House Of Cards: Season One - Online Review

'Beau Willimon's series is compelling at least partially because he presents both the private manipulations, threats, backstabbings, squabbles, fraud and conspiracy and then shows us the view we the public are presented with.'

I started watching Season One of Netflix's House Of Cards at pretty much exactly the same time the UK Prime Minister was reorganising his cabinet. With that in the background, it is very easy to involve yourself in House Of Cards' reality. The politics behind the movement by David Cameron of Michael Gove out of the cabinet to Chief Whip, for example, as reflections on events that happen within House Of Cards, is fascinating to consider.

The perception in the UK is that this was Cameron's play at winning the election with a popular cabinet in 2015. The reality House Of Cards presents is that someone who is the power behind the throne might have informed Cameron of a past Gove transgression, or potential power play and the sacking followed from there. Beau Willimon's series is compelling at least partially because he presents both the private manipulations, threats, backstabbings, squabbles, fraud and conspiracy and then shows us the view we the public are presented with. When you consider that this is a remake of a British series focused on the Conservative's chief whip, the parallels between the politics we know and the politics we watch grow even larger. Michael Gove: The Series anyone?

Thankfully we are not reliant on Gove to lead us through Willimon's tangled web, House Of Cards instead benefiting hugely from the presence of Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood. When we first meet him, Underwood has just been passed over for a prominent position in the new presidential administration, instead settling for whip (starting to sound familiar?) because of his relationships within Congress. From here, Underwood starts to build a campaign to grab power from those now above him, bringing in wife Claire (Robin Wright), chief aide Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), manipulated journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and candidate Peter Russo (Corey Stoll).

At its best, House Of Cards shows why you don't need cliffhangers to tell a compelling story within the medium of TV, calling to mind the recent Fargo adaptation with its mastery of unfolding scenarios and situations at just the right rate to keep you hooked. Rarely does the story conveniently finish an episode leaving you clawing on to whether someone survived or not (this isn't that sort of series) but always it leaves you with just the right amount of questions; what is Frank's plan next? How will Zoe play her hand? Does Claire actually have the beating of her husband up her sleeve? The political games mix with the personal and Willimon's narrative is expert at keeping both at appropriate levels.

When finally the show jumps to out and out conspiracy in the final episodes, the showrunner again takes pains to ensure the Drama doesn't outshine the plot. There may be some pretty serious events perpetrated by Frank's hand but ultimately the public know nothing of them and care only about one thing: a new key appointment to the administration. Willimon again expertly balances what we know in the real world, to what House Of Cards is able to show us of the private back channels: not that anyone in the cabinet - probably - is capable of the level of criminality Underwood finally reveals. The finale of Episode 11 is a brilliant depiction of this: Frank's words to the public are so meaningless that he doesn't even get to deliver them to Willimon's camera, the screen instead cutting to the credits as Underwood speaks. A few moments prior to this, the contrast between Zoe (public) and Frank's (political) existence has been laid bare with a comparison between their two houses.

There are still problems, mainly of a technical nature and largely forgiveable given how closely Willimon manages his story. Two stylistic ticks - Underwood frequently breaking the fourth wall to speak to us and the on-screen display of mobile phone messages - will divide people. The fourth wall breaking is managed well if you like that sort of thing, and it forces us to connect with Underwood, who in any other narrative would be the villain. The phone messages feel more out of place but you can see why Willimon goes for it given the public/private focus of the series: they are another way for us to gain a glimpse of lives and activities we do not see. The score, particularly the title music, by Jeff Beal is catchy but horrendously over-used. Zoe is meant to be a savvy blogger but too often feels far too naive to be so, a problem equally in Mara and the writers' courts.

The minor technical gripes though pale when you consider the achievements elsewhere. Spacey was born for this sort of thing and he's ably supported by Wright and Kelly, the former perfectly representing the simultaneous divide and meeting between public and private, the latter producing an incredibly strong character performance. I've seen elsewhere claims that this series is about power. At several points Frank does talk about power as his motivation and the way two supporting characters handle power and potential power - Russo and Remy (Mahershala Ali) - is revealing of the series' interests. Actually though, Willimon seems much more interested in the way this power manifests itself: the way those in power hold those of us they represent far on the outside, concocting private narratives that we are never privy to and public ones we are forced to swallow... except in Willimon's series, which might have a flair for conspiracy, but joins the two together perfectly and is rarely less than believable.




House Of Cards: Season One is available on Netflix now.


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.

6 Things the new Jack Ryan lost from the old Jack Ryan

Harrison Ford and Chris Pine as Jack Ryan
Outsmarted, out-directed and, more importantly, out-chinned.

'Loyalty, cleanliness and knot tying'


Described by Ritter (Henry Czerny) in Clear And Present Danger as a 'boy scout' with the above attributes, Ryan in the two Ford films represents America as America wants to be, whilst the film recognises that the actual situation is not really that rosy. That film is an extremely interesting liberal diatribe against US intelligence policy, which casts US bad guys on at least equal terms to the supposed threat in the film: the Colombian drug cartels. Shadow Recruit meanwhile has little to say about the US politically, at a time when there couldn't be more to comment on. Instead, the bad guy is Russian, the power behind him is Russian and the end vehicle to destruction is Russian. Even if we were still in the Cold War, that period has already given us The Hunt For Red October.

Anne Archer and/or a good Cathy Ryan


Cathy in Shadow Recruit (Keira Knightley) is a terrible character, who at one point shows up in Ryan's life for no earthly plot reason before the film reveals why she's there: yet again, she's a female character who exists to be kidnapped. Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger might exist further into the Ryan's relationship than Shadow Recruit but just because the latest film focuses on the start of their union doesn't mean Cathy has to go back to being stupid. There is little doubt in the two Ford films that Cathy - there played brilliantly by Anne Archer - is the power at home (at one point she is referred to as 'making more money than the president') and, though she is targeted at one point during Patriot Games, she generally fulfils a much stronger and more significant supporting role. At one point during Clear And Present Danger our hero, the square-jawed Ford, reaches out for Cathy's hand, almost in tears.

Action by accident


Jack Ryan is not an action hero. In Patriot Games he gets involved in Action only because he happens to witness an assassination attempt, before he attempts to spend the rest of the film avoiding action of any sort. In Clear And Present Danger he stays out of the action for well over an hour and when he does get involved it's clear that he shouldn't be there and that people like Clark (Willem Dafoe), should. Shadow Recruit throws all that out of the window and puts Ryan on a motorbike, chasing a terrorist. If you want an Action hero pick a better James Bond clone: Jack Ryan isn't one.

Tense moments involving printers


The best 'action' scene in Clear And Present Danger involves Ritter, Ryan and two printers. This is indicative of the above (Ryan does not do action) and a sneaky sign of why Shadow Recruit is such a disappointing Jack Ryan film: there's next to no intrigue. Despite the marketing campaign suggesting otherwise Ryan never has any doubts about who's on what side. 'You have to pick someone to trust Jack' says Harper (Kevin Costner) at one point. Other than Harper, what exactly is the other choice presented to Ryan in that film?

Sitting behind desks


His family targeted on US soil, his own life clearly at threat, where does Jack Ryan go in Patriot Games? Behind a desk, where he spends all night reading files, figuring out what needs to happen. Though the new Jack Ryan is meant to be a clever bod, there is rarely anything of this level of patience and intelligence in Shadow Recruit.

A cast of characters


Whilst Jack Ryan might be the hero of Jack Ryan films, the cast around him represent the parts of the films approach to American politics and culture that he cannot. Again, Clark in Clear And Present Danger is the action Ryan cannot fulfil but there are other equally important elements. Marty in Patriot Games represents a healthy amount of cynicism that wouldn't be very becoming of 'boy scout' Ryan. Ritter, Cutter and the President are political corruption writ large. James Earl Jones fulfils the mentor and friend role of Kevin Costner in Shadow Recruit but crucially isn't required to do anything else, like training Ryan: being a mentor is enough. Shadow Recruit has a good guy, a bad guy, Costner and Knightley and that really is it. It relies far too much on a meagre cast. Jack Ryan may be only one man, but the good films are about much more.



By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Classic Intel: 24 - Season Three - DVD Review

'several interesting things that come to play crucial roles in the 24 canon are trialled for the first time here and, largely, fail'

Whilst hardly the unbridled 45-minutes of madness the show apparently becomes in some of its later series, you can see the reigns starting to come off the 24 producers and storytellers during the course of Season Three. Not one, but two female characters you might have thought had had their day from Seasons One and Two return to prominent roles here, prompting reactions of the 'oh come on' variety; not for the first time during a period of watching this show.

This is also the first time 24 noticeably had to work to stretch its narrative out to the self-set rule of the series' own title, a rule recently broken by the Live Another Day miniseries. Perhaps that is something everyone with the show should have looked at ignoring earlier. The start of this series features the absolutely pointless shooting of Tony (Carlos Bernard - just what is the motivation of the character who shoots him?), whilst he is in pursuit of Kyle Singer (Riley Smith), a semi-antagonist far less important to the eventual plot than the first six or so episodes allow you to think.

Meanwhile, several interesting things that come to play crucial roles in the 24 canon are trialled for the first time here and, largely, fail. Season Three sees us in the company of Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) for the first time. Has a worse character ever endured longer than Chloe's 126-episode run? Whilst you can see what the producers were going for (there are hints that Chloe is meant to be some sort of difficult genius, with some level of psychological condition that no-one seems comfortable specifying or discussing), they fail spectacularly and Chloe consistently comes off as a terrible, annoying presence. Meanwhile, the recasting of Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) as a strong CTU agent lasts all of six or seven episodes, before she again reverts to kidnap victim.

Even with all of that going on though, there is enough contained within 24 Season Three to mean that it pretty much matches the previous high point of Season Two. Kiefer Sutherland, now utterly entrenched in the role of Jack Bauer, benefits from having James Badge Dale's Chase Edmunds to fire off. Chase's rebellious streak means that Jack no longer looks like the sole rule breaker in an otherwise straight agency and their changing relationship throughout the season is a highlight. Note how the writers miss no opportunity to complicate the Jack/Chase/Kim dynamic, including late developments which enter into soap opera territory.

Once the plot has worn out the Kyle Singer arc, something it takes a touch too long to do, things perk up noticeably and the focus switches to the Salazars; Ramon (Joaquim de Almeida) and Hector (Vincent Laresca), with de Almeida in particular exemplary in a role he has been typecast into for years. The Salazars provide cunning interest, and the dynamic between Hector and Jack is particularly satisfying. They also however give the series the non-American bad guys it so obviously pines for. You wonder how well a series like 24 would do if it launched now, with lines like 'your constitutional rights no longer apply' delivered with illiberal, right-leaning celebration.

The Jack/Hector dynamic hits another point of interest for this series during the prison break. This is arguably the start of 24 getting much harsher than its first two seasons hinted it might be. The Russian Roulette scene in the prison is close to devastating, a feeling mirrored later on when Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth) is in the hotel. Whilst Season Three may mark the start of 24's increasing abandonment of reason, at least it produces gut-wrenching plot turns, such as that which befalls Chapelle (Paul Schulze), in a television moment still towards the top of my all time greats.





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.

Hancock - DVD Review

'The film becomes bogged down in rushed back story, fudged lore and bland displays of super power'.

Released in the same year as Marvel made their opening gambit in establishing their Cinematic Universe with Iron Man - a decision by Columbia Pictures which seems even braver in hindsight - Hancock’s titular superhero (Will Smith) in fact has a fair amount in common with Tony Stark. Both refuse to fit comfortably into the superhero mould, as well as having their fair share of personal issues and lack of social skills in their own way. Where Hancock and Iron Man differ is in their execution: Peter Berg’s film actually goes down a much more interesting, less trodden path than Jon Favreau’s for a sizeable chunk of its running time

Berg spends the opening forty-five minutes of his film setting up John Hancock perfectly as an anti-superhero refreshingly different to what we’ve seen before. Hancock drinks, swears and launches children into the stratosphere for talking back to him. The script from Vince Gilligan shows some of the sharp brilliance the writer would soon become known for through Breaking Bad. Smith’s performance also deserves considerable praise, playing superbly against the wholesome character type for which the actor is primarily known. Smith makes Hancock his own, crafting the antihero as genuinely funny and guiltily likable, but also an undeniable arsehole. Placing Hancock opposite Jason Bateman’s nice guy PR guru and family man Ray Embrey works well, with Bateman and Smith quickly striking up a pleasing double act. Between them, Smith, Gilligan and Berg achieve just the right balance of humour with a wry edge and undertones of social commentary.

Unfortunately, things go downhill from there onwards. A key plot twist at the start of the film’s second half holds some potential, but Berg never feels at all sure of how to make it work, let alone fit with what he’s shown us during Hancock’s first half. The film becomes bogged down in rushed back story, fudged lore and bland displays of super power. Most critically of all, Hancock himself becomes much less interesting as the sharp humour seen in the first half is all but forgotten, replaced with phony emotion and solemnity.

At only ninety minutes, it’s hard to see why Berg didn’t just stick with the great ideas presented in the first half of Hancock, which could easily have been expanded upon and developed into a self-contained story on their own. Additional scenes setting up Hancock and his style of heroics would have been great to see. Eddie Marsan’s antagonist would also have benefited immeasurably from additional time, coming off here as an afterthought and never developed beyond the most basic level.

Considering it’s a project which finally emerged from Development Hell after wallowing there for well over a decade, Hancock is in truth a lot better than you might expect it to be. However, Berg’s film ultimately ends up as the average of its two distinct halves. There’s plenty to enjoy for the first three quarters of an hour, but only if you’re prepared to suffer the disappointment of Hancock’s underwhelming conclusion.




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 - Hot Tub Time Machine 2

You learn something new every day on the internet and here's what the trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 taught me.


Pesky internet photoshoppers/film marketers sneaked that one by me. Without Cusack, this goes way down in anticipation level. The NSFW Red Band trailer below is funny, but it's not at the same level as the first film, despite what the PR-driven 'the gang's all back together' articles might want you to think. Shame. And damn you photoshoppers for getting my hopes up!




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.

Prince Avalanche - Online Review

'Answering the question: 'how horny are each of these gentlemen?', hardly feels as though it is the existential highpoint to which Beckett aspired.'

I've seen Prince Avalanche compared to Waiting For Godot in a few places and that seems like as good a place as any to start with David Gordon Green's film, which does bear some similarities with Samuel Beckett's play.

Alone in a wilderness that's close to wasteland Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his partner's brother Lance (Emile Hirsch) eke out a disparate existence that involves oft-bizarre interactions with a couple of other characters (at least one of whom might not actually be there), whilst the duo perform menial tasks that seem as useful at passing the time as they are functional. You can see where the Godot comparison comes from. At one point Lance even disappears off to a local town (exit stage left), leaving Alvin to experience the wasteland in isolation.

The point where I get off that comparison, however, is when it comes to considering what end Green has in mind when he strands his charges in Beckett's uncertain parlour. Whilst the playwright used Godot to consider pretty much everything, depending on your interpretation - from the obvious God, to how we live our lives - Green seems less certain what his layabouts have to say.

It feels like the key to the meaning may be hidden in the appearances of the mysterious character who may not be there, but instead of giving some focus to her and what she says about the fire-ravaged landscape and the people who used to live there, Green seems to go down a different path. Isolated in the wilderness, what existential topics do the protagonists talk about? Women, of course. Green's film becomes almost obsessed with addressing the two men's relationships; Alvin loyal to his partner, Lance desperate for a Summer of shagging. Answering the question: 'how horny are each of these gentlemen?', hardly feels as though it is the existential highpoint to which Beckett aspired.

Eventually, towards the end of its ninety-four minute runtime, the film perhaps gets some way towards poignancy, though it never feels as though it as the behest of Green's hand and the invitation to find further meaning is never forthcoming. Prince Avalanche may aspire high, and have the the sparse plotting to show for it, but if the aspiration ends as empty as this then it's difficult to justify the lofty notions of high art inflection.




Prince Avalance was showing 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.

Classic Intel: Armageddon - Blu-ray Review

'The segments set in space lose all the fun of the film's opening, replacing it instead with false urgency and overblown emotion'.

Being an espoused Michael Bay disparager (just check out my Film Intel profile as evidence), Armageddon holds the dubious honour of being the Bay film to which I've given the most chances to endear itself to me. I really should know better, essentially going through the same cycle each time I watch like some kind of sub-par disaster film addict, relapsing and recovering over the course of two and a half hours.

Armageddon starts well enough, you see. It never threatens to be anything deep or memorable, but the first hour is exactly the type of fun you go into a big budget Hollywood disaster film hoping for. There's a handful of destruction scenes, coupled with Billy Bob Thornton's NASA head honcho Dan Truman making allusions to "the worst parts of the Bible", to establish how bad things are soon going to get for Planet Earth. So far, so watchable.

The driving force behind the first hour's success is the cast however. With such reliable names as Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan and Will Patton on board, you can even begin to overlook the presence of a pre-Benaissance Affleck and Liv Tyler stinking things up every now and again with their nauseating romance. Bruce Willis is undoubtedly the key to Armageddon's opening acts working as well as they do, his character Harry Stamper essentially starting off as John McClane on an oil rig, soon graduating to John McClane in a NASA training facility. It's pure Hollywood blockbuster fodder, but it gets the job done in an effective way by allowing the cast to keep things consistently, if guiltily, entertaining.

It's usually by this point that I've been taken under Bay's spell, believing that I actually might make it through the whole of Armageddon and enjoy it. Then Ben Affleck starts warbling "Leaving On A Jet Plane" and I start having uncomfortable flashbacks to my last viewing. There's around ninety minutes still to go, and as soon as the narrative leaves terra firma in a literal sense, the film is on shaky ground from there onward. The segments set in space lose all the fun of the film's opening, replacing it instead with false urgency and overblown emotion - oh, and Peter Stormare's cosmonaut Lev Andropov, an insufferable stereotype in a spacesuit who grates from the moment he appears on screen.

When the action shifts to the surface of the asteroid, Armageddon truly passes the point of no return in terms of credibility. Affleck becomes more prominent, Willis becomes mawkish, and the whole film becomes a lifeless chore. The asteroid itself looks like a reject from a cheap sci-fi B-movie, with the script following suit. We therefore have William Fichtner as NASA Colonel Willie Sharp actually attempting gravitas when delivering lines about "space dementia", hackneyed action scenes including disarming a nuclear bomb by cutting one of two wires (red or blue - what else?), and Patton's Chick seriously asking Sharp the question: "Why you got a gun in space?". Trust me, Chick, we're all asking the same thing.

The fact that Bay makes the whole thing unnecessarily long - padding the action out on the asteroid with dull scenes about drilling and a ludicrous, drawn-out subplot that feels like an outer space version of The Incredible Journey but much less entertaining than that sounds - just compounds the film's mounting problems. The interspersed scenes back on Earth offer a little respite, Thornton essentially holding things together single-handedly whilst fighting against Tyler's inability to do anything other than irritate.

By the time the credits finally roll, I remember exactly why I vowed never to bother with Armageddon again the last time I sat through it. And then, as time dulls the pain of Bay at his most vomit-inducingly saccharine, I remember the fun offered by Willis and his gang of misfit drillers as they prepare to save the world during the opening acts, and despite myself I give it another go. I suppose I must just be a sucker for punishment.




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.