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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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Film review: The Expendables 3 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 15 August 2014 11:37

"Why were you in prison?" asks one of The Expendables after they bust Wesley Snipes' Expendable out of a maximum security fort. "Tax evasion," he quips. This is as edgy as Sly Stallone's sequel gets.

In a normal film, that wouldn't necessarily be a problem. In a two-hour, $90 million blockbuster designed to wow with brutal violence, it's something of a surprise.

Surprises aren't something The Expendables do: the word isn't in the team's collective vocabulary of loud grunts, forced bon mots and constant declarations of friendship. When you go to the cinema to watch Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger et al. blow things up, you're meant to know exactly what you're going to get: Carnage. Catchphrases. Cheese. And lots of it.

After two movies, then, you might expect it to get a little stale.

The first film delivered on its promise, drenching the screen in 18-rated blood despite an overly serious tone. The Expendables 2 scaled down the gore for a 15 certificate but ramped up the self-aware humour to introduce a new sense of fun - right down to the fact that its villain was called, erm, Vilain. With Con Air director Simon West out of the cockpit for The Expendables 3, though, that light touch has been replaced once again with clunky gravity. And with the violence also scaled down to a 12A certificate, the result is an action comedy that doesn't have enough of either.

"Get to the choppa!" yells Arnie, looking increasingly like an ageing dog wheeled out to shake paws with people on special occasions. He says the word another couple of times, regardless of context, just to make sure he earns his paycheck. Stallone feels equally tired, barking with such a butch, gravelly voice that you can't understand what he's saying - although he's still a darn sight more agile than the other veterans. And so they all get ditched by the star in favour of younger, newer models. There's the computer hacker one (Victor Ortiz), the female one (Ronda Rousey) and the Hey He's Like A Young Sylvester Stallone one (Kellan Lutz). Unlike their senior counterparts, though, none of them are recognisable from modern action cinema, which makes them as bland as the mature Expendables are two-dimensional. (Where are Channing Tatum and Chris Hemsworth? Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer?)

The newcomers to the fray who do stand out are Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis as a grouchy CIA agent - and proving, once again, that he could be the new Leslie Nielsen - and Mel Gibson, who plays our unhinged bad guy, an ex-Expendable against whom Sly has a grudge.

Teaming up, falling out, teaming up again but with more people; the narrative is as predictable as it gets. But of course, that shouldn't be an issue. This is an Expendables film. You should be having too much fun to think about plot. With the set pieces cut down to their bare, non-bloody minimum, though, the thrill of OTT combat is sorely missing, along with bullets and blood. In the first movie, a man got blown in half by a shotgun. Here, men fall over after other men wave guns in their general direction - presumably because they've fallen asleep from boredom. Even Lutz's impressive motorbike stunts fail to liven up the climactic sequence in an abandoned apartment block, a fantastically-designed set with towering, wasted potential.

Thank goodness, then, for Antonio Banderas. The Spanish star is just as much an OAP as the rest, but he steals the show with his sprightly antics, jumping, climbing and running almost as quickly as speaks - which is very, very fast. He may be playing Puss in Boots minus the hat, but every joke he makes hits hard, a fact that only emphasises the lack of laughs (and hard-hitting) elsewhere.

Banderas proves that what this series needs isn't necessarily a brand new generation of heroes, but a smart script with a sense of humour that doesn't just rely on Arnie saying the word "choppa". The Expendables 3 can't decide what it wants, though: fresh blood or old tricks; new viewers or existing fans. The result is a mediocre, formulaic sequel with too many characters and not enough clout for them to ever make an impact. It appears to offer even more of the same, but serves up far smaller portions. (In the case of Jason Statham, almost no portions at all.)

Gibson gives good evils, but it's telling that even his addition to the ensemble is free of any controversy or interest. Blunted for a younger audience, rebooted without being rebooted, The Expendables 3 is a dull, boring spectacle that's as entertaining as tax evasion - and that is the franchise's first big surprise.

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Film review: God's Pocket Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 08 August 2014 17:47
Director: John Slattery
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins
Certificate: 15

"The only thing people from God's Pocket can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket." That's our introduction to John Slattery's first film as director, a dark drama with even darker bits of comedy. The tone is set from the off with a funeral, which is promptly disrupted by a punch-up. Your reaction to that wallop will likely determine your reaction to the whole film.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last performances, stars as Mickey, a loser slob of a husband who steals meat so he can chop it up for sale. It's a textbook reminder of what makes Hoffman such a powerful screen presence; neglectful, self-centred and usually drunk, Mickey is a flawed fuck-up of a person but feels absolutely real, a quality that somehow earns our sympathy.

His step-son, Leon (the ever-pale Caleb Landry Jones), doesn't.

Racially abusing co-workers while threatening people with a flick knife, it's no surprise that someone bumps him off - and even less of a surprise that nobody cares. Nobody, that is, except for his mother, Jeanie (Hendricks). And so she asks Mickey's friend, Arthur (John Turturro), to investigate.

Things, naturally, go from bad to worse. Dead bodies, one-eyed goons and gambling debts all pour out onto the streets of the fictional community from the shadowy cracks in which they were festering; boils on the already ugly plague of humanity.

If it sounds like a confused plot, that's because it is: based on Peter Dexter's novel, Alex Metcalf's screenplay is part silly, part sad, part strange crime thriller, part marital breakdown. The result is a slippery tone that Slattery does not always control: he shoots everything with a grim, grubby deadpan look that treats humour and high drama the same. It's all black and bleak, which leaves you unsure whether to laugh or cry at one man punching another at a funeral - or people moving corpses in the rain or elderly women brandishing firearms.

And yet the uneven nature feels oddly fitting for this fable of family, society and psychotic florists. Like God's Pocket, this is a patchwork of stories knitted by people. Christina Hendricks communicates the weight of her happiness just by looking forlornly out of a window, Eddie Marsan's sympathetic funeral director is delightfully manipulative, while Turturro's natural bond with Hoffman lets the loose narrative slide easily from gear to another. Through it all, one thing remains constant: the voiceover of local reporter Richard Shellburn. Richard Jenkins' journalist completes the accomplished ensemble, carting around a drinking problem to go with his receding hairline, as much a revered veteran as he is a sleazy pervert.

"The only thing people from God's Pocket can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket," he declares with the hackneyed air of yesterday's fish and chip wrappings, at once both romantic and wrecked. Perhaps that's the movie's problem: Slattery's blue-collar neighbourhood is so close-knit that we never quite feel a part of it. We watch this fascinating parade of open wounds go past, held together with the band-aid of humanity, but end up stumbling away down the street, resigned to indifference.

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I plagiarised The Verge's Expendables 3 piracy article and I'm still going to read it on their website Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 06:08

Why theft could be the best thing that ever happened to David Pierce and The Verge.

The Expendables 3 comes out August 15th in thousands of theaters across America. I watched it Friday afternoon on my MacBook Air on a packed train from New York City to middle-of-nowhere Connecticut. I watched it again on the ride back. And I'm already counting down the days until I can see it in IMAX.

Last week, torrent sites lit up with a high-quality Expendables 3 screener, which almost never happens before a big movie's release date. Much hand-wringing ensued: Will the leak kill its chances in the box office? Will everyone who might otherwise pay $17 to watch Sylvester Stallone And His Merry Men blow things up just download the movie instead?

Two hours and six minutes later, I'm pretty sure it's going to be the opposite. Leaking a month before its release might just be the best thing that ever happened to The Expendables 3.


When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg said moviegoing will someday be more like a sporting event, they must have had in mind movies like The Expendables 3. It's worth seeing in theaters because the spectacle trumps the content, not because that's the only way to see it. It's obvious in the way the film is shot (tight, moving, disorienting), the way it's scored (loud, loud, loud) even the way it's cast. This movie is meant not to be watched but to be experienced. As art becomes commoditized experience becomes the only thing worth paying for, and there's evidence everywhere that we'll pay for it when it's worth it. We don't want to pay for access, but we'll gladly pay for experience. Those that won't (and there are certainly some) will be served with easier ways to get and watch movies at home. Those that will, will get something remarkable for their money.

This movies begs for that something remarkable. Enables it. I watched The Expendables 3, but it doesn't feel like I really saw it. I watched a two-hour trailer, really: it showed me just enough to entice me to want to see more. A lot more — and a lot bigger.

Critics are going to hate The Expendables 3. They hated the last two, they'll hate numbers four through forty if they get made. They hate most movies like this one, and with plenty of good reasons. But The Expendables 3 isn't a terrible movie, unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the last high-profile movie to leak well before its release date. (Wolverine was slightly but demonstrably hurt by the leak, if only because it gave downloaders time to say, "Hey guys that movie sucks don't go see it.")

It's not a complex, deep, or particularly thoughtful movie, but it's fun as hell. It's a series of set-piece action scenes, like levels in a video game, that culminate in one of the most sprawling and exciting fight scenes I've seen in a long time. That's good enough for me, and likely for everyone else who's seeding the movie right now on The Pirate Bay.

The people who have downloaded a leaked torrent of the movie are, almost certainly, the series' most fervent fans. They're the ones most likely to go see it in theaters, the ones who turned the two previous films into a $600 million franchise. And sure, maybe some of them won't pay $13 to see it again. But many of them will, because they'll realize how much they missed the first time. Many of them will also spend the next three weeks telling everyone they know how awesome this movie is, how Rotten Tomatoes is full of it and that really The Expendables 3 is two-plus hours of near-flawless action porn. They'll tell their friends to go back and watch the other two movies before this one comes out. They'll get all their best bros together and go to the theater to watch a movie that is basically 300 with way more guns and way fewer visible abs.

Ok, I haven't plagiarised the whole thing. Just a few chunks. Because if I did copy the whole article, that would be theft - and, contrary to this article's headline, many probably wouldn't go to read it again on The Verge's website. Which would mean the site would lose out on traffic and David Pierce wouldn't get any money for his work. Something he probably wouldn't be very happy about.

Funny, that. It's almost like Intellectual Property and copyright has a point.

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Film review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 22:16




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