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: The Falling Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 12:45

Director: Carol Morley
Cast: Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh
Certificate: 12A

The Falling is a paranormal mystery, a coming-of-age drama, a black comedy and a school musical all in one. If that makes Carol Morley's film seem difficult to pin down, it's intentional. It's also exceptionally good.

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Film review: John Wick Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 11 April 2015 17:38

Directors: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Certificate: 15

"People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer, but yeah, I'm thinking I'm back."

That's Keanu Reeves in John Wick, a quote that's been front and centre of all posters and trailers for the film. And with good reason: these days, Keanu is more known for his melancholic internet memes than kick-ass action.

He plays John Wick, a retired hit man who gave up the game to go straight with his wife - only for her to die, leaving him with a puppy, which also doesn't stick around long. Aww. Sad Keanu.

And so he does the only thing a retired hit man with a grudge against bad Russian gangster types can do: get revenge. Ooo. Mad Keanu.

It's a sight we haven't seen for a long while: the bloke from Point Break and The Matrix whaling on someone else's body for minutes at a time, breaking bones, shooting legs, twisting necks and punching faces. If there were a university for assassins, Wick would've graduated top of the class - after killing all of the other students. Bad Keanu.

The people being bumped off are far from deep, or even that memorable, but the cast - fronted by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Michael Nyqvist and Game of Thrones' Alfie Allen - are visibly enjoying the heck out of their cheesy dialogue. "John wasn't exactly the boogeyman," says Nyqvist's hammy mafia boss. "He was the guy you send to kill the boogeyman." The bad guys continue talking in a way that makes all too clear the pain this legendary figure will inflict upon them. Rad Keanu.

It's that sheer, relentless onslaught of violence that gives John Wick its pounding rhythm; one that directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch - who are both former stuntmen - shoot with a feel for the physicality of each set piece. Furniture breaks. Bullets fly. But it's always easy to tell what's happening, giving the audience ample time to admire the technicality of the bodily contortions, before wincing at their brutality. (Shoulder pad, Keanu.)

Reeves does it all with a cool passion that suits his simple, black costume - no plaid, Keanu - while supporting actors Willem Defoe and Ian McShane bring a classy note to the dark underworld. Can a man in this kind of environment ever really find redemption? You won't exactly get a grin out of our star - like The Raid, Wick's enjoyment lies in its intense efficiency, rather than its heart-wrenching emotion - but you will get a sense of a job well done. Oh, yeah. He's back. And that makes us glad, Keanu.

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Film review: While We're Young Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 06 April 2015 12:58

Director: Noah Baumbach Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried Certificate: 15

Growing up isn't easy. That seems to be the message to take home from all of Noah Baumbach's films, no matter what age you are; whether it's kids going through a divorce (The Squid and the Whale), a woman coming to terms with her younger sister's marriage (Margot at the Wedding), or students in a post-graduation haze, everyone is dragged through life kicking and screaming. After the joyous Frances Ha, which was full of the free-spirited optimism of a 20-something finding herself, While We're Young marks a return to Baumbach's more familiar territory of humour laced with a downbeat edge.

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Film review: Hackney's Finest Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 05 April 2015 11:05

Director: Chris Bouchard
Cast: Nathaneal Wiseman
Certificate: 15

In 2009, The Hunt for Gollum was released online, a fan-made Lord of the Rings film that far exceeded its budget. Six years later and director Chris Bouchard returns with Hackney's Finest. But for all the innovative creativity behind his Tolkein project, Bouchard's feature-length debut feels sadly lacking in originality.

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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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