Monday, December 28, 2015


DADDY'S HOME is a comedy from the writers and director of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE and HORRIBLE BOSSES 2. It contains the same kind of raucous verbal humour and physical pratfalls.  Will Ferrell stars as Brad Whitaker - a decent man and earnest stepfather of two kids.  The problems start when their biological father Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) shows up.  He's more charismatic and popular, even though he actually doesn't have the integrity or care to be a good parent.  At least Brad's wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) understands Brad's pain - she was also sick of being the strict parent when married to Dusty.  

The narrative arc is pretty predictable.  The childish father is obviously going to be redeemed but essentially leave the newly blended family in tact.  And in a set up for a sequel, we see Dusty meet the biological dad of his own stepkid by the end of the film.  Still, we don't come to a movie like this for innovative narrative structure.  What makes it work is the verbal and physical comedy and the genuine heart.  Will Ferrell really sells the roll of the loveable geeky stepdad and the budding bromance between Brad and Dusty by the end of the film is kind of sweet. The end may be a little too on the nose for some, but at least you've had more than a few laughs along the away.  

DADDY'S HOME has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie is on release in the UK, Canada, Cambodia, Pakistan, the USA, Australia and Ireland. It opens later in December in New Zealand, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and goes on global release in January.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


SOUTHPAW is an earnest but risibly cliched and over-acted boxing drama written by Kurt Sutter (SONS OF ANARCHY) and directed by Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY).  The movie starts Jake Gyllenhaal in a typically intense, hyper-realistic portrayal of a working-class kid turned successful boxing champion.  He's married to the love of his life (Rachel McAdams) and has a young daughter which is all so far so ROCKY. But pretty soon, his wife is caught up in a shooting and dies in one of those over-scored over-dramatic moments that will serve as the lynchpin for the rest of the film, in which our broken hero tries to resurrect his career and win back his daughter from the evil social services. His flashy manager (50 Cent - actually ok as an actor) having left him, our hero winds up begging a wizened old boxing manager played by Forrest Whitaker to train him.  Because as in ROCKY, the best training is low-rent, austere hard work on the worn-out mats of a back-street gym.  

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Peggy Guggenheim was a remarkable woman. Born to the monied American industrialists in the late nineteenth century, her father died on the Titanic and left her a rich woman, although not as rich as her family.  She left for Paris and plunged herself into the bohemian world of artists. She married a sculptor who gave her two children but was physically abusive and adulterous. They divorced in 1928 and she went on to the great flowering of her life, where she took many many lovers, and began to buy very very ground-breaking art. She was an early champion of Duchamp and Man Ray and married Max Ernst.  The war delayed her plans for a permanent museum in Paris but after world war two she settled in Venice and amassed the collection that now defines her - containing important works by Miro, Brancusi, Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Magritte and most importantly bringing US artists to Europe, not least in supporting Jackson Pollock.  What's even more astonishing is that she did all this with no formal artistic education or support:  just good taste, a willingness to plunge in and back herself.  The she loved art and artists and had the means to indulge her passion for clever, unique conversation and lovers. And to this day one of the most delightful things that one and do is to walk around her former Palazzo in Venice and see the artworks in situ and get a feel for the life that she led.

This new documentary is an absolute delight! Lisa Immordino Vreeland brilliantly combines documentary photos, vintage interviews, stills of artworks and talking head interviews with her relatives and famous art critics.  But most importantly we get the voice of Peggy herself in a long-lost audio interview she gave just before she died. This enables us to get a great sense of the woman:  her personal travails, her insecurities, her authentic and deep love of art and artists.  We hear how she was seen as something of a dilettante at first, and maybe still by some of the sniffier set. But one cannot deny the quality of the collection she amassed. More importantly she seems to have been a quite fearless woman in some respects, despite her insecurities. She not only lived a life unconstrained by petty bourgeois constraints but when the crunch came she was instrumental not just in buying up all the great art that the Louvre thought not fit for saving when the Nazis entered Paris, but she got the artists themselves out of Paris to safety.  Her second marriage to Max Ernst a case in point.  It is for such courage that Guggenheim is a great woman rather than just a great collector and patron of the arts, and this film is a worthwhile and handsomely made testament to that. 

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated 15.  The film played Tribeca 2015 and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Denmark on January 21st, in Italy on March 14th and in Sweden on April 1st. 


Director Paul McGuigan (TV's Sherlock & Luke Cage) and screenwriter Max Landis (AMERICAN ULTRA) have attempted to do for the Frankenstein story what Guy Ritchie did for SHERLOCK HOLMES.  The resulting film is a partial success.  A grimy/glamorous Victorian London is beautifully recreated and photogaphed by DP Fabian Wagner (JUSTICE LEAGUE) and the acting from the two leads - James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe - gives the rather hokey story some emotional heft.  But the story is obviously hokey and whether you ultimately enjoy the film depends on how far you're willing to be be swept away by the production design and acting and ignore the rather weak attempts to broaden out the backstory of the Frankenstein legend and the fact that neither the script nor the delivery have the crackling wit that enlivened the SHERLOCK HOLMES reboot and winked at its more ludicrous excesses. In Max Landis' take, Frankenstein (McAvoy) is trying to recreate life because of his guilt in causing the death of his brother and to win back the respect of his father (Charles Dance.)  Radcliffe  plays his sidekick Igor. In this version, Igor is a circus clown rescued by Frankenstein - his back drained of pus in one of the movie's more absurd scenes - and given a Victorian extreme makeover.  The relationship is put under strain by Igor's greater moral qualms about resurrecting life and his love affair with Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay.  All of which has the makings of a proper tragic drama, in the manner of Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein film, but both director and writer want to make something more kinetic and funny, which mixed success.  

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated PG-13. The movie is on global release.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is an extraordinarily handsome spy film that a little bit Bond, a little bit MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and a little bit OCEAN'S ELEVEN. It's stylish, slick and elegant but boy is it joyless too.  This Guy Ritchie directed franchise reboot has none of the wit or imagination of his SHERLOCK HOLMES series.  And where Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law are a truly memorable and charismatic double-act, this movie severely lacks any kid of chemistry between the leads.

The movie is set in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War.  Two secret agents, Solo and Kuryakin - one American and one Soviet - come together to save the world from an evil Nazi millionaire couple intent on acquiring their own bomb.  To do so, they have abducted a German scientist, and so our secret agents team up with his daughter, Gaby, who also happens to be very, very good looking.  And I'm not joking. This movie has a very Zoolander vibe to it. Every scene looks like a spread from Mr Porter.  It's not just that Henry Cavill (SUPERMAN) and Armie Hammer (THE LONE RANGER) are very, very good looking as Solo and Kuryakin, but they have been styled to within an inch of their lives and then draped decorously over the cityscapes of luxurious European cities like an advert for aftershave.  And Alicia Vikander gets the full sixties make-over, complete with bouffant hair, go-go boots and Jackie O sunglasses. It's hard to take proceedings too seriously after all that.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


TRUE STORY is essentially a two-hander between often-time comedic collaborators James Franco and Jonah Hill.  In this film, they try their hand at a straight psychological drama with limited effect.  Hill plays real-life New York Times journalist Michael Finkel who was sacked in the early 1990s for falsifying sources on a story.  Per Finkel/Hill he was doing so to enhance an important ethical story for the greater good.  The result is that Finkel is washed up until a murderer on the lam decides to appropriate his identity in order, in turns out, to lure him into a relationship. And this forms the body of the film. We see James Franco play Christian Longo, accused of killing his family, give up pieces of that story to Finkel in exchange for advice on how to better write his testimony.

Prisoner/journalist stories of this kind have the capacity to be quite spectacular, and at their apex - Capote and In Cold Blood - have the ability to ask frightening questions about how far each side needs the other and is complicit in the other's crimes.  How far does Finkel let Longo manipulate him because he needs the story that resurrects his career? This sort of material requires great skill on the part of both actors - we need to see and feel layers of motivation and ambiguity.  I'm afraid that I just didn't get that from either actor here.  Moreover, and this must be more down to the screenwriter and first-time feature director Rupert Goold - the pacing felt sluggish and the movie overall lacking in tension.  So overall, there's very little here to attract an audience either on the big screen or on DVD.

TRUE STORY has a running time of 99 minutes and is rated R. It played Sundance 2015 and was released earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Spain, the UK, Ireland, Germany and France.  It is now available to rent and own.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


TRAINWRECK is just like every other Judd Apatow comedy. There's a character who's essentially a loveable gorgeous person but because of various issues has an infantile attachment to booze, weed and the sofa, so much so that said character almost loses the love of their life. But after a final act come to Jesus moment, wises up, realises that it's just fine to admit you want a conventional married life with kids and a mortgage and goes ahead and gets those things.  Because make no mistake, despite the frank sexual content, Judd Apatow comedies are very socially conservative, as well as being very formulaic and occasionally very funny.  The only difference in the case of TRAINWRECK is that the immature character is a woman - as written and played by Amy Schumer. She's the one who's getting drunk and having one night stands, and feels weird when her boyfriend says he loves her for the first time. And the guys in the movie - including a brilliantly cast LeBron James - are the ones who aren't afraid to talk about their feelings and are generous in bed and want to get married.  That the movie is formulaic doesn't matter because it's still brilliantly written and acted. It's laugh-out-loud funny, it's not afraid to take its lead character to some dark places, and there's real chemistry between the romantic leads.  

Monday, December 07, 2015


ANT-MAN.  Gotta admit, not a massive comic book fan, never heard of him.  But, seeing how great Marvel have been in reviving properties and having loved GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY despite no prior knowledge of the characters, I had high hopes. And with Paul Rudd cast in the lead role, I was expecting a similarly fun-filled, effects heavy action movie. But no. While ANT-MAN is certainly full of special effects and enhances and extends the Marvel Universe, it's the most unmemorable entry in the franchise. This is actually quite an achievement given that it stars Michael Douglas who retains his charisma.  But the problem is that the movie just isn't funny  - and in not being funny it wastes Paul Rudd. Worse still, the movie isn't interesting. It feels like it's being played exactly by the book with nothing new, nothing subversive, no real chemistry between any of the characters.  All of this made sense when I recalled that ANT-MAN was originally meant to be written and directed by Edgar Wright - a script that Joss Whedon called the best Marvel movie ever.

Sunday, December 06, 2015


Greta Gerwig - the writer and star of MISTRESS AMERICA - has fashioned a career as a writer and actress playing variations on a certain theme.  In we start with Whit Stillman's fantastic DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, Gerwig played a character called Violet that should've been insufferable - an arrogant, supremely confidence college student intent on making everybody's life better with her brand of wisdom. And yet there was something so knowingly absurd about her confidence that she became endearing, and I adored the movie.  Then we got FRANCES HA,  directed by Noah Baumbach, where Gerwig played a similarly eccentric twenty-something girl, but this time so indulged and flaky that I found her irritating beyond endurance.  Now we get Gerwig as Brooke Cardinas, the heroine of MISTRESS AMERICA, also directed by Baumbach.  She combines the arrogance of Violet with the flakiness and self-delusion of Frances, but somehow the result is a perfectly nuanced and captivating character, and a movie of real substance as well as wit.

Monday, November 30, 2015


I begin with the proviso that I am not a fan of Steven Spielberg's films. Despite the high quality photography and acting, I always feel emotionally manipulated. Worse still, in his latter movies I have begun to feel bored as he constantly reworks the same themes - the search for a father figure, the need for a perfect hero, the idea that goodness must always win, even if the overarching time and tenor is bad.  He seemed to me to create movies that were high gloss schmaltz.  

Everything changes with BRIDGE OF SPIES, and I suspect that this has something profoundly to do with the fact that it was written by the Coen Brothers and stars Mark Rylance in a character of deeply ambivalent motives. The result is a film with a mordant wit, moral ambiguity, and one of the most convincing depictions of post-war Berlin that I have seen on screen. It is a movie of intelligence and nuance. Indeed, apart from the last five minutes where the Spielbergian schmaltz seeps back in, it's damn near perfect.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


As I right this, MOCKINGJAY 2 has had the weakest opening weekend of any of the movies in this franchise and this financial blunder is not undeserved. The fourth movie in the series has none of the emotional power, imagination or wit of the previous instalments. Instead, we are treated to a two hour dirge in which our post-apocalytpic heroine Katniss Everdeen is shell-shocked, guilt-ridden and almost impassive despite a plot that sees her raid the Capitol city in an assassination attempt on the tyrannical President Snow.

Perhaps the problem was splitting the final book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy into two parts. Like Peter Jackson's HOBBIT, the story seems stretched thin over two movies of almost interminable action.  Regardless, this movie misses the effervescence of Elizabeth Banks' eccentric fashionista Effie Trinket, and even Woody Harrelson's cynical alcoholic seems to have sobered up. Even Shakespearean tragedy contains light relief.


THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a woeful entry into the Pixar animation catalogue, beset by differences of opinion and multiple directors, and emerging with no clear authorial voice.  The resulting film ends up as a deeply trite coming of age film with little humour or emotional pull. Indeed, it's only truly original or clever conceit is to have the hero dinosaur befriend a young Neanderthal kid called Spot as a human might befriend a puppy.  After an early Lion King inspired loss of a father, the dino, Arlo, has to journey home with his mute sidekick Spot, in order to prove his courage to his dead father.   The antagonist is nature itself, which seems clever, but really just creates a narrative void at the centre of the film.  The voice-work is lacklustre with the exception of a typically charismatic cameo by Sam Elliott as a gruff but lovely T-rex.  The animation of the landscape is photo-real and gorgeous but jars against the cheap-simplistic artistic choice to have Arlo be a green shiny kids toy.  One to avoid - even on DVD.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR is rated PG and has a running time of 93 minutes. The movie is on global release.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


Director John Wells (AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) returns to our screens with a slight and predictable romantic drama that had the capability to be so much more. BURNT stars Bradley Cooper as a michelin star chef called Adam who is a recovering addict.  He returns after a two year hiatus to open a new restaurant to prove all the critics wrong, win a third star, and poke two fingers in the eye of his rival Reece (Matthew Rhys).  On one hand, this movie wants to be a light romantic drama about a difficult person finding love and emotional balance. So naturally when Adam meets a feisty chef called Helene (Sienna Miller) and they have a massive ding-dong battle, we know they are going to end up falling in love. She even has a super-cute kid with which Adam can bond.  And when the first act of the movie sets up Adam as a dinosaur who refuses to cook sous-vide, we assume she's also going to give him a water-bath and some plastic bags and lead him joyously into the food revolution to wow the critics.  

But then the movie thinks about taking a slightly different turn into a much more complicated and fascinating world and we think - yes - this is why Brad Cooper has agreed to do what seems on the surface like quite schlocky fare.  We realise that within his kitchen he's dealing with the consequences of his addiction - the colleagues he hurt and the maitre d' he'd let down. And throughout the film we have the shadowy French figures who are after him from drug debts.  We see him struggle with his addiction and think, finally some meat for Cooper to sink his teeth into. But in the end it's too late in the final twenty minutes of the run-time to drag the film back into profundity and it wants its perfect romantic ending too badly. This is a tremendous shame, and a waste of a supporting cast that includes Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Omar Sy and Daniel Bruehl.

BURNT is rated R and has a running time of 101 minutes.  The movie is on release in the USA, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Macedonia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Iceland, Poland, Kuwait, Serbia, Singapore, Canada, Turkey, France, the Philippines, South Korea, the UK, Ireland and Sweden. It opens on November 12th in Russia and Estonia; on November 20th in Lithuania and Norway; on November 26th in Italy and the Netherlands; on December 3rd in Germany and Finland; on December 10th in Brazil, Denmark, Hong Kong; on January 21st in Chile; and on January 28th in Argentina and Thailand. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015


PAN is a really badly conceived and constructed film that has flashes of wit but by far not enough to compensate for the hour and a half of boredom it inflicts upon the viewer.  The director is Joe Wright, whose movies tend to be very high concept, over-worked and under-emotional for my taste.  And the writer, Jason Fuchs, seems to have way too much concept and far too little original thought. (Rather ominously he is also scripting the forthcoming WONDER WOMAN movie.)

So what's it all about? The movie is an entirely redundant Peter Pan sequel. Or rather it feels like the first half of one.  Peter is a young orphan left with some rather sadistic nuns in a gloomily lit world war two London of food rationing and German bombs. One night he is captured by a flying pirate ship captained by Hugh Jackman's camp but angsty Blackbeard and taken to the spice mines of kessel, sorry, the pixie-dust mines of Neverland. Enslaved, Peter makes friends with a character that's half Indiana Jones- half Han Solo called, wait for it, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund)!  We know Peter is going to lead a slave revolution because, hey, he can fly and his mum's called Mary! So together Hook and his sidekick Smee he nicks a ship and flies to fairyland with his new friend Tigerlily (Rooney Mara). She's a kickass girl and clearly the writers are trying for some kind of Han-Leia relationship with the rogueish Hook, complete with a last minute rescue reminiscent of A NEW HOPE. Anyways, there's then some Moria-ish stuff about fairy writing and a key and some Harry Potterish stuff about a childhood crush gone wrong and you end up just wondering why Blackbeard didn't just kill Peter when he had the chance.

PAN has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG. The movie is on global release.


HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is the delightful sequel to the charming 2012 kids animated movie.  It brings together most of the creative and voice team of the original for a story that feels organic in its progression.  In the first film, Dracula (Adam Sandler) struggled to accept that his beloved daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) had fallen in love with a human interloper (Andy Samberg) in his monster hotel.  In the sequel, the kids have gotten married and Drac is a grandpa to cute little Dennis. Problem is, Dennis doesn't appear to be a monster at all.  And so, a concerned Mavis wants to take him to live in the human world, much to Drac and his son-in-law's horror.

For much of the movie we see Drac take the kid on a road-trip to discover his inner monster, with laughably negligible impact. Turns out the monsters aren't really that monstrous anymore, partly through old age, and just plain old assimilation.  Pretty soon, Drac comes to believe that Mavis is right.  But at a last hurrah birthday party for Dennis, Drac's father Vlad (a brilliant cameo by Mel Brooks) comes to town. This infamously hard-ball monster is aghast that his son-in-law is human, just as the human grandparents are happy the kid is "normal".  

There's lots of social commentary in here about the difficulty of being accepted as a mixed-race or non-straight kid.  The difference between tolerating something and truly accepting it.  The difficulty of being understood by both sides and the pressure to please parents and grandparents.  And that's to be applauded. But aside from all that, the movie really works at the level of great animation, and superb imaginative comedy. The scenes of vampire bat flight are beautifully animated, and there are some lovely throw-away visual jokes (such as Drac giving the Invisible Man a purple nurple). Finally, what I love in this movie, as in the original, is its heart.  This is just a straightforwardly joyously warm-hearted movie that makes you want to hug your family and embrace glorious diversity.  Kudos to all involved.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 has a running time of 89 minutes and is rated PG.  The movie is on global release.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

STEVE JOBS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Closing Night Gala

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

Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) is a great director with a kinetic visual style and a great use of dance music. He creates fast-paced films and all his best traits are evident in this new biopic of the iconic Apple founder, Steve Jobs.  But this is not so much a Danny Boyle film as an Aaron Sorkin creation. The screenwriter famous for The West Wing and THE SOCIAL NETWORK has an instantly recognisable style - heavy dialogue - often combative - delivered at fast pace while the characters are on the move.  On top of that style, Sorkin has also chosen a highly theatrical conceit for structuring this movie. Rather than a conventional biopic, he splits the film into three acts, each forty minutes long, and each taking place behind the scenes of one of Apple's iconic shareholder meeting. And in each segment, Steve Jobs, as played by Michael Fassbender (12 YEARS A SLAVE) confronts the same people.  

First up are the techies. We've got Seth Rogen (THE INTERVIEW) in an utterly straight role as Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder and genuine computer engineer.  He confronts Jobs about his desire to have everything frustratingly closed system and his unwillingness to credit the unsexy but cash-generative Apple II and its team.  We've also got the marvellous Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Herzfeld, the engineer who we see as being serially bullied by Jobs.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Malala Yousafzai is familiar to us all as the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban on a schoolbus in 2012 for defying a ban on girl's education.  Today she is in exile with her immediate family, living in England as a schoolgirl, but also a globetrotting Nobel Prize winning campaigner for a woman's right to education.   

This is the story retold in David Guggenheim's documentary. It begins with some candid footage of the Yousafzai family trying to create a new life in England.  Malala and her two brothers are wonderfully frank and full of energy and on the surface it all seems remarkably buoyant. But we get a few glimpses of the reality of life in exile in a vastly different culture. Malala misses her home and friends and finds it odd to be schoolfriends with girls who are dating and wear school skirts. Her mother, who speaks very little English, is lonely and has to almost rebegin an education she never had. Malala also struggles to combine the normal stresses of schoolwork with the campaigning work that she is evidently utterly committed to - not to mention exceptionally good at.

The story of her present day life is interwoven with the real meat of the film.  Through archive footage, old photos and beautiful pastel coloured animation from Jason Carpenter and Irene Kotlarz we see village life in the Swat valley recreated.  We see that Malala's father and grandfather were campaigners and that she was raised in her father's school.  When the Taliban come to town, at first they are received warmly. But then comes the burning of televisions and CDs and the ban on women's education.  Her father campaigns and she defies the ban and in so doing becomes a target for retribution.  When she's shot (and two of her schoolfriends caught in the fire) her father even asks himself is she'll resent him for putting her in the path of fire. It's something David Guggenheim asks her about at the end of the film.  Malala takes ownership of her choice to defy the ban, and of course one senses her profound personal courage. Nonetheless, as the title of this documentary and the focus of its attention show, her father is an equally inspiring figure and undoubtedly deeply influential on his daughter.

The resulting film is interesting and well put together and benefits greatly from the exuberance of the Yousafzai family. But I do rather regret David Guggenheim not probing deeper into the story of difficult exile. It's starts to be really insightful as certain conversations are picked up, but they're never pursued satisfactorily. 

HE NAMED ME MALALA has a running time of 86 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie played Telluride, Toronto and London 2015. It was released earlier this month in the USA and Canada. It will go on release later this month in Germany, Chile and Denmark.  It will be released in November in Italy, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Ireland, Chile, Brazil, Sweden and Finland. It goes on release in December in Argentina, Japan and Norway and on January 27th in France.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

TRUTH - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Eleven

In 2004 legendary news anchor Dan Rather aired a report on his 60 Minutes news programme that accused President Bush of pulling strings to get a cushy domestic air force job during the Vietnam War and then not even bothering to fulfil that duty properly. This was at the time when his electoral opponent John Kerry was being accused of falsifying his Vietnam war record. The report, airing just before a Presidential election, was incendiary, and all the more so when the two documents upon which it was based were accused of being forgeries. In the end, the misreporting of the story cost Rather his job, and also that of Mary Mapes, the producer who put the story together.

Now I’d never heard of Mapes, or of this story, and only of Rather in some vague way, and certainly not the particulars of his resignation. Accordingly, all I know of this case is what writer-director James Vanderbilt has chosen to present me with. I think he wants to tell a tale in the manner of George Clooney’s GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, or of Aaron Sorkin’s THE NEWSROOM, about crusading journalists out to expose the truth no matter what the discomfort to the powers that be. So, in that vein, he has many characters tells us again and again - at award dinners and in touching scenes of personal inspiration - how Dan Rather embodies all that that is right and good in integrity and the public trust. He does this is speeches that are very Sorkin-esque. Vanderbilt also paints Mary Mapes as a heroine - a woman beaten by her abusive father for daring to ask questions - and so per Vanderbilt, her psychology reduced to a father-daughter relationship with Rather. As the final music swells over the end credits, Vanderbilt tells us that Mapes’ work on exposing Abu Ghraib won a Peabody Award and that she hasn’t worked in TV since 2004. The space then hangs for us to fill in - what a tragedy - what an injustice!

Now I have no doubt that Rather and Mapes are motivated by the best of intentions and that their report was in good faith as presented here. But even here, presented as the heroes, as it was being constructed it all looked a bit slapdash to the untrained eye. I mean, when your document expert is being cut off and cut down for daring to ask about the sourcing of the document or raising queries about type face by your supposed heroine that does look bad. And although Mapes and Rather keep saying over and over that it isn’t about the document but about the abuse of power, well yes, but the document goes to prove that. You can’t just assert stuff, you have to prove it. That’s what journalism is, isn’t it?

I feel bad for all involved, but is Vanderbilt really doing Mapes any favours here? In a the big rousing speech she gives to her mean, nasty interrogators - the independent panel set up to investigate the claims but clearly loaded with right wing corporate interests - she is hoist by her own petard. She says the story is that so many of Texas’ spoiled rich kids got off going to Vietnam by going into the air guard. The guy asks her if any of them might just have gotten in on their merit. And she says no. People in the cinema ware clapping, but if you don’t even admit of a chance that just one of these guys got in of their own merit - not knowing them or their cases - isn’t that just prejudice?

Like I said, I don’t know anything about this case. I do think Bush probably got an easy ride because of who he was, and that is a story that should’ve been exposed, no matter what Viacom’s business with Congress. But per the evidence in this film, the investigative work done by Mapes didn’t prove that, and shouldn’t have been aired. Yes the questions should’ve been asked, but the answers had not bean adequately demonstrated.  Even worse, the fake documents became the story. Incompetence prevented the exposure of truth.

So what we have here is a very very weird film indeed that seeks to portray a woman as a heroine for creating a news report that was substantively right and sticking by it, except that the movie does not, to my mind, show that it was substantively proven. And that just undermines the whole exercise. Worst of all, it undermines the very concept that it is trying to defend - rigorous, unprejudiced, investigative journalism no matter how powerful the target. So with that major flaw of choice of subject matter, or just how it was shaped and presented, writer James Vanderbilt makes Cate Blanchett’s typically fine performance redundant.

TRUTH has a running time of 121 minutes and is rated R.  It played Toronto 2015 and is currently on release in the USA. It opens in Sweden on November 16th, in France on February 10th 2016, in the UK on March 4th and in Germany on March 17th.

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Eleven

The past decade has seen the lid blown of the cult that is the so-called Church of Scientology thanks to the testimony of ex-members and many of the Church's ultra top secret documents, that you'd usually pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn, being posted online. In addition, in the past couple of years we have seen some important cinematic treatments of the Church, including Paul Thomas Anderson's powerful lightly fictionalised drama, THE MASTER, and Alex Gibney's HBO-funded doc, GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF.  Both films exposed basic beliefs and psychological training drills as well as exploring the way in which ordinary people can get sucked into a prison of the mind, if not worse. No-one can now say that they weren't warned. 

Writer-presenter Louis Theroux is the latest high profile journalist to investigate Scientology and in some ways his approach is the best calculated to expose its simultaneously sinister and absurd response to what it perceives are threats. Theroux has made countless documentaries in which his trademark deadpan humour, thick skin and ability to keep going until he provokes a response have combined to elicit insight or humour, and oftentimes both.  So when faced with a cult that has its members stalk him, prevent him from filming, bar him from public roads, Theroux's phlegmatic, superficially friendly and yet persistent response is absolutely the right approach.  As a result, some of the funniest and most powerful moments of this film are when the production team are filming the Scientologists who are filming them in return - both sides claiming they are unconcerned with being monitored by the other.

Where the documentary is darker, and arguably more insightful, is in showing Louis get close to ex scientologist Marty Rathbun, well known for his criticism of the Church's boss, David Miscavige.  Louis uses casting sessions and cinematic re-enactments of key moments of alleged abuse in the Church to show us, the audience, what he thinks it's all about, but also to start to investigate Rathbun's own complicity in its practices. Notably, Rathbun is reluctant to allow the discussion to go in that direction and it's a shame he wasn't pressed more, at least on screen.

Which brings me to my real criticism of the documentary, which is its soft-pedalling.  At one point, an ex-scientologists says of Marty Rathbun that he's not been totally open, and has been tip-toing around some of the stuff that went on in the 1990s.  "He knows where the bodies are buried."  And when Marty himself gets riled up when some harassers refer to his child, he makes statements to the effect that he's being playing fair so far, but now he's really going to bring Scientology down.  

Well I'd argue that, at least on screen, Louis Theroux does exactly the same - he tiptoes around certain subjects that anyone who's followed this subject online will know about and want answers to. One wonders if that's because of legal issues, because Alex Gibney didn't go there either. But I would simply ask why Shelley Miscavige wasn't mentioned in either documentary?

The resulting film is, then, very funny, often insightful, but doesn't tell anyone who's watched the Alex Gibney film anything they don't already know. 

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE has a running time of 99 minutes. 

OFFICE aka DESIGN FOR LIVING - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Eleven

Here at the blog previously known as MOVIE REVIEWS FOR GREEDY CAPITALIST BASTARDS we greet every new film about our profession with bated breath and are usually disappointed.  MARGIN CALL is the only film that has truly depicted the reality of finance on the eve of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.  Sadly, Johnnie To's new 3D musical about Hong Kong high finance joins the long list of movies which, like that hack mess WALL STREET 2, have pretensions above their station.

This film has been adapted by legendary Hong Kong actress and writer Sylvia Chang from her stage play Design For Living.  But in bringing it to the screen this very much becomes a Johnnie To production. Which isn't to say it's full of bullets and action but that it is played on a scale and with a precision that is really impressive. To begin with, he's constructed a massive set that depicts the head quarters of the trading company at the heart of the film, but also the local bar where the office workers hang out, the apartments of the key players, and even the metro car that they come to work in.  There are no walls but lots of impressive neon structures and staircases complete with a giant clock in the centre.  Everyone can see everything and gossips about everyone, and yet there are secrets deep and dark.

Sadly, Johnnie To's stylish design and fluid camera can't detract from the  twin problems at the heart of this film. First of all, the musical numbers suck. The music is some kind of light rock-n-roll pastiche that you might hear in a hotel elevator and the singing not much better. There are no great melodies and no memorable lyrics, although I'm willing to concede that this might be down to an indifferent translator.  The lyrics merely describe the rather obvious and superficial emotions and plot rather than hinting at something more complex and profound.  And I have to say that this is true of the plot in general.

The basic idea is that Mr Ho (Chow Yun-Fat) owns a trading company that's run by CEO Madame Chang (Sylvia Chang).  She's sleeping with him but also flirting with CFO David, who's cooking the books with some stock market bets using the company balance sheet. Like all gamblers, he thinks he'll be able to sell out in time, but then the Global Financial Crisis happens and he can only sell at a loss. Meanwhile his deputy Sophie is wondering where the 2007 accounts are.  The second major plot is that Madame Chang has discovered that Mr Ho is going to stiff her out of her ownership rights when the company goes public and therefore its trying to broker a secret deal for a US cosmetics brand, despite its declining sales. And caught up in all this at the bottom rung is naive assistant Lee Xiang and the owner's daughter, masquerading as entry-level graduate, Kat. 

All of this plot machination is played entirely on the surface and with zero subtlety.  Mrs Chang and Mr Ho are big fat evil capitalist bastards, CFO David is a simple-minded stock trader, and every relationship is either a sleazy affair or a naive coup de foudre.  The corporate politics is lifted out of Dynasty or Dallas in the 1980s. There's no real interest in the character motivations. Everyone is caught up in consumer fetishism but why not investigate the insecurity that binds everyone to that? 

The resulting film looks great but sounds awful and quickly lost my interest despite its great pedigree. One to avoid.

OFFICE aka DESIGN FOR LIVING has a running time of 117 minutes.  The movie was released in China, Hong Kong and Singapore in September.

Friday, October 16, 2015

DHEEPAN - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Ten

Jacques Audiard has announced himself as the most reliable creator of tough, visually beautiful, emotionally nuanced films set in a gritty and socially deprived contemporary France. And DHEEPAN is his best movie to date. It tells the story of Deepen - a Tamil tiger who flees Sri Lanka under the guise of being a family man, with a wife and daughter - in reality utterly unknown to him and each other - in tow. When they reach Paris he becomes one of those annoying street pedlars, and then thanks to a helpful translator at the immigration interview, the “family” gets moved to low-rise apartment complex on the edge of town. Dheepan becomes the janitor, his “wife” Yalini cares for an elderly disabled man, and their “daughter” tries to integrate into a local school. For the first hour the film plays almost as a slow burn romantic drama as we see this family start to forge an actual relationship against a backdrop of petty drug dealing in the projects. Dheepan turns out to be almost more gentle than Yalini, despite his violent background and is clearly smart to boot. But as we move into the second hour of the film we realise that leaving behind the traumas of the Sri Lankan civil war is easier said than done. As gang violence breaks out the position of the family becomes dangerous, cracks begin to form and old gut reactions take over.

The resulting film is simply stunning. The two lead performances from Antonythasan Jesuthasan as Dheepan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan as Yalini are scarily convincing and sympathetic. Director Jacques Audiard (RUST AND BONE) has a visual style that is just stunning. From near the opening when Dheepan and his fellow street pedlars emerge from the darkness wearing lit headbands, to the delicately elegant scene in which a naked Yalini blends into the darkness, to the way in which he handles the action scenes through smoke and dust...You just know you're in the hands of someone who understands how to use the camera to convey pregnant meaning as much as plot and character.

For me this is the film of the festival and arguably of the year, alongside CAROL, which is quite different in nature.  But I suppose both, in a way, are concerned with the hidden lives of people that we normally wouldn't give a second glance - a shopgirl and a street pedlar.  Both are deeply relevant to the social crises of today - from the gay rights movement to migrant issues.  And both combine both deeply complex characters with a unique visual style. Both deserved the Palme D'Or but I can see why DHEEPAN just edged it. It's because there's a surprising discovery and unfamiliarity about this story and these actors that deserves to be showcased.

DHEEPAN has a running time of 110 minutes. It played Cannes 2015 where it won the Palme D'Or, and also played Toronto. It opened in France in August, in Iceland and Sweden in September and opens in Italy on October 22nd, in Greece on November 19th and in Germany on December 10th.

COWBOYS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Ten

LES COWBOYS is a strange dark drama, quite unlike anything the rather whimsical title had let me to expect, but entirely in keeping with the superb dramas written by first-time feature director Thomas Bidegain. In movies like RUST AND BONE and THE PROPHET, directed by Jacques Audiard, Bidegain had helped to create worlds that documented a gritty reality of contemporary France. He also seemed to focus on characters at just the key moments of life-changing reversal. They come to us with no history, and we observe them tackling great obstacles.

In this case we are in provincial France in the mid 1990s. A family is attending some kind of American country music festival, complete with father (Francois Damiens) in cowboy hat singing the Tennessee Waltz. But at that very event, their teenage daughter Kelly disappears, and it is soon revealed that she has a muslim boyfriend, is studying Arabic and was potentially being swayed by Islamist propaganda. Spurned by the police and viewed with suspicion by the Ministry of the Interior, the father takes it upon himself to follow every lead to try and find Kelly. This takes many years, and takes him to many countries so that eventually he too learns to speak Arabic. And eventually, their son, Kid (Finnegan Oldfield) becomes embroiled in the quest, travelling as far as Pakistan after 9/11 and coming across John C Reilly’s mercenary.

THE END OF THE TOUR - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Ten

THE END OF THE TOUR is a deceptively simple movie.  It chronicles the five days that Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky spent interviewing the famous writer David Foster Wallace at the end of Wallace's book tour for his novel, Infinite Jest.  I was a bit nervous walking into the screening because I haven't read any of Wallace's work, and only vaguely new the story of his depression and eventual suicide.  Also, I was a bit nervous that the two Davids were being played by Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg respectively.  Not that I don't think they're good actors. It's just that they tend to play the same sort of characters all the time. Siegel in particular tends to go for those big loveable man-child comedy characters and I was wondering if he could play a quieter, more intellectual, more complex character and actually disappear into the role.

Well, my fears were utterly overturned by what is a subtle, quiet, nuanced performance that truly shows Segel's range. This is his film.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

YOUTH - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Nine

Oh man. Paolo Sorrentino’s IL DIVO is arguably the best movie I’ve ever watched at a film festival, and it’s the only one I loved so much I watched it twice. And his last movie, THE GREAT BEAUTY, was a work of magical visual beauty and deep melancholic investigation into ageing and art. So I came to his first ever English language film with great expectations. Expectations that were, with the exception of a few flashes of brilliance, disappointed. There are two over-riding reasons for this: first a chronic lack of narrative drive and energy; second, uneven tone that undermines rather than enhances the whole.

JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Nine

Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg (WEST OF MEMPHIS) is back at the London Film Festival with another great documentary - this time about the legendary blues singer, Janis Joplin. 

I can still remember the first time I heard Janis Joplin when I had this whole 1960s counter-culture phase about five years ago and was trying to reconstruct the entire set-list from the Monterrey pop festival.  There was this insanely strong powerful voice fronting this big rock'n'roll blues band, and it was a woman, and she was singing these big old blues songs with an authenticity and control that was astounding.  That of course pretty quickly led me to Cheap Thrills, one of the all-time great music albums by her then band, Big Brother and The Holding Company. I was a mad proselytiser burning copies for people I knew.  So much of that whole 1960s festival scene is dated now, but that album still holds.  

CAROL - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Nine

In 1952, Patricia Highsmith, author of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, wrote a novel called The Price of Salt, about a young girl and an elder married woman who fall in love and try to make a life together.  It was so controversial, not just in showing homosexual love but also not punishing the characters for it, that it could not be published under her name.  Nonetheless, it was a success, maybe because it was the only place people could read about such things.  But also, I think, because regardless of gender, it's a wonderfully authentic depiction of a coup de foudre, of falling in love and of trying to conform - which are all deeply relatable matters. Moreover, in Carol, Highsmith created a wonderfully charismatic character. Self-assured but sometimes nervous - tender but also uncompromising - a good mother but also self-aware enough to realise that she cannot be other than herself.  Few of us would envy Carol's position as a woman  divorcing her husband at a time when the odds were stacked against her, but many of us have come to admire her.  By contrast, the young girl Therese Belivet is perhaps closer to how we feel ourselves - unsure, grasping at self-knowledge, acting on a whim, and unwilling to let go the tide. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

THE STATE VS. FRITZ BAUER - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Eight

From the title of this movie I had expected a courtroom drama, but actually the trial and opposition that screenwriters Lars Kraume (also the director) and Olivier Guez are describing is far more pervasive and insidious. For they take us to West Germany in the late 1950s and 1960s where the government and state institutions are still populated with former Nazis and it’s in no-one’s interest to expose their former crimes. This even goes for the US government that needs a strong West Germany as a bulwark against the Iron Curtain. In such an environment our hero is Fritz Bauer - a Socialist, a Jew and a homosexual. The former two are distasteful to the establishment, the latter is a crime that can lead to imprisonment and blackmail. And yet, he is also an excellent lawyer and not without guile. So when he realises that his attempts to bring Nazis to trial are being stonewalled, and that his own staff are stealing files from his office, and tipping off Nazis in hiding, he decides to commit treason. Given a tip that Adolf Eichmann is in hiding in Argentina, Bauer travels to Israel and gives the information to Mossad, assisting their investigation that ultimately leads to Eichmann’s abduction and trial. Once again, this trial is not in Germany, of course. Germany does not ask for extradition. After all, Eichmann may implicate the Secretary of State Globke, and many others.

THE IDOL - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Eight

THE IDOL is a deeply moving straightforward biopic of Mohammad Assaf, a poor Palestinian kid from the Gaza Strip who defied many odds to travel to Cairo and audition for Arab Idol, eventually winning the competition and becoming a UN Ambassador.

Director Hany Abu-Assad (twice Oscar nominated for PARADISE NOW, OMAR) creates a perfect balance between a sentimental almost fairy-tale story and the harsh reality of life in a warzone.

The first half of the film sees Mohammad growing up with his sister Nour and their two friends. These wonderfully bright and endearing kids scrabble together enough money to buy instruments and start a band, playing at weddings and gaining a following. But a tragedy strikes and the band is dissolved - Mohammad stops singing and Omar becomes drawn into the resistance movement. The second half of the story picks up with Mohammad being inspired by a childhood friend to apply for Palestinian Star and then Arab Idol. The problem is the latter audition is in Cairo, and living in the Gaza Strip means he is prevented from travelling legally. But physically making it to the audition turns out to be the least of his problems, because once he’s on TV the pressure of representing an oppressed people, and a Cause, because almost too much to bear.

DESIERTO - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Eight

Director Jonás Cuarón has directed an almost unbearably tense and beautifully crafted thriller with his new film, DESIERTO. It stars Gael Garcia Bernal as one of a dozen illegal Mexican immigrants paying two guides to cross into the USA through a searingly hot desert. We start the movie in media res - there’s no back story or context - just a savage struggle to survive. When their truck breaks down, the people are forced to cross the desert on foot, which would be a tough enough challenge. But into the mix we find a racist ex-soldier (a frighteningly intense Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with a hunting dog and a sure aim. We’ve barely caught our breath before he’s picked off the main body of the immigrant party like so much game to be shot. And then the main body of the film begins, as he hunts down the remaining four Mexicans.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

THE LOBSTER - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Seven

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

THE LOBSTER is the latest film from the fascinating Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and his first English language feature. It’s a savage social satire on the modern pressure to date and find a perfect match - the superficial metrics upon which people find their partners - and the judgment thrown on the weirdos who stay single. Colin Farrell plays one such schlubby loner who checks into a hotel where he has 45 days to find a perfect partner. If he fails, he will be turned into the animal of his choice - a lobster. The pressure is harsh - Ben Whishaw plays a grieving widower who checks in a mere six days after his wife has passed away. As the movie passes into its second hour, Farrell’s character escapes into the woods and joins a renegade band of militant Loners, as well as the soon to be love of his life, played by Rachel Weisz. It’s credit to Lanthimos that he shows the loners to be as militant as the couples, and for exploring just how far one should go for the person one loves.

THE AMERICAN EPIC SESSIONS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Seven

British documentary director Bernard MacMahon has created something really special in his superb AMERICAN EPIC series.  It's something almost as amazing as the studio engineer who has lovingly re-assembled and restored the only existing Western Electric lathe.  This machine is a kind of massive mechanical piece of brilliance, in which a musician plays into a microphone and the sound is amplified and cut into a record right there and then. The whole thing is operated by a pulley with a 105 pound weight on it, when the weight hits the floor the record stops.  The weight takes around three minutes to hit the ground, and that's why we have three minute pop songs.

Back in the early years of the last century, records were sold to rich people in the big cities. Then radio came and the record companies got scared. So they decided to take this amazing massive machine, created by the geniuses at AT&T, around the country to record real people playing real American music.  This was a period when if you were a great blues guitarist in Memphis you probably hadn't heard music from another part of the country, so there was a kind of purity to the genres of music that were coming out of different parts of America.  There was also a kind of purity to the technology.  Three minutes, straight to disc, no post-production, no re-takes. You position the people around the mike, rather than the other way round. That can be enlivening for some musicians, and scary to others.

BROOKLYN - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Seven

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

BROOKLYN is a big fat chocolate eclair of a film. It's a little obvious and predictable and it goes down a treat but it's not filling at all.  In a sense, it's just a very polished version of one of those big fat doorstop historical romance - a romantic drama from Barbara Taylor Bradford or an afternoon TV costume drama.  It's been cast and dressed above its station but really, that's all it is.

Saoirse Ronan (HANNA) plays a young Irish girl called Eilis who leaves a small  1950s Irish town with few opportunities for a new life in Brooklyn. She rooms with an hilarious lady played by Julie Walters with a host of giggling housemates, and with the help of a kind priest (Jim Broadbent) soon finds her feet.  She also finds love in the shape of a sweet Italian plumber called Tony (Emory Cohen - THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES).  The problem is that on her first trip home, Eilis is greeted by a quite different set of opportunities and yet the same small time gossip.  The question is whether she will remain or return to her new life armed with this new perspective. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

A BIGGER SPLASH - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Six

Director Luca Guadagnino (I AM LOVE) makes a triumphant return to our screens with his remake of Jacques Deray and Jean-Claude Carrière’s LA PISCINE.  One of my all-time favourite films is thus transformed into another superb erotically charged, wonderfully ambiguous thriller.

In this largely faithful remake, we are placed on a small Italian island and a rented villa where rockstar Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is recovering from a throat op that renders her almost unable to speak. She's evidently passionately and mutually in love with her boyfriend, a recovering addict photographer called Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts.) Their gloriously restful idyll is shattered when Marianne's ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) turns up with his young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow. 

ELEPHANT DAYS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Six

ELEPHANT DAYS is a documentary made by British indie band The Maccabees, about the recording of their fourth album "Marks to prove it" in a studio in Elephant and Castle - a famously desolate area just south of the river in Central London.  Evidently, the band feel a great affection for this area - as many parts of London with a rich and varied cultural heritage but after years of failed attempts at redevelopment now finally at risk of redevelopment.  Turning the camera on the local residents preserves a slice of life that I fear will come to an end once the council estates are knocked down and the rents go up. How long will the iconic Arments pie and mash shop last?  Will BB concrete church survive?  Directors James Caddick and James Cronin elegantly weave these quirky personal stories with the Maccabees haunting music and just like Frederick Wiseman's IN JACKSON HEIGHTS (also playing at the festival), this lends the film an elegiac feel. Both films are an important social document and fascinating purely on that level.  The only part of the film I found grating - and its ironic because without them it wouldn't have been made - are The Maccabees themselves - with their posh accents, and earnest attempts to build a community garden. Because like it or not, it's when the hipsters move in that gentrification happens. And so now that Shoreditch has become more expensive than Chelsea, the artists have moved south to Peckham and New Cross and Deptford and the price rises won't be far behind.

ELEPHANT DAYS has a running time of 83 minutes.  At the moment there are still tickets available for two out of the three screenings. 

BLACK MASS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Six

BLACK MASS reminds me a lot of THE PROGRAM. Both are big glossy biopics on topics I am fascinated by, whose source books I have read, and whose cast and crew I admire. I found both to be well-made but ultimately rather dull linear paint-by-numbers narratives.  And in both cases, the real reason to watch are the outstanding acting performances.  In the case of BLACK MASS, that's Johnny Depp as the infamous South Boston gangster Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger and Joel Edgerton as his childhood friend FBI Agent John Connolly.

The story of BLACK MASS is so messed up you couldn't make it up, and speaks volumes about the incestuous corrupt politics of Boston in the 70s and 80s.  In what other universe of normality could Billy Bulger rise to be State Senator while at the same time openly consorting with his elder brother, a known felon?  And what kind of messed up world does their mutual childhood friend decide to co-opt Jimmy as an informant, so that while he and the FBI take down the mafia in a Rico case, Jimmy can move in on their territory?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

ROOM - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Five

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

Sometimes the best films have the shortest reviews because they set out to do something very specific and do it very simply and very well, with any pyrotechnics or flashiness: just creating writing and acting.  The writing is down to Emma Donoghue, who has adapted her own best-selling novel for the screen in this faithful and deeply affecting drama.  The story is told from the perspective of a bright young five year old boy called Jack, who with his mother is imprisoned in a suburban garden shed by their abusive captor, Old Nick.  The first half of the book and film sees us grow in admiration for Ma, and the clever way in which she tries to keep her son educated, well nourished and safe against all odds. Their is a pivotal point in the book which I won't reveal here, and after that both mother and son face even greater challenges that echo and comment upon the earlier ones.  

The amazing thing about the book was Donoghue's ability to put us convincingly and firmly in the mind of a small boy in an unthinkable situation, and the movie successfully manages to bring this to the screen. Director Lenny Abrahamson (FRANK) uses the camera imaginatively to render a child’s eye view of the world and it’s testament to his skill that although most people watching this movie will know exactly how it turns out, the escape plot is incredibly tense. But the reason why this film is as emotionally affecting as it is, is down to the performances of the two lead actors. Brie Larson has always been impressive, not least in SHORT TERM 12, but her evident rapport with Jacob Tremblay, who plays Jack means that every scene is laden with emotional impact. I defy anyone to watch it without tearing up at several points during the narrative.  

Sometimes the best movies are simple in their concept.  A moving story well acted.  Sometimes you just have to stand back and watch talent at work.

ROOM has a running time of 118 minutes and is rated R.  The film played Telluride, Toronto and London 2015 and will be released in the USA on October 16th and in the UK on January 29th.

MACBETH (2015)

Justin Kurzel's new adaptation of Shakespeare's violent tragedy is visually arresting, and beautifully scored by the director. The language may not always be as crisp and beautifully enunciated as a theatre production, but that is secondary to creating a film where emotion is conveyed on the face and physically, creating an atmosphere of tortured intentions and motivations that is rightly sinister and tragic. The result is a movie that isn't slavish to the text and has a unique vision of how this well-worn story should be told. 

MACBETH opens with husband and wife burying their children in a scene that makes explicit what many readers have often guessed at. It explains something of Lady Macbeth's language regarded her femininity and also how they would turn inward and pin all their hopes on a political future. Accordingly, they are ready for the seeds sown by the three witches - here not macabre obviously mystical creatures but deceptively straight-coward Scottish peasant-women. Shockingly quickly this turns into a murder plot that escalates and yet gives no satisfaction. 

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard bring real depth and nuance to their performances as the couple ripped apart by mutual guilt and paranoia. But I almost feel that the performances are overshadowed by the general production design and cinematography. What I remember from this film aren't specific performances or even soliloquies but individual visual moments. Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is gorgeous. He captures a delicate sunlight through mist and fog. But at key moments in battle, director Justin Kurzel slows down the authentically grim battle footage with freeze-motion shots that look like tableaux. It's quite stunning and resurrects the use of a technique that Zack Snyder has done so much to cheapen. This is lush sensory film-making of the highest quality.

MACBETH has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated R. The movie played Cannes 2015 and is currently on release in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland and Greece. The movie will open in Germany and Hungary on October 29th; in Iceland on November 6th; in Vietnam on November 13th; in France on November 18th; in Russia, Singapore, Mexico and Poland on November 27th; in South Korea, Lebanon, the USA, India, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Canada and Turkey on December 10th; in Argentina and Denmark on December 17th; in Bosnia, Brazil, Estonia, Spain, Finland and Norway on December 25th; in Italy and Sweden on January 6th 2016; in the Philippines and Chile on January 14th; in Indonesia on January 27th and in Japan in June.

HIGH-RISE - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Four

Yeah so, I love J G Ballard and High Rise is one of my favourite novels, and I really love Ben Wheatley's gonzo horror craziness, having done retrospective podcasts on his earlier films.  Tom Hiddleston is obviously not just a great actor but a nice guy.  So I was super excited about this new film.  The problem may have been high expectations. The problem may be that High Rise is a high concept novel and these can sometimes come across as flat on screen. But whatever the reason, HIGH-RISE was utterly underwhelming.

The movie, and indeed the novel on which it is pretty faithfully based, are set in 1970s England - another time of deep social inequality and financial disruption.  The high concept is that an architect has built a high-rise apartment block complete with all amenities - swimming pool, school, gym, supermarket - so that one need never leave.  And in classic English fashion, the social hierarchy is perfectly preserved inside - lower orders in floors 1 to 10, middle classes to floor 35 and upper classes above, with the architect as God in the penthouse.

SON OF SAUL - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Four

SON OF SAUL is a devastating and rightfully traumatic debut feature from the Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes.  For 107 minutes he keeps his camera tightly focused on his protagonist - Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig) - so that we only see the context of his action on the edge of the screen. We soon become grateful for this obscurity and start to wish that he had been as kind on our aural sense. Because everywhere we hear the mechanics of fear and death.  

Saul is a Sonderkommando in an un-named death camp.  As the movie opens he's helping newly arrived victims hang up their clothes before a "shower". He is ordered to stand next to the door of that room and hear them killed before he goes to the business of clearing up their clothes, washing out the room and disposing of the bodies. As the film goes on we will explore every part of that process - the men who stoke the fires of the crematorium with coal, the men who dump the ashes in the river, the men who perform the autopsies. All of them victims, and all of them living with the threat of being on the next list.

THE ASSASSIN - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Day Five

Sweet tap-dancing Christ, but THE ASSASSIN is a slow watch.  I knew this wasn't going to be any old wu-sha movie, being directed by art-house darling Hou Hsaio-Hsien, but this movie takes the action out of action movie.

The film is set in ninth century China and there's apparently some beef between the Imperial Court and the province of Weibo.  Moreover, back in the day the Imperial princess married into Weibo broke a betrothal with our protagonist, Yinniang, because she wanted to shore up the inheritance claim of her adopted son Lord Tian.  Yinniang then becomes awkward politically and is farmed out to the Princess' sister-nun-martial-arts-guru who trains Yinniang into an amazing assassin. The nun sends her back to her family to kill her ex-fiancee and thus prove how badass she is.