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.

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Film review: Fast & Furious 7 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 03 April 2015 13:30

Director: James Wan
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson
Certificate: 15

A man walks into a hospital. He talks to his sick brother. Then, he orders a doctor to look after him - before blowing up half the hospital. Does it make sense? No. Is it fun? Absolutely.

That's the credo that this most unlikely of franchises has been fuelled by, getting bigger and sillier with every entry. Ever since the realisation that they didn't have to be about cars, but could be a series of action movies with cars in it, the Fast films have exploded - literally - into life. Director James Wan, recruited fresh from the Saw series, seizes the immediate horror of the spectacle with both hands, chucking about his camera like the cast do their vehicles. Cars floor in mid-air, waiting to crash into things; people flip upside down, smacking through tables at umpteen miles per hour.

It's an exhilarating approach, but one that occasionally gets taken too far: some sequences are hard to follow amid the visual chaos, the movie's structure takes all kind of detours to fit in more action, while Wan, determined to stay faithful to Fast's testosterone as well as its tension, spends half the screen time ogling bottoms as much as bonnets.

In other places, though, it all comes together with the precision of a Mission: Impossible heist: the women are given a welcome chance to beat each other to bits like muscly blokes, cars parachute from the sky mid-chase, and Jason Statham relishes the chance to play the villain as Deckard Shaw (brother of last film's villain, Luke), throwing himself off cliffs in pursuit of Vin Diesel's Dom.

The sheer stupidity of the carnage is undoubtedly well-judged, with one Dubai set piece recalling the Tom Cruise flicks in more ways than one. But the joy of Fast & Furious comes from its character's reactions: here, fast-talking Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and wise-cracking Tej (Ludacris) gawp at their surroundings, while a new hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) is appalled by the danger of it all. In the modern cinema landscape, this is 007's streetwise cousin; Mission: Impossible's rowdy brother. Even with The Rock sitting half the film out, the addition of Kurt Russell as a government agent boosts The Expendables-like vibe of the ever-growing ensemble, which remains entertainingly self-aware.

At the centre of it all, though, is the relationship between Paul Walker's Brian O'Connor and his adopted brother, Toretto. Even in the series' weaker entries, the pair have always raced alongside each other with a finely-tuned chemistry; the kind of star wattage that makes cars look cool. The passing of Walker during the film's production is a sad loss to the genre, but also a loss to his friends on and off-screen. It gives events an unintentional sense of real peril: when you see him trapped in a bus hanging off a cliff, you realise just how risky the seemingly reckless driving is. Rather than kill O'Connor off, though, Chris Morgan's script takes the other route of celebrating what Walker was good at: the movie accelerates through the blockbusting, allowing our Hollywood heroes to cheat death again and again, right up until a surprisingly moving montage that immortalises Brian (and Paul) on the silver screen.

The word "family" has been mentioned countless times across the past six outings, but Fast & Furious 7 earns that heavy-handed sentiment, using it as the engine for the plot, from Statham's vengeful sibling to Brian's recent, doting father. The result is a absurd but touching piece of cinema, which sees its stars take flight, while remaining emotionally grounded; sometimes, it realises, the most powerful thing you can do in a car is simply take a left turn. It is fun? Absolutely. But, for the first time, it makes sense too.

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Film review: Blind Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 27 March 2015 08:03

Director: Eskil Vog
Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen
Certificate: 18

Perception is everything. When Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) loses her sight, it changes the way she sees things, from her apartment and her relationship with her husband to that strange-looking guy sitting on the bus.

She spends her days alone in the apartment, writing on her laptop. Or does she? Creaking floorboards make her suspect that her husband is actually loitering in their flat, quietly observing her behaviour. So she starts knocking things over near his chair, groping for his feet or legs.

Director Eskil Vogt is in her element in moments like these, which toy with how she - and, more importantly, we - see her story. The film cuts repeatedly between what is and what isn't there, leaving us unsure of what's real and what's imagined. When Ingrid later covers her eyes, only to cause the screen to black out, her seeming control over the narration has an arresting physical impact, but it carries an emotional weight too: one of the movie's most devastating scenes sees her lying in bed while her husband replies to emails on his laptop. Or is he secretly instant messaging the cute, bumbling girl who lives across the road?

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Film review: Robot Overlords Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 27 March 2015 07:56

Director: Jon Wright
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt
Certificate: 12A

There's something to be said for a film that knows exactly what it is - and puts it right in the title. There's also something to be said for a film made by Jon Wright, the director of hilarious horror-comedy Grabbers. So when you see a movie called Robot Overlords, directed by Jon Wright, you know just what to expect: something very good. With giant robots.

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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]

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 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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