The Equalizer - Online Review

'It's at best disappointing and at worst downright depressing that a previously promising Action/Thriller practitioner, who promised to take the genre in a better direction, is now stuck doing fairly cookie-cutter fayre.'

The impossibly long, passably satisfying The Equalizer is not the film you are looking for should you be pining for a return to the likes of Man On Fire for Denzel Washington. Whilst Liam Neeson may be mining a relatively rich (or at least popular) vein of form as both an ageing action star and various ageing action men of fiction, Denzel here does not improve on his Action heyday. The Equalizer may have some of the familiar welcome beats, but the star looks less convinced with this material than he did ten years ago and, more importantly, director Antoine Fuqua is no Tony Scott on top form.

Fuqua is an interesting case worth considering. Like a smattering of contemporaries whose past films have been lauded to high levels (Jason Reitman springs to mind), Fuqua is now officially in something of a rut. The Equalizer may not be all bad, but it is certainly a world away from Oscar-winning Training Day, which whilst not an absolute classic itself is at least more ambitious than this, or previous recent Fuqua offerings Brooklyn's Finest and Shooter. It's at best disappointing and at worst downright depressing that a previously promising Action/Thriller practitioner, who promised to take the genre in a better direction, is now stuck doing fairly cookie-cutter fayre.

In this particular offering, Washington populates the familiar role of irritated old man with 'a particular set of skills', a conceit passed down from at least the height of the Western genre on to, perhaps for a time, Mel Gibson. It now resides with Washington, Neeson and a smattering of others, with Gibson waiting in the wings for any chance at having another go. Robert McCall (Washington) has nothing to offer beyond any of the previous role incumbents, apart from perhaps a bizarrely outlandish background tale which invites late cameos from Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo. The stock bad guys are Russian. The stock girl in distress: Chloë Grace Moretz, a prostitute who frequents McCall's favourite late night cafe.

Predictably enough from here, Washington gets to show off some of his skills, which in the latter half of the film involve an outstanding knowledge of DIY paraphernalia and what it can do to the human body. McCall is disappointingly like every Washington action hero going; articulate, quiet, and as likeable as he is detached. Marton Csokas is a fairly useless villainous foil.

It would be nice to give the film a pass for Denzel doing what he does, and there are far worse ways to spend a Friday night, but in all honesty there's simultaneously not enough about it and too much of it to recommend it. It's a cut below even Shooter and Brooklyn's Finest, which is saying something.




The Equalizer 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.

Classic Intel: Archangel - DVD Review

'It's not Bond, but it may do until he gets here.'

Those searching for a Bond fix pre-SPECTRE could do a whole lot worse than searching out BBC mini-series/film Archangel, a Daniel Craig-fronted 2005 offering that plays broadly (and fairly cheaply) like an informal cross between Indiana Jones and Britain's favourite secret agent.

Perhaps those claims do not bear up to close scrutiny but, nevertheless, Craig's impossibly monikered Fluke Kelso is a professor on a bit of rampaging journey (through Russia) and his trek does take in elements such as the secret police, suspicious murders and a state up to no good. It's perhaps not Goldeneye, but it has been to the same dam-based military installations, looked over the top and decided it doesn't have the inclination (or budget) to jump.

The good includes the same sort of fish-out-of-water-who-secretly-loves-the-water feeling you get with Jones and the same smoothness you get with Bond. Kelso walking away from a potential love interest in a lift, in order to drop a tail, is pure bastard Bond, his righteous indignation at all and sundry, close to Jones. It's lacking humour, something that would certainly elevate it, but it attains charm, which is at least something. The occasionally uncertain plot is largely well-handled by director Jon Jones, who makes the two hour-plus runtime fly by. If you're looking for further comparisons then there is a distinct feeling of Scandi Noir here, in amongst the chilly Russian on-location filming, especially once the bodies start to pile up.

The bad pulls Archangel down a bit too much to truly say this is ultra-worthy of your time. The supporting cast around Craig, for one, are dubious. Gabriel Macht, probably the most recognisable name there, is dubiously broad. The picture the film paints of contemporary Russia too is a very Westernised one, though not necessarily any less true. Jones' Russia is one at war with itself, uncertain of its ideals, ideas and, more than anything, of its history. The first two 'episodes', watching this as originally aired on TV, are also much stronger than the third, which pulls out some starkly unbelievable conclusions, including Macht and Craig partaking in a bit of forced waltzing around a wilderness log cabin.

On the whole though, this is more fun than that sounds, supremely watchable and at least in possession of an idea or too. It's not Bond, but it may do until he gets here.





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.

Life Itself - DVD Review

'James is clearly a massive fan of Ebert, but his film never becomes cloying or gratuitous in its presentation of his subject'.

For a sizeable portion of its running time, watching Life Itself is a bit like being guided through a party attended exclusively by people who knew film critic and writer Roger Ebert. Director Steve James leads you around to hear what the various talking heads have to say about their friend, relative or colleague Roger, at times relating Ebert's story to you in chronological order, at others linking different moments of his life through thematic or emotional ties. It's a varyingly casual style which suits James' film, largely because it also suits the varyingly casual modus operandi of his subject.

That's not to say that James downplays the significance of Ebert's work as a writer, broadcaster and cultural voice. Quite the opposite, Life Itself is consistently open and candid about Ebert's power and influence, most prominently in the world of film. James is clearly a massive fan of Ebert, but his film never becomes cloying or gratuitous in its presentation of his subject. The director frankly covers the less glamorous areas of Ebert's life, including his struggles with alcoholism and womanising as a young man, seemingly both fuelled by his desire to fit in early on in his career. James also covers at length Ebert's often antagonistic relationship with fellow critic and long-time broadcasting partner Gene Siskel in perhaps his film's most frank and awkward sequences, many of which consist almost entirely of seemingly unedited outtakes and backstage footage of the pair's invariably petty squabbles.

Juxtaposed with the celebratory treatment of Ebert's career is a starkly intimate view of what would end up as the final weeks of his life. Seeing a man who has built his life around eloquent communication stripped of his voice and debilitated to the point of being unable to eat or drink for himself is undeniably uncomfortable viewing at times, with Ebert clearly at times physically a husk of his former self. But the way in which he remains overwhelmingly positive, refusing to lose his sense of humour and utilising technology – a computer voice program for everyday communication, and a blog to continue his career as a critic and social commentator – is genuinely uplifting.

James' film ultimately succeeds in striking the right balance between analysis of Ebert as professional writer, document of him as a cancer patient, and exploration of him as an individual. To focus too much or too little on one area could potentially have given Life Itself an uncomfortable edge of hero worship, clinical deconstruction or mawkish eulogy. Instead, thanks to James' steady hand and Ebert's willingness to allow the director to make the film he himself would want to see, Life Itself is a fitting and well-crafted chronicle of one of the important voices of 20th Century culture.




Life Itself is released on UK DVD on Monday 23rd February.

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 Manchurian Candidate - Blu-ray Review

'A complex, tense and at times surreal thriller that grabs the audience's attention immediately and refuses to let go until its final frames'.

Originally released at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Manchurian Candidate oozes the paranoia and conspiracy fears of the Cold War - of which it is in many ways a product - and is all the better for it. From the moment he throws you without warning into the film's Korean-War-set cold opening, director John Frankenheimer does everything in his power to craft a complex, tense and at times surreal thriller that grabs the audience's attention immediately and refuses to let go until its final frames.

Adapted from Richard Condon's novel, George Axelrod's screenplay tells a story that would surely at times feel too ludicrous to ring true in the hands of a lesser director; and yet Frankenheimer succeeds comprehensively in making The Manchurian Candidate's story both gripping and believable. Each twist and revelation in the story of brainwashed Medal of Honour recipient Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is expertly revealed, Frankenheimer knowing exactly how to generate maximum mystery and suspense from Axelrod's remarkable script. Even the rare moments within the plot that could be considered a little too coincidental, even for the world Frankenheimer presents, are forgivable thanks to the film as a whole being so stylishly executed and undeniably compelling.

In crafting The Manchurian Candidate's visuals, cinematographer Lionel Lindon utilises a striking range of techniques, artistically playing with foreground and background, light and shade and extraordinary use of facial close-ups throughout. Drawn-out fades allow scenes to bleed into each other at times with fascinating results. The film's finest moments arguably come from its most surreal sequences depicting the shared nightmares of two of the characters early on. With actors and settings shifting at a dizzying rate coupled with striking and unsettling camera angles, Frankenheimer's impeccable direction and Lindon's arresting visuals come together to create one of the most striking and chilling cinematic depictions of a dream ever made.

Frankenheimer's cast matches the high craft of his film, the director drawing comprehensively strong performances from all involved. Frank Sinatra as haunted Korean War veteran Major Bennett Marco gets better and better as the story unfolds and Bennett's mind comes closer and closer to unravelling, also managing to deliver a (perhaps unexpectedly) solid martial-arts-infused fight sequence into the bargain. Angela Lansbury as Raymond's mother Eleanor delivers a masterclass in manipulation of both her son and her husband, McCarthy-alike John Iselin (James Gregory), and the audience, keeping you guessing as to her true motivations for as long as the story allows.

Harvey as Raymond is the standout here, however, making the character by turns disagreeably aloof, unsettlingly robotic, and yet unquestionably sympathetic to the very end. Just as Raymond's story of mental and emotional exploitation resonates powerfully today whilst also being intrinsically linked to its historical context, The Manchurian Candidate transcends its mid-20th Century roots into timelessness thanks to every element within it coming together to synthesise a comprehensively outstanding cinematic experience.




The Manchurian Candidate is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 23rd February 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.

Masters Of Cinema #108 - Wild River - Blu-ray Review

'Kazan's skill though extends beyond just observing the mess of immovable objects and unstoppable forces meeting in Garthville'

Elia Kazan's masterful Wild River is, as his lead character Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) often tells us, about the sort of societal issues that fall 'under the general heading of progress'. A sumptuous looking film, Kazan hits the trifecta of film-making; a satisfying story, loosely following a romance between Chuck and Carol (Lee Remick); a comment on things that matter, here everything from racial tension to national government's impact on local communities; and visuals that pop off the screen in wonderful CinemaScope. Wild River is everything that you could want for its duration and then a think-piece magnet in the post-viewing shakedown.

Kazan starts with Chuck's arrival in Garthville where he is set the task of moving Carol's grandmother, Ella (Jo Van Fleet), off her land so that a new dam can flood the area and protect thousands of other homes. On arriving on Ella's island, a peopled microcosm, he encounters a somewhat idealised kingdom where, in stark contrast to the town, black and white are getting along if not progressively then at least on a level of harmony. Chuck's 'progress' has come to end that situation, a fact that does not pass him by. The tensions are set.

Kazan's skill though extends beyond just observing the mess of immovable objects and unstoppable forces meeting in Garthville, though, when you look closely at the film, there are more of those there than just Ella and Chuck. Kazan complicates things mainly by making Chuck likeable, rational and understanding. He is not 'the man from the government' (characters who are glimpsed on the other end of a phone line), rather he overtly applauds Ella's work ethic and success but nevertheless must do his duty and get her off her land. Ella too is not just an old woman stubbornly holding out. In a bravura scene, Van Fleet, playing much older than she was at the time to great effect, seems to show off her power by trying to wrestle Sam's (Robert Earl Jones) dog from his ownership. What she is actually doing, and how the scene is played by Kazan, gives you pause for thought in many subsequent meetings between her and Chuck.

In a minor lesson in micro economics, Chuck finally begins to make headway on moving Ella by offering her black workforce the jobs and housing the local community will not. Again, Kazan tackles an issue - here race relations - in more ways than one. A lesser film would just contrast the town with Ella's island but instead the director emphasises the fluidity of the situation. A good change in the treatment of individuals is not necessarily good for the whole or, in this case, Ella's idealised kingdom.

Whilst all that is happening perhaps the Carol and Chuck love story is the most redundant, and predictable, part of the film, but Kazan tells it with such authority and Clift in particular commits to a depiction of a love-filled affair with such force, that it, like the rest of the film, is difficult to critique, or draw your eyes away from. Masters of Cinema release a lot of great films, as any devotees will doubtless be aware of. This is not only another outstanding release, but actually one of the very best.





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.

Wild River is released in the UK on Monday 23rd February 2015



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 Purge: Anarchy - DVD Review

'DeMonaco fleshes out his world episodically but for the most part successfully, giving Los Angeles during the Purge a claustrophobic, post-apocalyptic feel'.

Amongst the many problems with writer and director James DeMonaco's 2013 film The Purge,
perhaps the most critical to its failure was the lack of exploration of the world in which the story took place. DeMonaco introduced an intriguing dystopian near-future USA in which almost all criminal activity is made legal annually for one twelve hour period in order to reduce crime throughout the rest of the year, then proceeded to churn out an uninspired home invasion story which utilised very little of his set-up. Even after being largely disappointed with The Purge, I firmly believe that DeMonaco's central premise holds a great deal of potential waiting to be tapped.

Whilst sequel The Purge: Anarchy doesn't fix all the problems seen in the first film, DeMonaco at the very least moves things in the right direction. The director's exploration of considerably more of the world of his franchise is the best decision he could have made. Away from the affluent middle class neighbourhood to which the first film was restricted, The Purge: Anarchy gives us a much more comprehensive picture of just what the annual Purge is all about. DeMonaco introduces us to three separate narratives during his opening act, before drawing characters from each together at the start of the second. Whilst none of the characters or their individual stories feels particularly successful or developed on their own, once they join the others for the primary story and are let loose into the annual Purge things notably improve.

Frank Grillo's character, known only as "Sergeant", comes across something like Bruce Campbell doing his second-best Kurt Russell impersonation and provides a solid focal point for DeMonaco's story, his motives and intentions intriguingly unclear for much of the film. The potential that waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her precocious daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) hold thanks to circumstances set up during the opening act is disappointingly squandered, but both still manage some decent interplay with Grillo's character. Less successful are couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), sharing between them one fairly straightforward plot point that it's difficult to care about.

DeMonaco fleshes out his world episodically but for the most part successfully, giving Los Angeles during the Purge a claustrophobic, post-apocalyptic feel. The director attempts some social commentary - the homeless hiding in subway tunnels just to make it through night; an auction for the wealthy and powerful to purchase their own Purge victims - which usually works well enough, even if it rarely does more than scratch the surface of any issues in a somewhat blunt fashion.

What is really missing from DeMonaco's sequel, however, is something that the first film also sorely missed: genuine exploration of and justification for The Purge's implementation. Just how did this version of America arrive at such a terrible a state of affairs that such an extreme "solution" was sanctioned? The third film in The Purge franchise, due for release in 2016, is currently set to be a prequel based around the first ever Purge and reportedly will tackle just these questions. If DeMonaco can provide some satisfying answers, whilst building on the good work and learning from the errors made in both The Purge: Anarchy and the original film, he could end up rounding off his trilogy with its most successful entry of all.




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 Other - Blu-ray Review

'Compared to The Exorcist and The Omen, The Other does fall into a similar category as those two films: the 'creepy children being creepy' sub-genre that has managed to terrify without much effort for years.'

The Other, directed by To Kill A Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan, arrives next week on a new Blu-ray from Eureka, under their Eureka Classics label, rather than their prominent Masters Of Cinema collection. This rather begs the question: when is a film a 'classic' and when it is something directed by a 'master of cinema'. Is Mulligan not the latter, rather than this slightly obscure 1970s Horror being a 'classic'? Eureka do great work but this slightly arbitrary labelling of films is making the OCD part of my head spin. But I digress.

Mulligan's film concerns itself with two twins in rural Connecticut: Niles and Holland (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky), who initially busy themselves by stealing pickles from a neighbour before graduating to much more serious deeds. Compared in the literature to The Exorcist and The Omen, The Other does fall into a similar category as those two films: the 'creepy children being creepy' sub-genre that has managed to terrify without much effort for years.

And The Other does terrify. Don't be fooled by the BBFC 12 certificate: in the final half hour, at least, this is a creepy and tension-filled Horror, with Mulligan giving you advance warning of what is to come from a long way off, before taking perverse pleasure stretching out the inevitable whilst the audience's toes slowly curl under the rest of their feet. Niles and Holland are creepy, yes, but by the end they have graduated to something more, something sinister and slightly ethereal.

In Roger Ebert's original review of The Other, from 1972, Ebert picks out the fact that Mulligan surrounds his twins with grotesques. There is an overt visit to a carnival freakshow, but the inhabitants of the twin's homestead also count; the odd gardener, the old lady who lives alone, the grieving mother who won't leave her bedroom. If there's a problem with The Other it is that it does little with those creations. Are they meant to symbolise that not everything evil reflects its spirit in its looks: the antithesis of the angelic, deadly twins. If so, or even if something different, Mulligan doesn't make his points clearly.

Perhaps though, that is some part of The Other's appeal. Mulligan's detached style, emphasised by Robert Surtees' woozy photography, leaves you in uncertain waters. Perhaps there are answers, but perhaps, equally, there are only deeply disturbing acts. If it is only a mood piece then the mood is somewhere South of 'good'. It's evocative stuff, as unsettling and uncertain as good Horror should be.




The Other is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Eureka's Eureka Classics label in the UK from Monday 23rd February 2015.


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.