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.

Star Ratings

Well good

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Film review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 14 August 2015 17:00

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander
Certificate: 15

"Dior should never be mixed with Paco Rabbane," impeccably dressed CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) insists to his Soviet counterpart, Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), as they attempt to pick out an outfit in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Shallow, silly and obsessed with surface appearance, it might be the most important scene in the whole film.

Guy Ritchie's reboot of the 1960s TV series arrives in a year tailor-made for spying: it follows the latest Mission: Impossible film into cinemas and paves the way for the next James Bond film. It can't help but pale in comparison, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s secret is not to try: it's too busy looking in the mirror to bother with the competition.

The premise is taken back to its roots, with the odd couple paired up by American and Soviet intelligence to take down a mutual threat: Italian heiress Victoria Vinciguerra (the wonderfully feline Elizabeth Debicki), who has snared a scientist capable of building a nuclear warhead. But while the concept starts from scratch (complete with back-stories to explain our leads' motivations), Ritchie and Lionel Wigram's screenplay wisely keeps the setting the way it used to be: the 1960s context sets apart this world of simpler thrills from the extravagant explosions of modern espionage, resulting in a smorgasbord of colours and clothes that could have been torn from the pages of a period range catalogue from Marks and Spencer. (Some films come with warnings for their violence or sexual content. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. should come with a warning for your credit card bill.)

Cavill, whose charisma did not always shine through in Warner Bros' earnest take on Superman, slides into the role of Solo with an effortless twinkle, smirking his way through innuendos, car chases and hotel receptionists' underwear. Hammer has all the clout of two identical actors as Napoleon's polar opposite, clenching his fists and growling at anything that so much as resembles happiness. And yet, despite their entertaining (and inevitable) bromance, it is Alicia Vikander who walks away with the show as Gaby, the missing scientist's daughter. The script makes her good at fixing cars in an attempt to give her depth, but she brings all the substance herself, emerging as an equal to the two deceitful, distrusting males - after Testament of Youth and Ex Machina, Alicia has now completed a trilogy of films where she has whipped the movie's rug from under the feet of the men around her.

While the ensemble are acting up every line of dialogue, Ritchie's camera doesn't overdo it, playfully lingering in a truck with a bottle of wine while a set piece (that would no doubt be shot with handhelds by a contemporary) unfolds in the background. Here, his direction feels more confident than ever, presenting a thrillingly underplayed road pursuit in the opening minutes and indulging in some split-screen fun come the climax. Daniel Pemberton's score echoes the elegance and wit, sashaying between Lalo Schifrin and Ennio Morricone to marvellous effect. Add in against-type cameos from Hugh Grant and Jared Harris and the result is a cool pastiche that isn't ashamed to simply have fun. Sometimes, it's not just about how well you do something: it's about how good you look while doing it.

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5 thoughts on Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 03 August 2015 05:52

I caught Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation last week and, while a full review will appear in another publication at a later date, here are five initial thoughts about the enjoyable fifth entry in this almost 20-year-old franchise.

1. Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Impossible's strength as a franchise is that it's not about Tom Cruise. It's actually about its directors. Every film has been a showcase for a different action auteur, from Brian De Palma (dutch tilt and deception) and Brad Bird (live-action cartoon) to JJ Abrams (blue filter, meta-script) and John Woo (slow-motion doves). They all bring their own style, which is partly why the series' cycle of one-upmanship delivers such entertaining results: the world impossible means different things to different people.

What does Christopher McQuarrie bring to the table? He's always been a writer (The Usual Suspects) more than a director, so while his visual fingerprints may not be everywhere - Mission: Impossible's director-as-star approach does have its weaknesses - his written signature certainly is. Hitchcock nods drive the largely retro plot, including red phone boxes on London's Great Windmill Street and a riff on The Man Who Knew Too Much in one superb opera-based assassination sequence; the introduction of Simon McBurney and Tom Hollander as British officials recall the labyrinthine intrigue of TV's Spooks (this is the first film since the original to be about espionage); but, most importantly, he conceives a set piece that is genuinely not possible for a human to overcome - a fact that gives this film's ludicrous action a surprisingly grounded sense of peril. This is also the first time since the original film that Cruise's super-agent Ethan Hunt (described as "the living manifestation of destiny" by Alec Baldwin's CIA boss) hasn't managed to achieve the impossible.

2. Joe Kraemer

The other key figure in any Mission: Impossible film is the composer. Or, to be more precise, Lalo Schifrin, whose signature theme from the original TV series has an almost Pavlovian effect upon people. Audiences hear it and they perch on the edge of their seat. Tom Cruise hears it and he starts dangling off the nearest skyscraper. After Danny Elfman's symphonic arrangement (Mission: Impossible) and Hans Zimmer's loud, unsubtle treatment (M:I-II), Michael Giacchino made M:I his own with two fantastic soundtracks that played with the theme in every way imaginable. It's to Joe Kraemer's credit, then, that he steps up to bat and knocks it out of the park. Relying more on the Lalo theme than any of the other composers, he restricts his whole orchestration to instruments from Schifrin's ensemble, delivering something that has the sound of Mission: Impossible, as well as the style and energy. (As well as the prolific bongo action, check out the vibraslap on "The Plan", echoing the same rhythm used by Lalo in "Jim on the Move" on the original show's soundtrack.)

3. Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg returns once more to the franchise as Ethan Hunt's phone-a-friend sidekick, Benji. His third appearance since M:I-III, Pegg's presence has been promoted from tech guy/comic relief to best mate/comic relief/active field agent, now getting to co-star in car chases and deliver such key exposition lines as "An anti-IMF?" to the camera. He wears the part well enough - I remember interviewing Pegg for Hot Fuzz years ago and him insisting quite adamantly that he was not "best friends" with Tom Cruise, how times change - but his recurring role, alongside the familiar faces of Jeremy Renner (as William Blandt, sorry "Brandt") and Ving Rhames (as hacker-supreme Luther Stickell) only emphasises the fact that the series has never given a proper second appearance to a female character. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was so promising because it ended with a team of agents, including Paula Patton's Jane Carter, ready to carry on the torch from Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt. To see them all sidelined for more of the same male-heavy action, then, is a huge disappointment and a big flaw of the franchise, no matter how likeable Pegg is.

4. Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise may not be the star of the show, but he's a key instrument in its success: in an age of CGI spectacle, Tom embodies the jaw-dropping appeal of practical stunts, allowing himself to be blown up, hung off buildings and - now - strapped to a plane as it takes off, all to bring a new sense of excitement to the table. He's as sprightly now as he was two decades ago, while the occasional cragginess on his face brings a welcome mature edge to his IMF "legend". The problem, though, is that it only encourages the levelling-up of each set piece, which leaves Rogue Nation in the same situation as the previous film: not knowing when to stop, it keeps going and going, adding in too many set pieces. When it works, it rushes from one chase sequence to another - a daisy chain of thrills - but when it doesn't, the whole thing ends up 30 minutes too long. On the plus side, Tom's character has already been developed over the course of the previous films (the absence of any mention of Michelle Monaghan's wife after the fourth film is a shame), which means that more attention can be paid to the other players. That brings us nicely to…

5. Rebecca Ferguson

Forget the director. Forget Tom Cruise. The MVP of Rogue Nation is someone entirely different: Rebecca Ferguson. Who's that? If you haven't seen The White Queen, in which she played Elizabeth, you most likely won't know, but that only makes her turn in Rogue Nation even more effective. This is a star-making turn and she is sublime as Isla Faust, an enigmatic secret agent whose character is that she is an enigmatic secret agent. On the one hand, that means she's the stereotypical elusive female upon whom the largely male cast can project their various ideals. On the other hand, that means the hilariously (read: dreadfully) named Ilsa gets to use that against the largely male cast.

She has a sexual quality - McQuarrie's camera dives in for a butt shot very early on - and wears a stunning yellow dress to the opera, but even as she and Ethan abseil from the Vienna landmark together, there is no forced romantic subplot between them. The nearest she gets to being the movie's love interest is in her relationship with Sean Harris' villain, who is in charge of The Syndicate (the "anti-IMF"), and is susceptible to her feminine wiles. One scene with Simon McBurney's MI5 head, meanwhile, gives her the kind of double-agent depth that could power a whole season of Spooks. The fact that she can kick ass and saves our hero's life (rather than the other way around) without it being a big deal, makes her a fantastic asset to the Mission: Impossible franchise. The fact that she will almost certainly not return in the next sequel, though, only makes you wish for more screen time devoted to her - say, the whole of M:I-6. That, you sense, really would be an impossible mission for the franchise.

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Film review: The Legend of Barney Thomson Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 26 July 2015 09:04

Director: Robert Carlyle
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Ashley Jensen
Certificate: 15

Robert Carlyle makes his directorial debut with The Legend of Barney Thomson, a title that fits the movie like batter deep-fried around a Mars Bar. The words "legend" and "Barney Thomson" couldn't seem more at odds with each other: outlandish and epic on the one hand; dour and plain on the other. The film revels in that clash of tone.

Barney (Carlyle) is a miserable sort in a town full of miserable people. You couldn't imagine the barber being a legend of any sort - he can barely even hold a conversation with a customer. That turns out to be a problem for his boss, who wants rid of him so he can hire someone with friendlier banter. A swift accidental murder later and Barney's in even worse kinds of trouble. It's not long before (the brilliantly named) Detective Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone going full Ray Winstone) is sniffing around. The twist? The cop's not even after him for that murder - there's a serial killer on the loose and Holdall reckons Barney's to blame.

Carlyle milks the constant juxtaposition of the mundane and the macabre, the mistakenly homicidal and the moronic, forcing a wedge of dark comedy between the two. The gap is jarring - but intentionally so. From the opening voice over accompanied by shots of dismembered body parts, this is pulp fiction in the messiest sense of the word; you can almost see the lumps of the original novel after it's been chopped, blended and mashed for the screen.

On the one hand, that is The Legend of Barney Thomson's greatest strength. The Glaswegian locations are wonderfully drab and the cast amusingly colourful, always out of step with each other. Holdall may have the wrong suspect, but he can sense something's off about the whole story. Fitting right in with that are some stellar supporting turns, from Tom Courtenay as Holdall's rude boss to Ashley Jensen as his rival, the overly macho DI Robertson. Taking the biscuit, though, is Emma Thompson, who transforms herself as Barney's hilariously repulsive mum - a turn that recalls Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose, if Mia Farrow's character slipped in an ashtray while doing an impression of Vera Duckworth.

Carlyle gives his actors oodles of space to be as awkward as possible, but while the cast benefit, the rest of the production suffers: the script, which is balanced on a knife edge between rib-tickling and nerve-jangling, feels too uneven to be fully either. A surprisingly bloody conclusion to one subplot only emphasises the wildly unbalanced mood. The result is eccentric and odd, in a way that only real life can be. But sometimes, you need a little polish to make your grit easier to digest.

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Film review: Song of the Sea Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 09 July 2015 17:24

Director: Tomm Moore
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, David Rawle, Lucy O'Connell
Certificate: PG

Hey, kids! Who fancies a story about death? That's the kind of question that would get a children's entertainer fired, but it's also what makes Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon so special. Unafraid to raise such serious subjects with its young audience, the studio's latest - Song of the Sea - is an astonishing animated gem.

Like all good kids' stories, it involves a lighthouse. That's where Ben (an irrepressible Rawle) lives with his mum and dad, Connor (a heartbreaking, gravelly Gleeson). But when his sister, Saoirse (the charmingly bright O'Connell), is born, he loses his mother - a departure that changes everything. Even at the age of 10 (and Saoirse six), he still it holds against her. His depressed dad, meanwhile, has turned to the drink to get by. So far, so gloomy.

His mother, though, tells him a bedtime story before she slips away: an Irish folk tale about a giant, Mac Lir, who was turned into a stone island by a fiersome owl-witch called Macha. It's a stunning moment of beauty amid the tragedy: a kaleidoscope of colours and cultural history that could have even the grumpiest of adults enchanted and ready for some shut-eye.

That balance between real life and fantasy is central to Song of the Sea's charm. The heartfelt command of magical realism puts Tomm Moore's work comfortably alongside that of Studio Ghibli. Combined with his own studio's signature hand-drawn animation, he's every frame the Irish Hayao Miyazaki. The Peppa Pig-like images are simple, but used in bewitchingly complex ways: people and backdrops layer up like a collage of your favourite picture books; an effect that feels more immersive and multi-dimensional than any 3D blockbuster.

The pace of a gentle page-turner seeps into the tale too: this the kind of lilting narrative that seems designed to slow kids down from their hyperactive existence, encouraging them to take time and absorb the small details.

There is certainly no shortage of them: the screen's concealed depths, which lie in the edges and shadows of each object, are not just visual, but emotional too. As Saoirse is revealed to be a selkie, a mythological seal-like creature, the theme of farewells and family runs right through the core of her and Ben's adventure, which carries them from mundane towns and quiet forests to cavernous lakes and flying animals. Throughout, loyal sheepdog Cú is on standby, a cute sidekick, but also a force that brings the siblings together.

Is what they're experiencing real or make-believe? The parallels between the literal and literary pile up like sheets of sugar paper, but as we dive into impossibly deep waters and hold our breaths for longer than any human could, such concerns float to one side. Instead, there is a childlike wisdom to the story's logic: one set piece, which starts out scary, drifts subtly into cathartic waters, as we discover that Macha turns people to stone by sucking away their emotions. Unlike the unhappy adults around them, these kids realise that embracing the pain and sorrow of grief are part of getting older.

There is a trust implicit in conveying such a message in a kids' film, which goes hand in hand with the gentle speed and blurred reality: like the best children's movies, Song of the Sea has faith in its audience to be mature in everything but imagination.

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Film review: Jurassic World Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 11 June 2015 11:17

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson
Certificate: 12A

Everything looks different when you're older. Big things seem small. New things seem tired. 22 years on, Jurassic Park, that awesome summer blockbuster, seems more like a project management nightmare. Mankind was so keen to play God that it forgot to consider what might happen. There were no procedures or protocols in place, especially for things going wrong.

What a difference two decades make. John Hammond's dream - renamed Jurassic World to distance itself from the deaths in the 90s - has been realised. The park is open. And there are more than enough protocols to cater for every eventuality. This time, though, that's exactly the problem.

We pick events up as two brothers (Gray and Zach) take a trip to the park, courtesy of their Aunt Clare, who manages it. With her too busy to spend time with them, they are palmed off with VIP wristbands and left to explore under the eye of a useless assistant. It's a smart move from the screenwriters, who take care to abide by Spielberg's Law: monsters are scariest when chasing children.

We've seen this all before, of course, which is Jurassic World's biggest obstacle. The script, though, wittily turns that problem into the film's central theme: while Gray (Simpkins), the youngest, is excited by the ancient beasts on display, Zach (Robinson), the eldest, is bored by them. When the T-Rex inevitably stomps onto the screen, he's no longer the main attraction: he munches a goat in the background, while our teen is more interested in what's on his phone.

And so, just as Jurassic Park was aware of its own cinematic status - InGen's groundbreaking clones representing Hollywood's game-changing CGI, merchandise for sale channelling the commercialism to come - Jurassic World's meta-concept sees its owners trying to recapture the fun of 1993 for the jaded modern public.

"No one’s impressed by dinosaurs anymore," says Claire (Dallas Howard) to a gaggle of corporate guests, each hoping to sponsor the next attraction. And so they genetically engineeer their own creature by splicing together bits from old favourites. If that cocktail of familiar hits proves equally applicable to the whole movie, it fits right in with the post-modern tone: of course, the dinosaur is going to escape; of course, the scientists are the real monsters; of course, there's a rugged hero who represents the opposite of everything the corporation stands for.

That would be Owen (Pratt), whose job is to train velociraptors in the hope of using them as hunting dogs. It's not about control, he tells Claire, with whom he has a token will-they-won't-they romance, but mutual respect. That respect, which was so lacking in Spielberg's first film - where scientists needed no discipline to obtain their knowledge - is even more absent here. Dinosaurs are called "assets", while Vincent D'Onofrio's (two-dimensional) villain, Hoskins, thinks of them as potential weapons rather than animals. BD Wong returning as Dr. Henry Wu only adds to the sense of moral irresponsibility.

Hammond's spirit lives on in the park's wealthy owner, Masrani (a childlike Irrfan Khan), who flies about in his helicopter, talking about how he hopes guests will be humbled by their visit. While it would be so easy for a director to stroll in without such humility, Colin Trevorrow inherits his ancestors' universe with the utmost respect, from cheeky nods (Jake Johnson's loyal nerd, Lowery, wears a Jurassic Park t-shirt) to set pieces that literally follow in the (giant) footsteps of the franchise. Crucially, Trevorrow's bigger, "cooler" monster is withheld for much of the runtime, a predator (in the John McTiernan sense) only captured in glimpses before its full reveal. Others, meanwhile, are disposed off by blase soldiers.

As the park attempts to handle the disaster, there's a growing realisation that its back-up measures and security forces are inadequate. That's because they're based on the same lack of respect as InGen's careless first attempt. Some things, even in 2015, haven't changed.

That balance between trust and fear drives the narrative's tension - a juggling act handled superbly by the charismatic Pratt, who interacts with his raptor counterparts like they're in the room with him. His trademark goofiness may be absent, but Jurassic World also understands that Spielberg's series began life as a horror not a comedy; one sequence inspired by Aliens, using heart monitors rather than blood to depict death, is chillingly effective.

Dallas Howard, meanwhile, enjoys slowly shaking off her cold, businesswoman role, a cliched journey, but one that ties the peril of her nephews with the overall story: as mankind must learns to respect nature, she must remember to respect other people.

And what of the park itself? Jurassic World is lavishly brought to life, from glistening monorails to staff members faced with customer complaints. You'll want to go there immediately. It's a great piece of world-building that re-establishes Islar Nubla as a contained environment within which our critters can run riot - a fact that drives hunter and prey towards each other at a constant pace.

Can all this recreate the thrill of 1993? Of course not. But Jurassic World cleverly acknowledges that, spending its entire runtime knowingly trying to turn us from the cynical Zach back into the wide-eyed Gray of our youth. That effort erupts in an affectionate climax that carries some of the awe of the recent Godzilla movie: a combination of fear and respect for the original classic that makes you forget, if only for a couple of hours, that old things can still seem as amazing as they did 22 years ago.

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Film review: San Andreas Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 29 May 2015 12:56
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson
Certificate: 12A

"That's bad," says a Los Angeles Fire Department worker at the start of San Andreas, after seeing footage of an earthquake at the Hoover Dam. Another expert assesses the damage on-screen, then looks at him. "Yeah."

The movie is downhill from there.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as Ray, a helicopter pilot who spends his days rescuing people from danger. He's a professional rescuer. So when it turns out that the entire San Andreas fault is activating, laying waste to the whole of San Francisco, Ray immediately starts rescuing left, right and centre.

He hops into his helicopter to rescue his daughter, Blake (Alexandro Daddario), who is on a trip with his ex-wife's new fella, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd in full asshole mode). But first, it turns out his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) needs rescuing from a collapsing hotel, so he rescues her. Then he rescues a street full of people from a toppling building. As the estranged pair travel into harm's way, we discover that Ray blames himself for his other, dead daughter, who passed away after Ray - the professional rescuer - was unable to rescue her. Which is why he's so keen to rescue Blake now. Because that's what Ray does. He rescues.

All of this is explained with the subtlety of The Rock stamping on a packet of peanuts. That's not because of his performance - Dwayne Johnson is as likeably charismatic as ever, the kind of star presence who can usually make even the worst movie watchable - but the script. Carlton Cuse, the showrunner of last year's cheesy take on Guillermo del Toro's The Strain, spares no shovel power in beating every point into the audience's skulls. "Do you ever imagine what it would be like if our daughter didn't die?" asks Gugino, as they drive through the countryside, one of the few modes of transport that Ray doesn't crash. (A film about Ray never managing to reach his daughter, due to the sheer number of other people his job requires him to rescue, would be a very different - and, you suspect - a far more affecting watch.)

Even the supporting characters, such as Ioan Gruffudd's architect, aren't spared from the bad dialogue. "I never had children because I was too busy raising these," Daniel muses, showing Blake a glossy catalogue of San Fran penthouses. "It's the strongest building in the city," he adds, just in case she needs somewhere safe to hide during the largest earthquake in recorded history.

The spectacle of the city being levelled is big enough to satisfy disaster movie fans, but even director Brad Peyton's carefully orchestrated carnage is subject to the same urge to top what's been before: one scene involving a boat's propellers moves swiftly from thrilling to ludicrous. By the end, things are so overblown that the human cast are reduced to staring at green screens off-camera and doing their best "shocked" expressions.

The largest rumbles, though, are the film's seismic shifts from one tone to another: one conversation tries to be emotional, only for another to be loud, and another to be flippant. All of them end up laughably bad; the movie is less perched on a precipice of awfulness and more precariously riding the tectonic plates of implausibility and stupidity, as they rub together.

The epicentre of the problem is that old chestnut of self-awareness. Where something like 2012 was knowing enough to be enjoyable, San Andreas' insistence upon taking its string of cliched characters seriously undoes most of the brainless pleasure. (The timing of the film's release, only weeks after the tragedy of Nepal, leaves you longing for the more tasteful, and hugely moving, tsunami drama The Impossible.) Blockbuster entertainment is a perfectly fine goal to aim for, but even with Hugh Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson almost providing nudge-and-wink jokes as earnest Brits ("My guide book has everything!" one cries), San Andreas is far from unintentionally silly fun. It's simply rubbish.

As Paul Giamatti's seismologist pops up yet again to stare earnestly at the camera and warn of the destruction set to occur in two minutes' time - at one point, he "hacks" the media, 1998 Godzilla-style, only to be given what appears to be an official broadcast slot - you find yourself sighing and gazing into the two-hour abyss that opens up beneath you. Then, the sobering realisation strikes you with all the force of a 9.4 on the Richter scale: like his dead daughter, this is something not even Ray can rescue.

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Film review: The New Girlfriend Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 May 2015 19:05

Director: Francois Ozon
Cast: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier
Certificate: 15

Madness. Grief. Identity. Sex. All of them combine to striking effect in The New Girlfriend. The fact it's written by the late Ruth Rendell, then, may come as some surprise - this involving, daring and disarming drama feels a long way from her familiar Inspector Wexford files. But that source material might also help attract older viewers, who are likely to be taken aback by the style and wit on display.

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Film review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 May 2015 11:31

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi
Certificate: 15

They fly. They bite. Now, they skateboard. It's safe to say that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night introduces vampires as you've never seem them before.

Ana Lily Amirpour's directorial debut is an almost achingly hip affair, one that sinks its teeth into genre trends and mixes them with other strains of cinema to produce something that fizzes with ideas. The film doesn't just unfold on a screen: it pops.

Our story is set in the fictional Bad City, a small town that feels familiar but strange: it's shot in California, but everyone speaks Farsi; the streets are deserted like a Western, but surrounded by the oil derricks of the Middle East; through them stalks the Girl (Sheila Vand), an undead vampire who is also a girl.

That central conflict feels right at home in such an eerie world of juxtaposition. She is lonely as much as the town is isolated, a neverwhere that, like all good Westerns, is a frontier between the old and the new, between vinyl and cassette tape, between the mortal and immortal. And so we see our hero of the piece, gardener Arash (Arash Marandi), struggling, like the teen vamp, to come of age, to find his way through the wild world of adolescence into adulthood.

His gunslinging saviour is the Girl, who rides into his life on a skateboard: Clint Eastwood meets Bart Simpson. Instead of bullets, she has fangs. Instead of spurs, black lipstick and eyeliner, which she ritually applies before going out. And, more importantly, she has hormones.

Sheila Vand is mesmeric as the creature, her eyes sultry, scary and doe-eyed all at once. They narrow, as she spies her victim across the dusty road, then open wide when in her bedroom, dancing and listening to Radio Tehran and White Lies (their song, tellingly called Death, plays during one cute encounter). All the while, her cape-like veil, worn over a striped jumper, gives the impression of Dracula crossed with someone from the Beano.

It's a constant game of subversion: she is alluring and deadly when faced with a cruel drug dealer, who is exposed as amusingly pathetic, but when she meets a young boy, she is scary rather than sympathetic.

Marandi is just as sweet as the hedge-trimming kid who worked 2,192 days to affair his retro car. The sight of one pushing the other along the pavement on wheels manages to be funny and unnerving in equal measure. Their burgeoning romance climaxes later, though, when he draws blood from her - rather than the other way around - while offering a takeaway hamburger. Lionel Ritchie plays in the background. "The sad songs hit the spot, don't they?" he asks.

Together, they make a curiously natural couple. She emerges as an almost feminist protector of abused prostates and bringer down of corrupt authority; like the derricks nearby, she sucks power from the rocks of this society. Arash's enemy, meanwhile, emerges not as the man holding debt over his head, but his drug-addicted father, who is preventing him from growing up.

The result is a fun, and darkly comic, romance that revels in the rush of looming maturity. At times, Amipour's style seems more about surface than substance, but what surface it is. She presents it all through the hard-lined monochrome of a graphic novel, accompanied by twanging guitar. It's the kind of pure pulp fiction you can imagine Quentin Tarantino making in his youth. And if, like Tarantino, this striking flourish of talent occasionally feels like it's trying almost too hard, that only chimes in with its naive protagonists, each putting on an air to achieve what they must.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night flies past you with the whoosh of a new voice so cool that you can almost see the "whoosh". "Did you see that film with the vampire on a skateboard?" people will ask in years to come.

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Film review: The Tribe Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 18 May 2015 17:09

Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Cast: Grigoriy Fesenko
Certificate: 18

55 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Body language, eye contact, posture. All of it adds up to form a message with meaning. But still, the prospect of a two-hour film entirely in sign language - with no subtitles - is daunting.

Of course, for the kids at a Kiev boarding school for the deaf, non-verbal communication is the norm: they don't need noise to communicate. The result is a bizarre form of silent cinema, which unfolds in a string of hand movements, accompanied by the occasional slap, stroke or pant.

Into the school steps Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a newcomer to the establishment. Soon, though, he finds himself sucked into a regime of institutionalised crime, a group of boys who steal from unsuspecting train passengers by day - and pimp out their female co-pupils to truck drivers at night. The nasty events are conducted in that same, studied quiet, with no music to disrupt the documentary-like realism.

The unheard elephant in the room, inevitably, is comprehension: with no on-screen text to translate, is it possible to understand what's going on?

The answer is both yes and no. Specific conversations and details occasionally flummox, but the overall gist of the plot is fascinatingly easy to follow. When Sergey falls in love with Anna, one of the two prostituted girls, for example, we know it cannot end well. But the sound of silence has an alienating effect too, putting us firmly outside of the closed criminal clique.

It is impossible not to be affected, though, by what you see. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy films events in long takes, emphasising the chemistry between the members of this harsh tribe. It is telling that the only times we do hear noises are during scenes of extreme pain or the unflinchingly unglamorous sex scenes - moments of universal experience that need no translation.

One sequence halfway through sees someone receive an impromptu abortion, a 10-minute single shot that climaxes in strained cries of agony. In a universe where noise is not required, the unfamiliar yelps of a child's unused vocal chords take on a new, heart-shattering quality that emphasises the shock of their adult actions. By the time the violent final act arrives, each scrape of furniture carries a booming weight.

55 per cent of communication is non-verbal, they say. You may only be able to process half of The Tribe, but you feel 100 per cent of its impact.

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Film review: Mad Max: Fury Road Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 14 May 2015 17:45

Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
Certificate: 15

"It was hard to know who's more crazy; me, or everyone else."

So says Tom Hardy's Max at the start of Mad Max: Fury Road, before munching on a lizard. It's a theory that director George Miller relentlessly puts to the test for two hours, filling his screen with cars, carnage and grotesque characters - none of whom question the grammar of that opening sentence.

You soon realise why: there's no time to think about comparative adjectives. In fact, there's no time to think about anything, as the opening shot drives straight into a car chase that sees things blow up, flip over, crash into other things and blow up again.

30 minutes later and we're given what little exposition is needed: the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Earth has turned everyone bananas, with crowds of thirsty souls mindlessly following Immortan Joe (Hugh "Toecutter" Keays-Byrne), a leader who promises water, fuel and the chance of going to Valhalla should they die trying to protect either. While they crawl about on the dusty ground, he stands above them in a skull-carved mountain, with a horde of wives for breeding. Unsurprisingly, they've had enough.

Their escape collides with that of Max, a shared purpose that sees the outsiders unite in one gigantic, armoured truck. Miller throws his humans together like he does his vehicles: with a visceral love of things that go crunch. Machines and men meet head-on again and again, each time in more creative combinations, and all overlaid in a never-ending blend of cyan and tangerine. It's like being dunked in a bath of Fanta while your eyeballs are spray-painted with Listerine.

The CGI proves a surprisingly good match for the practical chaos, mixing the otherworldly imagination with a tangible gore. To say the set pieces are dazzling in their ingenious brutality is an understatement: the entire film is one big set piece, with small chunks of dialogue chucked in between the well-oiled cogs. It's like watching Speed on fast-forward.

Miller's streamlined approach applies to his character development too, letting his star's actions reveal more about them than any clunky speeches. Tom Hardy swaggers through it with a casual intensity, like Mel Gibson's unhinged cousin, but the most surprising thing is that he's not the main character at all: that honour falls to Charlize Theron's Furiosa, who fights her way out of Joe's clutches with bad-ass efficiency. She's nobody's property. And she has a bionic arm. How did she get it? Who cares? It's what she does with it that matters.

The same is true of Joe's younger wives, who become increasingly active agents in their dash for freedom, and Nicholas Hoult's likeably dim Nux, a loser who accidentally falls in with our rebels. Together, they drive one way down a very long road. Then, they drive in the opposite direction. The almost gracefully simple journey hurtles along at a pace that makes Paul Greengrass look like Terrence Malick, while Miller packs the backseat with all kinds of intriguing details, from religious cults and incest to humanoid crows and pole-vaulting warriors.

By the end of the adrenaline rush, it's hard to know who's more crazy: Miller, who also directed Baby: Pig in the City, or the people who allowed him near a movie camera. One thing's for certain: the rules of language have never seemed more irrelevant. Grammar? Who cares about grammar when you can crash a man's head with a steering wheel? A feminist blockbuster with rip-roaring action, Mad Max: Fury Road is so insanely entertaining that it defies words. It's brilliant. It's bonkers. It's bronkers.

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Film review: Spooks: The Greater Good Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 08 May 2015 14:26

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Kit Harington, Peter Firth, Tuppence Middleton
Certificate: 15

It's hard to believe that it's been 13 years since Spooks first premiered on the BBC. It was a different time then. iPhones hadn't been invented. Netflix didn't exist. There was always talk of a Spooks movie during its TV rein, but now, in an age where superhero blockbusters are the norm, can the small screen franchise work on the big screen?

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