Into The Storm - Cinema Review

'Delivers only the occasional gust of excitement when it should be aiming for hurricane force'.

It's difficult to see how a film like Into The Storm managed to get a general release in cinemas, considering so much of what it has to offer feels remarkably close to made-for-TV movie levels of execution. It could even be suggested that it resembles Sharknado but without the sharks. Having never seen Sharknado, I wouldn't feel justified in making such a cutting comparison myself; but, in all honesty, I can't imagine it's far off the mark.

Feeling like something of a spiritual successor to 1996's Twister (which also begs the question if there was anyone out there actually hankering for a new version of that film), the most impressive thing about Into The Storm is arguably its effects. There are some satisfying destructive scenes to be found towards the end of the film when the titular weather occurrence is at its strongest, and an earlier sequence involving the combination of a tornado, a petrol leak and fire is exactly the kind of thing many will have come looking for here. However, most of these moments were disappointingly used during the film's main trailer, leaving precious little extra for the film to offer, especially with several of the other effects-heavy scenes feeling decidedly cheap.

Away from the CGI destruction, Into The Storm consistently fails to deliver. Steven Quale's direction is erratic, never having the confidence to settle on a particular style or feel. The director opts in the end for a disjointed combination of traditionally shot and handheld footage, neither of which manages a satisfying level of authenticity nor ever sits comfortably with the other. Quale's narrative structure is equally all over the place, generally following two separate groups of characters who eventually cross paths whilst occasionally returning to a scenario where students at the local high school are making films to be placed in a time capsule; this element is so thinly drawn however that it feels more and more awkward each time it is returned to.

Perhaps most damaging to Into The Storm's credibility as an entry into the disaster genre is its consistent lack of ambition. The action never ventures out of the relatively small and remote town of Silverton, Oklahoma, making much of what is presented feel decidedly lacking in urgency, especially when compared to the destructive scale of other weather-based offerings of recent memory such as 2012. Considering extreme weather and climate change are still a relatively hot topic, almost nothing is made of the potential that could be tapped from this area either.

Whilst Quale never gives the impression he was ever aiming for his film to be hailed as a classic, Into The Storm nonetheless feels like a wasted opportunity to make something a lot more entertaining than what it offers, delivering only the occasional gust of excitement when it should be aiming for hurricane force.

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 Walking Dead: Season One - Online Review

'The first season's six episodes are simply not sufficient time to make enough of the figures we meet into people we care about'.

If you consider that it's now a series often placed amongst the finest that the US TV drama renaissance of recent years has spawned, the first season of The Walking Dead is in fact somewhat underwhelming. That's not to say it's bad television; on the contrary, what's on offer is regularly entertaining and occasionally excellent. But considering the critical darling the series has become - and the fact that this season's finale drew a record six million viewers when it was first broadcast in America - this is far from a flawless TV season.

In terms of setting up the series' desolate world populated by "walkers", as the zombies are invariably referred to, The Walking Dead does pretty well. There's little attempt to reinvent what is expected from the zombie genre, and some narrative elements are clearly borrowed from the likes of 28 Days Later... and even Shaun Of The Dead, although what is delivered here is largely delivered well. It's also pleasing to find that series creator Frank Darabont never tones down the more gruesome elements of the story for television, with several well-crafted horror scenes littered throughout the season as a whole.

The key strength of Season One is undoubtedly central character Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). If The Walking Dead is one person's story, then it is without question Rick's. We're given reasons to invest in Rick from the opening moments of the first episode, "Days Gone Bye", some of which disappointingly seem to become forgotten as the season wears on. However, thanks to Lincoln giving arguably the strongest - and certainly the most consistent - performance of the cast during the season there's enough of a reason within him to continue watching.

The regular cast surrounding Lincoln are generally solid, but too many suffer from a lack of development for us to truly invest in them. A ragtag bunch thrown together through the undead pandemic ravaging the earth, the group is not dissimilar in feel and circumstance to that seen in the opening season of Lost. However, where that series initially had twenty-five episodes to introduce and flesh out its large number of main characters, The Walking Dead's first season has only six. It's simply not sufficient time to make enough of the figures we meet into people we care about. This in turn has a detrimental effect upon several of the season's more emotionally charged moments, notable in particular during scenes in episode 4, "Vatos", and episode 5, "Wildfire".

There are also a number of characters here we are given frustratingly little time to get to know. Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his son Duane (Adrian Kali Turner) are introduced creditably in "Days Gone Bye", but then never seen again. Jim (Andrew Rothenburg) is set up as potentially one of the most interesting members of the group, before being whipped away from us just as we begin to invest in him. Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich, giving perhaps the best performance of the whole season) is teased as a late addition to the survivors, but again we are denied the pleasure of his extended company, seeing him for barely more than one episode.

In the end, The Walking Dead's opening six episodes do enough to entice you back for more - even if that will be equal parts desire to continue your enjoyment, and curiosity to see how successfully the issues within the first season are resolved as the series continues.

The Walking Dead: Season One is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video now.

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.

House Of Cards: Season Two - Online Review

'Within the first episode of Season Two, all of the shows apparent desire to keep Underwood believable seems to have gone out of the window.'

It's difficult to remember a more obvious change in approach during a series than the switch that happens somewhere between House Of Cards Season One and House Of Cards Season Two. Whilst the first series of one of Netflix's flagship shows felt as though it was constantly managing to reign in renegade politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) just enough, the second series appears to have absolutely no intention of doing so. The first might not have been steeped in realism, but you could at least just about buy most of Underwood's political manipulations, supplemented with extra marital activity and occasional endeavours that had even more significant consequences.

Within the first episode of Season Two, all of that desire to keep Underwood believable seems to have gone out of the window. The much-discussed event that happens within the opening episode is followed quickly by an ever-more unpredictable sex life and an increasing level of conspiracy that, at times, involves the press, the FBI, the president (Michael Gill) and others. Perhaps the change from Season One to Season Two can be summed up most accurately in one character: Michael Kelly's everyman chief of staff, Doug Stamper. In this series, Stamper is a far cry from he of old, increasingly, bizarrely attached and attracted to Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), in a story that frequently induces cringes and that culminates during the final episode.

That final episode is a big part of the reason why House Of Cards' difficult second outing wins out. Tense, fast and focused, it's no coincidence that its the episode during which Frank has the most time for us. Having opened the series with Frank letting us know that he's still going to be taking us through the action (the near-iconic 'you thought I forgot you?' line is a startling wake-up call to audiences and screenwriters everywhere) showrunner Beau Willimon then does rather let our relationship with the Vice President go a touch cold. The finale picks this up, putting us uncomfortably into Frank's lap as the series' grander machinations come to fruition and close. It's satisfying, horrifying and compelling in equal measure: everything this series should have been and that the first one was.

The problem with the rest of this version of the show is that it attempts to juggle too many balls, many of which feel vaguely unplanned and inconsequential and are thus justly picked up and dropped with a dishevelling frequency. The opening returns us frequently to the upwardly-mobile Freddy (Reg E. Cathey), going as far as to introduce his errant son and grandson. It feels like the story might go somewhere but the way it is dropped hints at the conclusion that Freddy has exited this narrative for good. Claire (Robin Wright) gets significant screentime on some important and emotive causes but do any of them get the conclusions they deserve? Perhaps that is part of the Underwood story, as both partners pursue one ultimate goal, but it frequently feels clunky narratively.

Perhaps the most egregious example is that of Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus), bizarrely suggested as a major character early on where he didn't seem to have the importance or the acting chops to be so, before Willimon decides that that is actually entirely correct and drops him for the rest of the season. A narrative with Christina (Kristen Connolly) gets the same treatment. Jimmi Simpson's character is from a different series all together: more The Matrix than a political drama. It just doesn't feel as structurally well managed and there's a frequent feeling that time is being wasted, backed up by the tremendously tight final episode, which relies on none of the above threads.

Even when this series is treading water it is watchable (it has Spacey, after all), but under the auspices of a lead character like Underwood, you would have thought House Of Cards would have recognised that treading water isn't enough. This is a show with ambition but in its second season it appears to have started applying that ambition in all of the wrong places. Even the best shows cannot afford two consecutive seasons that are this sloppy and, suddenly, House Of Cards third outing becomes make or break, in an arc surely made for a four or five season run.

House Of Cards was playing 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.

Masters Of Cinema #91 - Frau Im Mond - Blu-ray Review

'Lang's film could easily have been condensed to under two hours and almost certainly would have felt stronger for it'.

Taken as a piece of film history - as so many of the Masters Of Cinema releases easily can be - Fritz Lang's Frau Im Mond ("Woman In The Moon") is undoubtedly a cinematic milestone. Regularly hailed as the first serious science-fiction film, the scientific approach towards space travel seen within Lang's film certainly feels like a significant shift away from the likes of Georges Méliès' fantastical Le Voyage Dans La Lune around a quarter of a century earlier. However, look past Frau Im Mond's iconic status and there are some key issues which make it less successful overall as some of Lang's other films.

The "serious science-fiction" accolade is one which Frau In Mond certainly deserves with regard to its presentation of the central characters' lunar voyage. Lang is unafraid to make his mission to the Moon a wholly scientific affair, having his characters use technical language and even presenting the audience with diagrams to demonstrate the meticulous research that has clearly gone into the crafting of his film. Considering Frau Im Mond was released four decades before Neil Armstrong's infamous giant leap for mankind, the consideration of relatively advanced factors such as G-force and weightlessness in Lang's film is impressively ahead of its time.

The scientific approach of Lang's direction also feeds directly into Frau Im Mond's most impressive cinematic moments. The central act focusing on the rocket journey from Earth to the Moon sees some spectacular special effects employed by the director, with visually striking sets and props still impressing over eighty years after the film's original release.

One of most detrimental issues within Frau Im Mond, however, is that of length. With a running time only ten minutes short of three hours, this is one of Lang's longest films, which is still over an hour shorter than his longest, Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler. The difference, however, between these two mammoth pieces of cinema is one of justification: whilst Dr. Mabuse ultimately warrants its four-hour length, Frau Im Mond's one hundred and seventy minutes feel excessive. Lang's film could easily have been condensed to under two hours and almost certainly would have felt stronger for it.

The film's length is linked to a second key problem: pace. Whilst not a continuous slog by any means, there are several sections within Frau Im Mond which feel far too slow and drawn out, particularly during the film's opening act. Much of what happens within the first hour essentially seems superfluous to the story Lang is telling, stretching out what feel like minor details into protracted and at times tedious scenes. The torpidity of Lang's film also has a negative effect on the development of its characters and their individual narratives, in particular the romantic triangle between Helius (Willy Fritsch), Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) and Friede (Gerda Maurus), which only really begins to go anywhere somewhere within the second hour.

Taken purely as a piece of entertainment, Frau Im Mond feels uneven, only really coming into its own after a sluggish opening act, and even then still suffering somewhat from its excessively long running time. Its main appeal remains its historical importance and comprehensively impressive and unwavering use of fact-based science throughout. This is not Lang's best, but there is still plenty here worthy of your attention.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Frau Im Mond is released in the UK on Monday 25th August 2014

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

Trailer Of The Week - The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

Arguably one of the most infamous films never to have been made (largely thanks to the internet's fascination with it), Superman Lives continues to linger as either the most loony interpretation of DC's most famous superhero or a brilliantly creative and unique spin on a character who had become somewhat tired after four fairly straight big screen adaptations. With names such as Tim Burton and Kevin Smith behind the camera, and Nicolas Cage in the title role, it certainly would have been a memorable film no matter how it turned out. And, considering some of the aesthetic choices within Zack Snyder's recent reboot of the Superman franchise, it seems fair to say at least some of what Burton and Smith had in store for Superman may just have been a bit too ahead of its time. Jon Schnepp's documentary, currently still looking for funding online, looks to be a fascinating insight into the process and problems in Superman Lives' production. Let's hope Schnepp reaches his funding goal and that this documentary gets to tell its potentially captivating story.

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.

Grudge Match - DVD Review

'"Rocky vs. Raging Bull" this ain't'.

Pitting retired boxers played by Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro against each other, Grudge Match quite clearly sets out to answer the question of who would win a match between cinema's two most infamous pugilists: Stallone's iconic fictional fighter Rocky Balboa and De Niro's acclaimed portrayal of real life figure Jake LaMotta. Unfortunately, Peter Segal's film is about thirty years too late.

It's hardly a secret that Stallone and De Niro are no spring chickens any more, a fact made painfully evident throughout Grudge Match. "Rocky vs. Raging Bull" this ain't, a point ironically hammered home firstly through the director's clunky use of old footage from those very films in one of the dodgiest CGI chop-jobs ever seen during the opening sequence, and then through shamelessly throwing in promotional shots of both actors from the '80s whenever he can.

Away from Segal's stubborn refusal to accept his film simply cannot deliver on its pseudo-fantasy match-up premise, Grudge Match continually falls short elsewhere. The script limps through its tired jokes, most of which are based around Stallone and De Niro making idiots of themselves in various ways. Kevin Hart's boxing promoter is essentially an excuse for the comedian to wheel out a string of hackneyed "black guy" schtick. The sole saving grace is Alan Arkin as Henry "Razor" Sharp's (Stallone) aging coach Louie "Lightning" Conlon. Arkin is as watchable as ever, even if he's essentially giving us the same grumpy old geezer routine he mastered in Little Miss Sunshine eight years ago.

Segal attempts to balance out Grudge Match's comedy with sentimental subplots for each of the leads, but unfortunately things don't get any better here. Henry's rekindled relationship with old flame Sally (Kim Basinger) never goes anywhere interesting or original; Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (De Niro) meanwhile gets a long lost family in the form of son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) and grandson Trey (Camden Gray), which essentially affords De Niro several opportunities to make his character come across as selfish and unlikeable.

Whilst the climactic boxing match between Razor and The Kid actually ends up a relative highlight, at just shy of two hours Grudge Match has seriously outstayed its welcome by the time Stallone and De Niro finally step in the ring - especially with a grand total of three montage sequences during its bloated running time. Grudge Match ultimately fails to pack any sort of satisfying punch; put Segal's film in the ring with the likes of a Rocky or Raging Bull and it'll get knocked flat on its back in the first round every time.

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.

Bound - Blu-ray Review

 'A fresh and enticing twist on the noir formula'.

Based solely upon Bound's opening act, you'd be forgiven for thinking that what you're watching is something only a notch or two above softcore porn. The Wachowskis (formerly the Wachowski Brothers, as they were known at the time of Bound's release) mix some rather clunky dialogue and stilted performances with a generous helping of steamy softcore lesbian sex scenes. It's the kind of thing you might have expected to stumble upon late at night on Channel 5 before they got hold of Big Brother.

Reflecting on the film as a whole after watching, it's also difficult to ascertain whether the Wachowskis begin matters in such a cheesy, underwhelming fashion on purpose - a false opening, perhaps, to throw the audience off the scent of what's to come - or whether they were genuinely unsure of how to open their debut feature. Either way, it makes much of what Bound has to offer once the central plot gets going a genuinely pleasant surprise. What the Wachowskis achieve following this unconvincing beginning is a tightly wound and brilliantly crafted neo-noir. The siblings take influence from the likes of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple as well as Tarantino's early work - especially in their brutal and visually striking use of violence - and Bound is all the better for it.

The film's set-up is simple, but allows for a gripping story to unfold in a fashion both easy to follow but undeniably intricate and well-written. The same-sex relationship between Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Corky (Gina Gershon) provides a fresh and enticing twist on the noir formula, continually inviting the question of who we consider the femme fatale within the narrative, whether it is a shared role passed back and forth, or if indeed either should be considered as a fatale character at all. Whilst Tilly and Gershon recover pleasingly from their somewhat iffy performances during the opening act, it is Joe Pantoliano as Violet's mafioso boyfriend Caesar who arguably puts in the most memorable turn here. Pantoliano builds from a relatively modest beginning to deliver a performance shot through with feverish energy and an unsettlingly vicious streak.

The co-writers and directors' decision to rarely move the action from a single apartment block works well, creating an intimate and at times claustrophobic atmosphere and allowing the action to unfold with the dramatic cohesion of a play. Whilst never quite as bold as the revolutionary cinematic craft seen in The Matrix, irrefutably the Wachowskis' defining film that would follow three years after the release of Bound, the creative touches to be found throughout their inaugural film ensure it remains a crisp and smart piece of cinema today.

Bound was released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 18th August.

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.