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: Bridge of Spies Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 27 November 2015 16:38
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance

How do you make a Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Hanks better? Hire Mark Rylance. The Wolf Hall star is a veteran of the stage - and a relative rarity on camera. In his 55 years, he's been in just 13 films, including the upcoming adaptation of BFG. To see him even stand up on screen, therefore, is something of a treat.

Hanks, on the other hand, is the consummate everyman, a darling of Hollywood - and everyone else besides. He can talk the talk like nobody's business. The pair are perfectly cast in Bridge of Spies, the true tale of a lawyer hired to defend a Russian spy at the height of the Cold War.

That alone guarantees Spielberg's drama to be a success.

We first meet Hanks' James Donovan as he's verbally sparring with a rival in a bar, his words leaping high-jumps over his opponents' arguments. Matt Charman's script gives the Forrest Gump star a chance to show off his comic timing; Hanks has rarely been funnier in his career. He's charmingly witty and endearingly honourable - in other words, the perfect guy to root for, as he stands up to the noble task of giving legal defence to an anti-American.

As things progress, Hanks is sent over to Berlin to negotiate a swap: the Russian for captured US pilot Gary Powers. It's an optimistic deal, but he's an optimistic guy, cheerfully blowing his nose even as he's faced with bizarre fake relatives, slimy lawyers (a top-notch Sebastian Koch) and street gangs.

That upbeat mood sets Bridge of Spies apart from cinema's military norm - it's not often, particularly in modern times, that a war flick can be genuinely uplifting. But before you start hearing alarm bells in your head, along comes Rylance as Rudolf Abel. Rylance's Soviet dials down Spielberg's sentimental streak by underplaying every scene: while Hanks gesticulates, he stays quiet and still.

The stage actor's performance, as you would expect, is physical to the last. The opening of the movie, which begins with him rather than Hanks, is notably silent, relying solely on Rylance's shambling walk and sunken shoulders to do the exposition for us. He carries the presence of Alain Delon in Le Samurai, with Spielberg at his most restrained in years.

When Mark does open up, it makes each line all the more effective - you can practically see Hanks leaning into him, waiting on his every word. In an era of explosions and loud gunfire, Bridge of Spies appreciates the rat-a-tat of dialogue - for both Abel and Donovan, speech is the artillery of choice. When the whole historical conflict boils down to it, all we're doing is watching two opposing sides exchange words. It's riveting to watch. "Aren’t you worried?" asks Hanks. Rylance shoots back. "Would it help?"

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Film review: Black Mass Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Wednesday, 25 November 2015 18:10

Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton
Certificate: 15

Who doesn't love a heavy-hitting drama? Scott Cooper clearly does, switching from Crazy Heart to this Boston tale of corruption. His folk flick featured fantastic acting from Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell and here, he draws two similarly gripping turns from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton.

Depp plays notorious gangster Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, a part that could seem similar to his role in Public Enemies, were it not for Depp's transformed appearance. Looking more like a vampiric Christopher Walken than a drug dealer, he sports his slicked hair and blue contacts with a chilling stare that speaks volumes about Bulger's ruthlessness. Edgerton, meanwhile, proves himself one of the best character actors around with another generous performance as John Connolly, an FBI agent who works with Bulger to bring down the Mafia - only to unwittingly strengthen his boyhood friend's grip on the local crime scene.

Edgerton's is the more interesting character - his increasingly gelled hair visibly rising as his moral integrity sinks - but Cooper's film doesn't seem to realise it: Bulger, true to form, steals the thing from under Connolly's feet. The result is a unfocused landscape of low-lives, as the uneven script can't quite decide which male to make the alpha.

In lesser hands, this could prove fatal, but Black Mass remains engrossing on the sheer merits of its cast alone, let alone the polished work elsewhere. Each actor's role is well performed: one scene at a dinner table, in which an FBI agent is grilled about his family's secret recipe, is nail-biting yet hilarious. Even Benedict Cumberbatch, who is unnecessarily hired to play Jimmy's political brother, Billy, brings clout to his bit part. Stitched together with superb editing, from title years and ominous voice-over testimonies to beautiful crossover fades that see cars driving on rivers and cities filling up faces, Black Mass ultimately loses weight by being over-stuffed - but if it can't choose between its leads, that only emphasises the similarities between them: crime isn't just limited to the famous names on the Most Wanted list. This is a saga with impressive heft.

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Film review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 19 November 2015 22:01

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Certificate: 12A

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. The name trips as elegantly off the tongue as the third book limped off the page. Suzanne Clarke's sci-fi trilogy, which wove together politics, romance, reality TV and archery, never quite pulled off its grand finale: in admirably juggling all of its elements, it felt uneven and, by insisting on a serious pay-off for its plotting, a bit of an anti-climax.

So while the decision to split the book in two for the screen seemed like a commercial cash-grab, it turns out to be Mockingjay's saving grace, paying off in dividends throughout both halves. Mockingjay Part 1 was given the time to breathe and fully explore its themes of propaganda and manipulation - the result was a natural blend of the personal and political. Mockingjay Part 2 doesn't quite reach those heights, but plays out like a recap of the best bits of the rest of the franchise: the gulf between rival suitors Gale and Peeta is clearer than ever, thanks to their conflicting ideologies; the clash between dictatorship and democracy is brutally violent; and the action sequences buzz with thrill and ingenuity not seen since Catching Fire.

Most striking of all, though, is the pace: thanks to Part 1 giving all the exposition we need for the final stretch, Katniss and District 13's assault on the Capitol becomes the main thrust of this film - and it unfolds at a breathless rate.

Director Francis Lawrence and his team have excelled at production design throughout the series' final three entries, building a world so convincing that even flying through its deserted streets is immersive. That attention to detail extends right down to the clothes worn by Donald Sutherland's President Snow, who retains his loathsome air of luxury as he continues to manipulate his subjects - his smoking jacket is a smokin' jacket. In this dystopia, it's about surface as well as depth.

In stark contrast to his wolfish smile is Lawrence's Katniss, who remains blank-faced as she numbly stumbles through the trauma of war. With the emotional investment in her family and friends already established, that bland expression (always at odds with the flashiness of the Capitol) means the losses that could unfold at any moment still retain the potential shock of Rue's death - a threat amplified by some seriously scary visual effects during one monstrously chilling sewer sequence.

For all the 12A-troubling action, though, the other reason The Hunger Games series has been unsuitable for younger viewers is far more commendable: the films have never shied away from examining the notions of corruption and control via the media. Even when Julianne Moore's President Coin takes the podium, she sports a cloak that brings to mind a Sith Lord more than a liberal hero.

That commitment to the novels' adult subject - this is about loyalty as much as love, both national and individual - makes Mockingjay Part 2 an ambitious conclusion to a quietly bold saga. Freed from the structure of the novel, the ups and downs of overthrowing one system to try and replace it with another are thorny without being cumbersome. The inclusion of conversations that take place away from Katniss' limited perspective, meanwhile, add to the thick greys in this forest of shady morals - Woody Harrelson's sober Haymitch and Philip Seymour Hoffman's softly spoken spin doctor are highlights.

The absence of the magnificent, ever-ambiguous Hoffman leaves the later moments struggling, while one final shot steps slightly too far into sentimental territory, but this last chapter bows out with a resounding reminder that The Hunger Games is a criticism of society and power first and foremost, wrapped up in a moving love triangle. The result is proof that blockbusters can treat young audiences with intelligence and that splitting a book in two can be a good thing. Mockingjay Part 2 has all the emotion of the ending and none of the anti-climax.

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Film review: Steve Jobs Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 13 November 2015 18:35

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stahlburg
Certificate: 15

Years ago, a man changed the world by introducing it to the Apple Macintosh. Part-designer good, part-useful tool, it paved the way for a revolution in our relationship with technology; a personal computer so personal it could say hello. It may sound like an overstatement, but one only needs to glance around to see the impact Steve Jobs has had upon our everyday lives; whether Apple-made or not, a large portion of society now interacts primarily through handheld devices that we're told originated in one man's mind - a place of creative ingenuity, commercial savvy and ruthless ambition.

It's no wonder, then, that Steve Jobs the movie has been made. The biopic is a natural successor to David Fincher's The Social Network, the second part, if you will, in an ongoing saga of mythologising key figures from our modern history. Aaron Sorkin, who has written both, has become something of an official chronicler of these era-defining men, his recognisably stylised speech adding to the sense that we're witnessing legends being crafted on screen.

Danny Boyle's film is a triumph because it tries to do precisely the opposite of that.

Rather than give us the hagiographic take on a well-known name, Steve Jobs spends every second of its runtime cutting its subject down to size. We discover almost immediately that he's imaginative and ambitious - and also an asshole. He refuses point blank to give credit to those who built the Apple company before him, much to the annoyance of Steve Wozniak (Rogen). He threatens engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) to make sure his computer says hello during its launch, no matter what it takes. And he flat-out denies that Lisa, a girl deemed 90 per cent likely to be his daughter, is in any way his child.

One of the few to stand up to his petulant ego and get away with it is his assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), who is as honest as she is loyal. "What's the problem?" he asks between one of many fraught exchanges with those around him. "I don't know," she retorts, "but I'm sure it can be traced back to you."

The cast are uniformly excellent as their real-life characters, from Rogen - proving, once again, that he's nuanced performer who should be taken seriously more often - to Jeff Daniels as Jobs' weary mentor, Apple CEO John Sculley, and sometime firer.

Fassbender towers over them all as the iconic figure, shaking off any niggling thoughts that he doesn't look like Jobs in an instant. "What do you do?" demands Wozniak, as they stand in the orchestra pit in a theatre. "I play the orchestra," comes the magnanimous reply. He embodies that anti-social arrogance physically as well as verbally, from his wolfish grin to his cold stare. He's in every scene of the film and you can feel the pressure of his presence.

That's part of Sorkin's secret: while Steve is the star of the show, it's never at the expense of the others. In fact, it's their perspectives that we ultimately walk away with, showcasing Steve's selfish pride as a flaw rather than a benefit. The other is the script's taut, three-act structure, which only presents the action taking place just before the three defining press events of his career: the 1984 Macintosh launch, his educational follow-up, NeXT, and the iMac, a few years later. That theatrical device gives an urgency and a momentum to the fast-paced montage of confrontations, but it also places an emphasis on the personal life of Jobs versus the public sheen put on display. Apple products may be gloss and glamour, but these are the behind-the-scenes components he was so determined to lock away in the "end to end" design.

The cast revel in the writer's typically snappy dialogue, which flashes back within its artificial confines to tremendous effect - and finds both humour amid the tension and heart amid the cables. Thanks to a strong turn from Perla Haney-Jardine as Jobs' daughter in the final act, when the inevitably clunky mentions of iPads and iPods arrive, they're not sales pitches but emotional pledges, building up a personal meaning behind each product.

But Danny Boyle emerges as the core of the whole piece. It takes a strong director to tackle a Sorkin screenplay and the Trainspotting and Sunshine veteran makes it his own. His camera is thrillingly dynamic, always moving forward like his enterprising subject, adding action to the static indoor locations. His frames are full of Dutch angles, adding an edge to the order and precision of the Apple production line; a striking visual echo of the chaos and claustrophobia that flood the minutes before the crucial events. Even the stock used for each act varies, from the soft 16mm of Jobs' rebellious youth and the cinematic feel of 35mm for 1988's dramatic comedown, to the the crisp HD of digital for 1998's finale.

If the visuals are the perfect accompaniment for Aaron's script - Elliot Graham's editing deserves an Oscar - it's Boyle's ability with actors that gives the film's processor extra power. Rehearsing each stage in-depth before shooting, the ensemble click smoothly together, with Winslet, in particular, whose Hoffman has a complex blend of Polish, Armenian and American accents, adding a touch of engaging humanity to all the back-stabbing machinations. The result is a gripping, fascinating study of a man and a machine that has shaped the 21st Century - precisely because it avoids singing their praises. For every blow to its subject's myth on-screen, Steve Jobs is another testament to the filmmaker's talent behind it. The designer may be an American legend, but this filmmaker is a British national treasure.

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Film review: Brooklyn Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 06 November 2015 13:06

Director: John Cowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
Certificate: 12A

How do you build a life in a new country? That's the question facing Eilis (Ronan) in Brooklyn - until it's replaced by another, equally tough question: what if you then realise you could have an equally perfect life back where you came from? Brooklyn manages to answer both, along with another, equally challenging question: how do you make a film about a place without actually filming there?

The visuals are carefully assembled, but the script is the key. Nick Hornby adapts Colm Toibin's novel for the screen with typical wit and heart, creating a story that manages to be full of both cheerful hope and painful nostalgia. Saoirse Ronan shines in the lead, the excellent make-up and costume team making her as plain and blank as possible against the vibrant, colourful New York scene. Her face, which so subtly shifts between emotions, is perfect for the conflicted part - ably matched by Cohen's swoonsome suitor, who, unlike our heroine, never feels less than certain about his feelings. You suspect Emory is one smile away from heartthrob stardom.

Cohen is as charming as Domhnall Gleeson's boy back in Ireland is polite - between Star Wars and Ex Machina, Gleeson is on roll right now. Spending as much time with each of the men, we feel Eilis' torn affection mentally as well as emotionally; as soon as we've gotten used to one romance, the plot wrenches us away to admire another. The jolt is smoothed by Julie Walters' hilariously uptight landlady, who also helps to juggle the simultaneously cheerful and sad mood.

It's the understanding of what makes a home, though, that gives Brooklyn its old-fashioned magic. Director John Crowley shoots the tranquility of Ireland's Wexford with a twinkle in his lens - there's no faking that genuine location - but it's the gradual assembling of clothes, cosmetics, work colleagues and confidence that convinces. That attention to period detail, the act of reconstructing New York in Montreal, becomes an intrinsic part of Eilis' journey; her character is pieced together in the same way that each part of her life falls into place. As Eilis looks more and more American, she feels more and more real - and her tale becomes more and more moving. The result is a funny and unabashedly sentimental tale of identity, belonging and starting over. It doesn't matter where you watch Brooklyn: you'll cry many times.

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Film review: The Lobster Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 25 October 2015 14:10

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, John C Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw
Certificate: 15

Quiet, painful and occasionally funny, being single sucks. Well, it does if you exist in The Lobster. Director Yorgos Lanthimos' comedy is as darkly spiky as its name suggests.

The film is set in the near-future, where being single is illegal. Not coupled? Then you have to check in at The Hotel, where you have 45 days to find a mate. Succeed and you're moved to a yacht for a honeymoon before being sent out into the wider, married world. Fail and your stay comes to an end. Oh, and you're turned into an animal of your choosing.

It's an inspired conceit, cutting right through society's attitudes towards relationships; being in one is accepted as the end goal for all people, while those without partners are considered somehow abnormal. Writers Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou tease out the tyranny of romantic conventions, forcing their hotel guests to fill in a form detailing everything about them. Homosexual or heterosexual David (Farrell) is asked, as he checks in with his dog. No, you can't put both.

As he mingles with the other inmates, that desperate need to pair off and put everyone in boxes turns them into walking checklists of likes and dislikes. With such a short window to find someone suitable, even physical traits become fair game: if you have a limp, your soul mate would obviously have one too, right?

The film takes its cool logic to bleak, hilarious extremes. Ben Whishaw's guest ("The Limping Man") starts injuring other parts of his body to much other people's ailments, while the ever-brilliant John C Reilly ("Lisping Man") is all too eager to join in the regular hunts, which earn guests an extra day's breathing space for every runaway or single person they can shoot in the surrounding woods.

The whole enterprise is overseen by Olivia Colman, who lords it up with deadpan restraint; even when she starts singing a duet with her husband, the mood is as unamorous as could be. The rest of the ensemble is equally understated, reinforcing the confined claustrophobia - a vacuum of affection that makes every laugh (and there are many) as amusing as it is heartbreaking.

Outside of the hotel, a gaggle of Loners try to overthrow this monogamistic monopoly. Led by the intensely brooding Léa Seydoux, they prove just as uselessly oppressive, demanding no bonding at all between members. Amid the clash of courting traditions, Farrell (who is at his best when playing such pathetic, vulnerable humans) and Rachel Weisz's "Short Sighted Woman" emerge as a cry for genuine intimacy. And yet even their sweet chemistry is undermined by the fact they both need glasses - a common affliction of which the hotel would no doubt approve - and Weisz's wonderfully blunt narration.

In an age of online dating, where we're encouraged to scour the world for potential matches using data and facts, The Lobster reels in these social rituals and catches how absurd they really are. It's a shame, then, that the second half sees the prickly clarity of its message become muddled and lost in the woods. Farrell's choice of animal is the eponymous crustacean, which lives forever and always remains fertile. It's a smart choice, not just for a new form but for the film's title: like its namesake, The Lobster is at its most satisfying when contained inside its shell.

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LFF film review: Victoria Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 16 October 2015 16:08

Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski
Showtimes: 18.10, 16th / 12.10, 17th

There's nothing more impressive than a film with a really long take. From Scorsese's Goodfellas and Kubrick's Paths of Glory to Welles' A Touch of Evil and Antonioni's The Passenger. Béla Tarr has a lot to answer for. But even he would be gob-smacked by Sebastian Schipper's film, Victoria, which unfolds in real time - in one continuous shot. For two hours.

The film follows the eponymous girl (Laia Costa), who finds her holiday in Berlin hijacked when she bumps into Sonne (Lau) and friends one evening. The pair get to know each other quietly, bonding with all the loosely-performed realism of Richard Linklater - then things take a twist for the dramatic.

Schipper's decision to shoot everything in one go is less bold and more outrageously bonkers, but it's breathtaking to witness. After all, even Hitchcock's Rope had to fake it. And he didn't even leave the living room. Victoria, on the other hand, goes everywhere, from clubs to rooftops to car parks to other people's living rooms. The genre shifts too, from romance to heist to drug-fuelled partying - a tornado of unpredictable twists.

That pacing helps disguise the slightly far-fetched plot, which escalates surprisingly quickly, but we also connect with the characters through the verisimilitude; we experience what they experience and, like Victoria, can only get to know the others based on that. Exposition, drama, violent; it all happens at the speed it does in real life.

And yet Schipper is also confident to allow that momentum to vary: the soft first act includes, amazingly, a piano solo by Victoria, which Costa would have played without an error live on camera, before going on to perform everything else for another 90 minutes. In the aftermath of that beautiful sequence, Victoria's frustration, anger and fear are even more astonishing to witness. They don't even pause to go to the bathroom. Thrilling, funny and all kinds of epic, Victoria is a relentless tour de force that doesn't let up. In your face, Bela Tarr.

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Raindance film review: 1 World 100 Lonely Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 02 October 2015 12:41

Director: Brian McGuire
Cast: Robert Murphy, Farah Mokrani, Lara Heller, Mark Fletcher
Showtimes: 20.30, 28th / 14.10, 2nd

"I don't know if I should be dating, but I'd rather meet someone than stay at home," says a guy in 1 World 100 Lonely. You believe him. That raw sincerity has become something of a trademark for Brian McGuire, a director who returns to Raindance with another tale of loneliness in the modern age.

After Prevertere's rough romance over one night and Window Licker's portrait of one man's madness in a digital, media-saturated world, this serves as something of a halfway house between the two, combining McGuire's knack for emotional honesty with an understanding of how technology has subtly changed our everyday existence. Out of the mosaic of storylines here, all dealing with love and loss, it's no surprise that one involves online dating.

McGuire intercuts his stories with on-screen conversations, using texts and pictures to recreate virtual messages between an American and his Iranian correspondent, who eventually meet up. Miscommunication is immediately evident, but that gap opens even wider in another narrative, which sees a guy ranting at his ex-girlfriend while driving with terrifying passion. Devices not only help us connect, but disconnect too - something that's reinforced by McGuire's decision to shoot once again using only mobile phones.

There is happiness to be found, but as the title suggests, it's accompanied by that same pang of intimacy as the sad moments. The wobbly camerawork may alienate some, but it fits with the natural ensemble cast, who appear to improvise most of their dialogue (the excellent actors are credited as co-writers on the script). The same is true of the production values on the OkCupid-style messaging, which adds to the lo-fi, unpolished air.

The focus feels less crystallised as Prevertere and WindoW Licker, which benefited from a narrow focus to fit their small lenses, but the sweeping scale of 1 World 100 Lonely is testament to McGuire's ambition to chronicle human relationships on a bigger stage (it's a treat to see London in his work, as well as America). Regardless, all of the stories are united by the same uncertainty of whether they should be dating, the same habit of interpreting another person (and their messages) through the perspective of our own feelings. The result is a fragile drama that is definitely lworth going out to see rather than staying at home.

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Film review: The Martian Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 02 October 2015 05:36

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie
Certificate: 12A

"I'm going to science the shit out of this," decides Mark Watney (Damon) near the start of The Martian, after the astronaut finds himself stranded on Mars.

It's a simple motto, but that's the secret to both Mark's potential survival and the movie's success: it reduces space travel down to a string of problems that need to be solved. No water? Fine. How do you make it? No food? Ok. How do you grow some? The formula begins even before Mark's isolation, as the rest of the crew of shuttle Ares 3 face a more essential conundrum: with a severe storm hitting their base, should they evacuate without the missing Watney and survive, or wait to find him and possibly all die?

It's a tough call for Commander Lewis (Chastain) and co (Mara, Peña, Hennie), but it's over and done with in 10 minutes, because Drew Goddard's script knows that there are more challenges still to come. What follows is a series of theoretical and practical exercises, each one seemingly dry on paper but thrillingly urgent on-screen, where they mean the difference between life and death. It's like watching the final act of Apollo 13 remade into an entire film.

That unique mindset grounds everything: because we're focused on the basic challenges of day-to-day existence, our brains don't question that this is all taking place on an alien planet; the stunning scarlet landscapes (shot with unfussy style by Ridley Scott) are second to the mathematical athletics on display; the prospect of space travel is nothing compared to the mind-bending number of disco tunes in the possession of Chastain's guilt-ridden leader - if there's one thing Blade Runner was missing, it's Abba.

The downplayed mood extends to Damon too, who uses his everyman charm to narrate events with a surprising amount of humour. He doesn't make grand speeches or weep into his helmet; he makes fun of himself in video diaries and swears at NASA via text.

On Earth, people are just as flummoxed by Watney's situation. Sean Bean is enjoyably gruff as the veteran in charge of the crew, Chiwetel Ejiofor is composed as the boffin overseeing the mission and Jeff Daniels avoids being painted as the bad guy as his NASA chief tries to avoid any bad PR. In fact, there isn't really a villain at all: cutting between the people in the control room and the person on Mars, Scott and Goddard craft a tale that presents space exploration as one huge team endeavour. There's no difference between people in China, the US or even in space: they're all just clever humans solving problems. Isn't being smart cool?

From Damon's passion for homegrown potatoes to Halt and Catch Fire's superb Mackenzie Davis as an enthusiastic control room assistant, it's hard to think of another sci-fi with as much emphasis on the science. More than the flawless visuals, nuanced performances and consistent laughs - watch out for one cheeky movie reference - it's a treat to see a big budget blockbuster that celebrates intelligence over explosions. The Martian is essentially one long, two-hour equation. And it cinemas the shit out of it.

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Film review: The Scorch Trials Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 11 September 2015 11:00

Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Ki Hong Lee, Patricia Clarkson
Certificate: 12A

The Scorch Trials manages the impressive feat of containing more running than The Maze Runner, a film that was mostly about people running. The problem is that after escaping their labyrinthine prison at the end of the first film, our defiant teens need something else to run from. They take their lead from Marlon Brando's similarly rebellious Wild One: Whaddaya got?

At first, the answer seems to be a vaguely suspicious shelter for teens immune to the virus wiping out humanity. It's run by creepy-man-of-the-moment Aidan Gillen, whose job title is unclear, but mostly seems to involve curling the corner of his mouth every time someone gets hurt. You don't need to hear the words "paradise", "lucky chosen ones" and "never seen again" to guess things aren't all they seem.

When outside of the compound, though, that reason changes to the zombies now populating the planet - freaky, dull-eyed, black-veined creatures that don't waste time shuffling around like the Romero monsters of yesteryear. Or is it the humans trying to survive in this burned-out society, the kind of scavengers desperate enough to fire a gun, chain someone from the ceiling or sell out their friends? Perhaps it's the sinister organisation WCKD, which wants to harvest the kids for their cure-carrying blood?

Our teens spend the whole film rushing between this endless string of threats, stopping only to look shocked, surprised or remind each other to keep running. Dylan O'Brien remains likeable as leader Thomas, but is reduced to jogging to the end of the frame and staring, open-mouthed, into the distance at the next oncoming peril. The rest of the gang, meanwhile, rely on their actors' natural charm (Thomas Brodie-Sangster remains a talent to watch) to get through the script: the majority of the dialogue consists of the words "Quick!", "Run!", "You're almost there!" or a combination of the three.

Wes Ball directs it all, at least, with an impressive urgency; after tackling sci-fi with his first outing, he leaps into horror with the same energy and strong sense of world-building. The abandoned skyscrapers and eerie corpses are all brilliantly, creepily brought to life - although, despite being edited for a 12A certificate, this is really not suitable for those under 15. The newest members of the cast, meanwhile, are obviously having fun: Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito is enjoys himself as, essentially, a desert pirate, while Lili Taylor tries to bring gravitas to the film's science as a former member of WCKD - you can tell a company is bad when their name is one letter away from a lucrative sponsorship deal with an alcoholic beverage. The excellent Kaya Scodelario, meanwhile, out-acts them all as Teresa, who becomes increasingly conflicted over the whole situation.

But the threads holding the plot together are woefully thin: Rosa Salazar is wasted as a token romantic interest, who is introduced just for the sake of having a love triangle, while Alan Tudyk's role as a sleazy bar owner could have come from a completely different film - another person inserted solely to extend the runtime. There's much to be said for a film aimed at younger audiences daring to tackle the same moral dilemmas as Channel 4's brilliantly dark series, Utopia - the use of the divided ensemble to foreground the debate of the kids' lives vs the future of the world is effective - but writer TS Nowlin is so busy being ambitious, he forgets to be entertaining. This is a big step down from The Maze Runner's taut, gripping structure: the maze, not the running, was the secret to that film's success. Here, our heroes even flee from the weather in a scene that brings to mind Mark Wahlberg trying to outrun the wind in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. Without the confines of the franchise's maze walls, this sequel dashes all over the place - but it feels slower than ever.

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Film review: Legend Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 11 September 2015 09:36

Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning
Certificate: 18

What's the only thing better than Tom Hardy? Two Tom Hardys. It's hard to argue with the logic behind Legend, which sees the actor take on the dual role of Reggie and Ronnie Kray - and sure enough, he knocks it out of the park.

Hardy swaggers about the place as Reggie, as cool and suave as his suits. Then, thanks to some CGI trickery, he stomps into frame as Ronnie, all pout and aggression. It's a neat study of two halves of a whole: one glances sideways; the other stares bluntly at you.

The loud title immediately makes it clear that we're not in for a low-key ride: Brian Helgeland's film is a brash, cartoonish take on the famous gangsters, positioning the brothers as monuments of myth. Hardy's performance - one of the best of his impressive career - fittingly towers over it all. It's sad, then, that the rest of the movie never quite escapes from his shadow.

That problem is evident throughout the production in both big and small details. To match Hardy's larger-than-life presence, Helgeland's camera adopts a similarly glossy attitude. On the one hand, that allows for dark humour, as the graphic violence veers towards Tarantino levels of gore. On the other hand, it means everything has to scream 1960s to be heard over the soundtrack, which packs in obvious tunes like a Spotify playlist your boss has chosen to put on at work.

The result is something so stuffed with period details that it feels a little too faux to fully convince. When it comes to the punch, though, Hardy still sells it: a fight sequence between Reggie and Ronnie, which could be straight out of an Eddie Murphy comedy, is both emotional and dramatic, not to mention physically brutal.

The film tries to balance that nastiness with a lighter touch, packaging up the story as a doomed romance told from the perspective of Reggie's girlfriend, Frances. Emily Browning is good as the melancholic mobster's moll, but she's wasted in the role, which uses her as a conduit for the narrative rather than an actual character - a mismatch that drives the uneven tone. She joins an equally impressive supporting cast, which includes Colin Morgan as her brother, David Thewlis as Reggie's wonderfully weasel-like legal adviser, Leslie, and Paul Bettany as rival criminal Charlie Richardson.

The latter turn occurs during a superbly-judged opening sequence, which quickly slips in exposition and historical atmosphere with a subtle confidence. But this isn't a place for subtlety and there's little room on screen for anything that isn't Hardy; Christopher Eccleston as the cop bent on capturing the Krays is presented with such weight that you wonder why he's only in it for 10 minutes. As things escalate into amusing photos with politicians and graphic turf wars, the script's swings become increasingly wild. Tom's star quality isn't in his performance, but in his ability to smooth over that transition; the unbalanced mood becomes an echo of his own contrasting characters. When he's on screen, it's never less than entertaining. The film itself may not go on to become a legend, but it makes a convincing case that Hardy should.

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