The Guest - Blu-ray Review

'The Guest feels as though it could (should?) have been significant, but instead it opts for cheap thrills direct from the straight-to-video shelf.'

The Guest is one of those films that plays around a little with genre with the intention to innovate, but instead gets to the point where the satisfaction inherent in its genres is tested to breaking point. The start of The Guest, almost a Mystery-style setup, is very satisfying. The end of The Guest, from a different genre entirely, is also satisfying. Put together though, the two make uncomfortable bedfellows. The second half works in its own right, but paired with the slick setup it feels uneven and lumpy.

That setup begins with David (Dan Stevens) arriving in the Peterson family home, claiming to be an ex-army colleague of the family's now deceased son. Clearly, something is amiss, but what is it? David seems amiable enough, even if he does present a different, slightly more violent side, to the Peterson children, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer) than to the Peterson parents (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser).

Director Adam Wingard has a Horror background, which throws something more into the mix, though it rather just sits there, threatening much but delivering little, which is the problem with Wingard's film as a whole. The Guest feels as though it could (should?) have been significant, but instead it opts for cheap thrills direct from the straight-to-video shelf.

Wingard shoots the whole thing as if he has seen Winding-Refyn's Drive, which is always welcome but makes the Peterson house segments look unnecessarily artificial. Stevens, wrestling with a US accent, is convincing during the action, but less so in the quiet drama. There's evidence this is intentional: David is playing a part, badly, and Anna is on to him. Monroe is sparky in support, even if she's unfairly marginalised during the opening.

The finale puts the characters into the kind of stylised locale you would normally find in Wingard's favoured Horror genre, slightly ironically calling to mind such straight genre staples as Scream. It harks back to an earlier scene at a teen party, which features all of the staples with none of the logic. Did this really need a topless scene? If its so eager to manipulate some of the genres it touches on, why does it conform to their worst elements?

That might suggest that I'm more down on The Guest than I am: it's actually fine, an enjoyable one to watch on VOD, with elements to admire. There's just evidence here that a little refining would have led to more than that.





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.

Coherence - Online Review

'It is very tempting to pass judgement on these characters, to point out that you should never underestimate the ability of a group of US indie protagonists to talk round in circles or make dubious logical leaps. But, of course, we all do that'

Depending on your tolerance level for watching slightly annoying characters arrive for a dinner party, shot and delivered in an improvised manner, the opening twenty minutes or so of Coherence will be up there with the most toe-curling things you've seen recently. Stick with it though, because behind this hipster setup lies a Science Fiction indie that will stay with you long after the fantastic Laura Veirs song Galaxies plays out the end credits.

Beyond the dinner party setup, James Ward Byrkit's film approaches its genre subtly. As guests, led by Emily Baldoni's slightly neurotic Em, arrive, there are some odd occurrences (Em's phone screen breaks in an unexplained manner) and passing reference made to a comet that will be travelling overhead during dinner. From here, things get slightly stranger, as a power cut drives the group to investigate the sole house on the street with lights on.

Byrkit weaves some nice Horror-laced Sci-Fi into the mix, pitching things at a similar, if less refined, level to Brit Marling and Mike Cahill's Another Earth. There's a lesson behind this that if you want to write good Science Fiction, make sure your first understand some of the Science. Byrkit does and his film comes across at a notably higher level than alternative 'look, we found a time machine!'-style narratives.

The thinking behind the film speaks to our own human reactions in both everyday and extraordinary situations. It is very tempting to pass judgement on these characters, to point out that you should never underestimate the ability of a group of US indie protagonists to talk round in circles or make dubious logical leaps. But, of course, we all do that, and sometimes wish we could take it back. 'We're not at war with the house down the street', proclaims Hugh (Hugo Armstrong, who is probably the strongest of the support, next to Baldoni), but the very fact that he is saying that shows that, actually, it is a possibility to be considered by someone, at some point. Byrkit not only tells you about this but then demonstrates it. 'Do something else', will be a common screaming refrain from some audiences, but would doing something else lead to somewhere else and what would the consequences of that be? It's an old question, and there are problems with the telling of it, but Byrkit generally considers it well.

The conclusions of those very questions are inevitably held by Em, who, Byrkit seems to suggest, only has good intentions for herself and the group at heart. Where those very intentions lead her though, by the end of the film, speaks to the previous considerations around intentions and pre-judgement, helped by a passing comet.




Coherence is currently playing on Netflix in the UK.


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.

Pixels - Cinema Review

'In a film about vintage arcade games coming to life and invading Earth, Kevin James as the President Of The United States still manages to be by far the most unbelievable element'.

There have been rumblings since Pixels' first trailer was released earlier this year that the film's central concept bears more than a passing resemblance to the "Raiders Of The Lost Arcade" story featured in Futurama's third season episode "Anthology Of Interest II". The parallels were even deemed noteworthy enough that The Independent chose to compare the two in an article last month.

In truth, whilst the basic ideas are similar, shamelessly ripping off Futurama could only have benefited Pixels - some of the series' charm and humour would hopefully have rubbed off on what is a largely by-the-numbers and forgettable tribute to retro arcade games and '80s culture. Pixels is in fact based on a (very) short film of the same name made in 2010 by Patrick Jean. But, whilst the basic concept and style have clearly been carried over from the short to the 2015 feature, both the invention and charm have been left behind.

The remnants of Jean's idea that remain within Chris Columbus' film mean that Pixels does deliver some entertainment here and there in the segments focused on larger-than-life versions of vintage video games entering the real world. A chase around New York City between Pac-Man and a quartet of "ghosts" - souped-up Mini Coopers in the colours of the arcade game's infamous spooks - is perhaps the highlight. But even these segments too often feel lacking in genuine inspiration, rarely taking advantage of their international locations and delivering little in the way of surprises.

Away from the video game invasion scenes, Pixels barely has anything of worth to offer. The first act is a mess of nonsensical developments and blunt exposition to kill time until the main plot arrives. A romantic arc between former arcade game champion Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) and high-ranking military specialist Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) offers zero interest and adds nothing to the film. Sandler in the lead never bothers to make Sam anything at all memorable, the actor seemingly aware by this point in his career that the films he stars in are unfunny tosh and therefore putting in the bare minimum of effort.

With Josh Gad firing off so many nerd clichés he barely counts as a character, Peter Dinklage is the relative saving grace in support as Sam's erstwhile rival Eddie Plant, a role anyone who has seen The King Of Kong will quickly recognise as a crude Billy Mitchell caricature. Pixel's perverse pièce de résistance, however, is that, in a film about vintage arcade games coming to life and invading Earth, Kevin James as the President Of The United States still manages to be by far the most unbelievable element.

The best thing that can be said about Pixels is that it's never truly awful, something which is seemingly not true of much of Sandler's output in recent years. What Pixels is, however, is a waste of a potentially creative idea that, with the right script, cast and direction, could have offered an experience much more entertaining and satisfying than this.




Pixels is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 12th August 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.

Masters Of Cinema #117 - Stalag 17 - Blu-ray Review

'Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss as Shapiro and "Animal" respectively reprise with aplomb their roles first seen in the original broadway play'.

Billy Wilder's follow-up to Ace In The Hole, his flawless satire on journalism, sees the director shift focus to American prisoners of war during World War II but largely continue with a similar tone. However, whilst Ace In The Hole's moments of humour were usually subtle, Stalag 17 is much more often an overt comedy, perhaps surprising for a film released only eight years after the global conflict within which it is set.

The film's funny scenes are in fact quite often the most successful on offer throughout Stalag 17. Wilder regularly strikes the right balance in generating humour from the POWs' daily lives. Scenes in which messages are reported and mail delivered to the prisoners offer some of the most successful humour; a sequence involving a "reading" of Mein Kampf and some fake moustaches remarkably similar to that of the book's infamous author is also well executed. Whilst some of the humour here relies too heavily on Nazi officers being characterised as either overly amiable, dim-witted, or both, Wilder manages to make the comedy within Stalag 17 work much more often than not.

After opening his film with a doomed escape attempt by two prisoners, and the subsequent introduction of the group's paranoia surrounding an informant in the barracks, the director places unfolding the plot as a firm second to setting up moments of humour during the opening hour or so of his film. Whilst this makes Stalag 17 an entertaining watch during its first half, it does leave the film feel a little too lacking in focus to feel truly satisfying. That said, Wilder's cast regular make up for this. Stand-out performances come from William Holden as Sefton, who increasingly becomes a figure of suspicion amongst the prisoners; and the comedy duo of Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss as Shapiro and "Animal" respectively, reprising with aplomb their roles first seen in the original broadway play from which Wilder adapted his film.

The director pleasingly brings the main story back into focus during the closing hour, with the additional thread of the liberation of Lieutenant Dunbar (Don Taylor) from the prison before being turned over to the SS bringing fresh focus to proceedings. Wilder builds the tension expertly, with Sefton increasingly flourishing within the narrative - Holden's performance growing ever more impressive - as the film nears its conclusion. The climax is captivating, both brilliantly executed and bookending the narrative superbly, allowing Wilder to wrap up Stalag 17 at arguably its strongest point.



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.

Stalag 17 is released in the UK on Monday 27th July 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.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season Two - TV Review

'As the end game approaches though, throughout the second half, S.H.I.E.L.D all of a sudden becomes an accomplished show.'

How this show has changed in the space of two seasons and what a difference a little direction makes. Where Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D: Season One was largely a 'monster of the week' offering, Season Two heads into ensemble territory, with a strong through line you can see matters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Season One, a guest spot from Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif was a highlight because it broke up the general unfamiliarity and lack of context of everything else. In this season, the same guest spot is a lowlight because it detracts from the near-season-long main story. That's a big change and one the creative team of Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon and Joss Whedon should be proud of.

There is still some distraction and wasted episodes, which is always going to be the case in a twenty-two episode run, something which remains one of S.H.I.E.L.D's main problems. Most are towards the opening of the series. Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette) returns for Making Friends and Influencing People (E3), before going on to play zero part in the rest of the season. The Writing on the Wall is S.H.I.E.L.D at its worst: a bad X-File, with little to distinguish it from other throwaway shows.

But then, at the mid-season break, What They Become (E10), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D finally finds the gear it has been looking for. There's a death for a start, what looks like a completely final and irreversible one (still too much of a rarity for Marvel), a solid cliffhanger, a lot of uncertainty - great tentpoles, it turns out, to build a season of this show on.

From here, there's still some evidence of the show's scatter-gun approach to establishing consistency. The Sif episode, Who You Really Are (E12), comes just two episodes after What They Become and hardly advances the main narrative at all. Melinda (E17) is a good idea (finally telling us why May (Ming-Na Wen) is called 'The Cavalry'), executed at exactly the wrong time.

As the end game approaches though, throughout the second half, S.H.I.E.L.D all of a sudden becomes an accomplished show. Everything from excellently-titled Frenemy of My Enemy (E18) is compelling stuff that, watching along on TV every week, made me wish Netflix would put a deal in place to enable an instant binge.

The introduction of Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) and his set of characters seems to come too late to do anything with, yet the show manages to. The genesis of Skye (Chloe Bennet) seems to be heading nowhere, before it is pulled up into something entirely meaningful. Hunter (Nick Blood) starts annoying but becomes indispensable comic relief and de facto square-jawed hero. The late decisions of Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) are superbly played out to conclusions. Dichen Lachman as Jiaying doesn't add the strongest turn to the show, but her character's movements are perfect shout-at-you-TV fayre.

The last two episodes, S.O.S. Part 1 (E21) and S.O.S. Part 2 (E22) are more serious Drama than lacklustre soap, The Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D no longer cartoonish enterprises, but genuine warring families. There's enough doubt to make you wonder about the outcomes, enough promise to allow you to look with optimism towards Season 3. It's not the best thing on TV, not by a long way, but it does now matter, both to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for those that care about such things, and on its own terms.





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.

Self/less - Cinema Review

'Ryan Reynolds continues his successful streak of making entirely middling movies'

Ryan Reynolds continues his successful streak of making entirely middling movies with Self/less, which, like a plethora of recent Reynolds' vehicles, has an intriguing setup and next to no substance.

In this case, Reynolds stars as the reincarnation of Damian (Ben Kingsley), an ageing property mogul who agrees to undergo a body swap procedure carried out by dodgy doctor Albright (Matthew Goode). Having gratefully received this extra lease of life, the Reynolds version of Damian largely sets about partying and bedding various women he could not previously attain, before realising that there might be some problems with Albright's decidedly suspect procedure.

From this point forwards, Tarsem Singh's film turns into a moral quandary, as Damian encounters Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and realises he holds the weight of their futures in his Science-Fiction sponsored body. There are plenty of elements of this that work, but unfortunately they're supported by a clunky Action plot that Singh never commits to. Damian, as seen previously, successfully carries his unresolved daughter issues over into his Reynolds body, but the new fighting, kicking, running, punching acts are exactly that and the film doesn't quite get to a point where it justifies and makes full use of their presence in the way that, say, The Guest did.

Meanwhile, the film also struggles to establish Goode as the kind of over-arching villain the actor seems born to play. There's non of the creep of his Stoker performance in the few scenes that he does get with Reynolds, and whenever they're not together he feels as anonymous as any mob-boss antagonist you care to mention.

Self/less feels a very odd fit for Singh, one that he never fully gets hold of. The script, by David and Àlex Pastor, the duo behind Carriers, has enough invention to give it the benefit of the doubt and you would think that Singh, otherwise broadly known for his visual stylings, would have brought something to the party. Instead, his aim seems to be to downplay everything, muting a narrative that had promise.





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.

True Story - Cinema Review

'Hill and Franco are two of a handful of 'against type' casting decisions that pay off handsomely for director Rupert Goold'

When Jonah Hill and James Franco sit across a table from each other - one dressed in smart-casual wear, the other in a recognisable orange jumpsuit - you begin to wait for the jokes to flow. Even thirty or so minutes in to True Story, when the two first meet in this manner, there's a nagging feeling somewhere that this is a film that will eventually reveal itself as a Comedy. Hill will have smuggled in a spliff and Franco will be in prison for stealing a goat whilst high.

Except, that isn't the point here. Hill and Franco are playing entirely straight as disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Hill) and accused murderer Christian Longo (Franco), who passed himself off as Finkel whilst on the run.

The duo are two of a handful of 'against type' casting decisions that pay off handsomely for director Rupert Goold. Ethan Suplee also turns up as a quiet small town journalist, whilst Felicity Jones is Hill's marginalised wife. It's the two stars who are the attraction here though, showing off their 'proper' acting chops. Goold sells the scene where they meet as a meeting of acting titans (Franco's face is nearly hidden as he enters and Hill almost can't bear to look). It's not quite that, nor will Hill get a third Oscar nomination, as suggested by this film's review in the August issue of Empire, but they are both impressive.

That Franco and Hill are the reason for both coming and staying however, should point to deficiencies elsewhere. The script - by Goold, with input from David Kajganich, based on Finkel's book - can't decide what to do with its side characters and features such familiar ripeness as 'I don't presume anything any more'. Jones is particularly ill-served, reduced to an understanding wife who never leaves the house, only to be shoe-horned into the narrative late on in a manner that is hardly believable.

The two leads are enough to recommend it however, joining the list of ostensibly comedic actors who also have a litany of successful straighter turns. Goold also manipulates his audience well, mirroring his plot as you and Finkel decide whether or not to trust Longo's side of the story.




True Story is released in UK cinemas on Friday 24th July 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.