Mockingjay: Part 1

Turns a political struggle into something thrillingly personal.

The Beat Beneath My Feet

A toe-tapping indie that is, quite simply lovely.


An extraordinary true tale made disappointingly ordinary.

The Battle of the Five Armies

"Why does it hurt so much?" Because the rest of it felt so real.
Film review: Bridge of Spies Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 27 November 2015 16:38
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance

How do you make a Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Hanks better? Hire Mark Rylance. The Wolf Hall star is a veteran of the stage - and a relative rarity on camera. In his 55 years, he's been in just 13 films, including the upcoming adaptation of BFG. To see him even stand up on screen, therefore, is something of a treat.

Hanks, on the other hand, is the consummate everyman, a darling of Hollywood - and everyone else besides. He can talk the talk like nobody's business. The pair are perfectly cast in Bridge of Spies, the true tale of a lawyer hired to defend a Russian spy at the height of the Cold War.

That alone guarantees Spielberg's drama to be a success.

We first meet Hanks' James Donovan as he's verbally sparring with a rival in a bar, his words leaping high-jumps over his opponents' arguments. Matt Charman's script gives the Forrest Gump star a chance to show off his comic timing; Hanks has rarely been funnier in his career. He's charmingly witty and endearingly honourable - in other words, the perfect guy to root for, as he stands up to the noble task of giving legal defence to an anti-American.

As things progress, Hanks is sent over to Berlin to negotiate a swap: the Russian for captured US pilot Gary Powers. It's an optimistic deal, but he's an optimistic guy, cheerfully blowing his nose even as he's faced with bizarre fake relatives, slimy lawyers (a top-notch Sebastian Koch) and street gangs.

That upbeat mood sets Bridge of Spies apart from cinema's military norm - it's not often, particularly in modern times, that a war flick can be genuinely uplifting. But before you start hearing alarm bells in your head, along comes Rylance as Rudolf Abel. Rylance's Soviet dials down Spielberg's sentimental streak by underplaying every scene: while Hanks gesticulates, he stays quiet and still.

The stage actor's performance, as you would expect, is physical to the last. The opening of the movie, which begins with him rather than Hanks, is notably silent, relying solely on Rylance's shambling walk and sunken shoulders to do the exposition for us. He carries the presence of Alain Delon in Le Samurai, with Spielberg at his most restrained in years.

When Mark does open up, it makes each line all the more effective - you can practically see Hanks leaning into him, waiting on his every word. In an era of explosions and loud gunfire, Bridge of Spies appreciates the rat-a-tat of dialogue - for both Abel and Donovan, speech is the artillery of choice. When the whole historical conflict boils down to it, all we're doing is watching two opposing sides exchange words. It's riveting to watch. "Aren’t you worried?" asks Hanks. Rylance shoots back. "Would it help?"

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Film review: Black Mass Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 25 November 2015 18:10

Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton
Certificate: 15

Who doesn't love a heavy-hitting drama? Scott Cooper clearly does, switching from Crazy Heart to this Boston tale of corruption. His folk flick featured fantastic acting from Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell and here, he draws two similarly gripping turns from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton.

Depp plays notorious gangster Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, a part that could seem similar to his role in Public Enemies, were it not for Depp's transformed appearance. Looking more like a vampiric Christopher Walken than a drug dealer, he sports his slicked hair and blue contacts with a chilling stare that speaks volumes about Bulger's ruthlessness. Edgerton, meanwhile, proves himself one of the best character actors around with another generous performance as John Connolly, an FBI agent who works with Bulger to bring down the Mafia - only to unwittingly strengthen his boyhood friend's grip on the local crime scene.

Edgerton's is the more interesting character - his increasingly gelled hair visibly rising as his moral integrity sinks - but Cooper's film doesn't seem to realise it: Bulger, true to form, steals the thing from under Connolly's feet. The result is a unfocused landscape of low-lives, as the uneven script can't quite decide which male to make the alpha.

In lesser hands, this could prove fatal, but Black Mass remains engrossing on the sheer merits of its cast alone, let alone the polished work elsewhere. Each actor's role is well performed: one scene at a dinner table, in which an FBI agent is grilled about his family's secret recipe, is nail-biting yet hilarious. Even Benedict Cumberbatch, who is unnecessarily hired to play Jimmy's political brother, Billy, brings clout to his bit part. Stitched together with superb editing, from title years and ominous voice-over testimonies to beautiful crossover fades that see cars driving on rivers and cities filling up faces, Black Mass ultimately loses weight by being over-stuffed - but if it can't choose between its leads, that only emphasises the similarities between them: crime isn't just limited to the famous names on the Most Wanted list. This is a saga with impressive heft.

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Film review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 19 November 2015 22:01

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Certificate: 12A

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. The name trips as elegantly off the tongue as the third book limped off the page. Suzanne Clarke's sci-fi trilogy, which wove together politics, romance, reality TV and archery, never quite pulled off its grand finale: in admirably juggling all of its elements, it felt uneven and, by insisting on a serious pay-off for its plotting, a bit of an anti-climax.

So while the decision to split the book in two for the screen seemed like a commercial cash-grab, it turns out to be Mockingjay's saving grace, paying off in dividends throughout both halves. Mockingjay Part 1 was given the time to breathe and fully explore its themes of propaganda and manipulation - the result was a natural blend of the personal and political. Mockingjay Part 2 doesn't quite reach those heights, but plays out like a recap of the best bits of the rest of the franchise: the gulf between rival suitors Gale and Peeta is clearer than ever, thanks to their conflicting ideologies; the clash between dictatorship and democracy is brutally violent; and the action sequences buzz with thrill and ingenuity not seen since Catching Fire.

Most striking of all, though, is the pace: thanks to Part 1 giving all the exposition we need for the final stretch, Katniss and District 13's assault on the Capitol becomes the main thrust of this film - and it unfolds at a breathless rate.

Director Francis Lawrence and his team have excelled at production design throughout the series' final three entries, building a world so convincing that even flying through its deserted streets is immersive. That attention to detail extends right down to the clothes worn by Donald Sutherland's President Snow, who retains his loathsome air of luxury as he continues to manipulate his subjects - his smoking jacket is a smokin' jacket. In this dystopia, it's about surface as well as depth.

In stark contrast to his wolfish smile is Lawrence's Katniss, who remains blank-faced as she numbly stumbles through the trauma of war. With the emotional investment in her family and friends already established, that bland expression (always at odds with the flashiness of the Capitol) means the losses that could unfold at any moment still retain the potential shock of Rue's death - a threat amplified by some seriously scary visual effects during one monstrously chilling sewer sequence.

For all the 12A-troubling action, though, the other reason The Hunger Games series has been unsuitable for younger viewers is far more commendable: the films have never shied away from examining the notions of corruption and control via the media. Even when Julianne Moore's President Coin takes the podium, she sports a cloak that brings to mind a Sith Lord more than a liberal hero.

That commitment to the novels' adult subject - this is about loyalty as much as love, both national and individual - makes Mockingjay Part 2 an ambitious conclusion to a quietly bold saga. Freed from the structure of the novel, the ups and downs of overthrowing one system to try and replace it with another are thorny without being cumbersome. The inclusion of conversations that take place away from Katniss' limited perspective, meanwhile, add to the thick greys in this forest of shady morals - Woody Harrelson's sober Haymitch and Philip Seymour Hoffman's softly spoken spin doctor are highlights.

The absence of the magnificent, ever-ambiguous Hoffman leaves the later moments struggling, while one final shot steps slightly too far into sentimental territory, but this last chapter bows out with a resounding reminder that The Hunger Games is a criticism of society and power first and foremost, wrapped up in a moving love triangle. The result is proof that blockbusters can treat young audiences with intelligence and that splitting a book in two can be a good thing. Mockingjay Part 2 has all the emotion of the ending and none of the anti-climax.

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Film review: Steve Jobs Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 13 November 2015 18:35

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stahlburg
Certificate: 15

Years ago, a man changed the world by introducing it to the Apple Macintosh. Part-designer good, part-useful tool, it paved the way for a revolution in our relationship with technology; a personal computer so personal it could say hello. It may sound like an overstatement, but one only needs to glance around to see the impact Steve Jobs has had upon our everyday lives; whether Apple-made or not, a large portion of society now interacts primarily through handheld devices that we're told originated in one man's mind - a place of creative ingenuity, commercial savvy and ruthless ambition.

It's no wonder, then, that Steve Jobs the movie has been made. The biopic is a natural successor to David Fincher's The Social Network, the second part, if you will, in an ongoing saga of mythologising key figures from our modern history. Aaron Sorkin, who has written both, has become something of an official chronicler of these era-defining men, his recognisably stylised speech adding to the sense that we're witnessing legends being crafted on screen.

Danny Boyle's film is a triumph because it tries to do precisely the opposite of that.

Rather than give us the hagiographic take on a well-known name, Steve Jobs spends every second of its runtime cutting its subject down to size. We discover almost immediately that he's imaginative and ambitious - and also an asshole. He refuses point blank to give credit to those who built the Apple company before him, much to the annoyance of Steve Wozniak (Rogen). He threatens engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) to make sure his computer says hello during its launch, no matter what it takes. And he flat-out denies that Lisa, a girl deemed 90 per cent likely to be his daughter, is in any way his child.

One of the few to stand up to his petulant ego and get away with it is his assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), who is as honest as she is loyal. "What's the problem?" he asks between one of many fraught exchanges with those around him. "I don't know," she retorts, "but I'm sure it can be traced back to you."

The cast are uniformly excellent as their real-life characters, from Rogen - proving, once again, that he's nuanced performer who should be taken seriously more often - to Jeff Daniels as Jobs' weary mentor, Apple CEO John Sculley, and sometime firer.

Fassbender towers over them all as the iconic figure, shaking off any niggling thoughts that he doesn't look like Jobs in an instant. "What do you do?" demands Wozniak, as they stand in the orchestra pit in a theatre. "I play the orchestra," comes the magnanimous reply. He embodies that anti-social arrogance physically as well as verbally, from his wolfish grin to his cold stare. He's in every scene of the film and you can feel the pressure of his presence.

That's part of Sorkin's secret: while Steve is the star of the show, it's never at the expense of the others. In fact, it's their perspectives that we ultimately walk away with, showcasing Steve's selfish pride as a flaw rather than a benefit. The other is the script's taut, three-act structure, which only presents the action taking place just before the three defining press events of his career: the 1984 Macintosh launch, his educational follow-up, NeXT, and the iMac, a few years later. That theatrical device gives an urgency and a momentum to the fast-paced montage of confrontations, but it also places an emphasis on the personal life of Jobs versus the public sheen put on display. Apple products may be gloss and glamour, but these are the behind-the-scenes components he was so determined to lock away in the "end to end" design.

The cast revel in the writer's typically snappy dialogue, which flashes back within its artificial confines to tremendous effect - and finds both humour amid the tension and heart amid the cables. Thanks to a strong turn from Perla Haney-Jardine as Jobs' daughter in the final act, when the inevitably clunky mentions of iPads and iPods arrive, they're not sales pitches but emotional pledges, building up a personal meaning behind each product.

But Danny Boyle emerges as the core of the whole piece. It takes a strong director to tackle a Sorkin screenplay and the Trainspotting and Sunshine veteran makes it his own. His camera is thrillingly dynamic, always moving forward like his enterprising subject, adding action to the static indoor locations. His frames are full of Dutch angles, adding an edge to the order and precision of the Apple production line; a striking visual echo of the chaos and claustrophobia that flood the minutes before the crucial events. Even the stock used for each act varies, from the soft 16mm of Jobs' rebellious youth and the cinematic feel of 35mm for 1988's dramatic comedown, to the the crisp HD of digital for 1998's finale.

If the visuals are the perfect accompaniment for Aaron's script - Elliot Graham's editing deserves an Oscar - it's Boyle's ability with actors that gives the film's processor extra power. Rehearsing each stage in-depth before shooting, the ensemble click smoothly together, with Winslet, in particular, whose Hoffman has a complex blend of Polish, Armenian and American accents, adding a touch of engaging humanity to all the back-stabbing machinations. The result is a gripping, fascinating study of a man and a machine that has shaped the 21st Century - precisely because it avoids singing their praises. For every blow to its subject's myth on-screen, Steve Jobs is another testament to the filmmaker's talent behind it. The designer may be an American legend, but this filmmaker is a British national treasure.

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Film review: Brooklyn Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 06 November 2015 13:06

Director: John Cowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
Certificate: 12A

How do you build a life in a new country? That's the question facing Eilis (Ronan) in Brooklyn - until it's replaced by another, equally tough question: what if you then realise you could have an equally perfect life back where you came from? Brooklyn manages to answer both, along with another, equally challenging question: how do you make a film about a place without actually filming there?

The visuals are carefully assembled, but the script is the key. Nick Hornby adapts Colm Toibin's novel for the screen with typical wit and heart, creating a story that manages to be full of both cheerful hope and painful nostalgia. Saoirse Ronan shines in the lead, the excellent make-up and costume team making her as plain and blank as possible against the vibrant, colourful New York scene. Her face, which so subtly shifts between emotions, is perfect for the conflicted part - ably matched by Cohen's swoonsome suitor, who, unlike our heroine, never feels less than certain about his feelings. You suspect Emory is one smile away from heartthrob stardom.

Cohen is as charming as Domhnall Gleeson's boy back in Ireland is polite - between Star Wars and Ex Machina, Gleeson is on roll right now. Spending as much time with each of the men, we feel Eilis' torn affection mentally as well as emotionally; as soon as we've gotten used to one romance, the plot wrenches us away to admire another. The jolt is smoothed by Julie Walters' hilariously uptight landlady, who also helps to juggle the simultaneously cheerful and sad mood.

It's the understanding of what makes a home, though, that gives Brooklyn its old-fashioned magic. Director John Crowley shoots the tranquility of Ireland's Wexford with a twinkle in his lens - there's no faking that genuine location - but it's the gradual assembling of clothes, cosmetics, work colleagues and confidence that convinces. That attention to period detail, the act of reconstructing New York in Montreal, becomes an intrinsic part of Eilis' journey; her character is pieced together in the same way that each part of her life falls into place. As Eilis looks more and more American, she feels more and more real - and her tale becomes more and more moving. The result is a funny and unabashedly sentimental tale of identity, belonging and starting over. It doesn't matter where you watch Brooklyn: you'll cry many times.

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Film review: The Lobster Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 25 October 2015 14:10

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, John C Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw
Certificate: 15

Quiet, painful and occasionally funny, being single sucks. Well, it does if you exist in The Lobster. Director Yorgos Lanthimos' comedy is as darkly spiky as its name suggests.

The film is set in the near-future, where being single is illegal. Not coupled? Then you have to check in at The Hotel, where you have 45 days to find a mate. Succeed and you're moved to a yacht for a honeymoon before being sent out into the wider, married world. Fail and your stay comes to an end. Oh, and you're turned into an animal of your choosing.

It's an inspired conceit, cutting right through society's attitudes towards relationships; being in one is accepted as the end goal for all people, while those without partners are considered somehow abnormal. Writers Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou tease out the tyranny of romantic conventions, forcing their hotel guests to fill in a form detailing everything about them. Homosexual or heterosexual David (Farrell) is asked, as he checks in with his dog. No, you can't put both.

As he mingles with the other inmates, that desperate need to pair off and put everyone in boxes turns them into walking checklists of likes and dislikes. With such a short window to find someone suitable, even physical traits become fair game: if you have a limp, your soul mate would obviously have one too, right?

The film takes its cool logic to bleak, hilarious extremes. Ben Whishaw's guest ("The Limping Man") starts injuring other parts of his body to much other people's ailments, while the ever-brilliant John C Reilly ("Lisping Man") is all too eager to join in the regular hunts, which earn guests an extra day's breathing space for every runaway or single person they can shoot in the surrounding woods.

The whole enterprise is overseen by Olivia Colman, who lords it up with deadpan restraint; even when she starts singing a duet with her husband, the mood is as unamorous as could be. The rest of the ensemble is equally understated, reinforcing the confined claustrophobia - a vacuum of affection that makes every laugh (and there are many) as amusing as it is heartbreaking.

Outside of the hotel, a gaggle of Loners try to overthrow this monogamistic monopoly. Led by the intensely brooding Léa Seydoux, they prove just as uselessly oppressive, demanding no bonding at all between members. Amid the clash of courting traditions, Farrell (who is at his best when playing such pathetic, vulnerable humans) and Rachel Weisz's "Short Sighted Woman" emerge as a cry for genuine intimacy. And yet even their sweet chemistry is undermined by the fact they both need glasses - a common affliction of which the hotel would no doubt approve - and Weisz's wonderfully blunt narration.

In an age of online dating, where we're encouraged to scour the world for potential matches using data and facts, The Lobster reels in these social rituals and catches how absurd they really are. It's a shame, then, that the second half sees the prickly clarity of its message become muddled and lost in the woods. Farrell's choice of animal is the eponymous crustacean, which lives forever and always remains fertile. It's a smart choice, not just for a new form but for the film's title: like its namesake, The Lobster is at its most satisfying when contained inside its shell.

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LFF film review: Goosebumps Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 18 October 2015 08:14

Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan
Showtimes: 12.45, 18th

If you didn't grow up reading Goosebumps, R L Stine's kid-friendly horror stories, you'll have heard of them. The novels have sold thousands upon thousands of copies worldwide, creeping young teens out of their adolescent skins for years. It's perhaps a surprise, then, that it's taken so long for someone to make a full-blown, big-budget movie based on the franchise - the 12A-ready premise and built-in audience of young fans and nostalgic 90s kids make it a reliable hit. Even more surprising, though, is the approach the film takes.

Rather than adapt a single short story, the script puts all of Stine's monsters on the screen at once, as they unite to attack the sleepy town of Madison, Delaware - a place where Jack (Minnette) and his mum (Ryan) have just moved. Soon, he finds himself intrigued by the mysterious neighbour next door (Black), not least because of his daughter, Hanna (Rush).

You can hear the predictable romance coming a mile off, but it's fortunately drowned out by the noise of the spooky spectacle waiting to burst onto the screen. Director Rob Letterman lines up creature after creature with childlike glee, using top-notch effects to bring the monster mash to life with a playful peril that captures the experience of reading the books. Care is taken to mount an impressive variety of ghouls and giggles: sinister garden gnomes wield mini-pick axes, abominable snowmen tear down buildings, while Slappy the ventriloquist dummy runs around shouting bad puns at anyone who will listen.

The love for the material is more apparent in the script's over-arching narrative, which (not unlike The Pagemaster and Inkheart) places a welcome emphasis on the power of reading and imagination. As much as this is a money-maker for publishers Scholastic, there's a commendable chance that it could inspire youngsters to not only buy a book but also pick up a pen and start scribbling themselves.

For a film that values writing so highly, though, it's a shame that male screenwriters Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski fail so miserably when it comes to penning an actual female character. The cast are all wonderful, from Black's hammy recluse to Minnette's likeable lead, but Odeya Rush is wasted in a role so two-dimensional it barely makes it off the page. Inspiring a new generation to read and write is one thing; encouraging them to think of women as non-entities is another. That disturbing fact aside, though, Goosebumps is a lot of fun sure to drum fear into the hearts of kids of all ages.

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LFF film review: Desierto Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 18 October 2015 06:58

Director: Jonas Cuaron
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Showtimes: 13.00, 18th

After co-writing Gravity, Jonas Cuaron brings us back down to Earth with a loud bump with Desierto. A film about Mexican immigrants trying to survive being hunted down on the US border, it couldn't seem more different to the Oscar-winning sci-fi, but the two have a surprising amount in common.

On the one hand, they're both survival thrillers. Where Sandra Bullock's astronaut finds herself facing the challenge of staying alive in space, Desierto's threat is the hostile desert, in which Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) and others try to escape the sights of a sniper rifle in the hands of a right-wing American (Dean Morgan). But both prove Cuaron's knack for combining genre flicks with heavier themes: here, the real villain is the intolerance of other people.

If it sounds heavy-handed, that's the secret to Desierto's brilliance: you're never hit over the head with its pro-immigration stance. You're simply left to run with it from the barrel of a gun. Yet that stripped-down simplicity makes the movie even more relevant: as news headlines remind us every day, the battle between migrants and natives is happening all over the world, which means that Desierto could almost be taking place anywhere.

Morgan and Bernal embrace that bare-bones approach with physical performances that carry a surprising emotional weight; Bernal's panicked face, desperate to avoid death, is immediately engaging, while Morgan swaggers about like John Wayne in an anti-Western, accompanied by a vicious dog. As the widescreen landscape, a frontier so idolised by the golden age of US cinema, turns into an unwelcome barrier, Cuaron's immersive sound design and sweltering atmosphere make for an oppressive watch. The result is viscerally exciting and pulsatingly political. It may not be as high-profile as Gravity, but Desierto is every bit as gripping.

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LFF film review: The Witch Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   

Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Never trust a goat. That could arguably be the moral of the story in The Witch, which sees a Christian family head into the forest to live a more devout life in 17th century New England.

Alas, God, or another power, seems to have other plans and, sure enough, things take a turn for the dark. Their crops wither, their religious conviction falters and a baby goes missing - taken, it seems, by the witch of the woods. The glimpses we get of this mysterious figure are certainly disturbing, but the film's terrifying power lies in the lengthy periods where nothing is seen at all.

Director Robert Eggers mounts an atmosphere of pure horror through chilling visuals, a haunting score and a palpable sense of unease. It's made all the more effective by the film's use of language: our characters speak in a gloriously antiquated fashion, giving events the feel of history more than horror: the period detail is scarily realistic, which allows the script to sell its scares with a serious face. The Exorcist? No, this is more like watching a B-side to The Crucible.

Ineson and Dickie are excellent as the fraying married couple, one as intense as the other is desperate, and the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy (as eldest daughter, Thomasin) wields her coming-of-age as a supernatural force in its own right. All the while, the youngest kids dance about the farm and sing to "Black Philip", their goat, who may or may not be the devil. Is satan really working against them? Is this wintry landscape simply too harsh for humans to survive? And is it their determined, dogmatic dad's fault?

Between the children's hokey games and the mounting hysteria lies the spellbinding effect of stories and faith, where what you believe can be as damning as it is liberating. Across 90 slow yet beautiful, minutes, The Witch slips under your skin and leaves you squirming in discomfort. A genuinely creepy horror.

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LFF film review: Black Mass Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 16 October 2015 18:33

Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton
Showtimes: 19.15, 11th / 11.30, 12th / 21.00, 16th

Who doesn't love a heavy-hitting crime drama? Scott Cooper clearly does, switching from Crazy Heart to this Boston tale of corruption. His folk drama featured two fantastic turns from Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell and he draws two similarly gripping turns from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton.

Depp plays the notorious gangster Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, a part that could seem similar to his role in Public Enemies, were it not for Depp's transformed appearance. Looking more like a vampiric Christopher Walken than a drug dealer, he sports his slicked hair and blue contacts with a chilling stare that speaks volumes about his ruthlessness. Edgerton, meanwhile, proves himself one of the best character actors around with another generous performance as John Connolly, an FBI agent who works with Bulger to bring down the Mafia - only to unwittingly strengthen his childhood friend's grip on the local crime scene.

Edgerton's is the more interesting character - his increasingly gelled hair visibly rising as his moral integrity sinks - but Cooper's film keeps trying to make Bulger its lead. The result is a unfocused landscape of lowlives, albeit one that grips because each actor's role is so well performed. Even Benedict Cumberbatch, who is unnecessarily cast as Jimmy's political brother, Billy, brings clout to his bit part. Stitched together with superb editing, from title years and voice over testimonies to give an air of inevitable downfall to beautiful crossover fades that see cars driving on rivers and cities filling up faces, Black Mass ultimately loses weight by being over-stuffed, but this saga still carries an impressive heft.

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LFF film review: Office (3D) Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 16 October 2015 17:22

Director: Johnnie To
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Chow Yun Fat, Eason Chan, Tang Wei
Showtimes: 20.45, 16th / 12.00, 17th

Is there a more exciting phrase in the English language than "a Johnnie To musical"? The director's eye for martial arts choreography makes him a perfect match for the glitz of Broadway.

Office does exactly what it says on the tin: the entire spectacle is based around the day-to-day goings-on in a workplace. The workplace in question? Jones & Sunn, a billion-dollar financial giant, which is just about to find itself on the wrong end of the financial crisis. There's CEO Chang (Sylvia Chang), who enjoys pushing other people's buttons more than those on her computer. There's David, who's desperate to climb up the company ladder and into her lap. There are bright young things Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) and Kat (Lang Yeuting), both eager to make their marks in the world - and, overseeing it all, Chairman Ho (Chow Yun Fat - who else?), who is also nursing a wife in a coma.

The cast through themselves into the fray with gusto, juggling the script's elegant balance of romance, inter-cubicle gossip, greed and ruin. The songs, though, are a little too one-note to fully jazz up proceedings: between the gentle piano ballads, it doesn't help that the lyrics, due to translation from Cantonese to English, end up somewhere between literal and poetic (one tender scene about dreams and hopes discusses the concept through metaphors involving wind and pigs).

But that challenging idiosyncrasy is a snug fit for what is an undeniably snazzily-dressed number. The set design is some of the most stunning of recent years (Wong Kar Wai's regular collaborator, William Chang, deserves an Oscar): the whole production takes place inside a warehouse of pipes and glass, an angular world that fuses the artifice of modern finance and unfaithful relationships with a beautiful sheen. Indeed, To's camera is the real star of the show, swooshing behind a gigantic timepiece in the middle of the stereoscopic stage. The actors cavort up and down stairs, their clothes gradually moving from the monochrome of office attire to colourful ball gowns and lingerie of the night. All the while, the absurd clock ticks over everyone's professional and private lives. The music may not earn a promotion into your list of favourite musicals, but Office is a show-stopping achievement. Spreadsheets have rarely seemed glamorous.

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