Sunday, May 22, 2016


OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is a spy thriller directed by Susanna White (PARADE'S END) and adapted by Hossein Amini (THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY) from a novel by John le Carre.  It stars Ewan McGregor as a feckless cheating academic who tries to redeem himself in his own and his wife's eyes by carrying a message from a Russian mafia money launderer to MI6.  Problem is, aforementioned gangster (Stellan Skarsgaard) doesn't trust the British government to get his family to safety and demands that the husband and wife (Naomie Harris) take part in the negotiations as a vouchsafe.  This is a wise move, as the British spy making the negotiations (Damian Lewis) is in the midst of some backroom politics orchestrated by a corrupt politician (Jeremy Northam).  The result is a thriller than attempts to work on two levels - will the couple and the spies get both the mafiosi and his family out of harm's way?  And will his information expose the corruption at the heart of the City of London?

Sadly, the film fails on all counts. Skarsgaard is horribly mis-cast as the mafioso, Dima.  He makes no attempt at a Russian accent and just acts bigger and louder.  He doesn't come across as a successful financier at all.  McGregor is good as the feckless spy but poor Naomie Harris has very little to do. And Damian Lewis is over-styled and over-broad in his performance - playing a kind of caricature of the over-confident British spy - as if auditioning for some kind of 1970s spy film, or that godawful recent movie remake of TINKER TAILOR.  Behind the camera lens, director Susanna White has no idea how to create a sense of tension in directing action. Scenes in a French sports club are almost laughably absurd as spies and mafiosi dip in and out of steamy saunas and massage rooms.  And the very conceit that somehow an ordinary couple could double up and help out MI6 in extraditing a source is just patent nonsense.  Finally, the film (and arguably the book's) heavy-handed political agenda is just too obvious and lacking in nuance to be interesting.  

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR has a running time of 108 minutes and is rated R. The movie is on release in Italy, Finland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Croatia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Serbia, Russia, Estonia, the UK, Ireland, Norway, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Sweden and Lithuania.  It opens in June in Israel, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the Philippines, Belgium and France; in July in the USA, Canada, Germany, Portugal, Singapore, Australia, Greece and Brazil; on August 4th in Thailand; on August 18th in New Zealand; on October 21st in Japan and on November 18th in Spain.

Sunday, May 08, 2016


Florence Foster Jenkins was an American heiress whose prodigious career as a concert pianist was cut off cruelly short when she contracted syphilis from her husband and it affected her nervous system. She became a generous patron to the arts, taking starring acting roles in tableaux vivant she had paid to stage for private societies.  Events took a turn, however, when she aspired to become an opera singer, hiring pianist Cosme McMoon as her accompanist.  This dream was abetted by her common-law husband St. Clair Bayfield, who loved her, knew she couldn't sing, and kept the audience limited to friends or critics he could pay off.  Nonetheless, when Jenkins aspired to play Carnegie Hill, even Bayfield couldn't prevent the uninstructed audience booing her off-pitch singing, or particularly snide reviews in the press.

This latest retelling of the story is handsomely directed and acted and provides two hours of great fun, stunning costumes but also, unexpectedly, real pathos.  Hugh Grant excels as the charismatic, fun-filled husband: we understand that he truly loves this eccentric woman even while being in a long-term relationship with another woman.  Meryl Streep is similarly charismatic as Jenkins, and it's quite a feat that two characters who might have been off-putting - the enabling scrounger and the narcissistic wannabe singer - are actually desperately likeable.  Moreover, the skill involved in singing badly is quite astounding and the facial expressions she gives to every phrase are masterclass in comic acting and a  delight to watch.  Rounding out the principle trio, we have THE BIG BANG THEORY's Simon Helberg, who plays pianist Cosme McMoon, the audience surrogate who expresses our surprise that no-one has thought to tell Jenkins that her singing sucks.

Nicholas Martin's script takes the view that Jenkins didn't know how bad her singing was: that when she sang she heard a tuneful voice, and that perhaps the syphilis had affected her hearing.  This is a not uncontroversial view.  But then this film is in the business of giving us a tragic love story which hues broadly to the truth but omits some key facts to burnish the reputations of its lead characters, most obviously that Bayfield married his lover once Jenkins died.  Ultimately, this airbrushing of history is irrelevant. We get to the poignant truth of Jenkins and Bayfield's love - her generous patronage of the arts - and the hilarity and exuberance of their life together.  This could we be one of the finest of director Stephen Frears' (THE PROGRAM) recent films.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie is on release in the UK, Ireland and Australia. It opens later in May in Israel and Taiwan; in June in Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece; in July in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and France; in August in Canada, Lithuania, the USA, Poland, Philippines, Denmark and Sweden; in September in Portugal, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Croatia and Macedonia; in November in Norway, Germany and Austria and in December in Japan.


Marc Abraham - long time producer but first time writer-director - has created a duffer of a film in this godawful Hank Williams biopic. And that's no fault of Etonian Brit Tom Hiddleston, cast against type as the 1940s/50s country musician who died at age 29 after a prolific career and prolific alcohol abuse.  The problem is a script and an approach to the life which reveals nothing and lumbers along at a snails-pace.  Abraham decides to pick up Williams' life when he's already a misanthropic drunk, already a talented and well-rehearsed musician, and marrying his talentless wife.  We get no insight into what made him an alcoholic, what attracted him to the wife, or how he learned and formed his craft.  Fine.  At least that clears the way for his career, you might say.  But we get no real insight into how he writes his music, or any context about the music industry at the time.  There might have been a narrative drive from his desire to play the Opry but it never pays off. And there's no context to the music scene at the time, the influences on Williams or the people he played with and influenced. All we have is one scene after another of him pissing off his wife and turning up late for band practice or a recording gig. It's just dull. And then the inevitable happens and he dies.  Worst of all, the director interrupts this "action" with even more cack-handed fake black-and-white vintage footage of Hank's manager commenting on the action in a not particularly illuminating manner.  Avoid.

I SAW THE LIGHT is rated R and is rated 123 minutes. The movie played Toronto 2015.  It was released earlier this year in the USA ad Canada. It is currently on release in the UK and Ireland.  It opens on June 23rd in Denmark and on October 1st in Japan.