In Secret - Online Review

'ends up occupying this slightly curious middle ground where it wants to be erotic but not explicit; sexy but not revealing; charged but with more than a modicum of reserve'

The much told story of Thérèse Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen), Charlie Stratton's In Secret is the fourteenth TV or film adaptation of Émile Zola's 1867 novel about a frustrated young wife during the same period in Paris.

Stratton's approach to Zola's text is somewhat awkward. On the one hand, he seems to want to play up the sexual repression of Thérèse whilst playing down any potential titillation the lifting of that repression might entail. On the one hand, given how the story progresses, you can understand this approach but on the other In Secret ends up occupying this slightly curious middle ground where it wants to be erotic but not explicit; sexy but not revealing; charged but with more than a modicum of reserve. It's as if they were aiming for a 12A, missed it and decided they couldn't be bothered to change a couple of the raunchier moments.

Meanwhile, this approach means that the potential evils of Camille (Tom Felton) and Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange) are played down as their characters are, whilst Thérèse's promiscuousness is played up. The result is that it is very hard to feel for Madame and almost impossible to feel for Camille. The players do not help. Felton must now be getting close to becoming the most typecast young actor in history, whilst Lange goes right off the deep end into full melodrama mode.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Stratton introduces a supporting cast of light comic relief including Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook and Shirley Henderson's pitched accent. For those who know the details of the story, you'll know that it isn't exactly sweetness and light at moments either, so In Secret ends up a dark Romance, with light comic relief, which wants to be sexual but not sensual, whilst telling a story about repression and adultery. Sound confused and unsatisfying? It is a little of both. Young stars Olsen and Oscar Isaac are not well served.




In Secret is currently playing on Sky Movies.


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.

Blood Ties - Online Review

'Blood Ties is a Guillaume Canet film in all but name: this is recognisably a James Gray production. Gone is the tenseness of Canet's Tell No One, in favour of Gray's tendency to push the focus towards character and introspective emotion'

Blood Ties is a remake of French offering Les Liens du Sang (English title: Rivals) by director Jacques Maillot, imported to the US mainly at the behest of, it seems, James Gray, who here serves as writer and executive producer, installing Frenchman Guillaume Canet (who featured as an actor in the original) in the director's chair. It is the James Gray part of that slightly complicated equation which seems to rule the roost over many of the film's problems.

Gray is a film-maker who has garnered a fairly small but loyal band of support over the last few years. They would claim that he is an auteur who makes elevated Americana; films that could be much more standard genre offerings than they turn out to be. Whilst I would say part of that is true (Gray does take genre films in unexpected directions when compared to his peers), I would also say that he is almost exclusively unsuccessful in his endeavours.

Blood Ties is a Guillaume Canet film in all but name: this is recognisably a James Gray production. Gone is the tenseness of Canet's Tell No One (a favourite amongst fans of international genre flicks), in favour of Gray's tendency to push the focus towards character and introspective emotion and away from drama and action.

You can see why the film appealed to Gray. Focusing on two brothers (Clive Owen and Billy Crudup) on either side of the law, Blood Ties is fascinated with the indelible links that make family inseparable and the very human choices that often make harmony impossible. Standing between Chris (Owen) and Frank (Crudrup), fellow family features James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and Lili Taylor are buffeted by the trade winds.

The problem is that, because the Gray/Canet access seems so focused on the character drama (although only with Chris and Frank; many others are woefully under-served) they forget about plot. Chris slowly becomes the quietest, least identifiable gangster in history, whilst Frank goes on to do... what exactly? The film never says. Meanwhile, parts that will become key - like Monica (Cotillard) and Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) don't get the development they need. We are meant to believe that Monica is desperate but are never given explicit reason for doing so; that Scarfo is a potentially deadly, horrendously jealous, abusive loose canon, but again are never shown why.

Blood Ties is not terrible, there are things here to watch and a large talented cast, but its pretentious insistence that it is more than a genre film stops it from becoming a good genre film, or a good character piece. Canet is so caught up in going for introspective emotion that he forgets elements less sophisticated but nonetheless vital; action, pomp, set pieces; the things that inform character and plot successfully in the film's of Grey's peers. The finale, clearly meant to be emotionally resonant, is anything but, precisely because of Canet and Grey's genre 'innovation'.




Blood Ties 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.

Gone Girl - DVD Review

'from the halfway point this is a non-narrative, a never believable trawl around people who don't exist and actions that don't make sense'

Though an improvement on Gillian Flynn's much-read novel of the same name, David Fincher's Gone Girl cannot escape the fact that it is based on half of a story. Flynn's novel has a great set up - Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home one day to find his door open, a mess in the lounge and wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing - but the problem with the novel is the same here; from the halfway point this is a non-narrative, a never believable trawl around people who don't exist and actions that don't make sense. It might seem like this story has a second half, but it really doesn't, just a cobbled together concoction that allows the novel and film to conclude. It is an 'end' only in the loosest sense of the word.

There is, at least, work here from Fincher and Flynn (who wrote the screenplay) to address other parts of the source material's failings. Where, in the novel, every character is an unlikeable farce of an archetype, here at least efforts are made to engage you with characters. Amy's Margaret Thatcher-alike mother (Lisa Banes) gets the best one-liner, but she isn't the only one infused with new humour. From somewhere, Flynn finds a pretty damn impressive ability to convert her plodding novelistic prose into zingy screenplay dialogue. It's not here all of the time, but when it is, Fincher is allowed to make the film crackle and fizz.

The things that Fincher can't correct though - the second half of the film amongst them - are where Gone Girl, film version, really reveals its shallow edges. The quick two or three second bursts of scenes over the opening credits seem to focus on mid-West decay and a crumbling US economy. The fact that Nick and Amy have left New York because they have both lost jobs in the recession is again indicative of Flynn's writing; there is certainly an idea here. The problem is again that it is never followed through, in the novel nor the script, leaving Fincher nothing to work with. There might be ideas of economy and its effect on people here but they are never realised and largely abandoned by the final, schlocky third.

The two leads do deserve praise for their work, though I didn't feel Pike particularly worthy of significantly more than that which has been afforded her co-star. Both produce spiky efforts that 'get' the characters subtleties; namely that they are both deeply horrible people, managing a thin veneer that garnishes each with normality. Affleck's ability to play Nick as treating his own moments of tremendous arsery as completely normal is impressive and Pike's ice-cold maiden is effective, if familiar territory.

In the end, the fact that a poor book has made a largely poor film is clearly not the main point of surprise to take from these proceedings, but from an auteurist perspective, the direction Fincher is heading in might well be. Gone Girl follows another major league book adaptation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I liked enough but many did not. Before that the impressive The Social Network again had recognisable source material and frankly, at inception, sounded a terrible idea. Though it ended well for all concerned, we now feel a long way from interesting takes on risqué material, like Fight Club, or new and significant twists on long-established genres (Zodiac). If Fincher's next is indeed to be the Steve Jobs film then I am afraid I may not be the first in the queue.




Gone Girl is released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 2nd February 2015.


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.

Whiplash - Cinema Review

'There is an irresistible fire within Simmons any time he is on screen, crafting in Fletcher an extraordinarily powerful presence who will be indelibly imprinted upon your mind'.

J. K. Simmons' wholeheartedly deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance in Whiplash, whilst technically accurate, feels somewhat misleading. If the film is one character's story, then that character is undoubtedly drum student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), with band leader and musician Terence Fletcher (Simmons) a major supporting figure in that story. But, in reality, Whiplash is Simmons' movie from the moment he first appears on screen.

Simmons' role as Fletcher is the performance that deserves to mark the actor out for big things in the imminent future, following a career characterised by consistently solid performances in somewhat prosaic parts. There is an irresistible fire within Simmons any time he is on screen, crafting in Fletcher an extraordinarily powerful presence who will be indelibly imprinted upon your mind.

Had Simmons made Fletcher a cut-and-dried villain, Whiplash would undoubtedly still be a very good film. But it's the finely nuanced performance from the actor, working from Damien Chazelle's sharp and authentic screenplay, that regularly makes the writer and director's film an outstanding one. Fletcher is an arrogant, abusive bully, there is no doubting that - nor does Chazelle ever try to excuse or hide this from the audience. But within the music teacher's extreme, un-PC methods, Simmons intersperses an undeniable charisma. There are occasional clear moments of comedy in Whiplash, particularly early on, but it's a humour which we almost immediately feel ashamed to have laughed at, as if we've somehow enabled Fletcher's regularly heinous actions. His character assassination of an out-of-tune trombonist springs to mind: initially funny, but soon revealing itself as something much darker. It's a balance with which many actors and directors would struggle, but one which Simmons and Chazelle strike perfectly again and again.

Whilst Fletcher's behaviour is often excessive, Simmons wisely and skilfully never allows him to become a caricature or farcical figure. The actor sculpts a starkly authentic, human individual, one who has a clear passion and talent for music and who is perpetually driven by this. Fletcher's seemingly genuine belief that what he does is all for the good of his students, and in a wider sense for the world of jazz music, makes him all the more fascinating.

Teller as Andrew has a formidable task making his presence felt opposite Simmons, something he at times struggles with early on. The young actor soon rectifies this, however, delivering a performance of conviction and energy as Andrew gains confidence as both a drummer and in standing up to Fletcher. The character's journey feels pleasingly reminiscent of that seen in Aronofsky's Black Swan, albeit with considerably more grounding in reality. Chazelle teases us with occasional Hollywood clichés, such as the teen romance between Andrew and Nicole (Melissa Benoist), before taking them in unexpected directions to emphasise the sacrifices Andrew chooses to make.

Chazelle shows a keen eye for detail throughout, using a variety of close ups to pick out the intricacies in his story. There are powerful images within Whiplash that will stay with you: droplets of blood reverberating on a cymbal; a pitcher of iced water died crimson by the raw drummer's hands plunged into it. This is also a continual feast for the ear, the soundtrack brimming with a wealth of irresistable jazz.

There are only a few niggles holding Chazelle's film back from perfection. Andrew's relationship with his father (Paul Reiser) feels perfunctory at best, never getting beyond its purpose as a plot device. The film's ending will likely leave some with the sense that Fletcher is never fully brought to justice for his tyrannical teaching style. However, minor imperfections aside, Whiplash overwhelmingly presents a powerful, intoxicating sophomore effort from the director that deserves to mark him out, along with Teller and Simmons, for great things in the near future.





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 Boxtrolls - Blu-ray Review

'The setting of Cheesebridge is a bundle of anachronisms, the aesthetics of Georgian England placed whimsically at odds with steampunk-style mechanics and 20th century corrugated packaging'.

It's undeniable that stop-motion continues to hold an idiosyncratic appeal that computer-animated fare cannot replicate. A fact that's no different in The Boxtrolls, animation studio Laika's latest Oscar-nominated feature, with both the environment and the characters of the film exuding an appealing charm throughout. The setting of Cheesebridge is a bundle of anachronisms, the aesthetics of Georgian England placed whimsically at odds with steampunk-style mechanics and 20th Century corrugated packaging for the eponymous creatures to dress themselves in. The film's world provides a continuously contradictory folktale backdrop that works a treat.

The characters too retain this quirky spirit. The Boxtrolls themselves are immediately endearing without being cute, gruesome without ever resorting to gross-out extremes. Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) and Shoe (Steve Blum) are the only two Boxtrolls fleshed out into proper characters, but within the pair there is enough heart and humour to communicate the nature and personality of the entire clan, especially within the simple affection seen in the adoptive father-son relationship between Fish and human boy Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).

Whilst Eggs and Winnie (Elle Fanning) are perfectly satisfying protagonists, the real interest in the human side of the cast is in the villains, a pleasing amalgam of Dahl crossed with Dickens. Ben Kingsley has immense fun from start to finish as Archibald Snatcher, the veteran actor creating a memorable and repulsive primary antagonist somewhere between the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Uriah Heep. His henchmen, Messrs Trout (Nick Frost), Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and Gristle (Tracy Morgan), whilst never quite as effective as Snatcher himself, are entertaining nonetheless, particularly when Trout and Pickles offer various postmodernist comments and chitchat about the nature of good and evil.

What lets The Boxtrolls down, however, is its storyline. The narrative throws very few curveballs at the audience during its one hundred minutes, and those that it does can be easily spotted some time before they are eventually revealed. Whilst the morals here about misjudgement based on appearance and being cautious of those in power are valid enough, they feel notably derivative and rarely offer anything new.

The issues within the story might not be so noticeable if there were more visual humour and wordplay to distract from them. But, although these forms of comedy are highlights when The Boxtrolls offers them, their inclusion is simply too scarce, especially when compared to the rapid gag count of feature film offerings from fellow stop-motion studio Aardman. The Boxtrolls therefore ends up as a good fun film full of charm and personality, but lacking the narrative strength and invention to ever make it a great one.




The Boxtrolls is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 26th January 2015.


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 Raid 2 - DVD Review

'Whilst there is definitely some novelty value in assassins such as "Baseball Bat Man" and "Hammer Girl", in the end they feel far too caricatured to truly resonate'.

Whilst The Raid left me reasonably satisfied in the way many other half-decent mindless action flicks have equally managed in the past, the five-star reviews that seemed to follow Gareth Evans' film around everywhere it went at the time of its release puzzled me somewhat. How the writer and director has pulled off the same trick twice, however, with sequel The Raid 2 receiving close to the same level of critical acclaim as the original, leaves me completely flummoxed.

The main criticism levelled at the first film (by those not hailing it as cinematic perfection, of course) was that it sacrificed character depth and plot development in favour of extended, bloody and highly choreographed fight sequences. Evans seems to have gone some way to try and remedy this in the second instalment, but in fact ironically ends up creating the film's greatest shortcomings. After making some smart choices early on - swiftly establishing that The Raid 2 will definitely not follow the same formula as the first film, as well as making clear his intention to expand on the world created in The Raid - Evans soon takes things too far the other way. The director rapidly introduces numerous factions of the Jakarta criminal underworld, making each feel far too similar to the last and never developing any to a satisfying level. The result is an overcomplicated jumble of murky motivations and one-dimensional characterisation which becomes more and more tiresome as the film progresses.

Whilst The Raid had a slew of impressive martial arts and action scenes to prop up its thin plotting and characters, Evans' sequel fails to deliver anything nearly as satisfying. There are memorable scenes here and there, but the combat presented lacks the panache more regularly seen in the first film. Whilst there is definitely some novelty value in assassins such as "Baseball Bat Man" (Very Tri Yulisman) and "Hammer Girl" (Julie Estelle), in the end they feel far too caricatured to truly resonate, with Evans' execution ending up as blunt as his characters' respective weapons of choice.

Whilst The Raid 2 eventually manages to deliver a satisfying window of action during its final act, with Rama (Iko Uwais) finally given the opportunity to flex his martial arts muscle both figuratively and literally during a final battle that is essentially the first film concentrated into twenty minutes, it's far too late to undo the many mistakes Evans has already made. At a self-indulgent 150 minutes, The Raid 2 ultimately comes across as an exercise in arrogance by a director too caught up in his own hype.




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 Lego Movie's Oscar "Snub", And Why You Need To Get Over It

Don't cry Emmet, 'Everything Is Awesome!!!' is still up for Best Original Song.

Upon the annoucement of this year's Oscar nominations a week ago, one topic of conversation dominated all others. It wasn't the pleasantly surprising stack of nods racked up by Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, or even Michael Keaton's welcome return to the top thanks to Birdman.

All anyone seemed to want to talk about was The Lego Movie failing to be nominated in the Best Animated Feature category. Twitter overflowed with comments about the Academy being "out of touch", and movie websites put together lists both of the reasons why The Lego Movie deserved a nomination - and, according to many, a win - as well as the reasons why all the other nominees were less deserving.

Lego Batman: reason enough in the eyes of many to give 
The Lego Movie an Oscar right now.
I, meanwhile, simply couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Whilst I enjoyed The Lego Movie (somewhat more than Sam), it never felt to me like a film of substance, let alone one of significance. "Great expendable fun, but never anything more", is how I described the film in my review last year, a viewpoint that hasn't changed since.

The fact that The Lego Movie has steadily hypnotised most of the Western hemisphere into believing it to be some sort of computer-animated version of The Godfather therefore confounds me entirely. Besides, just because a film is incredibly popular, does that mean we now automatically assume it will win Oscars, or at least be nominated for them? If that's the case, then Michael Bay has been robbed of at least four Academy Awards for each Transformers film he's churned out so far.

Perhaps some mild surprise at The Lego Movie's absence in the category is justified when you look down the list of past nominees and see the likes of Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Croods in recent years. But to call it a snub - as if Lord and Miller's ode to plastic building blocks not only deserved to be front and centre of the nominations, but also that it would be a shoe-in to win - seems hyperbolic and to be losing sight of the bigger picture, as well as somewhat insulting to the films that have been nominated in the category.

Song Of The Sea: my pick for Best Animated Feature.
Of the five Best Animated Feature nominees, I have seen only two. The three I haven't yet seen - Big Hero Six, The Boxtrolls and The Tale Of Princess Kaguya - I obviously can't comment upon in detail. That being said, seeing as they respectively come from Disney, Laika and Studio Ghibli, all of which have multiple previous nominations in the category, their presence seems reasonable at the very least. The remaining two - How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Song Of The Sea - in my opinion both deserve their nominations, being two of the most entertaining and well-crafted films (animated or otherwise) I've seen in 2014. My winner out of the pair would be Song Of The Sea, a beautiful film which I was enchanted by at LIFF last November.

It therefore seems fair to say that The Lego Movie has not been overlooked in favour of any undeserving nominees. But that still doesn't explain the unprecedented outcry its lack of recognition has sparked. In short, there is simply no justification for the snowballing outrage fans of The Lego Movie have voiced in the past week. Whilst entertaining, Lord and Miller's film isn't different or groundbreaking or controversial; it hasn't been mistreated, and just because many people love it doesn't make it automatically worthy of inclusion.

As a point of reference, let's turn our attention to another of last year's mainstream cinematic success stories: Guardians Of The Galaxy. A film with many similarities to The Lego Movie in terms of the overwhelming critical and popular acclaim it achieved, as well as the way in which it has swiftly permeated popular culture. Both films even share a leading man in Chris Pratt. Despite the huge amount of love for Guardians Of The Galaxy, it received only two Oscar nominations last week in the more minor categories of Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup And Hair. So where is the foot-stamping and dummy-spitting from the fans of James Gunn's comic book sci-fi flick?

This year's Best Makeup And Hair Oscar winner? Groot's 
keeping his twigs crossed...
Simply put, there isn't any. Why? Because the people who loved it (which, by the way, doesn't include me at all) know that, despite its popularity, Guardians Of The Galaxy is not a film made to win Oscars. They also know that not being nominated takes absolutely nothing away from their enjoyment of and affection for the film. And herein lies the sticking point when it comes to fans of The Lego Movie.

Those making all the noise about Lord and Miller's lack of recognition by the Academy have lost any perspective on the matter, convincing themselves that their new favourite animated movie should be everyone else's new favourite animated movie too. It isn't, of course. That's not to take anything away from The Lego Movie; it's a perfectly entertaining throwaway film, and that's fine. We need films that entertain for a hundred minutes without demanding too much from our grey matter. I love a good mind-bending psychological thriller as much as the next film addict, but sometimes you need some counterbalance, and films like The Lego Movie offer just that.

Anyone who sees The Lego Movie for what it truly is, whether they love it or loathe it, surely must therefore agree that the Academy's choice not to nominate it for Best Animated Feature is barely a surprise, let alone a snub. Whilst the dust has not yet settled, let's hope it has just over a month from now; whichever nominee does end up leaving with this year's Best Animated Feature award rightfully deserves to enjoy the moment with their little golden man, without having to worry about little yellow men still unfairly preoccupying everyone's mind.


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.