The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 - Online Review

'a confusing mess, where loyalties change and pivot on sentences you can't hear and scenes you don't get to see'

The concept of narrative satisfaction is interesting to consider when trying to tell a story in a new way, or with a new twist on the expected conclusion. James Bond is expected to emerge victorious over the villain and waltz off into the sunset with the girl. A braver storytelling choice might eschew one or more of those elements, but if it is at the cost of the story concluding in a meaningful and satisfying manner then should it?

This might seem too lofty a place to start when it comes to looking at The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, but telling a satisfying narrative encapsulates all of the film's problems in one fell swoop. This is the concluding part of a four-part series that has built up to this moment of confrontation - Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) versus the Captial - but when faced with the question of how to depict this, director Francis Lawrence and the writing team of Peter Craig and Danny Strong have stumbled badly. Not only does Mockingjay - Part 2 not provide narrative satisfaction, it often provides little narrative sense.

Some of the reasons why that is the case are rooted deep within this franchises' structural, casting and logistical decisions and problems, all of which finally come to weigh heavily on this final part. Josh Hutcherson's Peeta has only ever worked during the first film, as an out-of-his-depth forced fighter, lacking in the ability to exude the machismo his character needs to survive, so that Katniss can come to his aid. Remember when he painted himself as a tree? Since then we've been expected to buy him as a leading man (once again the case here), despite the character and actor having none of the expected common values associated with that sort of role. It hurts this film more than the others, particularly in the final third, where we cannot get away from Peeta's key presence amongst the conclusions.

Mockingjay - Part 2 was in the process of filming when Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York apartment, a fact which remains tragic for his family and friends and for cinemagoers who appreciated his truly unique presence. In Mockingjay - Part 1, Hoffman offered a more formal change of pace, which was welcome amongst what at times could feel like frivolities. That presence is lacking here, but so are the attempts to smooth over the story cracks Hoffman's death obviously created. A late letter, read out by another character, is painful watching on many fronts, narratively because it is a world away from the solution which was required and which Francis Lawrence seems to have been unable to come up with.

Above all of those factors though is the finale of the film itself. Its a crushingly un-subtle, exposition-heavy, satisfaction retainer. Characters make choices completely out of touch with their choices throughout the franchise. Other characters, hardly characterised at all in their near cameos so far, make choices which suddenly become life and death to our heroes. Our protagonist, Katniss, loses conciousness at a key moment, ensuring one of the most crucial events of the film happens off screen. It's a confusing mess, where loyalties change and pivot on sentences you can't hear and scenes you don't get to see. If you're a Hunger Games fan, you have a right to be angry, if you're a more casual viewer you have a right to expect much, much more.




The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 was playing on... whatever they're attempting to call Blinkbox 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.

Dreams Of A Life - Online Review

'An admirable and respectful approach to a subject which could all too easily have slipped into morbid sensationalism'.

The story of Joyce Vincent, a 38-year-old woman who passed away alone in her London bedsit sometime in December 2003 only for her body to be left undiscovered until January 2006, is one that inherently holds a significant degree of enigma. For many, the question of how somebody living in the 21st Century - in a European capital no less - could be dead for over two years before anyone noticed is one that boggles the mind.

For Carol Morley, director of Dreams Of A Life, whilst this is certainly a key question, it's not the most important one. Morley focuses instead for much of her documentary on who Joyce actually was, what memories the people who knew her had of her and how they felt about the young woman both in life and after her death. It's an admirable and respectful approach to a subject which could all too easily have slipped into morbid sensationalism, but it's also one which ends up restricting Morley's documentary as much as elevating it.

After an opening reconstruction of the moment the body was discovered, which in hindsight feels somewhat superfluous and ill-fitting, Morley spends much of the film offering talking head interviews with Joyce's friends and colleagues. The interviews feel incredibly genuine, with those speaking offering insight across Joyce's life from her schooldays in the early 1970s onwards. Whilst the memories shared are largely positive, painting Joyce as a bubbly and outgoing person, there is also a worrying undercurrent throughout of a woman constantly eager to please and who struggled to form relationships on anything more than a surface level. It's a fascinating portrait that emerges as Morley's greatest achievement.

It is, however, a picture that has also some gaps too great to ignore. None of Joyce's four older sisters - whom we are told essentially raised her after her mother's death during her childhood - choose to take part. It's a gaping hole, which results in Joyce's formative years becoming vague and thinly-drawn largely based on hearsay recounted by those who do take part, only one of whom actually knew her as a child. The absence of other unwilling participants - such as anyone refuge for battered women where Joyce resided near the end of her life - is acknowledged, but this only serves to underline the fact that Morley is only able to present us with a jigsaw puzzle missing a few too many pieces.

As Dreams Of A Life reaches its conclusion, there's a nagging sense that Morley has only brought us a little closer to understanding how Joyce Vincent's life ended the way it did. The exploration of what happened following her death is scant, leaving the film feeling somewhat top-heavy in its presentation of the whole story. There's enough here to like - including Zawe Ashton's sensitive portrayal of Joyce in reconstructed scenes from her life - and the subject matter is never anything less than fascinating, but Morley's filmmaking too often feels vague and a little too lacking in backbone when a shot of gumption is what Joyce's story actually deserves.




Dreams Of A Life is currently available on All 4.

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.

Aaaaaaaah! - Blu-ray Review

'A weak and puerile idea that would have struggled to fill a brief comedy sketch, stretched over almost eighty minutes'.

The directorial debut of Steve Oram, the absurdly-titled Aaaaaaaah! lives and dies by its high concept. Unfortunately, not only does it drop dead within the first ten minutes, but Oram then proceeds to mercilessly flog it for more than an hour after any signs of life can be seen.

The high concept from Oram, who also wrote the script, is that of a present day human society that behaves in an ape-like manner. This includes their method of communication, meaning that not a single line of dialogue is spoken throughout Aaaaaaaah!, with each character grunting their way through every scene. It's perhaps the most interesting aspect of Oram's idea - but that just means it becomes tiresome a bit later than everything else.

Other than their Neanderthal vocalisations, the characters' primate propensities are largely an excuse for base-level physical comedy and toilet humour. There are numerous wanking jokes, each as unfunny as the last. A number of characters appear in various states of undress throughout, such as a woman seen early on presenting a cooking programme on TV with her breasts out for no real reason. It feels kind to call elements such as this failed attempts at humour, when really they're quite clearly just a lame excuse to put some boobs on screen.

Looking deeper than knob and knocker gags, Aaaaaaaah! is fundamentally flawed throughout. What little narrative Oram presents is rudimentary and barely holds together for the film's scant seventy-nine minutes, offering nobody to root for and nothing to care about. There are one or two surreal moments which do work, such as Smith (Oram) buying groceries whilst casually carrying an arm he tore off another character he fought to the death earlier, but these are simply too scarce to go any way to saving the film.

More problematic is the severe lack of internal logic to Oram's premise. Simply put, it's never made clear why the people we are watching behave like apes, so the world of Aaaaaaaah! completely fails to ring true. If this is a post-apocalyptic near-future, why is society continuing to function as normal around these monkey men and women? If the characters can't get through a meal without throwing food all over each other, why should we believe that they're also capable of manufacturing the video game systems and high-tech flatscreen TVs we see them using?

Oram occasionally seems to want us to see this as a satire on modern society, but by crafting something with such glaring and lazy oversights his film never manages to escape what it actually is: a weak and puerile idea that would have struggled to fill a brief comedy sketch, stretched over almost eighty minutes.





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.

Six selections from Mark Kermode's Celluloid Jukebox


If you've not been listening to Mark Kermode's Celluloid Jukebox on BBC Radio 2 over the past couple of months, then you've been missing out on some predictably high calibre music and film opinions. The first series (hopefully of many) has now finished, but the last few episodes are still available on the BBC iPlayer here at the time of writing . There are also podcast versions of all six episodes available to download, but frustratingly these excise anything more than about twenty seconds of each track played (presumably for licensing reasons). Whilst it's always good to hear what Mr. Kermode has to say on the topic of cinema, this rather defeats the point of listening to a series about music in the movies.

To give you a flavour of the diverse and often rarely heard songs included throughout the episodes, below are six of my favourite tracks, one from each episode. Several of these come from films I've yet to watch, so don't be surprised if reviews of some of these crop up on the site sometime in the not-too-distant future.


Episode 1
Track: "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" - David Bowie
Film: Se7en, 1995

A running segment throughout Celluloid Jukebox is "David Bowie Corner" where Kermode plays a song by Bowie that has been used in a film. It's partly a tribute to the musician following his death in January this year, but also quite clearly an excuse for a Bowie fan to play tracks from throughout his career. All the Bowie songs are excellent, most being selections from his back catalogue that are less often played, and "The Hearts Filthy Lesson", which plays over the end credits of David Fincher's Se7en, is a prime example of both. 




Episode 2
Track:
"People Like Us" - Talking Heads featuring John Goodman
Film: True Stories, 1986

Each episode of Celluloid Jukebox has a loose theme which ties together several of the songs played by Kermode. The theme for the second episode is "actors singing in films", resulting in the inclusion of songs from films such as Lenny Abrahamson's Frank and the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis. Perhaps most memorable, however, is John Goodman's excellent performance from True Stories, a 1986 directed by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. It's a film I'd never even heard of before listening to the series, but it's now one that I'm planning to watch soon.




Episode 3
Track: "Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing" - Slade
Film: Slade In Flame, 1975

Kermode mentions Slade In Flame more than once in the series, liking it so much that he describes the film as "the Citizen Kane of British music movies". To many of my generation onwards, Slade are probably best known as that band who live off the royalties of Noddy Holder shouting "It's CHRIIIIISTMAAAAS!!" every twelve months, but to my parents' generation they were one of the most successful bands of the 1970s with a string of successful singles and albums. Slade In Flame is a film I've heard of but never seen; based on the soundtrack and Kermode's championing of it, I may have to seek this one out too. 




Episode 4
Track: "A Real Hero" - College & Electric Youth
Film: Drive, 2011

Even if Nicholas Winding Refn hasn't yet been able to replicate the success of Drive, it's a film that by its own merit deserves to go down as a modern classic. The soundtrack is one of the things that stayed with me the most after watching the film, and "A Real Hero" is one of the best tracks featured, so I was glad to hear Kermode give it some air time. 




Episode 5
Track: "Funnel Of Love" - SQÜRL & Madeline Follin
Film: Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013

One of the more distinct approaches Kermode adopts at a few points throughout Celluloid Jukebox is to segway two or more versions of a song into each other. It sometimes works better than at others, but it always proves an interesting experiment when he does it. One of the best examples is when three versions of "Funnel Of Love" are played: the original by Wanda Jackson; a remixed version of Jackson's original which slows the song right down; and the version by SQÜRL, featuring Madeline Follin on vocals and used in Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, which grew out of the remix.




Episode 6
Track: Jaan Pehechan Ho - Mohammed Rafi
Film: Ghost World, 2001

Not a theme as such, but something that Kermode does throughout the series is to play music featured in a film which has then been reused in another. This track by Mohammed Rafi is originally from a 1965 Bollywood film, Gumnaam, but Kermode plays it due to its appearance in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World. It's also a track which demonstrates just how diverse the music that Kermode plays throughout the series really is.




If this article has whetted your appetite for more, you can find my list of every song played in the series and the films they're taken from on Letterboxd here.


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.

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me - DVD Review

'A film of warmth and positivity even when, inevitably, it at times becomes a tough watch'.

If you're looking for a documentary chronicling country music legend Glen Campbell's entire career, which now spans seven decades, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me is not that film. Much of Campbell's heyday during the '60s and '70s is covered by a whistlestop montage that opens the film, and whilst there are references to and stock footage from this period here and there, director James Keach (the younger brother of actor Stacy) confidently sets out his film as a chronicle of Campbell's life since being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2011 and his subsequent farewell tour.

The result of Keach's approach is a remarkably intimate account of Campbell, his wife and children coming to accept his condition, as well as the family's chance to celebrate his legacy and hopefully allow him to leave his performing career on a high. Campbell's sense of humour and overwhelmingly upbeat nature (we only see him openly "feeling blue" once) are infectious throughout, making I'll Be Me a film of warmth and positivity even when, inevitably, it at times becomes a tough watch.

Musically, Keach's film is rich and rewarding, never becoming the car crash that one interviewee predicts some attending the shows in Campbell's final tour may have been expecting to see. The ability the musician retains as he approaches octogenarianhood with a neurodegenerative disease is astounding; a spirited rendition of Duelling Banjos on stage with his daughter Ashley offers a particularly memorable highlight. The fact that his doctors tell Campbell his decision to continue performing is slowing the onset of many of the effects of Alzheimer's makes watching footage from his last ever shows all the more fascinating.

Whilst we never witness the aforementioned car crash, there are times where watching Campbell's live performances becomes a remarkably tense affair. Some of the footage from towards the end of the tour is both uncomfortable and heartbreaking to watch, as is watching Campbell speaking to a friend the day after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2012 and failing to recall the reason why he had been at the ceremony.

I'll Be Me is ultimately a film just as much about raising awareness of the effects of Alzheimer's as it is about the close of Campbell's career. An impressive array of famous faces from the world of music and beyond recount not only their memories of and utmost respect for the country legend's career, but also of their own experience of family members suffering and dying from the disease. Coupled with the home footage of Campbell's mental decline, this can make I'll Be Me difficult viewing at times; but if that wasn't the case then Keach wouldn't have succeeded in giving as genuine an insight into the experiences of Campbell and his family as he does.




Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me is released on UK DVD on Monday 23rd May 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.

The Assassin - Blu-ray Review

'Many segments have obvious narrative links but the most delightful are those that do not. A golden-masked character, who appears without explanation, could be friend, foe, motif, physical presence or mythical interloper.'

There's a fairly easy to see critical/consumer divide with regard to The Assassin (look at its IMDb rating vs Rotten Tomatoes), something which you can't help but feel is primarily down to the film's title. If you call something 'The Assassin', there's a level of expectation. Not only will the film have a level of action and adventure, but it will also be the definitive depiction thereof. The Assassin is not that film (though there is an argument that it is a version of that film) and contained within that fact is part of the problem; this a sometime sleepy, melancholic look at the life of an assassin, not designed necessarily to wow in the same way as, say, 1995's Assassins, which manages to lack both the definitive article and some much needed definition.

In fact, The Assassin is about as far away from Assassins as you could get whilst still comfortably saying that we're in the same genre. Titular definitive assassin Nie Yinniang (Qi Shu) accepts a mission from her mentor to kill local politician Tian Ji'an (Chen Chang), whom she happens to be related to. Struggling with the morals of her mission, Nie Yinniang observes and interacts with her quarry during a period of political upheaval.

The fact that the film is located so centrally around the politics of seventh-century China will also present a barrier to entry to all but the most learned viewers. There is a level of 'go with it' needed, particularly during the earlier moments to understand what every machination means to the main players. Stick with it though and things do get clearer on some levels, as do the film's own politics. You cannot set a film this centrally around the rules of government and not at least hint at a message. Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien eventually leads us to a place where you can read into The Assassin a negative message about being used as the state's tool. There's something incendiary about that, particularly for a Chinese director, working in China, which lends the film an exciting frisson of contextual undercurrent.

Hsiao-Hsien's choice around how to depict his narrative - a series of vignette-like scene collections, sometimes with little obvious link to the last one - allows his visuals to flourish. Each segment of the film has style, sometimes distinctly so, such as the opening prologue, which is presented in glorious black and white and an Academy-like ratio. In some of the segments, high-contrast landscapes beam at the camera for a lazy afternoon's-worth of time. In others radiantly upholstered interiors glow from static cameras. Many segments have obvious narrative links but the most delightful are those where the director leaves his audience to fill in the blanks. A golden-masked character, who appears without explanation, could be friend, foe, motif, depiction of inner struggle, physical presence or mythical interloper. It frequently works and only occasionally fails; a fight shot from a distance gives an accurate depiction of the chaos Nie Yinniang's presence brings, a long conversation shot through a lace curtain is frustrating and brings nothing to the table.

The Assassin comes to embody fundamental questions about cinema. Can or should a film be seen for 'visuals alone'? How much structure do we need in our narratives? Can distancing from established convention still produce traditional satisfaction? Perhaps those make for weightier questions than you want from your Friday night viewing choice, but look hard enough and there is mainstream satisfaction here too. Excluding a few failed 'tricks', this is both prime cut and critical darling; self-contained success and cinematic conversation starter in one.




The Assassin is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 23rd May 2016.


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 Criterion Collection - In A Lonely Place - Blu-ray Review

'Within the narrative and outside of it, as witnessed by us, Ray's film is a beautiful examination and deconstruction of the fiction of death.'

Hollywood's obsession with itself continues to provide the potential for distance between the narratives studios create and their audiences. Appropriately enough, In A Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray's revered 1950 Noir, has at its core a playfulness around the creation of narratives, which for many will be enough to secure its place as a Classic.

Everything about Ray's narrative revolves around a self-awareness regarding story creation. His 'hero' (or at least central character), Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a screenwriter in need of a hit, glumly disenfranchised with his assignment to turn a trashy novel into a workable script. Steele gives us glimpses into his creative process throughout the film, most famously in a scene where he reconstructs the murder of Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) in a style which makes us question his supposed innocence.

The scene is a fantastic bit of performance by Bogart (and lighting by Burnett Guffey) but, more so, it is immensely clever by Ray in deconstructing the sometimes thankless art of storytelling. Steele here is at the height of his powers, creating something real and meaty, but what does he get for it? Doubt and suspicion, from us and the other characters within the scene. Such is the way of Noir and Steele's life to that point. He is likable, sharp and funny, but he is also fallible, dangerous and, in another film (or maybe even, elsewhere in this one), an abusive murderer. By the time he is sitting in his car, with his arm around the neck of Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), no-one can help but fear for her safety.

The sophistication (grown-up-ness, if you will) of In A Lonely Place is that it has the ability, gumption and desire to allow this sort of question against its leading characters. You genuinely doubt that Steele is innocent. Laurel, meanwhile, also attracts our suspicions, right until the final third. Her flight from a past lover seems steeped in uncertainty, flames only fanned by the mysteriously matronly Martha (Ruth Gillette). Within the narrative and outside of it, as witnessed by us, Ray's film is a beautiful examination and deconstruction of the fiction of death.

It is, however, also a film which wobbles around genres, which presents few, if any, characters whom you wish to root for and one which has an overly keen ear for the sharp dialogue of Andrew Solt's script.

Genre first. In Ebert's Great Movies review, he places In A Lonely Place around Noir, but in Romance. I'd argue that it skirts both but finally, especially within the final third, makes it to the unattractive side of Melodrama. There are too many unrestrained histrionics in the break down, too many leered sighs and frank weepy apologies, and it hurts the film's ostensibly heartless, dry core.

That dryness, embodied by Steele's repartee, is also clinical enough to cut your suspension of disbelief. The character rarely misses the chance for a one-line retort and Laurel rarely misses the chance to set him up for one. It is a film constructed of zinger after zinger; all payoffs and no substance. People only talk like this in Hollywood.

Which, of course, brings us back around to the setting and Hollywood's love of its own slightly grubby visage. To sell that properly - to me at least - there has to be something to love; some golden age, rose-tinted Romance or some genuine undercutting of the glamour. Steele and Laurel offer neither of those things and because of that, long parts of In A Lonely Place felt too cold, too 'Hollywood clean' and, well, too lonely to love.




The Criterion Collection edition of In A Lonely Place is available on UK Blu-ray from Monday 16th May 2016.


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.