Miles Ahead - Cinema Review

'Cheadle the leading man is continually undercut by Cheadle the writer and director'.

"If you're gonna tell a story, come with some attitude"; so says Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) near the start of Miles Ahead. It's a credo the multitasking Cheadle, who directs, co-writes and stars, lives up to in his portrayal of Davis throughout his film. The actor's performance deserves to go down as one of his very best, reminding us of the kind of vibrant and engaging work Cheadle is still capable of even as he becomes ever more embedded in the perhaps less demanding franchise fare of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Unfortunately, Cheadle the leading man is continually undercut by Cheadle the writer and director. Whilst purporting to put across a true-to-life representation of Davis, those involved in the film have made no secret of the fact that much of what happens in Miles Ahead is fictional. The main thread of the film focuses on Davis in the late 1970s during a time when he stopped putting out any new music for a five year period. We see the musician cast in a gangster role, the film soon transforming into a buddy movie that sees Davis paired with (fictional) Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor). It's in these sections where Cheadle has the most fun in each of his roles: experimenting as a director, writing the film's wittiest lines, and more often than not delivering them himself "with some attitude".

Cheadle's secondary narrative moves further back in Davis' career to the 1940s, focusing specifically on his relationship with, and then marriage to, dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Whilst seemingly the element of the film most closely based on historical truth, it's these sections which ultimately prove to be Cheadle's undoing. Compared to the crime caper antics of the '70s set sequences, too often the chronologically earlier narrative feels too conventional in execution and lacking in the depth needed to make them anything more than mildly engaging.

In the end, Cheadle simply attempts more than he can pull off in his directorial debut. Had he chosen to focus solely on one of the two approaches on display, allowing him to fully develop one set of ideas rather than offer partially realised aspects of both, then Miles Ahead may have ended up somewhat more successful than it proves to be. That's not to say that the film isn't something of a success as it is. Cheadle shows plenty of promise as a director, and it's pleasing to see him attempt a daring and unconventional approach to film-making whilst making some errors in the process, than be happy to churn out safe and forgettable fare - something you can imagine the real Miles Davis would have despised.




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 Call - Online Review

'Closes its second act at a high point many will almost certainly not have expected it to reach'.

Considering it comes from WWE Studios - a production company set up to push pro-wrestlers into the world of acting and which has unleashed such titles as Leprechaun: Origins and Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery upon the world - The Call emerges for much of its running time as perhaps a surprisingly respectable and efficient crime thriller. Director Brad Anderson satisfyingly rides the high concept of an extended 911 call between operator Jordan (Halle Berry) and abducted teen Casey (Abigail Breslin) for much of the second act, building effective tension without overcomplicating matters unnecessarily.

Berry in the lead does this kind of everywoman thrown into an intense situation very well, and her presence gives The Call a solid core to gravitate around. Breslin too does well, superceding Casey's stiffly clich├ęd introduction to create a character we genuinely care about. Alongside these two is Michael Eklund, putting in an intense and unsettling performance as kidnapper Michael Foster.

It's this central trio who are responsible for much of Anderson's success, although the director's horror-inspired approach gives the film a palpable edge. Being a relatively small-budget production coupled with an R-rating in the US allows Anderson to take some risks a bigger film with broader audience aspirations might avoid, something which regularly plays to his advantage. The director's claustrophobic shooting style means his film will regularly get under your skin. This, coupled with a screenplay from Richard D'Ovidio punctuated with invention in the right places, means The Call closes its second act at a high point many will almost certainly not have expected it to reach.

It's when you look beyond this middle section that Anderson's film becomes less impressive. The opening twenty or so minutes, whilst necessary to the overall story, are never more than perfunctory in execution. The final act is where Anderson really loses his way however. Having gone for a relatively realistic feel prior to this, the director takes an ill-advised and unexpected turn into pure film fantasy. The plot suddenly relies on Jordan and Casey acting considerably differently to their previously established characters, as well as at least one spectacular example of police incompetence.

The conclusion offered crams in some poorly conceived female empowerment, something which is not only entirely unnecessary but actually damages the far more authentic strength both Jordan and Casey have exhibited earlier on. It's not enough to completely derail The Call, but it is undoubtedly a disappointing end, especially considering how Anderson's film exceeds expectations elsewhere.




The Call is currently playing on Amazon Prime Instant Video.


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 Criterion Collection - Macbeth (1971) - Blu-ray Review

'Experiencing Macbeth via the Criterion Collection's newly restored Blu-ray edition showcases two of its strongest assets: the locations and cinematography'.

If, like me, you studied Macbeth whilst at school during the 1990s, the chances are Roman Polanski's adaptation of Shakespeare's play was the version you were shown in whole or in part, probably via a well-worn VHS cassette played on a bulky TV and VCR wheeled into the classroom on a sturdy metal trolley. For many of my generation, Polanski's film may have been their first experience of Shakespearean cinema; revisiting the film in its 35th anniversary year, it's clear that we could have done a great deal worse.

Experiencing Macbeth via the Criterion Collection's newly restored Blu-ray edition (as opposed to the fuzzy video tape of the '90s or the vanilla DVD release the film received in 2002) showcases two of its strongest assets: the locations and cinematography. Polanski and cinematographer Gil Taylor provide both sweeping landscapes and credible castle interiors for their version of the tragedy to unfold within. The director also relishes several of the story's supernatural elements, infusing a number of sequences with both chilling horror style and unsettlingly surreal execution.

These fantastical parts notwithstanding, Polanski's Macbeth largely opts for a realistic portrayal of medieval Scotland. True, there's barely a Scottish accent to be heard, and the director's choice to put across most of Shakespeare's soliloquies as internal monologues through voiceover becomes a little tiresome at times; but Polanski's efforts to have the film take place in a believably gritty historical setting on the whole works very well. Macbeth is regularly at its best when at its most brutal, with the opening scenes set in the bleak aftermath of battle setting the tone superbly. The director isn't afraid to let the blood flow whenever the story calls for it, with several claret-soaked deaths on offer throughout.

The most notable issues within Polanski's film are those which haven't aged all that well. Whilst John Finch and Francesca Annis provide a satisfying Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, some of the other performances now come across as a little overripe. Keep an eye out for none other than a young Keith Chegwin as Fleance delivering a delightfully old-fashioned musical number during an early scene too.

The armour-clad fight scenes during the climactic final battle also suffer a little from coming across as almost comedic in their execution. It's a fact surely not helped by Monty Python And The Holy Grail being released only four years after Polanski's film, but the director deserves to shoulder some of the blame for this nonetheless. But, whilst there may be minor elements that come across a little dated, they don't prevent Macbeth from being a largely successful and impressive adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy.




The Criterion Collection edition of Macbeth is available on UK Blu-ray now.


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.

Six highlights from Shakespeare's Globe's The Complete Walk


In case you're not already aware, as well as being (probably) William Shakespeare's 452nd birthday, 23rd April 2016 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard. Amongst the many events planned to celebrate this milestone, Shakespeare's Globe commissioned 37 short films to be made, one for each of the plays commonly regarded as either definitively by Shakespeare or Shakespearean enough to be attributed to him (sorry The Two Noble Kinsmen, you didn't make the cut).

Over Shakespeare's birthday/deathday weekend, 37 screens were set up along the South Bank of the Thames, as well as across Liverpool, to screen these short films to the public free of charge. After an early start followed by a train and tube journey to Westminster, I managed to take in 32 of the films, missing five due to technical issues with the screens. Whilst I was a little disappointed not to have seen all 37, those that I did see were on the whole superb, providing insight into some of the varied productions of Shakespeare's work to which The Globe has played host as well as some fantastic film interpretations of extracts from the plays filmed in appropriate locations around the world.

Shakespeare's Globe haven't currently confirmed whether the short films will be made available either online or on Blu-ray or DVD, but with the amount of effort that has gone into them - and going by The Globe's steady stream of Globe On Screen home media releases - it's more than likely that it will happen at some point, most probably before the end of the 400th anniversary year. Until then, here are five highlights from what I was able to see.


Screen 5: Titus Andronicus
As well as being one of Shakespeare's bloodiest and most brutal works, Titus Andronicus is also one of his most openly criticised and - until recently- rarely performed plays. Julie Taymor's film Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins as the eponymous Roman general, helped introduce the play to a fresh audience at the turn of the 21st Century, sparking something of a resurgence of interest. Despite Nick Bagnall's short film boasting Twelfth Doctor/Malcolm Tucker himself Peter Capaldi doing a sterling job playing Titus in a newly filmed segment, it's William Houston's captivating performance in the title role in clips from the Globe's recent production (aesthetically influenced in part by Taymor's film) that is likely to stick in your memory.


Screen 6: Henry VI, Part 2
Again directed by Nick Bagnall, Henry VI, Part 2 edged out a few strong contenders to become my favourite of all the films I saw throughout The Complete Walk. Bagnall's short film focuses on the character of Jack Cade (Neil Maskell) and his blunt henchman Dick the Butcher (Dean Nolan), masterfully updating the historical rebellion Cade led against the crown in 1450 to the 21st Century through using footage of the 2011 London riots. It's a risk by Bagnall, one that on paper perhaps sounds like it shouldn't work; but it absolutely does, anchored throughout by two flawless performances from Maskell and Nolan.



Screen 12: Richard II
A history that has enjoyed recent attention thanks to Ben Whishaw taking on the titular king in the BBC's The Hollow Crown in 2012, and more recently a filmed RSC production starring David Tennant, Bill Buckhurst's short film casts in the title role yet another actor whose stock is on the rise: James Norton. Buckhurst presents a traditional take on the characters, lifted by an impressive turn by Norton and the spectacular setting of Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.


Screen 15: Henry IV, Part 1
There are many examples of superb casting throughout The Complete Walk, but Toby Jones as Sir John Falstaff is arguably the most inspired of all. Presenting a compilation of the character's most memorable lines strung together as one anarchic and incredibly funny all-day pub session at London's historic George Inn, the way in which Dominic Dromgoole updates Falstaff and his fellow reprobates to the present day whilst maintaining a strong sense of the original characters is wonderful. Jones, of course, is reliably excellent, effortlessly balancing the comedic timing and dramatic depth required to bring to life one of Shakespeare's most beloved characters.



Screen 32: Coriolanus
Recently modernised on screen by Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Dromgoole's short film again brings Coriolanus into the modern day but in a different manner to Fiennes. Dominic West delivers Caius Martius' scathing speech responding to his banishment from Rome as he drives through the streets of the city, taking in both ancient architecture and modern elements as well as the citizens who have rejected him and towards whom his bile is directed. It's simple but remarkably effective, anchored by a commendably understated performance from West.


Screen 33: Henry VIII
Whilst the first half of Mark Rosenblatt's film showcases the grand production of Henry VIII at the Globe starring Dominic Rowan, the second half focuses on newly filmed scenes at Hampton Court Palace. The casting of British Ghanaian actor Danny Sapani in the title role in this section is perhaps one of the greatest departures from historical source seen throughout The Complete Walk. But Sapani undeniably owns the role throughout, delivering a performance so powerful and memorable as the English king that I would jump at the chance to see a feature film adaptation of the play with him in the lead.



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 Criterion Collection: It Happened One Night - Blu-ray Review

'the man with a moustache even good moustaches dream of becoming, Clark Gable twinkles beautifully as down-on-his-luck (though that hardly registers with him at all) reporter Peter'

One of the launch titles for Criterion's arrival on UK shores, Frank Capra's multi-Oscar winner, It Happened One Night, presents charmingly enough still, even if its premise and much of the story work now painfully operates on a gender politics code which is, at best, hopelessly outdated, at worst, offensive.

The man with a moustache even good moustaches dream of becoming, Clark Gable twinkles beautifully as down-on-his-luck (though that hardly registers with him at all) reporter Peter, who just happens across runaway heiress Ellie (Claudette Colbert), out on a limb with no clue, apparently, of how to budget for or even complete her trip from Florida to New York.

Their relationship is occasionally sweet but from the off also occasionally misjudged. Peter seems one part surrogate father to Ellie, one part abusive partner (she's threatened by him more than once during the journey) and one part the Romantic Comedy lead the character should be. Peter takes it upon himself to tell Ellie where she's going wrong, school her in the 'right' ways of making a fist of it on your own and, along the way, pushing her towards a decision on the men in her life which naturally leads back round towards Peter. Ellie's reward for this schooling? Well, of course, she gets to go to bed with the dashing leading man, come the end of the film.

The odd relationship works only sporadically and century-specific gender values can only be held up as half of an excuse. In 21st century cinema we would talk of Ellie having no agency and that is still true here, whatever the values of the society in which she operates. Her daring escape from her father's boat aside, right at the start of the film, she is consistently led whichever way the shepherd of the story takes her.

Gable's twinkling may tempt to you into forgiving Peter for his rough lecturing of Ellie throughout the trip, but bear in mind that his values too seem more askew than gender imbalance. Peter is a journalist, out to cash a big check on the story of Ellie, hopelessly dashing from her father to the man she eloped to marry. In order to get the story, Peter facilitates Ellie's flight, keeping her on the run so that his column inches can grow as her tachometer does. Of course, given her opulently foul father, introduced to us in the setup, you might say that Peter is doing Ellie a favour, but at the beginning at least his motivation is to manipulate the narrative he will serve to his readers for personal gain.

On an aesthetic level, Capra is twelve years off here from making It's A Wonderful Life, five years away from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and it can show. He's too happy to sit in interiors, often the cramped confines of the bus Peter and Ellie use to escape, when, actually the exteriors boast the best shots of the film. A tracking shot of Ellie walking to find the showers in the motel the couple hole up in is sublime, and reminiscent of It's A Wonderful Life's running scene. Similarly, Gable and Colbert, shot from behind, figuratively making their escape walking up the middle of a road hums with the notions the film wants to throw across to us; escape, freedom, the romance of a road trip. By contrast, the scene of singing on the bus is the only time the film achieves the same level of simple wonder whilst resting in an interior.

The judgements on It Happened One Night then are resolutely fixed in a contextual battle between values now and values in the 1930s, but they also show through with missives on 'what might have been'. If only Ellie had a bit more oomph and agency, if only Capra went outside with his camera a little more, if only the one-liners had more zing. It's charming for a time, but the nearly moments come too frequently.




The Criterion Collection edition of It Happened One Night is available in the UK now.


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 Ninth Configuration - Blu-ray Review

'The reality which the inmates are trying to attain, for example, is located in an isolated Gothic mid-West, deliberately presented with roughly the same level of faintly ridiculous, unbelievable 'foreignness' as jungles which explode with fire.'

A big fan of William Peter Blatty, Mark Kermode places Blatty's directorial debut, The Ninth Configuration in the extremely niche Theological Thriller genre, during an introduction to the film from 1980, available here as part of the extras.

In truth, the film plays for long stretches as an absurdist Vietnam War Drama, somewhere between M.A.S.H., Platoon and Monty Python. Early on we are told that one of the films two primary characters, Captain Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), had abandoned his planned rocket launch to the moon because travelling there was 'naughty, impolite, uncouth and in any case, bad for his skin'. Cutshaw is one of the inmates at an asylum-like structure for mentally disturbed military personnel, which newly comes under the guidance of Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), introduced to us as an expert psychiatrist, there to help.

The first half of the film sees Blatty exploring the absurdist nature of War and post traumatic stress treatment. Allowed to indulge their behaviours in order to advance towards some sort of realisation of reality, the inmates embark upon everything from the tormenting of Sergeant Krebs (Tom Atkins) to attempting to stage a performance of Hamlet using only dogs as actors. It's fun, well scripted and presented in a way that leaves little doubt of the challenges for all characters present.

The reality which the inmates are trying to attain, for example, is located in an isolated Gothic mid-West, deliberately presented with roughly the same level of faintly ridiculous, unbelievable 'foreignness' as jungles which explode with fire. One of the taglines for the film (How do you fight a war called madness?) speaks to the direct and deliberate juxtaposition of the experimental and uncertain ways in which the conflict the soldiers have seen was conducted and in how their treatment is progressing.

The eventual reveal of a hidden part of the film towards the beginning of the final third shows just how much fun Blatty has been able to have with location and staging. The castle at times plays up the Horror veil of the story (watch for the looming shadow of Dracula, who occasionally seems to be everywhere). The dramatic nature of the architecture too also lends itself to the story. At one point the inmates are allowed to take part in a mass delusion that they are escaping from a POW camp, Kane dressing up in full Third Reich attire. If mental illness Dramas can sometimes seem too closeted in the minds of those they portray then Blatty frees this one through location choice alone. It's a lesson in how important setting can be for narrative.

Of course, ask Blatty and he will tell you that the film is about the question of whether God exists, something explored explicitly towards the end of the first act, when Cutshaw asks Kane and the two attempt to find proof of a selfless act. The conversation feels crammed in. It occurs just after Kane has given his interpretation of a Hamlet line reading for the dog performance and the two are equally as interesting; an odd thing if the former is Blatty's main aim.

As the film progresses, and the conversation becomes more drawn out, the points are made successfully and surprisingly. Perhaps it is just the cynic in me who expected this to be another film down on the existence of God, but actually at times Blatty seems to argue for it. The denouement, in a bar down the road from the asylum, again doesn't really fit with anything else, but it does serve the purpose of the points on offer and, if you want to read it as such, could even be seen as the culmination of a Romance-like relationship between Cutshaw and Kane.

Whatever your interpretation of that, and everything else here, the success of The Ninth Configuration is that it allows itself to be interpreted, whilst thoroughly entertaining - gleefully so in the first third. There is comment here on War, on mental illness and yes, on theology, there are echoes of the films above and also of more hearty offerings, such as 2001. But through all that it never feels as though you are being lectured on those subjects and only rarely does Blatty sacrifice narrative to make his points.




The Ninth Configuration is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 25th April 2016.


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.

Cop Car - Blu-ray Review

'A gripping coming-of-age tale stealthily masquerading as a crime thriller'.

Going straight to home media release in the UK and garnering a box office that barely scraped six figures in the US, Cop Car unfairly feels only a step or two away from the kind of film that would have been snapped up by an indie distributor with more heft than the still comparatively young and unestablished Focus World. Stick a hot property like Matthew McConaughey in the lead or a rising star such as Jeff Nichols in the director's chair and it's not hard to imagine, with the increased notoriety that would bring, that Cop Car could have bothered a great many "Best of 2015" lists last December.

Instead we have a perennial underachiever (and EE spokesperson) starring and a relative unknown directing in Kevin Bacon and Jon Watts respectively. Nothing all that exciting on paper but, like I said before, judging the film by its star power is unfair. Bacon's performance as decidedly dodgy small-town lawman Sheriff Kretzer is by turns creepy, intense and perplexing. The character's wordless introductory scene demonstrates superbly why Bacon has been such an enduring and reliable presence throughout his thirty-year-plus career, even if he's never quite cracked leading man status.

Watts, meanwhile, demonstrates a palpable talent for creating tense, authentic cinema. Cop Car transcends its bare-bones-budget through the director knowing exactly what to do with what he has. With a main cast you can count on one hand - two of whom are unknown child actors - Watts constructs a gripping coming-of-age tale stealthily masquerading as a crime thriller.

After runaways Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are introduced through the opening act, the director leads us to believe that the two boys are merely unwitting young participants in a grimy grown-up story. But, by the time Watts has led us willingly to his film's perhaps unexpected ending, our viewpoint has been flipped once again, placing the young friends firmly at Cop Car's centre. It's clever, confident storytelling that isn't afraid to leave at least some of the narrative purposefully murky and open to interpretation.

At the time of writing, Watts' next scheduled project is the third attempt to bring Spider-Man to the big screen via the MCU, reportedly after Marvel execs were impressed by Cop Car at Sundance last year. Let's just hope he escapes the undesirable fate of his fellow indie film-makers turned blockbuster directors Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank, who went from the impressive Monsters and Chronicle to the underwhelming Godzilla and Fantastic Four respectively. Hopefully, Watts will succeed in putting his creative stamp on Marvel's friendly neighbourhood arachnid-themed superhero in a way Edwards and Trank weren't able - or perhaps allowed - to achieve.




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.