Friday, March 20, 2015

BFI FLARE OPENING NIGHT GALA - I AM MICHAEL


I AM MICHAEL is a provocative screening choice for a festival that celebrates the LGBT community. This is because it doesn't tell a coming out story, but a going in story, based on the true-life case of Michael Glatze.  Michael (James Franco) was a seemingly happy gay rights activist and journalist living in San Francisco with his partner Bennett (Zachary Quinto).  But something about the death of his mother, his increasing panic attacks, and belief that opening himself up to religion had helped calm him, led him to renounce his homosexuality in order to be reunited with his mother in the afterlife.  He trained as a preacher, married a woman he met at bible camp (Emma Roberts) and continues in his new identity to this day.

The film that openly gay director Justin Kelly has made of Michael's conversion is admirably even-handed and provocative.  We see that Michael is the kind of guy who can't just profess an opinion - he has to persuade others of it - and convert them to his cause.  He has a kind of missionary zeal as a gay man, taking it upon himself to rescue the oppressed gay kids of America from the Christian Right, and once he's converted, he has a similar missionary zeal in rescuing gay kids of America from being gay.  

A lot of what Michael does when he converts is grating - telling his distraught ex-boyfriend that he'll pray for him or that he is abnormal.  It's always a challenge to make a film about a protagonist who for many in the audience will seem hard to like.  That said, Justin Kelly and James Franco portray Michael with an honesty of purpose.  His confusion and questioning - his guilt over his mother's death and need to see her in the afterlife are authentic and demand respect - and while his need to influence other's to take his path is contemptible his final ambiguity is sympathetic.  Is he beatifically happy or deeply unhappy?

I wonder if the real Michal truly knows.  The fact that he would sell his life story to Franco and allow Kelly to make the story suggests he isn't shying away from his gay past or unsympathetic portrayals.  Maybe his intellectual and emotional discussion continues and he felt he needed to see an independent depiction of his life on screen to help him figure everything out. Or maybe he sees it as a means to get his message of conversion out?

Like all the best films, I AM MICHAEL leaves you with more questions than it answers and prompts a meaningful debate. Franco, Quinto and Roberts are able actors - Quinto especially heart-breaking - and Kelly is both balanced and acutely sensitive to the nuance in Michael/Franco's moods. The only criticism I would make is that the movie suffers from a very slow pace in its early sections.

I AM MICHAEL has a running time of 98 minutes and is not yet rated.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

SUITE FRANCAISE


You can listen to a podcast review of this film below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes:



In World War Two, Irene Nerimovsky penned the first two parts of a novel before being sent to her death in Auschwitz.  Sixty years later, her daughter discovered and published those two self-contained novellas as Suite Francaise and it became a literary sensation, perhaps more because of the romance of its discovery than the work itself.  We now have this movie adaptation of the book, focussing heavily on the second part - the love story between a French woman and a Nazi soldier- that starts with a depiction of the exodus from Paris that forms the first novella.

The movie stars Michelle Williams as Lucille Angellier cowering under the iron rule of her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas).  Matthias Schoenaerts plays Lieut. Bruno von Falk who is billeted with them.  They fall in love over their shared love of music while the town goes to hell under wartime occupation.

The genre of film that features wartime wives falling in love with billeted officers is a well-trodden one and I'm not sure this film adds anything to it.  The fact that it's music that shows the woman that the man has a soul is, after all, the conceit of CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN.  Which isn't to say that this part of the film is badly done - it's just nothing knew.   What's far more fascinating is the depiction of the class-riven, gossipy French town and the nuance with which each character is drawn.  None of them are entirely nice or entirely nasty, and that also applies to the hero and heroine.  Characters who we find ignoble at first, find a certain dignity and courage by the end. Those that we feel are heroic allow mean things to happen.  And even the milksop heroine grows a pair by the end.

The resulting film may therefore satisfy no-one.  Those looking for a dreamily-lit, schmaltzily-scored romantic drama will find the characters rather ambiguous and hard to root for.  Those of us who like our dramas dark and spiky will rejoice at the ambiguity but find ourselves fidgeting during the romantic set-pieces.  But, still, overall, I feel there is enough to admire in the performances of Kristin Scott-Thomas, Harriet Walter and Lambert Wilson in particular to make this film worth your while. 

SUITE FRANCAISE has a running time of 107 minutes.  The film is on release in the UK, Ireland and Italy. It opens next weekend in Belgium & Switzerland. It opens on March 26th in the Netherlands, April 1st in France, April 2nd in Portugal, May 15th in Turkey, May 21st in Denmark and May 22nd in Spain.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

STILL ALICE


You can listen to a podcast review of this film below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes:



STILL ALICE starts Julianne Moore in as Oscar-winning turn as Alice Howland - a successful College professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.  The first half hour of the film sees Alice suspect that something serious is behind her sudden memory loss and come to a diagnosis. The second half hour sees the family come to terms with her rapidly deteriorating condition - their bickering, frustration, love but lack of understanding.  The final third of the film focuses on Alice's relationship with her youngest daughter, played by Kristen Stewart - a relationship that was fraught when Alice was well, but finds a new sympathy in her illness.  Alice herself is alienated from herself and much of the rest of her family. This is the true cruelty of Alzheimer's Disease and in that sense the title of the film is ironic. When you take away a woman's intellect, her memory, her job, her sense of self, what is left?

INDIA'S DAUGHTER (TV doc)


You can listen to a podcast review of this documentary below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.



In December 2012 a young female medical student was brutally gang raped and left for dead. She has been walking home from the cinema at 8pm in Delhi, India, and took a ride on what she thought was a bus service.  The case provoked mass protests from women who felt it symbolised their lack of security and equality in modern India.  It went to the heart of how women are perceived.  Do men have the right to punish them for so-called transgressions of traditional values?  Is it fair that a rape victim is made to feel shame and culpability for the act rather than the man?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL


You can listen to a podcast review of this film below, or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes:



THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is the inevitable sequel to the surprisingly popular and lucrative British romantic comedy set in a crumbling Indian hotel filled with English residents.  Some had come for a holiday - some because they could make their pensions stretch further.  But all were on an exploration of what it meant to be in love at an old age - what does it mean when your kids leave home and you realise you have nothing in common with your partner? How does it feel when you find yourself redundant from your children's lives?  Is it possible to have a second chance at love or a second career in your sixties and seventies?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Nine



COMMENTS:  Let's talk about the look of Claire Underwood - the killer skin-tight dresses, the long toned legs, the impeccable hair and make-up, sexy but classy, frosty even. And let's talk about one of the rare times we see her in a suit, in grey, enclosing herself in a room tastefully and classically furnished in dove grey prints, shutting double doors on her husband's campaigning.  Now let's talk about samurai-Claire - as always in times of stress she dons the all-black ninja work-out clothes - except this time instead of taking a run very deliberately outside of the White House - she's using a rowing machine with a kind of manic ecstatic look on her face. And then Claire in a virginal and quite feminine white dress, pacified, looking dead behind the eyes, agreeing to stand by his side as the election result is announced.   Later, Claire dressed in funereal black watching Frank's acceptance speech, being manhandled by him in the Oval Office.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Eight


COMMENTS: So many times in this season I've felt that Claire was a minute away from leaving Frank and we had another example in this episode.  I really hope something of this happens in the final episode or it will have felt like a gigantic waste of time.   But it does highlight the theme of this episode and indeed the season. It's all about love. Not the marriage of Claire and Frank but the marriage of Doug and Frank.  The loyalty he shows comes close to psychopathic.  But one question - how come burning the journal didn't set off any fire alarms in the Oval Office?!

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Seven


COMMENTS:  If the last episode was Frank alienating Claire this episode is Frank alienating Jackie. The writers seem to be following the classic buddy movie trope of having the antagonist alienate all his friends in act two before winning them back in the third.  Or will he?  I suspect it's too late to see the implications of Claire's alienation in this series, and if there is to be a season four, this makes me think he will triumph over Dunbar in the primaries....unless there is an epic twist. Overall, though, this is exactly the kind of HOC episode that I like, and the scripting of the debate was a tour de force.