Shakespeare 450: Romeo + Juliet - Blu-ray Review

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

'Luhrmann gives his adaptation the gravity, tension and passion needed to bring Shakespeare’s emotional and aggressive story to life'.

Kickstarting the teen Shakespeare subgenre that would last for over a decade following its release, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet also stands toe to toe with another 1996 Shakespeare adaptation regularly held in incredibly high regard: Kenneth Branagh’s epic Hamlet. Whilst many in the past have dismissed Luhrmann’s film as trashy exploitation of classic literature, there is no doubt in my mind that this continues to stand as one of the greatest Shakespeare adaptations ever committed to film.

Luhrmann’s choice to maintain the Shakespearean language remains as bold now as it was nearly two decades ago, but it’s a choice which continues to pay dividends. From the explosive rendition of the prologue in the opening moments, Luhrmann gives his adaptation the gravity, tension and passion needed to bring Shakespeare’s emotional and aggressive story to life. The opening petrol station scene epitomizes the mindless hatred between the Montague and Capulet families for the story to unfold within. The director takes influence from an impressive array of genres and styles - action, gangster and spaghetti western to name just three - blending them together effortlessly into a brilliant technicolour cocktail of irresistible excess.

The cast sees a gallery of young talents bringing freshness and vigour to each role. Leonardo DiCaprio encapsulates Romeo’s moody, lovesick adolescent from his opening moments penning awkward teen poetry, taking the character on a journey which, despite knowing how events have to end up, makes us want to believe that things might just work out this time. Claire Danes as Juliet is excellent opposite DiCaprio, looking and acting the part of the innocent young girl forced by both fate and her parents (Paul Sorvino and Diane Venora, equally powerful presences throughout) to grow up painfully quickly. Of the rest of the outstanding cast, Harold Perrineau’s unforgettably theatrical Mercutio and John Leguizamo’s arrogant desperado Tybalt stand out as particularly perfect placements of actors into roles.

Luhrmann’s vision is comprehensive, presenting Shakespeare’s story in a wholly original yet consistently respectful way. The director draws you into his film’s artistic yet gritty universe instantly, ensuring each decision made to update the original story feels both comfortable and clever; firearms used throughout with names such as “longsword” and “dagger” are the most obvious example, but there are many both prominent and subtle to enjoy throughout.

It’s perhaps in Luhrmann’s occasional alteration of Shakespeare’s story that Romeo + Juliet’s distinction as a truly exceptional film comes to light. His treatment of characters such as Paris (Paul Rudd) may be brutal in reducing the role, but it's only to ensure that the film’s inevitable climax packs the greatest emotional punch in the purest manner. The final scene between Romeo and Juliet is perhaps more heart-wrenchingly tragic than ever thanks to the director’s subtle yet respectful reworking of a handful of key moments and lines.

You need only look at the tepid reception Carlei’s adaptation received last year for evidence of the indelible impact Romeo + Juliet has had on the play’s future on film. Lurhmann’s film has rightfullly taken up residence alongside Zeffirelli’s traditional version as one of the defining adaptations of Romeo & Juliet, against which all future cinematic star-cross’d lovers deserve to be measured.




Keep up to date with the Shakespeare 450 series so far.


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

All Is Lost - Blu-ray Review

'All Is Lost would not be the rich story it is without Redford at its centre'.

Comparisons between Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost feel pleasingly apt. Both films deal with a primarily isolated protagonist struggling against seemingly insurmountable circumstances and situations which human beings are not naturally equipped to deal with.

Without taking anything away from Sandra Bullock, where her performance was an excellent part of Cuarón’s superb whole, Robert Redford is regularly the defining factor in the success of Chandor’s film. All Is Lost would not be the rich story it is without Redford at its centre. The veteran actor’s performance as the unnamed sailor throughout is flawless, but there’s more to the role than just superb acting. This is a part which requires age to work; had Chandor cast an actor in their fifties (such as George Clooney) or even their sixties (Liam Neeson, perhaps) then All Is Lost would not be the success it is. The seventy-seven year old Redford therefore fits the role comprehensively, giving the main character the experience and stoicism - qualities both which are eventually tested to their absolute limits - to make his journey, both physical and emotional, a genuinely compelling tale.

Chandor’s opening act demonstrates these qualities almost too well. Redford’s character deals with the first problem he is faced with in the opening scenes with such resignation, forbearance and selflessness that Chandor’s film actually threatens to become uneventful - even dull - at a few points. Looking at the opening act’s place in relation to the whole film however, it’s an entirely necessary and well-paced introduction to the unnamed sailor, allowing us to appreciate all the more everything he goes through as the film progresses.

All Is Lost is undeniably at its most awe-inspiring during the two spectacular storm scenes, both of which are breathtakingly shot and demonstrate some of the very finest cinematic sequences of recent years. The calculated self-control of Redford’s character briefly threatens to shift into arrogance - his first act after spotting the oncoming storm is to calmly have a shave - but the actor’s impressive performance, during scenes that would be physically demanding of a man half his age, makes sure you are consistently willing him to get through all Chandor’s narrative throws at him.

The director’s choice to make much of All Is Lost completely dialogue free is a smart one, enhancing the realism and intimacy of the unnamed sailor’s experiences as well as allowing Redford’s body language and expressions to become all the more powerful. The fact that speech is absent from most of the film however makes the film’s opening prologue-like scene stick out even more after watching, layered as it is with narration by Redford which adds a small amount of extra detail to what little we know about his character, but not much else.

Stylistically, this short opening sequence also feels different to everything else on offer; considering how superfluous and disconnected it feels to the rest of the film, you can’t help but wonder if All Is Lost would have been even stronger without it. But, when push comes to shove, the fact that the minutes-long prologue is the main relative weak point in an hour-and-three-quarters-long film is testament to just how excellent the majority of what Chandor achieves throughout All Is Lost really is.




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.

Horror, Stake Land and the resilience of the Vampire film


Horror has been in danger of becoming an extinct genre around these parts recently. Anything from the contemporary crop that has managed to get someone, somewhere excited seems to be shot down as quickly as it rose from the dead. You're Next is the most recent example I can recall. There was encouraging word from some, but Ben hardly found anything positive contained within and I found myself turning it off after half an hour or so. This does of course mean that there could have been magic contained within but I must admit I found little evidence to suggest that. It wasn't terrible but I had seen that Horror film before. Several times in fact. Other recent delves into the genre (notably The Purge) have left me wary of current critical champion Oculus, despite having had the opportunity to catch up with it recently.

Into that climate arrived the Stake Land blu-ray, long a resident of my rental list. As sub genres go, perhaps 'Vampire' is the one furthest removed from whence it originally came these days. From the camp of the Eighties and before, to a world that can't avoid the influence of Twilight. That said, a glance down the list of recent vampiric productions also suggests that this is a sub-genre relatively resistant to Horror's recent problems, as well as being one that consistently churns out an interesting gem of a film every so often.

I remain a big fan of 30 Days Of Night (2007). Though some may argue, I think Let Me In (2010) is at least equal to Let The Right One In (2008), which is itself a very interesting film. These gems exist in a climate that peppers us with big budget proto-camp (Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) and teen-friendly Twilight hangers-on (anyone remember Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant?), but exist they do, alongside Indies such as Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive and others.

Stake Land is, at times, a pleasantly nasty little film. The finale in particular, though marred by its budget, has few problems with treating many of its characters with the abandon they deserve in an America filled with vampires. The Evil Dead-like special effects are great and whilst at times it can be a film that is unfortunately earnest, it often manages to be attractively genuine.

More than that, like a lot of the best Vampire films, it also seems to have a clear idea of what its vampires stand for. At one point the vampires are dropped from the sky into a pleasant commune of people who are trying to live in the New World slightly differently than the far right religious psychopaths flinging vampires from the air. Is this a very clear comparison point to US foreign policy? Vampires stand in for bombs, the people living life differently are any number of nations targeted by the US in recent years, the far right idiots are, well, far right idiots.

Similarly to Zombies - though, I would argue, less successfully - the Vampire often represents 'the other', or whatever society is afraid of at the time. Perhaps Stake Land's true genius is that it takes the vampire on from here to something much more in the zeitgeist: rather than be afraid of the other, these days, are we not actually more afraid of those in control? If only more Horror films could take such an interesting approach.



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

Trailer Of The Week: Enemy Of Man

There's more than just a couple of key players that make director Vincent Regan's Enemy Of Man, the latest big screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, feel a bit Game Of Thrones-ish. The trailer definitely gives off a whiff of George R. R. Martin, replete as it is with big swords, bloody duels and moody camera angles. Regan's previous work as an actor in the likes of 300 and Clash Of The Titans further suggests a potential mythological slant on the famous play. Sean Bean proves his credentials as Macbeth with a solid reading of the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech over the first half of the trailer, and fellow Thrones actor Charles Dance certainly looks the part too. Rupert Grint arguably has the most to prove here, still having to shake off his Gryffindor robes without a genuinely defining role since the Harry Potter franchise drew to a close three years ago. It'll also be interesting to see how this Kickstarter-funded version competes with Justin Kurzel's Macbeth featuring Michael Fassbender in the title role, as both are set for release in 2015. Either way, we'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to film versions of the Scottish play next year.



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.

A Hard Day's Night - Blu-ray Review

'A satisfying slice of mid-1960s British pop culture'.

Considering it could quite easily be cynically viewed as a ninety minute promotional film for The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania (which was in fact the film's working title) made not long after the group had cracked America, A Hard Day's Night does well to continually come across as lighthearted, off-the-cuff fun. Despite the film's ongoing influence on cinema, music videos and pop culture in general, its successful tone is arguably one which many have attempted to replicate but very few have achieved, including the Fab Four themselves in some of their later cinematic efforts.

Taken purely as a narrative movie, A Hard Day's Night is pretty unremarkable. The story is simple and unashamedly episodic, recounting a few days in the life of the band alongside manager Norm (Norman Rossington), road manager Shake (John Junkin) and Paul McCartney's grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell). The dramatic turns from The Beatles themselves are rarely more than perfunctory, none of the musicians being particularly strong actors. McCartney arguably demonstrates the best acting ability from the foursome throughout, although John Lennon is clearly at home as a comedian providing a great deal of the film's most memorable moments of genuine humour. A scene featuring Lennon fooling around with toy boats in the bath is a particular highlight.

There are thankfully several factors here to lift matters, not least Richard Lester's direction. Lester employs throughout the film some stylish and impressive cinematography, especially during the scenes where the band performs. Lester's style also fits well with the more surreal elements of the film that crop up more regularly than you might expect, catching you off guard every now and then leading you further and further away from dismissing A Hard Day's Night as a mere promotional exercise. The film's historical importance in the years and decades following its release also deserves to be taken into account, presenting as it does a satisfying slice of mid-1960s British pop culture.

The other key element here is the music. If you're not a Beatles fan already, it's unlikely that A Hard Day's Night will be a film you'll actively seek out, nor is it likely to be a film that will convert you to Beatlemaniac status. The band's music unsurprisingly features heavily, the film replete with a visual jukebox of early Beatles hits. The presentation of the quartet's performances is charmingly varied, with intimate performances either worked or simply slotted into the narrative, proto-music-video sequences of the mop-topped Liverpudlians larking about, and the satisfying concert performance which closes out the film. It pretty much goes without saying that the band's back catalogue stands up incredibly well, regularly making A Hard Day's Night a genuine treat for the ear.

With hindsight, it's perhaps easier than it should be to dismiss as insincere the humble presentation of the band members, constantly seeking opportunities for mischief and attempting to escape their own fame, being as they were willing to make a feature film in which they play (fictionalised versions of) themselves. But A Hard Day's Night's charisma and charm wins out time and again making this consistently entertaining and fun, even if that fun is at times delivered as a somewhat disconnected patchwork of ideas rather than a concept clearly and consistently realised.




A Hard Day's Night is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 21st July 2014.


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

The Monuments Men - Online Review

'Clooney could have been reigned in by a producer but wasn't, resulting in a movie that, whilst variable, at least has his old-Hollywood style all over it'

The fact that Leatherheads was the George Clooney film which most readily sprung to mind during the course of his latest, The Monuments Men, might go some way to backing up Clooney's critics, who have decried this film as a tonal disaster. In a World War Two Drama-cum-Comedy, is the first thing you really want to be thinking about a knockabout period Sports film?

Like Leatherheads though, which does have its problems, tone is but a part of the whole, some of which works independently and in tune with the style Clooney was going for. As with his American Football film, Clooney could have been reigned in by a producer but wasn't, resulting in a movie that, whilst variable, at least has his old-Hollywood style all over it. At risk of stepping into full-on Clooney-apologist territory: it's a good thing that not everyone makes films like this, but I'm happy that at least someone does, and that someone may as well be Clooney.

That said, the director doesn't help himself by fragmenting his narrative from the very start, spreading characters around in a scattershot manner that doesn't help his focus, tonal or otherwise. Quite apart from the fact that his story rather liberally allows all of his characters to wander around occupied France with abandon, the difference in the tales they end up telling sometimes doesn't gel. James Granger (Matt Damon), for example, seems to be on a will-they-won't-they love arc with Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett, utterly wasted) in Paris, whilst Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) engage in a bit of a period Buddy Comedy and Stokes (Clooney) and Sam (Dimitri Leonidas) come to terms with some of the harsher realities of war.

It doesn't take a genius to see that all of that doesn't quite fit with its relative other parts, whilst Phedon Papamichael's bright palette adds to the feeling that you're watching some sort of music hall production model. The knockabout laughs and gentle jappery between Murray and Balaban don't gel with the more serious stuff elsewhere and, occasionally, it feels as though the former has been shoehorned in to lighten the mood. A scene with Murray, Balaban and a German soldier arrives from nowhere, one of a handful of instances that showcase the occasionally dreadful editing: not good in a film that is trying to manage very separate story lines.

In those story lines though, Clooney finds enough to ensure that his film remains interesting, if never inspiring. Murray and Balaban do produce laughs, the director has his typical charm in front of the camera, and does well to pair himself with Leonidas, and simple support from people like John Goodman keep you interested. The only real failure is Damon and Blanchett's arc, which perks up the minute the former rejoins the rest of his gang. Perhaps that might be a signpost to what Clooney should have done with this all along. In a narrative that starts by getting the boys back together again, breaking them up seems to be a bit of an ill-judged jumping off point.




The Monuments Men 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.

Stranger By The Lake - Blu-ray Review

'Abstraction is fine but abstraction through forty minutes of explicit sex? I'm not sure that works.'

Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By The Lake has been the recipient of some fairly effusive praise since its UK release in February and certainly you can see some of the logic behind the film's recognition. Patient and structured, Guiraudie revisits his lakeside setting with the loyal devotion of a family hound, voyeuristically presenting his audience with the same angles and images of the fish bowl inhabitants on different days during the course of a week or so. There's a level of atmosphere, character and intrigue created here thanks to Guiraudie's setting and regimented visits; the lake is a noted cruising spot for homosexual men, so just why is the apparently heterosexual man Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) talks to visiting the lake every day? Just what is going on 'on the other side'? Is the large catfish reported to inhabit the lake real or a fable? The film has been compared to Hitchcock and whilst I certainly wouldn't go that far, there are moments when you can see where the comparison has originated from.

Occasionally things are heightened to the surreal. The arrival of Inspector Damroder (Jérôme Chappatte), for example, seems to take things one stage further. Guiraudie negates to show any other part of the police investigation Damroder is leading, instead simply showing him hawkishly stalking the beach area, pointing at various people he wants to quiz. It's almost like an investigation conducted in a parallel Universe, where the lake is everything and Damroder the Universe's sole law. On occasion, Stranger By The Lake feels as though it is about to become a Fantasy, arguably one of the only logical explanations for just why Franck stays to investigate when clearly he is in potential and significant danger.

At the other end of the scale, one of the lake's regular visitors seems to be there solely to fondle himself whilst looking at the other regulars engaged in sex acts, one of several instances (including an ejaculating penis and numerous other sexual encounters), which make Stranger By The Lake probably the most explicit film I have ever seen in terms of the sexual acts on show.

One argument goes that, firstly, if this is near-Fantasy then why shouldn't the inhabitants of the lake be preoccupied as such and, after all, even if it isn't, the film is set at a cruising spot: how explicitly should Guiraudie present it?

That argument though goes only so far when Guiraudie tries to tie his pornography to his high art. The constant sex - always outside, sometimes in a bush, sometimes with the odd pervet watching on - becomes near farce and Franck's obsession with Michel (Christophe Paou) borders on inconceivable lust, not in tune with the casual nature of the locale. After all of the sex, the end seems to go back to attempting something more, but by that time the low art has taken over and the high art can't recover with very much meaning. Abstraction is fine but abstraction through forty minutes of explicit sex? I'm not sure that works.





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.