Mudbound: Netflix's Oscar-winner?


The Netflix business model revolves around offering something for everyone so that no-one can refuse a subscription. This 'all things to all people' mentality is clearly working so far (depending on how far you dig into the accounts), with one significant area still 'under development': feature films. Looking down a list of 'Netflix films' you could probably pick one or two that interest you, whatever your tastes, but there's little there that's truly unmissable. Do Ricky Gervais fans need to see Special Correspondents? Will Steven King completists subscribe just for Gerald's Game?

If Netflix were to get an Oscar winner though, things change. People seek out Oscar winners. They are unmissable. You can see where Netflix's thinking is going. In the coming year they will release films like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, another that falls into that category, but first comes Mudbound, a genuine Oscar contender, at least in some of the acting categories.

And acting is where most of the film's merit lies. All of the characters here are uncomfortable in their present situations to some degree (except Jason Clarke's Henry, who should be), which invites terrific turns of conflict and inner angst. Director Dee Rees grants most of the major characters with a segment of Malickian monologue, over Malickian imagery, which gives each star their moment in the spotlight/beatific corn field. Carey Mulligan, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige are all terrific. The latter is amongst the favourites for Best Supporting Actor. Garrett Hedlund still cannot quite shake the feeling that his efforts are greater than their end results, but those efforts are at least there.

The film tells the story of a white family (led by Clarke) working the same land as a black family (led by Morgan) in rural Mississippi, both during World War Two and in the immediate post-war period where both families welcome home a younger family member who has been away fighting (Hedlund and Mitchell). The issue with the film is that that is a big melting pot of characters, socico-economics, race, gender and plot and Rees never manages to balance it all satisfactorily.

Pappy (Jonathan Banks), for example, the senior member of Henry's clan disappears for a vast swathe of the narrative, proving finally to be a dramatic plot device waiting to be revealed, rather than a true character. Another white family, working for Henry, are introduced and seem to be heading somewhere, but you have to watch very closely for their conclusion, which arguably doesn't match that moniker. Each character has a complex relationship with every other on the farm but a massive amount of the most interesting ones get only lip service. Henry and Laura (Mulligan) are set up as on a rocky road from Mulligan's early narration, yet they get more and more time to show that rocky road in full trundling travel. The few interactions that Mulligan has with Blige are delicious, but they are just that: few and far between. The excuses for why characters aren't developing with other characters properly get thinner and thinner. 'Henry always seemed to be away when something happened', Laura tells us at one point.

The film ends on a genius piece of suggestive fancy, a bittersweet note of hope, which hints at what this could have been had a little more refinement been utilised elsewhere. As it is, Mudbound may well be Netflix's first Oscar winner. But it doesn't quite earn an 'unmissable' tag.





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.

Cartoon Saloon's The Breadwinner: just how bleak do you like your animation?


I've recently rewatched Cartoon Saloon's Song Of The Sea with my nineteen-month old, albeit in three thirty-minute stints. Whilst every nuance of the plot might not quite have been absorbed, it is fair to say that it had an effect. There were sections watched in complete stillness, mouth agape. When Ben, the protagonist of the film, comes to an emotional realisation late on, and sheds a tear, there was a rubbing of eyes from the small one on my own sofa. During the climax, Cú, an old English sheepdog, spurred on by two spirit dogs, races home, with Ben and his sister Saoirse on his back, as the music stirs a crescendo. Most of that section was absorbed whilst bouncing around the sofa, shouting at the screen in two minutes of pure joy. It's the first time anything on film has produced that sort of reaction.

It's with mixed emotions then that I watched Cartoon Saloon's latest, The Breadwinner, alone. Directed by Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret Of Kells with Song Of The Sea's director, Tomm Moore, the film tells the story of Parvana (Saara Chaudry), an eleven year-old girl growing up in Afghanistan. When her father is arrested and taken away by the Taliban, Parvana disguises herself as a boy so that she can support her older sister, mother and younger brother.

From very early on, The Breadwinner created an uneasy feeling in my stomach, which I never shook off until the end credits. There is genuine and repeated heartache here, not just in the reveals and the developments of the plot, but in the very fabric of the film. Mark Kermode often quotes Roger Ebert's assertion that films are 'empathy machines' and never is that more true than here. The Breadwinner confronts the hardships of the world - and the very specific hardship of this time and location - in such a matter of fact manner that it is impossible not to be moved by what it has to show. There will be guilt too. The idea that the events of the story happen in a world to which we all share citizenship seems preposterous. How can we allow it? How did we allow it?

Twomey's film shows Cartoon Saloon refining their animation style to new heights. The content matter is belied by the gorgeous and fluid animation and sound design. Like Song Of The Sea, there are diversions to slightly different animation styles throughout, mainly to a story Parvana tells in segments throughout the film about a young boy from a village challenging an evil force which has taken the village's supplies. 'Is it a happy story, or a sad story?', Parvana's friend asks at one point. 'Just you wait and see', comes the reply.

Both the film within the film and The Breadwinner itself take a similar approach. By the conclusions, you can read happiness or sadness, or maybe just life. That's about as a bold a message from a 'children's' animation as you're likely to receive. If you or your children found Inside Out too emotional or cerebral then be warned: this is another level entirely.

Which leaves me in something of a quandary. This is 'notable' in the truest sense of the word. It's a western animation that deals with major social questions in a mature, considered and gorgeous way. It is currently in my top ten of the year list and I suspect that it will stay there. It is also, I would suggest, too bleak for most children under thirteen (it has a PG-13 rating in the US), which means that it will be some time before I can sit down with my son and enjoy Cartoon Saloon's latest. That feels a little like a missed opportunity. If some of this story could have been balanced by a little more lightness then the message of the film could have made it beyond the thirteen-and-above audience and to Cartoon Saloon's core crowd. Perhaps that's being too harsh on a film that dares to tell a story many would have rejected and, because of that, creates something of true significance.





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.

Quick awards season takes: Lady Macbeth and, erm... Despicable Me 3


Awards season is here! In Hollywood's head this means glitz and glamour. In reality, John Travolta is dusting down his tux, ready to prowl the red carpets performing all kinds of 'hilarious' 'shenanigans'. Meanwhile, studios are organising their pushes for awards-likely releases, which brings me neatly on to...

Lady Macbeth, which will probably feature at a few of the independently-minded awards and may sneak onto the BAFTAs in some way shape or form. The writing debut of Alice Birch and the feature debut of director William Oldroyd, the film looks lovely, but nevertheless manages to leave you sitting in a slightly uncomfortable manner. Some of this may be my own fault. For whatever reason (and I'm aware it should be fairly obvious) I did not have where the film was going pegged and the change in tone over what appeared to be an interesting sexual awakening drama left me a little cold. It's a cop out, but I need to see it again: the feeling I left with - of the character handling being flat-footed - may be down entirely to my expectations of where it was going to go.

That said, there are definite areas that smacked of 'first draft'. The story, based on a novel by the Russian writer, Nikolai Leskov, hinges on a character losing the power of speech when she has information to share that would stop the plot in its tracks. In writing terms that's a whisker away from everything being a dream and in directing terms it's never sold well enough to make you forget it. The opening is also a little too full of hints about Katherine's (Florence Pugh) wild nature. She talks of being 'comfortable outside', whilst other characters mix thinly veiled metaphors about animals being tied up for too long. Pugh is good but overall and, again, on first viewing only, it didn't live up to some of the effusive praise it has received.

At the other end of the spectrum, Despicable Me 3 starts with two minions becoming DJs after the opening action sequence. Their hit of choice is Ricky Martin's 1995 'classic' Un, Dos, Tres, Maria which tells you all sorts of things about how out of touch the film is and how clever the 'jokes' and musical cues are going to be.

Universal is pushing Despicable Me 3 for Best Animated gongs, but really this is the franchise running its course. The writing and jokes are lame compared to the first two films and even the minions offer little respite this time round. The story ideas test the definition of that word, opting for the 'long lost sibling' angle and doing very little of interest with it beyond the initial, obvious, 'surprise' jokes.

Worse, the film seems to have completely lost sight of what crowds of children want to watch. Even adults are likely to be a bit non-plussed by the ex-child TV star villain, complete with eighties tash, charmless robot companion and near constant glitterball accessory. What nine year-olds will make of jokes pitched around Rubix cubes is anyone's guess, but as someone who actually knows what a Rubix cube is, I'm happy to tell them that they weren't funny.

It lost me at Un, Dos, Tres and never offered anything that suggested that decision was in any way isolated or forgivable.



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.

Picking up the pieces of the Saw franchise in a post-"torture porn" world

The following article contains references to plot details for the first seven films in the Saw franchise.


Thirteen years after its original release, I will still defend the original Saw as a worthwhile and cleverly structured horror thriller, even if its low-budget production and corny performances haven't stood the test of time as well as its plot twists. "Perhaps you enjoyed Se7en. This often goes up to Ei8ht" was the pull quote from Peter Bradshaw's Guardian review slapped on the film's DVD cover, emphasising the echoes of David Fincher's earlier (and far superior) neo-noir with added brutality to be found throughout James Wan's first mainstream directorial effort.

Importantly, Saw was not the film which earned the series its position at the centre of the "torture porn" trend which dominated the horror genre for the opening decade of the twenty-first century. That dubious honour went to the first sequel, 2005's Saw II, which ventured down the bigger-equals-better route by expanding the claustrophobic primary setting of the first film from a repulsive abandoned bathroom to an entire derelict building. The ante was also upped considerably in terms of the sadistic "games" set up by John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer, moving from the psychological minimalism building to horrific self-sacrifice seen in the first film, to a gleefully unpleasant house of horrors designed to cause maximum suffering and splatter throughout.

If Saw II marked the franchise's first undeniable steps into the torture porn arena, then the third film was the point at which it plunged in headfirst and never looked back. The ante was upped once again, and whilst the series arguably takes place in an extreme reflection of our own world from the very start, it's still hard to accept Saw III's traps could believably be planned and executed by Jigsaw even with the help of his disciples as revealed in subsequent installments - I mean, who has access to that many putrid pig carcasses?

Away from the increasingly convoluted and unpleasant traps, Saw III was also the final installment to give a script credit to the original film's writer Leigh Whannell, making it the series' swansong in terms of narrative coherence or sense of craft. Whilst the second sequel was a far cry from Saw's twisting thriller plot, at least it made sense and involved characters we vaguely cared about. It's fitting that Jigsaw himself dies at the end of the third film, as this is where the series' life should have ended as well.

Instead, we were "treated"  to another four installments which cater pretty much entirely to the torture porn crowd. The traps may make less sense, but hey, at least they get the blood gushing, the guts splattering, the victims screaming and the audience wincing. Away from the gore, however, there's little within any of the closing four Saws of worth. Each of the main "games" in these films is essentially a lazy rehash of elements lifted from Saw II and Saw III featuring characters in whose survival we're given no reason to invest.

By far the biggest error post-Saw III was the series' shift increasingly further away from Jigsaw - given a hokey and entirely unnecessary origin story through flashbacks - and onto Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), eventually revealed to have been Kramer's accomplice since before the events of the first film. Thanks to Bell's convincing performance and the groundwork laid in the first few installments, Jigsaw was an intriguingly paradoxical antagonist providing the franchise with a solid core even as other elements continually deteriorated. Hoffman offered none of that: a stock bent-copper-cum-serial-killer with a clichéd and thinly drawn motive, performed by Mandylor with as much nuance as a pair of industrial-sized ice blocks to the head (take a bow, Saw IV).

Seven years after Saw: The Final Chapter seemingly drove the very last nail into Jigsaw's coffin, an eighth installment, simply titled Jigsaw, will attempt to resurrect the series once again at the end of October. There's no doubt that horror tastes have changed since torture porn's heyday in the early years of the noughties. The more traditional approach of films such as The Conjuring and its sequel and spin-offs, the social commentary approach of Get Out and, most recently, the brazenly nostalgic coming-of-age slant on Stephen King's It all offer horror experiences distinctly removed from the later Saw films' thinly-plotted splatter-fests. Jigsaw therefore not only has the task of rebooting the franchise from a position of practically zero critical credibility; but also needs to prove to those of us who were there at the beginning, before the torture porn aspect displaced everything else, that the entire concept of the Saw films isn't simply a relic of the recent past that should have been left to rot.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his PhD. He's also on and Twitter.

The place of the Western in 2017: Ti West's In A Valley Of Violence


The fact that the Western is a genre intensely linked to the state of play in American culture, sociology and theology is a statement approaching cliche. The discussion of the modern place of genre entrants is inseparable from its roots in (predominantly) white American expansion and the pejorative meaning of 'the American way'.

In one of the latest entrants to the genre, director Ti West shows an awareness of what the genre can consider. Like many of his contemporary forebears though, West doesn't seem to know exactly what the Western has to say today. In A Valley Of Violence proves both that the genre is alive (or at least present) and confirms that it has largely said all it has to say.

We begin with Paul (Ethan Hawke), happening across a luckless priest (Burn Gorman) swigging from a whiskey bottle. After a predictable encounter where Paul and canine companion Abby prove their metal, Paul makes it to Denton where the ridiculous Gilly (James Ransone) 'rules' the roost like a fratboy banker on coke.

Gilly, though overplayed wildly by Ransone, is more or less the sole new idea when it comes to contemporary relevance. Surely destined to be played by Ben Foster had he not gone on to bigger and better things, the character treats his woman (a wasted Karen Gillan) terribly, brags to his friends without substance and is both criticised and humoured by his father (John Travolta) in equal measure. It's a nice idea, but Ransone's execution leaves something to be desired and the character lacks the menace you need in an antagonist.

The film is then notable in the minor sense for the ideas it has which have been considered better elsewhere, though still with fairly little genre progression.

The apex of the film turns at around the halfway point. The sequence itself is unremarkable, featuring as it does a predictable death and a decision by Ransone which passes Bond-villain-stupid and makes it to Scooby-Doo-lazy. At that point though, West gives himself half a film to carry out the titular violence. Open Range has done this. Open Range has also done this significantly better. West shoots and choreographs with little flair and Eric Robbins' photography is a long way from, say, Robert Richardson's work on The Hateful Eight, even allowing for the latter's much-hailed non-digital approach.

West, best known for his work in the Horror genre, bring elements of that to the finale but, again, he's been beaten to the punch recently. Bone Tomahawk is a genuinely nasty Western/Horror cross that really goes for the grisly elements, and follows through with character moments that fit. West settles for a few close-ups of bloodied people and a heightening of the strings in Jeff Grace's already too-obvious score.

On the plus side, when the script is lazily having Hawke explain backstory by way of talking to Abby, there's some really great work from Travolta. Though now mainly appearing in forgettable tumbleweed and awkward red carpet encounters, the veteran reminds us that he has the gravitas Ransone is lacking and the smart delivery to make rapid fire delivery sing. Apart from a disappointingly low-key conclusion, he elevates West's film whenever he is on screen.





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.

Amazon Instant Video hidden gems: Black Coal, Thin Ice



The type of winter on show in Black Coal, Thin Ice places the film into the pantheon of offerings that use the season as, if not a character, then a very distinct, black, cold-hearted mood. Think Fargo with an eastern sense of humour and you're somewhere in the right region. This is the kind of ice-blanketed landscape that sees each of the main characters wrap their faces in thick scarves or fall over when they should be doing something more important. It's the type of setting, mood and plot where ice skates are a primary murder weapon, though icicles could just have readily been used.

Who knows how this ended up on my watchlist, but I strongly suspect Leeds International Film Festival had something to do with it at some point. A Chinese offering following a flawed but brilliant cop on a shambolic trail of a killer who manages to dispose of their victims in various coal heaps throughout China has LIFF written all over it.

The narrative and seasonal chillyness is bracketed by traditionally off-kilter eastern cinematic levity. In an early arrest scene, one cop flings himself across the picture, to presumably land on a suspect who has since exited stage right. As the cop disappears from view, a stool is flung in from the wings. It's classic Bugs Bunny and silent cinema stuff. In another scene, Zhang (Fan Liao), now a drunk security guard, has stopped at the side of an icy road for a lie down. A kindly passerby stops to check how he is, before promptly stealing his bike. The culture norms may be different and, arguably, the dark side of it is darker, but this is only an occasional 'yarp' or 'you betcha' from The Coens' own icy wilderness.

As Zhang continues to investigate the murders some years after they first began, the plot wraps itself in too many holes to be entirely satisfying. The main riddle can be solved after about an hour by those paying attention and is confirmed about ten minutes later. Some of what remains, following Wu (Lun-Mei Kwei) feels fairly superfluous. Given the film's season, its economic links and its downtrodden 'heroes', you would have thought it could muster more to say. The IMDb trivia tells us that the first cut was two-hundred and ten minutes long and perhaps in the edit something has been lost.

There's certainly major suggestions that the original script had something more to do with misogyny, even before the finale. We open, for example, on Zhang with what appears to be his recently ex-wife, in a bravura sequence that follows a spiralling severed hand and cuts to Zhang's ex-wife's own (still attached), on a bed. But despite a constant slew of scenes that factor into the conversation (not least what appears to be a troubling rape sequence late on), writer/director Yi'nan Diao can't seem to hone in on what it is he was trying to say, and a general feeling of everything around the topic not quite adding up to much pervades.

What remains though is a frosty, entertaining mood piece, worth seeing for many reasons, even if the moralising isn't one of them.





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 underlying Game Of Thrones anxieties released by Beyond The Wall

SPOILER WARNING - The following article discusses key plot points in several Game Of Thrones episodes, including the latest: Season Seven: Episode Six - Beyond The Wall.


The first time the Game Of Thrones doubts were released was at the end of Season Five.

Jon Snow was dead. Originally a fairly minor character - behind at least Robb in the hero stakes - Snow had grown into the series' much-needed hero with 'stickability' and a skill at not getting stabbed. Then he was unceremoniously offed by tricky betrayers, in a death which called to mind countless other unexpected deaths in the series and therefore carried a level of plausibility.

The problem was that, as it appeared more likely that Jon could be gone for god, this one hurt and shouldn't have happened. As the season ended and we faced a winter-long wait to find out the true outcome, there was a creeping anxiety. Had the showrunners got this one wrong? Had they made the mistake in thinking that everyone in the show was disposable, instead of merely most of the cast save Jon, Daenerys and, at that point, Tyrion.

They hadn't, of course, but the Games Of Thrones anixety had been born. The showmakers could come perilously close to getting things wrong. For all of the key character deaths we had come to expect, at what point was one going to arrive that tipped the balance of the show over from 'bloodthirsty' to 'bloody stupid'? The idea that things could go wrong in this most thrilling and successfully complex of shows was suddenly very real.

Beyond The Wall, this week's episode and the penultimate of Season Seven, brought that anxiety back in a new form. Whilst previously the showrunners have excelled in managing a vast number of plots and subplots, characters and motivations, suddenly things were all wrong.

There was a very real sense of an ending, and not one that anyone was going to be satisfied with.

By the time the camera zoomed in on a dragon's eye about to turn blue, with inevitability as glum as an ice king, we had witnessed Gendry running a marathon distance in three or four shots, where previously forty-odd minutes of episode had been needed. Meanwhile, for our heroes stuck on an ice island, time passed. No-one really seems to know how much exactly. The tension, hardly there to begin with, evaporated like steam off a previously wet and cold, now flaming, sword.

The root cause of the situation is that Thrones has a stated aim to finish next year and a lot of threads to cover in the meantime. The showrunners seem to have inherited an anxiety of their own, rushing over events which previously would have merited episode-long examination to squeeze in what currently seems to be the periphery, presumably in order to give everything a neat conclusion.

It's just a few episodes ago, last season, that The Battle Of The Bastards gave over most of an episode-long runtime to a single skirmish. Here, the key finale gets barely twenty minutes, as time is given over to Sansa and Arya, apparently being torn asunder by the plotting of Little Finger, not to mention the quest of the band of seven, whose time together spanned just one episode.

Meanwhile, back on the ice, the desire to wrap things up neatly results in the aforementioned dragon shot which every man and his dire wolf saw coming.

The anxiety then is around what's to come. Thrones continues to be one of the most thrilling shows on television and Beyond The Wall was no exception. But being thrilling doesn't mean you excuse yourself from logic, structure and sound storytelling. Fans can forgive a lot of things, but many will struggle to forgive the show (which started out so complex) ending with a whimper of predictability, haste and slap-dash brashness.

There's a rumbling current in the series at the moment about two characters who are related, but who haven't quite worked that out yet. The longer the hints rumble on, the closer we get to having Basil Exposition (possibly in the form of Samwell Tarley and his newly acquired scrolls) pop up and reveal everything in roughly the most unsatisfying manner possible, just so the show can move to its next self-imposed phase of closure.

And that's just one of the plot threads Thrones has to wrap up. It's not hard to imagine one or two being closed in a similar way to sending Gendry off on a several hundred mile run.

And don't get me started on the second saving of Uncle Benjen.


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.