Review: The LEGO Movie

An anti-capitalist corporate-sponsored advert? Everything about this really is awesome.

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Film review: In Secret Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 16 May 2014 13:42

Director: Charlie Stratton
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange
Certificate: 15

It is approximately 30 minutes until the first bodice is ripped open in secret in In Secret. If the clumsiness of that sentence bothered you, take heed. If you perked up at the words "bodice" and "ripped", this is a film for you.


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Film review: Godzilla (2014) Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:55

Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins
Certificate: 12A

Two suggestions: 1. Avoid as many trailers and posters of Godzilla as possible. 2. See it on the biggest screen humanly possible.


"Is it him?" whispers scientist Vivienne (Hawkins) to her colleague, Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe), as they look at the remains of a gigantic creature.


No one needs to say the name, of course - not because it's on the massive poster outside but because it's etched into everyone's consciousness, even if they haven't seen Ishiro Honda's original.


That 1954 masterpiece saw the monster wade out of the water and decimate Tokyo, a figure from Japan's past bringing to life the horror of the fission bomb less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To them, he wasn't a symbol of mortality, he was a physical manifestation of it; judgement for splitting the atom; a spectre that literally breathed radiation.


How can you possibly translate such a specific terror to 2014 America? You can't. Gareth Edwards' reboot finds another, similar sensation. With nuclear power plants popping up everywhere - and bombs dropped willy-nilly in the 1950s to try and destroy Gojira - humankind is being rewarded for its recklessness with earthquakes, tsunamis and reactor meltdowns. Nature is restoring the balance.


With what? It's not until an hour into the film that we even hear the titular name; a presence given the hushed respect befitting a higher power. "Now I am become Death," Oppenheimer's voice rang out over Edwards' first footage a year ago. "The destroyer of worlds."


For Tokyo post-WWII, Gojira rang with an apocalyptic immediacy. In 1998, we start smaller: the world that is destroyed belongs to radiology boffin Joe Brody, whose family life collapses in a Japanese power plant disaster. 15 years later, he's still obsessively picking through the rubble, despite cautions from his soldier son, Ford (Taylor-Johnson), Ford's wife, Elle (Olsen), and a host of conspiracy-laden officials.


Ford takes his dad's trauma across the Pacific to the US, a move that you might expect to lessen the blow. When Bryan Cranston's on screen, the emotional fallout of the disaster - and the ensuing cover-up - is as devastating as any falling building. When it's left to Aaron to head up set pieces, there's less to care about; the Kick-Ass star is likeable, but his part lacks gravitas, mostly gazing open-eyed at the carnage around him.


But as in his debut, Monsters, the director roots everything in humanity's perspective. He handles the jump from mini-budget to massive blockbuster like a young Spielberg. Most notably, a monorail sequence - yes, there's a monorail - becomes a heart-stopping race to reunite a young stranger with his parents. As the trio are separated in the chaos, the camera stays at the boy's height, carted away on the train without being able to stop.


That's the kind of decision that defines this new beast. Max Borenstein script tiptoes up to him with a perfectly judged restraint; when he does stomp into frame, it's on his terms. He towers over the screen, unable to fit into a single shot. Where Honda gave us distant model work cut with close-ups of citizens screaming, Edwards gives us close-ups of the thing itself. Monster loving is going on in the background, but he fills the foreground with stunned people, closing doors and floating Chinese lanterns; a big guy from the little guy's point of view.


The ever-fantastic Elizabeth Olsen does her best to bring the tragic consequences of the carnage to the tale, but just as Honda's movie was more concerned with moral debate, this isn't really a human drama. Edwards' presentation means that we identify with the collective, if not the individual; a race dwarfed by an almighty figure. You can hear it in the rumbles and roars that reverberate through Alexandre Desplat's score. You can see it in Watanabe's face, as he marvels at superhuman limbs toppling skyscrapers with godlike indifference.


Witnessing the destruction may not have the atomic association of post-war Japan, but 60 years on, the scale of it is just as powerful. (So powerful that I haven't even included an image of Godzilla here because it will fail to do it justice.)


"Is it him?" whispers Sally Hawkins' scientist. The answer is a ground-trembling yes. Godzilla is back, with an emphasis on the first syllable. Edwards announces his return with the only appropriate response; not just fear, but awe.


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Film review: The Wind Rises Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 09 May 2014 13:25

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt
Certificate: PG

The Castle of Cagliostro. Porco Rosso. Howl's Moving Castle. It's no secret that Hayao Miyazaki really loves his planes. The Wind Rises, then, a fictionalised biopic of aviator Jirô Horikoshi, is a fitting final film from the director. It may not be his own life story, but it's certainly his most personal movie to date.


"Artists are only active for 10 years." That's Caproni, Jiro's Italian aviation inspiration, who appears regularly to the young designer in vivid dream sequences. These literal flights of fancy aside, The Wind Rises is notable for its down-to-earth realism compared to many other Studio Ghibli adventures. Earthquakes, heartbreak and poverty all make an appearance - a far cry from the Catbus of Totoro.


Jiro, though, is unmistakeably a Hayao hero. Called up to make planes for the military, he finds himself in moral dilemma. Like Howl's Moving Castle, wanting to show off airborne conflict while condemning armies, the young engineer is caught in the director's usual struggle between good and bad, pacifism and conflict, humans and nature. It is fitting that his plans involve the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, an agile bird-like sliver of silver designed to glide not drop bombs on civilians.


Competing with his ambitious friend, who has no qualms about mounting weapons on his wings, we also follow his attempts to woo Nahoko Satomi, a girl he encounters on a train. The events stretch decades of Horikoshi's life, not writ large on a kids tapestry but painted across a sweeping palette, like an epic drawn by David Lean. It's a beautiful reminder that animation is a form, rather than a genre; Disney wouldn't have the balls to make this.


It's not a completely smooth ride. The romance doesn't always work thanks to the movie's unabashed sentimentality and on-the-nose dialogue, but that's a quality that has always defined the maestro's work; an earnestness to embrace childlike imagination. That same creativity is what you presume ties Miyazaki to his protagonist. The 126-minute runtime is peppered with stunning moments that see Jiro's designs spring into the sky, detailed etchings given colour and life. Lifted by Joe Hisaishi's music, they soar as high as anything Ghibli has done.


The flight is occasionally brought back down to earth by the slightly wonky narrative, dictated by history more than Hayao's literary adaptations (this is based on his own manga about Horikoshi). That misshapen quality only makes the project feel more personal, though. The craft lacks the polished perfection of Spirited Away but has something honest that slips through the cracks in the fuselage: a glimpse of a young Miyazaki scribbling furiously as he pictures his drawings leap off the page.


"Artists are only active for 10 years," Caproni tells the young boy. "Make the most of them."


Hayao certainly has. Five times over.


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Breaking: Man falls into Angelina Jolie's head, gets stuck there during Maleficent poster shoot Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 08 May 2014 06:43

Hover over the image to witness the unfortunate true story of a man who fell into the top of Angelina Jolie's head and got stuck there during the Maleficent poster shoot.


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Star Wars: Episode VII - The Search for the Missing Women Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 04 May 2014 17:26

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... George Lucas created a sci-fi film about a male boy who was trained up by his male mentor to become a male Jedi like his male dad. Along the way, he met a male friend who helped him defeat a male Emperor while flying a spaceship in a fleet of male men. He also fell in love with - and helped to rescue - a princess. She was a woman.


Not a very long time ago in Pinewood Studios - last Tuesday, approximately 26 miles away from where I am - J.J. Abrams continued George Lucas' saga with the reveal of a new cast including all the old familiar faces, plus John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow. He also revealed another member of the cast: Daisy Ridley. She was a woman.


Let's be honest. Almost 40 years on, it doesn't look great. The reaction to the cast has been pretty vocal from those wondering why the new film looks set to be Star Wars Episode VII: Sausage Fest.


The original trilogy was already heavy on the pork, with only one major female character. And even her they trussed up in a gold bikini and chains as Jabba's slave - because that's obviously the look preferred by an employer who's a non-human giant space slug. Princess Leia, of course, became an active lead figure in the rebellion. The notion that it's therefore OK in 2014 to have only one major female character, though, is as dated as the broadsword-style Lightsaber fights that took place between Obi-wan and Darth Vader on the Death Star. We've come light years in the FX department since then. In the SEX department? The force isn't so strong.


Some would argue that it's fine to keep up the tradition of the saga's casting, or that this is all a hugely pre-emptive overreaction.


The latter is certainly a good point; we haven't seen a script yet. The seating arrangement at the Pinewood read-through, positioning Daisy between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, might suggest she's their daughter. Hell, she might even be the lead character. But that's still a gender ratio of 6:1, not including the old guard. Pre-emptive? Sure. Overreaction? Well, maybe a little too. But not by much.


The important thing, if you want to be diplomatic about the whole debate, is that the Daisy is given a good - or, grit your teeth, "strong" - female character. After all, what would be the point in casting females in rubbish secondary roles that do nothing to further gender equality?


But that's part of the problem. Why wouldn't you cast them?


Yes, you want good characters in every part of the script, but a good female character isn't defined by the fact that she's female; a good female character is defined by her character. People are people, regardless of gender. The cast that Episode 7 has, from Adam Driver to Oscar Isaac, is full of great talent, but did they just not audition any women for those parts? Or did they decide that fans wouldn't welcome women in those roles?


You get the sense that Hollywood still considers sci-fi and action to be a boy's genre - and that boys off-screen can only identify with boys on-screen. Which is bollocks. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which has as many male fans as it does female. Or The Hunger Games, Frozen and Gravity, which dominated the UK box office in December last year. Yet we live in an age where Doctor Who has had no women writers. Where female leads in action films are made a big deal about because they're female (cf. Gina Carano in Haywire). Even in something as knowing as The Expendables, women are only seriously considered by studios if they're put in their own separate box: The Expendabelles.


Does it have to be a 50/50 split in the Star Wars cast between men and women? No. I don't want art to be produced in a world of by-the-numbers equality. I want gender to no longer be something worth debating. Where women actors are considered for roles as much as men because they're just as awesome. Imagine Sally Hawkins as a Sith. Lupita Nyong'o as a fighter pilot. Or Olivia Colman as a Jedi. I would pay to see all three.


Of course, this is made worse by the fact that it comes off the back of That Alice Eve scene in Abrams' last film, Star Trek Into Darkness. At the end of the day, we won't know the full picture until the film's released and we've seen the characters and plot for ourselves. Perhaps J.J. and co. really did audition women for all of those Star Wars roles. Perhaps they genuinely felt all of the men were better suited. (After Attack the Block, it's certainly great to see John Boyega get some recognition.) Or perhaps Star Wars: Episode VII will take place in a strange, sexist future where a gang of Jedis team up together to search for all the missing women in the universe. If that is the case, they should've started the search a long time ago - in 2014.

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Sundance London film review: Dinosaur 13 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 28 April 2014 17:24
Drector: Todd Douglas Miller
Cast: Peter L. Larson

Not seen Dinosaurs 1 through 12? That doesn't matter: neither has anyone else. Until Sue was discovered by Peter Larson in the South Dakota desert, there had never been a complete T-Rex skeleton found. The dozen before it were impressive, but Sue? She was the real deal. Dinosaur 13 tells her story.


That doesn't mean CGI Jurassic flashbacks and Disneyfied voice overs: that means fossil brushes, labelled body parts and tiny hammers for chipping away at rock. Dinosaur 13 brings the dead to life without any need for John Hammond or InGen's technology. This is palaeontology, baby - and if you like the sound of that, you'll love this.


It turns out, though, that the dino business is a lot more complex than just digging bones up and giving them to museums: it's an actual business. With rare fossils up for grabs, it's not just academics after them, but commercial traders too. That's where Pete and his Hill City Institute come in: they buy and sell fossils. But who has the right to own them? What happens if the bones are dug up on state-owned land?


Less Tyrannosaurus and more "Doyouthinkhe'llsueus?", Todd Douglas Miller's documentary plays like a thriller; chapter-like bursts of exposition unfold in chronological order, with knowing narration and cliffhanger reveals interrupted by repeated fades to black, all powered along by a metronome-like score.


Dinosaur 13 benefits from such an unusual subject matter, but while legal battles lead to unexpected (and shocking) places, Miller digs up the personal struggle faced by Larson and his team; this is an emotional as well as a factual excavation. Combined with some beautiful landscape shots and classily shot recreations (starring Peter's son as a younger him), the overall effect is a gripping and entertaining ride; like a low-tech prequel to Jurassic Park. If it were directed by Ross from FRIENDS.



Dinosaur 13 is released in UK cinemas in August this year. For more information, stomp on over to http://dinosaur13movie.com/.

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Sundance London film review: The Trip to Italy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 27 April 2014 09:05

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Rosie Fellner, Marta Barrio, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon

"Rob can't read poetry in his own voice because he lacks conviction."


That's Steve Coogan, playing Steve Coogan, talking about Rob Brydon, playing Rob Brydon. It's par for the course for The Trip to Italy, the follow-up to 2010's The Trip, which sees the pair team up again to journey around Italy, eating at restaurants, drinking wine and seeing who can do the best Michael Caine impression. This time, the show aims higher: the repertoire extends to Christian Bale and Tom Hardy's Bane as well.


Two middle-aged actors sitting around getting drunk? Michael Winterbottom's film (edited down from the six-part TV series) should come across as insufferably smug, but plays its hand far too subtly for that; Coogan and Brydon send themselves up without mercy, their fictionalised personas cut so close to the bone that you swear they're not fictional at all. "I'm an affable man, but not as affable as I am on-screen," explains fictional Rob, dissecting factual Rob with a straight face. Coogan nods. "I'm affable," Rob insists, aggressively. "I'm affable!"


It's rare that they don't talk about themselves; another stroke of nuanced self-mockery. "There's not much difference between Byron and Brydon. Only a 'd'," observes Rob at another hotel. Steve scoffs, while eyeing up a receptionist. On this vacation, though, the womanising roles are reversed: where Steve was (believably) the one playing away from home in the first season, here Rob is more unsettled in his marriage. He soon finds himself in the arms of their sailing guide, Lucy (the excellent Rosie Fellner, last seen in Two Jacks), while Coogan has to face the return of a familiar face: photographer Yolanda (Marta Barrio).


That's as near to a narrative arc as Winterbottom's gently structured holiday gets; the seemingly perpetual male tour of mid-life crisis, infidelity, guilt and Michael Caine impressions. Accompanied by opera as they float away from the Italian Riviera, the pair seem more preoccupied with their shelf life than ever. Like the Romantic poets they invoke - in the style of Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Grant, Ronnie Corbett and more - how will they be remembered in 200 years time? A visit to Pompeii sees Rob reprise his "little man in a box" routine with a corpse, a moment full of unexpected pathos as much as silly voices. Like all the best inebriated conversations with your best friend, there are moments when their prattling seems to reach philosophical heights - maturity, via a long, immature detour.


All of this wouldn't work, though, without two brave performers. Undermining and celebrating each other repeatedly, they poke at their co-star's shortcomings with the kind of familiarity that can only - and, indeed, does - come from a genuine off-screen friendship. The stunning scenery, shot with a relaxed eye by Winterbottom, and mouth-watering cutaways to kitchen staff preparing dinner, are beautiful - but the thing to savour is the relationship between the couple taking it all in.


For that reason, the BBC TV series is superior to the film version, cut down to sell for international audiences and shown at Sundance London this weekend; there is more time to soak up their seemingly natural company, which the movie lounges in for the first three episodes, then skips quickly through the rest. To say one is better than the other, though, is like ranking fine wines - or Steve and Rob's Michael Caine impressions.


Two middle-aged actors sitting around getting trollied shouldn't be entertaining. But in fact, you want as much of it as you can get - preferably, in small half-hour courses. Not just because their impressions are hysterical - they are - but because of what they reveal about the men. For a pair so concerned with deconstructing their own appearance and identity, both fictionalised and factual, it's apt that they spend most of the time communicating through the medium of other people - showcasing their comedic talents as well as their insecurity.


"Rob can't read poetry in his own voice because he lacks conviction," stabs Coogan. It hits home. Impersonations of impersonations of people doing impersonations, that reliance upon pretending to be something they're not gives The Trip to Italy a conviction as breathtaking as anything the Amalfi coast has to offer. Of course, that could just be the alcohol talking.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 27 April 2014 13:26
 
Sundance London film review: The Case Against 8 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 27 April 2014 08:02

Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White
Cast: Jeffrey Zarrillo, Paul Katami, Kris Perry, Sandy Stier
Showtimes

In 2008, California legalised gay marriage. A few months later, Proposition 8 was passed, banning it again. The result left newly weds robbed of their official relationship status, marginalised by society without the same legal rights as heterosexual couples - and left the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) hungry for justice. And so they began legal proceedings against the state on behalf of four plaintiffs: Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami, and Kris Perry and Sandy Stier.


Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White follow the case through from its beginning to its end - a period of approximately four years. Their incredible long-term commitment pays off with a moving and entertaining record of a long step back towards equality. Editing down hundreds of hours of video, The Case Against 8 plays out like the biggest wedding you've ever seen. The scale of it, though, is also the documentary's downfall.


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Sundance London film review: Frank Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 26 April 2014 14:34
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Certificate: 15

We all know the story. Guy joins unknown band. Guy discovers his inner creative self. Unknown band becomes famous.


Frank is not that story.


Inspired by the persona of Frank Sidebottom, Lenny Abrahamson's film isn't a straight-out biopic. It isn't a comedy either. Or a drama. Or a musical. It's a mix of all three - and, as a result, manages that to be that rare thing: unpredictable.


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Last Updated on Friday, 09 May 2014 08:30
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Sundance London film review: Fruitvale Station Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 26 April 2014 14:12
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer
Showtimes


The day starts with fish. That's what a girl at the supermarket wants to cook for her boyfriend. Oscar (Jordan), who's there trying to persuade his boss to give him his job back, eyes her up and decides to help. He calls his gran and passes the phone over for her to dispense advice.


What starts out as a chat-up routine becomes something far sweeter - and lays the groundwork for a life-changing New Year's Eve. Oscar, it becomes apparent, is trying to go straight following time in prison. He takes his girlfriend, Sophina (Diaz), to work. He picks his daughter, T (Ariana Neal), from nursery. And he buys crabs for his mum's (Octavia Spencer) birthday dinner: a gumbo that the family cooks together.


Events unfold in a surprisingly understated way. Aside from jarring book-ends of archive footage, Ryan Coogler deploys handheld cameras for intimacy, filling up the frame with Oakland sunshine, while the soundtrack stems from Oscar's surroundings.


The cast feel equally natural; Ariana Neal is adorable as Tatiana, mothered convincingly by the tolerating Melonie Diaz. Michael B. Jordan, though, is where the film finds its real strength. He excels in the lead, smiling his way through a string of events that repeatedly show us the good side of a bad kid. Without his sincerity and engaging presence, Ryan Coogler's script could have seemed shallow or manipulative. One scene where Oscar symbolically helps a dog is rather on the nose, but Jordan underplays it, adding to the film's blend of easygoing normality and hard-hitting reality.


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Film review: After the Night (Até Ver a Luz) Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 25 April 2014 06:35
Director: Basil de Cunha
Cast: Pedro Ferreira
Certificate: 15

"Go out during the day! Even just for a while. Among all those who've given up, you're just another face."


After the Night (Até Ver a Luz) is a thriller set in the dark corners of Lisbon. The problem is that isn't very thrilling.


Pedro Ferreira plays Sombra, a cash-strapped, dread-locked loner who slopes between the shadows of the Portuguese capital. He doesn't go out in the day. He owes a drug dealer a lot of money. And his only companion is an iguana. He sounds like a colourful chap, but Basil de Cunha's film, which follows his attempts to balance his books, is a strangely bland affair.


The film rolls around in the the grit and grime of Lisbon's slums, a world of tin roofs, collapsed walls and violent drug dealers. de Cunha shoots events with authentic immediacy, right down to using non-actors in every role. When Sombra and his aunt bicker about whether he will see a priest to cleanse him of his darkness, that semi-improvised style works. But step into the streets and the screen soon fills with a sea of gangsters, all shouting over each other in endless arguments: it may be truthful, but it's also tiring.


The use of diegetic music from local musicians, who intimidate and encourage Sombra's rogue actions in equal measure, adds to the realism - Portugal, you remember, is in the dark itself, emerging from the eclipse of the eurozone crisis. As Sombra finds himself edging into the light after the night, you get the sense that de Cunha is reaching for something deeper, but never quite grasps it.


"Among all those who've given up, you're just another face," says one hoodlum to Sombra as he passes over a treasured gas lamp. Among all those other movies that exist in the wake of City of God, After the Night feels just like that. The setting is striking, but it's telling that the location is more interesting than the characters.


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