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Dizzyingly cinematic: Why the Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire is perfect for NT Live Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 10:33

"What is straight?" asks Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. "A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains."

That's what the Young Vic's production of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play manages to capture on stage: the curve of the human heart and mind. When the traumatised Blanche arrives on the doorstep of sister Stella's apartment in New Orleans, she is hoping for a straightforward stay. In no time, she locates the liquor under the sink and takes a swig. The room immediately starts to spin. It doesn't stop.

It's a stunningly bold piece of design from Magda Willi: staged in the round, the production centres on Stella and Stanley's home, an exposed unit on a turntable that constantly, slowly revolves.

On a technical level, it's an impressive feat: under the careful eye of director Benedict Andrews, things are choreographed seamlessly so that people hop on and off the carousel of Blanche's downward spiral, hanging off stairwells or slipping out into the wings just as the opportunity arises.

On a practical level, it's also what makes this version of A Streetcar Named Desire perfect for NT Live, the now established process that will see a bunch of cameras broadcast the performance live into over 1,000 cinemas around the world tonight (Tuesday 16th September).

While sitting in the theatre, every scene rotates to be shown from different vantage points; a process that might sound distracting but is anything but. In fact, it's actually very cinematic, like watching a screen that repeatedly pans to another character's perspective; a restless, uneasy experience that taps directly into Blanche's crumbling mental state.

Gillian Anderson is jaw-dropping as the faded belle, simultaneously attractive and pathetic, powerful and pitiful. "I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth," she insists to her sister (the equally wonderful Vanessa Kirby), impressively stubborn in her deceit, but tragic in how she has fooled herself.

Ben Foster echoes her subtle turn with a similarly nuanced Stanley, giving the plain-speaking brute a soft, sympathetic edge. When he throws plates against the wall, he doesn't yell like an ape; he almost resentfully tips them with a casual flick, more conflicted than crude.

As this trio collide in varying combinations, a normal in-the-round production would see you miss parts of their performances. The Young Vic's staging, though, amplifies every detail. Sitting behind the sink adds to the home's claustrophobic confines; swooping behind the door during a row leaves you eavesdropping from the bathroom. It's a perfect display of how to make obstacles and props a part of the text, turning background into foreground.

Throughout, Alex Baranowski's music creates an oppressive atmosphere that adds to the visual feel, while rough and ready song choices during scene changes echo the action ironically in way you normally associate with the end credits of Mad Men.

When Blanche dresses up for a birthday party halfway through, flashing lights and colourful decorations create the illusion of spinning top, a circus act gone horrifyingly wrong. The spinning production's most powerful aspect, though, comes in between the lines. When Blanche insults Stanley to Stella, he stands behind the mesh front door, hearing everything; like the audience watching this abstract unit of architecture, he sees no wall there. When Stanley later talks to Stella about Blanche, she sits in the bath, isolated by a shower curtain singing show tunes - an element that would normally take place off-stage. We still move through the home without boundaries, but for Blanche, those walls actually exist; she is the only one who hears nothing outside of her own world. Overhearing from behind the kitchen sink, the division between reality and fantasy has never seemed more visible.

For tonight's broadcast, an NT Live director would normally have to pick several points in an auditorium and cut between them, struggling to reproduce theatre's presentation in another medium. Here, the set does the work for the camera; NT Live could work by simply staying stationary, sitting in one place as Blanche's descent into madness repeatedly spirals into view. The screen may be straight, but the Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire is dizzyingly curved.

Find out where A Streetcar Named Desire is showing here.


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Film review: In Order of Disappearance Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 12 September 2014 12:23

Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Bruno Ganz, Pål Sverre Hagen
Certificate: 15

There's something about snow that suits comic violence. The white brings out the red in the blood. It worked a treat for the Coen brothers back in the 1990s. Now, with In Order of Disappearance, Norway is making a killing.

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2014 Raindance Film Festival line-up revealed Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 08 September 2014 12:51

Raindance has revealed its 2014 film festival line-up. The festival, which runs for 12 days, will screen 100 feature films and over 150 shorts.

Raindance 2014 kicks off on Wednesday 24th September with the UK premiere of I, Origins, the latest film from Mike Cahill, whose fantastic Another Earth opened the festival a few years back. The director will be on hand for a Q&A at the Gala - as is usual for the majority of their screenings - and the Opening Gala will be followed by a party Leicester Square's Cafe de Paris with a performance from Fine Young Cannibal's lead Roland Gift.

It closes with a screening of Wolf, with star Marwan Kenzari taking questions from the audience on the night, followed by a do at Leicester Square’s Ruby Blue.

In between, you can expect a typically varied line-up from Europe's largest indie festival. In fact, the emphasis is on diversity more than ever, with the programme now divided up into themes: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The festival's commitment to showcasing talent from around the world, from a mix of genres and from a range of (low) budgets has won it a growing kudos among creatives, which is evident from the increasingly starry guests you can expect to find pimping their passion projects.

Last year, Danny Huston and Toby Stephens were on hand to support Two Jacks and The Machine. This year, Andrew Scott and Alice Lowe will be attending the festival, plus you can find Charlotte Gainsbourg in Asia Argento's Misunderstood, Leighton Meester and Debra Messing in Like Sunday, Like Rain, Wes Bentley in Things People Do and the UK debut of Diego Luna's biopic Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña and none other than John Malkovich - who will also reportedly be hanging around the Vue Piccadilly.

The joy, though, is in chancing upon the other artists in between the high profile names - the kind of people who would mortgage their house to fund their flicks.

After 22 years, Raindance continues to be a wonderful chance for the public to discover talent and for filmmakers to showcase their work. Indeed, last year, Raindance followed the fest with the launch of its own VOD site, Raindance Releasing, which gives a digital platform to some of the fest's titles. The thought that some of the brightest entries in this year's line-up will have a chance of UK release even without a theatrical distributor snapping them up makes the festival more exciting than ever.

If you have a film premiering this year at Raindance and will be releasing your film on VOD in the UK, we want to hear from you - our sister site,, is the UK's only video on-demand magazine with a section dedicated to supporting and covering digital indie releases.

For more information on the Raindance Film Festival, visit

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From Godard to Björk in 12 days: The London Film Festival 2014 line-up revealed Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:35

16 World Premieres, 9 International Premieres, 38 European Premieres and 19 Archive films. That's the London Film Festival 2014 line-up in a nutshell.

Running from Wednesday 8th to Sunday 19th October 2014, it's a typically diverse round-up of global cinema, from an old restoration of a Chinese silent to new films from debut British directors. The process of selection from the best of the rest of the year's festivals feels as enjoyably idiosyncratic as ever. Hoped for Christopher Nolan's Intersteller at the BFI IMAX? You won't get that. You will get Jean-Luc Godard's 3D Goodbye to Language. Hoped for Birdman? You won't get that. You will get the European premiere of The Duke of Burgundy, the new film from Berberian Sound Studio's Peter Strickland.

This is a celebraton of creativity in all its forms, whether it's an old master experimenting with new technology or Reese Witherspoon delivering what could be the performance of her career in biopic-drama Wild.

It's telling that there's an entire competition strand at the LFF devoted to first-timers, from Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's The Tribe - a Ukrainian film entirely in sign language with no subtitles - to Daniel Wolfe and Matthe Wolf's Catch Me Daddy - a Yorkshire-moors thriller with cinematography from Robbie Ryan.

As for the more established names, the LFF gala selection is both what you'd expect and what you wouldn't. There's Bennett Miller's wrestling film Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, drumming thriller Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the return of festival favourite Jason Reitman with Men, Women and Children, the second directorial feature from Alan Rickman (A Little Chaos - heading up the Love strand), Jon Stewart's debut flick Rosewater (starring Gael Garcia Bernal - heading up the Debate strand), Xavier Daolan's Mommy (heading up the Dare strand), Western The Salvation (the Cult strand), but there's also, let's not forget, the concert film Björk: Biophilia Live.

Live music is becoming an increasingly important part of the London festival calender, as is its love of old cinema: both world premiere restorations (yes, there's still the Treasures strand too) will have live scores. The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Island will screen at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as the Archive Gala with a new soundtrack from award-winning composer Simon Dobson and will be performed by 24 members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, while The Goddess, a Chinese Golden Age silent film, will have a new score by Chinese composer Zou Ye performed live by the English Chamber Orchestra.

Where else can you find an event that adores familiar faces (Michael Winterbottom's The Face of an Angel will screen) and also profiles new filmmakers? A schedule that includes audiences (the Opening Gala of Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and the Closing Gala of Brad Pitt in Fury will both have simultaneous screenings at cinemas across the UK) while still retaining that exclusive, unique voice? A film festival that gives the stage to Chinese silent film and shines a sequinned spotlight on a singer who once attended the Oscars dressed as a swan?

The BFI press release (which spans a whopping 4,610 words) presents the LFF as an festival that positions London as the world’s leading creative city. The London Film Festival 2014 line-up in a nutshell? From Godard to Björk in 12 days. That'll do it.

For more information - and the countless films I haven't been able to mention here - visit the official website:

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Film review: Obvious Child Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 30 August 2014 20:15

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Certificate: 15

"You know what makes you special?" best friend Nellie (Hoffmann) asks Donna (Slate). "I'm really good at folding laundry?" comes the sad reply. "No, you're unapologetically yourself on stage."

That's the one thing you can definitely say about the heroine of Obvious Child: Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian, is never sorry for being her. She farts in front of people. She tells strangers about her love life. And when she does find herself on a date with a nice, Christian boy, she encourages him to pee in the street.

Sure enough, one thing leads to another and she and Max (Lacy) end up in bed together. It is only several days later, as Donna hides in a cardboard box in her friend's book shop, that she realises what has happened: she is pregnant. And so she breaks up with Max, debates whether to tell her mum about her opened bun, and goes on stage and blurts out her she feels.

Jenny Slate is astounding as the endearing loser, letting loose with a candid string of one-liners and confessions, which constantly cut into the rest of the action. Jake Lacy is just as fantastic, their romance evolving with an unworkshopped casualness, while Gillian Robespierre stitches it together with the freewheeling, shambolic nature of real life.

The film, based on a short the director made with Karen Maine and Anna Bean, has been praised by many for its stance on the thorny subject of pregnancy - and, specifically, abortion. It's true that, in a country where the idea of aborting an unborn child is greeted by a strong anti-movement, and in a medium where pregnant women tend to make a pro-life choice come the final act, Obvious Child should be heralded for seriously entertaining the possibility of taking the other option: it is a film that treats a rarely discussed topic with honesty, humour and compassion. It is a funny film - but it is also a significant film.

What makes Obvious Child stand out as such a fantastic piece of art, though, is that it treats this rarely discussed topic in the same way it treats everything else. Honesty, humour and compassion are not restricted to the realm of abortion; they define every part of Donna's existence. Pregnancy is another step in her life, not the thing that defines it - she is a fully-formed female, one to whom the title refers as much as it does the foetus in her womb. Obvious Child is adorable, amusing and, crucially, a film in which every joke is character-driven, from angry break-up jabs to a quip about folding laundry. It's unapologetically itself. And that makes it very special indeed. A delight.

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Film review: The Keeper of Lost Causes Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 29 August 2014 07:18

Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter
Certificate: 15

Department Q. The name suggests all manner of hijinks, a room packed with James Bond gadgets and technological trickery. But as Carl Morck (Lie Kaas) soon finds out, this is the exact opposite: after a case goes wrong, the disgraced detective is banished to a Danish police station's basement to start the division. His mission? To excavate cold cases. The keeper of lost causes.

Yes, this is a textbook piece of Nordic noir, which conforms to all your expectations of the genre - in other words, exactly the kind of thing that helped create the term "Nordic noir" in the first place.

And so Carl finds himself investigating the disappearance of high-flying politican Merete (Richter) five years ago. He probes into the mystery, stirring up old secrets and upsetting all of his superiors. And, of course, reawakening his own ghosts of former (dead) colleagues. He even gets a comedy sidekick: Assad (Fares).

But if The Keeper of The Lost Causes follows a formula, each part of the equation is rounded up carefully. Fares Fares treads the line of annoying and amusing with a likeable charm, while the script - adapted from Jussi Adler-Olsen's novels by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Nikolaj Arcel - ticks the traditional twist boxes with ruthless efficiency. There is no unnecessary flashiness here; Mikkel Norgaard's direction is suitably grim for the nastiness shown on screen, but makes no pretence that the story is anything more than a solid thriller.

What elevates it higher is Nikolaj Lie Kaas. His face is fascinating to watch as Carl, all frowns and dead eyes, while his blunt, grouchy delivery is the perfect match for the movie's sparse, bleak humour. Sonja Richter is equally believable as the frantic damsel in distress, driving the plot's on-rails pace to a pressurised finale that grips, despite the overly familiar grit.

Sure, this is by-the-numbers Scandi crime, but the numbers add up to something enjoyably tense. Norgaard's experience on Klown and Borgen gives The Keeper of Lost Causes a TV-like feel, but also an ear for buddy cop entertainment and an eye for stripped-down simplicity. Department Q is the opposite of the hi-tech wizardry its name implies - it would be as at home on Netflix as on the cinema screen - but for fans of Nordic noir, that is no bad thing. With a sequel already greenlit, The Keeper of Lost Causes functions as something of a TV pilot for a series of Department Q feature films.

A franchise of Scandinavian crime based on impressively economic storytelling? More please.

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Film review: If I Stay Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 28 August 2014 13:24

Director: R.J. Cutler Cast: Chloe Moretz, Jamie Blackley Certificate: 12A

The secret to performing a piece is not to pause - to keep going and ignore any wrong notes. Half the time, an audience won't know what the music says anyway, let alone how it's meant to be played. If you can keep going and be swept up in the music, everyone comes out the other end happy.

If I Stay, the story of a 17 year old girl who fights for her life after a tragic car accident while recalling her romance with a boy, doesn't manage that. What it does manage, though, is something else entirely: to capture the importance and power of music on-screen. Because while it is the soppy tale of a doomed romance, it is also the tale of two musicians.

Chloe Moretz plays Mia, a 17 year old cellist who is applying for a place in Juilliard and is the daughter of two former rockers. She soon meets Adam (Blackley), a guitarist who falls for her after - crucially - watching her play in a rehearsal room.

Moretz and Blackley both do their best with the cliched teen smooching, fighting, making up and making out. Their relationship plays out, unsurprisingly, in flashback, while Mia lies in hospital in a coma, where family and friends visit to deliver sad, inspirational speeches - a parade of sentimental scenes interspersed with a parade of equally sentimental scenes. Plus kissing.

Dial your gag reflex down and the level of schmaltz is so far, so swallowable, mostly thanks to the strength of Moretz's performance - but director R.J. Cutler ladels on even more syrup with an ill-judged out-of-body narrative, which sees Chloe constantly creeping around hospital corridors, bathed in white, looking earnestly at the camera. It's like The Lovely Bones 2: The Even Lovelier Bones.

But away from the stereotypical story lines lies a surprisingly engaging plot: that of a girl and her instrument. It is rare for a movie to treat music with the importance or depth that If I Stay does - especially classical music. The last film to do so was Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet, which also explored the bond between notes and the people playing them. Here, though, Beethoven is presented to its young adult audience as if it is as normal as pop, a laudable achievement in itself.

Moretz (and her cello double - her head was superimposed on another player's body with seamless CGI) are fantastic, twiddling, bowing and swaying with believable intimacy - the same intensity that gives Blackley's scenes on stage an earnest sincerity (even if the band's songs are cheesy and repetitive). The relationship between the human couple may not always engage, but their relationship with music does.

The result is a film that moves in spurts, captivates in flurries, but misses beats every time the music stops for another rest in the hospital. For hard-hearted cynics, those wrong notes jar with the sound of manipulation. For teenagers familiar with the book or those willing to get swept up in the melody, the soundtrack's effectiveness is what gives the saccharine material some emotional substance. It makes the piece work - but only just. Despite the structure of the original novel, you get the impression the movie would flow more smoothly if the focus was solely on the music. If I Stay plays the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

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In Order of Disappearance trailer: Taken to Norway Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 12:03

Stellan Skarsgard. A dead son. Guns.

Taken to Norway? I'm in.

It's out on Friday 12th September.

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Film review: Into the Storm Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:21

Director: Steven Quale
Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh
Certificate: 12A

Love storms? Love Richard Armitage? Then you might enjoy INTO THE STORM. The film tells the dramatic, intense, disastrous story of what happens when Richard Armitage goes… INTO THE STORM. And not much else.

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Film review: Lucy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:20

Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Certificate: 15

What is life? How does it evolve? How many bad guys can Scarlett Johansson beat up? Lucy asks all the important questions - and a ton of others to boot.

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Competition: Win tickets to the Gala Screening of Million Dollar Arm Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 18:38

Jon Hamm stars in Million Dollar Arm, out in UK cinemas on Friday 29th August - and we're giving away two tickets to the Gala Screening of the film on Thursday 21st August in a London hotel, attended by celebrity guests including Jon Hamm himself.

Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm follows failing, struggling US sports agent JB Bernstein (Hamm), who travels to India in a last ditch effort to save his career by finding a young cricketer to turn into a major sports star. With the help of a cantankerous retired talent scout (Alan Arkin), JB sets up a national contest called "The Million Dollar Arm" and discovers Rinku (played by Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal), two 18-year-old boys who have a knack for throwing a fastball. Hoping to make a quick buck he brings them to LA to train, but the boys, who have never left their rural villages before, struggle with their new life and cope and the pressure heaped on them.

His livelihood on the line and relationship with the boys at stake, with the help of his friend Brenda (Lake Bell) JB realises that family and friendships are more important than sealing the deal.

But enough of that - how can you see the film early while making eyes at Don Draper at London's Mayfair Hotel? All you have to do to win two tickets to the screening is answer the following question:

Who does Jon Hamm play in Mad Men?
A) Don Draper
B) Roger Sterling
C) Dan Dopper

Email your answer to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it along with your name and - if you're on Twitter - your Twitter username by 23:59 Monday 18th August. The winner will be informed on Tuesday.

Note: You must be free on Thursday 21st August and available to attend the screening at the Mayfair Hotel (Stratton Street, W1J 8LT). Doors open at 6.30pm (the film starts at 7pm).

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