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.

Unbroken

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.

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Film review: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 21 March 2015 16:57

Director: Isao Takahata
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen
Certificate: PG

One of the best things about Studio Ghibli has always been its use of female protagonists - not just telling stories about them, but understanding them as people. The title of their latest, then, could cause some concern among fans: it sounds like the name of a Disney film. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, though, is anything but.


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Film review: The Voices Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 20 March 2015 07:05
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick
Certificate: 15

Ever since Adventureland, it's been clear that there was more to Ryan Rodney Reynolds than Van Wilder: Party Liaison. The Voices unleashes it - with wonderfully messy results.


Reynolds plays Jerry, your typical, average, normal guy. He's nice. A little dim. He works at a factory that makes bathtubs. And he talks to his cat and his dog. The only problem? They talk back.


It's a cute enough scenario, as loyal best friend Bosco barks encouragement at Jerry, who's trying to woo his co-worker, Fiona (Gemma Arterton). Mr. Whiskers, meanwhile, hisses sarcastic insults at his owner like, well, a cat. After Jerry accidentally commits murder, though, that good-dog-bad-cat routine evolves into an anthropomorphic conscience, one pet telling him to go to the police, the other encouraging him to cover it up - and kill again. It's your classic angel-on-one-shoulder-and-devil-on-the-other premise, except they both have tails and four legs.


Arterton is excellent as the object of Jerry's affections, managing to be patronising, funny and intimidating all with little more than her face. Anna Kendrick is equally amusing as Lisa, who works in accounts and has a crush on Jerry, not quite realising just how messed up he is.


Reynolds, though, is the star of the show - and he's never been better. The Hollywood hunk has the manly physique to impress and the gleaming smile to dazzle, but he's also got enough edgy comic timing to undermine his surface charm: he switches between the hot, simple bloke in the office and a panicking bundle of nerves with alarming ease. That vulnerability makes him sympathetic, but also genuinely unpredictable: it's a treat just to watch him unravel.


Reynolds also does the voices for both of his pets, a masterstroke from director Marjane Satrapi, who uses that vocal similarity to capture the confusion inside Jerry's head. The whole production is carefully attuned to his mental state: shots of the set from his perspective are all bright lights and clean colours, while shots from other people's POV reveal Jerry's home to be dimly lit and dirty.


As Jacki Weaver's increasingly wide-eyed psychiatrist works out what's going on, we find ourselves giggling at severed heads, wincing at bad dates and scared by intimate encounters. The tone is all over the place, summed up by one bizarre dance number: 1979's Sing a Happy Song by the The O'Jays, performed by the cast with shamelessly cheesy grins. It's weird, it's hilarious and, for the most part, it's downright awkward. But where that might normally leave you frustrated, here that uneasiness feels fitting for its subject matter; The Voices is an exploration of mental illness that, thanks to Reynolds' committed performance, is perfectly unbalanced.

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Film review: Mommy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 19 March 2015 08:01

Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Antoine Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement, Anne Dorval
Certificate: 15

"We still love each other, right?" "That's what we're best at, buddy."


That's Steve and his mum, Die, in Xavier Dolan's new film, Mommy. When she says it, it really means something - because we see exactly what she goes through.


Steve is a handful, to say the least, the kind of troublemaker who gets kicked out of a juvenile institute for setting the canteen on fire. Looking after him, then, is a lot of work for a single mum, not to mention a single mum with no job.


Antoine Olivier Pilon is superb as the hyperactive, hyper-excitable, hyper-aggressive teen, one moment saying sweet things to his mum, then next blowing up in her face. But he's nothing compared to the enfant terrible behind the camera.


At the tender age of 25, Xavier Dolan has already notched up several impressive films, doing everything from writing and directing to starring and designing the costumes - often all at the same time. Here, he crafts his most mature and impressive film yet: one that knocks you for six, both technically and emotionally. The entire film is shot in a tight 1:1 aspect ratio, a square that leaves vertical black bars hemming in our couple. Halfway through, the trap expands to fill the full width of the screen: a brief moment where you feel Steve's freedom, before it's yanked away again. It's a stunning little slice of cinema. The fact that it's accompanied by Oasis makes it even more impressive.


For all the careful construction, though, Dolan gives his cast maximum room to shine; Pilon may dominate, but Suzanne Clement steals scenes as his susceptible, stammering neighbour, Kyla, who brings out the best and worst in the boy. Anne Dorval, though, emerges as the real star. Tender and tough, her mother does everything it takes for her boy, especially when she doesn't want to. After one key decision, you expect the film to stop, but it keeps going. As violence, tragedy and humour collide, this mess of human emotion is gloriously unabashed to witness. Through all the ups and downs, Dolan captures one constant truth: these characters love each other. And they're damn good at it.


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Film review: A Second Chance Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 16 March 2015 13:15

Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen, Maria Bonnevie
Certificate: 15

When it comes to getting natural performances out of actors, Susanne Bier is one of the best directors in the business. A Second Chance is no exception.


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Film review: X + Y Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 14 March 2015 08:47

Director: Morgan Matthews
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall
Certificate: 12A


How do you define love mathematically? It's a challenge that's almost as impossible as discovering the formula for a brilliant film. X+Y, an absolutely charming new British movie out now in cinemas, manages to do both.


Start with a young teenage boy on the autism spectrum (Nathan), take away his dad so only he and his mum (Julie) remain, then plus the International Mathematical Olympiad, a globe-trotting competition Nathan would be very good at, and an equally anti-social teacher (Martin), who has a habit of getting high.


Factor in a rude rival (Jakes Davies' tragic Luke), a pretty overseas student (Zhang Mei) and a potential teacher-parent romance and the result reads like a pile of coming-of-age cliches.


Then, subtract any cheesy awkwardness and divide the potential mawkishness between a cast of fantastic actors: Asa Butterfield is a huge positive as the lonely genius; Rafe Spall and Eddie Marsan double the total laughs with their abrasive and likeable presence. Combine this with Sally Hawkins, who steals the show as Nathan's earnest, shut-out mother, who counts her son's prawn balls at the local Chinese takeaway with arithmetic precision.


Raise all that by Morgan Matthews' gentle direction and square it with the script's calculatedly unconventional sports movie structure. Triple the emotional impact with a heart-breaking monologue from Spall, minus any easy happy ending for him and Julie, and times it by a final speech from Hawkins, who lands upon the correct solution to defining affection as a variable. The sum effect is exponentially adorable, a moving, sincere drama that feels like it has a real value: add this film to your life and it will multiply your happiness. Deduct it and you will be infinitely missing out on a quantifiable gem.


X+Y = <3


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Film review: Focus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 28 February 2015 14:20

Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie
Certificate: 15


Will Smith. The goatee man's Tom Cruise. Both have been reported saying bizarre things off-screen, but when the camera's on, they're charisma machines, almost impossible to resist in any role.


Smith dials the suave up to maximum for Focus, in which he plays a con artist - not just a con artist, mind, but one of the greatest con artists of all time. Even better than Adrian Lester off Hustle. Fans of the genre will be familiar with the game plan: set up a mark, establish an insider, take them for everything they've got. Focus, though, gives us a different take on the grifting system: Smith's Nicky is the head of a large team, which swoops into town on big occasions and performs countless mini-cons, until everyone's wallets in the area have been lifted. Then, they cash up, sell on, and move out.


Of course, there's a woman involved too. That's Margot Robbie, who plays wannabe thief Jess. Fresh from her turn in The Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie impresses with excellent coming timing, both physical and verbal - a sparky presence that Smith goes toe to toe with. Their obligatory flirting scenes are hugely enjoyable to watch, with each star competing to see who can charm the audience's pants off first. But their chemistry comes alive in her introduction to his world: a dizzying display of deceptions that sees them both working marks, before building up to a faintly ludicrous - yet perfectly tolerable - showdown at a football event that is, for legal reasons, definitely not the Super Bowl.


Here, the film reveals just how much Will Smith brings to the table, convincing as a recovering gambling addict - complete with tear-filled eyes - while a panicked Jess tries to keep his urges in check. Not against using people as unwitting pawns, it's a neat turning point for the script. The problem is that it's also only the halfway mark: we then leap forward three years for a final half that, sure enough, does seem to involve a big con and lots of money after all.


It's the start of a disappointing conclusion to Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's script, but the directors give events as much polish as they can: cleverly ducking in and out of mirrors, their cameras make everything look so glossy it's like watching an Argos catalogue come to life. Across the laminated pages of dreams dance our glamorous couple, accompanied by Nick Urata's uber-stylish score. The ending takes a leaf out of Agatha Christie's book of left field twists - along with an arguably dated stereotype - but with Smith's charisma machine turned up to 11, it's hard not to get swept up in the sheer sassiness of it all.

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Film review: White God Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 27 February 2015 13:26

Director: Kornél Mundruczó Cast: Zsófia Psotta Certificate: 15

Rise of the Planet of the Dogs. If your ears have already perked up, then White God is for you.


The Hungarian film takes the suspense, humour and scares of sci-fi and combines them with, well, dogs. 13 year old Lili loves her pet, Hagen. But when her father refuses to look after the mutt - "mixed-breed", she corrects him - Hagen ends up a stray on the streets.


While she attends band rehearsals and sneaks out to search for her pal, Hagen falls in with a pack of wild dogs - and even wilder humans. He is quickly kidnapped by dog-fighters, who force him into the backstreet ring along with other, unfortunate animals.


Eventually, though, something snaps.


Director Kornél Mundruczó doesn't shy away from the nastiness of it all; the dog fighting sequences are so brutal they make Amores Perros look like The Aristocats. But that graphic approach is even truer when it comes to the second half of the film: an uprising that's part-fable, part-social commentary and 100 per cent terrifying.


The Hungarian hounds storm through the deserted streets - a eerily stunning spectacle that opens the film and prompts you to wonder why on earth man's best friend has become his worst nightmare. Zsófia Psotta's young girl glides through the chaos serenely on a bicycle; a sight that's at once both amusingly surreal and breathtakingly surprising. Mundruczó brings real flair to proceedings, cueing up horror film tropes galore, as Hagen gets his own back. But where footsteps in a corridor or silhouettes in doorways could be played for laughs, the earnest Psotta - and the very immediate threat of the non-CGI beasts - give this a chilling plausibility and a pointed bite.


A cautionary tale about the abuse of animals, Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber's screenplay, it's an unabashedly feral thriller that gnashes and thrashes its way through your nervous system, until climaxing with a bizarre, beautiful final shot that blares a haunting horn over the sea of rabid hunters. Rise of the planet of the dogs? The Birds with teeth? Homeward Bound for adults? From its haunting images to its fervent love of trumpets, White God is a monster all of its own. Paws-itively brilliant.


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The Oscar Nomnomnom Challenge 2015: The Great British Predict Off Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 20 February 2015 07:07

Right. There are just over 48 hours until the 2015 Oscars, so you know by now who's going to win, right? Right?


In which case, you have no excuse not to enter this year's Oscar Nomnomnom Challenge. The aim of the competition? Guess who will win what at this year's Academy Awards. The prize for getting the most predictions right? Cupcakes. Oscar Nomnomnoms for Oscar Nomnomnoms. Simple.


The rules are barely non-existent: all you have to do is write down your guesses for all Oscar categories and send them to me by 11:59 on Sunday 22nd February. Entries can be tweeted (a photo of your list) using the hashtag #OscarNomnomnom, or you can just send an email to nomnomnom[at]i-flicks.net.


Apologies for the short notice, folks. I know it's not very long to come up with a list of expected winners, but I've been somewhat distracted from my Oscar Nomnomnom duties by doing stuff over at VODzilla.co. But I can guarantee that there will be cupcakes made between now and the ceremony on Sunday. I can also guarantee that they will bear some resemblance to this year's Oscar nominees. I cannot guarantee, however, that they will be edible. For that, you'll have to ask Joe Cunningham, who has won the competition for the past three years in a row.


For a taster of what you can win, here are last year's Oscar Nomnomnom cakes, from Gravity to The Hobbit.


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Film review: Jupiter Ascending Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 05 February 2015 13:32

For a film a called Jupiter Ascending, Jupiter spends a lot time falling from things.


At the start, Jupiter Jones is a cleaner in Chicago who discovers that she is actually a princess - mostly thanks to the explosive arrival of former soldier Caine (Channing Tatum), who stops a gang of aliens from trying to kill her. Part wolf and all man, he has pointy ears, a goatee worthy of Murray from Flight of the Conchords and hover boots. He's the perfect fantasy romantic interest - except for the fact that he's caught up in a war between the members of the universe's richest royals, the Abrasax family, who are all squabbling over whom inherits a precious resource.


On the surface, The Wachowskis' film appears to be impressively forward-thinking: a female lead, an anti-capitalist plot, an open embrace of inter-species relations, a surprising decision not to kill Sean Bean off in the opening act, and even a large chunk of screen time devoted to flying footwear, which is sorely underrepresented in modern cinema. Underneath it all, though, is a tale that's old-fashioned in all the wrong ways.


The Wachowskis deliver the eye-popping array of galactic cities, impossible gadgets and swooping shoot-outs with the colour and imagination of kids at an old-school matinee. But all the cor-blimey CGI in the universe can't give life to their script, which revolves around the biggest waste of a female character since that blonde one from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.


Jupiter is meant to be a protagonist to cheer on, as she claims her title and upsets the plans of evil monarch Balem Abrasax (Redmayne). But she spends almost all of her time in danger, waiting for Channing Tatum's hero to rescue her. If she isn't falling from a high object, she's climbing up a ladder so she's ready to fall from a high object - a state of perpetual peril that robs her of agency in her own story.



That lack of substance leaves you little to engage with, unless you really like people falling off things or blokes with floating trainers. Equally bad is that it leaves the screenplay with no way to develop, instead descending into a string of escalating carnage: a series of set pieces with bigger guns and taller ladders. Every scene seems to end in one of two ways: a ship crashing into something, or another ship miraculously appearing to ferry people away to the next. When it turns out that destruction on Earth can be fixed in the blink of an eye, any stakes go out the window.


Through it all, Kunis does her best to give her princess some depth, but with no impact on the events around her, her lack of dimensions leaves you looking elsewhere for fun characters and coming up short. Sean Bean's gruff army veteran is mired in duff dialogue - "Bees are programmed to recognise royalty," he says, with a straight face - and Eddie Redmayne's whispering villain is hilariously awful. The only thing left to admire is Tatum's lupine lover. And his magic shoes.


The costumes are certainly shiny and the hair suitably gravity defying, but sadly, no amount of Flash Gordon retro sparkle can make this enjoyable. It's important to appreciate a film as the type of movie it aims to be. Jupiter Ascending, though, doesn't aim to be dumb and formulaic: it aims to be operatic and exciting, with a female right at its centre. A brief interlude in a Kafka-esque office building gives you a glimpse of what might have been. As it stands, Jupiter Ascending is a great hover boots movie, but it's a duff anything else movie. By the time you start picking apart the world's internal logic (how do Caine's hover boots work after he's put on a spacesuit?), you realise that you've completely disconnected from what's on screen.


The result is a dazzling, but painfully dated tale of a damsel in distress that has everything in reverse. If you play Jupiter Ascending backwards, it's the story of a woman who is repeatedly abandoned by a guy in dangerous situations but finds her own way out, before ultimately deciding to make her own living as a cleaner. If you play it forwards, it's a dull disappointment.


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SpongeBob SquarePants officially wins the Internet this week. Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 03 February 2015 08:00



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Film review: Son of a Gun Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 29 January 2015 07:27

Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander, Brenton Thwaites
Certificate: 15


Son of a gun! When was the last time you heard anyone say that? It would fit right in with Julius Avery's film, which is full of equally clunky chunks of dialogue.


"Things are not what they seem," warns public enemy number one, Brendan, to prison newbie JR (Thwaites). Then he gets out a chess set and begins an unsubtle metaphor about thinking ahead of your opponent. "You can get checkmate in four," offers JR.


Taken under the convict's wing, the teen soon finds himself assisting in an escape and a heist. But can he really trust his mentor? Can he fit in with the hardened criminals? And who will win that all important game of chess?


Things unfold in a predictably unpredictable fashion, as JR's coming of age journey takes us from Starred Up-like jail time to Godfather-like gangster drama via film noir-like forbidden romance; a mix of genre tropes that sounds haphazard.


But things are not what they seem.


What could be cheesy or uneven on the page works surprisingly well on the screen, thanks to an excellent match of people in front of and behind the camera. Thwaites is ideal as the naive apprentice, ambitious but always looking slightly uncomfortable in his expensive leather jacket. Alicia Vikander is typically unrecognisable (and excellent) as token moll Tasha, torn between obeying orders and helping her lover.


It's Ewan McGregor, though, steals the show as the ruthless lawbreaker. It's a treat to see the actor play against type, complete with tattoos and facial hair. (Given the last time Ewan went full beard was Star Wars, seeing Obi-Wan shoot people is shockingly effective.) In fact, this feels like a return to form for the actor, who sinks his teeth into the meaty role with a physical presence he rarely displays - don't be surprised if you come out of the cinema thinking "McGregornaissance".


Avery, meanwhile, holds it all together with a pace that drives up the tension, even as the script threatens to veer off down a side road. He juggles aesthetics to match the changing tone, from the handheld indie opening that nails the oppressive claustrophobia of being behind bars to the riveting blockbuster-like escape sequence, complete with helicopter. His cast are with him every step, right down to the decision to retain Ewan's broad brogue accent, rather than try to emulate an Australian one; this is a film smart (and confident) enough to leave some questions unanswered, even as it spells out others a little too eagerly. Halfway between Hollywood and Australia, if this is a calling card for an upcoming filmmaker, it's an extremely gripping one. Checkmate? Not quite. But son of a gun, it's good.

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