Sunday, October 26, 2014


So I suppose when you earn shedloads of cash for a major studio as Iron Man, you get to create whichever vanity project you like.  And for Robert Downey Junior, it's this polished but ultimately overlong and unexciting thriller, THE JUDGE.  The self-consciously quality product start RDJ as a flash lawyer in a mid-life crisis who returns to his home town, where his cranky dad, the titular judge, is suspected for a hit-and-run murder. Naturally, the super-smart son, John Grisham-like in his smarmy brilliance, reconnects with his estranged father through the medium of sun-dappled flashbacks with trite piano music. There are two points when I thought the movie would pick up its pace and intensity. The first is when Grace Zabriskie, famous to Lynch fans as the hysterical mother of Laura Palmer, turns up as the enraged mother of the victim. At the point, the movie had the chance to do something new and off the charts, but no. The second point was when Billy Bob Thornton turned up as the prosecutor.  But not this was just high polish high profile stunt casting, and BBT just phoned his performance in.  So here's where the movie jumps the shark. About an hour in, the mid-life crisis lawyer meets his old flame, the wonderful Vera Farming, and she turns out to be the mum of the teenage waitress (Leighton Meester) he just banged.  It's not just that this is a cheesy and skeezy plot line but that it shows a complete lack of directorial judgment on the part of David Dobkin (THE WEDDING CRASHERS). Why try so hard to make a sleek, serious courtroom drama and then just kill its tone with a cheap and awkward gag?  The only ONLY time I've ever seen a successful and funny courtroom drama was MY COUSIN VINNY and this ain't that.

THE JUDGE has a running time of 141 minutes and is rated R.  The film is on global release.


This  movie is a workmanlike and mildly entertaining adaptation of the children's book by Judith Viorst.  It's got a high concept not unlike the Jim Carrey vehicle LIAR LIAR, in which a put upon schoolboy wishes the rest of his family would understand his pain, and so wishes them a terrible day. The next day, of course, happens to be one of a critical work task for his mother, a job interview for his father, his brother's junior prom and his sister's high school musical.  Naturally all these things go belly up, but being a heart-warming tale of family, they emerge from it more appreciative of each other than ever.  Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner play the parents and let's face it, it's hard to think of two more likeable and harmless actors in contemporary cinema. They imbue the film with good intentions and the rest of the film just trails in their wake.  I found the whole thing unutterably dull, and given how clever modern animated movies are at keeping all ranges entertained, this is a real problem. That said, I am sure the kiddies will relate, even if there is no real message to the film.

ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY has a running time of 81 minutes and is rated PG. The movie was released earlier this month in Argentina, Aruba, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Israel, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Russia, Canada, Estonia, Romania, the USA, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Latvia.  It is released this weekend in Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, Uruguay, the UK, Ireland and Lithuania. It will be released in Greece, Peru Paraguay, and South Africa on October 30th; in Portugal, Spain, Poland and Turkey on November 7th; in Taiwan on November 14th; in Norway on November 21st; in Australia, Denmark, Malaysia, New Zealand,  and Singapore on December 4th, and in Germany on April 9th 2015. 


Unsurprisingly, I did not have a good time watching this latest live action feature film in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.  I came to it neutral, having enjoyed the cartoons as a kid, but finding the previous films dull and the so-called witticisms of the turtles grating.  This reboot does little to change that diagnosis.  The best that can be said about it is that after the "alien origins" scare, the story is faithful to its source materials.  The four turtles, named after Renaissance painters, are mutated into humanoid ninja-fighting vigilantes who live in the sewers with their jedi master mutated rat-father Splinter.  They have a female friend and accomplice called April O'Neil, who's a pretty journalist and an evil nemesis too. In this film, that's a corporate greedy bastard who wants to infect the city so that he can sell it a cure and become massively rich - and of course, that cure comes from stringing up the turtles and extracting their mutated genes.

I found the relentlessly-alecky banter from the turtles really grating and there's none of the charisma that, say, Corey Feldman brought to the original voice-cast. Megan Fox does her standard pretty girl in distress thing as April O'Neil and it's not so much her fault that the part is woefully underwritten. But even weirder, we have Will Arnett, fifteen years her senior, playing her goofy cameraman. There's meant to be sexual tension between the two but it just comes across as creepy and icky.  Finally, we've got Whoopi Goldberg as April's editor - utterly wasted.

The movie is made in a very workmanlike way. You've got all the martial arts scenes and special effects and loud music and the compulsory sprinkling of "kowabungas". There's nothing to get excited about and the final thirty minutes just descends into a loud and rather dull working through of gears.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES has a running time of 101 minutes and is rated PG-13.    The film is on global release.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


NORTHERN SOUL is a fab British independent film from writer-director Elaine Constantine that captures something of the manic absurdity of the 1970s provincial British Northern Soul clubbing movement. This basically consisted of working class kids in unlikely places like Wigan and Wolverhampton getting revved up on speed and dancing all night to high tempo B-sides of obscure American soul records from the 1960s.  Being a movement that entirely bypassed London, it's not had as much coverage or recognition as it probably should've done, but that's been redressed over the past couple of years with a great documentary (KEEP ON BURNING: THE STORY OF NORTHERN SOUL) and now this fictionalised retelling. 

The film focusses on two kids in a miserable town who escape into the world of Northern Soul - first attending dancehalls but then trying to put on events of their own - only to find that after a temporary respite it brings with its own problems: the drugs, the police, the perils of trying to party all night and still hold down a job.  But along the way the things that they want out of life - the narrow scope of their beaten-up ambition - is touching - when all of life is concentrated in wishing for a wooden dance floor rather than concrete.

The cast is amazing.  Lisa Stansfield as the mum in curlers and a headscarf and Christian McKay as the dad with horn-rimmed specs; Steve Coogan as the vain schoolteacher with a bowl cut and sideburns.  The costumes and sets, the sweaty stripped bodies on the dance floor, are absolutely authentic. And for the first time ever, a training montage isn't a complete waste of time - when we see the kids try out their dance moves to this fantastic music you just don't want it to stop!

NORTHERN SOUL has a running time of 102 minutes and is rated 15 for strong language, drug use and sex. It is currently on release in the UK.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

FURY - LFF14 - Day Twelve

FURY is a movie that probably gives us the most realistic depiction to date of what is must have been like to be inside a tank in World War Two - the claustrophobia, dirt, fear, and almost obsessive need to trust in your fellow soldiers to get you through.  It's because of this realism and grit that you remain captivated despite the somewhat hyperbolic set-up of the film, in which a single US tank attempts to hold off of an entire Nazi regiment.  

The set-up of the film is hackneyed through and through. Brad Pitt plays the war-hardened, uber-experienced tank commander, "Wardaddy" contrasted with Logan Lerman's nervous rookie Norman Ellison. This is exactly the set-up we've gotten from director David Ayer's own TRAINING DAY as well as movies like GRAVITY. The other three members of the tank crew comprise Shia LaBeouf's religious Gunner Swann, slack-jawed yokel Travis (Jon Bernthal) and dips driver Garcia Michael Pena.  In Act One we see our boys and their Yankee brethren retake a German town.  Act Two sees our boys share a dinner with a pair of German ladies.  I think the director wanted it to be full of menace and tension and unsaid meaning but instead it just feels too contrived, patronising and ultimately getting in the way of the real story - which is the relationship between the men and their tank.  In Act Three, the men are sent behind enemy lines by their commander (Jason Isaacs) and we get into the claustrophobia and extreme peril of tank warfare.  This is what we've paid to see - the utter commitment of the production to show us the horror of war in genuine World War Two tanks with the highest quality of military advisor. 

The resulting film isn't perfect but it is affecting and gives us something genuinely new in war films.  It also gives us Shia LaBeouf in his most winning performance in quite some time - a hopeful thought in a film so devoid of hope. 

FURY has a running time of 120 minutes.  The movie played London 2014 and is on release in the Bahamas and the USA. It goes on release on October 22nd in Belgium, France and Singapore; on October 23rd in Australia, Hong Kong, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal and Thailand; on October 24th in Estonia, the UK, Ireland, Iceland, Cambodia, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway and Sweden; on October 30th in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine; on November 13th in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy; on November 14th in Spain, India and Vietnam; on November 29th in Greece; on December 5th in Kenya; on January 1st in Germany; on January 15th in Argentina; and on February 5th in Brazil and Peru.

3 HEARTS / 3 COEURS - LFF14 - Day Eleven

3 HEARTS is a rather dull French romantic comedy featuring a meet-cute, a surprise re-meet and many other cliches of Hollywood banality.  The fact that it's a French movie has somehow elevated this workmanlike film into the realms of being selected for the London Film Festival. Don't be fooled. There's nothing to see here.

Benoit Poolverde (COCO BEFORE CHANEL) plays a dull tax inspector called Marc who misses a train home and meets a charming woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg's Sylvie) with whom he walks the streets of a provincial town in the manner of BEFORE SUNRISE.  No matter, they separate, their planned meeting never happens.  Later, Marc meets a lovely antiques dealer called Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) and they marry and start a family.  They never meet the enigmatic sister, because hey, she lives in the US and they just never get round to skype-ing. These contrivances continue until the the necessary confrontation of all three lovers as supervised by Catherine Deneuve's matriarch.  

The resulting film is banal, predictable and oddly uninvolving.  Charlotte Gainsbourg's trademark froideur just doesn't work in a movie where we're meant to sympathise with all three sides of this thwarted love triangle.  A misfire on all counts.

3 HEARTS aka 3 COEURS has a running time of 90 minutes.  The movie played Venice, Toronto and London 2014.  It opened earlier this year in Belgium and France and opens in the Netherlands on November 6th and in Italy on November 27th.


THE CALLING is a deeply derivative second-rate thriller directed by Jason Stone and based on the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe.  Susan Sarandon is wasted as small-town detective Hazel, on the trail of a serial killer who takes pictures of his victims' mouths enunciating words. She's helped by recently transferred deputy Ben (Topher Grace), who in a moment of gonzo wackiness uses his mom's donated airmiles to go chasing leads on his own and getting into trouble.  Naturally it all turns out to be linked to religious nutters, with Donald Sutherland playing a wise old Catholic priest who turns the cops onto the fact that the killer is harvesting victims to power a resurrection.   

The problem with the film is not the plot or the acting which are just fine as police procedural's go. It's the fact that everything echoes other, better, more unique works.  So when we see Sarandon is one of those hurry cop hats riding through the country to investigate a murder it immediately recalls FARGO.  And the scene of Ben going to investigate a spooky house on his own resembles SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  Moreover, while the atmosphere is suitably sombre and some of the emotional content genuinely moving, the film lacks pace.  For a thriller, and one chock-full of outlandish material no less, it's not that thrilling.  

THE CALLING has a running time of 108 minutes and is rated R.  The film opened earlier this year in the US and Canada and is currently on release in the UK and Ireland. 

HONEYTRAP - LFF14 - Day Eleven

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

HONEYTRAP is a British film based on the true story of a gang murder in South London.  15 year old Samantha Joseph was labelled a honeytrap killer by the tabloid press for having lured a boy called Shakilus into following her into a cup de sac where gang members killed him.  She's now facing life in prison.

Writer-director Rebecca Johnson's film has changed the names of the lead characters in her film out of respect, but the set-up is clearly the same.  A young girl wants to impress her gangster boyfriend by offering up a sacrifice.  What's different is that the film is shot from the perspective of the girl - in this case called Layla and played by Jessica Shula.  Layla has come from Trinidad to live with a mother who is clearly uninterested her in a community that is savage in its bullying and gang affiliations.  Initially a shy conservative girl, Layla quickly becomes obsessed with Troy, a handsome gang member, perhaps to the point of delusion once he sleeps with her, dumps her and moves on.  Shula is an enigmatic actress and perhaps frustratingly so - we never really understand what Layla is thinking in allowing herself to be so used, and for sacrificing her sweet best friend Shaun, but Johnson makes plenty of subtle arguments.

The world of South London inner city black teenagers is portrayed as one of parental neglect, educational impoverishment, crime and bullying.  The value system is so far out of whack - so misogynistic, so corrupt in every sense - that it's no wonder that Layla loses her anchor and ends up a complicit murderess.  One wonders quite whether the real Shaun's family will see it this way, and what reaction the film will provoke.  To my mind, it's an affecting and fascinating film - because it's a type of life that I have no experience with and to which most people in England only read stories mediated by low-rent tabloids like the Daily Mail. It's fantastic to see someone actually try and show the story from the inside. I've got no way of knowing if it's nearer the truth of that particular story, but as a comment on the kind of pressures facing kinds in contemporary London it's tragic and important.

HONEYTRAP has a running time of 90 minutes.  It played London 2014 and will go on very limited release in the UK on May 8th 2015.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I felt really sorry for the director of THE WHITE HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM, who was in the audience for this screening at the LFF.  In his own country, this film must be seen as a stunning and lavish depiction of earnest myth - much in the way that the LORD OF THE RINGS films might be watched here.  But to Western eyes and ears, while much of the costume design and martial arts was fantastic, some of the hokey dialogue (no doubt not helped by poor translation) as well as the cursory if not arbitrary way in which plot is handled, was at times laugh out loud funny.  It's the big budget lavish version of watching that old MONKEY TV show where everything is just ridiculous and entrancing at the same time.

So the movie is based on Liang Yusheng’s apparently classic novel ‘Baifa Monü Zhuan’ and stars Fan BingBing (a massive star in China) as the White Haired Witch of the title.  She's an awesome warrior and called Jade Raksha who stands against the corrupt rulers of the late Ming dynasty and finds her reputation and fortress under threat from armed factions too numerous to keep a track off.  When the movie sticks to beautifully choreographed fight scenes it's impossible not to love it.  But when it switches into high romance, it simply loses its grip on us.  And there were so many armies showing up seemingly at the snap of a finger, and plot twists on a hairpin, I pretty much lost interest after the first half hour.

THE WHITE HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM has a running time of 103 minutes.  It opened earlier this year in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Cambodia.

Friday, October 17, 2014


You can listen to a podcast review of A LITTLE CHAOS here or by subscribing to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

A LITTLE CHAOS is a charming amuse-bouche - a witty historical fantasy - gently telling us much about the perils of court life. It stars Kate Winslet as a gardener, Madame Sabine de Barra, in the court of Louis XIV.  We watch her charm Power by speaking Truth, triumph over court intrigue and create a little chaos in the carefully ordered gardens of the newly built Versailles. In all this she is aided by her frank and simple manner and the kindness of many aristos - not least the King’s brother and sister-n-law - a delightfully flamboyant and honestly dutiful couple played by Stanley Tucci and Paula Paul. Sabine also falls for the married Master of the gardens, André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), who throws off a typically cynical court marriage to pursue the affair. And what of the king himself? Alan Rickman plays Louis XIV as weary, conservative but willing to listen in a handful of charming cameo scenes.

The movie is so very dripping in charm and liveability that it’s easy to forget that the basic concept of a gauche outsider finding favour in surprising circumstances in lifted from many a genre movie. Alan Rickman’s direction is stylish, elegant and all elements combine so gracefully that it may seem a more frivolous thing than it really is. For behind the sumptuous clothes and reawakening of life are a handful of delicately played scenes about the reality of court life - trapped, bending to the will of the king, discarded as beauty fades, and unable to show public grief. I think the approach Rickman takes is superbly judged and best summed up in a brief scene where Sabine meets the discarded King’s mistress (Jennifer Ehle). It’s not the grandstanding scene with the king that I like, but rather the one that precedes it - as women of all ages meet in secret intimacy to discuss their figures, their loves and their children.

Praise then to Rickman, his cast and perhaps particularly to debut screenwriter Alison Deegan for giving herself the license to go off-piste with history. My only criticism, if criticism there must be, is that I was rather disappointed with just how formal and hard Sabine’s garden was. After all, having spent the opening scenes in debate with Le Nôtre about formalism vs organic beauty it might’ve been nice to see something of that in her final creation.

A LITTLE CHAOS has a running time of 116 minutes.  The movie played Toronto and London 2014 and will be released in the UK on February 6th and in Portugal on March 5th.

SERENA - LFF14 - Day Ten

Sweet tap-dancing Christ, SERENA is so bad people were laughing at the movie at the screening I attended.  In fairness, this final act hilarity was a massive improvement on the sheer tedium, implausibility and banality of the first hour of the film.  God knows what Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Copper were thinking of in signing up to this garbage and I'd love to hear from anyone who read the book upon which the movie is based as to whether it's better/different/other to what landed on our screen.  What's equally bizarre and shocking is that the film was directed by Susanne Bier, whose A SECOND CHANCE is also screening at this year's London Film Festival and is possibly one of the best films this year.  One cannot imagine the distance between A SECOND CHANCE's quiet intensity, closely observed emotion and tense climax and SERENA.  Both films are about the powerful emotions prompted by parenthood but they are otherwise like chalk and cheese.

So, let's take a step back. SERENA is set in depression era North Carolina. Bradley Cooper plays George Pemberton, the indebted owner of a lumber yard. Rather than marry for money he marries a hard-headed businesswoman called Serena (Jennifer Lawrence). A double threat hangs over the couple. Their business is in hock, and their land threatened by its potential forced purchase to create a national park. Second, Pemberton is hiding an attachment to his illegitimate son, something Serena finds intolerable once she loses her own child.

The characters begin as tough and cynical - unwilling to let anyone get in the way of their success. This makes it hard to sympathise for them when they meet tragedy - and all the soupy orchestral scores and dreamy photography can’t overcome this central problem in the film - it’s hard to care about the fate of people we hate. Moreover, as the movie progresses we see the cracks show in the screenwriting, direction and acting. As Serena becomes more unhinged the movie tips over the edge of heightened drama into cheap melodrama, and the attempted reformation of her husband seems automatic and unconvincing. Of course, by this point we care so little about their fate that it’s just a mad dash to the end. And wow! what an ending. I don’t think we’e seen such an absurd and literally laughable denouement to a male protagonist in quite some time. It’s the stuff of Razzies and spoof fan service.

I would simply repeat: it’s hard to see how so many actors and a director of quality went so wrong. I guess it sometimes happens with movies: good intentions just get out of control and the end result doesn’t look like the storyboards. At any rate, this is a film to avoid at all costs. The good news is that the stars are so big, their careers are unlikely to be dented by a small fall.  

SERENA has a running time of 102 minutes.  The movie played London 2014 and opens in the UK and Romania on October 24th, in Spain on October 31st, in New Zealand and Finland on November 6th, in France on November 12th, in Portugal on November 20th, in Australia on November 27th, in Italy on November 30th, in Lithuania on December 5th, in Germany, Greece and Singapore on December 18th, and in Ukraine and the Netherlands on February 5th.


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

FOXCATCHER is an extremely slow building true crime drama, based loosely on the murder of wrestling coach Dave Schultz by the incredibly wealthy wrestling patron John E Du Pont in 1996.  The tone of the film is wintry cold - one of repressed emotion, deep insecurity and resentment set in rural isolation.

As the movie opens we meet naive and hard trodden wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum).  He's living in the shadow of his elder brother Dave, another Olympic champion, and receives little in the way of adulation or financial support. Accordingly, he's absolutely ripe to fall for John E Du Pont's sales pitch - to live and train at his palatial Foxcatcher ranch - to move out of the shadow of his brother and achieve greatness on his own terms.  But as we move into the second half hour of the film we realise that Du Pont (Steve Carrell) is not just eccentric but deeply disturbed. Utterly resentful and yet still needing the approval of his contemptuous mother (Vanessa Redgrave), Du Pont has a fantasy image of himself as mentor and guru to Mark - one that he pays to make real by creating motivational videos and fake wrestling championships. At one point he criticises his mother by buying him a childhood friend, but his whole adult life is predicated on that same corruption.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


WHITE BIRD IN A BLIIZZARD is the latest Gregg Araki movie after his brilliantly crazy over-the-top half-disastrous KABOOM which played the London Film Festival back in 2010. This movie seems far tamer and more contained - is equally hit and miss - but as ever contains just enough surprising good stuff to keep you in your seat.

The film plays as a kind of did-anyone-do-anything turned whodunit. As it opens, we’re in late eighties suburbia and Kat (Shailene Woodley) seems like a remarkably well-adjusted confident girl even as her depressed mother (a typically deliciously unhinged Eva Green) goes missing. Kat’s assigned a therapist and whatnot but seems utterly unfazed by her mother’s disappearance, using it as an opportunity to bang the hot cop assigned to the case. Fast forward a couple of years and she’s at college, and still looks really well adjusted. Until she goes home and everyone else seems to be telling her that they told her something was odd about her mum’s disappearance, only she was in denial. And so we work our way back through the events of the disappearance until we see Kat accept how deluded she was.

As a mystery thriller, the movie doesn’t work particularly well, with at least one major plot hole. It isn’t suspenseful, although I suppose part of the point is how Kat isn’t suspicious - hence the title. But what Araki does well is showing with a casual intimacy relationships between teenagers and young college students.  He talks about sex without flinching or judging and it's a pleasure to see Shailene Woodley break out of her far more conventional goodie two-shoes heroine roles to play a far more self-absorbed equivocal and sexually confident character.

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated R.  The movie played Sundance and London 2014.  It opened earlier this year in Brazil and France. It opens in the USA on October 24th, in Iceland on November 7th, in Belgium on November 12th and in the Netherlands on November 20th.

MOMMY - LFF14 - Day Nine

MOMMY is Xavier Dolan’s greatest film and indeed one of the best in this year’s festival. It’s brutally authentic, emotionally captivating and technically astonishing. It rightly one the Special Jury Prize at Cannes this year and confirms him as one of the emotionally literate and astute directors of his generation. I’ve had issues with Dolan before - in terms of his pacing, repetition, bagginess and over-use of cinematic technique - but none of that ill-discipline is evident here. Rather he has honed his craft, pared down his view (quite literally) and delivered an unforgettable unique and vital film.

The film stars Dolan regular Anne Dorval as Diane - the exuberant, feisty mommy who is desperate to keep her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) out of juvenile detention and ultimately a mental institution. Society may have branded her son a troublemaker and a reject but she is a mother, with all the tenacity, sacrifice and fierce love that this entails. She matches Steve’s energy and joy - and despite any judgments we may make about her appearance, manners and language - she is utterly at peace with herself. And that in itself is a rarity on screen these days. The second strong woman in the piece is Kyla (Suzanne Clement) - at first a hesitant, nervous and compromised personality who is brought to life through her interaction with Steve and Diane. It’s almost as though she abandons her conventional family (husband, daughter - who we never see) to become the third player in the weird set-up across the road. Diane becomes breadwinner, Steve the child, and Kyla home-schooling him, the mother. And so the relationship blossoms, but always with the threat of Steve’s extreme ADHD in the background, forcing Diane and Kyla to make tough choices about what is truly best for him.

As ever Dolan has a keen visual style and a particular sensitivity for setting key melodramatic set pieces to music. He doesn’t disappoint here, but keeps the number of these set pieces in check. Moreover he pulls off a neat conceptual trick by the filming the movie in 1:1 aspect ratio - a tight boxed close-up of character that literally cuts out any peripheral distractions. In a couple of astonishing moments, utterly in synch with the emotional journey of the characters, this concept is over-written, and the result is absolutely breathtaking and immersive. It makes movies that are content merely to put a story on screen in a conservative and obedient manner (TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, I’m looking at you) seem completely passé and redundant in a festival of this calibre. Kudos to Dolan and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

MOMMY has a running time of 134 minutes.  MOMMY played Cannes, where Dolan won the Jury Prize, Telluride, Toronto and London 2014.  It opened earlier this year in Canada, Belgium, France and Luxembourg. It opens in Germany and the Netherlands on November 13th, in Italy on November 27th, in Spain on December 5th and in Romania on January 23rd.


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

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH drips in heritage quality. It feels like it should be a miniseries shown on ITV before Downton Abbey. It’s all beautiful people in gorgeous costumes full of earnest good intentions. There aren’t any bad people or real arguments. And the misery of the trenches is only briefly shown. Rather, in these memoirs from the real-life pacifist author Vera Brittain show the experience of World War One through the eyes of a woman necessarily at one step removed from the horrors of the front line. And if we occasionally see a soldier suffering from the blisters of mustard gas or an amputation it is done with utmost delicacy. For this is war diary as romantic drama - all soft light and longing glances and thwarted love.

I don’t mean to belittle the subject matter but it’s hard to take it seriously when the director James Kent (tellingly a TV director) seems so loathe to truly engage with the substance of the film. He is keenly interested in the love story but blunts the radicalism. Vera Brittain was an intelligent woman who had to fight to gain entry to Oxford University at a time when women couldn’t formally receive a degree. But on the point of her firebrand feminist speech she falls for dreamy Roland Leighton - a schoolfriend of her brother’s - and abandons Oxford to become a nurse. At this point her politics and aspirations are shifted very firmly to the back of the film, where they appear in a short coda. They feel utterly out of character for what has turned out to be a rather conventional character. A nurse at the start of her training tells Vera that she may have joined the nursing corps with the romantic ideal of being a ministering angel. Well, that’s precisely what this movie shows.

I find myself trying to think how radical Brittain’s memoirs must have appeared at the time, especially if (as in the film) they hint at homosexual love, feminism and the sheer waste of lives that World War One entailed on both sides. We are told in the programme notes that her book was considered to be “the voice of a generation” and was immensely popular. One can’t imagine that such a radical generational voice was really depicting events in the manner of grand heritage drama. And that is a great shame.

Are we are going to go through the centenary of the First World War refusing to look it squarely in the eye - refusing to pull back from the individual love story to the wider view? Indeed I can sum up that hesitancy on the part of the director in one shot around half way through the film. Vera comes out of her nursing hut to the back of the building where many victims of a mustard gas attack have been laid out. It’s a scene crying out for the director to crane up from Vera’s personal fears to the wider context of immense human suffering. But James Kent doesn’t have the guts to pull back wide enough to make this visual and historic point.

In other words, this is a highly conservative film pandering to World War One nostalgia - brave and decent men and women thwarted by war. It seeks no greater insight nor any greater cinematic style.

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH has a running time of 130 minutes.  The movie played the London Film Festival and opens in the UK on January 16th, and in Denmark on April 30th.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WHIPLASH - LFF14 - Day Eight

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

Writer-director Damien Chazelle's second feature, WHIPLASH, is a tour-de-force that's getting all the buzz at this year's London Film Festival and should, if there's any justice, clean up at Awards season.  The lead performances from JK Simmons and Miles Teller (THE SPECTACULAR NOW) are astounding in their commitment and intensity - the photography and editing push forward the boundaries of how we capture the energy and intensity of live performance - and the score is just sensational.  This movie works on so many levels - in front of and behind the lens - that I left the screening wanting to watch it again and really get under its skin beyond the initial reaction of just Wow.

The movie is basically a two-hander between Teller and Simmons as music student Andrew and teacher Fletcher.  Teller is at an elite music school and wants to be a legendary jazz drummer to the exclusion of all else. Simmons is the man to impress - his band the one to get into - but he runs that band as a dictator and cruelly abusive bully.  The first hour of the movie sees Andrew punished mentally and physically, drowning his bleeding hands in ice water to practice to the level that'll impress the impossible to impress game-player Fletcher.  This culminates in a set-piece so thrilling it could be in a David Fincher where each of them pushes each other to breaking point. In the final stretch we see the ultimate bait and switch that results in an on-stage concert that plays like a shoot em out between two obsessive characters.  What's spectacular about this is that so much is communicated between the two of them merely by virtue of who's giving the other cues and recognition via the eyes and hand movements.

The resulting movie is high octane, engrossing and memorable.  JK Simmons' Fletcher has to be the most charismatic and quotable bully since The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker. And you have to admire Miles Teller's work in being able to play the virtuoso jazz pieces. One final point to make is that I watched this film with a friend who hates jazz but loved this film. You don't need to like jazz or indeed music to find this move compelling but if you do it'll add another layer of enjoyment to the experience.

Teller and Simmons at the press conf yesterday.
WHIPLASH has a running time of 106 minutes.  The movie played Cannes, Sundance, where it won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, and London 2014.  It went on release in the USA last week and opens this week in Hong Kong. It opens in Australia and New Zealand on October 23rd, in Thailand on October 30th, in the Netherlands on November 13th, in Sweden on November 28th, in Norway and Romania on December 5th, in France on December 24th, in the UK on January 16th, in Poland on January 23rd, in the Czech Republic on January 29th, in Portugal on February 5th and in Germany and Denmark on February 19th.


THE SALVATION is a beautifully made, powerfully acted, good old-fashioned Western. There's no meta-narrative, no post-modern reworking, no reimagining.  It's "just" an immensely satisfying  short, taught, austere tale of good, evil and justice served in the Wild West.  I loved every minute of it.

The film is set over a couple of days in a dirt town in 1871.  A Danish ex-pat soldier called Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) greets his wife and young son from the train, reunited for the first time in seven years.  They travel by stagecoach to their ranch, but a couple of thugs rape and kill his wife and son, with Jon utterly powerless to protect them.  He quickly takes his revenge but this sets off a train of violence: the rapist was the brother of the local crime boss Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).  The townsfolk, led by the callow Sherriff and Minister (Douglas Henshall) and undertaker and land speculator (Jonathan Pryce) are caught in a bind.  If they don't hand over the Danish brothers Delarue will continue killing them instead.  

The movie plays out exactly as one would expect for a film in this genre.  There's cruelty and injustice, a steely damsel in distress (Eva Green), a nasty double-cross, and an epic set of climactic shoot-outs.  Mads Mikkelsen does stoic obstinate vengeance like no other and I rather liked Jeffrey Dean Morgan's charismatic bandit (side note - whatever happened to him after WATCHMEN?)  Eva Green plays the role she always plays - sultry, not to be messed with.  And even Eric Cantona doesn't offend in a minor role.  But what really sets the film apart is Kristian Levring's spare style and script and DP Jens Schlosser's stunning photography.  It just goes to show that sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to do something simple really well.

THE SALVATION has a running time of 91 minutes.  THE SALVATION played Cannes and London 2014.  It opened earlier this year in Denmark, Iceland, Finland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany and Austria.  It opens in the Netherlands on November 6th.

THE GOOB - LFF14 - Day Eight

Writer-director Guy Myhill's debut feature, THE GOOB, is a beautifully shot, authentic coming-of-age movie set in the British countryside. It features a typically superb and sinister performance from Sean Harris as the jealous bully Womack - a man so insecure that he even goes after the feckless Goob when Goob manages to pull one of the many girls that Womack likes.  The Goob is in fact a 16 year goofy kid called Taylor played by Liam Springs.  Scenes with him and his brother and best mate are full of exuberant mischief and perfectly capture that mildly anarchic spirit of our childhood summers.  As they caper about the English countryside we can't help but back the underdogs against Womack's control.  Indeed, one of the best parts of the movie is an extended pre-credits set-piece where the two brothers nick Womack's precious car keys and go on a joyride. Of course it goes epically wrong when Womack finds out, and this sets us up for the spiralling confrontation that caps the film.  In between we have one of the best uses of music in a film, and the wonderful energy of the teenage actors, not least Oliver Kennedy who steals the show with his cameo role as Elliott.  One of the joys of the film is seeing how, in a way, vulnerable Womack is.  The kids are just so cheeky that even he can't dent their fun.

Overall, THE GOOB has pace, energy, authenticity, real laughs and a lot of insight into how domineering personalities operate.  It's a tremendously assured 

THE GOOB has a running time of 86 minutes.  The movie played London 2014. It does not yet have a commercial release date.


Ulrich Seidl's IN THE BASEMENT is a slippery darkly comic movie satirising the popular image of Austrians post-Fritzl - as ex-nazis who do weird things in the basement.  It's presented as a documentary but is clearly a mockumentary that sends up the outside world's most absurd fears but each time with breathtaking technical poise that dares us to take it seriously. It's a superb and short cinematic joke but ultimately tells us something provocative about the prejudices we may hold about Austrians, and the prejudices Austrians may hold about themselves.

IN THE BASEMENT aka IM KELLER has a running time of 85 minutes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


HUNGRY HEARTS makes a superb companion piece to Susanne Bier’s A SECOND CHANCE. Both films are concerned with presenting mothers that challenge our prejudices of good parenting and both contain a slow build of frustration and pent up emotion that prompt ordinary people to take extreme steps. Moreover, both films are exceptionally well made and acted - provocative and insightful.

In HUNGRY HEARTS the focus is on a young couple played by Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver (GIRLS). They meet cute - I mean - it’s the ultimately nauseating cute way to meet - and proceed quickly through a picture-perfect marriage to pregnancy. And here the cracks appear. The wife becomes intensely phobic of doctors, refuses to eat enough to nourish the baby, and almost sabotages the birth. And then, once the baby is born, she becomes so overprotective against the apparent menaces of processed food and germs that the baby barely gains weight. An increasingly frustrated husband is caught between concern for his son and his enduring love for his wife, and ultimately the film resolves itself in how which way he eventually jumps on that question and the social context of judgment around both sides.

What is impressive about this film is just how sinister the apparently waif-like wife becomes and how claustrophobic the apartment is - aided by sparing but powerful use of a fish-eye lens. Both actors do a great job but I have particular respect for Adam Driver who manages to credibly appear concerned for both parties when many people in the audience, myself included, would have gladly slapped the mother, stolen the child and headed for the hills. Of course, as the movie goes on we realise that she is genuinely mentally ill and so some sympathy returns. But it’s fascinating how an arthourse audience - usually very willing to say the grey shades of morality - found it hard to sympathise with her even at the end. Mistreating a baby is apparently the moral top trumps.

This may or may not be a problem for the film. Is it possible to enjoy a film when you spend most of its runtime wanting to commit a violent act against its central character and increasingly disliking its other lead character for enabling her? I noticed a handful of people walk out and I suspect that may have been the problem. In a sense, the director Saverio Constanzo (IN MEMORY OF ME) is a victim of his own success - creating an atmosphere so toxic it’s almost unbearable. For those reasons I suspect this film will be a tough sell, which is a shame. Moreover, it’s fantastic to see Adam Driver given the range to be very impressive indeed.

HUNGRY HEARTS has a running time of 109 minutes.  The movie played Venice, where the lead actors well-deservedly won the Volpi Cup for Best Acting, London and Toronto 2014. It does not yet have a commercial release date.


In the final months of the American civil war General Sherman undertook his March to the Sea enacting a policy of ruthless property destruction designed to bring a swift capitulation of the South.  Looting was officially forbidden but clearly occurred, and the men being away at war, it was the women who bore the brunt of the destruction.  In the new film from British director Daniel Barber (HARRY BROWN) we see what happens when three women have to deal with this threat - a minutely observed and incredibly tense study of what happens to normal people in extra-ordinary circumstances - much in the tradition of Susanne Bier. 

Two of the women are sisters - the elder Augusta (Brit Marling) is realistic about their situation - starving, forced to manual labour, and living in the keeping/store room rather than the old great house.  The younger, Louisa (Hailee Steinfeld) starts the film as naive and wilful and cruel, particularly toward the Mad (Muna Otaru) - their slave.  But what we quickly see is that the need to survive has made these women equals of a sort. Mad has a wisdom born of painful experience that the other women come to admire and in a particularly potent scene early on we see that Mad knows her value.

The first half hour of the film is an exercise is almost tortuously slow ratcheting up of tension.  We see through Augusta's eyes the hollowing out of village life - death, fear and the advance scouts of the Union army. In the final hour, those scouts come to the keeping room and the movie becomes a tense cat and mouse shoot out. Intertwined with this is a kind of tentative attraction between Augusta and one of the men, who may well have the capacity to be decent, and is as much a victim of the brutalisation of war.

I can't tell you how much I fell for this movie after some misgivings about the pacing at the start. Like THE DROP, it's a slow burn but worth sticking with.  The austerity of it is breathtaking.  It's also one of the few movies where, when the final scene rolls, I really wanted a sequel to show what happened next to those characters, so much had I taken them to my heart. We rarely see strong women on screen, let alone women who have a relationship with each other - the female dramatic version of the bromance.  Accordingly, this movie is an absolutely treat. Kudos to all involved.

THE KEEPING ROOM has a running time of 95 minutes.  The movie played Toronto and London 2014 and does not yet have a commercial release date.

ROSEWATER - LFF14 - Day Seven

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

ROSEWATER is a compelling and important film that is funny, insightful and imaginatively directed.  That it also the debut feature of Daily Show star Jon Stewart is all the laudable because while be brings his intellect and wit to bear he doesn't let his on-camera overwhelm the story.  

The film is the true story of Iranian-British journalist Maziar Bahari who travelled to Iran to report on the elections in June 2009.  When the popular choice didn't win, Iranian people took the streets in the "colour revolution". What is fascinating is that Bahari had been reporting from Iran for many years and new just what he could get away with reporting without invoking the ire of the Iranian authorities. Yet in this particular case, he was moved to allow footage of soldiers shooting a protestor be published on TV - taking a moral stand.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was than arrested and kept in confinement as the Iranian state accused of him being a spy and a stooge of a Western media conspiracy to attack Iran.

Gael Garcia Bernal is superb as Maziar - somewhat against my expectations.  He adopts just enough of an Iranian accent on his English to be credible and nicely portrays the absurdity and incredulity of the man caught up in accusations of spying because of a spoof video he'd shot for The Daily Show.  But the actor who really steals the film for is the one who plays Maziar's "Specialist" interrogator. He paints the picture of a man who is capable of torture, yes, but also world-weary, fearing his own boss, somewhat naive and occasionally very funny.  It's an essential part of the film that we believe he is vulnerable because the point Maziar and Jon Stewart are trying to make is that the regime is ultimately scared and afraid. 

Behind the lens, the film is worth seeing for giving us a rare glimpse of life in contemporary Iran.  Jon Stewart elegantly and powerfully shows us Maziar's relationship with his father and sister, both of whom were persecuted by the state.  There's a quick introductory scene where the history of Maziar's relationship with his sister is shown on the city streets through which Maziar walks that is very special indeed.  Indeed, the only technical flourish I thought distracting and unnecessary was the superimposition of twitter feeds on an Iranian cityscape.

Overall, a worthy, funny, frightening and insightful film and an impressive debut.

ROSEWATER has a running time of 105 minutes. ROSEWATER played Telluride, Toronto and London 2014 and opens in the USA on November 7th. The movie opens in the UK and Ireland on May 8th 2015.

Monday, October 13, 2014

WILD - LFF14 - Day Six

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

This movie is based upon the autobiography of Cheryl Strayed, a college student utterly undone by the death of her mother, who became a sex and drug addict, ruined her marriage and decided to hike the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail over three months to clear her head and come to some kind of self-awareness and self-acceptance. 

This could have made for a fascinating and moving story in the manner of last year’s LFF entry, TRACKS, or maybe INTO THE WILD. However, the key defining point of those two movies is that they are not afraid to show their protagonists getting kicked around by life and nature. When Mia Wasikowska tracks through the Australian desert her lips are cracked, her face raw with hot wind, her limbs burned and blistered. We’re not sure what she has come to understand about life but her struggle with it feels credible and her character realistically equivocal. By contrast, in WILD, Reese Witherspoon never allows her character to get roughed up. She hikes for months and complains about stinking but always has squeaky clean hair and a fresh face. Save for the bruises of martyrdom from her backpack and one opening shot of a bloody toenail it’s not credible that she’s undertaking this journey. Her kit always looks freshly laundered. Moreover, she doesn’t seem to encounter any real adversity. Her backpack is comically to heavy to lift up in the first scene, but after thirty seconds she’s walking with it happily. Every man who might be a threat turns out to be charming and even the forest services give her coffee and a donut. Where’s the self-realisation through suffering there? The underwhelming nature of the trip is summed up by the final shot at the Bridge of God - we have been led to believe by its name that this will provide some great epiphany but hey it’s just a steel suspension bridge and she looks at it rather wanly and doesn’t even cross it.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Cheryl’s hiking trip is intercut with flashbacks to her past. Her mother (Laura Dern) is portrayed as a kind of saint - every perfect, smiling, singing and wise. No wonder Cheryl took to heroine failing to live up to this unblemished mother figure. And let’s be honest, there is apparently a limit to how bad Reese Witherspoon will let herself look, even when playing a junkie shooting up in a squat. Contrast this with the actress playing junkie Sanne in Susanne Bier’s stunningly good drama about grief, A SECOND CHANCE. Now that’s how you do emotional trauma and redemption. The final insult is a technical one. You’d think that a movie that spends this long in nature reserves would contain some amazing landscape photography of the kind we found in Mike Leigh’s MR TURNER or Fatih Akin’s THE CUT. But no - director Jean-Marc Vallee 
(DALLAS BUYERS CLUBand cinematographer Yves Belanger - give us nothing that is out of the ordinary - nothing that makes us feel Cheryl’s head clear and her heart soar. 

Overall, one can’t help but feel that this is a cynical attempt for Reese Witherspoon to break out of the rom-com’s she’s now too old for and to earn an Oscar. I know it’s a thin year in the Best Actress race but it would be shocking indeed to see this do well either in awards season or at the box office. Avoid.

WILD has a running time of 115 minutes and is rated R. The movie played Telluride, Toronto and London 2014. It opens in the USA on December 5th, in the UK on January 16th, in Estonia on January 30th, in Germany, New Zealand, Austria and Romania on February 5th, in Denmark, Italy and Portugal on February 19th, in the Netherlands on February 26th, in Belgium, France and Norway on March 5th.


Sophie Barthes (COLD SOULS) retelling of Flaubert’s iconic novel Madame Bovary is faithful to the period and the plot and mostly well executed if undermined by some rather quirky casting, pronunciation and accent choices. 

Set in nineteenth century provincial France the novel tells the tail of a naive convent-educated girl married young to the country doctor, Monsieur Bovary, in a era when country doctors were hardly at the forefront of science and small villages were rather deadening places full of superficial propriety and repeated conversations. Young Emma is a Romantic and fatally so - open to anyone and anything that she believes will give her an escape from her dull life. This may be lovers - from the callow young legal clerk to the dashing Marquis - or in a move that was absolutely modern at the time - consumerism. For Emma falls into the hands of the flattering local shopkeeper who is all to willing to extend her credit to fill her house with beautiful furnishings and her wardrobe with beautiful clothes. Emma must, I suppose, be innocent at first of the debts she is taking on but both novel and film become far more interesting and tragic when we see her understanding, desperation and sense of betrayal.

As I said, Barthes' new film is faithful to period and location. The costumes are stunning, as is Andrej Parekh’s gorgeous photography of Rouen and its neighbouring villages. One feels the damp gloom or provincial life - the drizzle, mud and limited options soak through to the bone. As expected, Mia Wasikowska is utterly convincing as Emma and suitably young - sometimes I feel the role is cast too old. We don’t believe she’s a bad woman - just a misguided and self-delusional one. I also thought Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Logan Marshal-Green as her husband and the Marquis were absolutely spot on in their characterisations. Indeed the only casting mis-step is that of Ezra Miller as the young legal clerk. He doesn’t seem able to modify his gait or annunciation to fit the period and brought me right out of the film. That said, the way in which the language is handled is altogether problematic. We have Rhys Ifans as Monsieur Lheureux doing a thick French accent. We have Mia Wasikowska and Ezra Miller in American accents. Lloyd-Hughes and Marshal Green are doing English accents. And none of them, except perhaps Lloyd-Hughes as Charles Bovary seem naturalistic in how they speak. Contrast this with the way in which Mike Leigh makes the antiquated language come alive and seem utterly natural in MR TURNER.

Otherwise, the fault of this film is its lack of ambition but I suppose one can hardly criticise it for what it is not. We live today with the consequences of a massive consumer-driven debt crisis - where aspirational shopping on credit is abetted by reality TV shows that show shopping as a virtue. Wouldn’t it have been fun to transpose Madame Bovary to the modern age and see the results?

MADAME BOVARY played Toronto and London 2014. It does not yet have a commercial release date.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


A SECOND CHANCE is an intense and haunting drama from the Danish auteur Susanne Bier. She specialises in closely observed beautifully shot film that show what happens to ordinary people in difficult circumstances. In this film she looks at motherhood - the prejudices surrounding it, stresses entailed and the strange and powerful reactions to grief.

As the film opens, there are two contrasting couples with baby boys. The first - Tristan and Sanne - are junkies, and their baby Sofus is horribly neglected. This is set against the picture perfect couple of Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Anna and their son Alexander. At first, our sympathies are utterly with Andreas and his police partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) - a kind of casual middle-class prejudice at the parenting suitability of the junkie couple. But the genius of this film is to turn around our preconceptions about what a good mother is and just how far a parent will go to keep a child with them.

To say more would be to give away crucial plot points that motivate the narrative. Suffice to say that this is an exceptionally well-made and acted film. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau gives what is surely a career-best performance. But I also really liked May Andersen as Sanne. Ultimately this is a movie that should be remembered for how it made us feel about parenting - and the right of a parent to be respected in that role, and the need not to rush to judgment.

A SECOND CHANCE has a running time of 105 minutes.  A SECOND CHANCE played Toronto and London 2014 and opens in Sweden and Denmark on January 15th.

THE CUT - LFF14 - Day Five

During and after World War One the Ottoman Empire committed the Armenian Genocide.  It's an event which is, to my mind, incontestable, and yet is still contested, at least my modern day Turkey.  And yet, to my mind, even if we know vaguely that it happened, it isn't something that is perhaps much discussed or understood even though it clearly has contemporary resonance with IS targeting minority ethnic and religious groups in modern day Iraq and Syria.  Tragically, it feels like there will be always be displaced peoples and shocking acts of brutality.

In Fatih Akin's new film, THE CUT, the impact of the Armenian Genocide is shown through the eyes of a blacksmith called Nazret (Tahar Rahim - UN PROPHET) who by some fortune is saved from a death-march and execution - the cut across the throat that renders him speechless for the rest of the film.  And so we enter a kind of road-movie as Nazret retraces his steps back to his village to try and find his family and then follows that hope through Syria and Lebanon, to Cuba and ultimately America.  Throughout the journey he will receive charity and kindness and hope, but also pettiness and insults.  It's a telling moment when his first contact with America is a redneck pulling a gun on him.

The most powerful scenes in the film occur, unsurprisingly, early on as we witness the height of the genocide.  There's a particular scene where he goes back to his village which has been displaced to tents in the desert outside.  The women are literally starving and dying before his eyes. It's utterly awful - rightfully awful - to watch. As we move away from that scene the movie takes on a more melancholic and almost fairytale tone.  As journey leads to further journey, we know that the chances of Nazret finding his family must be slim to none. And yet we have to believe that this mute blacksmith will find them, otherwise the cruelty would be too great to bear.  We will the movie to undercut its earlier realism with an ending that can at least partly assuage our pain.

Writer-director Fatih Akin has to be congratulated in daring to make what must be the definitive Armeninan genocide film to date, and yet allowing it to have some heart.  This movie is a giant leap forward from EDGE OF HEAVEN, both technically and narratively.  I have to give special praise to the cinematographer Rainer Klausmann who captures the beauty of landscapes from Armenia to America channeling the great Westerns - the photography is simply breathtaking. But I also congratulate the composer Alexander Hacke aka Die Einstürzenden Neubauten. He keeps a heartbreaking story from feeling sentimental or a faded memory with his urgent and powerful score that skilfully takes on the cultures that Nazret travels through.  But the ultimate praise is really for Mardik Martin - the scriptwriter who last worked on RAGING BULL - for having the insight and intense response to this historic tragedy.  How finally wonderful that it should be the result of a Turkish director and Armenian screenwriter working together.

THE CUT played Venice and London 2014. It goes on release in Germany on October 16th, in Switzerland on January 114th, in Romania on February 27th and in the Netherlands on March 19th. The movie has a running time of 138 minutes.

THE MULE - LFF14 - Day Five

THE MULE is yet another movie programmed under the Laugh strand at the London Film Festival that could arguably be better classified as a thriller or straight drama. Which isn't to say that it doesn't contain absolutely hilarious moments and lines, but the overall tone, for me, was one of a classic cross and double-cross story of crime and corruption.

The story is set in early 80s Australia with underdog Ray (co-director Angus Sampson) persuaded by his so-called best mate into smuggling condoms filled with heroine back into Aus after a footie tour to Thailand.  The feckless Ray obviously messes this up through nerves and ends up in police detention in an airport hotel as they wait for him to shit and he attempts to hold out.  The film then descends into a three-way play off - between the cops who are clearly brutal but just how brutal? - the Aussie mobsters who want the drugs or to shut Ray up or both - and Ray himself - a man of few talents but I guess that desperate times bring out the best or worst in people.

The resulting film is very funny and very dark and disturbing. It contains genuinely good twists and had me captivated to the end. Am I going to remember it in a month's time? Maybe not.  But it's superb entertainment nonetheless.

THE MULE has a running time of 105 minutes.  The movie played SXSW and London 2014. It does not yet have a commercial release date.


THE MAZE RUNNER is the latest in a series of dystopian action films aimed at the teenage market and adapted from successful Young Adult fiction franchises.  As with HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT we find ourselves in a post apocalyptic America where teenagers are pitted against each other in a kind of mad game, society riven by factions and controlled by some kind of overlord.  In this case, the protagonist isn't a girl but a boy, Thomas (Teen Wolf's Dylan O'Brien) who wakes up to find himself inside a Glade enclosed by the Maze.  A society of Lost Boys explains the rules to him - each person has a role in society, and the runners get to go inside the Maze and find food, although to be trapped overnight is to be killed by the Grievers.  A girl called Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is sent into the mix with two vials of anti-venom and a jolting Big Reveal in the final 30 minutes of the film.  Be assured that if you're familiar with the genre, it won't be a big surprise.

What the plot lacks in originality or genuine scares, it makes up for in good acting. The mostly British lead cast sport know how to sell the complex emotions of abandonment, brute cruelty, camaraderie and mistrust.  Thomas Brodie Sangster (GAME OF THRONES) is very sympathetic as one of the Glade's leaders, and Will Poulter is, as ever, the most captivating of the actors in a tricky unsympathetic role. The movie has a far lower budget than HUNGER GAMES or DIVERGENT but this isn't a problem. It is beautifully designed and the lack of big show piece effects focusses the audience's attention on the characters. 

Overall the familiarity of the set-up is a bit of a problem, as is the occasionally hammy dialogue. But I'm sufficiently interested to see what's next to welcome the inevitable sequel.

THE MAZE RUNNER has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie is on global release.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Francois Ozon is back with another deliciously subversive and yet psychologically credible drama charting the hidden desires of the bourgeoisie. THE NEW GIRLFRIEND revolves around a series of sexual desires and fears that are awoken when a young mother tragically dies giving birth. Her husband David (Romain Duris) finds that her death, and perhaps more specifically the need to both father and mother to his baby daughter, awakens his old desires to dress as a woman. The subject matter is initially treated as a joke - something for shock value - the absurdity of seeing Romain Duris in a bad wig pretending to be a girl. But as the movie progresses it layers on depth and sympathy. In a pivotal scene, David is moved to tears by a drag act in a gay bar, seeing a transformation to beauty and a confidence in that persona that is beyond his more circumscribed options. The surprise for me is that this film, while about David, is also perhaps more importantly about Claire (Anais Demoustier). She is the loyal and loving best friend of David’s dead wife and in discovering and then abetting David in his secret transvestisism (is that the word?) she becomes just as confused about her own desires. Does she long for a gay relationship with her best friend, with David in his transvestite role, with David as a straight man, or to be a voyeur to David and her husband?

It’s a tribute to Francois Ozon that the subject matter, while treated with humour, is also treated with sensitivity and courage. No desire is left unturned and we feel credibly in the presence of two good people trying to figure out what the feel and want. The film may not be one of the most formally envelope-pushing of his works, but it may well be one of the most sympathetic. Who knew it would take Romain Duris in a skirt for Ozon to find his heart?

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND/ UNE NOUVELLE AMIE has a running time of 105 minutes. The film played Toronto and London 2014. It opens in Belgium and France on November 5th.

THE DROP - LFF14 - Day Four

THE DROP is an extreeeeeemely slow burning thriller with a fantastic punchline that probably comes about ten minutes too late for the audience. Still, it's well-made, well-acted and as grimy as one would hope from a film based on a Denis Lehane novel.

The film stars Tom Hardy (BRONSON) as Bob - a bartender in Brooklyn so self-effacing he almost looks mentally challenged.  As the film opens he rescues a small battered puppy from the trash can of a similarly vulnerable woman called Nadia (Noomi Rapace - PROMETHEUS).  Naturally they bond, but incredibly slowly as only two introverts can. Meanwhile, the personality hole is filled by James Gandolfini playing a kind of comically unsuccessful version of Tony Soprano - the guy who thought he was something, but was never the guy who was feared, and ultimately ended up losing his bar to the local Brooklyn Chechen gang. This kind of sets up the story. We have the bar being used as a drop for mafia money that some or other people are trying to knock off. We have Nadia's psychokiller ex boyfriend Eric trying to get his dog and girlfriend back. And in the midst of it we have mild-mannered long-suffering Bob.

To say more would ruin the plot twist but all I would say is to go in patient and delighting in the language and the pauses and then just hold on to the finale.  Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaarts in the three main roles seem, to me at least, to do a great job with their Brooklyn accents and to utterly feel their roles. Gandolfini is a a bit more on autopilot but let's not disrespect the man in his final film.  Is the film perfect? By no means. But the payoff is worth it, even if it takes some getting to.

THE DROP played Toronto and London 2014. It was released earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain. It opens later this month in Singapore, Azerbaijan, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, Estonia and Kenya. It opens in November in Greece, France, the Philippines, Armenia, Australia, Belarus, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, the UK, Ireland, Poland, South Africa, Portugal, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Norway. It opens in Germany on December 4th, Finland on December 5th, Argentina on December 11th, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 8th, and Italy on March 19th.