Classic Intel: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies - DVD Review

'That these three talents went from this to their subtle awards darling The Artist is roughly as predictable as Keith Chegwin directing a BAFTA winner.'

Before Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo made Oscar-winning The Artist, they made this: a slightly bawdy Spy Caper/parody, one part Naked Gun, one part Scary Movie. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies is occasionally broad, bawdy stuff, with jokes on a level only just above the gutter, partnered with some clever observation and snappy dialogue. That these three talents went from this to their subtle awards darling is roughly as predictable as Keith Chegwin directing a BAFTA winner.

At its best, Nest Of Spies relies on the dialogue of Jean-François Halin and Hazanavicius' script and the not inconsiderable charm of Dujardin. The latter can flash a smile with the best of classic Hollywood, which explains why he was suited to his The Artist role. Here, as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (alias: OSS 117), he excels as a handsome simpleton who understands neither spying, people or cultural politics and yet has to engage in all three of them. 'Buy shoes for your kids', he tells foreman Slimane (Abdellah Moundy), 'it'll be difficult', comes the reply, 'they're in New York at University'. There are moments when de La Bath reminds you of Frank Drebin, and it has been a long time since any parody has genuinely been able to claim that.

There are other moments though that remind you just how good The Naked Gun films, Police Squad and other Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker productions are and how tone deaf the modern parody can seem by comparison. There are far too many jokes that rely on a lot of ogling of either Bejo's Larmina or Princesse Al Tarouk (Aure Atika) and it's no surprise when the final scene manages to manufacture a situation where both of them end up in their underwear. Is it in-keeping with the targets of this film, Bond and the like? Yes, but it's handled with all the subtlety of a fist full of Walther PPKs.

Compared to its US and UK counterparts though, this does get the sub-genre more so than any recent efforts. A solid gag about a spy following OSS 117 and reporting to an unseen master is good for at least three laughs and there are others that populate the moments of tone deafness. The plot is predictably silly, but it is near-constantly perked by stand-alone elements such as the above, and OSS 117's fascination with the fact that every time he turns the light on in his cover business, his flock of chickens start squawking. Like the film, it's hardly a revolutionary gag, but that doesn't mean it won't make you laugh.





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.

Masters Of Cinema #105 - Wooden Crosses (Les Croix de Bois) - Blu-ray Review

'A captivating portrayal of warfare on screen by any standard, made all the more remarkable considering the film is now well over eighty years old'.

Originally released two years before his 300-minute epic film adaptation of Les Misérables (which is numerically, if not chronologically, the succeeding release in the Masters Of Cinema series) Raymond Bernard's Wooden Crosses clearly holds aesthetic similarities to the director's later film. It also feels like a work Bernard may have learned some lessons from as he went into Les Misérables, as there are aspects that the director handles much more successfully in that film than he does here.

Where Wooden Crosses can rarely be faulted is in its authentic representation of World War One. The work of cinematographer Jules Kruger is superb throughout, vividly recreating on screen everything from living conditions in the trenches to conflict in No Man's Land. There are numerous occasions where, such is the attention to detail from Kruger, what he puts on screen could easily be mistaken for photographs from the actual war.

Bernard's direction regularly complements the work of Kruger, with several stand-out sequences to be found throughout Wooden Crosses two-hour running time. A scene depicting soldier Gilbert (Pierre Blanchar) bringing a tardily delivered letter to the grave of a fallen comrade is particularly moving, as is a sequence at the film's centre depicting a church simultaneously being used for a religious service and as a front line hospital. The director's use of sound throughout Wooden Crosses is also impressive, at times incessantly bombarding us with the cacophony of shell blasts and machine gun fire, at others allowing scenes to starkly play out in complete silence.

Bernard's greatest achievement here, however, is a twenty-minute sequence near the commencement of Wooden Crosses' second hour, depicting an unforgiving battle to capture a village barely recognisable due to its artillery-ravaged state. It's a captivating portrayal of warfare on screen by any standard, made all the more remarkable considering the film is now well over eighty years old.

Whilst Wooden Crosses is frequently an excellent historical recreation of World War One, as a narrative piece of cinema however it unfortunately feels less impressive. Bernard drifts in and out of telling an actual story, at times presenting Gilbert as the film's primary focus but at others simply allowing events to play out as a series of loosely connected vignettes. Whilst this allows him to show a broad spectrum of the lives of front line soldiers during the war, it does give Wooden Crosses a frustratingly unfocused feel at times. Neither Gilbert nor any other member of his unit are ever given any true depth, limited to scraps of information about their lives before the war at best.

Bernard's pacing is also an issue at times. The film's first hour is undeniably plodding, at times to the point of exasperation. A segment in which the soldiers discover the enemy tunnelling under their trench in particular lacks any sort of urgency, infecting the film with a torpidity which only subsides when we reach the aforementioned village battle sequence. It's telling that, whilst Wooden Crosses is under half the length of Bernard's Les Misérables, its lack of dynamism at times makes it the more laborious of the two films to get through.

Wooden Crosses therefore ends up as the sum of its positive and negative elements. It is undeniably worth watching for its authentic and engaging depictions of conflict, particularly for war film fans and historical enthusiasts. Taken as a whole however, it falls short of greatness due to Bernard's relative problems with story and pace, something which the director thankfully improved upon for his subsequent film.





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.

Wooden Crosses was released in the UK on Monday 30th March 2015


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Second Opinion: Paddington - Blu-ray Review

Essentially staffed by two blokes who like film, Film Intel writers Sam and Ben sometimes agree. And then, sometimes they don't. Second Opinion is what happens when they don't. Well... that and lots of shouting.
From Sam's original Paddington review: 'Whilst youngsters will lap this up, there is little here for the teen market, nor for those a little bit older'. Three Stars.

'Proves with aplomb that there is still such a thing as a pure, traditional family film'.

In a world where it is now taken for granted that films aimed primarily at children will have a constant stream of in-jokes for mum and dad to chortle at whilst their innocent offspring are entertained by the bright colours and moving shapes, Paddington proves with aplomb that there is still such a thing as a pure, traditional family film. Director Paul King clearly sets out to bring Michael Bond's beloved bear to a 21st Century audience of youngsters whilst also wisely steering well clear of rebooting the character, steadfastly embedding his film in the ursine urchin's charming mid 20th Century roots.

King's film consistently channels the DNA of family-oriented cinema of the past: scenes set in the Geographer's Guild feel reminiscent of the Harry Potter big screen adaptations (thanks no doubt to Potter producer David Heyman fulfilling the same role once again here); the influence of Mary Poppins can also be felt in both the film's aesthetic and within the Brown family's central arc. There are more overt cinematic references as well, taking in the likes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Mission: Impossible, each executed to make Paddington feel a little richer rather than as a self-congratulatory wink from the director to the adults in the audience.

The script from King and Hamish McColl refreshingly embraces the fantasy element of Paddington's world without ever making a song-and-dance about it. This is a version of London where bears can speak English and nobody bats an eyelid, which means that King as director can forego any unnecessary explanation and get on with putting Paddington (voiced wonderfully by Ben Whishaw) into well-executed slapstick scenarios. Paddington's view of England as a safe haven for all who arrive there is also mined on a few occasions to celebrate the country's multicultural nature, as well as humbly undercutting in an almost zen-like fashion the anti-immigration sentiments of the UKIP brigade and their ilk.

Whilst Paddington's contentment to provide simple, good-natured entertainment is for the most part a cause for jubilation, there are also occasional resultant issues. Nicole Kidman clearly has a ball throughout as nefarious taxidermist Millicent, but her character never quite fits comfortably with the rest of the film, and ultimately adds little to Paddington's successes. Whilst Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins deliver a pair of endearing performances as Henry and Mary Brown, their children Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are never fleshed out quite as satisfactorily, fading into the background more than you would like. In the end, however, it is the eponymous bear who is the obvious star here, something which King never forgets for a second. All things considered, Paddington's first foray onto the big screen is far more often than not a real joy.




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: Road House - TV Review

'An action movie in a way that action movies aren't allowed to exist any more, unless they're shot through with irony or are lampooning the genre'.

Phrases such as "so bad it's good" and "guilty pleasure" are as prominent in cinema today as they have ever been, and are just as lazy and non-committal as when they were first coined. Assigning guilt to enjoying certain films is essentially stating that some forms of entertainment are inherently better than others, when all it really comes down to - as with many other aspects of cinema - is a matter of both opinion and taste. If you enjoyed watching a film then say so, and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

Road House is undoubtedly a film that has been saddled with these labels time and time again, and initially perhaps it's easy to see why. Despite being released in the decade's final year, the film perspires eighties style from every pore; it's also an action movie in a way that action movies aren't allowed to exist any more, unless they're shot through with irony or are lampooning the genre. The plot too is simple: brought in to reestablish order at the anarchic Double Deuce nightclub in Jasper, Missouri, experienced bouncer Dalton (Patrick Swayze) soon finds himself at odds with local tycoon Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who has a stranglehold on the whole town.

The key criticisms of Road House largely come from a misreading of the film's entire set-up. This is clearly not a story grounded in realism, and yet that seems to be the stick by which the film is regularly measured. The near-total lack of police presence, for example, is often cited as one of the story's weaknesses, even as a "plot hole" (another cinematic term bandied around lazily and, more often than not, inaccurately). Director Rowdy Herrington explains this very matter straightforwardly without labouring the point: Wesley controls the local law enforcement, which from a narrative point of view allows him to get away with everything he does throughout the film. But to ask questions such as this of Road House is to misunderstand what type of story is being told. This is in essence the legend of a lone warrior. If Dalton was a solitary gunman in the Old West, or a rōnin in feudal Japan, these supposed "holes" would not even be considered; just because the time and place has been transferred to the American Midwest in the 1980s doesn't make them any more valid.

That's not to put Road House on equal footing with the cinema of Leone or Kurosawa; this is never a film of that level of refinement. But that's not to say that Herrington's film isn't immensely enjoyable throughout. On the most basic level, Road House delivers solid action and fight scenes set to a rollicking rock soundtrack that consistently deliver throughout. Swayze makes a formidable bad-ass, and when Sam Elliott turns up as Dalton's mentor Wade Garrett to join the bar room brawls things get even better. Whether you buy into Road House as an '80s take on the vigilante hero narrative, or view it as a simple but effective cult action film, there's no denying the sheer entertainment Herrington garners from his premise.




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 Three - Online Review

'though this season lacks the shock-effect moments of the first two seasons, House Of Cards is better when it is being adult and well plotted'

Where House Of Cards: Season Two was characterised by a lack of structure to its story, House Of Cards: Season Three tightens ship. Showrunner Beau Willimon talked extensively in the build up to this season about how his show has always been not about politics, but about marriage. He's wrong of course, but he would be right if he were just talking about the show's third outing. This is a House Of Cards that puts the political into the background frequently to analyse the personal. Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) have made it to The White House, but at what cost to their relationship?

At times, the chosen approach works superbly. Episode Ten, directed by Agnieszka Holland (a veteran of Treme and The Wire), is a huge standout, as good as this show has been since the first season. As a season-long political discussion with Russian leader Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) reaches a head, Claire and Frank's relationship is dragged into a uncomfortable limelight. Can an overtly political personal relationship survive a political hammering? It's an interesting standpoint for the show, well played throughout and though this season lacks the shock-effect moments of the first two seasons, House Of Cards is better when it is being adult and well plotted, rather than having its lead push people of platforms.

There are still, as in Season Two, some bizarre departures to bemoan that threaten to throw the ship off course. Mendoza (Benito Martinez) seems set to form a 'voice of reason' opponent for Frank but then, completely needlessly, he exits off screen to be replaced by a character similar enough to wonder why that needed to happen. It's good to see Kim Dickens back in a meaty role, post-Treme, but her character is here to effectively change places with Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan Marnò), a character who has been built up slowly and apparently purposefully for a little while now. For those hoping for some level of explanation to previously unresolved plot threads; there's no return for Lucas and hardly a reference to Zoe or Russo. This is a very different show from that of the previous two seasons and you do wonder if those plot threads will ever feature again. Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) does at least get a good moment of honesty, late in the season.

Of the new additions, the clear standout is Paul Sparks as potential Underwood biographer Thomas Yates. There's not as much pay-off as you might like and the series still lacks a foil as good as Zoe for Frank, but he does go some way to adding an extra dimension and his changing personal and professional dynamic is the most interesting thing outside of the Underwood's relationship. The ever-reliable Michael Kelly as Doug spends too long in purgatory, giving a lot of his sub plot's action away to Gavin (Jimmi Simpson), who I personally remain unimpressed by. Doug does at least get a wonderfully paced conclusion, as, at various points, do Jackie (Molly Parker) and Elizabeth Marvel's Heather Dunbar, whose roll is vastly increased here, to great effect.

The final episode is revelatory and tense, and the question of whether it quite deserves its open-ended cliffhanger will be one to ponder for some time. For me, there is this: House Of Cards has always felt as though it should document the rise and fall of Frank Underwood. After an uncertain second outing, it does now appear to be comfortable in those shoes and determined to get us there by way of enough periphery interest to keep us watching. Roll on Season Four.




House Of Cards: Season Three was playing on Netflix.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Black Sea - Blu-ray Review

'From the slightly wobbly, slightly ludicrous first act emerges an adventure thriller undeniably tense, gripping and original'.

Blending the heist-style set-up of Ocean's Eleven with the undersea action of Crimson Tide - not to mention a generous dose of sociopolitical drama - Black Sea keeps you guessing as to just what type of film it is going to be for much of its opening act. Director Kevin Macdonald presents bleakly realistic scenes focused upon the harrowing effects of redundancy in post-credit crunch Britain, whilst also setting up the film's more fantastical plot premise of a World War II U-boat loaded with Nazi gold ripe for the taking. It makes for an opening half an hour that is considerably uneven, but also ensures that Macdonald's film certainly feels different to anything you've seen before.

From this slightly wobbly, slightly ludicrous first act, however, emerges an adventure thriller undeniably tense, gripping and original. Once Macdonald has allowed recently laid-off submarine Captain Robinson (Jude Law) to assemble his twelve-man crew and has submerged them beneath the waves, Black Sea really comes into its own. Whilst some of the plot developments are telegraphed fairly early doors - Ben Mendelsohn's Fraser, for example, is described by Robinson as a "psychopath" the first time we see him, so it's no surprise when he turns out to be a catalyst for trouble on the sub - the tension that Macdonald builds is palpable, at times even oppressive. The director's smart use of light and camera angles to create his claustrophobic atmosphere is also continually excellent; there are scenes both inside the sub and on the ocean floor reminiscent of sci-fi outings such as Alien, creating a otherworldly aesthetic that enhances the lingering dread further.

Whilst Robinson is the only character to receive much in the way of a back story (presented too often through disappointingly clichéd light-bathed flashback scenes), we know that almost all the members of the crew are essentially in the same boat - if you'll pardon the awful pun - having been forced to take part in Robinson's extreme treasure hunt through circumstances beyond their control. It's enough to invest in their presence, and the comprehensively strong cast ensure this works further: amongst the crew are dependable British talents such as Michael Smiley and David Threlfall; the increasingly reliable Scoot McNairy delivers as slippery executive Daniels; and young talent Bobby Schofield gives an impressive turn in his inaugural feature playing inexperienced teenager Tobin. Whereas a lesser film would have allowed them to become anonymous extras, the Russian half of the crew commendably also become distinct characters thanks to the performances behind them.

There are sporadic issues here, with mildly questionable plot points hastily skimmed over once or twice, and the story feeling a little too episodic in its movement from one obstacle to the next here and there. Law's Scottish accent is also somewhat dubious, occasionally sounding like a dodgy Gerard Butler impersonation, although the actor's reliably excellent turn ensures this is never too much of a distraction. Despite its early uncertainty and occasional B-movie trappings, Black Sea ultimately emerges as both a consistently enjoyable adventure and a satisfyingly taut thriller.




Black Sea is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 13th April 2015, and is available now through digital download.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

The Great Beauty - Blu-ray Review

''Unfortunately, in this country, to be taken seriously, you have to take yourself seriously', says one of Jep's many party-going friends. Is he talking about Italy's cinematic history perhaps?'

Clearly inspired by the films of the Italian master directors - Federico Fellini and others - Paolo Sorrentino's 2014 Oscar-winner The Great Beauty should be a slightly annoying, upper-class piece of navel-gazing, following well-to-do writer Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) as he turns the corner towards age and so starts to think about 'life' and other profundities.

What it actually is is a beautiful, mesmerising film, one part Fellini's 8 1/2, another Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte, a third Woody Allen's best and most insightful pieces of wit and humour. Sorrentino takes the dull, lifeless, humourless parts of the masters and throws them away, instead looking towards the warmth of people and the truth of beautiful photography. The opening, a choir singing around a fountain as a tourist collapses, is indicative of the rest of the film; morbid curiosity laced with a visitor's innocent eye of Rome, and life.

The wit, along with the visuals, is the key to making Sorrentino's film accessible, where so many of his contemporaries have previously produced dull trudges. 'Unfortunately, in this country, to be taken seriously, you have to take yourself seriously', says one of Jep's many party-going friends. Is he talking about Italy's cinematic history perhaps? In a film this cine-literate, you rather suspect the line is no accident. More throwaway moments include a tremendously middle-class comment about Ethiopian Jazz and the 'arrival' of a saint in Jep's bedroom, which is laugh-out-loud funny.

Sorrentino's editing moves fluidly between scenes of memory and flashback, to new scenes of Jep's current situation, though rarely is the feeling chaotic, nor the events unexplained. In one, we watch a boy practising football in his room, before the action switches back and the reason for showing us the scene is explained. It is gloriously plain-speaking, even when it is being obtuse and daring. Why does Jep's neighbour hardly talk to him and live behind a keypad-controlled door? It ultimately doesn't matter, but it feeds into Jep's existence and, inevitably, Sorrentino does provide you with the closure of an answer.

Meanwhile, as Jep searches for something he is surely destined never to find, nor to perhaps even know what it is, Sorrentino provides the viewer with enough suggestions to fill a lifetime. Preparing for a funeral, Jep gives Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli) his rules for funeral conduct, but getting there he cannot help himself and the tears flow. Is 'the answer' humanity, which Jep is surrounded by and has despite himself? If it is then Sorrentino's film does it perfect, beautiful justice.





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.