Classic Intel: Black Rain - Online Review

'none of this film works if Conklin (Douglas) doesn't happen to be a machismo hot-head with a distaste for the rules but a penchant for brilliance in his chosen profession. He is basically Jeremy Clarkson: NYPD'

Made ten years after Alien and seven years after Blade Runner, it's excusable that Black Rain is not an oft-cited piece of Ridley Scott's filmography. As one of the band of 80s 'Hair Thrillers' though, often centring on cops and their various foibles, its influence and influences are undeniable, relevant and occasionally well worth observing.

In the lead, Michael Douglas' Nick Conklin takes a huge amount from maverick detectives before him and offers more for the future. The rise of the symbolic accessory to denote character (most recently seen as Liam Neeson's scarf in A Walk Among The Tombstones, as cited by Mark Kermode) is on full show here from the off, Douglas taking part in a street-based motorcycle race, before Scott pulls back the curtain and reveals him as a cop. There's much more here too. Conklin is the type of police officer whose mannerisms are built on plot functionality; none of this film works if he doesn't happen to be a machismo hot-head with a distaste for the rules but a penchant for brilliance in his chosen profession. He is basically Jeremy Clarkson: NYPD.

As Conklin and Vincent (Andy Garcia) head to Japan to investigate a renegade Yakuza (Yûsaku Matsuda), the typical culture clash ensues, mainly pivoting around Conklin and Japanese detective Masahiro. There are various - mainly Western, it must be said - ideas around Japanese honour, but perhaps the clearest idea here is the way the US characters in a film once again find themselves on foreign territory, dealing more damage than they prevent. It is perhaps too respectful of Black Rain's quality to say that this may have been deliberate, but it is at least there, and perhaps those with a greater belief in liberal Hollywood than I may be able to read the message as intentional.

As is the way with such offerings, much of what is on show for most of the film's running time belie much baser ambitions. On catching up with Sato (Matsuda), the chasing police of course find that his lair is in a steelworks, complete with moody lighting, showering sparks and ahead-of-their-time villains sporting the new James Bond sunglasses. The finale, despite ostensibly being between a handful of people, of course manages to rope in a level of plotting which means many more people get to blow themselves up. As a final flourish, Conklin is predictably placed back in his (bike) saddle.




Black Rain was playing on Sky Go and other Sky Movies 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.

Brick Mansions - Online Review

'as producer, Luc Besson's stamp is all over this film and that stamp is fast becoming a symbol of things that whiff significantly, have little life, verve, plot, care or raison d'etre'

Luc Besson's latest attempt to bring down the Action genre, Brick Mansions, continues his dumbing down of this form of cinema to the point where, Paul Walker aside, people who can act are now no longer required for his films. As with Three Days To Kill and notable others, Besson palms off directing duties to someone else (in this case Camille Delamarre), but as producer his stamp is all over this film and that stamp is fast becoming a symbol of things that whiff significantly, have little life, verve, plot, care or raison d'etre.

In this case, Walker, in the last film fully completed before his untimely death in November 2013, plays Damien Collier, a sometime-undercover cop, sent into the titular ghettoised area of Detroit to wrestle control of a nuclear weapon from gangster Tremaine (RZA), in the company of parkour expert-cum-vigilante Lino (David Belle).

As the film opens, Delamarre gives us a nifty sequence of Belle doing his urban gymnastics whilst on the run from Tremaine's goons, headed by K2 (Gouchy Boy). Meanwhile Collier is engaging in some Fast And Furious-esque vehicular adventure in pursuit of George The Greek (Carlo Rota). For a brief few moments it does feel as though Brick Mansions might deliver something satisfying; Walker does the heavy lifting as RZA and assorted others shout imperatives in pursuit of Lino's incredible feats. Walker could sell this sort of stuff in his sleep and do even better when given the right material: just look at Running Scared for a film that tries a few things, gives him responsibility and is all the better for it.

The problem is that, after this opening, it becomes immediately clear that no-one else can act and even if they could Besson and Bibi Naceri's script isn't going to let them. Belle might be able to jump around, but he can't deliver a line of dialogue to save his life. RZA might be able to do a level of malevolence, but that's where his input ends. Sidekicks Ayisha Issa and Gouchy Boy are weak, the former horribly served by a fetishised fight late on. Besson and Naceri do at least wisely refrain from giving former WWE star Robert Maillet any lines, though at this point you do wonder how much worse that could really have made things.

If Besson has proven anything with this latest offering it is that even films such as his, of dubious value, still need good actors to make them work. Brick Mansions largely doesn't have them and very quickly becomes a tedious mess of clichés and zero effort execution.




Brick Mansions was playing on Sky Go and other Sky Movies 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.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season One - Online Review

'An Asian character mispronouncing everything in a way that creates innuendo? Kimmy's hand gestures translating to Dong as rude? Is this really the best this series could do?'

The first season of Netflix's self-produced Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is marked by a welcome lightness of touch from the platform, coupled with an odd descent at the mid-way point into cultural stereotypes that border on racism, which I found difficult to ignore.

Co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock create a muddled, ill-fitting section that attempts to poke fun at Vietnamese character Dong (Ki Hong Lee) and spectacularly fails. Even if you don't buy that Kimmy Is Bad at Math! (S1E8) portrays Dong in a racist way, it's the least funny episode by some distance and relies on laughing at broadly drawn cultural traits to generate its humour. An Asian character mispronouncing everything in a way that creates innuendo? Kimmy's hand gestures translating to Dong as rude? Is this really the best this series could do? There's an 'I don't make the rules' shrug from the character as he reveals that he's good at maths because he is Asian, but drawing attention to the stereotypes on show isn't the same as pillorying them and Kimmy Schmidt fails to do the latter in that episode or later in the series. At best it's just not funny, at worst something far more insulting. Towards the end of that episode, the series goes back into geek culture with a solid Ghostbusters pastiche. It's still not great, but the creators would have been well advised to stay in that ballpark, rather than heading to where they end up.

It seems a shame to spend that long dwelling on a negative part of a show which is, at times, very funny, sweet and with a hipster tinge that never gets annoying, but that is the creative risk when you play with something as incendiary as race in a Comedic sense and it doesn't come off. It's all the more frustrating for how good Fey and Carlock's writing can be, firing off jokes with a rapidity that sometimes leaves you missing one for laughing at another. The earworm title song is a judiciously-pitched annoyance, a late cameo is perfect and the 'one more episode' factor almost creepily high.

At its best moments, Ellie Kemper spars off Jane Krakowski, playing the brilliantly named Jacqueline Voorhees, whilst Tituss Burgess and Carol Kane bring the more ridiculous comedy as an odd couple pairing of cranky landlady and gay wannabe actor. There's subversion of the genre on occasion, such as the falsely moralistic Kimmy Goes to School! (S1E6), which sees a guest-starring Richard Kind brilliantly taken to task as the teacher-with-a-grudge who may not secretly have a heart of gold after all.

After the miss-steps of E8 and E9, the series hits its stride again and starts to wrap up its main tack - Kimmy and three other women are rescued at the start of the show from an apocalypse cult led by the enigmatic Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne - and though they do get bogged down slightly in plot, they remain entertaining. It's a fun, typically Netflix-addictive show, but the let down feeling of those episodes is high. Here's hoping for a more consistent offering, in the already-confirmed second outing.




Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season One is playing now 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.

Enemy - Online Review

'Enemy is ambitious of... just how many inconceivable ways you can insert a malevolent spider into a narrative, amongst other things.'

If nothing else then the perplexing Enemy at least confirms director Denis Villeneuve as a film-maker with ambition. Incendies was ambitious of story and pulled it off. Prisoners was ambitious of genre depiction and visuals and at least gave both a good go. Enemy is ambitious of... just how many inconceivable ways you can insert a malevolent spider into a narrative, amongst other things.

Like most, if not all doppelgänger narratives, it is almost inconceivable to imagine that Enemy is not trying to say something about an individual's fracturing psyche. From there, you're on your own. Jake Gyllenhaal initially is properly introduced as Adam Bell, a rather alone History professor. In time, Villeneuve also brings in Anthony Claire, Adam's double and an actor. Both have private lives apparently somewhat on the rocks, with Adam in an apparently slightly coldly sexual relationship with Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Anthony at least flirting with infidelity against pregnant partner Helen (Sarah Gadon).

The lines between what is happening to whom and whether it is really happening at all are blurred. The opening scene in some sort of devilishly fantasy secret strip club is referred to later by another character, apparently talking to Adam, who he thinks is Anthony. But does that mean it really happened, and is the spider that features there and reoccurs throughout just some sort of metaphor for the guilt of one (or both) of the men's psyches?

The development of the characters throughout the plot suggests that there is something happening here with internal changes. Adam begins if not quite as successful and ebullient then at least as confident and assured. He may live in a slightly creepily unfurnished apartment, but he seems normal. By the mid-point, we're listening to Adam deliver a lecture we've already heard in noticeably quieter and more uncertain tones and his hermitage life looks less withdrawn by choice and more oddly detached from everyone. Anthony meanwhile, initially seen as slightly stalked by Adam, becomes the stalker, showing up outside Mary's work. Is his Ikea-furnished apartment any more normal than Adam's, or a Patrick Bateman façade?

Frankly, I don't know and that, like perplexing films or not, is part of Enemy's problem. It is without doubt not only obtuse, but sometimes too confused for its own good. However, I'd rather watch Villeneuve try something like this any day of the week than many other things. Even if there are eight hundred metre high spiders.




Enemy was streaming 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.

The Rover - DVD Review

'Constantly sharing the screen with the far more skilled Pearce only highlights the difference in quality between Pattinson's performance and that of his co-star'.

Proving that contemporary dystopian cinema is not yet solely the remit of young adult novel adaptations, writer and director David Michôd's The Rover presents a grim future in stark and stylish fashion. Michôd doesn't trouble us with complex explanations of how the world arrived at this sorry state of affairs, informing us through an opening caption that the film's events happen ten years after "the collapse" and leaving it at that. It's a bold decision that could have gone either way (look no further than The Purge franchise for evidence this type of narrative choice backfiring), but Michôd's vivid and authentic realisation of his bleak vision makes it work convincingly well.

Key to the success of The Rover's premise is Guy Pearce as the story's mysterious central figure. Through Eric, Pearce adds yet another superb indie performance to his CV, something of a breath of fresh air from the actor after much more stylised, less memorable turns recently in the likes of Iron Man 3 and Prometheus. Like an unhinged, post-apocalyptic version of The Big Lebowski's Dude, all Eric wants throughout the film is his car back after having it stolen during the opening scenes, willing to go to extraordinary lengths - and through anyone who gets in his way - to retrieve it. With Michôd only dropping a few small and subtle hints here and there as to why the car is so important, Eric's enigmatic purpose and background for much of the film makes the character a consistently captivating presence.

Opposite Pearce for much of the running time is Robert Pattinson as Rey, the abandoned younger brother of Henry (Scoot McNairy) who just happens to be a member of the gang that stole Eric's car. The dynamic between the world-weary, nihilistic Eric and the simple-minded, naïve Rey is pleasing, even at times reminiscent of George and Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men. The problem comes from the juxtaposition of acting talent. Whilst Pattinson's performance here is never terrible, it is largely ordinary and at least once or twice, to quote Tropic Thunder's Kirk Lazarus, "goes full retard". Constantly sharing the screen with the far more skilled Pearce only highlights the difference in quality between Pattinson's performance and that of his co-star, a seriously unfortunate truth for the young actor yet to shake off the criticism levelled at his turns in the Twilight franchise.

Despite Pattinson's somewhat iffy performance, The Rover is for its first hour a captivating and uncompromising blend of contemporary Western and dystopian road movie set to a suitably minimalist, cacophonous soundtrack. The main issue is that Michôd's film runs out of steam during the final forty minutes. The pace slows considerably, the focus becomes fuzzy, and even Eric loses some of his intrigue after revelations about his former life. After spending around ninety minutes getting there, Michôd also feels disappointingly unsure of what to do once his film arrives at its climax. It's not enough to ruin the considerable good work to be found throughout much of The Rover, but it does leave the film feeling somewhat less satisfying than its first half perhaps promised. Had the whole film maintained the strength of the opening sixty minutes, there would be one more star at the end of this review.




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.

Maleficent - Online Review

'Jolie clearly enjoys herself in the role of Maleficent, at her best when she's occasionally allowed to inject a wry sense of humour into the character'.

Whilst Kevin Feige has been working his Spider-Man-themed socks off to construct and expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past seven years, his is arguably not the most important franchise-traversing setting that we have seen unfolding. That honour goes to a film universe perhaps not officially recognised (...yet), but that has clearly been built up before our very eyes over the past decade. I'm talking about the "Disney Cinematic Universe": a painfully generic, seemingly endless landscape of family-friendly CGI fantasy, with the power to swallow up great works of literature and their locales - Narnia and Oz immediately spring to mind - and drain them of any charm or originality that isn't approved by the House Of Mouse.

Worryingly for superhero fans, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is technically (and legally) a part of the Disney Cinematic Universe, although this thankfully seems to have had only limited impact on Marvel's output so far. Perhaps more worrying, however, is that Disney are now aggressively expanding their Universe into the territory of their back catalogue of classic animated films through live-action remakes and reimaginings. 2010's Alice In Wonderland was perhaps the first example of this, although Tim Burton's reboot-cum-sequel bore little resemblance to Disney's 1951 animated feature.

Maleficent is the latest entry, taking 1959's Sleeping Beauty as its source whilst also reworking and retelling the story from the point of view of the titular sorceress. As arguably one of Disney's most effective animated villains, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) feels like a smart choice for a central character, the film at times adding a pleasing amount of extra detail to the original portrayal which gave little reason for Maleficent's evil ways. Jolie clearly enjoys herself in the role, at her best when she's occasionally allowed to inject a wry sense of humour into the character.

These moments are too few and far between however, with much of Maleficent taking itself far too seriously for what must primarily be considered a children's film. The fantasy realm in which the film takes place feels devoid of warmth or authentic magic, a landscape that never rings true populated by computer-generated critters and human figures we largely never get to know. Just as we've seen before in Disney's versions of Narnia, Oz and Wonderland, an epic battle between two great armies has to take place whether we want it to or not - only this time it happens at the start of the story rather than during the finale, so we have even less reason to care about which side triumphs.

There are isolated parts of Maleficent which feel somewhat worthwhile, mostly thanks to Jolie's performance, but Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple as a trio of fairies are very hard not to like despite receiving far too little screen time to ever become more than one-dimensional whimsies. Less successful is Sharlto Copley, seriously miscast as detestable King Stefan (who admittedly would be an absolute curse of a character for any actor) and delivering a Scottish twang about as convincing as I imagine Sean Connery's South African accent would be. Some serious pacing issues and an awful script, alongside the vacuous nature of the fantasy setting, mean that Maleficent's problems are too prominent and copious for the film to ever overcome.




Maleficent is currently playing on Sky Movies.


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.

'71 - Online Review

'not only a Thriller, but an insightful look at the situation in Northern Ireland, as it was during that year. No-one escapes a level of questioning and certainly few are innocent'

The occasionally tense '71 is a well-managed urban Thriller with a level of bite, which yet again gives Jack O'Connell something promising to do and then doesn't quite fulfil its remit to the full. Director Yann Demange presents a film which is occasionally tight, and certainly has a level of difference compared to other films about The Troubles, but then doesn't quite see them through without a level of drop-off, nor of bumping along in the vicinity of some clichés.

The good mainly happens during the film's opening where young squaddie Hook (O'Connell) is abandoned to the wilds of 1971 Belfast when his unit comes under attack. As a variety of superiors flounder, Hook tries to side with the sympathetic Protestants and avoid the anti-British Catholics. Things get complicated when a young Protestant (Corey McKinley) takes him to his Uncle's pub.

Up to and including the pub, pretty much everything Demange does is impressive. An overly cutesy background story involving what appears to be Hook's younger brother isn't necessary, but the initial deployment feels real and Hook's abandonment suitably chaotic. The pub scenes neatly and devastatingly introduce an attractive level of complication to the plotting. At this point '71 starts to also live up to its title: this is not only a Thriller, but an insightful look at the situation in Northern Ireland, as it was during that year. No-one escapes a level of questioning and certainly few are innocent of contributing to the problems.

As the film develops though, the newly introduced plot threads start to detract from Hook. Slowly the tension dissipates, and Sean Harris' (now in serious danger of being seriously typecast) dodgy intelligence officer starts to take on the role of too-overt villain, as does Lewis (Paul Anderson). Hook, who previously seemed to survive on a mixture of his wills and luck, slowly starts to survive on coincidence, whilst those genuinely interested in his rescue get steadily dafter.

It's still a good film, with a new take on The Troubles and several patches of very good work, but Demange is a first time feature director and the consistency is not altogether there yet.




'71 was streaming 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.