X + Y REVIEW

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X + Y = One good film + one happy film goer.

Heartwarming, engaging and brilliantly acted. Dare I say it? This gets a 4 from me.

I nearly missed this little gem as it had only a week release at my local (Cinema NOT pub).

What’s it about? A socially awkward teenage math prodigy (Asa Butterfield) finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.

Our story follows a gifted and special young boy named Nathan (That’s my name!) who is diagnosed with autism. His unique preference for patterns soon develops an interest in mathematics leading to a . . . brilliant film.

Director Morgan Matthews and writer James Graham allow the film to move at a slow burning pace as we see Nathan receive his diagnosis. Edward Baker-Close plays young Nathan very well. His outlook and way of thinking makes him appear abrupt and quite blunt.

His honesty not necessarily coming out in the right way and at the right person.

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) was superb as Nathan’s mother, Julie. Struggling to understand the condition and failing to interact with him in the right way was hard viewing. Innocently asking a young Nathan if she could help with his homework. He looks up at her and simply replies, “You wouldn’t understand. You’re not clever enough”.

Nathan’s autism may only be a particular type but it soon turns him into a social outcast.

Martin McCann (’71) was very good as Nathan’s father. His patience and understanding of Nathan allowed the news to be more of a gift than a curse. However, it isn’t long before an unexpected tragedy comes along.

The story moves forward to a teenage Nathan. Asa Butterfield (Hugo) was excellent. His mannerisms and blunt delivery were well done. You really felt for the lad but also wished he couldn’t be so rude to his mother.

The fact he won’t allow Julie to touch him or even hold her hand was heartbreaking.

Rafe Spall (Life of Pi) was brilliant as Mr Humphreys. An embittered maths teacher donning a cane and popping pills like sweets. Sound familiar?

Spall’s characters does bear a striking resemblance to that of House. His brash comments, deflated ego, bemused attitude.

However, there is a sadness behind Humphreys as we discover he is battling with multiple sclerosis.

His pairing with Nathan was like something out of the Odd Couple. Nathan’s brutally honest comments to Humphreys’ sarcastic and smart ass outlook.

When the pair first meet, Nathan asks, “Why do you walk funny?”. Humphreys’ response; “Why are you so weird?”

Comical but endearing. Humphreys’ failed Olympiad past soon becomes a crucial tool to help Nathan and it isn’t long before the pair work together on achieving the impossible.

Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan) was amusing as the highly competitive and deluded UK team Olympiad leader. Constantly driving the children and desperate to beat China in any capacity (Even jogging and cooking shrimp).

In between training for the Olympiad and dealing with new surroundings, Nathan strikes another friendship with a Chinese Olympiad, Zhang Mei.

An impressive debut performance from Jo Yang. She had good chemistry with Butterfield and the pair are adorable together.

It was brilliantly handled and delicately deals with Nathan’s autism perfectly. From his handling of social situations to how he perceives certain colours and light.

Jake Davies (Cyberbully) was excellent as Luke; a fellow Olympiad who also has autism.

It was an interesting and harrowing comparison showing the different scales of the autism spectrum.

Luke’s attempts at interaction were harsh viewing. Scornful and arrogant, one moment. Desperate to make friends, the next.

Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) played the smug bully Isaac well. His constant put downs on Luke were all too realistic. A silly boy who is aware of his condition but still does everything to throw obstacles in Luke’s path.

The mathematics get a little mind-numbing BUT luckily the focus is always on the characters.

I just wished a little more time was spent on Humphreys’ story line. His battle with his painkiller addiction and a possible blossoming romance made for good viewing in between Nathan’s new ventures.

We got to see him fight depression but also his acceptance of MS. As the film came to a close, I felt his sub plot was left a little too open. You generally get the idea on how it was going to unfold. BUT two more minutes, just to round it all off, would have been a bit better.

Apart from that little niggle and the pace slightly dipping in the odd part, I was engrossed, engaged and interested.

The closing moments, dare I admit it, had a little tear in the eye. Someone must have sprayed something in the cinema.

It’s charming, funny, endearing and brilliantly acted.

A perfect formula for any film and certainly worth your time.

4/5

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’71 REVIEW

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A bold, visceral debut with another charismatic performance from a rising star.

BUT not without its imperfections.

Firstly, it helps to have some insight into the Troubles of ’71. Now my knowledge is sparse but despite not being alive at the time, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the conflict that ensued between England and Ireland.

Now writer Gregory Burke and director Yann Demange (Dead Set) leave little explanation throwing you and our protagonist into the heated confusing mess that was the conflict in Belfast. All that is established is a map highlighting the areas to avoid at all costs. The areas seized by the Irish nationalists who were perceived by the British as the enemy.

The confusion is merely one of a number of revelations. So what’s it all about? A young and disoriented British soldier (Jack O’Connell) is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.

We start with a slow opening as O’Connell visits his son while awaiting his next mission. At first, I was a little unsure with O’Connell’s delivery. He seemed to mumble and mope around. But as the scene progressed, O’Connell excelled. I was afraid that O’Connell would be typecast as the cocky hot head after Skins and Starred Up but the character of Gary Cook was a complete change of tempo.

The treatment of the British soldiers as they entered Belfast was harrowing and unsettling. The children swearing and throwing excrement was an unpleasant sight. The women grabbing saucepans and dustbin lids to warn the men of the incoming troops was tense and . . . irritating as hell (What?)

The slow build up as the masses continue to grow around the military vehicles was excruciating. Excruciating in the sense that all you can do is wait for it all to go up in smoke. The suspense brewing more and more as the tension reaches boiling point. As the orders became more and more misconstrued by the inexperienced Lieutenant Armitage (played perfectly by Sam Reid – The Riot Club), you find your loyalties divided.

However, the one who are routing for is Gary as he attempts to evade capture and get home. The chase sequences were intense and frantic. At times, the shaky camerawork was a little unsettling as you couldn’t see who was where.

It’s slow burning, at times tense and suspenseful. But for a 99 minute film, it felt a lot longer. The parts in which Gary is hiding (Several in fact) seemed to hit lulls. Where I was originally engrossed and held in suspense on Gary’s fate, I felt my mind wandering as the ongoing conversations between the nationalists and the Military Reaction Force seemed to run down familiar lines.

Despite being eerily realistic, it was also very predictable with the inevitable backstabbing. A sign of the times in this current day and age with paranoia, suspicions and backroom dealing ever present in politics. One thing that I can commend Burke and Demange for is capturing the dilapidated wasteland of the captured areas in Belfast and providing the opportunity for a talented cast to bring such characters to life.

The Military Reaction Force certainly didn’t portray Britain in the best of lights but with questionable motives and hidden agendas, I wasn’t surprised. Sean Harris (Prometheus) was perfectly cast as the shady Captain Browning. If anyone can play a creepy double crosser, it’s him.

There were surprises along the way with people you wouldn’t expect coming to Gary’s aid. Corey McKinley made a memorable impression as the loyalist kid. His acting was superb and quite comical, lightening the tone. It was great to see a talented cast of British actors and actresses, who have been popping up on the telly, get the opportunity to shine; Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders), Sam Hazeldine (Resurrection) and Charlie Murphy (Happy Valley).

The final 15 minutes came out of nowhere. Nail-bitingly tense with more ‘shoot em ups and backstabbing than The Departed and the conclusion certainly made for sombre viewing. Burke and Demange were not afraid to hold back the punches in commenting on a political minefield.

A bold, if a little drawn out, screen debut from a promising director and a stellar performance from a rising star.

O’Connell will certainly be one to look out for in the foreseeable future.

3/5