Saturday, February 28, 2015

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Nine

COMMENTS:  Let's talk about the look of Claire Underwood - the killer skin-tight dresses, the long toned legs, the impeccable hair and make-up, sexy but classy, frosty even. And let's talk about one of the rare times we see her in a suit, in grey, enclosing herself in a room tastefully and classically furnished in dove grey prints, shutting double doors on her husband's campaigning.  Now let's talk about samurai-Claire - as always in times of stress she dons the all-black ninja work-out clothes - except this time instead of taking a run very deliberately outside of the White House - she's using a rowing machine with a kind of manic ecstatic look on her face. And then Claire in a virginal and quite feminine white dress, pacified, looking dead behind the eyes, agreeing to stand by his side as the election result is announced.   Later, Claire dressed in funereal black watching Frank's acceptance speech, being manhandled by him in the Oval Office.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Eight

COMMENTS: So many times in this season I've felt that Claire was a minute away from leaving Frank and we had another example in this episode.  I really hope something of this happens in the final episode or it will have felt like a gigantic waste of time.   But it does highlight the theme of this episode and indeed the season. It's all about love. Not the marriage of Claire and Frank but the marriage of Doug and Frank.  The loyalty he shows comes close to psychopathic.  But one question - how come burning the journal didn't set off any fire alarms in the Oval Office?!

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Seven

COMMENTS:  If the last episode was Frank alienating Claire this episode is Frank alienating Jackie. The writers seem to be following the classic buddy movie trope of having the antagonist alienate all his friends in act two before winning them back in the third.  Or will he?  I suspect it's too late to see the implications of Claire's alienation in this series, and if there is to be a season four, this makes me think he will triumph over Dunbar in the primaries....unless there is an epic twist. Overall, though, this is exactly the kind of HOC episode that I like, and the scripting of the debate was a tour de force. 

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Six

COMMENTS: Well, Tom Yates suddenly became an interesting character!  Trying to manipulate an arch manipulator is really quite something and I wonder if he's even really bisexual and whether all those tales of turning tricks are actually true.  It's a measure of how wrong-footed Frank has been in this episode that he doesn't go for it - after all, in previous seasons he has taken what he wanted with absolute certainty he won't be found out.  In other news, Claire has been comprehensively belittled by Frank who tells her she's been played.  There HAS to be some comeback for that doesn't there?  Isn't the endgame that Claire stiffs Frank and runs in her out right? If not this season, then next season.  The obsequious willingness to even change her hair colour because of a focus group seems uncharacteristic. 


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

BIG HERO 6 is an animated super-hero origins story wherein a genius teenage boy called Hiro uses his late brother's sumo-shaped gentle robot Baymax to catch an evil scientist.  In doing so, Hiro teams up with his brother's friends, giving them superhero costumes and harnessing their scientific achievements, rather than relying on mutations or alien powers.   The movie is clearly in love with its own heritage - there are friendly nods to E.T. and anime, not to mention a nostalgic reference to those quirky VHS-vanquished video players of the early 1980s.  But it's far more in love with the concept of love - what it really means to grieve, forgive and move on.

Friday, February 27, 2015

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Five

COMMENT:  I had just been thinking how irrelevant Remy Danton had been to this season - a token black man in a white series.  And suddenly this show tackles the race issue head on with a stop and search. Will it have the balls to follow up this storyline, though?  Or will it just be a crush to get Remy and Jackie Sharp back into bed together?  Otherwise the Stamper storyline creaks it's wheels into the final act & the Russian-Israeli diplomatic fracas seems to be plausibly escalating.  Less insider political chicanery than I would've liked but a good tense and subtle episode.

PLOT SUMMARY:  Russian casualties in the UN peace-keeping mission cause a diplomatic crisis.   FU needs Yates to finish the book more than ever now as part of his campaign but he notices something is off.  Petrov refuses to allow the allies to investigate the attack so Claire asks the Russian Ambassador to help her back-channel the diplomacy.  The Ambassador accuses Petrov of having engineered the attack to isolate the Russians, as he never wanted the peacekeeping force. 

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Four

COMMENT: A rather blah episode that mechanically gets Frank to the point where he'll openly declare.  Very Tab A into Slot B.  The hurricane metaphor was especially tired and there was none of the lyricism or visual imagery that made earlier episodes great. Maybe the small role accorded to Robin Wright also has something to do with the lack of tension.  Moreover, the predictability of Yates and Kate sleeping together is just low-grade writing.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty-Three

COMMENTS: As predicted, Claire's comment that she shouldn't have made FU President has pushed him over the edge. This episode therefore plays as a gentle romantic drama as Frank and Claire bicker and then make-up, reunited forever.  It's a gentle episode, lacking in real political bite, and I wish they'd have pushed this storyline further.  But I loved the almost elegaic feel and the delicacy of the monks' art and its echo to the earlier religious themes in the season.  It feels to me like a major theme this season is how far humans have the right to take the action of gods - the power to take life - and the concepts of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.   So this episode is wonderful - but it does feel tonally different to the rest of the season.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty Two

COMMENT:  The directorial touch of having the camera close up on Claire's face as she hears her husband and Petrov immediately spin the suicide of Corrigan is superb.  I keep detecting flickers of a separation between Claire and Frank and it's fascinating. And with the immediate apology to Petrov, surely FU has crossed the rubicon?  For her to tell him she should never have made him president is powerful stuff.  Superb.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty One

COMMENTS: What seems like another holding episode where the pieces are put in place on the chess board.  I must say that I find the UN story rather dull, and once again Claire's manipulation of the Russian ambassador seems to easy, compared to her deeply felt setbacks in season two.  A nice tidbit about the Underwoods not sleeping together. I hope that goes somewhere.  By contrast, what I don't want to see go anywhere is the supposed sexual tension between Jackie and Remy. Dull, dull, dull.  Finally, great to see Kim Dickens cast as the White House press correspondent for the Telegraph.  Other than that, however, this is not an episode that is either visually striking or particularly wickedly intriguing. 

PLOT SUMMARY: Francis declares unemployment a national emergency & so has FEMA report to him. DC is declared in a state of emergency & FU promises full employment in 12 months. FU  persuades House Majority Whip Jackie Sharp to declare against him & so lure the women's votes away from Dunbar before then backing FU. Remy Danton also pressures Jackie to marry her boyfriend Alan to ensure a family image and she succeeds in getting engaged. Remy, her ex-lover, is clearly jealous.  Congressional leaders threaten to pass a law preventing FU's use of FEMA funds but he sounds unworried. 

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Thirty

COMMENTS:  Does Elizabeth Dunbar really have the charisma to be the antagonist to Francis Underwood?  She doesn't seem to carry the weight, unless I'm missing something to come in later episodes?  Ironic though. The British series was marked by the delicious straight-to-camera moments of clarity from Frances Urquhart.  In this remake we have had very few of them, but one of the most powerful is that which we get in this episode, when he refuses to destroy Justice Jacobs.  How ironic then, that for FU, no good deed goes unpunished. It will be interesting to see if he's the one who leaks the news of the Alzheimers.  What should we make of the final scene too?  I rather liked FU pissing on the grave of his father, but spitting on a Crucifix?  Is that needlessly provocative or genius TV?  The final line, "Well, I've got God's ear now!" is marvellous, vintage Underwood.  I nearly wrote Urquhart then, which shows just how much more spiky and dark FU is in this season, and how much closer to his truly evil British precursor.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Twenty-Nine

COMMENTS: Just about the most exciting thing about this episode were the closing credits showing a spoof MTV-style video for a Pussy Riot-style anti Russian government punk song.  The rest of the episode was just well-made but essentially rather dull opening gambits in a diplomatic war between the USA and Russia.  Claire's manipulation of the Secretary of State is almost laughably easy and the tension caused by That Kiss is immediately undone because we know Francis and Claire are so tight.  In other words, this is a holding episode - the writers are just getting all the pieces in place on the chess-board before truly beginning the assault. Dull but necessary.

PLOT SUMMARY:  President Underwood receives a state visit from the Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) but Petrov refuses to back Francis' Middle East peace plan.

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Twenty-Eight

COMMENTS: Now THIS is the House of Cards I love - deep political tactical manoeuvring with the focus very firmly on the relationship between Frank and Claire Underwood.  The twin challenges they face are her UN nomination hearing and his Presidential nomination and we see them set pieces in place to achieve what they want.  The highlight of this episode was, for me, Frank's resignation speech.  It is deeply radical and even more blunt than Thatcher would've attempted at the height of her power.  It's in this speech that this remake comes closest to the radicalism of the British original.  Frank condemns entitlement and calls time on the bloated welfare state. It's superbly audacious rhetoric and a superbly audacious plan!  I wonder how the American viewing public will take it!

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season Three - Chapter Twenty-Seven

COMMENTS -  By now, we're used to the patient long-arc storytelling of high quality Netflix's dramas, but even by their standards, the new season of its flagship political thriller is a slow-burn.  After a characteristically caustic and blatantly evil opening seen featuring the anti-hero President Francis Underwood, the focus shifts decidedly away to his sometime Director of Strategy Doug Stamper, recovering by his attack by Rachel Posner at the end of season two.  I love how dark this gets, and Michael Kelly should be praised for his superb acting which steals the show from Kevin Spacey. His final scene in the episode is truly twisted and I'm very much looking forward to seeing where his character will go in this series.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


The lead actors & director at the Berlin Film Festival.
You can listen to a podcast review of this film below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.  

So if you've read the middle-class middle-aged woman soft-porn fanfic that is FIFTY SHADES OF GREY your expectations for the movie are probably not high. Especially when you realise that the novelist, E L James, was very controlling (!) as to the adaptation, insisting on things like banal little email exchanges being kept verbatim.  And once you note that it has an R rating, which means that the studio has effectively cut the balls off the already fairly mild sex scenes, one wonders what's left to play for.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


The cast of X+Y at the BFI London Film Festival.

X+Y is a spectacularly good film - one that makes you laugh out loud, care deeply about its characters, cry in sympathy, and wonder what happened to them next.  That it's a debate feature from director Morgan Matthews and writer James Graham is even more impressive, and I really hope this British indie film gets the release and recognition it deserves.

The film is about a young autistic maths prodigy called Nathan who carries the trauma of his father's death in a car accident.  His loving mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) manages to get him extra maths tuition with a teacher called Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall) who was also a maths prodigy but has been beaten down by Multiple Sclerosis and know self-medicates with alcohol and a kind of ruthlessly funny defensive humour. Somehow, Mr Humphreys manages to make a connection with Nathan, and gets him to enter into an international maths olympiad, in which he leaves for a selection camp in Taiwan, meets a girl, and discovers what's truly important to him.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


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

I can't work out whether JUPITER ASCENDING is a cunning satire on early twenty-first century capitalism and Hollywood's obsession with youth or just a steaming mess.  

The Wachowski Siblings have created a world in which in human beings are just a commodity, harvested by oligarchs to create a serum for eternal youth.  The market-leaders in this harvesting business are three siblings of the Abrasax family.  The elder is Balem played by Eddie Redmayne in a performance so camp it goes beyond parody and into plain bad.  His rivals are his sister Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and playboy brother Titus (Douglas Booth).  Humans are playthings for these future gods, until they discover that Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), an earthling cleaning lady, has the exact same DNA as their murdered mother.  Clearly all three siblings now have an incentive to find Jupiter, register her as their mother reincarnated, get her to claim title to the corporation they inherited, and run the world through her.  I say clearly because none of the above is clear or makes any sense.  And that's before I get to the space police staffed with cross-bred human-animal combos with angelic wings (Channing Tatum and Sean Bean).

Friday, February 06, 2015


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

SELMA is a handsomely made, beautifully acted and devastatingly searing movie about the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  It's also a movie about the difference between having a right in theory and having a right in practice, and as such, is a profoundly important and timely film.  What it isn't, and thank goodness for that, is a conventional hagio-biography in the Great Man does Great Things genre.  This isn't, and sorry to keep going on about it, as dumb as THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

The movie opens with Martin Luther King already a major political force. He has the ear of President Johnson and wins the Nobel Peace Prize. But despite the end of segregation by Federal Law, in Governor George Wallace's Alabama, African Americans are still subject to extreme racism.  In an elegant, swift and brutal opening triptych we are therefore given King's Nobel acceptance speech; the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing; and Annie Lee Cooper being denied her application to register to vote on the most spurious and humiliating of grounds. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


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

To some of the marketing, one might think Uberto Pasolini's new film STILL LIFE is a quirky romantic comedy starring the maid from Donwton Abbey.  But it's something far more interesting: a patient, elegiac wryly observed drama about a lonely man who does his best for those forgotten by society.  He's charged by the local council with finding the families of the people who die alone and unloved, and if he can't, he uses what he has pieced together of their lives to give them a touching funeral, attended only by him.  This man, Mr May, is a gentleman in every sense of the world, but he's become detached from life, in a well-ordered but solitude existence. As we watch him delicately pick his way through the lives of others we see clearly the trajectory he is on, and wonder how conscious he is of it: that he too will die alone, unloved and perhaps undiscovered.  

Sunday, February 01, 2015


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

I am super excited to talk to you about INHERENT VICE, the new movie from Paul Thomas Anderson and the first time a Thomas Pynchon novel has been filmed, because they're these complex genre-defying novels that talk about everything and nothing and are kind of unfilmable. The resulting film is one of the weirdest, bizarrest films of the year, and I can quite see why you would be totally weirded out by it. But to me this film is the bastard love child of Lebowski and LA Confidential with a strange warm fuzzy heart.  It may not be as austere and brilliant as THERE WILL BE BLOOD or THE MASTER but is it's own crazy beautiful mess and well worth watching.

So what is the film about? It's a kind of film noir, with all the strangeness that goes along with that genre. It has a mood of craziness, corruption and seediness.  There are rich men, damsels in distress, a maze of plot and you never quite know if you're going to make it out in one piece.  Sometimes you don't know if the author or the director have a clue what's going on, and then the film just sort of ends. That's a little bit the case with INHERENT VICE. The first hour has momentum and drive and hilarity, and then it kind of drifts, but I think that's intentional. And then it goes dark and subversive and there's a very weird sex scene, and then it finishes up in a warm and happy place, sort of....