All Science-Fiction roads lead to time, a concept Star Wars is yet to grasp


'Time was something that largely happened to other people; he viewed it in the same way that people on the shore viewed the sea. It was big and it was out there, and sometimes it was an invigorating thing to dip a toe into, but you couldn't live in it all the time. Besides, it always made his skin wrinkle.'

― Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time


Terry Pratchett understood time, or, perhaps more accurately, the importance of time in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

At some point, you are going to bump into it. You just cannot 'do' Sci-Fi for any length of time without addressing it. Some wizard somewhere will be playing with it. Something will happen that needs to be reversed. Some evil doer will use it as a MacGuffin to kick things off. Pratchett's understanding of how important time is to his Fantasy Discworld was so acute that he gave it a set of characters devoted to time (The History Monks) and made it central to, from memory, at least two novels (Thief Of Time and Night Watch). He's not the only example from literature to make this leap either and those in need of a more distinct Science Fiction example can do no better than Joe Haldeman's masterpiece, The Forever War.

In a similar way, and without going into detail, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, which I have only recently caught up with, deals with time. Villeneuve, undoubtedly now one of the greatest working directors around (Arrival and Incendies are five-star films), is a storyteller who knows the value of tenderness, and he approaches time in this way. The story is fantastic, but it is his approach which makes Arrival a classic musing on time and language and many things in between. Villeneuve gets it. Time is to be respected; to be centralised and deconstructed and considered again and again.

As well as Arrival, I've recently caught up with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Star Wars has a curious relationship with time in so much as it is central to the series' construction, but simultaneously ignored in any meaningful way. It is becoming the wookie in the room.

Rogue One shows the problems this is causing the franchise in the most demonstrable way yet. For one, this is once again a rehash of the standard Star Wars plot about rebel elements within the rebels, eventually coming good and socking it to the empire. At this point, that's to be expected, though it doesn't make it welcome or even, at large points during the narrative, enjoyable.

The film - set before the first three Star Wars films and after the early-noughties prequels - has direct manifestations of the time conundrum as well, as Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher are resurrected as their younger selves, or at least sap-eyed, uncanny-valley approximations of the same. If Villeneuve is tenderness and Pratchett is awareness, Star Wars is a sledgehammer.

You can see why the producers are skirting the issue. It is easier to create a CGI solution to a time-based problem, or just to ignore it entirely, than it is to come up with an answer on the level of Star Trek (2009), to name another example. The establishment of narratives that both satisfy the requirements of time and create something new in that franchise, for all of its problems, should not be underestimated. The solution was complex and significant; it required a leap of faith from the audience and the studio, but we're talking about time here. No-one said it was going to be easy.

Star Wars next chance to move forwards (or backwards, or side-to-side) will come this December with a film now revealed as being called The Last Jedi. If the film actually sees the last of the Jedi then I'm a scruffy looking nerf-herder. At this points it looks like another time-related promise the franchise can't keep, anchoring it to an uncomfortable stasis which sees neither progress nor true retro enjoyment. The young Han Solo film has promising talent assembled around it, but would that it were so simple to go back that far, then Rogue One surely wouldn't have had to resurrect (at the time) one great and rely on another now departed for its emotional apex.

The sooner Star Wars confronts time head on, both on a contextual level, sorting out its own timeline and on a plotting level, admitting that time is an inevitability of Science Fiction, the more likeable, sustainable and aspirational the whole enterprise will become. In the meantime it is currently in danger of becoming a cultural spectre, drawing in audiences, yes, but creating a dissatisfying thematic Bermuda Triangle of prequels, sequels and reboots; a Dorian Gray painting of never-ageing disinterest, stuck only at the base levels of what is possible in Science Fiction. Not buying that argument? Read The Forever War and tell me that a plot that magnificently in touch with the vagrancies of passing decades wouldn't shake Star Wars up in the attractive and unpredictable ways it appears in desperate need of.



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.

Boyhood and Victoria; structural and formatic 'braveness' and the link to dull intertia


Though there may appear to be a growing number of structurally or formatically unique films (lets call them UFFs: Unique Format Films, mainly because who doesn't love a good acronym?), really they've always been here. Hitchcock's Rope is the most commonly cited example, but copious other examples are on offer of directors playing with established film convention.

Recent darlings of the idea in action include Birdman, Boyhood and Victoria. The latter two rankle in particular.

Victoria, in setting up its one take narrative, asks us to spend the opening salvo of the film (a good forty minutes) in the company of four drunk, generally unlikeable characters. If you've been sober in the company of drunk friends then you probably know the feeling. It's unlikely that you'll want to sit through it again.

Boyhood takes a different route to formatic innovation, by filming the same actors over an eleven year production period. The actor's development is linked to the character's... which is to say that they grow old and experience the mundanity of life (divorce, college, etc.). As some fellow sceptic said at the time (on Twitter, and I'm struggling to remember exactly who it was): 'it's easy to produce a film filmed over eleven years, if your only aim is to produce a film filmed over eleven years'.

The approach taken by both films ruins the established structure of a fiction by forcing you to confront the mundanity of reality and, as such, they largely fail.

Think about it. Thor, as featured in the Marvel films, probably needs to go to the loo every so often. During the course of The Hustler there's a period where Paul Newman's character must be asleep. Inside Llewyn Davis features a drive which, in real time, takes around twelve hours. We don't see any of those things because, largely, they are too boring for fiction.

Films are highly edited, asestheticised views of our world - that's why we like them. They pull together the entertaining bits, the frightening bits, the sad bits and the happy bits into two hours that matter.

To achieve their formatic 'braveness' Victoria and Boyhood make compromises when it comes to this approach and do little else of interest. They may be dressed up as daring and unique artistic choices, packaged into a reason to see the film, but ultimately they deny the film the success which could have been achieved if only the filmmakers weren't as constrained by their new shiny USP.

Would Victoria lose anything if the opening had been a tightly edited fifteen minutes of establishing the lead character as alone and somewhat lost in a foreign city, desperate for connection? When you look beyond the timescales of its production, is Boyhood really a compelling story, worthy of the praise it received from many quarters?

I would argue not. The UFFs, in my book, can largely uff off.



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.

Catfight - DVD Review

'The commitment by Anne Heche and Sandra Oh in throwing themselves into their respective roles mean that Catfight's catfights are anything but exercises in pussyfooting'.

As the picture above might suggest, the three pivotal fight scenes in Catfight are anything but stereotypical 'handbags at dawn' affairs you might expect to see between two female characters in a more mainstream offering. Instead, writer and director Onur Turkel makes his trio of tussles no-holds-barred punch-ups straight out of the violent animated shorts of the Tex Avery era. Fists are launched at faces, weapons come into play, each blow is punctuated by overblown cartoon-style sound effects, whilst the action is regularly set to a cheery and instantly recognisable soundtrack; Catfight might contain the best use of The Stars And Stripes Forever yet committed to screen.

The fight scenes are amongst the film's most successful sequences for a few reasons. Perhaps top of the list is that Turkel wisely limits himself to three, using each to clearly define the close of an act within Catfight's narrative. It allows each to hit home fully as the enjoyably brutal sequence that it is, concentrating the film's most extreme moments and ensuring each feels satisfyingly realised. The choreography is on the whole well done, and the commitment by Anne Heche and Sandra Oh in throwing themselves into their respective roles mean that Catfight's catfights are anything but exercises in pussyfooting.

Away from its violent set pieces, however, the film falters a lot more noticeably. Taken as a whole, this is a fairly straightforward satire of contemporary America, one which Turkel's script rarely lacks the sharpness to make incisive or funny enough. There are moments here which work well - a group of gallery patrons mistaking the start of Veronica (Oh) and Ashley's (Heche) second bout for a performance piece is particularly well-executed - but there are also far too many which are too blunt. The inclusion of a Saturday Night Live style comedy show being watched by characters at several points throughout could have worked nicely, but instead feels like a ropily written framing device for the background story about a war the US is waging against "the Middle East".

Turkel's decision not to make this politically skewed towards either the left or the right is admirable, but it also leaves his film with very few people to genuinely root for. Both well-to-do housewife Veronica and self-righteous artist Ashley are for much of the film consistently unlikeable, and few of the characters outside of the central pair are developed enough to make up for this. The one exception here is Sally (Ariel Kavoussi), Ashley's continually put-upon assistant whose arc is arguably the most satisfying on offer.




Catfight is released on UK Blu-ray, DVD and digital download on Monday 24th April 2017.

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

The end of La La Land (or is it?)

With SPOILERS regarding the finale of La La Land.


Whenever I think back to La La Land, I think of its finale.

When I think about why that is, the options are myriad.

It could be, for example, that the end is not a cacophony of conflict resolution, delivered at warp speed and deafening volume. La La Land as a whole has that going for it. To paraphrase someone on the Empire Podcast recently: there are only so many times you can get satisfaction out of seeing Spiderman save New York.

It could also be that despite the fact that La La Land introduces the expected, honking start of that conflict at the beginning of the third act, as per the Romance rule book, it does not wash over it come the conclusion. That was - is - refreshing. To see a major film that does not conclude (or does it?) with its two leads waltzing - literally or figuratively - into the sunset was the most welcome of surprises on offer.

Though all of those reasons are valid reasons to love La La Land's finish, I think I've figured out mine.

The end of La La Land understands, references and reminds you that what you have just watched is a film, indestructible and beautiful for all time. It suggests alternative fictions to the fictions you have just seen, because, in a fiction, that's entirely possible. You can almost see it pressing the 'rewind' button itself to take the tape (ask your parents) back to the beginning and happier times.

It isn't just brave of plot; it is brave of form. La La Land is, of course, a musical, with scant contact with reality. But that's no bad thing and it knows it. In many of the articles around the time of the film's release, critics suggested that it was what we needed at the moment. A break. A couple of hours out of realism and reality. For once the popular opinion couldn't have been more accurate. The film's finale gives cathartic satisfaction by drawing attention to the medium's impermanence. In doing this, it also secures the film's timelessness.

Because ultimately that is the power of cinema. The power to rewind and revisit; reimagine and reshape. Your favourites will always be there; always in love, or not, as you see fit. Chazelle and his film understand all of this.

King Kong doesn't exist and has been killed, but is still there. The Vietnam war wasn't as Robin Williams deejayed it, yet it is again. President Nixon is still in power, ready to be brought down by Woodward and Bernstein.

And the romance of La La Land isn't over.


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.

Taboo: Series One - TV Review

'There are only so many gravelly line deliveries and guttural rumblings you can tolerate before you just want to offer Delaney a lozenge and tell him to speak up a bit'.

Your overall enjoyment of Taboo is likely to come down to a combination of two things: how far you're happy to engross yourself in the series' grim and grimy version of Regency era London without worrying too much about what's actually going on; and how far you're able to tolerate yet another growly and incoherent performance by Tom Hardy.

For me, unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions was: not very far at all. As James Keziah Delany, Hardy is arguably less growly and incoherent as he was in both Lawless and The Revenant, but his performance here is still distinctly positioned towards that end of the spectrum and it's starting to get a bit tiresome. There are only so many gravelly line deliveries and guttural rumblings you can tolerate before you just want to offer Delaney a lozenge and tell him to speak up a bit.

Whilst Hardy's performance may not be for everyone, at least it's consistent. The version of 19th Century London he inhabits is far less so, veering from unsettling horror to broad parody, sometimes within the same episode. Mark Gatiss' prosthetics-heavy caricature of the Prince Regent typifies the flaws of the latter, feeling like a rejected character from The League Of Gentlemen who's wandered into the series uninvited. The script too lacks consistency, clearly aiming for gritty period drama but too often sounding like it was written by a thirteen-year-old boy who's just discovered a whole set of swearwords he can't wait to use. This is Pulp Dickens, taking in everything that's good and bad about such an idea, but with the elements that don't work ultimately outweighing those that do.

The plot is all over the place, taking eight episodes to tell a story that could easily have been covered in four and still have had room for a couple of the relatively more successful deviations. Instead we have a garbled mish-mash of politics, murder, gunpowder and witchcraft which, by the final episode, have largely all been eschewed for brainless action sequences anyway. The secondary storylines offer little consolation: a subplot involving James' half-sister Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) and her increasingly unpleasant husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall) is initially one of the most intriguing threads Taboo has to offer, only to transform into one of the most frustrating once it reaches its limp and unsatisfying conclusion.




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

The Founder - Cinema Review

'The moments in the script which allow Keaton to truly bring Kroc's indomitable ruthlessness to life are too few, but when they arrive the actor makes the most of them'.

In successfully bringing the lives of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs to the big screen in The Social Network and, er, Steve Jobs respectively, both David Fincher and Danny Boyle did what many considered nigh on impossible: they made the stories behind Facebook and Apple not only interesting, but thrilling. As a film focused on how another of the most recognisable corporate brands of the last hundred years took the first steps to becoming the burger-peddling behemoth it is today, comparisons between Fincher and Boyle's films and John Lee Hancock's McDonald's origin story The Founder are both entirely appropriate and utterly inevitable.

It's a shame then that Hancock not only fails to achieve the same level of tension and engagement throughout the majority of his film, but seems relatively unaware of The Founder's position amongst the recent spate of big business biopics. The Social Network and Steve Jobs worked because the directors recognised that attempting to put the whole of these stories on screen simply wasn't viable. Hancock in fact has form for taking just this approach to the relationship between Walt Disney and P. L. Travers in the excellent Saving Mr. Banks.

The bulk of The Founder takes place over seven years during the 1950s and 1960s, but the length of time covered isn't the issue. Steve Jobs covered more than twice that period, but did so in a way which captured the essence of its subject through focusing on a handful of key moments in intensive detail. Hancock too achieved the same level of precision in his handling of Disney and Travers, but falls dispiritingly short of that high mark here. The director's routine and linear execution is his critical failing: a number of characters and elements are left regrettably underdeveloped - not least Ray Kroc's (Michael Keaton) relationship with his wife Ethel (Laura Dern), a subplot all but forgotten about come the halfway point and which gives Dern criminally little to do.

Whilst Keaton never delivers the post-Birdman and Spotlight powerhouse turn many will have expected, he portrays Kroc compellingly, believably and - perhaps most importantly - without the need to ever turn the entrepreneur into a pantomime villain. The moments in the script which allow Keaton to truly bring Kroc's indomitable ruthlessness to life are too few, but when they arrive the actor makes the most of them. Of equal importance here are John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman as McDonald brothers Mac and Dick respectively, deftly providing the understated old-world honesty as a counterpoint to Kroc's modern and unashamedly devious approach to both business and life in general.




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

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - Online Review

'The minor crimes here read like a regular rap sheet of your common variety B-movie, which, for a time, this resembles more closely than it may previously have been possible to believe.'

Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back had exactly the same budget, according to the data held by IMDb. What that creates is a fascinating case study in the difference changing key personnel can make to your end production. If only Paramount had changed but one of their director, writer and cinematographer for the series. You would have had as close as it is possible to get to an objective celluloid case study but, alas, with such creative changes en masse it is hard to know where to lay the blame for this offering.

Never Go Back's major crime is that it feels remarkably cheap. Sure, visual quality does not always represent overall quality, but when something looks like a Sunday evening serial (think: Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D quality) it's hard to reflect that everyone is trying their hardest. If Never Go Back was a business card, signifying the quality of the business it represented, it would be a cheaply laminated, stained piece of cardboard, with faint crayon scribbles attempting to convey the key information.

The minor crimes here read like a regular rap sheet of your common variety B-movie, which, for a time, this resembles more closely than it may previously have been possible to believe. The script and story meander all over the place, taking in a junkie ex-consultant and sundry other characters who seem to have ill-defined missives to contribute to a plot which feels as vacant as Reacher's stare. The movement between acts is largely accomplished via a heavy dose of new character Sam's (Danika Yarosh) whining and poor choices and lots of Reacher (Tom Cruise) and Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) running across open areas, doing their best impersonation of Robert Langdon and assorted sidekicks. It rarely feels purposeful. It almost always feel like woeful filler.

Whilst Cruise can sell sub-par material he really needs support to do so. Smulders does not advance her big screen credentials, Yarosh's character is too thinly sketched to pass judgement (but she does herself no favours) and villain Patrick Heusinger manages to out-Jai Courtney, Jai Courtney. It's a far cry from the original's boast of Cruise, Werner Herzog, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo. The casting director seems to have changed too so I guess you can add another variable to the science experiment.

There are few redeeming features. The typical 'nameless man' Reacher introduction is nice and for a time the movement is probably just about fast enough to convince you something is happening that's worthwhile. But too soon after that you're treated to a terrible montage of Reacher's awkward wooing of Turner. Then, later, you're being reintroduced to Espin (Aldis Hodge) and realising you were meant to be interested in him, before being offered the aforementioned least convincing junkie of all time, followed by a plot that's not far behind that description. It's amateur hour and, whatever your thoughts on the first Reacher, you at least can't accuse the 2012 Reacher offering of that.




Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was streaming via TalkTalk TV Store.


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.