Review: The LEGO Movie

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

Star Ratings

Well good

iFlicks on Twitter

Home Reviews Cinema reviews
Cinema reviews
Film review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 22:16




Add a comment

FIlm review: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 10 July 2014 07:21
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
Cast: 12A

"A new era has begun. The age of the Transformers is over," declares Kelsey Grammar as Harold Attinger at the start of Transformers: Age of Extinction. He plays a CIA head intent on hunting down all the giant robots and killing them - bad news for Optimus and chums, who have all gone into hiding, until Mark Wahlberg's inventor, Cade Yeager (yes, that's his actual name), uncovers an old truck at an abandoned cinema.

The owner of the theatre cheekily laments to Cade that movies are all just "sequels and remakes" these days - but in a week where Christopher Nolan mourns the turning of "film" into "content", Michael Bay's blockbuster champions the unique value possessed by the big screen. Namely, the value of big robots blowing up big buildings while making big noises. It may seem like a sequel offering more of the same, but for the first time, Transformers 4 serves up something different: actual people.

"You gotta have faith, Prime. Maybe not in who we are, but who we can be," Cade tells Optimus in his garage. As a professional tinkerer, he reminds the Autobot leader of the importance of looking for the "treasure among the junk". It's an approach that suits the overall film.

Amid the carnage, Ehren Kruger's script swaps out Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox's couple for a far different dynamic: Cade and his daughter, Tessa (Peltz). That father-child relationship steers Age of Extinction away from the minefield of problems that has beset the franchise and into some surprisingly effective new territory.

Tessa soon introduces Cade to her boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor). "His name is Shane," she explains. "He drives." It's either an admirably economical piece of character exposition or a sign that he has no character at all, but Cade's disapproving dad act is, for once, a recognisable emotion in this sea of metallic mayhem.

After the self-aware opening gag, you get the sense that this is an intentional step forward from the writer and director. Even Peltz's role as token female feels less lecherous with Bay avoiding any slow-motion shots of her leaning over motorbikes, Megan Fox-style - although Kruger's attempt to justify the 17-year-old's relationship with an older boy feels uncomfortably forced. At any rate, Tessa certainly fares better than Sophia Myles' supporting character, who is completely shafted in the favour of macho, mechanical combat.

And what combat it is. Bay continues his quest to go bigger and, well, bigger - and largely succeeds. It's helped by the fact that since his adoption of 3-D and IMAX cameras, he's had to limit his shots to longer, slower takes that show the action clearly. But his childish ambition to smash toys together is still evident: this time, there are Transformers who break down into giant pixels before reassembling mid-flight. It's a stunning feat of CGI - even if these robots still feel the incomprehensible need to disguise themselves as a Camaro, a Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse and a Lamborghini Aventador.

That continued striving for scale, inevitably, proves to be Transformers' downfall. In the past, this testosterone-led thinking has meant not enough plot to fill the overlong runtime. Now, the problem is that there's too much. In addition to Cade and his daughter helping the Autobots from being hunted down by Attinger, we're soon introduced to his villainous partner, Lockdown - another robot, who carts around a prison ship of arrested junk - and a tech company trying to build their own Transformers using a metal called "Transformium" (a name so dumb that, to its credit, the script jokes about people making it up).

As another evil robot, Galvatron, hijacks that process, though, Age of Extinction suffers from the main symptom of sequelitis: too many bad guys. Showdowns happen halfway through the movie, only for villains to walk away for no reason, before returning again for another final act punch-up. The result is a bloated runtime of 165 minutes.

It's a shame because when the set pieces do occur, humans are woven cleverly into the chaos; final blows are delivered by men (and women) as much as machines. They may be puny but people actually matter. Chief of them all is Stanley Tucci, who is clearly having fun as Steve Jobs-like entrepreneur Joshua Joyce. "I wanted transcendent!" he whines hammily, as his designs topple around him.

The robots, surprisingly, are the dodgy members of the cast, from (toned down) racial stereotypes to John Goodman playing a Transformer effectively disguised as John Goodman. As Prime, Peter Cullen's voice may be as deep as ever, but Optimus' motivations are wobbly to say the least. "I swore I would never harm humans," he booms, "but if I catch the man responsible, I will kill him." Later, his attempt to persuade other robots to let him lead team literally descends into him shouting "Let me lead you!" At least over-bearing male man Cade, despite his unexplained ability to operate alien weaponry, is consistent.

Does that mean Age of Extinction counts as a success? In many ways, yes. Some will, after the last three films, expect rubbish - another sequel or remake to add to the pile. But despite Bay's horrible penchant for blatant product placement, there is something that works here. Like or lump the commercialised music video production, full of Malick-esque magic hour sunsets and soft rock pumped over slow-mo sequences, Transformers 4 has already become the highest-grossing film of all time in China; modern cinema may be dying, but - as Robbie Collin points out in The Telegraph - this juggernaut of sheer spectacle is bringing the crowds in.

Remove the pointless 45-minute Lockdown subplot and those crowds could be seeing a (relatively) tightly-packed summer thriller. In its current, ungainly form, Age of Extinction has many shortcomings, but in their hulking shadow lie glimmers of achievement; bits of treasure beneath the trash. Transformers: Age of Extinction is, whisper it, good. For a Transformers movie.

As Bay paves the way for another two sequels, Attinger's opening speech takes on another meaning: the age of Transformers is far from over, but with identifiable humans on the screen, you wonder whether, in his own, small way, Michael Bay might just have begun a new era after all.

Add a comment
Film review: Oculus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 14 June 2014 18:14
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Certificate: 15

Oculus is a film about an evil mirror. No, wait. Don't go away. It's better than it sounds.

Add a comment

Film review: NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 09 June 2014 11:50

"I'll have her, but I will not keep her long."

What a strange film NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage is. First, we have cinemas broadcasting live theatrical plays. Then, we have cinemas broadcasting recorded theatrical plays. Now, we have cinemas showing a behind-the-scenes documentary about a play: Sam Mendes' Richard III. If you're already switching off, this isn't for you. If you saw the play, on the other hand, this is an interesting accompaniment.

The movie follows Kevin Spacey et al. as they perform the final part of the Bridge Project, a scheme that formed a company of British and American actors and then toured 12 countries, from Doha to Beijing and Istanbul. If you're going to film the making of a play, this is the one to choose.

Director Jeremy Whelehan hangs out on the dozen different sets and records the preparations, performances and post-show celebrations, attempting to convey the camaraderie of the group, as well as offer insight into the production. He certainly succeeds at the first half.

Front and centre is, of course, our Kev. "The audience give you a feeling back - it's like a game of tennis," he says in one of many asides to the camera. (After Richard III and House of Cards, you can imagine Spacey delivering asides constantly in real life, offering wry comments on his breakfast cereal to the cat.) The rest of the actors echo his sentiment; it's surprising just how much the show seems to evolve as it moves location. It might be the same cast and director, but every few weeks, a new host of stagehands has to learn the ins and outs of the text, geared specifically towards each venue. More importantly, the people in the stalls change too.

One production in Epidaurus, Greece, sees the show previously designed for London's Old Vic stripped down for an ancient amphitheatre. The cast talk about the stunning candlelit stage in hushed reverence, frequently crossing the border into gushing thesp territory. "The gods came to us," smiles Kevin. If you can stomach a strong dose of luvvy with your loquaciousness, there is still something here to enjoy.

Gemma Jones, who plays Richard's mum, Queen Margaret, reveals herself as the joker of the pack, flashing everyone and hitting on the young men in the room. Chuk Iwuji as Richard's right hand man, meanwhile, explains that his habit of holding his hand up to his mouth is to hide the amount of corpsing he does - something Kevin takes advantage of every night.

For all the apparent team spirit, though, there's a hint of Ocean's 12 about the proceedings. Who wants to sit and watch other people have fun, especially when it involves them sailing down the Amalfi coast in Kevin's private boat? "You just get on and smile," confesses one bewildered co-star to the camera, but it's hard to shake that feeling of an exclusive clique.

Later, though, as they drive through the Qatari desert and Kevin throws himself head-first down a sand dune, you glimpse the trust that exists between the group; a side of Spacey we've never seen.

Mendes offers an interesting take on directing the A-lister, comparing Richard III to their first collaboration on American Beauty in 1999. Sam points out that Kevin is very aware of himself and always performing. "My job is to remove that awareness, to make him vulnerable."

Spacey certainly seems to be open. "I don't go into a corner and become a character," he tells us candidly. "I'm a firm believer that I bring what I feel that day to the role, if I'm angry or feeling lonely or blue… I get all that stuff fucking out there."

Whelehan lurks in the wings during the production itself, capturing the cast running between curtains and doors. NOW is at its best in these moments of chaos and craft. We see Spacey dance and limber up before limping out onto the stage. Is he doing that for Jeremy's camera, or is this him at his most vulnerable?

The play itself culminated with a bravura moment that sees Kevin hoisted upside down on a chain, swinging back and forth like a meaty pendulum. For those in the theatre, it was a breath-taking stunt. Disappointingly, though, NOW doesn't go into detail on how this was set up - although it does document the moment on camera for those who weren't there.

That's the biggest triumph and downfall of the whole thing. For audiences familiar with the production, NOW is a curious access-all-areas extra. For audiences who didn't get a ticket, the lack of a sister recording of the show leaves this feeling incomplete and self-congratulatory – the idea of marketing this to those who have never witnessed Spacey on stage, then, is a baffling decision. Aye, there’s the rub. That's the nature of theatre, one that the documentary constantly returns to: it's a game of tennis and needs the right audience to make it work. As the people on the other side of the net change, so does the show. “It can only exist then,” laments Spacey, with a hint of The Usual Suspects, “and then it's gone.”

In a world where cinemas now regularly broadcast plays, though, NOW In the Wings on a World Stage is a unique oddity. At its worst, it's a smug travelogue. At its best, it's a flawed attempt to capture the transient nature of the stage on screen; a fascinating special feature for a DVD that will never exist.

NOW In the Wings on a World Stage is showing tonight at Picturehouse cinemas around the UK with a satellite Q&A from Kevin Spacey. For more information, click here.

Add a comment
Film review: Benny & Jolene Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 06 June 2014 12:24
Director: Jamie Adams Cast: Craig Roberts, Charlotte Ritchie, Rosamund Hanson, Dolly Wells Certificate: 15

"I know he wants me. But I'm too hot. He's floppy."

Those are the lyrics to Hard/Soft, an attempt by Jolene (Ritchie) to write a racy pop song. She's in a folk band with Benny (Roberts). He doesn't want to sing racy pop songs. But as the duo arrive at the cusp of fame, a team of people try to push them towards mainstream success. Needless to say, none of them work together very well.

Films about musicians are having something of a moment right now, from the sincere (Inside Llewyn Davis) to the sweet (We Are the Best!) and the silly (Frank). But where all of these musician films worked, Benny & Jolene doesn't quite click: they simply don't convince as, well, musicians.

Writer/director Jamie Adams' comedy is largely based on improvisation, which gives his lead couple ample screen time to spar. Charlotte Ritchie is great as the earnest, confused singer, while Craig Roberts is suitably gloomy as the intense, artistic one, who does everything else. But do you believe they're a band? Not really.

An early sequence on a TV breakfast show is a laugh-out-loud introduction to the pair, as they stumble over such simple questions such as what instruments they play - and then mime badly to a recording. Unfortunately, that note of insincerity accompanies the whole piece.

"He's like a hot brother," Jolene says of Benny, and that uncomfortable chemistry is partly the problem. The two performers lack a romantic spark, more believable as siblings than will-they-won't-they lovers.

Adams fills his 90 minutes with a host of equally bumbling people, from the mildly amusing - a PR person played cluelessly by Rosamund Hanson - to the annoyingly unfunny - Dolly Wells as Jolene's overbearing mum. As the ensemble go on tour, the claustrophobic tension of the cramped caravan is captured very well, but not always intentionally; whether it is a weakness of the editing or the script, the band's loosely filmed journey becomes repetitive and stretched out, like a chord held on for too long.

The band members are talented, but they don't quite gel. There are times when everyone falls into beautiful comedic harmony - a rivalry between simultaenous sex scenes is finely tuned - but more often than not, the laughter track seems to be missing. And without a central relationship to keep you fully engaged, those silent bars gradually become more noticeable. Benny & Jolene are great on their own. As a band, they miss a beat.

Add a comment
Film review: Grace of Monaco Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 11:53
Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella
Certificate: 12A

Grace of Monaco follows Grace Kelly as she moves from her glittering Hollywood fairytale life to another, equally glittering, fairytale: the life of Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco. It's a story that's ripe with potential - but places most of the emphasis on ripe.

"You're a long way from Hollywood now, Grace," explains her priest (Frank Langella). "You're in Monaco." "Yes," she sighs, then frowns and gazes into the distance. "I know I'm in... Monaco."

Director Olivier Dahan shoots the film with hands heavier than a pregnant rhinoceros, delivering every story beat as a clunking boom. And so we are treated to endless close-ups of Grace, pretty shots of Monaco and close-ups of Grace again, just in case the title didn't make it clear who or where she is. All the while, Nicole Kidman sighs, frowns and gazes into the distance.

You might think, then, that her husband's struggle against France to retain Monaco's independence would provide a relief to all that sighing, frowning and gazing. But Prince Rainier III's political battle is presented with an equally weighty tone, despite it bearing hardly any resemblance to historical fact. "You can see the whole of Monaco from here," Tim Roth's husband tells Langella's man of the cloth as they drive through the hills out of town. "Yes, I know," comes the bored reply. Then they sigh, frown and gaze into the distance.

It's a shame to see such talent drowned in so much cheese. The twitchy Tim Roth flits between smiling confidently for the cameras and looking concerned, while Nicole Kidman swiftly perfects the pristine image and walk of a monarch. Both are presented with the most pristine of costume designs. But the director's unsubtle approach turns the cast into human-shaped Dairylea Dunkers, repeatedly dipped into a tub of pungent fromage.

"Everything I do or say is wrong," says Grace, before fulfilling her royal duties of frowning, sighing and gazing into the distance. It's a turn that at worst recalls Naomi Watts in Diana and at best brings to mind Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn - particularly when Grace sneaks off for 15 minutes to have elocution lessons with a flamboyant Count Fernando D'Aillieres. He is played, inevitably, by Sir Derek Jacobi, who minces on every possible level, like a camp lasagne.

In the movie's most laughable sequence, the Count holds up cue cards (presumably stored on the premises for just such occasions) listing emotions for Grace to project. Fear! Anger! Serenity! Then he proceeds to recite history like a text book, while Grace sighs, frowns and gazes into the distance. A card with "Boring" is strangely missing from his collection.

While everyone spells out exactly what is on their mind, the only member of the ensemble who offers any hint of fun is Parker Posey, whose assistant Madge is caught up in an international conspiracy. A late night rendezvous, played with an excited touch of humour, gives us a glimpse of what Grace in Monaco could have been. But rather than go down the path of a political thriller or straight biopic, Arash Amel's melodramatic (yet mostly made-up) script stumbles, ungracefully, under its unsubtle load. A cameo from Alfred Hitchcock (impersonated by Roger Ashton-Griffiths even less convincingly than Anthony Hopkins in Hitchock) only makes things worse.

"You came here to play the greatest role of your life," Langella tells the screen icon halfway through, ending any pretence of subtext. It's a neat parallel the first time someone draws it but after the 50th time, it all becomes rather tired. And, like Kidman and Grace, you soon find yourself sighing, frowning and gazing into the distance. Oof.

Add a comment
Film review: Beyond the Edge Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 25 May 2014 07:24
Directed by Leanne Pooley
Cast: Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa, John Wraight, Joshua Rutter
Certificate: PG

An inspiring achievement. An awesome spectacle. There's no denying that the climbing of Everest in 1953 was an impressive feat. The same could be said of Leanne Pooley's documentary, which meticulously recreates the mountain ascent to stunning effect.

Add a comment

Film review: Fading Gigolo Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 23 May 2014 16:47
Director: John Turturro
Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, Sofía Vergara
Certificate: 15

"This is the end of an era, my friend, let me tell you."

That's Woody Allen at the start of Fading Gigolo. It certainly seemed like that was the case for Woody the actor - until 2012's To Rome with Love, when he appeared in front of the camera for the first time in six years. Now, he's back on-screen again as Murray, a man who persuades his younger friend Fioravante (Turturro) to become a male prostitute.

Fioravante agrees. Why? Is it the money? Woody's ageing charm? The prospect of a threesome with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara? The fact that John Turturro wrote the film and is also directing might have something to do with it.

A guy making a film about himself having sex with gorgeous Hollywood stars? Much like Turturro's nervous first-timer, Fading Gigolo doesn't make a great first impression. He's lucky, then, that he has a wingman to distract you: Allen clearly enjoys the chance to dish out one-liners again and it's hard not to say the same.

His fast-paced delivery is a familiar joy, even if not all of the jokes hit home, while the chance to see him not being a neurotic version of himself is a relief. Indeed, you could imagine a younger Allen pulling a Turturro - if you will - and coming up with a similar idea for a screenplay.

The surprise is that once it gets in the mood, Turturro's script does have some substance beneath the sheets: one encounter with a widowed doctor, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), ends with bodily fluids of a very different kind. Falling for Fioravante and he for her, their sad relationship soon attracts the attention of the Jewish local council - a showdown that feels more serious than silly and all the better for it.

Paradis and Turturro have good chemistry, as does Liev Schreiber, who plays a wannabe suitor for Avigal's heart. Together, the three develop a shallow premise into an engaging story with real emotional depth. So it's a shame that Turturro keeps cutting back to the bedroom; an uneven technique that leaves you unfulfilled between encounters.

While the amorous feelings may not last the whole night, though, sparks also fly when Turturro and Allen are on screen. The pair are out of a different movie, but they fit well together, an isolated pocket of bawdy humour away from the mature romantic drama. As we hop between the partners every few minutes, Fading Gigolo's polygamous structure keeps you aroused, if not completely satisfied. As Allen strolls off screen once again, you'll be be glad this particular affair is over, but the end of an era? That would be a mood-killer.

Add a comment
Film review: X-Men: Days of Future Past Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 22 May 2014 13:20
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
Certificate: 12A

What is X-Men: Days of Future Past? A sequel? A prequel? In case you haven't guessed from the title, it's a bit of both. Or, perhaps more accurately, neither.

It begins with a spectacular set piece that brings together a host of familiar mutant faces, plus another - Blink - who can create teleporting windows at will. Intricately designed and wittily choreographed, she sends characters under, over and back on themselves, building up momentum before they dispatch a killer blow to an army of giant robots. It's like watching someone play Portal.

Add a comment

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

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

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

Add a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add a comment
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next > End >>

Page 1 of 63