Sunday, May 31, 2015


SWORD OF VENGEANCE is the directorial debut of Jim Weedon with a story written by Matthew Read, who is better known as the Executive Producer of the superb TV shows Peaky Blinders and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  He also wrote HAMMER OF THE GODS and this film is very much in the same vein of medieval Nordic bleak violence gore, with a kind of stripped down highly stylised Nicolas Winding-Refn/300-lite style. All of which makes sense when you realise that Read re-wrote Refn's PUSHER trilogy for the redundant English language version and produced the superb ONLY GOD FORGIVES.

In this film, we are firmly in the territory of revenge film.  A medieval Knight (Stanley Weber) with impeccable cornrows and the nickname Shadow Walker returns home to find his father dead and he basically goes on a vengeance campaign.  At one point he saves a feisty  dame from the evil baddie's sons and so joins up with her villagers and goes on a rampage, after a little A-Team style village remodelling. 

There's minimal dialogue, minimal lighting, and lots of gore, blood, and rolling mist. The acting consists of men screaming in rage, or looking mean, and women looking oppressed. There's no character development, and actually very little plot. You know the baddies are baddies because they have hideous facial scars and eye-patches and talk in cliches like "Never send a boy to do a man's job."  It sort of feels like you're watching the off-cuts of Game Of Thrones - North of the Wall edition, or in the middle of Medieval Total War: Barbarian Expansion but with hand to hand combat and someone else at the controls. Which is, on the whole, less fun that just playing Medieval Total War.  But for people who like to see moody, dirty looking medieval blokes in boiled leather, fur capes waving axes around and looking gnarly, you are in for a treat. 

SWORD OF VENGEANCE has a running time of 87 minutes. It is currently on release in the UK and opens on June 3rd in the Philippines and June 27th in Japan.


MAN UP is an adorable, funny, moving, smart romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, with an impeccable British accent. The required goofy set-up is that Jack (Pegg) mistakes Nancy (Bell) for his blind date, and because she has been hectored by her sister to man up and "put herself out there",  she runs with it.  The date goes surprisingly well, taking in a pop up bar, a cantina and a bowling alley, until Nancy's high school stalker Sean (Rory Kinnear) turns up and reveals the truth. At this point we need another improbable twist to keep the date going into Act Two - the couple need to return to an earlier bar to pick up some lost property and they happen to run into Jack's ex.  Cue our couple pretending to be an actual couple and a genuine moment of emotional connection in, rather improbably, a toilet.  We then roll into a third act that understands the cliches of the romantic comedy genre and satisfies them with authentic emotion, while also winking at the audience. A clever trick to pull off.

That the movie works is down to a well-written script that deals honestly with dating in one's thirties, and the genuine likability of, and chemistry between, the lead actors.  I've long thought Lake Bell a hidden gem of Hollywood - her IN A WORLD... was one of the best films of 2013.  The added bonus is Rory Kinnear as the creepy friend Sean. He's genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and his character adds a bit of spikiness to what would other be just a gently funny, sweet film. 

MAN UP has a running time of 88 minutes and is rated 15 for strong language and sex references.   MAN UP played Tribeca 2015 and is currently on release in the UK, Ireland and Lithuania. It will be released in the Netherlands and Singapore on June 4th, in New Zealand on June 18th and in Germany on July 30th.

Monday, May 25, 2015


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

Apparently Brad Bird (THE INCREDIBLES) turned down the opportunity to direct the new STAR WARS movie to make TOMORROWLAND which shows that he's a numskull. But maybe we should all be relieved if his new clunker, TOMORROWLAND, is anything to go by.  This may well be the worst live action movie that Disney has ever made, and it's certainly one of the most expensive.  What were they thinking? Who thought George Clooney, the star of suave adult heist films was going to be a relatable anchor for a kids movie. And what made them think that Damon Lindelof, who led us all down the rabbit-hole with his TV show Lost, and then messed up the ALIEN mythos with PROMETHEUS, was going to be able to write a movie with a premise simple enough to get kids excited and on the edge of their seats?  What made them think that once Shailene Woodley had turned down the role, that charisma-free actress Britt Robertson would be able to fill her shoes?

Sunday, May 24, 2015


In which Rosumund Pike (GONE GIRL) plays a nurse who is raped in her house by a man (Shiloh Fernandez) who she thinks is her blind date. To the incomprehensibility of her father (Nick Nolte) she befriends this man in prison and even asks him to make amends by renovating her now unsaleable house. The twist at the end is straight out a Japanese ultra-violent revenge flick. The problem with this movie is that it’s filmed like a Hallmark Channel afternoon movie and paced with similar banality. It’s very much a workmanlike, obvious, sunlit movie. Rosamund Pike is just fine but it feels like the script isn’t giving her anything to do. We painfully and mechanically wind our way toward a very underplayed twist in the tale which isn’t really worth the candle. Revenge flicks can be done better - the plots don’t need to be any more complex. Just think how David Fincher transformed GONE GIRL into something truly creepy and brilliantly off the hook. If only the film had had the self-confidence to go big, or director Fouad Makiti (OPERATION: ENDGAME) and the cinematographer (can't find the credit on IMDBPro) had had the inspiration to do something edgy and tense with the visuals.

RETURN TO SENDER has a running time of 95 minutes. It is rated 18 for scenes of sexual violence.  It is currently on very limited release in the UK but is also available on demand.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


This year sees the anniversary or many a military event, not least the Battle of Waterloo which I am covering in real time with my @relivewaterloo twitter account. One of those anniversaries is the 70th anniversary of VE or Victory in Europe day. Many of us have grown up with iconic images of that night - the crowds partying in Trafalgar Square and the Mall.  Set against that backdrop, this movie - A ROYAL NIGHT OUT - is a very mild and respectful depiction of what might have happened if Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been given permission to celebrate VE Day among the masses.  The movie sees them beg permission of their parents, then hit the Ritz where Princess Margaret (true to later reform) manages to give her chaperones the slip and have a fine old time everywhere from the Ritz to a Soho brothel to the Chelsea Barracks. Meanwhile, her earnest elder sister, Princess Elizabeth tries to track her down with the reluctant help of working class airman Jack.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


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

I wasn't super excited by the original PITCH PERFECT movie but that film at least had novelty and some great songs.  This sequel lacks novelty and great songs, and I didn't laugh once.  Even Elizbeath Banks & John Michael Higgins' snarky competition commentators didn't make me laugh.

The irony is that the very story of the film is of a successful group that has lost its mojo, not sure of what it wants to be, misfiring and alienating its audience.  After an early mishap, the Bella's acapella group find themselves banned from defending their national championship title unless they can do the unthinkable and win the world championships.  However, the group is intimidated by a crypto-fascist German group called Das Sound Machine and inwardly fretting over what will happen to them when they graduate.  The mash-up queen, Becca (Anna Kendrick) is secretly interning at a production studio where the boss (Keegan-Michael Key) tells her she has to make something original.  And young Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) just wants to write songs, breaking the cardinal rule of Acapella that you only do covers.


An ageing successful actress, Maria (Juliette Binoche) travels to Switzerland to accept an award on behalf of the reclusive playwright, Wilhelm Melchior, who gave her her big break. But matters are complicated when it is discovered that Melchior, loosely based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder, has died and the acceptance speech has to become a kind of eulogy.   While at the ceremony, Maria is persuaded to star in that two-hander play once again, but this time in the older role of Helena rather than the younger role of the seductive Sigrid.  She practices the role with her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) at the beautiful mountainside home of Wilhelm's widow.  This role reversal, with Maria forced to play her age, and Valentine transformed from PA into sexually powerful Sigrid, throws up all sorts of conflicts and echoes.  This is most mischeviously played out in the character of Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) - a wild child starlet who, in echoes of Kristen Stewart's own life - has slept with her director.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015


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

In a post-apocalyptic future, petrol and water are scarce. Daddy controls the water in Citadel and so controls the people. The young woman are Breeders to be used at will, the old women provide mother's milk, the men are turned into fanatical warriors bewitched by a cultish vision of glorious death and Valhalla.  Into this world steps a hero. Not Mad Max but Imperatur Furiosa - Charlize Theron as a kind of Ripley - riding the War Rig to Gastown across the Badlands until she hangs a right and goes off-road to the Green Place, carrying Daddy's Breeders.  So begins a two hour car-chase of epic and gonzo proportions. The war-rig, guarded by its henchman, gone rogue.  Daddy following with all the martial glory of the Citadel - chopped up bikes and cars teeming with war-boys & a fire-breathing guitar not to mention all the gangsters roaming the sand-dunes.  But Furiosa is better than them all, and this is her story, her journey and her redemption.  Max? Well, Max is just a blood-bag, strapped to the front axle of a war-buggy with a blood transfusion feeding a war-boy called Nux.  He's not peripheral. But he's not central either.

Sunday, May 03, 2015


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

In late nineteenth century rural England a coquettish, strong-willed but ultimately kind young girl called Bathsheba Everdene rejects the earnest proposal of a good but apparently rather dull sheep-farmer called Gabriel Oak.  She goes on to inherit a large farm and surprises the county by running it herself, although relying very heavily on Oak's advice in his reduced position of shepherd.  Oak must watch guiltily fend off the proposals of the rich austere Mr Boldwood, to whom she has sent a valentine in a fit of pique little suspecting the deeply passionate and obsessive response it would provoke.  Worse still, both Oak and Boldwood have to watch her marry the feckless and cruel Sergeant Troy, a man who has already ruined the poor maid Fanny Robbin.

This is, of course, the story of Thomas Hardy's most famous novel, Far From The Madding Crowd, and the iconic 1967 film adaptation directed by John Schlesinger, starring Julie Christie as Bathsheba and Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp as her three lovers.  That film is so beloved and so well-acted and photographed that a remake felt almost superfluous, but I am pleased to report that it has its own charms.


CHILD 44 is a handsome, well-acted thriller set in 1950s Soviet Russia, direct by Daniel Espinoza (SAFE HOUSE) from a script by Richard Price (CLOCKERS) based on the book by Tom Rob Smith. 

Hardy stars as Leo Demidev, a Soviet war hero and member of the Soviet security forces, supposedly happily married to his beloved wife (Noomi Rapace) until his war-time friend's child is murdered.  Sent in to persuade the grieving parents that it was just a tragic accident, Leo soon realises that the reality of his marriage, and the reality of the crime, is corrupted and compromised by the insidious Soviet paranoid political culture.

The wonderful thing about the film is that the personal and the criminal are completely intertwined because in the paranoid Soviet police state, both are political.  Leo and Raisa's relationship is constrained by the expectations that people have of the type of men who do his job and they are both vulnerable to denunciation from colleagues.  Similarly, this film cannot be a simple police procedural in a political system that categorises murder as a crime of decadent capitalist states.  The system is perfectly explained and embodied by Gary Oldman's General Nesterov.  He begins the film unwilling to investigate the serial killing of children because it puts his job and his colleagues at risk.  But we soon realise that he is a canny operator, able to bend the rules and find the truth.  And the journey of the film is that of Leo Demidev, who must also become hardened and suspicious and learn to play the system, as embodied in Charles Dance's high ranking officer, to his advantage. 

Hardy's performance is stunning once you settle in to his accent.  I love seeing this rather simple-minded war hero deconstructed in a pivotal central scene, and then recreated as a savvy criminal investigator. The picture of his marriage as complex and nuanced is one that is rarely seen on screen. I was also impressed by Joel Kinnaman as the ruthlessly ambitious officer and by Paddy Considine, in a desperately pathetic performance as the killer.

Overall, this is the kind of thoughtful, layered cinema once wants to see more of. Kudos to all involved. 

CHILD 44 has a running time of 137 minutes and is rated R. The film is on release in the UK, USA, Belgium, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Kuwait, Singapore, Finland, Ireland, Cambodia, Pakistan, Estonia, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland, Philippines, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Sweden.  It opens in Argentina, Croatia, Macedonia, the Netherland, Serbia, Turkey, Brazil and the Czech Republic in May, in Germany, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain in June, in Japan, Peru and Australia in July and in Chile in August.