Calvary - Blu-ray Review

'It is difficult to think of more ways to give a nation a thorough kicking than McDonagh manages here, and yet, come the finale, there is a level of willingness to move on. 'Forgiveness', Father James tells us, 'has been highly underrated'.'

Fulfilling the promise of The Guard, Calvary, John Michael McDonagh's second film, sees the director move out of the 'one to watch' category and firmly into the 'must be watched' pigeon hole. A state of the nation address as angry as it is slyly optimistic, McDonagh's searing film is attention-grabbing, shocking and laugh out loud funny in equal measure. It delivers a eulogy for Ireland past and wishes for Ireland future: asking as much for forgiveness as it does demand a 21st Century chance.

At McDonagh's nation's centre there sits, of course, a priest: Brendan Gleeson's Father James, a man who seems lost in an Ireland presented from the very start as a typical, picturebook rendering. Celtic music plays over the opening, as we glide over emerald hills and dramatic beach fronts.

The director though is quick to reveal something rotten at the angelic core. In a bravura opening scene, the camera stays fixed to Gleeson's face as a parishoner uses the sanctity of the confessional box to inform James that he is going to kill him for the church's past ills. The hidden diatribe feels like a metaphor for the rest of the film, and for the inhabitants of James' village, who slowly reveal themselves to be rather like the inhabitants of The Village Of The (Morally) Damned. Aidan Gillen is a searingly cynical atheist doctor. The barman (Pat Shortt) would not look out of place in Royston Vasey.

To rub salt into the wounds of where Ireland has got to, backed of course by the actions of the priesthood, the only other character that shares Father James level of honour and honesty is an outsider: Marie-Josée Croze as a French traveller who comes to this land and is promptly injured in a crash involving drunk locals. It is difficult to think of more ways to give a nation a thorough kicking than McDonagh manages here, and yet, come the finale, there is a level of willingness to move on. 'Forgiveness', Father James tells us, 'has been highly underrated'.

Whilst McDonagh is administering his country-wide beating, the director's exemplary script, surely one of the best of the year, plays out as small stand alone interactions that both contribute to the state of the nation address and work as miniature sketches. The irreverent humour of The Guard is back ('she was either bipolar or lactose intolerant. One of the two') now mixed in with laughs that push issues. 'I don't think Sligo is too high on Al Queda's agenda', James tells army-wannabe Milo (Killian Scott). The threat is, of course, much closer.

The film is McDonagh's - there's a great deal of directorial control here - but that doesn't mean other areas should not be praised. Patrick Cassidy's Celtic-inflected score is beautiful. Gleeson, a reliable presence for some time now, is predictably excellent. In support, Kelly Reilly pushes herself closer to genuine leading lady contention, whilst Gillen is still one of the most beguiling, interesting performers going.

This is McDonagh's picture though. You could call it a calling card, but only if calling cards now come in metre high versions, capable of knocking you out with a wild flail of tempered cardboard. On every level, a superb film.





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.

Divergent - Blu-ray Review

'Lumbered with the very flaky 'factions' setup, nearly all of the joy in Neil Burger's film comes towards both the end of the first act and most of the second.'

It feels highly unlikely that the current wave of Young Adult fiction adaptations will go down in film annals as either an overall 'good thing', nor as influential in the long run, at least not if you track trends further than those to do with Box Office. Arguably launched by The Hunger Games, though probably really traceable back to Harry Potter and Twilight's successes, it may well be that the decline of the genre begins when The Hunger Games series ends, towards the back of 2015, and certainly in terms of what has been brought to film as a form, you feel its eventual passing will leave not a mark.

All of which is not to say that many of the films it has produced do not have a level of sheen and quality, or tell satisfying stories whilst they last. Divergent, though nowhere near the standard of the second Hunger Games film, kicks off yet another series with a satisfying level of plot meat on its dubiously fleshy setup bones. With two direct nods to The Matrix in the first 5-10 minutes, it is at least a piece of YA with its genre references in the right place.

Lumbered with the very flaky 'factions' setup, nearly all of the joy in Neil Burger's film comes towards both the end of the first act and most of the second. Having dispensed with the dubious opening, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is firmly ensconced into an obligatory training narrative where allegiances are formed - notably with Zoë Kravitz's Christina - and brooding handsome trainer Four (Theo James) provides the eye candy. It's predictable, fun stuff. Kravitz provides effective support and Woodley, who must no longer be mourning the lost opportunity of Spider-Man's Mary Jane, given the profile this affords her, is a watchable lead presence. A War Game-alike scenario might have a bit too much cheese for its own good, and feature the very dubiously talented Jai Courtney too prominently, but it also shows Divergent at its base-level best.

Things start to fall apart again in the third act when Burger annoyingly fails to make clear when we have excited a dream-like part of the narrative and when we are still within it. It engenders a 'spot the twist' final act the film never needed, taking focus away from just allowing Tris and Four to complete their natural character arcs - much more of a success than any of the late reveals. Burger does manage, thankfully, to leave us in a position of some interest at the very end, though the fact that he takes one-hundred and thirty-nine minutes to get there marks Divergent out as yet another YA film too obsessed with every element of its source.





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.

The Walking Dead: Season Four - DVD Review

'The zombie epidemic is consistently relegated to the background; a generic plot device to call upon when needed, but rarely the imaginative horror showcase seen in earlier seasons'.

Originally broadcast as two separate halves with a hiatus of around three months in between, Season Four of The Walking Dead feels distinctly like a pair of eight episode mini-seasons. It’s a narrative choice which makes this the most fractured season of the series yet, a problem heightened through some of the plot decisions made within those two blocks of eight.

The plot focus within the first half of the season – a deadly virus sweeping its way through the group of survivors, now larger than ever – deserves credit for exploring an idea often given little consideration within the zombie genre. The problem is that, in opting to turn into a grim, dystopian take on a medical drama, The Walking Dead may inadvertently have proven why most other writers and directors previously stayed away from this area: quite simply, it’s not actually that interesting to watch. Whilst we get some of the most genuinely realistic scenes the series has offered across all of its four seasons, too often this first half becomes slow and depressing viewing, allowing the action and conflict to take a bit too much of a back seat.

Tied into this issue is the presentation of the “walkers” themselves. Having previously provided highlights throughout each season thanks to Greg Nicotero’s superbly creative and gruesome special effects, here the zombie epidemic is consistently relegated to the background; a generic plot device to call upon when needed, but rarely the imaginative horror showcase seen in earlier seasons.

As Season Four heads towards its midpoint climax, things pick up with the re-emergence of The Governor (David Morrissey). The character’s return is welcome, but nonetheless feels hastily grafted onto the end of the season’s first half in a three episode block. Whilst undoubtedly providing the season highlight, there’s no doubt The Governor’s story as told here would have functioned much better as a slowly revealed subplot over the opening eight episodes, in a similar style to the multiple narratives of Season Three.

With the group finding themselves more splintered than ever at the start of Season Four's second half, so too does the narrative. The focus shifts between groups with pleasing control, but there are just too many stories being told for any of them to feel fully fleshed out over the eight episodes remaining. Some characters such as Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) are developed well; others, such as young sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), are less satisfying and feel as though they’re only being built up merely to serve as plot devices somewhere further down the line.

In the end, much of the success of Season Four of The Walking Dead is down to the series' strong cast. Even Andrew Lincoln manages to make his presence firmly felt despite Rick having stepped down from his leadership role at the start of the season. Other notable performances come from Scott Wilson as Hershel and Danai Gurira as Michonne, both of whom imbue any scene they are in with dramatic and emotional weight. With the series having recently returned for its fifth season on both sides of the Atlantic, let’s hope the drawn out and despondent disarray seen too often in Season Four is put to bed in quick and satisfying fashion



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.

Steven Spielberg Director's Collection - Always - Blu-ray Review

'Spielberg clearly wants to say something about grieving, acceptance and moving on, but too often cannot resist getting in his own way by cluttering his film with unnecessary fantasy clichés'.

Considered at the time of its release as something of a departure from Steven Spielberg's usual brand of cinema, one need only look at the films chronologically either side of Always in the director's back catalogue to see in hindsight just how comfortably it fits within his late eighties and early nineties output. Squarely before Always (and released in the same year) came Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, a film which revealed Spielberg's interest in religion and spirituality perhaps more than any of his previous work. His next film would be 1991's Hook, dealing with personal relationships through an overtly fantastical style and tone.

Despite being considerably different in both its story and intended audience, Always feels closer in execution to Hook than any other Spielberg film. The director in fact follows a remarkably similar narrative pattern in both films, firmly establishing a real world subtly tinged with fantasy through his opening act before letting the fantastical elements loose in a big way from act two onwards. Always' first half an hour proves to be the film's strongest, opening on an adrenaline-fuelled plane sequence and establishing a pleasing timeless quality to the narrative through the characters and settings introduced.

Spielberg based Always on Victor Fleming's 1943 film A Guy Named Joe (with which I'm entirely unfamiliar), updating the original World War II US Air Force backdrop to 1980s firefighting pilots, but retaining much of the classic Hollywood feel. Initially at least, the director sets out to tell an old-fashioned love story in an old-fashioned way, and his film is all the better for it. The foreshadowing elements Spielberg includes throughout his opening act leave little doubt as to what will happen to Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) before very long, but the director's expert craftsmanship ensures the film's events are no less tragic or emotional because of this.

Unfortunately, Always can't sustain the same level of success once the fantastical side of the story comes into play. Spielberg increasingly allows his film to become overly sentimental as the narrative progresses, disappointingly forcing the quirky and genuine relationship established between Pete and Dorinda (Holly Hunter) during the first act to become cheesier and cheesier. Spielberg clearly wants to say something about grieving, acceptance and moving on, but too often cannot resist getting in his own way by cluttering his film with unnecessary fantasy clichés.

Despite its flaws, what continually makes Always work as well as it does is the strong cast assembled by Spielberg. Dreyfuss and Hunter are superb throughout, as is John Goodman in a supporting role which, despite starting off the film as comic relief, develops steadily to allow the actor several opportunities to really show off his capabilities. Audrey Hepburn's appearance as the ethereal Hap is also a welcome piece of casting, making the actress' final role in a feature film here both unusual and memorable. Whilst on balance Always ends up amongst Spielberg's less impressive efforts, it nonetheless presents enough imaginative ideas, accomplished performances and enjoyable elements to make it worth seeking out.




The Steven Spielberg Director's Collection is available from Monday 13th October 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.

Masters Of Cinema #96 - Youth Of The Beast - Blu-ray Review

'reveals itself in a satisfyingly slow manner, allowing you to pretty much guess the first twist, whilst holding back its best to the final moments'

A surprisingly contemporary affair, which improves the less you know about it, Seijun Suzuki's 1963 Youth Of The Beast stakes Japanese cinema's claim of authorship on many of today's common Cop Thriller tropes. Twisting around eventually to reveal layers similar to something like The Departed - itself based on Infernal Affairs, another piece of Far Eastern cinema - Suzuki's tale of Yakuza in crisis proves a compelling watch, choc full of recognisable archetypes and satisfying if now familiar plot movements.

We begin with hoodlum Jo Mizuno (Jô Shishido), introduced to us beating someone up on the street for no reason, before attempting the same in a pachinko parlour. Eventually causing enough havoc to attract the attentions of the local Yakuza, Jo finds himself caught up in a pitched battle between gangs and in the internal battle within the first group he comes across. Turning politician, Jo spends the rest of the film turning the gang's actions to his advantage, whilst pursuing an agenda of his own.

The plot reveals itself in a satisfyingly slow manner, allowing you to pretty much guess the first twist, whilst holding back its best to the final moments. The gangs are painted as corporate entities: bureaucrats who Mizuno can play off each other with small manipulations and subtle planted ideas. There's a naivety to the gangsters that lets Jo twist them around his finger, something which plays into the reading that the film is at least partially concerned with the burgeoning youth of 1960s Japan. On at least three occasions, Jo is caught by one of other of the groups, at one point tortured with a knife under the fingernails, but on both occasions he manages to talk his way into release.

Youth Of The Beast's genre success comes not just from Suzuki's knowledge of the tropes his film moves within, but also from the film's willingness to invent upon these and/or to poke fun at them. 'You won't believe this, but alcohol and women are my weaknesses', says one gangster, with a knowing nod to his characterisation down the ages, in one hundred different films. Suzuki's punchline is the character's near-demise, whilst trying to charm a femme fatale, under the influence of alcohol.

The film does feature a kineticism indicative of its period, where Japanese cinema felt less confined (look for the handful of scenes in black and white, with splashes of red). Though it suits Suzuki's camera, and palette, you still can't help but feel that the stillness and contemplation of someone like Ozu would have heightened the drama. But then, in all fairness to Youth Of The Beast, rarely is that not the case when discussing cinema of any origin.





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.

Youth Of The Beast is released in the UK on Monday 27th October 2014


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.

Trailer Of The Week - Night At The Museum 3: Secret Of The Tomb

I must admit to having a slight soft spot for the first two Night At The Museum films; whilst being far from perfect, both offer some enjoyable family-oriented fantasy fun requiring low levels of brain activity. Based on the trailer for the third film however, it looks like the franchise has most certainly gone one installment too far. Every joke here falls flat, which makes you wonder just how bad the bits that didn't make it into the trailer are. The sequence with Rebel Wilson in particular is seriously painful. It's also a shame that this is to become the final live-action credit for the late Robin Williams, who at least seems to continue his spirited turn as Teddy Roosevelt quite well from the glimpses of the character that the trailer offers. 





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.

Steven Spielberg Director's Collection - 1941 - Blu-ray Review

'Spielberg regularly spends far too much time setting up a particular contrivance for the sake of one joke, sapping the comedy from the situation and rendering his film unpalatably artificial'.

By the time Steven Spielberg came to direct 1941, he already had both Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind under his belt, two films regularly regarded as amongst the director's very best. The screenplay comes from Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the writing partnership which would only a few years later craft the script for Back To The Future. So far, so impressive.

The cast too boasts an impressive array of big names: Hollywood veterans Robert Stack and Slim Pickens; international heavyweights Christopher Lee and Toshirō Mifune; contemporary star John Belushi, who had spent the 1970s making his name through the National Lampoon franchise; and two comedians at the start of their careers who would spend the 1980s making some of the most memorable cinema of the decade, Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. On paper, therefore, 1941 undoubtedly held the potential to be truly special - which makes it all the more baffling as to how the film became the unfunny mess it overwhelmingly proves to be.

There are occasional elements here which work. Aykroyd and Candy are reliably entertaining, but severely underutilised. Belushi too is his usual anarchic self, although his character here at times proves more irritating than many of his roles in other films. The film boasts some impressive sequences dotted throughout - a dogfight above downtown Los Angeles is a particularly memorable highlight. There are also sporadic laughs, perhaps inevitable through the law of averages when you consider how oversaturated with attempts at humour the whole film feels.

It's one of the key issues within 1941: the film simply tries far too hard to be funny, suppressing any opportunity for organic humour and making the finished product feel strained and overcooked. Many of the jokes feel uninspired, falling back on cheap visual gags or juvenile innuendo. Spielberg also regularly spends far too much time setting up a particular contrivance for the sake of one joke, sapping the comedy from the situation and rendering his film unpalatably artificial.

Fundamentally, however, the majority of the comedy 1941 attempts just isn't that funny. Spielberg feels unsure of the type of humour he's attempting, spending much of the first half aiming for the absurdity of the likes of Blazing Saddles but falling considerably short of the sheer silliness Mel Brooks' style of comedy needs to work. Elsewhere, Spielberg sets his sights on relatively more subtle genre parody (even lampooning his own past cinematic successes at a few points throughout), but again fails in ever making this feel like more than a half-hearted attempt.

Structurally, 1941 is a sprawling collection of uneven narrative threads. Spielberg sets several stories off within his opening hour, leaving a few with only a handful of introductory moments before coming back to them much later on. Those which receive more attention also suffer, lacking the substance and development needed to sustain interest in them. Whilst 1941 is consistently skilfully shot, Spielberg here feels self-indulgent - a fact evidenced no better than through the director's cut that adds an extra half an hour to the already excessive two hour running time of the theatrical version reviewed here.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of 1941 is the overwhelming feeling as you watch that, by this stage in his career, this type of film is simply beneath Spielberg as a director. Having made two of the defining films of the 20th Century, which went on to shape the direction of mainstream cinema for decades to come, 1941 is little more than an extravagant waste of Spielberg's considerable talent.



The Steven Spielberg Director's Collection is available from Monday 13th October 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.