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Reviews & features: Reviews

Maps to the Stars

22 Sep 20142 stars

David Cronenberg's satirical misfire stars a nevertheless impressive Julianne Moore

David Cronenberg arrives about 20 years too late to the party with Maps to the Stars, a strained satire of Tinseltown neuroses that feels surprisingly old hat. Screenwriter Bruce Wagner's slice of Hollywood gothic takes lazy pot shots at easy targets…

The Equalizer

22 Sep 20143 stars

Brutal thriller reuniting Denzel Washington with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua

The Equalizer is a nominal product of the gritty 1980s TV series - starring Edward Woodward as a vigilante private eye prowling the Big Apple’s mean streets - which lifts the title, character and concept but nothing else. Not even Stewart Copeland’s…

The Last Impresario

22 Sep 20144 stars

This celebratory look at the life of Michael White brings together lots of famous faces

Glasgow-born Michael White is frequently dubbed the most famous man you have never heard of. A showbusiness mover and shaker, he has rubbed shoulders with everyone from Bowie to the Beatles and Mick Jagger to the Monty Python team. He has supped with…

What We Did on Our Holiday

22 Sep 20144 stars

David Tennant, Billy Connolly and Rosamund Pike head up a charming comedy

From the creators of TV's Outnumbered comes this enjoyable British comedy that takes the show's winning formula (talented and adorable children, a script that allows those children to improvise much of their dialogue) and successfully translates it to…

A Walk Among the Tombstones

17 Sep 20142 stars

Misjudged thriller starring Liam Neeson that's unintentionally amusing

Liam Neeson treads by now very well worn ground as another ageing badass in this adaptation of Lawrence Block’s crime thriller from writer-director Scott Frank. Neeson is back on the phone negotiating with kidnappers, this time as unlicensed private…

The Drop

15 Sep 20144 stars

Toronto International Film Festival: James Gandolfini's swansong is a satisfying thriller

Tom Hardy is steadily proving to be one of the most versatile actors of his generation, constantly extending a range that stretches from Batman baddie and Bronson swagger to the gentle tour-de-force of Locke and now, in this tough Brooklyn thriller, he…

Magic in the Moonlight

15 Sep 20143 stars

Sparks fail to fly between Colin Firth and Emma Stone in Woody Allen's latest

Woody Allen waves his wand for the 44th time (a figure worthy of a sharp intake of breath) and the result is rather less bewitching than its twinkly title suggests. The promising premise involves one professional swindler attempting to unmask another…

The Riot Club

15 Sep 20144 stars

Lone Scherfig's appropriately nasty drama features a star turn from Sam Claflin

Adapted by Laura Wade from her own play Posh, The Riot Club violently disabuses us of the notion that those who rule us might do so from a good place. Wade and director Lone Scherfig knock the uber-privileged off their pedestal by turning puffed-up…

Think Like a Man Too

15 Sep 20142 stars

Comedy sequel starring Kevin Hart is watchable but lacking in big laughs

As its awkward-looking title suggests, ensemble rom-com Think Like a Man Too is a sequel to director Tim Story's 2012 hit. Based on a self-help book by Steve Harvey, the original film featured a group of women (Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Taraji P Henson…

The Imitation Game

15 Sep 20144 stars

Toronto International Film Festival: Stirring drama featuring a brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch

The story of how Alan Turing and the Bletchley boffins defeated the Enigma machine is one of the most stirring of the Second World War; the British David conquering the Nazi Goliath by virtue of superior mathematics and intellectual daring. The…

The Giver

15 Sep 20142 stars

Disappointing adaptation of Lois Lowry's YA novel with Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges

The pile of unwanted, underwhelming young-adult adaptations is rising. From The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones to The Host via Ender’s Game, the search for another Twilight or The Hunger Games has ransacked the bookshelves of many literate teens.

Night Will Fall

15 Sep 20143 stars

Andre Singer's documentary acts as a sobering reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust

That the Holocaust is so frequently invoked in justification of a raft of contradictory positions (not least, as ‘Godwin's Law’ reminds us, as a self-righteous point-scorer in online debates) is all the more reason for frequent reminders of its…

20,000 Days on Earth

15 Sep 20144 stars

This eclectic pseudo-doc paints a fittingly askew portrait of the musician Nick Cave

20,000 Days on Earth spins the seductive, semi-truthful story of Nick Cave. It's an existentialist pseudo-documentary, taking in love, death and memories as well as the art of song-writing, storytelling and performance. With its theme of self…

Grand Piano

15 Sep 20144 stars

Fun, Hitchcockian thriller starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack

Grand Piano finds pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) nervously preparing for a comeback concert, several years after he choked during a performance. His stage fright pales into insignificance, however, when he sits down to play and discovers a message…

Wish I Was Here

15 Sep 20142 stars

Zach Braff's disappointing, Kickstarter-funded second film features Kate Hudson

Like the struggling protagonist of Wish I Was Here, unemployed actor and father Aidan Bloom, writer-director Zach Braff’s follow-up to Garden State has considerable baggage. The easy charm and comedic melancholy of Braff’s 2004 debut created a cult…

Men, Women & Children

12 Sep 20143 stars

Toronto International Film Festival: Jason Reitman creates conservative comedy drama

Jason Reitman's cautionary, state-of-the-nation mosaic starts off with the promise of something Altman-esque like Nashville or Short Cuts, but winds up closer in tone to something written by Richard Curtis. Perhaps it is the fault of the extensive…

My Old Lady

10 Sep 20143 stars

Toronto International Film Festival: Maggie Smith excels in a witty, sophisticated drama

Israel Horovitz should be considered a source of encouragement for anyone in the autumn of their lives. A vastly prolific playwright, occasional screenwriter (Author! Author!) and father of Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, he has now made his directorial…

At Berkeley

8 Sep 20144 stars

An epic but enlightening documentary from Frederick Wiseman looking at the revered institution

The veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman applies a methodical but delicate touch to his examinations of American institutions, depicting the lives of workers and participants in aspects of public life in long observational takes without voiceover or…

Pride

8 Sep 20143 stars

Bill Nighy and Dominic West star in a fizzy, feel-good take on an inspiring 80s campaign

Imelda Staunton rolling around a bed with a red dildo laughing is one of the gleeful high points of Matthew Warchus’ unashamedly fizzy, cheering take on the 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners' campaign which involved a unique coming together of two…

The Judge

8 Sep 20143 stars

Toronto International Film Festival: Corny but watchable drama starring Robert Downey Jr

The Judge is a corny, shamelessly manipulative wallow of a film made surprisingly watchable by the sheer charisma of acting heavyweights Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Both veterans are cast according to type but lend conviction to even the…

The Boxtrolls

8 Sep 20144 stars

Ben Kingsley and Elle Fanning add their voices to a smart, surprisingly dark animation

Billed as ‘from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman’, The Boxtrolls is a weird, wonderful stop-motion and CG hybrid animation based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow. Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s film isn’t innocuous knockabout fun…

Manuscripts Don't Burn

8 Sep 20144 stars

A courageously critical thriller from Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof

Writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof has been a thorn in the Iranian security service's side for years and his latest dry yet bravely critical effort has only exacerbated matters. It's a solemn thriller based on real events that echoes his frustrations and…

Sex Tape

1 Sep 20142 stars

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel head up a slapstick heavy sex comedy that's light on laughs

Few sub-genres are as moribund as the sex comedy; since the 70s, audiences rarely seek laughs and voyeurism at the same time, and certainly not at the cinema, with dedicated internet sites allowing them to indulge both humour and libido in…

The Hundred-Foot Journey

1 Sep 20143 stars

Helen Mirren is on fine form in a sentimental culinary culture clash drama

Swapping cocoa for curry powder, Lasse Hallström’s latest is a culinary tale based on the book by Richard C Morais with a screenplay by Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises). Recalling his Juliette Binoche-starrer Chocolat, Hallström again wants us to…

The Guest

1 Sep 20145 stars

Dan Stevens ditches his Downton image in Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's superlative psychothriller

Taking gasoline and a match to his drippy Downton Abbey image, Dan Stevens reinvents himself in genuinely gobsmacking style. He's the titular houseguest: a soldier with a mysterious past, Terminator-like fighting skills and a knowing smirk. Directed and…