Review: The LEGO Movie

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

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Film review: Palo Alto Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 23:13
Director: Gia Coppola
Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts
Certificate: 15

Palo Alto is a film based on the novel by James Franco, starring James Franco as a teacher who gets to sleep with one of his students. If it sounds self-indulgent, don't worry: it is, but it's also more than that.


The movie is directed by Gia Coppola, the latest in the Copolla clan to pick up a movie camera. (With her arrival on screen, the family now have enough filmmakers to create their own cinematic version of the Von Trapp singers.) Like Franco, it would be all too easy to dismiss Gia, but Palo Alto cements them as voices worth listening to.


More importantly, though, it shines a spotlight on several other voices: rather than hog than spotlight, Coppola uses Franco's novel as a platform to showcase a young, talented cast. The mult-strand narrative delivers the usual array of coming-of-age cliches: there's April (Emma Roberts), the virgin who fancies her soccer coach; Teddy (Jack Kilmer), the quiet one who fancies April; Emily (Zoe Levin), the one who fancies not being known as the class slut; and Fred (Nat Wolff), the troublemaker who fancies getting off with Emily, not to mention anything else that moves.


The performers, though, infuse each of these stereotypes with an unexpected depth. Levin is tragically needy as Emily, while Kilmer is endearingly insecure, happy to cover for Teddy, even as he knows he's getting dragged down into a world of vandalism and community service. The exuberantly talented Wolff nails himself to the fence between annoying and amusing, hyperactively stealing every scene before chomping on any scenery left behind. But Roberts is the one who really engages; whether she's smooching Franco or looking stroppy at soccer, she embodies the movie's overwhelming sense of ennui even more than the directionless script.


There are unsubtle moments of superficial effort, from the electronic score to a scene that sees Teddy drive a car into a wall, just for the hell of it. But it's in the quiet exchanges in between that the cast work best, elevating Franco's short stories. In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola made The Outsiders. 16 years later, in 1999, Sofia Coppola made The Virgin Suicides. Released in 2014, Palo Alto may not quite hit the sweet 16, but this collage of Millennial youngsters frequently comes together to form something just as timeless and universal.

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Film review: The Maze Runner Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 10 October 2014 07:16

Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Sangster Certficate: 12A

In 1997, Vincenzo Natali's Cube was released. A dumb, trashy sci-fi that was high on concept but low on brains, it was a gloriously gory bit of B-movie fun. Today, in 2014, The Maze Runner is released. A dumb, trashy sci-fi that's high on concept but low on brains, it is also fun - but in a different way.


Based on the young adult novels, of which there are - inevitably - three, it tells the story of a group of kids who wake up to find themselves in a gigantic maze. Why? They don't know. Who are they? They can't remember. How to get out? That's anybody's guess.


But one day, that anybody arrives: Thomas (Dylan O'Brien). That's where our story begins. Thomas immediately starts breaking the rules by which the makeshift society operates. And, shortly afterwards, people start to die. Then, most shocking of all, a girl arrives - Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) - and she knows who Thomas is.


Director Wes Ball sets the fast pace by sending us up a supply elevator with Thomas to enter "The Glade", the green haven at the maze's middle. Unfortunately, the script (by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin) also sets the bar low with shonky dialogue and a horde of clichéd characters. There's the stoic leader who knows more than he lets on (Aml Ameen); the quiet but loyal second in command (the always likeable Thomas Sangster); the aggressive rival to the throne who doesn't like our hero (a very physical turn from Will Poulter); and the chubby, kind one who you expect to kick then bucket any minute. He's called Chuck.


Once we get into the maze proper, though, things step up a gear: the stony walls, metallic shafts and changing layout makes for enjoyably tense set pieces, while the grievers (strange, semi-mechanical monsters who patrol the maze) are genuinely creepy. The explanation for it all may lack the substance of great sci-fi, but The Maze Runner isn't about that: it's about putting you in the thick of a labyrinth and making you squirm. For older audiences, those attempts may appear laughable, but for younger adults, it achieves that same sensation Vincenzo Natali managed 17 years ago. A solid gateway to an adult genre, it's nice to see someone making trashy sci-fi B-movies for teens, even if the movie does get a little lost itself. Talk of chaos and disorder within a micro-civilisation doesn't skew as deep as The Maze Runner would like, but when it comes to mazes and running, it knows its stuff. Lord of the Flies? Not quite. Cube for kids? Go on then.

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Film review: Gone Girl Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 02 October 2014 11:16

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Certificate: 18

"All we do is cause each other pain." "That's marriage."


That's Amy Dunne (Pike) to her husband, Nick (Affleck), in Gone Girl. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, it's a dark look at marriage, recasting the human relationship as a battle of control, perfection and perception.


Amy starts out as amazing, the ideal girl for the struggling writer, the kind of woman he can kiss in a sugar storm outside the local bakery, the kind of woman who knows his every move before he does, the kind of woman that the country would miss, if she were to go missing. So when she does, after years both for better and for worse, suspicion immediately falls upon Nick - because that's how the story normally goes.


So far, so potboiler. But Flynn is aiming higher than that; hers is a story about telling stories. Add a comment

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Film review: Wish I Was Here Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 20 September 2014 06:52

Director: Zach Braff
Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin
Certificate: 15

It's hard to imagine a more Zach Braff-y film than Garden State. That is, unless you've seen Wish I Was Here.


The film, very much a follow-up to his previous quirky-immature-guy-comes-of-age-and-learns-life-lessons hit, is about a quirky, immature guy coming of age and learning life lessons. At least, that's what it says on the tin.


Braff plays Aidan, an actor who finds himself having to rethink his life when his wealthy dad, Gabe (Patinkin), becomes ill and decides to keep the bank funds to try and cure himself. What will his kids do without being to attend private school? What will his wife, Sarah, do, trying to support the kids while holding down a job? What about his brother, a "genius" child who spends his day making cosplay costumes to impress a girl? And, more importantly, when will Aidan get the lucky break he needs to become a famous actor?


The script, written by Zach and his brother, Adam, provides endless obstacles for Aidan navigate, mixed with typically surreal and offbeat humour - from awkward home-school lessons to a a joy ride in a sports car with Scrubs' Donald Faison. The well-juggled tone is as much expected from a Zach Braff film as the indie soundtrack, which mostly consists of recordings from artists Zach Braff likes. Made with the support of Zach Braff fans through Kickstarter, it's a movie for those people; the ones who like Zach Braff.


The problem is that Zach Braff's film is mostly interested in Zach Braff's character, the one written by and starring Zach Braff. He's earnest, dreams of artistic success and is prone to fantasise about being a spaceman. He's as Zach Braff-y as Zach Braff can get. But while the star's schtick can charm in its own twee way, Aidan's self-centred nature - and the belief that he deserves to have his dreams fulfilled - makes for a surprisingly unlikeable protagonist. The fact that Aidan seems to learn nothing from his hard-done-by rite of passage only exacerbates the issue; Garden State resonated beautifully through its sincere, 20-something appreciation of the wider world, but Wish I Was Here's 30-something limbo struggles to find a note to hold on.


Amid the recitals of Robert Frost and Coldplay, though, are beats that genuinely linger. Mandy Patinkin's gruff father - complete with Homeland beard - spends the runtime in bed dispatching disparaging comments about his sons. Kate Hudson's Sarah, meanwhile, has to deal with sexual harassment at her office. Their story lines in themselves may not ring true, but when Sarah and Gabe meet halfway through at the hospital, they have a conversation that could well bring you to tears; a moving discussion of flaws and feelings that sees Kate Hudson deliver one of the best turns of her career. It's proof that Braff is capable of finding tender, mature moments between his talented ensemble. Wish I Was Here? Wish it was about them instead. That life lesson, perhaps, will come with the director's next movie.

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Film review: Magic in the Moonlight Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 19 September 2014 17:18

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Certificate: 12A

"There's no such thing as magic," declares Colin Firth in Woody Allen's new film. He plays Stanley, a tight-lipped Brit better known to the public as Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese magician whose showstopping trick is transporting himself from a locked sarcophagus into a nearby swivel chair. It's a nice idea for a comedy. The problem is that Stanley repeats his diatribe too many times. By the time he starts lecturing about rational thought for the 51st time, it gets a little old.


One could say the same about Woody Allen. While Magic in the Moonlight revels in its 1920s period detail - from Darius Khondji's sumptuously lit country mansions to the stunning French Riviera coast - it feels old in a different way, one that's composed of several elements of his previous films. That science versus faith debate, so often a prized argument of the director's protagonists, is a prime example, as conversations begin to overlap with ones you've heard before. Another key scene, which sees his lead couple share an intimate moment in an observatory, is borrowed straight from Annie Hall.


But if Allen is following his usual formula, he hits some of the right beats, namely in his casting decisions. Colin Firth is impressively annoying as the blustering skeptic, who makes sarcastic comments at every opportunity, although he may irritate many rather than amuse. It's a pleasure to see fellow Brit Simon McBurney given a prominent role as his sycophantic sidekick too.


The star of the show by eons, though, is Emma Stone. She lights up the place as Sophie, a gifted young clairvoyant whom Stanley is invited to expose. His debunking, though, soon turns to drooling as he's dazzled by her red hair, big eyes and seemingly limitless knowledge of his past. Stone hams it up with a hilariously deadpan performance. "I'm getting a mental impression..." she mutters, waving her hands in front of her and gazing airily at nothing.


Together, the odd pair make a nice contrast - occasionally, too much so, as Emma's young looks and Colin's old face err on the side of awkward rather than entertaining. That old-fashioned juxtaposition, though, is just as much a part of Allen's dated show as everything else, a repertoire that doesn't think twice about uncomfortable romantic pairings, or at least considers it a comic tradition. It's to the cast's credit that, by the time the final scene arrives, you stop noticing the gap; or perhaps it is simply part of this script's odd, retro charm.


Nostalgia is central to Magic in the Moonlight's appeal, itself as hazy as the sun setting in the background of Stanley and Sophie's daytime jaunts in his motor car. If Firth dips into his Mr. Darcy routine a little too much come the second half of the slow 100 minutess, Stone smooths over the cracks with the hypnotic presence of a blooming Keaton. And that, perhaps, is the astonishing part of this whole act: that every time a new Woody appears, even on the back of a great one - which, these days, usually spells disaster - fans still bustle into the theatre, wishing they'll be amazed like it's 30 years ago. The greatest trick Woody Allen ever pulled was convincing the world his bad films didn't exist. And so you'll leave the theatre, blinking in surprise, only to forget the mediocre comedy altogether.


"There's no such thing as magic," declares Stanley over and over. There is such as thing as Woody Allen, though. And even if he debunks his own illusions one too many times, that remains something to celebrate.


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Film review: In Order of Disappearance Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 12 September 2014 12:23

Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Bruno Ganz, Pål Sverre Hagen
Certificate: 15

There's something about snow that suits comic violence. The white brings out the red in the blood. It worked a treat for the Coen brothers back in the 1990s. Now, with In Order of Disappearance, Norway is making a killing.


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2014 Raindance Film Festival line-up revealed Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 08 September 2014 12:51

Raindance has revealed its 2014 film festival line-up. The festival, which runs for 12 days, will screen 100 feature films and over 150 shorts.


Raindance 2014 kicks off on Wednesday 24th September with the UK premiere of I, Origins, the latest film from Mike Cahill, whose fantastic Another Earth opened the festival a few years back. The director will be on hand for a Q&A at the Gala - as is usual for the majority of their screenings - and the Opening Gala will be followed by a party Leicester Square's Cafe de Paris with a performance from Fine Young Cannibal's lead Roland Gift.


It closes with a screening of Wolf, with star Marwan Kenzari taking questions from the audience on the night, followed by a do at Leicester Square’s Ruby Blue.


In between, you can expect a typically varied line-up from Europe's largest indie festival. In fact, the emphasis is on diversity more than ever, with the programme now divided up into themes: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The festival's commitment to showcasing talent from around the world, from a mix of genres and from a range of (low) budgets has won it a growing kudos among creatives, which is evident from the increasingly starry guests you can expect to find pimping their passion projects.


Last year, Danny Huston and Toby Stephens were on hand to support Two Jacks and The Machine. This year, Andrew Scott and Alice Lowe will be attending the festival, plus you can find Charlotte Gainsbourg in Asia Argento's Misunderstood, Leighton Meester and Debra Messing in Like Sunday, Like Rain, Wes Bentley in Things People Do and the UK debut of Diego Luna's biopic Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña and none other than John Malkovich - who will also reportedly be hanging around the Vue Piccadilly.


The joy, though, is in chancing upon the other artists in between the high profile names - the kind of people who would mortgage their house to fund their flicks.


After 22 years, Raindance continues to be a wonderful chance for the public to discover talent and for filmmakers to showcase their work. Indeed, last year, Raindance followed the fest with the launch of its own VOD site, Raindance Releasing, which gives a digital platform to some of the fest's titles. The thought that some of the brightest entries in this year's line-up will have a chance of UK release even without a theatrical distributor snapping them up makes the festival more exciting than ever.


If you have a film premiering this year at Raindance and will be releasing your film on VOD in the UK, we want to hear from you - our sister site, VODzilla.co, is the UK's only video on-demand magazine with a section dedicated to supporting and covering digital indie releases.


For more information on the Raindance Film Festival, visit www.raindancefestival.org

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Film review: Obvious Child Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 30 August 2014 20:15

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Certificate: 15

"You know what makes you special?" best friend Nellie (Hoffmann) asks Donna (Slate). "I'm really good at folding laundry?" comes the sad reply. "No, you're unapologetically yourself on stage."


That's the one thing you can definitely say about the heroine of Obvious Child: Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian, is never sorry for being her. She farts in front of people. She tells strangers about her love life. And when she does find herself on a date with a nice, Christian boy, she encourages him to pee in the street.


Sure enough, one thing leads to another and she and Max (Lacy) end up in bed together. It is only several days later, as Donna hides in a cardboard box in her friend's book shop, that she realises what has happened: she is pregnant. And so she breaks up with Max, debates whether to tell her mum about her opened bun, and goes on stage and blurts out her she feels.


Jenny Slate is astounding as the endearing loser, letting loose with a candid string of one-liners and confessions, which constantly cut into the rest of the action. Jake Lacy is just as fantastic, their romance evolving with an unworkshopped casualness, while Gillian Robespierre stitches it together with the freewheeling, shambolic nature of real life.


The film, based on a short the director made with Karen Maine and Anna Bean, has been praised by many for its stance on the thorny subject of pregnancy - and, specifically, abortion. It's true that, in a country where the idea of aborting an unborn child is greeted by a strong anti-movement, and in a medium where pregnant women tend to make a pro-life choice come the final act, Obvious Child should be heralded for seriously entertaining the possibility of taking the other option: it is a film that treats a rarely discussed topic with honesty, humour and compassion. It is a funny film - but it is also a significant film.


What makes Obvious Child stand out as such a fantastic piece of art, though, is that it treats this rarely discussed topic in the same way it treats everything else. Honesty, humour and compassion are not restricted to the realm of abortion; they define every part of Donna's existence. Pregnancy is another step in her life, not the thing that defines it - she is a fully-formed female, one to whom the title refers as much as it does the foetus in her womb. Obvious Child is adorable, amusing and, crucially, a film in which every joke is character-driven, from angry break-up jabs to a quip about folding laundry. It's unapologetically itself. And that makes it very special indeed. A delight.


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Film review: The Keeper of Lost Causes Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 29 August 2014 07:18

Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter
Certificate: 15


Department Q. The name suggests all manner of hijinks, a room packed with James Bond gadgets and technological trickery. But as Carl Morck (Lie Kaas) soon finds out, this is the exact opposite: after a case goes wrong, the disgraced detective is banished to a Danish police station's basement to start the division. His mission? To excavate cold cases. The keeper of lost causes.


Yes, this is a textbook piece of Nordic noir, which conforms to all your expectations of the genre - in other words, exactly the kind of thing that helped create the term "Nordic noir" in the first place.


And so Carl finds himself investigating the disappearance of high-flying politican Merete (Richter) five years ago. He probes into the mystery, stirring up old secrets and upsetting all of his superiors. And, of course, reawakening his own ghosts of former (dead) colleagues. He even gets a comedy sidekick: Assad (Fares).


But if The Keeper of The Lost Causes follows a formula, each part of the equation is rounded up carefully. Fares Fares treads the line of annoying and amusing with a likeable charm, while the script - adapted from Jussi Adler-Olsen's novels by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Nikolaj Arcel - ticks the traditional twist boxes with ruthless efficiency. There is no unnecessary flashiness here; Mikkel Norgaard's direction is suitably grim for the nastiness shown on screen, but makes no pretence that the story is anything more than a solid thriller.


What elevates it higher is Nikolaj Lie Kaas. His face is fascinating to watch as Carl, all frowns and dead eyes, while his blunt, grouchy delivery is the perfect match for the movie's sparse, bleak humour. Sonja Richter is equally believable as the frantic damsel in distress, driving the plot's on-rails pace to a pressurised finale that grips, despite the overly familiar grit.


Sure, this is by-the-numbers Scandi crime, but the numbers add up to something enjoyably tense. Norgaard's experience on Klown and Borgen gives The Keeper of Lost Causes a TV-like feel, but also an ear for buddy cop entertainment and an eye for stripped-down simplicity. Department Q is the opposite of the hi-tech wizardry its name implies - it would be as at home on Netflix as on the cinema screen - but for fans of Nordic noir, that is no bad thing. With a sequel already greenlit, The Keeper of Lost Causes functions as something of a TV pilot for a series of Department Q feature films.


A franchise of Scandinavian crime based on impressively economic storytelling? More please.


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Film review: If I Stay Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 28 August 2014 13:24

Director: R.J. Cutler Cast: Chloe Moretz, Jamie Blackley Certificate: 12A

The secret to performing a piece is not to pause - to keep going and ignore any wrong notes. Half the time, an audience won't know what the music says anyway, let alone how it's meant to be played. If you can keep going and be swept up in the music, everyone comes out the other end happy.


If I Stay, the story of a 17 year old girl who fights for her life after a tragic car accident while recalling her romance with a boy, doesn't manage that. What it does manage, though, is something else entirely: to capture the importance and power of music on-screen. Because while it is the soppy tale of a doomed romance, it is also the tale of two musicians.


Chloe Moretz plays Mia, a 17 year old cellist who is applying for a place in Juilliard and is the daughter of two former rockers. She soon meets Adam (Blackley), a guitarist who falls for her after - crucially - watching her play in a rehearsal room.


Moretz and Blackley both do their best with the cliched teen smooching, fighting, making up and making out. Their relationship plays out, unsurprisingly, in flashback, while Mia lies in hospital in a coma, where family and friends visit to deliver sad, inspirational speeches - a parade of sentimental scenes interspersed with a parade of equally sentimental scenes. Plus kissing.


Dial your gag reflex down and the level of schmaltz is so far, so swallowable, mostly thanks to the strength of Moretz's performance - but director R.J. Cutler ladels on even more syrup with an ill-judged out-of-body narrative, which sees Chloe constantly creeping around hospital corridors, bathed in white, looking earnestly at the camera. It's like The Lovely Bones 2: The Even Lovelier Bones.


But away from the stereotypical story lines lies a surprisingly engaging plot: that of a girl and her instrument. It is rare for a movie to treat music with the importance or depth that If I Stay does - especially classical music. The last film to do so was Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet, which also explored the bond between notes and the people playing them. Here, though, Beethoven is presented to its young adult audience as if it is as normal as pop, a laudable achievement in itself.


Moretz (and her cello double - her head was superimposed on another player's body with seamless CGI) are fantastic, twiddling, bowing and swaying with believable intimacy - the same intensity that gives Blackley's scenes on stage an earnest sincerity (even if the band's songs are cheesy and repetitive). The relationship between the human couple may not always engage, but their relationship with music does.


The result is a film that moves in spurts, captivates in flurries, but misses beats every time the music stops for another rest in the hospital. For hard-hearted cynics, those wrong notes jar with the sound of manipulation. For teenagers familiar with the book or those willing to get swept up in the melody, the soundtrack's effectiveness is what gives the saccharine material some emotional substance. It makes the piece work - but only just. Despite the structure of the original novel, you get the impression the movie would flow more smoothly if the focus was solely on the music. If I Stay plays the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

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Film review: Into the Storm Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:21

Director: Steven Quale
Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh
Certificate: 12A

Love storms? Love Richard Armitage? Then you might enjoy INTO THE STORM. The film tells the dramatic, intense, disastrous story of what happens when Richard Armitage goes… INTO THE STORM. And not much else.


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