Kubo And The Two Strings - Cinema Review

'This is Laika's most accomplished film by far, not just in its animation but in the depth and reverence the studio brings to the Japanese mythology at the story's core'.

What held back previous Laika releases ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls (to my shame I still have yet to see Coraline) from becoming truly great animated features is the stories they tell. Whilst both films offered perfectly enjoyable narratives which occasionally broached some perhaps unexpectedly mature themes, neither did enough to elevate the tales being told to the same level as the superb animation bringing them to life.  

Kubo And The Two Strings, Laika's fourth offering, goes some way to remedying this. The opening act establishes Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his situation with subtle brilliance, building characters and relationships from nuanced interaction, whilst also showcasing some of the studio's most exquisite visuals to date through the magical origami skills of the young protagonist. Director Travis Knight also shows a keen eye for character design, in particular through the supernatural Sisters (Rooney Mara) who are wonderfully unsettling.

The plot becomes a more straightforward quest at the start of the second act, which is initially a little  disappointing following such an original opening. Kubo's journey during this section at times feels overly episodic and driven by a MacGuffin of which neither the power nor the purpose is made clear enough. Whilst the set pieces are beautifully crafted - one action sequence involving a colossal skeleton is particularly breathtaking - at times they arrive somewhat unannounced and finish before you can fully appreciate just what a marvel of animation they are.

It's this lingering sense of Knight's film being a bit too simplistic and rushed in places that ultimately hold it back from true greatness, as there are several other areas where Kubo And The Two Strings comes close to perfection. This is Laika's most accomplished film by far, not just in its animation but in the depth and reverence the studio brings to the Japanese mythology at the story's core.

There are occasional quibbles: despite boasting an impressively talented cast, it would have been nice to hear at least one Japanese voice amongst the four main characters of Kubo, his travelling companions Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConnaughy), and primary antagonist the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Nonetheless, Knight's artistry in bringing Eastern lore to life on screen is regularly reminiscent of animation giants Studio Ghibli. Whilst Laika never quite reach the heights of the Japanese studio's finest here, comparisons such as this serve to show just how good Kubo And The Two Strings is when at its very best.




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.

Hell Or High Water - Cinema Review

'Mackenzie is for much of the second act perfectly happy to play the long game, allowing little to happen in terms of plot in order that his characters can grow into the film'.

A cat-and-mouse thriller between an unlikely criminal and a world-weary lawman nearing the end of his career played out against the stark backdrop of West Texas, Hell Or High Water regularly invites comparison to the Coen Brothers' 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner No Country For Old Men. There are even moments here, such as a conversation between Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) and a surly diner waitress (Margaret Bowman), which feel as though they could be plucked straight out of Joel and Ethan's back catalogue.

Between them, however, director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan - who also penned last year's excellent Sicario - make their film a far more understated affair than most Coen offerings. After a relatively action-packed opening section, Mackenzie is for much of the second act perfectly happy to play the long game, allowing little to happen in terms of plot in order that his characters can grow into the film. It's a decision which results in a narrative so slow-moving during its middle section that at times it almost grinds to a halt completely; but which in the end pays dividends for Mackenzie's film overall. When the closing act does eventually arrive, Mackenzie at last allows the tension and emotion he has deliberately built up to spill over in captivating fashion.

Bridges as the grisled Marcus is the player most likely to garner critical attention, but this is admittedly the kind of role tailor-made for the veteran at this point in his career. Whilst he is indeed superb, Bridges is also surrounded by excellent performances throughout. Birmingham as his stoical half-Native-American half-Mexican partner Alberto provides the perfect counterpoint to Marcus' old school perspective, and together the two actors display a chemistry so subtle that it takes the entirety of the film to appreciate just how well it works.

On the other side of the law are Chris Pine and Ben Foster as bank-robbing brothers Toby and Tanner Howard, whose relationship offers a neat balance against the two lawmen pursuing them. Each has his own motives for the choices they make together which steadily come into focus as the film progresses. Tanner is arguably the less complex of the two, but the impressive performance from Foster means that this rarely becomes an issue. Pine, meanwhile, is a revelation both mature and understated from start to finish. Whilst the actor has previously shown promise outside of the franchise fare upon which he's made his name, there's a strong sense that Hell Or High Water will be the film which marks Pine as having fully graduated from the forgettable rom-coms he was making a decade or so earlier.




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.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season Two - Online Review

'Kimmy, instead of driving a central plot, anchors that which is happening to all of the supplementary characters. Titus isn't just a source of throwaway comedy anymore. Prepare to care whether he and Mikey make it.'

In Season Two, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt locks in both the things it wants to talk about and the plot threads it wants to follow whilst it is making you laugh.

Titus (Tituss Burgess), a highlight of season one, has a new boyfriend in the shape of Mikey (Mike Carlsen). Can flamboyant Titus and manly Mikey survive their pairing? Lilian (Carol Kane) is on the warpath against the gentrification of New York. Can the old city survive amongst the new? Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) returns from her Lakota Sioux family, intent on promoting their interests and values. Can the writers make the show's 'playing with race' elements any more palatable this time, rather than the failure they were in the first series?

Whilst those questions are being answered, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) noticeably becomes a protagonist in the wind. In early episodes she's concerned with Jacqueline's return, before moving back to the Dong (Ki Hong Lee) plot thread and finally to late-series revelations involving her mother, driven on by new character: alcoholic therapist Andrea (Fay). It's a notable change from the first series. Kimmy, instead of driving a central plot, anchors that which is happening to all of the supplementary characters. Titus isn't just a source of throwaway comedy anymore. Prepare to care whether he and Mikey make it.

Whilst that change is welcome - and the series retains its rapid fire scripting; unmatched anywhere else - this is still a show with problems and in this season a new one arises: there's a notable lack of sharp snark. Wherein the first series Jacqueline and her daughter Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula) provided it, here one is consciously trying to change her image and the other has departed. It leaves the show feeling soft-tongued. Kimmy's saccharine sweetness needs balance and Fey and Carlock lose some of the sources of that balance in the first season without ever finding suitable alternatives. Suggested sources include Andrea, Lilian and Titus but all have warm hearts underneath and Fey even allows Andrea a pretty direct feminist lecture.

Meanwhile, Fey and Carlock are still grappling with the last of the opening questions. The first season's defining characteristic was its tone deaf 'jocular' treatment of Vietnamese character Dong. Perhaps wisely, that element is marginalised here and the jokes around him are mainly derived from the innocence of Kimmy. However, there's a new racial element for Fey and Carlock to play with in the shape of Jacqueline's parentage and, again, the writers manage to make what could have been light pillorying of societal attitudes turn into ham-fisted awkwardness. Jacqueline becomes the worst character in a hurry and her twee finale suggests there's more in store. It is possible to have this sort of Comedy conversation around race but in two seasons Kimmy Schmidt's writers have show that they have no idea how to pitch it, time it or sell it.




Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was playing on Netflix.


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

Masters Of Cinema #155 - Paths Of Glory - Blu-ray Review

'After crafting a captivating portrayal of the front line during World War One, Kubrick effortlessly transforms Paths Of Glory into an equally enthralling and perfectly executed courtroom drama'.

There's a case to be made for Paths Of Glory offering a depiction of World War One more comprehensive than that of any other film. Whilst most other directors choose to focus upon recreating one or two facets of the conflict, Stanley Kubrick opts to show us as many sides to the war as it's possible to do in ninety minutes. What's more, he executes each and every one of them in flawless fashion.

The first half of Kubrick's film is focused upon an attempt by an exhausted division of the French army to capture a German stronghold under the orders of General Mireau (George Macready). Whilst the attack in question is the highlight - a punishingly cinematic recreation of the futility of warfare in no man's land - the events leading up to it are just as effective. Kubrick uses the opening half hour to carefully build up the key players within his drama, strategically positioning them upon his directorial chessboard in preparation for his equally impressive second half. After crafting a captivating portrayal of the front line during World War One, Kubrick effortlessly transforms Paths Of Glory into an equally enthralling and perfectly executed courtroom drama.

Underpinning the story throughout is Kubrick's biting satire emphasising the gaping divide between both the lives and the ideologies of the men in the trenches and those commanding them from far-off exquisite châteaus. The director wastes no time sticking the knife into the deluded generals, as his opening voiceover describes the inhumane conditions suffered by soldiers on the front line two years into the war. This is immediately followed by a conversation between General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) and General Mireau, which begins with Mireau describing how he has "tried to create a pleasant atmosphere in which to work" within his magnificently decorated manor house offices.

At the centre of the film stands Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), a man who feels out of place in his own time. Dax sees through the hypocrisy and insanity of the war surrounding him but, as a former criminal defense lawyer, manages to keep his head in order to do as much as he can to redress the injustice he sees in three men wrongfully facing a court martial for cowardice. Douglas is never less than perfect in the role, creating in Dax a protagonist who is virtually without fault yet undeniably human and tragically pragmatic.

Kubrick's script, adapted from Humphrey Cobb's novel with co-writers Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson, is consistently razor sharp. Every character is realised with superb attention to detail, and the writers take every opportunity to make the dialogue ring with satirical brilliance and dramatic fervour. The story too grips until the final seconds, Kubrick delighting in leading his audience down one path before wryly twisting towards another.

At the heart of film, however, stands a sincere anti-war message of which the director importantly never loses sight. Kubrick's disdain for military conflict is something never hidden throughout his work, but he perhaps never more poignantly and masterfully puts this sentiment on screen than here.






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.

Paths Of Glory is released in the UK on Monday 19th September 2016


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.

Suicide Squad - Cinema Review

'Sadly endemic of the DCEU thus far: rushed, muddled, uninspired and tone deaf'.

A fair amount of the criticism surrounding Suicide Squad has focused on Jared Leto's limited screen time (despite inexplicably gaining second billing behind Will Smith) as his gangster pimp version of The Joker, with some apparently believing that more of his character would have improved David Ayer's film.

In fact, the opposite is true: excising Leto's role from Suicide Squad completely would have gone some way to tightening up the story, which in turn may have resulted in a better film overall. Leto's interpretation of The Joker offers little worth saving either way, caught as it is somewhere between a bad Heath Ledger impression and a weird send-up of Jim Carrey's performance in The Mask.

That said, there are enough problems elsewhere to prevent Ayer's film from ever becoming more than sporadically entertaining. Just as the studio did in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Warner Bros. unwisely use Suicide Squad as an attempt to launch a plethora of characters which would have been much better served by appearing as either antagonists or antiheroes in standalone features. A film focused solely on Deadshot (Smith), as the most developed character here, feels as though it could have had considerable potential. There are glimpses of how a film pitting The Joker and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) against Batman (Ben Affleck) might have looked through a handful of flashbacks; presented in isolation, however, these moments feel like poorly written snippets of fan fiction.

What Ayer ends up giving us therefore is a group of characters we largely don't care about being thrust into a narrative in which we're even less invested. Outside of Deadshot and Harley, only El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) gets a few moments to shine, with the rest of the titular team making little impression at all. One member is literally introduced for the sole purpose of being killed off a few scenes later. Plot development becomes ever more erratic as the film progresses, culminating in a messy CGI final battle for stakes which are as ill-defined as the characters fighting on either side.

Whilst this is more fun than both Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman, the tonal shifts are still too jarring too often; several scenes involving Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) in particular feel excessively bleak when compared to the dry humour attempted elsewhere. Anything enjoyable to be found within Suicide Squad ultimately comes as a result of the performances of Smith and Robbie. The rest is sadly endemic of the DCEU thus far: rushed, muddled, uninspired and tone deaf.




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.

Classic Intel: Bridget Jones's Diary & Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason - DVD Review

'What saves both films from going full Curtis are Fielding's source narratives and characters'.

Written for the screen by Richard Curtis (amongst others), the first two film incarnations of Helen Fielding's eponymous ditzy diarist present the most palatable post-Four Weddings venture into Curtis-Land. Bridget Jones's Diary and its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason, were released either side of Curtis' syrup-saturated Christmas carbuncle Love, Actually, and on the surface it's not hard to spot the similarities. Bridget (Renée Zellweger) inhabits a similar fantasy version of Britain built on middle-class philandering and first world problems.

What saves both films from going full Curtis are Fielding's source narratives and characters, albeit slightly more successfully in the first film than the second. The writer famously borrowed the structure for her first book loosely from Pride And Prejudice, the narrative even coming complete with its own Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth), named Mark here rather than Fitzwilliam. Taking inspiration from classic literature is something which can lift a film if done well, and thankfully director Sharon Maguire for the most part achieves this in Diary. Enough elements of Jane Austen's novel are retained to provide a satisfying story arc without ever feeling forced or anachronistic.

Whilst the same can't be said for The Edge Of Reason, Beeban Kidron builds on enough of the strengths from Maguire's film to ensure her sequel just about overcomes its more uneven execution. The development of the relationship between Bridget and Mark feels genuine whilst also offering enough humour thanks in no small part to the strong performances from Zellweger and Firth. It's no surprise that the film is at its weakest during the Thailand-set middle act which shifts the focus away from the couple and onto more stereotype-driven comedy.

For all their charm, however, both films are early noughties British rom-coms at heart and as such come with at least some of the baggage of this period of filmmaking. Hugh Grant as love rat Daniel Cleaver does well in the first film offering a pleasing counterpoint to Firth's Mark, but is less successful in lifting the character from the shoehorned caricature he becomes in the sequel. The support elsewhere ranges from Jim Broadbent's satisfyingly understated turn as Bridget's dad, to her friends Jude (Shirley Henderson), Shazza (Sally Phillips) and Tom (James Callis) who could perhaps be forgiven for being ironically one-dimensional in Diary but are further reduced to little more than anonymous window-dressing in The Edge Of Reason.

It's Zellweger who makes both films the enjoyable experiences they ultimately are however. The actress crafts Bridget as both likeable and believable yet obviously flawed and somewhat fantastical, putting in a winning comic performance both verbally and physically, as well as delivering a near-flawless English accent to boot. Zellweger as Bridget allows us to believe that we're seeing everything through her eyes - the occasional detours into her imagination are also welcome - to the point that it's possible to forgive if not ignore the traces of Curtis-Land that linger.


Bridget Jones's Diary

Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason


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.

Trumbo - Blu-ray Review

'acutely aware of, and interested in, the uncomfortable trichotomy of capitalism, libertarianism and socialism, all of which are embodied by rich, successful, communist party member Trumbo'

At the heart of what makes Trumbo a good film is the awareness that there's more to life than the movies. I've written about this before, most recently with Criterion's release of In A Lonely Place and it continues to be a bugbear. Hollywood's obsession with itself often leads to a detached navel-gazing that revels not always in glitz and glamour, but constantly in lives so far removed from the every day and cloistered in a microcosm only they know, it can't help but be alienating.

By the half way point of Trumbo all concerns on this level had disappeared. Jay Roach's biopic of blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), succeeds because it is acutely aware of, and interested in, the uncomfortable trichotomy of capitalism, libertarianism and socialism, all of which are embodied by rich, successful, communist party member Trumbo.

The film - and this is simultaneously part of its failings - paints these divisions in clean lines. Trumbo, as the lead character, has all of those ideas within him, but doesn't necessarily externalise them. Helpfully Michael Stuhlbarg's Edward G. Robinson and, to a more obvious extent, Louis C.K.'s Arlen Hird are on hand to help out. Robinson comes to embody the armchair socialist, who can't quite live the ideals he follows. Hird is the died-in-the-wool revolutionary, whose politics are so overt and constantly on the surface that they prevent him from advancing towards any notion of capitalist-defined success. It's not subtle, but it does work and it's a braver exploration of fractured internal value systems than many a film. Supporting turns from actors playing Hollywood heavyweights (David James Elliott as John Wayne, Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas) make the lines between 'good' and 'bad' ideals cleaner.

Though Roach gives admirable focus to those ideas for a large swathe of the film, he can't quite stick the landing, as the conflict's focus becomes much more about whether Trumbo will succeed, rather than whether his ideals will. We're given strong hints early on that Hird will disappear before the end of the narrative and when he inevitably does the film misses the overt externalising voice that he brought with him. Suddenly, we're watching more of O'Gorman as Douglas and Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger and the film drifts into rose-tinted spectacle territory.

Trumbo's family are suggested as a solution to that problem with the now-older Niki Trumbo (Elle Fanning) embodying the ideas that Hird once did. It sort of works but it also feels as though there's a longer cut where the family, and Niki in particular, get the focus they seem to deserve. In reality, Niki played by Fanning is the only one we end up connected to in any way. The fact that at least one of his brood changes actor three times doesn't help, though may well have been necessary.

The fact is though that bigger-posturing, more haughty, biopics have done a worse job of getting to the wider conflict at the heart of their subject, or any conflict come to that. Trumbo does both that and balances a lighter-hearted tone that sees John Goodman swinging a baseball bat at an undesirable office presence. It's difficult not to a like a film featuring those elements.





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.