Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ASK ME ANYTHING

ASK ME ANYTHING is a coming of age drama starring Britt Robertson (TOMORROWLAND) as Katie, an 18 year old girl who takes a year out after school, works as a nanny and starts a ruthlessly honest anonymous blog about her life.  At first she seems like your average mixed-up teen, smoking and drinking too much and making bad decisions about her sex life. But as we progress we realise that Katie has real emotional issues to do with her childhood and her family. These play out in her relationships with five men:  her alcoholic father (Robert Patrick); an old bookshop owner she worked for until her stepdad found out he was a sex offender (Martin Sheen); the married man she nannies for (Christian Slater), her older guys she's sleeping with (Justin Long), the college boyfriend she's also sleeping with, oh and yes, a sixth - the clinically depressed  friend she serially lets down.  To say that her relationships with men are highly sexualised is an understatement but what's interesting about writer-director Allison Burnett's film is that while other people try to put labels onto her - she's a whore, or in need of therapy - the film portrays a more nuanced picture.  I really liked Britt Robertson and found that even though her character often does unlikeable things, we are always sympathetic toward her - and that's a hard trick to pull off. Burnett also manages to make a film about a girl who is highly sexualised and vulnerable without making the film feel exploitative or voyeuristic. And unlike many films, the final twist doesn't feel cheap and unearned, but necessary and intelligent and genuinely thought-provoking. I can't wait to read the book, Undiscovered Gyrl, upon which this was based. 

ASK ME ANYTHING has a running time of 100 minutes and is a straight to video release.

BIRDMAN

BIRDMAN is a laugh-out loud satire on the insecurity of the actors and bitter negativity of critics that also plays as a tragic tale of mental illness.  It's also a technical tour-de-force of cinematography that's meant to take you right inside the claustrophobic mania of its lead character - a device that both impressed and alienated me and made the experience of this film less visceral than it should be.  It's a great film and a failed film all at once - ambitious both in its subject matter and style - way beyond anything Hollywood is currently giving us.  Noble in its pitch and flawed in its final act. 

Michael Keaton riffs on his own past to play Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood star who used to play a superhero called Birdman.  Today, he's old, divorced, with a daughter just out of rehab and a legacy he's unsure of.  Still beloved by the public, Riggan wants more - he wants artistic credibility.  He wants to literally be the star who makes the front page when he goes down in a plane crash with George Clooney.  The fine line the movie walks is whether Riggan is just another insecure Hollywood star or whether he's genuinely unwell - is he really seeing Birdman and the musicians who form the backing track to this film?  Does he really think he has superpowers?  The evidence in favour of the first theory is that everyone else in the theatre is as insecure as he is, from the ageing starlet played by Naomi Watts to the self-parodying method actor played by Ed Norton. In fact, it's arguably Ed Norton who cuts closest to the bone in his portrayal of the gifted actor who can't be real in real life, and self-sabotages every project he's in.  You have to wonder at the psychology behind Norton - the real Norton - who is so willing to portray himself as a vulnerable douchebag on film. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS



Listen to a ten-minute podcast review of the film here:


EXODUS: GOD AND KINGS isn't a good or a bad film but rather a collection of films that may or may not hang together as a sweeping biblical epic of the Charlton Heston kind.  It's long, uneven in pace, and takes too few chances to be really memorable. 

In its first act the movie feels like GLADIATOR.  The dying king is transposed from a Roman emperor to a Pharaoh played with surprising majesty by John Turturro. His jealous, power-hungry and paranoid son is transposed from Joaquin Phoenix to a shaven-headed and bejewelled Joel Edgerton.  And the rival for power who will lead a down-trodden people to freedom is transposed from Russell Crowe to Christian Bale.   This section is the most satisfying of the film - literally awesome in its lavish costumes, Egyptian cityscapes, jewels and vistas.  It feels like an old-fashioned big-budget epic of imperial power-politics, pitting two alpha males against each other.  Ben Mendelsohn is superb as the effete toady who reveals Moses' Jewish origin to both Moses and Ramses and I love the genuine conflict as Moses struggles to come to terms with his true identity. The only sadness was seeing Sigourney Weaver as Ramses mother use an anachronistic broad American accent and then become sidelined for the rest of the film.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pantheon Movie of The Month - LA REINE MARGOT - Podcast edition






Bina007 is joined by Beric175 for a DVD commentary of the classic 1994 Patrice Chereau film La Reine Margot, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas.   Starring Isabelle Adjani, Virna Lisi and Daniel Auteuil, the film is a beautifully filmed exploration of the power politics that led to the St Bartholomew's Day massacre in sixteenth century France.

Bina and Beric discuss the 2hr 17 minute version of the film and make reference to George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.  Naturally, the commentary contains spoilers for both the film and the novels.

[MP3] Download or play this episode directly
[Archive] View this episode’s page on Archive.org
[IMDb] La Reine Margot at IMDb
[Ebert] The Roger Ebert review
[Beric] More podcasts from Beric
[iTunes] Subscribe to Bina007 on iTunes

Sunday, December 21, 2014

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES


THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES picks up in media res, with the wicked dragon Smaug laying waste to the good fisherfolk of Laketown, having been usurped of his treasure by the dwarf-king Thorin Oakenshield and his fellowship of adventurers.   In the pre-credit sequence our erstwhile hero, Bard, famously shoots the dragon in his one vulnerable spot: a spectacular CGI battle of epic scope that we have come to almost take for granted in Peter Jackson's interpretations of Tolkien's oeuvre.  But as we enter the main body of this two hour movie, we realise that Smaug casts a long shadow, and that his "dragon sickness" has corrupted King Thorin, who sits brooding jealously over his treasure, in paranoid search for the Arkenstone.  This corruption belittles Thorin, who looks on indifferent as a great battle wages outside the walls of The Lonely Mountain.  The Laketown men, led by Bard have come for their share in the treasure, as has an Elven army led by Thranduil.  They face Thorin's kinsman, led by Dain, and all in turn must put aside their petty rivalries and unite against the armies of Orcs (goblins in the books) until a fifth army makes a late in the day appearance.  The story of the movie is thus the blow by blow story of this battle, but really it's the story of Thorin throwing off the corruption of the treasure and becoming a king worthy of the name. And in the background, as Peter Jackson broadens his scope from The Hobbit, we see the more important battle, as Galadriel banishes proto-Sauron into Mordor, and an already tricksy Saruman prevents Elrond from warning the men of Gondor or going immediately to vanquish him there.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

ANNIE (2014)


I love big Hollywood musicals - everything from the deeply sinister OKLAHOMA! to the modern glitz of CHICAGO via the genius that is CABARET.   I have a fundamental respect for hoofers - old fashioned song and dance entertainers right back to Vaudeville.  Nothing pleases me more than seeing a musical theatre artist in their prime - not least Ann Reinking in pretty much everything she did, and Liza Minelli in Cabaret.  So despite my reverence for the original 1982 John Huston ANNIE - I was really looking forward to this remake. I didn't quite see the point of it, but I figured the original Strouse-Charmin-Meehan musical could take the reinterpretation. All the best texts can.

I guess I realised something was off with this new movie with the opening number - now, as then, "Maybe" - a song that should be poignant and emotional.  Instead it was delivered by a bunch of apparently well-fed and well-dressed kids doing this kind of finger-snap dance ripping off the "Cups" song from PITCH PERFECT.  Worst of all, I'm not sure if I'm right, but it felt like the lead actress Quvenzhan√© Wallis didn't have a strong voice and/or was being heavily auto-tuned.  Worse still, her lip-synching was off.  Things got worse with Cameron Diaz' outsized but somehow messy performance as the modern-day Miss Hannigan - now a drunken foster mom - and the STOMP rip-off choreography for "Hard Knock Life."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Overlooked DVD of the month - HEIDI FLEISS: HOLLYWOOD MADAM

I thought I'd pretty much seen every Nic Broomfield documentary - this despite the fact that I'm not a fan of his style of putting himself in front of the camera lens - until I saw this old TV movie on my  streaming service.  Being obsessed with all things seedy and sordid and Hollywood confidential I couldn't resist.  

The movie was shot in the mid-1990s at the height of the Heidi Fleiss scandal.  She was a young attractive woman who'd apparently been making millions running a string of high end prostitutes in Hollywood.  She herself would get involved, charging $40,000 a night for fantasy scenarios where she'd talk dirty.  And she has a certain professional pride. When quizzed by Broomfield about whether the service was really worth it, she says "it takes some skill to keep that up for a few hours."

The first half of the film is a kind of investigative journalism hunt for Heidi, complete with hidden cameras to prove that "off-screen" negotiations for an interview are actually happening. The money shot is the final half hour of an apparently very candid, sympathetic and charming interview. Heidi comes across as smart witty and remarkably self-aware. She thinks the business she's in is horrible and full of sleazy people but she has not qualms about the true needs of people and servicing them.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH




Two years ago, the rejuvenated Hammer studio put out what became the most commercially successful British horror movie in history: THE WOMAN IN BLACK. It starred Daniel Radcliffe as a Victorian lawyer, terrified by a vengeful ghost in a haunted house. My review at the time suggested I was none too impressed by the film  although I seem to remember it more fondly. At any rate, I was sufficiently interested to watch the sequel, ANGEL OF DEATH.  Wisely, the studio has gone with a new production team taken mostly from the British TV show Peaky Blinders, including director Tom Harper and cinematographer George Steel. They have created a genuinely scary movie, with a sinister, menacing style, psychological depth, and a satisfying emotional core. It feels like this is exactly where the WOMAN IN BLACK franchise needs to be, and I hope the studio sticks with this set-up for the inevitable threequel.

This movie is set during the Blitz with two schoolteachers taking their class of evacuated schoolchildren to the now deserted Eel Marsh House on a barren island cut off from the mainland by a perilous causeway. Helen McCrory's headmistress represents the British stiff upper lip: determined not to admit that something is horribly wrong in the dilapidated house but her young colleague Eve (Pheobe Fox) is immediately on edge.  It's her relationship with the haunted child Edward (the deliciously named Oaklee Pendergast) that anchors the film, as well as her incipient romance with pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine).  As the horror builds and the death toll mounts, the film - as all the best horror - begins to deal with very complex psychological issues around motherhood, grief, trauma and guilt, culminating in a really satisfying ending. Not only do we feel thoroughly scared but also that we've got to know fully rounded characters rather than stock horror tropes. This is also one of the most beautifully shot, dreamily misty haunted house horror movies since THE OTHERS. Overall, a beautiful, petrifying and deeply moving film and a massive improvement on the original.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the UK. It will be release in the UK, Ireland and USA on January 2nd 2015, in France on January 14th, in Greece and Singapore on January 15th, in Spain on January 16th, in the Czech Republic, Malaysia and the Netherlands on February 12th, in Argentina and Germany on February 19th and in Brazil on March 12th.