The Secret Life Of Pets - Online Review

'There's no evidence that anybody involved in The Secret Life Of Pets has looked at the film from anything other than a marketing perspective'.

Having struck gold (or should that be yellow?) with breakout stars the Minions from their Despicable Me franchise, The Secret Life Of Pets marks Illumination Entertainment's first release since 2012's The Lorax not to feature the cash-generating characters now adopted as the studio's official mascots. From a marketing point of view the studio's chosen focus is a sound if entirely profit-driven choice: no doubt there's already been many a familiar cry of "It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!" as a young audience member receives a cuddly toy of their favourite furry friend from the film's sizeable cast of animals.

It's a similar criticism to that famously levelled at Toy Story over twenty years ago. But whilst Pixar's premier franchise has undoubtedly turned a more-than-healthy profit for Disney through merchandise, the studio has also silenced any suggestion of the films being feature-length toy adverts through the thematic and narrative complexity and maturity that have become their hallmark. In contrast, there's no evidence that anybody involved in The Secret Life Of Pets has looked at the film from anything other than a marketing perspective.

Whilst the initial idea of Max (Louis C.K.), a Jack Russell Terrier, behaving like an overly attached significant other towards his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) works well, it's dropped remarkably quickly in favour of a series of unoriginal ideas which struggle to engage at any point. Unfavourable comparisons to Toy Story are that much easier to make once it becomes clear fairly early on that the main narrative charting the relationship between Max and Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a larger mongrel Katie rescues from the pound, is essentially a rehash of that seen between Woody and Buzz minus any of the emotional development or investment. It's also hard to root for either dog when both showcase some considerable errors in characterisation during the first act.

Beyond that, all director Chris Renaud can offer is a collection of characters and scenarios which never satisfyingly fit together. There's little attempt to move away from well-established cartoon stereotypes, although if irritatingly unfunny bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) is what we get when Renaud does try to break the mould then perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. There are individual moments which work - the opening and closing montages of the pets interacting with their owners and homes are well-observed and funny - but these end up too few and far between, the rest of the film padded out too often with overused running gags and tired pop culture references.

The Secret Life Of Pets ultimately exposes the fundamental problems with Illumination's output so far. Strip away the slapstick silliness of the Minions and the three entries into the Despicable Me franchise all come up considerably lacking in plot and character to varying degrees, a problem Renaud comprehensively fails to solve here.




The Secret Life Of Pets is currently available on Amazon Instant Video.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his MA by Research. He's also on and Twitter.

Lords Of Dogtown - Blu-ray Review

'The director offers little introduction or exposition during the first act, opting for a free-wheeling shooting style which suits the fast-paced teenage antics of her cast perfectly'.

My knowledge of sport in general could be written on the back of a particularly small postage stamp with a fair amount of room still available afterwards. My knowledge of skateboarding in particular comes from playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 not very well on a briefly owned PS One at some point in my mid-to-late teens. All of which on paper should add up to Lords Of Dogtown - a biopic focused upon the Z-Boys, the skateboarding team who would come to revolutionise the sport during the second half of the 1970s - being a film unlikely to be my particular leaf-infused beverage.

That Catherine Hardwicke managed to have me transfixed from very early on is therefore testament to just how successful Lords Of Dogtown is in a great many ways. The director offers little introduction or exposition during the first act, opting for a free-wheeling shooting style which suits the fast-paced teenage antics of her cast perfectly. The grainy yet vibrant cinematography of Elliot Davis offers a Luhrmann meets Scorsese vision of the Seventies, remaining distinct and authentic whilst Davis and Hardwicke convincingly filter the decade through the contemporary skater culture of the early 21st Century. The soundtrack meanwhile is pure Tarantino in execution, with classics and cult favourites deftly cherry-picked throughout to create a bumper jukebox of period rock.

Hardwicke tells the story of the four-wheeled revolution instigated by the Z-Boys through the collective coming-of-age tales of Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) in particular. It's a wise choice which constantly lends Lords Of Dogtown a sincere intimacy, allowing the social and cultural change of the time to subtly unfold around the young men at the film's centre.

The script does suffer from occasional lapses into cliché, particularly when dealing with adolescent romance. When you take into account that the screenplay was penned by the real life Peralta, it also feels a little suspect that Stacy is put across as particularly squeaky clean in comparison to Jay and Tony. However, the impressive performances from all involved ensure the film overcomes any such problems - even Johnny Knoxville in a minor role can't derail matters.

Lastly, it's impossible to mention the cast without commenting on Heath Ledger in support as Skip Engblom, the man who created and sponsored the Z-Boys as a team. Nothing more needs to be said about Ledger's performance, other than it provides yet another reason why it remains so heartbreaking that such a natural talent was lost by the film community far too soon.




Lords Of Dogtown is released in the UK on Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 5th December 2016.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his MA by Research. He's also on and Twitter.

Independence Day: Resurgence - Online Review

'The cracks soon start to show in Resurgence's multi-million dollar facade, first and foremost through the Will Smith-shaped hole that Emmerich comprehensively fails to fill'.

There's an argument to be made that Independence Day: Resurgence is now the summer blockbuster which holds the dubious honour of becoming jarringly outdated sooner than any other. There's little doubt where Roland Emmerich got his inspiration from in creating Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), the first woman to hold the Oval Office in the film's version of 2016. But, with Donald Trump now set to become the 45th President Of The United States next year, Emmerich's film has taken on an awkwardly premature obsolescence a little over four months after its theatrical release at the end of June.

As a belated sequel to Independence Day, a film which screams '90s blockbuster style and execution ever more loudly with each year that passes, Resurgence was doomed to feels somewhat late to the party in some way no matter what approach Emmerich took. The opening act offers some promise in its set-up however: the same amount of time has passed in the film's universe as it has in the real world, with a global utopia established to unite against the threat of extra-terrestrial invasion powered by the advances the recovered alien technology has afforded over the past two decades. It's pure Hollywood sci-fi - characters casually nipping back and forth from the Moon, and so on - but it works in the post-Independence Day milieu Emmerich creates.

The cracks soon start to show in Resurgence's multi-million dollar facade however, first and foremost through the Will Smith-shaped hole that Emmerich comprehensively fails to fill. Liam Hemsworth is initially put forward as the solution, playing opposite the returning Jeff Goldblum for a good chunk of the first half, but the young actor struggles to rise to the task and is given little to work with in the first place. The relationship between and Goldblum and Hemsworth's characters also serves as a neat analogy for the bigger problem that, for much of the running time, Emmerich simply can't decide if he wants Resurgence to be a nostalgia trip or a soft reboot.

The director's decision to bring back Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch), father of David (Goldblum), is a case in point. The chemistry between Goldblum and Hirsch was one of the most charming elements of the original film, a plus point which is lost here as David and Julius spend barely any time together. Instead, Emmerich wastes time forcing Julius into a pointless subplot involving a group of children introduced in slapdash fashion and never developed by the director - one of several plot threads which could be described in just the same way. Emmerich finally decides in the closing moments that he does indeed want Resurgence to lead into at least one more sequel, simultaneously making the blundering error of not actually concluding the story he's started here.




Independence Day: Resurgence is currently available on Amazon Instant Video.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his MA by Research. He's also on and Twitter.

The Squid And The Whale - Blu-ray Review

'something this close to home comes with innate risk, but Baumbach is either unflinchingly honest or able to rustle up attractively daft fictions which put his young avatars in uncomfortable yet compelling situations'

Released by Criterion's UK arm in the same month that the label release Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Noah Baumbach's The Squid And The Whale makes for a very comfortable bedfellow with Anderson's offering. Indeed, it's little surprise to find Anderson's name amongst the credits, here in a producer capacity, Baumbach having co-written Anderson's film of the previous year, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

If The Squid And The Whale doesn't quite go for the same level of distance from reality as Zissou, then you can still see Anderson-esque touches here and there that influence your take on the action, heavily influenced as it is by Baumbach's own early life. Several characters, most notably Bernard (Jeff Daniels), speak in such an emotionally detached way as to not entirely be aware of their surroundings and partners on the stage. It's a mixture of aesthetic frankness and belligerence and it is very reminiscent of Anderson and his fictional proteges.

Dealing with divorce in a measured and occasionally gripping way, Baumbach's film gives each side fair shrift. Bernard is the biggest candidate to be prime idiot and, indeed, in a later glimpse into his relationship with Lili (Anna Paquin) he may be more than that, but for the most part he's the main source of humour; a simultaneously bumbling and clever oaf, about to muddle through single parenthood. Joan (Laura Linney), seeking out new loves, is often a perfect picture of motherhood under stress, attempting to escape the shadow of her husband.

That shadow may not really be there, but is constantly re-enforced by eldest son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), convinced of his father's genius. Walt and Frank's (Owen Kline) development forms the meat of much of the plot, as you might expect from something biographically related to the director's own formative years.

A decision to tackle something this close to home comes with innate risk, but Baumbach is either unflinchingly honest or able to rustle up attractively daft fictions which put his young avatars in uncomfortable yet compelling situations. Walt is expressly and hilariously awkward in his fledgling romances, in a way only Eisenberg could manage to embody. Frank's strange, erm... 'expressions' of rebellion amongst the library books and locker-packed hallways of his school are the things of parental nightmares.

The result is something which, similarly to the best Anderson productions, feels just about enough removed from reality to convince you of its own brand of authenticity. It's simultaneously human, real; absurdly hilarious and bizarrely unreal. Yet it still manages to be the kind of quiet Indie Drama that effortlessly leaves you with a picture of a struggle that could be happening just next door.




The Squid And The Whale is released on Criterion UK edition on Monday 5th December 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.

Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles - DVD Review

'Workman paints a picture of a man who was never at peace with the Hollywood system and who only sporadically fulfilled his promise of genius'

Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles is a somewhat curious Documentary, which seems in form and title to suggest that it is definitive and yet which manages to condense the life and times of its subject into a mere ninety-one minutes (cut by three minutes from the theatrical release).

Quite how those two things were balanced in the minds of the film-makers will remain a mystery, but there seems scant enough content here to suggest that the film is the final say on Welles and, somewhat flippantly, you could accuse director Chuck Workman of needing to do more if he is, indeed, 'astonished' by Welles and his work. There's something grating about that title, not only in its unsuitability to what is otherwise a perfectly serviceable Documentary, but also in its dedication to an unnecessary adjective.

Minor editorial griping aside, Workman's work does give you the precis of Welles from beginning to end, including his background in amateur dramatics and then professional theatre, leading up to his troubled time in the film industry. Welles, now most often remembered for Citizen Kane, may have struck gold with that, his first film, but in the years following Workman paints a picture of a man who was never at peace with the Hollywood system and who only sporadically fulfilled his promise of genius (in Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight, for example). Quite who was responsible for that remains generally unconfirmed. Welles' predilection for uncompleted projects is here, but so too is a reverence for his 'outsider' approach.

The balance between Welles' life and work too is off, but probably all the better for it. His womanising and general under performance as a father does get a mention, but the salacious details are perhaps wisely omitted. Instead, the more scholarly side of the film, which features Welles' biographers prominently, including Simon Callow, comes to the fore.

As a 'starter for ten' Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles is a good offering. For anyone familiar with Welles only via the likes of Citizen Kane and The Third Man, Workman's film provides a level of insight and context. When you think about it: just how did it come to pass that the revered director of Kane provided a notable cameo in a relatively small production, shooting in Austria? This film has the answer but for any deeper or more detailed insight into Welles, you'll need to follow-up elsewhere.





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.

Wes Anderson's 'aesthetic distance' in The Royal Tenenbaums - Blu-ray Review

'Anderson's tales, especially here in Tenenbaums, plumb deep corners of anxiety and upset and neuroticism, but they do so whilst convincing you that those things are not really of this world.'

The long held belief by Wes Anderson detractors is that he is a prime example of a director who favours style over substance. Even for those who hold the director in high regard, it is easy to follow that logic. This is, after all, a man whose devotion to pastel shades and clothes would surely have had the potential to make Degas think about painting in neon.

The Royal Tenenbaums, newly released on a UK Criterion edition, is no exception. The performances are mannered; restrained even when they are being flamboyant. The clothes are largely pastel; or at least heavily ironic primary. The plot is interspersed with diversions towards what may be considered unnecessary whimsy; yes, this is a film featuring Dalmatian-spotted mice.

But Anderson's aesthetic choices, even his choices to include somewhat frivolous 'filler' around his core story, are deliberate and deliberately played with. They create a distance from his action that allows audiences to experience what are, frankly, sometimes horrifying narratives, without necessarily exposing themselves to the full threat of what happens. Anderson's tales, especially here in Tenenbaums, plumb deep corners of anxiety and upset and neuroticism, but they do so whilst convincing you that those things are not really of this world.

And so, here, we have a character, Chas (Ben Stiller, the only one of the ensemble who does not escape and rise above his former poor performances), so depressed by the death of his wife that he sleeps in the same room as his children, lest he should lose them too. We have Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a character in what looks suspiciously like a near-arranged marriage, loveless, depressed and unable to work. We have Royal (Gene Hackman), a father so broke and so terrible that he's willing to fake his own terminal illness in order to get back in with his family. Just imagine what Ken Loach would do with that last one.

Yet, when you watch and think back to The Royal Tenenbaums, it is not an unhappy film. Like all of Anderson, it is smartly scripted, featuring a forked tongue when it needs it, good timing and great, playful, visual gags which often fulfil a story purpose as well as a humorous one; the final tracking shot, featuring Raleigh (Bill Murray) and a dog, and the detective on the roof are both cases in point.

Anderson's aesthetics, far from being style over substance, are the very thing that allow him to tell serious stories without bludgeoning his audience over the head with throes of social realism and depression-era levels of, well, depression.

There is though a problem with this approach. Tenenbaums, most watchers would admit, relies on the success or failure of a single scene involving Richie (Luke Wilson). It is the emotional apex of the film and; if you buy it and go with it, this is a five-star masterpiece for many.

That scene though is steeped still in the aesthetic distance of Anderson. For one, though we probably care more about Ritchie than for the rest of the family, do we care enough about him to make this scene hit? For another, the scene retains, despite the primary colours, a sense that it is happening in this minor bubble; this aesthete's dream of New York.

Anderson's aesthetic distance in The Royal Tenenbaums creates brilliance and inclusion; it welcomes you in, like a practised and familiar psychiatrist, ready to help you explore problematic areas of the psyche with relaxed genius. But it also prevents you, on occasion, from truly connecting with the moments that matter, the moments that could lift you, and the film, above the strengths that are already here.




The Royal Tenenbaums is released on Criterion UK on Monday 5th December 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.

Classic Intel: A New Leaf - Online Review

''Kneeling on glass is my favourite pastime', Matthau delivers at one point 'it keeps me from slouching'. Funny, yes, but also a touch too placid when the film stays at that level throughout.'

The great Chicago-based podcast, Filmspotting, recently completed an 'Elaine May marathon'; a trip through the four films the writer/actor/director produced between 1971 and 1987.

If your cinephile knowledge does not extend to May then consider yourself forgiven. May does have a level of following probably somewhere around cult and, as Filmspotting efforts show, she is ripe for a re-evaluation. Her films though were also largely either underseen or underappreciated in their own time. Several audience members and critics believe Ishtar to be one of the worst films ever made, whilst 1976's Mikey And Nicky received only a limited release after litigation problems between May and Paramount led to the studio taking control of both the film and the final cut. May was not to direct again until Ishtar in 1987, which remains her last feature. Her work since then has mainly been in screenplays with credits on Primary Colours and The Birdcage in the 1990s.

In marginally happier times, A New Leaf was May's first feature in 1971. Starring Walter Matthau and May herself, the film is a prime example of the rich man/poor man Comedy sub-genre, as Matthau's Henry Graham finds himself bereft of funding but in no rush to obtain a new lifestyle. Enter instead Henrietta Lowell (May), an heiress with little care for her wealth but a lot of care for Geography trips and cheap wine.

Beginning a trend that was to continue throughout her directing career, May reportedly clashed with the studio throughout editing and shooting, championing a one-hundred and eighty minute version of the film, which was recut to this well-received one-hundred and two minute version. As the film's Wikipedia entry chronicles, this posed a problem for auteurist critics, who liked the cut version but sympathised with May's position.

With the knowledge of the existence of the 'dark cut', it is easy to see how such darkness may have made A New Leaf a better film. There are hints here of Inspector Clouseau-like darkness and somewhat-violent slapstick which would have lifted the material and given it significant edge. The reviews which prejudge the dark cut as potentially damaging this cut's joy fail to remember that Clouseau, at the very least, continually caused significantly bodily harm and he isn't the only Comedy character to do so. That said, perhaps the method of murder (cold-blooded poisoning by the Matthau character), took the idea too far. We'll never know, but there is something a bit one-note about the tone here occasionally. 'Kneeling on glass is my favourite pastime', Matthau delivers at one point 'it keeps me from slouching'. Funny, yes, but also a touch too placid when the film stays at that level throughout.

May mines the rich/poor divide for all that it's worth and delivers early laughs that begin to fade the longer the film goes on towards it love-strewn conclusion. On hearing he is broke, Henry embarks on a tour, revisiting high society places one last time, like a condemned man awaiting the noose. His interaction with his butler and lawyer are further highlights.

But it is the lack of bite that your remember, probably in full vindication of May's original vision. Henry really wants to remain rich, but there never appears to be any substance behind the lengths to which he is willing to go to enable that. Eventually, with no other place to go, thanks to the editing room floor, the film reaches an inevitably soft and sweet conclusion that ratifies the fact that there should have been more sting, much earlier.




A New Leaf was streaming on Netflix.


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