Red Eye - TV Review

'The entire middle act assuredly belongs Murphy, and the film is all the better for it'.

In many ways a fairly by the numbers aeroplane-based thriller, Red Eye is elevated from its unremarkable foundations just enough by the performances from the lead trio and Wes Craven's presence in the director's chair.

Her star still on the rise at the time of Red Eye's release, Rachel McAdams' performance in the lead as hotel manager Lisa in retrospect remains one of her most consistent. McAdams' job for most of the running time is to be an ordinary young woman reacting to the extraordinary circumstances in which she finds herself, and that's exactly what the actress provides throughout. Brian Cox meanwhile brings pleasing reliability to perhaps the least demanding role of the veteran actor's career as Lisa's father, a part which largely involves answering the telephone and sitting in a comfortable chair.

It's Cillian Murphy, however, who is by far most memorable, delivering a consistently strong turn that was undeniably overshadowed back in 2005 by the actor's acclaimed performance in Breakfast On Pluto and his breakout role in Batman Begins. Murphy builds the unsettling nature of Jackson Rippner with impressive subtlety during the first act, before stepping matters up considerably during the overnight flight. Jackson could easily have become something of a pantomime villain, a pitfall the actor skilfully avoids for the majority of the film; as such, the entire middle act assuredly belongs Murphy, and the film is all the better for it.

Behind the camera, this may not be Craven's best directorial work, but it's certainly a long way from his worst. The screenplay from Carl Ellsworth rarely ventures beyond safely tried and tested thriller concepts, but the tight and assured horror style Craven brings to Red Eye helps to make his film stand out a little more from other entries into the thriller genre. With a slender running time of under ninety minutes, Craven perhaps spends too long setting things up in the opening act before transferring to the strongest scenes which take place on the plane, but once we're there the director never allows the pace or tension to drop until the end.

The final act feels like both Craven and Ellsworth running out of ideas, falling back on a Scream-alike house-based chase that swaps the subtle energy of the second act for more straightforward modern horror fare. Whilst this means matters wrap up at the point where Red Eye arguably becomes least convincing, the director and his cast have already done enough by this stage to make this a satisfyingly watchable throwaway thriller.




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.

Classic Intel: The Rocky Anthology (Part 2) - Blu-ray Review

'On paper, Rocky IV is the point where the series should have jumped not just one, but several sharks'.

If Rocky III presents the point at which Sylvester Stallone took the franchise on its first real step away from character-driven drama to dip his toe into a more cartoonish action movie approach, then Rocky IV is where the writer and director undeniably plunged impetuously into the deep end of this style. By the fourth instalment of the Rocky series, Stallone is a world away from the low-key cinema where his story of a likeable underdog began.

Just as the Bond franchise's use of the Soviet Union as perpetual antagonists was beginning to peter out, Stallone not only leaps onto the Cold War bandwagon for his story, but grabs the steering wheel and pushes the pedal to the metal. If Rocky III's Clubber Lang is a cartoon villain, then Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is straight out of a video game - the Rocky franchise's answer to M. Bison from Street Fighter II. Lundgren's hefty chiselled stature and monotone Russian accent is clearly aiming to make the same impact as Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator a year earlier, succeeding to a point but never achieving the same iconic feel.

The 1980s will forever be remembered for its unmistakeable approach to mainstream filmmaking, and Rocky IV is perhaps the ultimate '80s movie, encapsulating everything that's both good and bad about the decade's cinematic legacy. Along with the Russian baddies, we have copious amounts of computer technology to show how "advanced" Drago's training regime is, a soundtrack that's basically heartland rock on loop, and the most unnecessary robot in film history.

The final third of the film is essentially a series of montages - two training, one reminiscing - leading to the closing bout between Rocky (Stallone) and Drago, which continues the franchise's ability to conclude each chapter on a gripping and well-executed spectacle. On paper, Rocky IV is the point where the series should have jumped not just one, but several sharks. And yet, the whole thing is carried off with such gusto by Stallone and his cast that it's hard not to get caught up in the continuously resolute spirit of the film. Rocky IV is in many ways a mess, but what an enjoyable mess it turns out to be, as well as being the most financially successful entry in the entire series to date.


In hindsight, the fourth film feels in terms of both narrative and popular reception like the point at which Stallone should have called the Rocky saga to a close. He didn't, of course, and Rocky V is where the franchise's luck runs out. Whilst never on the same form as when making Rocky, there is a clear attempt by returning director John G. Avildsen to recapture the original film's spirit throughout Rocky V whilst also moving away from the plot formula used in the previous two films in the saga. However, although Avildsen tries, none of his efforts work the way he hopes.

What we end up with is a film that spends half the time mawkishly reminding you of the first film - which in turn emphasises how inferior Rocky V is in comparison - and the other half getting tangled up in soap opera style drama and disputes between Rocky and either his son Rocky Jr. (Sage Stallone) or his boxing protégé Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). Whilst the manner in which the Balboa family's fortunes take a sudden downward turn in the opening act feels both underdeveloped and contrived, the idea of Rocky becoming a trainer and manager in contrast comes across as a natural progression for the character. Frustratingly, however, as Tommy is an immediately disagreeable presence who only becomes more unsympathetic as the film progresses, the concept is never able to get off the ground.

Stallone's writing feels considerably more uneven throughout the film than in any of his previous four screenplays, but perhaps his gravest error is in the film's conclusion, which trades the now traditional boxing match pitting Rocky against his latest formidable opponent for a cheesy and unimpressive street fight. In the end, whilst there are pleasing moments within Rocky V here and there, Stallone and Avildsen ultimately make too many mistakes to rescue matters.


Bringing the franchise into the 21st Century, Rocky Balboa offered the Rocky saga a chance to end on a higher note than Rocky V had ultimately provided some sixteen years earlier. On balance, the sixth film achieves this goal by the slenderest of marginz, but is laden with so many problems of its own that the argument as to which is the superior film feels moot. Rocky Balboa emerges as the most forgettable chapter in the book of Rocky; a story that feels like it doesn't need to be told, related in a emanner that brings nothing new to the table. In short, Everything that the sixth film offers has been done at least once before more successfully earlier on in the franchise.

Whilst Rocky V's Tommy Gunn was unlikeable, at least he stirred up some form of emotion. In contrast, Rocky Balboa's Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is a character who fails to provoke any reaction whatsoever. Despite a couple of early scenes that offer some promise, Mason remains one dimensional and utterly generic throughout, rendering the third act exhibition match between him and Rocky devoid of the satisfaction delivered from previous finales.

Elsewhere, Rocky Balboa adopts an unsatisfying gloomy tone for much of the first half. Rocky spends  the opening act wallowing in the past, particularly the passing of his wife Adrian (Talia Shire), whose death prior to the events of the film sadly feels like the inevitable final step in her becoming increasingly sidelined within the franchise. Rocky's estranged relationship with his now adult son (Milo Ventimiglia) feels like a repeat of Rocky V's unsuccessful first attempt at such a storyline, and is resolved just as quickly and unconvincingly. The companionship between Rocky and Marie (Geraldine Hughes), first seen as a young girl walked home by the boxer in the original film, is somewhat more satisfying, but stalls in the third act when Stallone - back in the director's chair once again - fumbles over whether to make it romantic or not.

Much of Rocky Balboa's best moments come from its nods to the franchise's beginnings; Rocky regaling the diners in his restaurant with stories from his career is a particularly nice touch. There are also a few strong scenes dotted throughout that will catch you by surprise occasionally. But Stallone is ultimately far too focused on narrowly reminiscing about the franchise's past, rather than extending the story of his most famous character into new and different areas. Initial reports, as well as Stallone's Academy Award nomination for his return performance as Rocky, thankfully suggest that Creed will offer some genuine hope of that finally happening.


Rocky IV

Rocky V

Rocky Balboa


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.

Hard To Be A God - DVD Review

'A synopsis of Hard To Be A God is neither easy to provide nor particularly helpful, as narrative structure, clarity and pace are clearly near the bottom of German's list of priorities'.

Hard To Be A God is one of those films you feel has been given something of a free pass to masterpiece status by professional critics. Perhaps because it is the final feature from Russian director Aleksei German before his death in 2013, which was finished by his son (also a director, and also called Aleksei German) and his wife and co-writer Svetlana Karmalita after being left in a state of near-completion; perhaps because its visuals are regularly breathtaking throughout its extensive running time; most probably some combination of the two. Everyday film fans, meanwhile, have generally been somewhat less convinced. The statistics speak for themselves: at the time of writing, Rotten Tomatoes has the film at a 93% "Fresh" rating, whereas IMDb calculates an average score of 6.6 out of 10 from a little over two thousands user ratings.

Perhaps the best place to canvas the divide in opinion Hard To Be A God has provoked is Letterboxd. Browsing the first few pages of the recent reviews for the film, there is roughly a fifty-fifty divide between those offering four or five star ratings and those giving scores of two, one or even half a star. Reviews occupying the middle ground are there, but appear much less regularly than those on either end of the scale. These two extremes largely sum up my feelings about German's final film; there are definitely elements with which I fell in love, at the same time as taking a strong dislike to several others.

A synopsis of Hard To Be A God is neither easy to provide nor particularly helpful, as narrative structure, clarity and pace are clearly near the bottom of German's list of priorities. Set on a planet virtually identical to our own that is technologically and culturally stuck in the Middle Ages, the film follows Anton (Leonid Yarmolnik), one of a group of scientists who have travelled to the planet and who has infiltrated the kingdom of Arkanar under the guise of nobleman Don Rumata. His mission is to help society progress - without actively interfering or instigating any advancements himself - during a period where a potential Renaissance period has been prevented through the oppression and extermination of any learned or intelligent individuals.

Despite this potentially fascinating starting point, Hard To Be A God unfortunately ends up a bloated, turgid, impenetrable slog. German regularly makes the narrative frustratingly difficult to follow, whilst also unnecessarily stretching matters out over nearly three hours. Apart from Anton, the director refuses to introduce any character in anything more than a rudimentary fashion, presenting a sizeable cast in conveyor belt fashion leaving the audience bewildered as to who is important to the story. Yarmolnik as Anton is fine, but German and Karmalita's script focuses almost entirely on his Don Rumata persona, leaving the "real" Anton feeling severely undernourished in comparison.

In contrast to the bewildering nature of Hard To Be A God's story, as a work of art German's film is frequently awe-inspiring. Reminiscent of the peasant scenes from Monty Python And The Holy Grail but with the humour excised completely, the director's crafting of his medieval world is utterly comprehensive. Despite being perpetually soaked in rain, mud, blood and various other bodily fluids, German's black-and-white photography gives the regularly revolting content a curiously beautiful quality, with his masterful use of light and dark particularly astounding.

Individual opinions of Hard To Be A God are therefore likely to boil down to how much the narrative perplexity can be outweighed by the film regularly being aesthetically stunning. Unfortunately for me, it simply couldn't. Had German tightened the whole thing to around a two hour running time, there would most probably be an additional star at the end of this review. As it is, despite the obvious craftsmanship behind the film's appearance, Hard To Be A God seriously struggled to keep my attention beyond the sixty minute mark, leaving nearly two hours of exhaustingly unenjoyable cinema still to be endured.




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.

Slow West - Blu-ray Review

'Yes, that finale screams Anderson and yes, the twinkly, fun score throughout roots us in the world of the Coens, but the eventual film that emerges is very much something that neither of those directors would produce.'

Running to just eighty-four minutes, it's quite amazing how many references writer/director John Maclean manages to pack into Slow West. For much of the narrative we seem to be in Coen Brothers country, as gruff semi-recognisable archetypes pop up to offer worldly wisdom and/or violence. Come the end though, we're firmly in the company of Wes Anderson-esque whimsy and stylisation, a shoot-out at a property taking place with participants popping out of golden fields like whack-a-moles.

The joy of Slow West though is in watching someone take those influences and mould them into something very much in his own image. Yes, that finale screams Anderson and yes, the twinkly, fun score throughout roots us in the world of the Coens, but the eventual film that emerges is very much something that neither of those directors would produce. Slow West has more of a sense of fun than Anderson has ever had and more whimsy than the Coens. The occasional darkness of both is here, but the way that it is used is different, glumly rooted in a world of unfortunate coincidences and muddled minds.

The catalyst for this is the traditional journey 'out West', which Maclean recasts as an absurd odyssey by Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to find the girl (Caren Pistorius) everyone involved can see doesn't actually love him. Jay typifies Maclean's deconstruction of the myth of the West; this isn't a romantic place for lovers to find themselves and riches to be made, it's a ragtag band of folks who'll kill to stay alive and who, largely, have no idea where they are or how they got there. A resounding image of the film involves Jay slowly rotating a piece of paper with the word 'West' and an arrow on.

Into his sphere comes Silas (Michael Fassbender) an antihero mentor-cum-bounty hunter with a bead on the capture of Rose (Pistorius) to make his fortune. Maclean's misstep in this situation is to draw a little too strongly on Jay's father issues, which are eventually writ large, should you have missed them. The conclusion though seems to rectify this and fits in with the film as a whole; it's entirely natural, wryly funny and obviously tragic in the amount of imbecility involved. Maclean's second feature is awaited with some anticipation.





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.

Marshland - DVD Review

'the notion that the ideologically opposed Juan and Pedro need only pull together to unite their investigation (and Spain) feels simplistic and a little trite and the socio-political musings do not extend satisfactorily into the investigation'

Compared in glowing terms on release to True Detective (perhaps not the level of praise it first seemed after that show's noticeable dip in quality in season two), Marshland does have similarities to HBO's detective show. Arriving in a rural town in Spain's South to investigate a series of murders, mismatched partners Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) soon discover that their temperamental differences extend into philosophical divides. With events occurring just a few years after the fall of Francoist Spain, the scene depicted is one of deep divisions and a nation struggling to come to terms with its new ideology, boiled down to the microcosm of the near-forgotten locale and the two leads.

With clear attempts to extend the murder mystery out into something significant, you can only give Marshland points for trying. The picture which it draws though feels too vague and unsatisfying. The notion that the ideologically opposed Juan and Pedro need only pull together to unite their investigation (and Spain) feels simplistic and a little trite and the socio-political musings do not extend satisfactorily into the investigation (though they are linked) to justify their presence in the plot. Whilst the need for plot is something discussed semi-regularly in cinema (most recently with Hsiao-Hsien Hou's The Assassin), its presence in a police procedural is surely non-negotiable.

Meanwhile, having given himself a strong crutch upon which to lean the elements of the film new to the genre, director Alberto Rodríguez finds himself leaning on more familiar ones elsewhere. Juan, struggling in opening scenes with alcohol, is revealed to have health problems, whilst Pedro's dedication to his work is clearly impacting his young family; never seen but frequently phoned. Are those problems or the reasons why these sorts of narratives are so beloved? It's a never-ending question.

Rodríguez does find a lot of success throughout, despite his take on this story's 'hook' having problems. The desolate opening scenes (and beyond in fact) seem to directly reference Joon Ho Bong's Memories Of Murder, which is a wise choice of contemporary yard stick. The investigation ponders along to a close that is satisfactory, and a chase along the titular islands which looks as good as the rest of the film does. It never truly grips though and the stock characters, set up to antagonise and needle, are hard to warm to or invest in.





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.

Kill The Messenger - Online Review

'Lazy scripting, particularly in the opening sections, leaves you with a feeling that you're being led along, rather than seeing a story unfold, hardly something you want from a tale to do with journalistic integrity.'

Kill The Messenger has that sort of long and deep cast list which makes you think 'hmm, I like him' (for they are all hes in this case), before you take another look and realise that most of things 'he' has starred in recently have been low budget direct-to-video offerings of middling quality. Present here with that charge on their rap sheet are Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen and Richard Schiff, which is quite the list of names for a film which is, ultimately, a breakout direct-to-video offering which never quite escapes its natural roots.

Not that writer Peter Landesman did not perhaps deserve to find a studio home for his story willing to give it a little more 'oomph' and a director with a little more flair than Michael Cuesta, a veteran of Dexter and Homeland. The true life tale of journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), who in the 1990s uncovered the truth about the US government's turning of a blind eye (at least) to the funding of revolutionary South American contras via drug sales on US soil, Landesman's script sets up ambiguous characters and difficult questions for everyone to answer. There's resonance in Webb's story with contemporary judgement on social media and the twenty-four hour news cycle, which seems a zeitgeist topic for any journalism-led tale at the moment.

The film's shortcomings, which mainly boil down to a lack of tension and pace, are not all to be laid at Cuesta's feet, however. Lazy scripting, particularly in the opening sections, leaves you with a feeling that you're being led along, rather than seeing a story unfold, hardly something you want from a tale to do with journalistic integrity. The fact that Renner is telling you - artificially and largely unprompted - within the opening four minutes that he's a huge fan of justice and due process is a big warning sign that we're in for some very literal moralising.

Righteousness does break out on occasion though, particularly during courtroom scenes which set Tim Blake Nelson's slightly dim lawyer up as a sort of patsy mouthpiece for Renner's accusations at government lackey Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper, unrelated, you assume to Jurassic Park's Dodson, though this is a film to do with conspiracy theories). Those scenes though see pretty much the only compelling sequences Cuesta musters. The newsreel footage of later in the film does catch an ex-government employee declaring that there has 'never been a conspiracy', but the film itself offers nothing as annoyingly stupid or as insidiously evil, despite the story offering both.




Kill The Messenger was playing on Sky's platforms.


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: The Rocky Anthology (Part 1) - Blu-ray Review

'For the first hour of his film, Avildsen's focus is entirely on building Rocky as a good man doing what he can to make his way in life, but who lacks any focus on where that life is going'.

Alongside the release of Creed, marking the first new big screen appearance in a decade of Rocky Balboa, arguably Sylvester Stallone's defining role, 2016 also marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of the first film in the eponymous boxer's franchise. What better excuse, therefore, to revisit the first six episodes of the Italian Stallion's cinematic story?

In contrast to the later entries in the series, 1976's series opener Rocky feels very much like a character-driven drama first and a sports film a firm second. Director John G. Avildsen bookends his film with a pair of boxing matches which deftly demonstrate how life has changed for Rocky (Stallone) over the course of the narrative. But for the first hour of his film, Avildsen's focus - and that of Stallone pulling double duty as screenwriter - is entirely on building Rocky as a good man doing what he can to make his way in life, but who lacks any focus on where that life is going. It's a decision which pays dividends not just for this film, but also for those that follow the original. The other key focus - that of Rocky's burgeoning relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire) - is constantly endearing, with Stallone and Shire sharing a sweet and authentic chemistry.

The second hour of Rocky is where Avildsen brings boxing into the plot more prominently, using the excellent work of the opening hour to pitch Rocky as a believable yet incredibly fortunate underdog who it's impossible not to root for. The training montages that the Rocky franchise became known for begin here, and the final fight is expertly shot and choreographed. These features are much more understated than they would later become, but arguably feel all the better for it; a sentiment which can satisfyingly be applied to Avildsen's film as a whole.

The missteps here are minor, but are enough to hold Rocky back from a perfect score. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is considerably underdeveloped, something that would be rectified later on, but that here takes something away from the closing Creed vs. Balboa bout. There are also scenes where Paulie (Burt Young) simply feels too unpleasant, to the point where it's hard to see why Rocky would continue his friendship with him, but this too is an issue which the franchise would fine tune during the sequels.


Picking up moments after the end of the first film, Rocky II feels in many ways like the concluding chapter of the story started in Rocky. The sequel again feels divided into two distinct halves, with the continual development of Rocky, his life and his relationship with Adrian the clear focus for the first hour. Whilst Stallone - taking over as director from Avildsen as well as returning as writer and star - closely emulates the structure of the first film, there's enough development and original ideas here to ensure Rocky II never really feels like a pointless retread. Bringing the main character back down to earth after his moment in the spotlight is a risk and could easily have felt contrived, but in fact plays out with authenticity as both Rocky and the audience become further convinced that the fighter's fifteen minutes really are up.

It's during the second hour of Rocky II that we start to get a glimpse of the bombastic spectacles that the later entries would become. Stallone's script becomes more and more weighed down with syrupy emotion, and his direction cranks up the romanticised, overly sentimental tone as the film heads towards its pugilistic pinnacle. Thankfully, Rocky's rematch with Apollo Creed doesn't disappoint, delivering a climax as gripping as their fight in the first film with a conclusion even more dramatic and fulfilling. Whilst Stallone's first sequel ultimately ends up a film of the same calibre as the original, where Rocky feels like a potentially outstanding film held back by a few key weaknesses, Rocky II is by contrast a very good film elevated by its strongest features.


Rocky III is undoubtedly the point where Stallone decided to take the franchise into a notably different direction. With Rocky transitioning from down-to-earth underdog to celebrated world champion, the film loses much of the authenticity seen throughout the first film, and to a lesser extent the second, in favour of a less complex, more commercial style. It's a shift perhaps best summed up through Rocky's charity exhibition match early on against pro-wrestler Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan, essentially playing his '80s WWF persona). New antagonist Clubber Lang (Mr. T) is essentially a cartoon villain, striking in appearance and stature but lacking anything beneath the surface. Listening to Mr. T reel off soundbites is entertaining to a point, but it's no replacement for a properly developed character.

Despite this deviation tone and style, Rocky III has enough to make it an entertaining watch. The death of Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) is heavily signposted from early on, but nonetheless packs emotional weight thanks to the strong performances from both Meredith and Stallone. The continued development of Apollo Creed is also pleasing to watch. From Apollo's thinly written origins in Rocky that were developed to a point in Rocky II, Weathers takes the character into fresh and interesting territory here. Whilst some of the "bromance" seen between Rocky and Apollo may feel a little on the nose, by the closing scenes the relationship between the two resonates just as genuinely as that shared between Rocky and Mickey. Rocky III may be a clear step down for the series as a whole, but that doesn't stop it from being both a worthwhile and enjoyable continuation of the Rocky saga.


Rocky

Rocky II

Rocky III


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.