Sunday, October 20, 2013

SAVING MR BANKS - LFF 2013 - Closing Night Gala

SAVING MR BANKS is an emotional drama about the making of the Disney musical comedy, MARY POPPINS.  Specifically it's about the relationship between the apparently frosty British author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and the jovial studio boss, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). The reductive psychology of the movie is that Mrs Travers is stubbornly opposed to anyone trivialising her book with animation or songs because it is so intrinsically linked to her childhood trauma.  In flashbacks, we see her a small girl, living in a small Australian town, doting on her charming father (Colin Farrell) and drowning in guilt that she couldn't save him from his alcoholism.  As we move back and forth between her Australian childhood and 1960s Hollywood, we know only too well that the movie WILL be made, and it will contain dancing penguins, and songs, and Dick van Dyke with that ghastly attempt at a cockney accent.  And this takes much of the suspense out of the movie - it's only a matter of time before Travers capitulates to Disney's oleaginous charms and has a final act moment of catharsis at the première. 

The movie is simplistic and problematic. At times it reads like propaganda for Disney - who comes across as a thoroughly decent, fun-loving papa-bear in line with his public persona.  The psychology is reductive.  And there's way too much time spent watching Emma Thompson look stern and disapproving.  But in flashes - in moments - it really works. There's something wonderful and close to the bone in Colin Farrell's portrayal of a drunk but loving father.  There's a magisterial beauty to a pivotal scene on a lake at night.  And the Aussie landscape in general is just stunningly filmed, so kudos to the cinematographer John Schwartzman (THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN).  I also loved Paul Giamatti as Travers' Hollywood chauffeur. It's a relationship designed to be emotionally manipulative by the writers (Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel of the troubled FIFTY SHADES OF GREY) - the emotionally closed-off writer who forms an unlikely friendship with the warm-hearted writer - but it's hard to resist the genuine chemistry and high quality acting.  But overall, one can't help but feel that this movie would be a whole lot better if it were half an hour shorter, or had had the courage to be as forensic about Disney as it was about Travers. 

SAVING MR BANKS has a running time of 125 minutes and is rated PG-13.

SAVING MR BANKS played London 2013 and is released in the UK on November 29th, in the USA on December 13th, in Turkey on December 20th, in Australia on December 26th, in Hong Kong, Brazil and Spain on January 10th, in Argentina on January 23rd, in Germany on January 30th, in Denmark, Italy and Sweden on February 21st, and in France and Singapore on February 26th. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MYSTERY ROAD - LFF 2013 - Day Eleven

For those of you who have seen the critically acclaimed Sundance Channel murder mystery set in New Zealand, Top of the Lake, MYSTERY ROAD is going to seem rather familiar.  A small Antipodean town is riven with drugs, teenage prostitution, racism and a police cover up.  The problem is that while Top of the Lake was taught, tense, genuinely sinister and anchored on a devastatingly affecting central performance, MYSTERY ROAD is overlong, overdrawn, with a paint by numbers plot and a final shoot-out so overblown that the audience was laughing at it. 

The plot, such as it is, sees Aaron Pederson as a smalltown cop where a young Aborigine girl is found murdered.  He begins his investigation in the teeth of opposition from town's white cops, and stumbles on a subculture of drugs and teen prostitution.  Tragically, he finds himself similarly alienated from his own indigenous community, as a man sent to investigate his own. Worse still, his daughter, living with her alcoholic abused mum, is right in the target demographic of the victims.  The movie unravels at a deeply slow pace to reveal police collusion and ends in a somewhat bizarre stand-off. On the way, we get some interesting insights about contemporary race relations in Australia - some stunning cinematography from director Ivan Sen - and the evocation of Australia as a kind of lawless, corrupt Wild West.  But ultimately this movie needed a better script, a better editor, and a less ludicrous ending. 

MYSTERY ROAD has a running time of 122 minutes.

MYSTERY ROAD played Sydney, Toronto and London 2013. It opened earlier this year in Australia and the USA. 

DABBA aka THE LUNCHBOX - LFF 2013 - Day Eleven

Ritesh Batra's directorial debut, DABBA, is the most wonderful, unique, affecting film.  It's that movie that you hope for every festival: the unexpected show stopper.  He has created characters that I've taken to my heart: a love story so delicate, so fragile, so darkly comic that you want it to never end, but you're so pleased when it does.  Because Batra knows how to end a movie: without sentimentally and without being obvious. It's masterful.

So what's it all about, Alfie?  Irrfan Khan plays a grumpy old widower, a month short of his retirement, who accidentally receives the lunch tiffin intended for the husband of a neglected young housewife. Tentatively at first they start a correspondence consisting of notes tucked in the tiffin, expressing their dissatisfactions, hopes and musings. Through opening up to her, the old man becomes more open toward life in general, befriending the young co-worker he'd initially cold-shouldered.  Through him, she gathers the courage to look for a better life with her daughter.  

This all sounds so deceptively simple.  How can I explain the humour of seeing the woman's relationship with an entirely unseen "auntie" who lives in the flat upstairs and dispenses sage advice and chillis in a basket?  How can I explain the brilliant hilarity of a tiffin-delivery man protesting to the woman, eager to track down her correspondent, that tiffins simply cannot be misdelivered because men from Harvard have been to examine the system.  

But this movie is more than its humour.  It's the private pleasure the woman takes in preparing her tea and reading her letter, to sound of old Bollywood love songs played in the flat above.  It's the lifelong devotion of Auntie to her husband.  It's the beautifully drawn character of Shaikh, the widower's young colleague who has overcome so much prejudice to make a joyful life for himself.   It's the fragile hope that we, the audience, have, in seeing the widower refuse to become an old man.

I love that Ritesh Batra trusts us, the audience, to be content with the delicately essayed rather than the grindingly obvious.  I'm so pleased that there's no Western equivalent of the "dabbawala" phenomenon.  It means that we won't get a schmaltzy Hollywood remake of this wonderful, truly memorable movie. 

DABBA aka THE LUNCHBOX has a running time of 104 minutes.   DABBA played Telluride, Toronto and London 2013.  It was released earlier this year in India, and opens in Germany on November 21st and in the Netherlands on December 12th. 

DRINKING BUDDIES - LFF 2013 - Day Eleven

There's a lot to like in Joe Swanberg's relationship comedy, DRINKING BUDDIES.  He moves on from the narcissistic, solipsistic mumble core stylings of UNCLE KENT to something more mainstream and accessible, but manages to keep the emotional authenticity of his previous work.

Olivia Wilde is fantastic as Kate, a fun-loving, rather fragile girl who works at a micro brewery with her best friend Luke (Jake Johnson of THE NEW GIRL fame).  They have one of those close friendships that verges into sexual chemistry and we feel sure that they're with the wrong people.  This is compounded when we realise that their respective others, played by Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, are also actually pretty well paired, and should probably get together.  

In any other movie, this would descend into a cheesy play by numbers rom-com in which Chris breaking up with Kate and Kate rebound sleeping with a sleazy coworker would spark Luke into jealously realising that he should be with Kate all along.  But this isn't that movie. Instead, in a number of closely observed scenes, we get Jill go on vacation, leaving Kate and Luke to become closer but also to be exposed to what each of them really up is and wants.  As an audience, we realise that Kate really isn't as attractive as all that.  She quite immature, maybe developing an unhealthy dependence on alcohol.  And while Luke seems like a similarly fun loving guy, he's actually a lot more grown up.  In fact, the seemingly perfect couple if-only-they-knew-it, well, isn't. 

The joy of this film is seeing the largely improvised and naturalistic way in which these relationships evolve and unravel.  I love that it subverts and depends the classic rom-co characters and tropes.  And I love that I genuinely liked the characters and wanted to see what happened to them.  Kudos to all involved. 

DRINKING BUDDIES has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated R in the USA.

DRINKING BUDDIES played SXSW and London 2013. It opened earlier this year in the USA.  It opens in the UK and Ireland on November 1st. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

12 YEARS A SLAVE - LFF 2013 - Day Ten

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

Steve McQueen is a young British artist turned director whose previous two movies - HUNGER & SHAME - both gave us an unflinching portrait of dark and complex issues - the IRA hunger strikes and sex addiction. Both combined strong central performances from Michael Fassbender with stunning visuals and painfully held tableaux.  Both were the stand out movies of their year at the London Film Festival.

Accordingly, 12 YEARS A SLAVE came to the London Film Festival on a sea of hype - so much so that twitter had been filled with unblemished praise from critics who had seen the film that morning.  And even Festival Director Clare Stewart seemed speechless in her introduction to the film.  After the screening, the BFI tweeted pictures of standing ovations at the cinema. Everyone agrees the movie is moving, important and destined for Oscar glory.

I'm sad to say that I don't agree.  Yes, the film in important and unflinching. It's beautifully shot - all the more horrible to contrast the beauty of the Southern landscape with the cruelty of slavery. And yes, the movie hinges on a powerful central performance from Fassbender.  But too much of the rest of it seemed to me to be redundant, and a worse crime, to descend into emotional manipulation.

But let's start at the beginning. The film is based on the true life story of Solomon Northup, a successful free black man in Saratoga, married with children.  He was tricked into a business trip, captured and sold into slavery, first to a relatively benign slaveowner called Ford and then to a more complex sadistic coupled called the Epps.  Finally, he is freed when he manages to get a message out through a liberal white Canadian, although that reunion is tinged with bitterness at leaving his fellow slaves behind. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor is said to have given the performance of his career as Solomon, and to be sure he has grace and power, but I personally prefer him in DIRTY PRETTY THINGS.  I do, however, hope that he wins awards for this because let's be honest, as a black actor, how many other starring roles of this gravitas is he likely to get?  In minor roles, I really liked American Horror Story's Sarah Paulson as the sadistic, jealous Mistress Epps, erging on her deeply troubled husband to whipping the slave, Patsey, that he seems to be sexually obsessed with.  I also rather liked Paul Dano as the classic nigger-hating plantation overseer Tibeats whose jealousy at the favour Ford shows Solomon leads to Solomon being chased off the estate. He brings real insecurity and violence to that role.  It's truly sinister.  But perhaps surprisingly, the one mis-step is perhaps the usually note perfect Benedict Cumberbatch as the nice plantation owner Ford. Admittedly, Cumberbatch has little to do in this rather thinly drawn part, but his Southern accent doesn't seem convincing.

For me, this film belongs to two actors - Michael Fassbender as the tortured Epps and Lupita Nyong'o's slave Patsey.  Fassbender brings layers of menace, vulnerability and borderline madness to his portrayal of the almost superstitiously religious man who has a bizarrely close tortuous relationship with his slaves that culminates in one of the most horrendous scenes of the film. Goaded by his wife, he cannot bring himself to whip Patsey so he forces Solomon to do it instead. This is psychosexual terror at its most devastating. As Patsey, Lupita Nyong'o is more than a match for Fassbender, bringing layers of pride and then terrorised desperation to her character.  It's a fine performance.

Behind the camera, Steve McQueen's usual austere framing is somewhat diluted here, in what is undoubtedly his most mainstream movie. The exception are two pivotal scenes of great power. The first is one when Tibeats has Solomon strung up, and the overseer leaves him there.  The camera stays on him in his suffering then pulls back showing us slaves, so fearful, that they have to continue their work around him. Then we pan round to show how close this hanging is to the main house, and to see the mistress of the house looking on almost lackadaisically.  It's a beautifully pointed scene.  The second is the forced whipping of Patsey that I referred to before, and then Epps taking the whip himself.  The detail is rightfully brutal.

So what stops this from being a great film?  Too long spent in the banality of Ford's plantation.  Too long spent away from Fassbender in general.  The rather absurdly drawn character of Bass, the liberal Canadian played almost like a salvation Jesus by Brad Pitt.  And the ending.  McQueen could have ended this film on the scene where Solomon leaves the Epps plantation - a close-up on his half-unbelieving, relieved and yet guilt-ridden face, as Patsey faints in the background. That would have perfectly summed up the conflict at the heart of this story of personal liberation.  Instead, he tacks on the standard schmaltzy scene of catharsis, where Solomon is reunited with his family - martyred apologies and group hugs all round. Conventional, unnecessary, sugary and ruinous. 

12 YEARS A SLAVE has a running time of 133 minutes and is rated R in the USA.

12 YEARS A SLAVE played Telluride, London and Toronto where Steve McQueen won the People's Choice Award.  The movie will be released in the USA on October 18th, in Germany and Spain on October 31st, in Greece on December 12th, in Singapore and Sweden on December 20th, in New Zealand on December 26th, in France, Finland and the UK on January 24th, in Norway on January 31st, in the Netherlands on February 20th and in Denmark on February 27th. 

THE PAST - LFF 2013 - Day Ten

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's THE PAST is a movie that is in desperate need of Harvey "Scissorhands" Weinstein to cut down its over two hour running time into something less frustrating. But even then, one suspects that it's contrived and ultimately uninteresting plot would remain problematic. And of all the performances in this tense relationship drama, I am flabbergasted that the Cannes Jury chose to reward Berenice Bejo, who I found to be ordinary in the extreme.

The movie is about guilt and the complexity of modern relationships.  As it opens general all-round nice guy Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives in Paris to finally divorce Marie (Bejo). He arrives in a cluttered ramshackle house, symbolic of the cluttered ramshackle relationships. There are assorted children - it takes us a while to figure out who their parents are.  It turns out that the elder daughters, Lucie and Lea belong to Marie by a marriage previous to Ahmad, and the little boy Fouad, belongs to Marie's new lover Samir (Tahar Rahim).  But Samir is not yet free - his wife is in a coma.  

The resulting movie is full of bitterness, guilt and recrimination.  Who is responsible for failed relationships?  How are the children fairing?  Only Ahmad provides a still moral centre as the other characters whirl around him.  He tries to unpick the source of the tension and the final hour of the film plays a bit like a he-said-she-said mystery of the most melodramatic kind. It tends to melodrama, and after so many twists and turns we begin to lose sympathy, undermining all the good realistic acting and camerawork in the first hour.   Ultimately, the movie becomes so entangled in itself, and Samir and Marie so self-involved that the experience becomes alienating - and a far less engrossing and artistically pure work that Farhadi's beautiful A SEPARATION.

THE PAST has a running time of 130 minutes.

THE PAST played Cannes 2013 where Berenice Bejo won Best Actress and Asghar Farhadi won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.  It also played Toronto and London 2013. It opened earlier this year in Iran, the Netherlands, Poland and Greece. It opens on November 29th in Finland, on December 5th in Serbia, on December 19th in Italy, on December 20th in the USA, on December 25th in Norway and on February 7th in Sweden. 

MANHUNT - LFF 2013 - Day Ten

MANHUNT is a must-see documentary for anyone who has an interest in the rise of Al Qaeda, 9-11, and the USA's response to that.  Which, let's face it, should be everyone who cares about the world in which we live. It's a scrupulously fair, brilliantly compiled documentary that has somehow gained access to the very people who analysed and researched Al Qaeda, and some of the military who had to deal with the situation on the ground.  War correspondent and film-maker Greg Barker manages to get access to everyone you'd want to hear from - directors of the CIA, Stan McChrystal, the actual analysts who were hunting down Bin Laden from back in 1995, the FBI Jordan chief who conducted interrogations, the CIA men in charge of Black Sites.  And what's more, Bergen gets them to talk - candidly - about what they did, and the morality of it. He doesn't edit to a politicised angle but let's the stories conflict where necessary.  We have seemingly mild-mannered women talking about how they make peace with the fact that their analysis will lead to drone strikes.  We have CIA men arguing that extreme interrogation techniques yielded results, and FBI men arguing the opposite. Bergen let's us decide. 

The picture that emerges is of, by and large, good men and actually, largely women.  People who aren't evil power-crazed spooks but genuinely care about their country and doing a good job. People who's lives have been spent in service to bringing Al Qaeda down. They aren't the lone rogues of Homeland or ZERO DARK THIRTY.  They are committed team players.  They aren't the evil violent power-hungry men in black. They are conscious of the moral quandary they're in - some more than others, admittedly. You come out of it with a respect for their work, but also a sense that whatever that work has become - how frightening and futile the increase in drone strikes - it wasn't a deliberate power grab but something that happened organically and perhaps without the people who were at the centre of the chaos of the manhunt truly realising until it was fully manifest.  But that's all the more reason for us to sit back and watch a documentary like this and think about where we've come and whether we're okay with that - essentially the plea of Stan McChrystal.  This documentary is the first step in that process of self-reflection and is absolutely essential viewing. 

MANHUNT has a running time of 90 minutes. 

MANHUNT won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Sepcial.  It played Sundance 2013 and was shown earlier this year in the USA.  

1 - LFF 2013 - Day Ten

‎There's was a moment in the introduction to the JFK Assassination film, PARKLAND, where the director, Peter Landesman, said that people rewatch the Zapruder tape because they hope that this time, maybe this time, the awful horror won't happen and the ending will be different. I feel the same watching the onboard camera footage from Imola 1994. I seek it out, hungry for documentaries on Formula One in general and Imola in particular. And every time you watch you will the ending to change and cry when it isn't. I'm not sure why I get so upset. I'm not a massive Formula One fan but Senna was a childhood hero and his death, watched live in my home, was a tragic shock, and begged the cruel question: was Imola worth that beautiful glorious Interlagos win? Did we need to accept the tragedy in order to get the triumphs? Was this just a part of Formula One?

Paul Crowder's exceptional new documentary answers that question, and in doing so gives us an amazing historical sweep of Formula One's attitude toward safety. He starts with the tragic crash of Jim Clark - one of the greatest all time drivers - at Hockenheim 1968 and contrasts this with that amazing Martin Brundle crash at Melbourne 1996.  If we have the same amount of crashes now as then, how is it that Brundle walked out unscathed, and got back into a car to finish the race, but Clark died?  The answer is that for too long, the FIA and organisers just didn't care about safety - or didn't want to spend the money and time to make the races safe.  They didn't have crash barriers, medical care wasn't standardised, the courses weren't properly stewarded.  And even with high profile crashes - whether or not fatal - Jochen Rind to Niki Lauda - too often the drivers themselves just wanted to race faster despite efforts from racers like Jackie Stewart, Lauda et al trying hard to improve conditions. 

So, we get to the 1990s and suddenly racing as Bernie Ecclestone selling the TV rights which brings in the money and the TV audiences.  This is crucial because you get people like me shocked at the death of Senna and public outcry that guys still die racing.  And you get the money to make a difference - and thank god for Bernie hiring Professor Sid Watkins to standardise medical response. 

What I love about this documentary is that puts the recent films SENNA and RUSH in their proper historical context, both in terms of how racing deals with safety, but just more broadly in terms of how driving has evolved.  We see wonderful early footage of icons like Fangio and Clark and Stewart and Graham Hill and love them once again.  Crowder spends a lot of time of Hunt-Lauda which is fantastic, less on Senna, which is a shame, but I do understand that, because he wants to focus on the 1970s. This was the pivotal time in which the cars were getting a lot faster, but the tracks were still woeful - when the technology had outpaced the still amateurishly run sport.  It's the key to understanding the film.

Crowder has crafted a movie that's fair, beautifully edited, with a great driving sound-track and most of all, the blessing of Formula One. What that means is that everyone talks to him, honestly and candidly.  From Jackie Ickx who still isn't a big fan of safety over speed to Jackie Stewart who is still a powerful advocate.  We see the modern generation of racers - Lewis Hamilton - who seem almost cavalier about safety because - than god - they've come to fame in a period where it's much better.  And we hear from a lot of the true modern greats - not least Michael Schumacher. 

The resulting movie is a must-watch for anyone interested in Formula One, and especially newbies who's interest has been piqued by SENNA and RUSH and want to know more.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, was educated by it, and came out with a newfound respect for Formula One drivers in general, and Sid Watkins in particular. 

1 has a running time of 110 minutes.  The movie is available as VOD in the USA and will be released in the UK next spring. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013


KILL YOUR DARLINGS is a compelling, moving, beautifully produced movie about a dark emotionally manipulative relationship at the heart of the Beat generation.  You don't have to be fascinated by the Beat poets to be sucked into this tale of youthful exuberance, and malevolent sexual desire, so brilliantly is it crafted.

What most people know about this film, is that stars Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame as a young Allen Ginsberg, years before he wrote Howl - a naive innocent Jewish boy arriving at Columbia and dazzled by the charismatic proto-Beat writers he meets.  But really, this isn't his film, although he's a key observer and interpreter of it - our eyes and ears inside the chaos.  Really, the film is about Ginsberg's fellow Columbia student, the charismatic but deeply troubled Lucien Carr (Dale Dehaan) and his disturbed relationship with the older David Kammerer (a heart-breakingly good Michael C Hall).  When we first meet the pair, standing in Ginsberg's shoes, it seems like it's a relationship of equals.  Kammerer is obsessed with Carr, but Carr uses Kammerer to his advantage, making him write his papers.  It feels like Carr, if anything, has the upper hand.  But as the movie progresses, we learn that Kammerer isn't just a jealous boyfriend, and Carr may not be confident in his sexual orientation.  In fact, Kammerer could well be a predatory stalker.  I guess we'll never know why and how the obsessive love story ended how it did, but I love how director John Krokidas deftly navigates the spidersweb of conflicting stories and motivations. It feels fair, and fascinating, and real, even if, in reality it wasn't a possessive Ginsberg that told Kammerer where Carr was, but an unaware Kerouac. 

The cast is superb throughout. In smaller parts, I loved the sinister strangeness of Ben Foster's well-heeled heir William S Burroughs, and the carefree charm of Jack Huston's Jack Kerouac.  In the larger roles, Daniel Radcliffe is nuanced and charismatic and conflicted as Allen Ginsberg, creating an extreme version of a relatable character - the wide-eyed kid suffering his first unrequited love affair at college.  And the way in which his eyes are opened to intellectual thought - the way in which those early college friendships can change your life - made me nostalgic for my own freshman year. But as I said before, this is really a movie that belongs to Dane Dehaan and Michael C Hall - so lucid and sympathetic and fragile and tragic.  Truly heartbreaking stuff, especially from Michael C Hall, and I hope we see more of him on the big screen now that his time as Dexter is up. 

And finally, kudos to first time feature director John Krokidas who has fashioned a movie so elegant, and intricate and confident that it's amazing to think it's really his first film. I loved the way in which he folded and moulded time, using flashbacks in a totally unconventional way. I loved the way in which he could direct both the comedic caper movie material as well as the emotionally intense material - and his feeling for editing together the great pivotal scenes.  His direction is so brave and assured that I am truly excited to see what he does next. 

KILL YOUR DARLINGS has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated R in the USA. 

KILL YOUR DARLINGS played Sundance, Venice, Toronto, and London 2013.  It goes on release in the USA and Italy this weekend, in Greece on November 7th, in Canada on November 8th, in Australia on December 5th, in the UK on December 6th, in Germany on January 30th and in Brazil on February 14th. 


THE INVISIBLE WOMAN just doesn't work as a film at all.  It's a complete and abject failure, which is a tremendous shame as I have nothing but respect for the star and director, Ralph Fiennes.  His first directorial effort, CORIOLANUS, was a triumph of raw power and supple poetry.  It commanded you to watch.  By contrast, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN is so lacking in passion, so lacking in spark, it fairly lays upon the screen, squib-like.

The movie is a costume drama biopic romance based on the true story of the genius Victorian writer Charles Dickens and his late-life love affair with the much younter actress Nelly Tiernan.  That affair was the subject of scandal and notoriety in his time. The public perception was that Mrs Dickens, mother of many children, weary and perhaps grown banal, had been unfairly cast aside, and that in flaunting his relationship Dickens was being an utter cad.  He even went so far as to write a rather cruel letter to The Times claiming that the separation was amicable and denying the affair. As for Nelly, she has recently been the subject of a super book by Claire Tomalin, on which this movie is based.  Her motivations, and those of her family, are revealed to be nuanced and compromised.  How could a family living on the margins refuse the patronage of one of the most famous men of his time?  The book, and indeed the affair, raise interesting and provocative questions: did Nelly sleep with Dickens? If so was she glamoured by him or really in love?  How could a man who writes with such a burning sense of social justice, be so unjust to his wife in real life?  How far does love, if it was love, justify all?

Sadly the movie barely scratches the surface of any of these issues. In a pivotal scene, Ralph Fiennes' Dickens starts to explain his actions toward his wife (Joanna Scanlan) to his lover (Felicity Jones). She stops him, saying she doesn't want to know. But we, the audience, are desperate for any kind of insight into his motivations and mental state - which have remained obscure.  Dickens was superb at creating a public persona as a charming, youthful, playful man, and we never get beyond that here. The other major and massive problem with this film is that Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones have zero chemistry.  There is no physical or emotional spark.  We don't see why Dickens would have been captivated by this rather dull child, or why she would have been attracted to him, other than because she liked his novels.  We needed to see some erotic spark - some fascination - but there was absolutely nothing.  And without that, I'm afraid, there's just no movie at all. 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN has a running time of 111 minutes.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN played Telluride, Toronto and London 2013. It will be released in the USA on December 25th and in the UK on February 7th 2014. 

PARKLAND - LFF 2013 - Day Nine

I'm the wrong person to give an objective review of Peter Landesman's JFK assassination drama, PARKLAND.  I'm a self confessed conspiracy nut, who went to Dealey Plaza a year ago and followed that visit up by reading Vincent Bugliosi's mammoth and scrupulously researched doorstop book, "Reclaiming history: The Assassination of JFK".  It's a hardback book so thick it reaches the same height as a litre tub of Haagen Dazs and that doesn't include the CD Rom of notes.  If you haven't heard of Bugliosi, he's the criminal lawyer that prosecuted the Manson family.  His book is born of passion and professionalism.  He thoroughly debunks all conspiracy theories about JFK, defends the Warren Commission report, and is scandalised at how the tragedy has been exploited and sullied by nefarious scandal mongers and publicity seekers.  It totally changed my view on the assassination and if you have a year to spare (!) I thoroughly recommend reading it.  This movie is based on what is basically the first chapter of that book: a scrupulously detailed account of the facts of what happened on the fateful day of the assassination up to the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.  (It was also published as a separate and shorter book, "Four Days In September".) Naturally, when I realised it was being turned into a movie, and that in addition, that movie was being filmed by a first time director who was an actual proper journalist who shared my and Vincent Bugliosi's mission to reclaim the historical narrative, I was all over it.

Yes, it's fair to say that PARKLAND was the movie I was most excited about at this festival, and I wasn't disappointed.  To say that I loved it doesn't quite capture how I felt.  As we saw the presidential motorcade drive into Dealey plaza, I literally shivered.  When I saw Paul Giamatti's Abraham Zapruder plead with the editor of Life magazine not to publish the "kill shot" to preserve JFK's dignity, I cried.  When I saw the quiet decency of James Badge Dale's Robert Oswald, I was filled with empathy.  When I saw the selfish greed of Jackie Weaver's Marguerite Oswald, I felt physically sick.  I admired greatly Landesman's decision not to show the assassination itself, or indeed the Zapruder tape, but rather to show us the visceral reactions to it.  He held up to his promise of stripping away the conspiracies to restore the emotion at the heart of the story.  There was nothing salacious, or   prurient.  Even Jackie Kennedy's grief was handled with dignity.  It's as if the film-makers were trying to give her the privacy she deserved.  

As a technical feat, the film is a marvel, seamlessly blending in archive footage with the recreations.  There's a particularly beautiful and moving scene in which we see the Zapruder tape reflected in Abraham Zapruder's glasses, but can see through to Giamatti's eyes, shocked, devastated. The use of handheld cameras gives us a sense of immediacy, chaos, fear. And centring the film on Parkland is a stroke of narrative genius. It's in that humble hospital that both JFK and Oswald were treated - the bookends of the film.  They were treated by the same junior doctors, played by Colin Hanks and Zach Efron, and the stoic nurse played by Marcia Gay Harden.  There are two very powerful symmetric scenes that show empty trauma theatres, blood on the floor, remnants of chaos.  There's a point being made about death the great leveller.  

Like I said, I'm the wrong person to give an objective review of this movie.  I passionately believe in the project to reclaim the assassination from the conspiracy nuts: to centre it in procedural fact and real emotion.  I think Peter Landesman's movie has done this with a surety of purpose and complexity of style that is impressive.  And I hope the non fanatics will  benefit from that experience as much as I did. 

PARKLAND has a running time of 93 minutes and is rated PG-13.  

PARKLAND played Venice, Toronto and London 2013 and is already on released in the USA. It will be released in the UK on November 22nd - the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination.

DON JON - LFF 2013 - Day Nine

Joseph Gordon Levitt's directorial debut is a whole lot of fun, and beyond that a brave and nicely observed tale of a young man who manages to move beyond his porn addiction to a place where he can have a meaningful relationship.

The fun comes from his situating the story in a kind of Jersey Shore heightened reality neighbourhood where men where wife beaters, women where massive earrings and chew gum, and you can be out banging chicks on a Saturday night, and confess in Church on  a Sunday morning.  It was wonderful to see Tony Danza back on screen as the father of the protagonist, the Don Jon of the title,  all football and swearing and lech'ing over his son's hot new girlfriend, Barbara.  I love how Scarlett Johansen perfectly captures that broad Jersey accent, and the sly manipulations of the gorgeous girlfriend who holds out.

But really this is Joseph Gordon Levitt's show.  He's utterly compelling and charismatic and convincing as Don Jon, both in his schmucky porn using phase, and in his exploration of actual emotion phase. And believe me, when the movie takes that right turn into that emotional awakening, it's genuinely moving, and it's quite a feat for the movie to be able to move from the heightened comedy of the first half to the depth of the second half.

Is the movie perfect? No.  I didn't like how derivative the character of Don Jon's sister (Brie Larson) was.  She was basically a comically silent chick all the way through the movie, always texting people on her phone. Then, in the final reel, she puts down the phone and dispenses some dope wisdom much to everybody's surprise.  Everybody, that is, who hasn't seen Kevin Smith's Silent Bob character.

But aside from that, Don Jon is a really brave and funny story that made me laugh and made me think.  Can't wait to see what Joseph Gordon Levitt does next!

DON JON has a running time of 90 minutes and has been rated R in the USA.

DON JON played Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Toronto and London 2013.  It was released earlier this year in Russia, Hong Kong, Canada, Estonia, Taiwan, the USA, Israel, Lithuania, Romania, Portugal and Turkey.  It opens this weekend in Mexico and next weekend in Greece, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. It opens on October 31st in Norway, on November 1st in Finland, on November 7th in Denmark, Singapore and Brazil, on November 14th in Argentina, Germnay, Ireland, Poland and the UK, on November 20th in Belgium, on November 28th in Chile and on December 25th in France. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

PHILOMENA - LFF 2013 - Day Eight

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

PHILOMENA isn't a bad film.  But it isn't a good film.  It's a perfectly serviceable TV weepie with a superior cast. The movie spends a lot of time self-mocking human interest stories for being schmaltzy melodrama designed to cater for the weak and stupid.  But it can't escape the fact that this is basically what PHILOMENA is.  It could've been more.  But bound as it is by the truth of the story, it can't get spiky enough to do anything interesting.

Let me explain.  Philomena (Dame Judi Dench) is a real life Irish woman who got knocked up, consigned to a convent, and had her son forcibly adopted when he was a little boy.  Fifty years later, she enlists the help of an ex-BBC journalist to find him, as it turns out, in America.  There's some interest in seeing a lapsed Catholic of some wealth and cynicism help a woman who has been so obviously wronged by her Church, but still has faith and forgiveness in her heart. We could have had a really fantastically interesting philosophical debate here, but apart from one  scene in which Philomena refuses to confess, the screenwriters seem to shy away from such a controversy.  Similarly, without spoiling anything, there are aspects of the son's life that Philomena, given her faith, could have struggled with.  But no, as if by the shake of a magic wand, she is perfectly fine and understanding and modern and lovely.  And then, take the journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan in an admirably modulated performace).  He could have had to confront some real issues about whether or not to exploit Philomena's story for financial gain.  But circumstances let him off the hook.  

The result is a film in which two basically nice people go on a road trip and any possible issue that might have caused some problems, some fire, some provocation, some debate, some nuance, are neatly handled.   This creates a rather banal and soupy experience better suited to the Hallmark Channel than the London Film Festival. And the jokes that are in the movie - while properly laugh-out-loud - are all in the trailer.

PHILOMENA has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated 12A in the UK.

PHILOMENA played Venice 2013 where Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope won Best Screenplay, and Stephen Frears won the Queer Lion. It also played Toronto and London 2013.  It will be released in the UK, Ireland and Iceland on November 1st, in the USA on November 22nd, in Sweden on December 6th, in Italy on December 19th, in Hungary on December 26th, in France on January 8th 2014, in the Netherlands on February 13th, in Germany on February 27th and in Japan in March. 

NIGHT MOVES - LFF 2013 - Day Eight

As some of you may remember, this blog used to be called Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards, because I am one, and I have no truck with pretentious nonsense, vegetarians, and hippies.  So Kelly Reichardt's new flick NIGHT MOVES, fell right into my lap!  It shows you how do-gooding radical lefties can be as self-serving and arbitrarily violent as they would have usgreedy  capitalists be.  It's just that we own it!

So, in this movie three radical tree huggers decide to blow up a damn because this is going to supposedly disrupt the water supply and teach us ipad users a lesson or two.  The first hour of the flick basically plays as an anarchist revolutionary's handbook and I could definitely have done with a faster pace and more thrilling tense feel. It's always the way.  Indie directors think they can do genre, but genre movies are hard, and shouldn't be condescend to.  Making a taught thriller is not easy. 

Reichardt is on safer ground in the second half of the film where he can do his trademark interior exploration of psychology and mood.  Once the deed is done we see problems open up.  The preppie girl, Dena (Dakota Fanning) starts to feel guilty and blab.  Peter Sardgaard's Harmon becomes all too predictably, the manipulative sinister voice on the end of a phone.  That leaves us with the real  emotional and psychological heart of the film: Jesse Eisenberg's Josh.  His performance is so nuanced and moving in the final twenty minutes of the film that it elevates a rather second rate thriller into something altogether finer.   

NIGHT MOVES has a running time of 112 minutes.  NIGHT MOVES played Venice Toronto and London 2013. It will be released in France on March 5th 2014.

TRACKS - LFF 2013 - Day Eight

TRACKS is a rather lovely, beautifully shot movie depicting the true life journey of an Australian woman called Robyn Davidson who walked 2000 miles from Alice Springs to the western Australian coast.  She did this with three camels that she'd wrangled and trained, her pet dog, and occasionally the company of an aboriginal elder and a National Geographic photographer.  One might ask why and there are lots of hints at explanations on this film.  Maybe it was something to do with her own father's safari in Africa, or her innate loneliness, or of her bored dissatisfaction with life in the 70s.  Either way, I like that director John Curran doesn't feel the need to make everything obvious and easy, but allows us to see some of her charisma and mystery.

The film is beautifully made, and it serves as a hymn to he harsh beauty of the Aussie outback.  That said, any nature lovers should be cautioned that this isn't a movie that shies away from the harsh reality of nature, and animal lovers probably should give this film a wide berth.  In front of the camera, Mia Wasikowska carries the film as Robyn, and does a good job in making quite a prickly character interesting and sympathetic. Adam Driver, who seems to be popping up everywhere at the moment, is also highly enjoyable as Robyn's photographer cum suitor - the guy who has to reconcile, as we do, Robyn's need for solitude and her intense loneliness.  Ultimately, though, this isn't any actor's film.  It belongs to the cinematographer Mandy Walker who captures the stunning landscapes and people of the outback.  

TRACKS has a running time of 110 minutes. 

TRACKS played Venice, Toronto and London 2013 and does not yet have a commercial release date. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Oh man.  So here's the thing with the Coen Brothers.  Sometimes they write goofball comedies.  Sometimes they write movies that take you into dark existential angst. Sometimes they write movies that just take a decent guy and have the world beat up on him unrelentingly.  The last time they did that was in A SERIOUS MAN, which was perhaps the biggest downer of the London Film Festival that year, but was still, in its own way, a movie with a compelling narrative.  With INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, I'm not sure they've even given us that.  Nope.  INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a fantastic soundtrack album masquerading as a deep and earnest film.  It's meant to be making the point that talent doesn't rise to the surface, that inane nonsense is popular, and that sometimes good people are so beaten down by life they become their own worst enemy out of frustration.  All that might have made a compelling film, but INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS isn't it.  It's just a dull grey-green dirge - the colour of bruised skin - paced so slowly as to be funereal, in which we watch a man freeze and starve and struggle into submission, giving up on his career as a folk singer on the very night that Bob Dylan's career is about to take off.  Honestly, there's not much to like here other than the music.  They let John Goodman have a comedic cameo at around the half-way market to jolt us awake again, but other than that it's just a plain-chant dirge.  There's not even the characteristic fantastic cinematography, unless you count a moodily lit Llewyn singing on stage.  Just move along here, there's nothing to see.

The plot? Such as it is.  Oscar Isaac plays a folk singer called Llewyn Davis who lives on people's couches and can't quite seem to catch a break.  Everything he does turns to ashes.  He travels to Chicago in desperation, looking for an audition that bombs. He comes back to New York and decides to give it all up to become a merchant seaman again. But even that doesn't go well. And he ends up literally beaten up. That's honestly it - just spiced up by the John Goodman cameo and Adam Driver in an even smaller cameo as a nonsensical backing singer on an absurd song.  

Maybe you think I've spoiled the movie for you? I promise you I haven't.  When you see Davis refuse royalties on the banal record for cash up front, we know it'll be a hit.  When you see him angrily tell his sister to throw out his stuff, we know it'll contain something he really needs.  It's just that kind of film.  This isn't the "sweet sad funny" picture I've heard described, but cinematic sadism.  It wasn't the best movie I saw that day, let alone the best movie at Cannes. 

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

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS has a running time of 105 minutes.  

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS played Cannes 2013 where it won the Grand Prize and London 2013.  It opens in France on November 6th; in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA on December 6th; in Portugal on December 26th; in Mexico and Spain on January 3rd; on Greece on January 9th; in Italy on January 16th; in the UK and Ireland on January 24th; and on February 6th in Argentina and Denmark. 

IDA - LFF 2013 - Day Seven

Pawel Pawlikowski’s IDA is surely one of the most beautiful and most powerful movies at his year's festival.  It tells the tale of a young novice nun sent to visit her only living relative on the eve of her ordination.  This shy austere girl is confronted with her wonderfully direct, blowsy aunt, who immediately reveals her true heritage.  The novice Anna is really a jewess called Ida, her identity hidden in a 1960s Poland still struggling to confront its role in the Holocaust.  What then follows is a journey into the tragic past of Ida's parents - journey that begins with her denying that she is even Jewish and ends with her exploring who she really is, and how she really feels.

There's so much wisdom and insight in this film: about how we deal with pain and knowledge and the frailty of human nature.  And yet it's all wrapped in an almost austere, simple plot and deceptively beautiful visuals.  Cinematographer Lukasz Zal creates these wonderful black and white tableaux against which the two lead actresses emote with layers of nuance to every line. Sometimes a good movie really is just as simple as a unique and dramatic plot, two amazing actresses and a guy who knows how to bring poetry to the screen.

IDA has a running time of 80 minutes. 

IDA played Toronto 2013 where it won the FIPRESCI prize.  It also played London 2013. It will be released in Poland on October 25th. 

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS - LFF 2013 - Day Seven

What a disappointment!  Catherine Breillat's new movie was meant to be a profound psychological exploration of the nature of complicity in exploitation. It was meant to be a painfully close to reality examination of her own devastating stroke and ensuing experience of being fleeced of a million euros by a conman.  We were meant to debate and be provoked by whether she was really a victim of abuse, or whether in knowingly inviting a convicted criminal into her life, she was somehow buying attention and excitement every time she wrote him a cheque.

Instead, we get a movie that is slow paced and opaque.  A movie that seemingly wastes two strong central performances from Isabelle Huppert as the Breillat-like stroke victim director and Kool Shen as the remarkably un-charming conman.  After a stunning opening segment that depicts the stroke and rehab, we switch into a very long drawn out con.  In fact, it's not really a con.  He asks for money.  She gives him a cheque.  She even sees that he's spending the money lavishing handbags on his wife and drinking good one.  But when he asks for more, throwing a tantrum if he doesn't get it, she almost automatically, without emotion hands it over.

What I found most frustrating about the film is that there was no rail conflict there.  She wasn't charmed or manipulated.  She needed someone, he was there.  But any hint at complicity, at the masochism the director relates in the scenario of her forthcoming movie, is entirely absent from the script or performances.  The result is then a rather banal procedural that ends in an untimely unsatisfying and uninvolving confession.

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS aka ABUS DE FAIBLESSE has a running time of 105 minutes. 

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS played Toronto and London 2013. It will be released in France in February 2014.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Nicholas D Wrathall's Gore Vidal biodoc is a fascinating movie for anyone who's a fan of Gore Vidal! I'm not sure it'll have a wider appeal except maybe to social historians of twentieth century America.  For Gore Vidal was at the very heart of things - a novelist, essayist, public intellectual and social gadfly. A man who was born into immense wealth and privilege in 1925 - a stepbrother to Jackie Kennedy - who turned his back on his class to become one of the leading defenders of the liberal left on TV, in print, and on the podium.  

The documentary benefits from great access to Vidal in his final years, still witty, still biting - and we see him guide us through his life, loves, politics and triumphs.  If you love Gore, there's a lot of him here!  This leads to a problem: there's no criticism.  We get hints of his disagreement with The Hitch, when The Hitch joined the neocons.  But in general, those who oppose Vidal are seen as numskulls (many of them were) - but is it really helpful to have Vidal skewering William Buckley in that infamous TV debate, but no real right wing voices to give context and perspective to Vidal's career? 

I love Gore Vidal. I enjoyed reading his essays in the New York Review of Books.  And I miss his voice. But this movie was more like 90 minutes of nostalgia rather than telling me anything knew. And if you can't tell the fans something knew, what are you here for? 

GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA has a running time of 83 minutes.  The movie played Tribeca and London 2013. 


THE MISSING PICTURE is about as arthouse a movie as you can get.  It's the moving true life story of writer-director Rithy Panh, and with it, of Cambodia under the brutal military dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge.  The arthouse aspect is to depict this tale by juxtaposing propaganda movies of the time with clay models depicting what really happened.  Those models aren't animated - they are tableaux, and we are the animators who move through the tableaux as the camera moves.  In fact, our complicity in the animation starts with opening shots, as we see celluloid reels disintegrate and the narrator (Randal Douc) tells us of the director's difficulty in finding an actual picture of what really happened.  He is then forced into his clay models, and we even see the sculptor create them, starting movingly with the director's father.  

The resulting movie is challenging to watch. It's a brutal retelling of a brutal regime.  Somehow, the use of models doesn't trivialise it. In fact, the juxtaposition of smiling footage of Pol Pot moving through adoring crowds with models of people starving, bent over, working on futile projects, is shocking and affecting. This movie is not for the faint of heart, and those looking for conventional storytelling.  It is, however, deeply affecting and worth watching. 

THE MISSING PICTURE has a running time of 90 minutes.

THE MISSING PICTURE played the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize.  It also played Toronto, San Sebastian and London 2013. 

THE ROCKET - LFF 2013 - Day Six

THE ROCKET is one of those movies that is genuinely unique and original and touching and elucidating. Actually, as I list all those factors, I realise how unusual it is for a movie to be all of those things, as well as beautiful and well-acted.  Yep, Australian direct Kim Mordaunt's movie is something to behold, and as it's Australia's submission to the Oscars, I'm hoping it gets even more recognition in the months ahead. 

The story is set in Laos - a country torn apart by US rockets in the 60s, and still governed by a Marxist dictatorship today.  The movie focuses on a rural family, still living as subsistence farmers, with a culture coloured by superstition and governed by uncaring external forces.  If all that suggests a movie that's going to be dour and earnest, you couldn't be more wrong. This movie has flashes of humour and eccentricity and joy that contrast with its environment.  But at the same time, Mordaunt manages to convey a lot about the past and present horrors of Laos with a very light touch.

The hero is a little kid called Ahlo, who's mother begged for his life when his grandmother wanted to kill him at birth: apparently Laotians believe that twins are cursed, and even as the only surviving twin, she doesn't believe that Ahlo is necessarily the one with the good luck, as opposed to the curse.  And as the movie develops, we kind of agree with her:  Ahlo's village is wiped out to make way for a dam, and the promise of resettlement is hollow.

Still, on his travels he meets his sweetheart, a lovely little girl called Kia, and her eccentric, fantastic "Uncle Purple". He's a Laotian peasant who idolises James Brown, with tragicomic consequences.  And, luckily for Ahlo, Uncle Purple also knows about munitions because of his childhood in a wartorn country.  As a result, Ahlo is able to enter a village competition to create the most impressive rocket that will "poke the arse of the raingod" and bring the farmers fertile land.

The resulting movie is heart-warming and joyous even as it's dark and subversive.  The very fact of its existence is something of a miracle given the oppression in Laos - the non-professional actors - the delicate balance of frightening history and almost-fairytale story.  But what can I say? The movie just works. And works so perfectly that you can't imagine a single image or scene or character being a few degrees different.  It's a complete and unique movie that demands to be seen. 

THE ROCKET played Berlin 2013 where director Kim Mordaunt won Best Debut Film and the Crystal Bear and the Amnesty International Film Prize. It played Tribeca 2013 where it won the Audience Award - Narrative, and Best Narrative Feature and Sittiphon Disamoe won Best Actor - Narrative Feature. 

THE ROCKET was released in Australia in August.  It has a running time of 96 minutes. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

THE ZERO THEOREM - LFF 2013 - Day Five

Aaargh! I wanted to love ZERO THEOREM, I really did! And I loved the satirical visual in-jokes, the rambling shambolic wonderfully inventive Terry Gilliam trademark production design. There were individual moments of genius - Tilda Swinton's cyber-psychologist starting to rap her advice when her programme gets buggy - Matt Damon as the evil totalitarian overload "Management" wearing suits that camouflage against his furnishings - singing pizza boxes - oh the list goes on!  But I just found it so hard to grab hold of the movie.  It kept slipping through my fingers.  I just didn't empathise with the protagonist, or get an idea of what the stakes were, or know who I wanted to win, or what winning even was. And without any kind of anchor, the visual tricks became tiresome, after a while.

The movie stars the charismatic Christoph Waltz against type as Qohen Leth - a kind of mad Uncle Fester, shaved and paranoid, living in a ramshackle old church, working for some kind of tyrannical company, waiting delusionally for the phone call that will give him the meaning of life. Into this world comes the fantasy girl Brainley (Melanie Thierry) - a kind of cyber-punk take on the "hooker with a heart of gold" trope - as well as what turns out to be Management's son (Lucas Hedges) - a smart-talking IT genius - both of whom have been sent to help Qohen Leth with his mission.  And what is that mission? To solve the Zero Theorem, proving all life as meaningless. 

That's about as much plot as we get.  What this movie is really about is satire on contemporary society - the paucity of modern relationships in a world of cyber-communication - the trashiness of online sex - the wince-inducingly naff adverts - the  dependence on therapists and pills - the alienation of atomised man. All this amongst visuals that give us a feeling of childlike whimsy and a society disappearing up its own proverbial. If only Richard Ayoade's dystopia in THE DOUBLE had had one percent of the imagination of this film. And if only this film had had one percent of the true emotion that Ayoade found at the heart of his story. Alas, it was not to be. 

THE ZERO THEOREM has a running time of 107 minutes.

THE ZERO THEOREM played Venice and London 2013 and opens in Italy on December 19th and in Russia on January 2nd. 

UNDER THE SKIN - LFF 2013 - Day Five

GRAVITY was a technically accomplished mainstream thriller - NEBRASKA a beautifully observed heightened slice of life - but with UNDER THE SKIN, director Jonathan Glazer (BIRTH, SEXY BEAST) gives us the first film of the film festival that is an unashamed art-house hit - a piece of cinematic genius that is utterly uncompromising and infused with surreal visuals, an engrossing soundtrack, wrapped around a mystery.

Based on the novel by Michel Faber, perhaps best known for his stunning The Crimson Petal and The White, Jonathan Glazer's film is less a straightforward adaptation than a movie inspired by the material. He casts Scarlett Johansson in her most challenging role - as an alien fembot sent to earth to lure in wayward men to their deaths. I know that sounds absurd, but by ground this alien, surreal concept in scrupulpusly realist photography, Glazer and cinematographer Daniel Landin (44 INCH CHEST) give the movie an air of mystery and peril that subverts any comic overtones in the concept.

The first hour is basically an alien procedural. Scarlett Johansson's character cruises around Glasgow in a van, screening man to find those alone, with no-one to alert the police. She picks them up, takes them to her house and then.....gosh! How to describe the switch from ueber-realism to the heightened surrealism we encounter there - of this alien women leading men into the mire in a brilliantly pure visual scape that's matched by Mica Levi and Johnnie Burn's haunting, sensual, strange soundscape. 

The movie then takes a turn with the alien woman somehow jolted into amnesia about who she is, picked up by a well-meaning man, and led into what may be her first sexual encounter.  This freaks her out, and as the movie enters its final act, we see her pushed to an extreme of self-knowledge.  It's desperately sad, and shocking, and beautiful.

UNDER THE SKIN has a unique artistic vision and a profound understanding of how to situate the absurd in the real to make it credible and moving.  I am pleasantly surprised that Johansson would take such a role, in which she is compelling, but really this is Jonathan Glazer's film. It's about his artistic choices, particularly in the seduction scenes, and the collaborators he assembled to bring his truly unique and beautiful vision to our screens.  

This movie should win awards, but it's so challenging and strange it probably won't.

UNDER THE SKIN played Telluride, Venice, Toronto and London 2013.