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Film Reviews: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014), Exam (2009), As Above So Below (2014), & The Homesman (2014)
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014). Based on the book by Suzanne Collins and directed by Francis Lawrence. Continuing on from the previous film, the story starts with Katniss Everdeen having been rescued by the rebellion. Although she is reunited with her mother and sister she is very upset that her boyfriend Peeta was not rescued, and is being held in the Capitol. I didn't enjoy the previous two films much as I found them formulaic at best and laughable at worst. This was more of the same for me, combined with a bum aching 123 minute runtime. I think something like the John Christopher Tripods trilogy is far superior to this. Anyway, if you enjoyed the first two films here is more of the same. 2/5 (Poor)

Exam (2009). Co-written and directed by Stuart Hazeldine. It isn't clear when the film is set, whether an alternate history or a future Earth. Eight interview candidates are shown into a room, which has an invigilator and a security guard. On the desks in front of them are pieces of paper. The invigilator tells them there are three rules, that they must not talk to him or the guard, spoil their exam paper, or leave the room. Failing to abide by the rules means disqualification from the interview process. Exam is a good example of what you can do with a tight script and some good characters. It is inevitably reminiscent of similarly styled films e.g. The Cube (1997), but original enough to be interesting, and with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Although the pace is even it does start to get a little bit tedious towards the end, so perhaps a shorter runtime would have worked better. Other than that a great film for those who like psychological thrillers, just not quite a classic for me. 4/5 (Good)

As Above, So Below (2014). Co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle. The film is initially set in Iran, with archaeologist Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) searching for the Rose Key, a form of Rosetta Stone that she needs to continue her work. A guide leads her into some catacombs, and she's able to get video footage of the Rose Key just before the catacombs are destroyed. As Above, So Below is a found footage film, so lots of shakycam. Most of it is spent underground so it's somewhat reminiscent of films like The Descent (2005), except that The Descent is far better. Some parts of the film are just laugh-out-loud silly, when they're supposed to be scary. A lot of the rest is just mediocre, with lots of scrabbling around in catacombs. Those who will watch any horror going might get a kick out of it. 2/5 (Poor)

The Homesman (2014). Co-written and directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Set in the Nebraska Territory in 1853, the film opens with farmer and spinster Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) ploughing a field. Later she is visited by a neighbour, and she expresses her desperation to marry him, and have children. The neighbour isn't interested though, calls her plain and bossy, and expresses his intent to travel to find a wife elsewhere. The Homesman is initially a very good Western tale, somewhat similar to Unforgiven (1992) in the sense of showing the true hardships of frontier life. Both Swank and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent. Although a hard watch at times it ticks along well until about three quarters of the way through, and then there's a surprising twist that I found hard to make sense of. The remainder of the film is then a bit idiosyncratic as well in places, and doesn't end that neatly. If it weren't for this problem with the end segment I would have really enjoyed this, but for me it was still a decent film overall. Recommended for fans of a more realistic Western. 4/5 (Good)
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