The Imitation Game - Blu-ray Review

 'Transforms history into both a taut espionage-fuelled thriller and a heartfelt period drama'.

Should the success of a film that purports to depict real events be judged on its historical accuracy? The evidence from cinema's past suggests that, whilst many have tried to do exactly that, ultimately the quality of a film and the enjoyment it provides to audiences will win out against how closely the facts have been adhered to. The Imitation Game has had the finger pointed at it more than most of the recent healthy crop of feature films "based on true events" for playing fast and loose with the truth, to the extent of some declaring it to be more fiction than fact.

Whilst even a rudimentary level of investigation does uncover differences between the Alan Turing played in the film by Benedict Cumberbatch and the real man, as well as the events surrounding the cracking of the German Enigma at Bletchley Park during World War II, whether or not this is enough to blemish the overall film is ultimately a personal choice for each viewer. If you can put aside historical accuracy and take The Imitation Game purely as a cinematic work (something which I found quite easy to do) then the film must be seen as an overwhelming success.

Director Morten Tyldum's film has more in common with another 20th Century historical film, James Marsh's The Theory Of Everything, than having the life of a British genius at its core. Tyldum's film occupies a version of England aesthetically similar to that seen in the Hawking biopic, complete with Received Pronunciation accents and cucumber sandwiches on the lawns of Bletchley. Whilst there are occasional moments of blunt cliché in presenting 1940s society - a scene where code-breaker Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) is directed to the secretarial offices upon her arrival at Bletchley because she's a woman feels particularly heavy-handed, no matter how authentic the sexism might be - but thankfully the director far more often than not manages a more satisfying and refined level of execution here.

The sharply written screenplay from Graham Moore continuously transforms history into both a taut espionage-fuelled thriller and a heartfelt period drama. The film effortlessly shifts between a triptych of time periods in Turing's life, with the centrepiece of his work in Hut 8 effectively flanked by flashbacks to his schooldays in the late 1920s, and a police investigation into Turing's then illegal homosexuality sparked by a robbery at his home in 1951. There's not a single weak link amongst the cast, with Mark Strong's cloak-and-dagger portrayal of MI6 head Stewart Menzies and Matthew Goode's measured turn as Hugh Alexander offering particular highlights. Even Knightley, not known in the past for her reliability in more dramatically challenging roles, puts in a consistently impressive performance as Turing's colleague and close friend Clarke.

This is Cumberbatch's film from his opening voiceover onwards, however, with the actor delivering yet another dependably excellent turn in a regularly demanding role. Perhaps the only thing that can be taken away from Cumberbatch is that this is the latest in a growing line of intellectually gifted yet socially awkward characters to add to his filmography; Turing occasionally feels a little too much like Sherlock without the bravado. That familiarity is perhaps one reason for the actor losing out to fellow Brit Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor at the Academy Awards earlier this year. But as arguably one of the most talented British actors working today, Cumberbatch's performance in The Imitation Game makes it all the more certain he will walk away with at least one Oscar of his own sooner rather than later.




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.

Tomorrowland - Cinema Review

'The problem is that, after the setup... the setup doesn't end. In fact, it still hasn't ended by the time the finale rolls around.'

Tomorrowland is a film almost obsessed with the idea that all you need is ideas. In one of those strange twists of irony only really found in a creative medium such as film, it is also definitive proof that you cannot just get by on ideas: you need, at least in this format, the ability to tell a story and to tell it in one complete film.

Writer Damon Lindelof (who will, for many, now be becoming a repeat offender at this sort of thing) and writer/director Brad Bird do create a good-natured set up, focused on charismatic lead Britt Robertson and her character's obsession with humanity's failure to look past the end of its nose. In the opening, Casey (Robertson) sabotages the demolition of a NASA launch pad, distraut that we no longer want to go to the stars. The fact that the launch pad's demolition will signal the end of her father's employment is a nice touch: Lindelof and Bird link aspiration and exploration with economic growth, without sounding like politicians.

The problem is that, after this set up, where Casey receives a pin that gives her a glimpse of what appears to be a parallel universe, the set up doesn't end. In fact, it still hasn't ended by the time the finale rolls around. Now in Tomorrowland, the world Casey sees, there's a whole new place to be set up, a fairly new character to create and some logic to explain. There's an emotional payoff that only partially works, mainly because it has been set up to death with no substance whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the rest of the film proves to be spotty too. There's clearly meant to be a warm, slightly irate, father/daughter relationship between Casey and her Dad (Tim McGraw), but, rather strangely amongst all this set up, he doesn't get any, leaving his own emotional 'proud Dad' moment rather inert. Clooney, billed as second lead, isn't, that place instead taken by Raffey Cassidy, whose performance is an odd mixture of intentionally staid and slightly awkward. Clooney meanwhile is half-cooked, neither mad enough to be the recluse he's meant to be, nor inspiring enough to be the genius he could be. Neither make for compelling travelling companions and it's notable that Cassidy's character in particular is absent from the two trailers I'd seen before heading in, despite having nearly as much screen time as Robertson.

The closing moments rather seem like they are themselves intended to set up a new franchise, without ever making it clear exactly how that might work given the events of the film. I'm not on the edge of my seat for a potential second helping. This is ill-conceived, under-developed, bereft of memorable characters and moments (Casey allowing), full of nice but empty visuals and confused about who it's aimed at (it's a 12A). In fact: it's another of Disney's recent live action fairy tale offerings. A wolf in sheep's clothing, talking aspiration, but offering merely dull imitation.





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.

Mr. Turner - Blu-ray Review

'It's fascinating to consider just how close to the real man Timothy Spall's grunting, gobbing, shagging version of the eponymous painter actually comes'.

Unlike biopics of figures either living or in living memory, films based on the lives of names from centuries past are far less bound by the need to emulate or impersonate. Both the director and their cast are given much more freedom to interpret how to bring historical individuals to the big screen, the worry of matching up to a widely recognisable personality somewhat removed. In the case of Mr. Turner, it's fascinating to consider just how close to the real man Timothy Spall's grunting, gobbing, shagging version of the eponymous painter actually comes.

Spall's Turner has an undeniable animalistic quality - a gruff badger in a top hat and overcoat, like a character out of a dark, forgotten Beatrix Potter story. But he's also remarkably human, at times exhibiting raw emotion that it's impossible not to become affected by. Turner's eccentricity in his later years is well documented, and it's something which Spall has some subtle fun with throughout, whilst wisely steering clear of anything close to caricature. Spall is one of the consummate British actors of our time, with everything from Hamlet to Harry Potter found within his filmography, and his performance here deserves to go down as one of his very best.

Away from Spall's central turn, however, Mr. Turner becomes a regrettably mixed affair. Mike Leigh's decision to focus on the final quarter century of the painter's life ensures this never feels like a brief overview. That said, his film still feels as though it rarely delves into many areas of Turner's life with satisfying depth. A huge array of characters come and go, some appearing for only a single section of the film before absenting themselves again, having made very little impact on the story as a whole.

The only relationship satisfyingly explored is that of Turner and his father (Paul Jesson), one which feels warm and genuine and that provides several of Mr. Turner's most affecting moments. In contrast, Turner's romance with Margate landlady Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) is sweet but underdeveloped; whilst the relationship between him and devoted housemaid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) is largely limited to longing glances from her, guttural vocalisations of indifference from him, and an uncomfortable impromptu bonk against a bookshelf.

His professional acquaintances receive a similar cursory touch from Leigh. Whilst Turner and John Constable (James Fleet) exchanging loaded utterances of each other's surname in forced greeting gives us a droll insight into the two artists' famous feud, there's a sense that the director has missed exploring a narrative opportunity that could without doubt fill an entire feature in itself.

The truth is that, whilst Leigh's film is exquisitely shot, littered with images that could be displayed as works of art in themselves, it is in fact a plodding and torpid watch for much of its one hundred and fifty minutes. At the same time, Turner's life story feels truncated by Leigh's decision to only show us the final third of it, giving us far less insight into the man, his family and work than one might hope for from a two-and-a-half hour film. Mr. Turner is held together by beautiful cinematography and performances by a talented cast helmed by an excellent Spall; but Leigh's film is also unfortunately a long-winded chore, regularly making it a considerable challenge to appreciate its positives.




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.

Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) - Blu-ray Review

'Troy arrives like Dracula, the vicious, undead 'other' here to sweep Bathsheba off and away to new violences: 'Bathsheba, I come here for you, I come to take you home'.'

With the release of a new adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd into cinemas, discussion around this 1967 version has increased over recent months. Star Terrence Stamp has perhaps had the most to say on the matter, featuring on a number of programmes (notably Radio 4's The Film Programme), reciting the fact that director John Schlesinger 'never fancied him' and that anything of worth from the film is down to cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. With Schlesinger having passed away in 2003, it is Roeg who has taken the reins to oversee this HD conversion. Unsurprisingly, Far From The Madding Crowd looks terrific.

This isn't to say that visuals alone are the film's sole strong point. Schlesinger may not put an indelible mark on Hardy's text, but he and screenwriter Frederic Raphael do manage to tease out some of the author's concerns. The film's approach to Hardy's attractively modern feminist ideas, and thoughts towards equality of relationships, for example, is not to shout it from the rooftops but to quietly inveigle it into the film. 'We'll send the women home to bed', cries Sergeant Troy (Stamp), as Schlesinger cuts to a wild storm raging outside. A jump forward in time and Schlesinger cuts back to Troy and his alcohol-infused cohorts asleep in the barn, as the weather begins to threaten the farm's crops. Later, Troy arrives like Dracula, the vicious, undead 'other' here to sweep Bathsheba (Julie Christie) off and away to new violences: 'Bathsheba, I come here for you, I come to take you home'.

Whilst that may be a success of Raphael's script, Hardy writes dense text and the screenwriter occasionally struggles to penetrate it, whilst Schlesinger struggles to animate. The film may be famous for Stamp's semi-erotic sword-swishing scene, but there are vast moments elsewhere that feel confined to stasis, as the cast deliver dialogue that can seem leaden. Despite the clear overtones of equality, there is also a slight feeling that we never really get to know Bathsheba properly. At risk of referencing the flawed Bechedel Test: the majority of her conversations are about or conducted with her potential suitors.

When the pace does slow, Schlesinger at least has a sterling cast to rely on, much needed in a film which drags at one hundred and sixty-eight minutes. Christie is outstanding, Stamp is fine and Alan Bates is impressive as Gabriel Oak, but it is a refined Peter Finch as farm owner William Boldwood who steals the show, shuffling around with all of the repression that Bathsheba sheds so effortlessly.




Far From The Madding Crowd is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on 1st June 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.

Masters Of Cinema #115 - Life Of Riley (Aimer, Boire et Chanter) - Blu-ray Review

'Never feels exceptional enough to be worthy of its inclusion amongst the cinematic milestones that the Masters Of Cinema series now houses'.

In the accompanying booklet that comes with Masters Of Cinema's release of Life Of Riley (one of the series' occasional excursions into contemporary film), much is made of one small element of director Alain Resnais' adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's 2010 play. That element is an animatronic mole that appears briefly only twice in the film's 108 minute running time. Cristina Álvarez López, author of the booklet, will have you believe that this unexpected visitor from underground is loaded with symbolism, even representative of the eponymous Riley - first name George - who is perpetually absent from the screen. Perhaps it is. López describes these moments as "outrageous and exhilarating", two words which admittedly did not cross my mind when the mole appeared. Two thoughts did enter my head at these points however: the first was the gopher Bill Murray contends with in Caddyshack, which in part led onto the second - just what is this subterranean non sequitur actually doing here?

It's this difficulty in fitting together all the parts of Life Of Riley that ultimately make Resnais' film somewhat tricky to engage with. This is an abstract cinematic interpretation of Ayckbourn's play, one which does not go in for strict realism but embraces its theatrical roots. The action plays out in settings strongly reminiscent of a stage with stylised backdrops and minimal props and furniture, something which initially takes some getting used to but in fact works well once you have settled into Resnais' play-like aesthetic. But there are also elements which could not be achieved in a theatre, such as the aforementioned mole, and Resnais' choice to every so often frame his characters as talking heads in front of a crosshatched background. The latter of these two choices works better than the former, but when taken as a whole Life Of Riley is generally at its best when at its most theatrical.

As a comedy-drama, Resnais' French language adaptation of Ayckbourn's English play (still set in Yorkshire, however - another of those incongruous choices the director adds into the mix) is satisfying enough, if never outstanding. The comedy is subtle, aspiring to be mildly amusing rather than side-splittingly funny; whilst the drama lacks the gravity to make Life Of Riley's plot, concerned with a trio of married couples who all know Riley in different capacities, feel much more than ordinary. It's a feeling perpetuated by the stripped down choices such as the synthesised orchestral soundtrack which, unlike the abstract theatricality, at times give Resnais' film a disappointing amateurish quality. Although it is engagingly performed by a troupe of talented veteran French actors and certainly contains some stylish touches throughout, Life Of Riley never feels exceptional enough to be worthy of its inclusion amongst the cinematic milestones that the Masters Of Cinema series now houses.






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.

Life Of Riley is released in the UK on Monday 25th May 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.

Pitch Perfect 2 - Cinema Review

'With heightened budget and expectations, the film feels as though it has to go for the bigger numbers. It's a mistake'

For a film that was very funny at times, Pitch Perfect didn't half seem to go out of its way to include things apparently designed to make you dislike it. Jokes with racial overtones, vomit gags, jokes with homophobic overtones; somehow, amongst a lot of charm, there's a slightly nasty edge to it.

Which makes it a little disheartening that Pitch Perfect 2 starts with yet another completely unwarranted Jewish joke, the first of the film, delivered by announcer John (John Michael Higgins), who here goes from intentionally hilarious misogynist racist to simply misogynist racist. Meanwhile, the vomit gag gets replaced by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) flashing a cameoing President Obama, so swings and roundabouts, and we're off: the Barden Bellas in disgrace once again.

Past mistakes somewhat repeated to a degree, there are also a great deal of smarts shown by this sequel, with producer/supporting actor Elizabeth Banks stepping into directing duties. Aubrey (Anna Camp), one of the weaker parts of the first film, is gone from the Bellas and there's a new sub-plot for Becca (Anna Kendrick), which not only gives the character some conflict to overcome outside of the group but also provides a break from the a capella comedy in the shape of Keegan-Michael Key (of Key and Peele fame), as a hilariously scabrous music producer. His hipster joke might be one of the better ones this year.

There's other good stuff too. Near-psychopathic Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), one of the highlights of the first film, continues to steal scenes, with two in particular from a 'team building retreat' the girls go to proving particularly effective. Benji (Ben Platt) gets an attractively awkward love arc with new arrival Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), the slightly boring Becca/Jesse (Skylar Astin) relationship is pushed to the background and Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine) continue their odd dynamic.

With heightened budget and expectations though, the film feels as though it has to go for the bigger numbers. It's a mistake, particularly in a narrative which sees the Bellas realise that they're better when they just focus on the vocals. With the exception of the final performance (which is gloriously sentimental), everything here that's too showy doesn't work as well as the harmonisation of the first film. Take the simple a capella battle of Pitch Perfect, for example, and put it against the same section here, which happens at a big, busy party with a terrible set of cameos. Like any mainstream Comedy these days, those very cameos have been turned up to eleven, with little genuine effect and the product placement and production have grotesquely increased to match. Listen to the soundtracks (and I currently am) and there's no comparison: the first's minimalism wins hands down.

Meanwhile, not quite content with the suspect racial and sexual politics of the first film there's a new character here, Flo (Chrissie Fit), apparently included only to make jokes about South American immigrants. She literally has nothing else to do. Two steps forwards and one step back. Maybe by the time the third film rolls around, with an inevitable 'the band must reform to help the member in need' narrative, they'll have worked out the rest of the holes.





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.

Tokyo Tribe - Cinema Review

'Imagine Kung Fu Hustle meets West Side Story via 8 Mile and you're part of the way to envisioning what Tokyo Tribe has to offer'.

The fact that the BBFC describe Tokyo Tribe as a "Japanese fantasy gangland rap musical" in their summary of the film should tell you two things. Firstly, it should let you know without question whether or not writer and director Shion Sono's film is one you'll enjoy or despise; and secondly, it should make it crystal clear that it's completely and utterly bonkers. Imagine Kung Fu Hustle meets West Side Story via 8 Mile and you're part of the way to envisioning what Tokyo Tribe has to offer.

If you're still unsure, then let me clarify: this is a film in which an elderly Japanese woman mixes and scratches on a set of decks whilst declaring that she's "coming to ya from the ass-end of hell"; in which a maid serves tea to her mob boss employer Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) whilst adding beatbox sound effects to her every move; and in which Buppa's son Nkoi (Yôsuke Kubozuka) collects human beings to use as furniture. And that's before we come to the fact that the vast majority of the story is told through the characters rapping in Japanese. That's the level of bonkers Tokyo Tribe both constantly aims for and consistently achieves. That Sono's film will not be for everyone is perhaps the understatement of the year.

The fact that Tokyo Tribe is so insanely over-the-top in both concept and execution doesn't hide the fact that there are notable issues to be endured throughout. The opening half of Sono's film is overlong, overcomplicated and not nearly as fun as you'd like it to be. The director hastily introduces us to several of the twenty three (!) somewhat similar gangs that make up his day-glo fantasy alternate version of Tokyo, most of which then barely feature until the final act. There is a plot here, but its primary function is to tie together the many action and rap sequences that make up the lion's share of the running time. Even so, Sono's screenplay makes the story a muddle of ideas (at least one of which is left completely unresolved come the end) that is regularly quite tricky to follow. The director flashes times across the screen à la 24 to tell the audience how far through the night we have progressed, but it's little help in linking together everything he puts on screen.

Despite all this, the sheer ambitious and unique nature of what Sono has put together in Tokyo Tribe ultimately wins out. This is a genuinely creative piece of cinema that shows the film-maker as someone unafraid to push boundaries and experiment with his ideas. Sono litters his film with entertaining action and fight sequences throughout, building up to the satisfying extended rap battle meets kung fu mêlée that we are treated to during the finale. Tokyo Tribe is never a restrained or refined piece of cinema, and is quite often all over the place; but Sono's clear commitment to making a film with creativity, originality, eccentricity and enjoyment at its centre - plus the simple fact that this is genuinely different to any film you will have seen before - makes Tokyo Tribe undeniably worthy of your time.




Tokyo Tribe is released in selected UK cinemas on Friday 22nd May 2015, and on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 15th June 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.