The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 - Cinema Review

'Katniss is forced to reconcile her past as a manipulated figurehead for the Capitol's games with the fact that her new position is as a manipulated figurehead for the resistance'

I never meant to become an avid watcher of The Hunger Games franchise, but somehow that is what my life has become and somehow I've even found myself enjoying that fact. The first film is a little ropey, sure, but the second is make-dystopia-teen-friendly gold and at the start of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 we're in a nice place: gone are the games of the title. Now for the serious stuff.

That is, for the most part, a good thing, but returning director Francis Lawrence does fall into some of the traps that the action of splitting the final novel of this series into two films immediately proffers to him. For a start, there's precious little by way of character journey outside of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and maybe Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is imprisoned by Donald Sutherland's President Snow at the start of this narrative. Katniss is forced to reconcile her past as a manipulated figurehead for the Capitol's games with the fact that her new position is as a manipulated figurehead for the resistance, whilst Peeta's future is largely speculated on by other characters until the final third of the film.

Whilst those two advance then, others do spectacularly little. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) may have lost her fine clothes but still fulfils the same role, ditto Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), but swap clothes out for drink. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continues his movement towards strong silent warrior (and gets a Godzilla/Call Of Duty-like moment as reward) but is simultaneously getting less interesting as he does so. Philip Seymour Hoffman is criminally wasted in terms of how much his character has to do with the core plotting, particularly given how duplicitous he was in the last film and Julianne Moore's stoic leader could be any stoic leader from several films gone by.

It's left to Lawrence (Jennifer) to carry it, something she could do better if Lawrence (Francis) allowed her to not mope quite so much. This is a remarkably mopey film, in the way that - whisper it - only the Twilight series has managed before it.

When Katniss isn't moping, the good stuff does break out. A minor mid-point action scene is OK, if brief and reminds us how harsh this franchise can be on occasion. The relationship between Katniss and Coin (Julianne Moore) works, predictable though it is. It's not revolutionary, but its ample fayre for the most part, though a telegraphed final bit of tension with a cat is misjudged and incredibly twee for this sort of big budget offering. Gale's tense abseiling does seek to rectify matters.

I've just been listening to Mark Kermode talk about the film's finale and how it goes a little bit creepy, with an almost The Exorcist-like final shot. He's not wrong, but it is another film that Francis Lawrence is more clearly looking to with his downbeat denouement. This wants to be The Empire Strikes Back of the franchise and certainly we're left with uncomfortable questions about some of our heroes. It's just a shame that in between those questions we don't get the pure joy and sound character development of films which have done this better before. You can set us up for a rousing finale, without the need to tread water.





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.

Classic Intel: The Parallax View - Online Review

'Like many great conspiracy Thrillers, The Parallax View's plot is at its strongest when you don't quite know what the conspiracy is, as told by the powerful tagline ('There is no conspiracy. Just twelve people dead.')'

As a big fan of All The President's Men, Alan J. Pakula's prior film, The Parallax View - which also concerns paranoia, conspiracy and journalists - provides a fascinating glimpse of a director's evolutionary period. Sparser, spikier and a whole lot less polished than his opus on the events leading up to Nixon's resignation, The Parallax View proves the theory that truth is often strange enough for fiction not to be required. This film is a whole lot less terrifying than it wants to be, thanks to its vaguely defined villains, The Parallax Corporation, when compared to All The President's Men's benevolent dictator: a man who was actually at one point leader of the free world.

Where this film is more successful is in the base thrills that Pakula cooks up, throwing lead Warren Beatty around with abandon, where his later film hardly has Hoffman and Redford stepping out from behind their desks. Beatty ends up in a bar fight, in the middle of a dam flooding, a The Dukes Of Hazzard-style police car chase, an exploding boat and a memorable finale, staged in a large conference venue. All of that comes after the standout opening, involving assassination and a fall from Seattle's Space Needle. The more Action-based thrills are bravura 1970s stuff, well executed and precisely timed.

Like many great conspiracy Thrillers, The Parallax View's plot is at its strongest when you don't quite know what the conspiracy is. The powerful tagline ('There is no conspiracy. Just twelve people dead.') belies a setup that sucks us in as Pakula sucks Beatty's character in to the same. Though you can almost see the gears moving - when a former girlfriend (Paula Prentiss) comes to Joe Frady (Beatty) with a paranoid story, guess whether he believes her or not, and then what happens to her - there's no doubt that that section of the film sees The Parallax View at its best.

The wider problems creep in later, as Pakula attempts the more in-depth details of David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s script. Frady's eventual face-to-face meeting with The Parallax Corporation is infinitely less terrifying than the opening shot of the board who 'will take no questions' and its similarities to A Clockwork Orange (1971) and others from a similar time are a needless distraction. As the stunts mount too, the budget stalls. Watch for a moment involving a plane, where Pakula's camera casually pans away just before a moment of action he couldn't afford to realise takes place.

The convention centre finale pulls the film back to where it is strongest, delivering cracking visuals, sound and patient Action but by then some of The Parallax View has been undermined by errors Pakula would fix by the time he made All The President's Men, just a couple of years later.




The Parallax View was available 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.

The Ten Best Hollywood Guest Stars "Friends" Ever Gave Us


One of the most successful situation comedies of all time, Friends celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the broadcast of its inaugural episode this year. Whilst the six former stars are seemingly doing very little to celebrate this - and in the UK, current home of the coffee-house-frequenting sextet Comedy Central has marked the occasion by doing what Channel 4 and E4 did for years before them by showing all ten seasons in order - I've decided to focus on one of the most consistent elements of the series: the Hollywood guest stars.

Whether you love, loathe or feel complete indifference towards Friends, it's hard to deny that the series far more often than not got its celebrity cameos right, even when the quality of the episodes themselves got a bit iffy. Proof enough of this is that, having initially aimed to mark out my favourite five, I've ended up expanding my list down to a top ten. I've not included any Hollywood names who appeared in recurring roles (otherwise Elliot Gould and Tom Selleck would be in there), nor have I taken into account any actors who guested on Friends and then became much bigger in film later on in their career (such as Giovanni Ribisi). A few guilty pleasures just missed out (sorry, Charlie Sheen), but this feels like a pretty comprehensive collection of the very best the series had to offer.


10. Winona Ryder (Season 7, Episode 20)
Ryder plays Rachel's (Jennifer Aniston) former sorority sister Melissa, with whom Rachel insists she once shared a drunken dalliance whilst at college. Melissa initially denies all knowledge, until Rachel decides to prove her mettle by laying a smacker on Melissa whilst saying goodbye. It's a guest appearance which initially feels somewhat ordinary, but Melissa's sudden transformation - and infatuation - after Rachel kisses her is priceless, showcasing Ryder's oft unseen knack for comedy.

9. Danny DeVito (Season 10, Episode 11)
One of the few true highlights of the poor-to-average final season, DeVito plays a past-it stripper hired at the last minute for Phoebe's (Lisa Kudrow) belated hen party. It should be an embarrassing car wreck, but DeVito's complete investment in his performance and years of comedy experience make it a masterclass in visual humour.

8. Hugh Laurie (Season 4, Episode 24)
Years before he was well-known as Dr. House across the pond, Laurie provided one of the few palatable British guest appearances of the London-based two-parter which closed the fourth season. Whilst Tom Conti and Jennifer Saunders hammed it up, and Richard Branson and Sarah Ferguson embarrassed themselves and their nation for no real reason (let's face it, neither needed the money), Laurie featured as "guy on the plane", an acerbic passenger sitting next to Rachel on her flight to England. The character's verbal onslaught of Rachel is the highlight of both episodes, in particular his cutting closing remark giving his take on Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel being "on a break".

7. Kathleen Turner (Season 7, Episodes 22-24)
Whoever had the idea of having Chandler's (Matthew Perry) estranged cross-dressing father played by a woman deserves some credit, but whoever cast Turner in the role has the real brains here. An Oscar-nominated big name of the 1980s, Turner completely invests in the role of Charles Bing, believable as a man in drag but also playing off the fact that she really is a woman to wonderful comedic effect. There's also a nice scene between Turner and Perry when father and son are reunited for the first time in years amongst the audience of Charles' Las Vegas drag act.


6. Charlton Heston (Season 4, Episode 14)
The only actor on the list who appears as themself, Heston gives Joey (Matt LeBlanc) some sage advice after he sneaks into the Hollywood veteran's dressing room to take a shower. It's a wonderful sequence with Heston gamely playing off his standing as a cinematic heavyweight from the Golden Age of Hollywood, whilst also delivering such memorable lines as "Put some pants on, kid, so I can kick your butt!"

5. Brad Pitt (Season 8, Episode 9)
Pitt's appearance as Monica's (Courteney Cox) old school friend Will came just as the actor was becoming known for more comedy-based roles in films such as Ocean's Eleven and Snatch, and his performance here regularly draws from the same rich comedic well. Pitt's turn is perhaps the most memorable example of a guest actor appearing in only one episode and completely out-acting all six regular cast members. Will's animosity towards Rachel throughout the episode is also made all the funnier by the fact that Pitt and Aniston were Hollywood's hottest couple at the time.

4. Christina Applegate (Season 9, Episode 8 / Season 10, Episode 5)
Applegate is one of the most underrated comedy actresses in the business today (look no further than her performances in the Anchorman films for proof), and it's a shame that her appearances in Friends come during the series' final two seasons when the show was a shell of its former self. As Rachel's sister Amy, Applegate's performance is perhaps the most finely crafted cameo role seen throughout all ten seasons, playing off Aniston's character well and genuinely feeling like a reflection of what Rachel could have been had she followed a somewhat different path through life. It's a subtlety Reece Witherspoon - who played Rachel's other sister Jill during Season 6 - sadly couldn't manage.

3 & 2. Billy Crystal & Robin Williams (Season 3, Episode 24)
A joint appearance that very nearly took the number one spot, Crystal and the late Williams' cameo during a pre-credits sequence at Central Perk is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it only came about at the last minute because the two actors happened to be working in a nearby studio; secondly, it was completely ad-libbed, showcasing the talents of two genuinely outstanding natural comedians; and thirdly, it remains one of the most surreally brilliant moments of any episode. If you've never seen it - even if you've never seen an episode of Friends - watch it. Seriously, watch it now.

1. Bruce Willis (Season 6, Episodes 21-23)
Willis makes a guest appearance in three episodes of Friends' sixth season, clearly at home going back to his television acting roots, whilst also playing off his Hollywood action man image superbly. Willis plays Paul, the father of a student Ross is dating who himself ends up dating Rachel, and is a delight every moment he is on screen. The actor successfully pulls off a range of comedy styles - beginning pleasingly understated before shifting to much more exaggerated slapstick during his final episode - and even manages to form something of a classic double act with David Schwimmer. Willis' crowning moment, however, undoubtedly comes towards the end of his second episode and involves a mirror and a rendition of The Miracles' "I'm Just A Love Machine". It's arguably one of the funniest scenes in any Friends episode.



The concept of guest stars has noticeably shifted since Friends finished a decade ago, with actors and celebrities now much more likely to play themselves in a sitcom rather than take on a character role. It's somewhat comforting to know that in amongst Friends' 236 episodes can still be found some of the most successful genuine guest star roles to be found within the sitcom genre (oh, and Jean Claude Van Damme proving just how terrible an actor he is. But we'll ignore that one).


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.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour - Blu-ray Review

'there are significant questions here around the gratuitous sex on show and arguably beyond that into concepts of authorship'

Abdellatif Kechiche's much-discussed adaptation of Julie Maroh's graphic novel is all of the things that have been discussed about the film and more. On the one hand, this is undoubtedly a beautiful and significant film. A rolling and advanced depiction of loves and lives, Blue Is The Warmest Colour's one-hundred and seventy-nine minutes fly by, perfectly orchestrated by Kechiche into an almost effortless epic. On the other, there are significant questions here around the gratuitous sex on show and arguably beyond that into concepts of authorship and quite who has the right to tell this story.

Those questions come mainly from hints during the opening, which are more developed elsewhere, that this story is less about women in love and more about women in society. There is spectacularly little questioning, analysis or even mention of the fact that the film's protagonist, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is in a homosexual relationship with Emma, (Léa Seydoux), the blue-haired maelstrom who enters her life early in proceedings. Pleasingly, Kechiche paints a narrative reflective of a modern accepting society; there are very few unnecessary segments examining Adèle and Emma's relationship from a sexuality point of view. The schoolyard bullies who feature early doors are given the short shrift they deserve.

With that element dispensed with, Kechiche moves to considering the role of intellectual, forward-thinking women in French society. Adèle is portrayed as an incredibly intelligent young woman, who not only reads Marivaux but understands and spreads the literature-based joy. Thomas' (Jérémie Laheurte) rejection or incomprehension of the text is the beginning of his end.

Where though do Adèle and Emma end up? The former, shunned by Emma's intellectual artist friends, ends up literally playing waitress, moving between them as server whilst they discuss the high art Adèle is not given the opportunity to have an opinion on. Emma meanwhile, firmly ensconced in this group, has little power of her own, instead beholden to the male art gallery patrons whom she needs to fund her creativity. That message, of female power as an illusion in an unfairly male dominated society, comes across powerfully but is it undermined by Kechiche's role as tale teller? Certainly it does not take much to craft an argument that it is undermined by Kechiche's decision to present two drastically long and graphic sex scenes between Adèle and Emma. Does Kechiche knowingly go after retaining some power - over actors, characters or both - by putting them in this situation? It is a complex question, but the question is certainly there.

That said, if the test of an epic is whether you would watch it again then Blue Is The Warmest Colour passes not only on the basis that nearly three hours in its company is eminently enjoyable time spent but that a second viewing is nye on necessary to answer many of the pertinent questions. Perhaps Kechiche deserves praise for not making everything straight-forward, for not putting everything in front of you, for leaving a complex narrative with questions still to be answered around its execution and its doctrine.





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.

Birdman - Cinema Review

'The familiar setup of a middle-aged man in trouble comes straight from the Alexander Payne school of film-making'

That Alejandro González Iñárritu has become something of an awards darling gets slightly more surprising with each of his new films. Iñárritu is a spiky film-maker who makes uncomfortable pictures. Not necessarily uncomfortable of plot but of syntax; films that can be difficult to pick apart and that sometimes leave you with a sense of oppression. Babel had Brad Pitt's mainstream charms but then hardly let you get anywhere near them. It could be seen as a metaphor for how Iñárritu communicates.

Birdman is, in a way, no exception and in another way, Iñárritu's most accessible film to date. The familiar setup of a middle-aged man in trouble comes straight from the Alexander Payne school of film-making, but the framing device of the film being composed all of one shot and the frequent flights of fantasy (Birdman opens on Michael Keaton's character levitating) do not. On that level - that Birdman is a archetypal narrative suffused through the eye of an atypical director - this can be a thrilling watch.

If Iñárritu sometimes feels out on his own then here he is supported by a terrific cast, who turn in awards-worthy performances. Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone are the highlights of the fringe players. The former is inspired as a combative cast member within the film's play-within-a-film, symbolising the young dynamos who have themselves replaced Keaton in leading roles. As Riggan (Keaton) struggles to keep up with Mike (Norton), the meta narrative between the film and real-life Hollywood winds itself ever deeper. Watts, after a dubious run, is back to her reliable best and Stone has something new to show in her repertoire; yes, she's the somewhat troubled, precocious post-teen again, but this one has another level of narcissism and bile. Even Zach Galifianakis convinces and if he can just wind his more faux-dramatic ticks in slightly more, his 'serious' career has a distance to go.

It is Keaton though who holds Iñárritu's ideas and creates the performance to advance them. Riggan is stuck between absurdity, irrelevance and a career high. His past superhero performance literally looms over him, as a feverish press (a little too cartoonishly characterised) seize on his every word that a new Birdman movie might be coming. Riggan is portrayed here as both at the mercy of his own ego and similarly dependant on various idiosyncrasies of the world around him. It is a sympathetic turn but it also hardly excuses Hollywood's role players, nor its current culture and at times it eviscerates it.

Unable to produce something completely at ease with itself, Iñárritu cannot resist touches of self-mutilation that force you to make a judgement call. The incessant drum soundtrack will divide people. It serves a purpose - the drummer is glimpsed within the film on occasion, hinting that he is another figment of Riggan's disintegrating psyche - but it can also be almost farcically irritating. Iñárritu's involvement of the audience too, along with his critic-baiting, feels like it goes a little too far. Their visibility at the finale, madly applauding a Riggan in trouble, perhaps puts the boot in a little too hard. Have we ever really doubted Keaton? The response to his film performance, which appears a lock for an Oscar, suggests we have not.




Birdman is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 1st January 2015.


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

The Hayao Miyazaki Collection: The Wind Rises - Blu-ray Review

'A period drama, Studio Ghibli style'.

The release of the Hayao Miyazaki Collection is from one perspective a bittersweet pill to swallow. Miyazaki announced his retirement from filmmaking in September 2013, something he has reportedly done on a few occasions in the past, but a decision that he has assured us this time he is "quite serious" about. The release of all eleven of his films brought together on Blu-ray - several of which for the first time - makes it seem all the more likely that Miyazaki's decision to retire is indeed final. But, whilst the film world is forced to bid sayonara to one of the all-time great directors, The Wind Rises ensures that Miyazaki has gone out on an incredible high.

Set during the first half of the 20th Century, Miyazaki's final film takes as its inspiration the life of Japanese aeronautical engineer Jirô Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno). This is a biopic in the loosest sense: aside from his career designing aircraft, many of the details of Horikoshi's personal life presented throughout the film are entirely fictionalised. That The Wind Rises never attempts to be a historical document takes nothing away from it as a stunning work of cinema however. Miyazaki allows the threat of war to loom in the background of much of his film, not shying away from the issue but also ensuring it never eclipses his central narrative. Jirô's internal struggle with the fact that the planes he loves to design and to which he devotes his life will ultimately be used for death and destruction is skilfully referenced several times, perhaps reflecting the director's own conflicted views on his country's past.

Although there are some fantastical touches here and there, this is essentially a period drama, Studio Ghibli style. Miyazaki presents arguably the greatest level of realism seen in any of his films, doing so with patience and panache. Jirô proves to be a consistently authentic and engaging presence throughout, the director demonstrating the fine craftsmanship of a master storyteller through intricately constructing and balancing each element of his protagonist's story. The director also uses dreams and the imagination of his characters to wonderful effect throughout, allowing his trademark magical style to permeate these sequences whilst also making them feel perfectly in tune with the realistic tone of the rest of the film.

It's surely no coincidence that The Wind Rises often feels reflective of Miyazaki's own career. Jirô dreams of flight from a young age, a theme which the director returns to again and again within his cinematic output. Throughout the film, imagined meetings with his childhood inspiration Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni (Mansai Nomura) spur Jirô on in his career. "Airplanes are beautiful dreams, engineers turn dreams into reality", Caproni tells him at one point - a statement which surely could be equally applied to films and filmmakers.

"Artists are only creative for ten years," Caproni advises Jiro later on, "live your ten years to the full". Whilst Miyazaki has surpassed three times as many years working in film, this is undoubtedly the director reflecting on the illustrious career he has had, a career he wants to end on his terms and whilst his talents are still at their sharpest. The Wind Rises allows him to do just that, emerging as one of Miyazaki's very best films, and a truly superb and endearing piece of cinema.




The Hayao Miyazaki Collection brings together all 11 of the director's feature films, from The Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises, on Blu-ray for the first time. It is released in the UK on Monday 8th December 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.

Final Thoughts on The Hayao Miyazaki Collection



Just a few short weeks ago I had seen but two of Hayao Miyazaki's films. Now, I've seen eight and the remaining three (Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo, all being covered for the box set by Ben) will be ticked off sooner rather than later.

Watching most of the Miyazaki oeuvre in this manner has felt like being given the keys to the toy shop at Christmas. How fans of the director must have pined for new releases, especially given the five year plus gaps between some of the films. Miyazaki is a crafter of worlds, a creator of escape, a master of simple passionate narratives that eschew the complicated lore and set up of things like Harry Potter and throw you unprepared into emotive world's you accept as normal. This set is as close as film gets to a multi-faceted page-turner.

On the collection's sole video extra, Miyazaki's 90-minute 'official retirement announcement', there's some insight into just why the director and animator communicates so well through floating castles and anthropomorphic pigs. Though he does get going towards the end, Miyazaki does appear to be one uninterested in waste when it comes to communication. When asked about the chance of a sequel to Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind - during, lets not forget, his retirement announcement - the director pauses, slowly picks up his microphone, says 'no' and then puts it down again. A request a few questions later from a Korean journalist for a message to his Korean fans gets a similar answer. Miyazaki the great storyteller is not going to craft great stories from such meagre beginnings.

There is though some insight from him into where these films come from, and also into the interests he seeks to explore through them. It's interesting to hear that Miyazaki is not an avid consumer of his own genre. 'I don't know what Japanimation is' he says, claiming he only 'listens to the radio a little' when working on a film. The director's films feel so far above many of his peers, it as though they exist inside some form of cultural bubble of his own making. Now it seems confirmed that this is in fact the truth. How many other animation directors, for example, admit to a preponderance and distracting interaction with Dante's The Divine Comedy, that threatened to derail his latest, and last, production?

There is also some discussion of one of my main takeaways from these films, and surely one of Miyazaki's defining fascinations: flight. The Wind Rises, a film I rate as highly as many of the director's more celebrated works is a fitting culmination for someone who spends time in his retirement announcement talking about receiving a technical book on planes that he found fascinating, proudly declaring it 'probably the only one in Japan'. The fascination with flight he holds, in films from Kiki's Delivery Service to Nausicaä to nearly everything else in this set, speaks again to his simple understanding of our childlike desires: who hasn't wished to spread their arms and take off? In Miyazaki's hands that wish becomes a Fantasy and the Fantasy becomes something much grander and more important.

Perhaps, on that note, the main thing to take from Miyazaki's final press conference is his description of his 'message', his mantra for film-making, the thing that he has been getting at for so many years. All he wants to do, he says, is to communicate that 'this world makes life worth living'. If only more directors governed their work with such simple clarity.


The Hayao Miyazaki Collection brings together all 11 of the director's feature films, from The Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises, on Blu-ray for the first time. It is released in the UK on Monday 8th December 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.