Sunday, January 25, 2015

EX MACHINA


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



Any new film about artificial intelligence stands in the shadow of the great BLADE RUNNER and the no less philosophically incisive TV show Battlestar Galactica, as well as the ultimate sci-fi horror mash-up, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. These films posed deep questions:  can a Cylon love and have faith; how does one know one isn't a Replicant; should a human be punished for raping a Cylon; what duty does the creator owe to the created?  For any film to add to this genre it must ask something different or those same questions better - with more visual flair, with greater insight as to the complexity of the answers, with greater emotional impact.  Sadly, EX MACHINA does not live up to those tall expectations. Moreover, even on the rather less ambitious question of whether it passes for entertainment, the jury is out.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER


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



When people like Matt Taibbi get angry at AMERICAN SNIPER I think what they're really angry about is the Iraqi war.   I don't believe my country should've gone to war in Iraq after 9-11 but that doesn't have anything to do with AMERICAN SNIPER. This film is not pro-war propaganda nor is it mindlessly racist.  Maybe the real Chris Kyle was all of these things are more.  I don't care.  What I care about when I'm reviewing a film is what I see on screen. And what I saw was a beautifully made, superbly acted film that had the courage to show the flaws and delusions of a simple patriot, and the grave toll that war takes on everyone involved in it. It's an intelligent and sensitive film and I wish people could just watch it on its own terms.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR


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



A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a bad film that could've been iconic - a movie so steeped in cinema heritage that it slides into pastiche - a movie that reaches for greatness but trips over its own shoelaces in a final act that had the audience laughing at it rather than being awed by it. 

All of which is a great shame because the writer-director of the film, J C Chandor, is a great director.  His film MARGIN CALL remains the most powerful and understated examination of how Wall Street really works that I've ever seen.  ALL IS LOST pitted Robert Redford against the elements and in doing so created something like a profound exploration of character and worth.  These films had a style and a set of concerns that were new and unique to J C Chandor.  They felt authentic and urgent.  By contrast, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR seems like a slow and lingering meditation on an earlier time, both in New York history and in cinema history.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

BOYHOOD


You can listen to a podcast review of this film here, or by subscribing to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes:



In 2002, Richard Linklater (BEFORE SUNRISE) cast a six year old boy called Ellar Coltrane to play a kid called Mason, who lives with his sister Sam (Lorelai Linklater) and his single-mom (Patricia Arquette). He filmed the kids hanging out with their charismatic but clearly immature father (Ethan Hawke), cycling round their neighbourhood and acting out when their mom wants to move back home and go back to college.  Six years later and Linklater took up the project again.  The kids are dealing with life with a new stepfather, stepbrother and stepsister. Their mum has gone to college and gotten her career back on track, but the marriage is bad and their father is still a distant presence.  The difficulty of dealing with authority and life's sudden changes plays itself out.  The kids have an attitude because they can't see the full picture.  Fast forward another six years, and Sam has gone to college, and young Mason is on the verge of leaving. He's grown up now, but still growing - dating, excited and scared at the new life he's about to embark upon, sensitive and wise but still vulnerable and changeable.   Meanwhile, his dad has remarried and grown up and his mum has realised she's an empty nester.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

UNBROKEN

You can listen to a podcast review of this movie below, or subscribe to Bina007 in iTunes.



One of the less edifying revelations of the Sony hack was producer Scott Rudin's contempt for Angelina Jolie's talent as a film-maker and his bile at her leave of absence from his CLEOPATRA project to make UNBROKEN. So I approached this World War Two biopic with some interest and maybe some scepticism. What I am happy to say is that UNBROKEN is a handsomely made film about a true wartime hero, that while conventional in its approach, has so much authentic concern with the human condition that it left me with real tears, as opposed to some of those more mawkish and manipulative films that want to make you cry but don't. (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, I'm looking at you here.)


Saturday, January 10, 2015

WOLF HALL - TV PREVIEW

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex and
Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII


You can listen to a podcast preview of Wolf Hall here:


I am a desperate fan of Hilary Mantel's superbly researched, intricately crafted, slippery novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Though a Catholic, I have been surprised and fascinated by her sympathetic depiction of Thomas Cromwell and critical depiction of Saint Thomas More. Growing up in England where the history of the Tudors looms large in our school curriculum, our TV history and costume dramas, it was astounding to find someone who had a genuinely fresh perspective. What was even more impressive was Mantel's technical achievement to situate us so firmly in Cromwell's perspective and position, and to make this famous historic period seem contemporary and fresh. We don't meet Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn until Cromwell meets them. His own domestic vicissitudes loom large. Business, politics, religion - all seem vital, close, real and urgent rather than faded, distant and epic. And Mantel's great historic figures are real people with their weakness, moral failings, occasional nobilities, suffering and humour. The greatest example of this is her treatment of Cardinal Wolsey. He isn't just a rapacious, arrogant, power-hungry bogeyman but a fragile and fallen, perhaps delusional optimist who deserves our sympathy and Cromwell's fierce loyalty.


The challenge for any adaptation of the what will eventually become three novels is how to keep that sense of freshness, and how to keep Cromwell's perspective.  And in the case of the BBC's new six part adaptation of the two densely written published novels: how to condense the material without losing its sophistication, and how to present it for a prime time audience without dumbing it down.  I have seen the first two episodes of WOLF HALL and I can confirm that director Peter Kosminsky (THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR) and writer Peter Straughan (FRANK) have kept faith with Mantel and all her readers: this adaptation is dense, uncompromising, and centred firmly on Cromwell.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING


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



THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is a well-acted but ultimately banal biopic of the famous physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as told from the perspective of his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones).  As it opens, the young couple meet at Oxford University in the 1960s and are immediately smitten with each other.  Almost simultaneous with their courtship over the first half hour of the film is the discovery that Stephen suffers from Motor Neurone disease with perhaps only two years left to live.  It is testament to Jane's courage that she refuses to be shut out of Stephen's life and drops her own studies to marry him, raise his children and nurse him as he makes his reputation as one of the great scientists of our age.  But as we move into the second half of the film, while they both clearly still love each other, the cracks are starting to show.  Jane, who has always been religious in contrast to Stephen's atheism, falls in love with her Church choir leader, an earnest widower who becomes a kind of surrogate husband and father with Stephen's apparent blessing.  And then Stephen, forced to have a tracheotomy, and before he gets the computer voice we have come to associate with him, falls for his physical therapist.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

LEVIATHAN


You can listen to a podcast review of this film here:



Cinema is rich in films that tell the story of simple men who dash themselves against the rocks of misfortune:  of impotence in the face of corrupt authority and arbitrary fate.  Good men are not rewarded:  justice is not done.  In general, I find such tales uncomfortable viewing.  In fact, I find them sadistic.  You take a good man and watch him suffer for two hours with the director casting himself as the uncaring and inscrutable God of the Book of Job.  So why is it that while I found the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS unappealing I was bowled over by LEVIATHAN?  I suspect it's because there is no knowing, snide humour in LEVIATHAN, although it is sometimes funny in a low-key way.  Consequently, rather than being outside of the movie laughing at its central character's misfortune, we are inside the movie, sympathising with him. Or maybe it's because the subject matter is so much more urgent when situated within contemporary Russia, a totalitarian kleptocracy worthy of the movie's title.   At any rate, I am not alone.  LEVIATHAN has garnered critical acclaim and awards wherever it has been shown.  And in a brazen act of co-option is the official nomination of Russia for the Academy Awards.  It's featured in many a critic's Best of 2014 list and you'll be hearing more about it as awards season gathers pace.  All of this is justified.