, and will potentially be set in a different time and place) guarantees it a favourable side on the argument that, really, this is an eight-hour epic.

It's success, though heavily influenced by the terrific McConaughey and Harrelson (I take the latter in the 'best' stakes, though it is close) also benefits from a superbly chosen behind-the-scenes creative team, led by showrunner/writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga. Occasionally Pizzolatto dips into Cohle's galactic philosophising too much, giving the character a pretentious air he isn't designed to have, but most of the time the writing is outstanding, neatly towing the line between the cop show clichés that are clichés for good reason and more experimental stuff which feels here for a reason, rather than here for the sake of it. Fukunaga, for his part, brings his washed out look and patient framing, benefiting hugely from Adam Arkapaw's cinematography. The slow zooms and still shots in this are magnificent.

All that would matter not a jot if this wasn't a story worth caring about. Rarely do Pizzolatto and Fukunaga step into territory that doesn't matter to you and the true arc of True Detective is where its true genius lies.

The main crux of True Detective isn't whodunit, it's whether the fallible Rust and Marty can survive. Whilst the killer or killers may ultimately be the people or person who may end their existence, he or she is not the thing that will kill them. Neither are really battling demons - Pizzolatto is too smart for that - but they are battling very human failings. Rust, detached and occasionally soporific, hides a brilliant mind to avoid attention and connection, things that have failed him in the past. Marty struggles with loyalty, family and his put-upon attachment to Rust. You care about True Detective because you care whether Rust and Marty overcome their battles. By the final scenes it's not exactly clear whether either has, though you want to hope it is possible. In a way it doesn't matter. Seeing them try has been enough.





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 Secret Life Of Walter Mitty - Blu-ray Review

'Stiller crafts in Walter Mitty an endearing yet unremarkable presence who you can’t help but warm to'

Ben Stiller’s latest, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, has more than a little in common with Marc Forster’s oft-overlooked 2006 delight Stranger Than Fiction. Both feature comic performers playing against type in the lead (Stiller here, Will Ferrell in Forster’s film); both focus upon initially mundane characters who experience some sort of disruption which alters their life; and both adopt a similar tone through blending the real with the fantastical.

As both director and star, Stiller could do a lot worse than to emulate Forster’s prior success, and pleasingly manages to do so in several ways. In the eponymous role, Stiller is satisfyingly understated for much of the film. The actor crafts in Walter Mitty an endearing yet unremarkable presence who you can’t help but warm to and feel sympathy for, especially during the film’s opening act. Kristen Wiig as Cheryl, Walter’s co-worker and secret object of his affections, also does well to keep things subtle with a performance a world away from her other 2013 office romance with Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland in Anchorman 2.

When it comes to Walter’s daydreaming, Stiller as director doesn’t do quite as well in reigning things in. The blending of Walter’s two worlds is presented skilfully, with the fantasy element of Walter’s life presented in a style similar to TV series Scrubs and working best when Stiller keeps things simple and downplayed. An early imagined quip to Walter’s new boss Ted (Adam Scott) works much better than a full-blown action sequence involving Walter, Ted and a particular retro action figure seen soon after. Another daydream sequence riffing on The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button feels entirely misjudged and should be in a different film altogether.

The narrative allows Walter to develop a great deal from start to finish, and Stiller’s performance means you’ll be continually invested in what’s happening and rooting for the character in whatever he’s doing. That doesn’t stop matters from feeling distinctly episodic, however, with Walter essentially jumping from one scenario to the next - quite literally at one or two points. It also doesn’t make up for several of the characters surrounding Walter from feeling decidedly lacking in depth. Adventurous photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn, a welcome presence in a cameo role) feels so whimsical in his presentation I was prepared at several points for him to be revealed as nothing more than a product of Walter’s wild imagination. Perhaps the character might have worked somewhat better if he actually had been.

Whilst Stiller’s message of living life rather than experiencing it through the adventures of others is no doubt a positive one - one that Stiller the actor puts across pleasingly through Walter - as a director he too often lacks the subtlety of touch to avoid making his moral too on-the-nose in its execution. It’s this overstated feel that means The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty never manages to achieve the highs of Stranger Than Fiction. This is undoubtedly Stiller’s most impressive directorial effort to date, but on the evidence here he still has some way to go in honing his craftsmanship behind the camera.




The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 21st April 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.