Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Loosely based on the Henry James novel, directors Scott McGehee & David Siegel (UNCERTAINTY) have created a contemporary tale of the impact of divorce on a small girl in contemporary one-percent New York.  The mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore) is a narcissistic, jealous manipulative fading rock star and the father Beale (Steve Coogan) is a neglectful self-involved businessman. The wonder of the movie is that that the performances are nuanced enough that we do understand that they both love their daughter, even as they literally abandon her.  There's a particularly wonderful scene between Beale and Maisie, where he briefly entertains the idea of taking her with him to England, but Steve Coogan beautifully essays the brief excitement, then practical deflation of that dream. Similarly, there's a stunningly heartfelt scene between Maisie and her mother, where Julianne Moore has to momentarily break through Susanna's possessiveness for a brief epiphany: Susanna has the choice to mess up her daughter's life as she was once screwed over, or to make a better choice.

Where the movie ultimately fails is in its rather fairytale final act.  I believed in the individual characters of Maisie's naive but loving nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and her almost childlike new stepfather Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard).  I also believed that Maisie's parents would be self-serving enough to marry merely to secure childcare  - a move implicit in Beale's decision to remarry and arguably absolutely explicit in Susanna's.  But where the movie lost me was in Lincoln and Margo's relationship and choices - which seemed trite and convenient where so much else in the movie seemed scarily real, and particular.  

Still, kudos to the directors for focussing the film firmly on Maisie - showing these adults merely as conversations, fights and accusations that she overhears or is woken up with.  This serves to give us some sense of the technical masterpiece that is Henry James' short story.  Also, great praise for  the delightful Onata Aprile, who plays Maisie.  There is one place in the film where the tone briefly flirts with deep darkness, and it is here that Onata Aprile proves that she has captivated us.  We feel her peril.  It is a shame that the directors couldn't have stuck to that briefly shown single tear rather than jumping into fantasy schmaltz at the end.  

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

WHAT MAISIE KNEW has a running time of 98 minutes as is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK. The movie played Toronto 2012 and it opened earlier this year in the USA, Taiwan, Germany, Finland and Denmark. It opened this weekend in the UK, Ireland, Greece, the Netherlands and Australia. It is available to view on demand in the UK.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


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

It feels like we're in the midst of a run of movies about people whose sense of reality and entitlement is so out of whack that they they think they have the right to the fruits of the American Dream without, you know, actually working for it - people so ingrained with popular culture that their only frame of reference are movie heists and getaways.  In this latest instalment  we get Marky Mark and The Rock in PAIN & GAIN - a movie based on the true story of three bodybuilders who decided to kidnap, torture and extort one rich clients at their local gym. The selling point of the flick is meant to be the dark comedy of seeing these movie-obsessed idiots mess up again and again, and succeed - when they succeed - almost by accident.

Man, this movie started off so well - full of gonzo energy and whacky humour.  I loved Mark Wahlberg's intensity and his character Daniel Lugo's earnest stupidity.  And I thought this was arguably Dwayne Johnson's finest performance as the ex-con turned evangelical Christian turned reluctant kidnapper, Paul Doyle. I even liked the usually rather anonymous Anthony Mackie as their sidekick, Adrian Doorball, whose steroid abuse had led to impotence, but also his marriage to a naive nurse played by a more muted Rebel Wilson.  These guys had real camaraderie and were so incompetent I was willing them to succeed.  And of course, in real life as in the movie, they were counting on the straight up douchey-ness of their victim (Tony Shalhoub) to make sure the police wouldn't get involved.

But the movie goes downhill in its second halve.  As the body count ticks up our whacky kidnappers become less likeable and - a real problem for this film - the screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely - just can't sustain the hyper-ludicrous gonzo humour that this movie promised in its opening act.  Barring a truly surreal and memorable scene of the Rock barbecuing body parts while trying to chat up the neighbours, the second half was a real police procedural drag, that even Ed Harris' super-stylish private investigator couldn't save.  We needed to see more of the Rock - his transformation from evangelist to coke-head was superb - his best performance on record - and less of the procedural.  In general, this movie needed to get way more surreal - way more Nic Cage crazy.

So, a tale of two halves, but for all that, PAIN & GAIN is without doubt Michael Bay's best film since BAD BOYS. (Admittedly the benchmark isn't high.)  I far prefer Bay in his lower budget (I won't insult indie film-makers by saying low budget) movies, where he's more focussed on buddy-comedy and character than high-octane humourless misogynistic fare.  You can tell he's having fun with this flick. And kudos also to his cinematographer Ben Seresin (WORLD WAR Z) who uses a mix of DV and celluloid to create an amped-up hyper-colourful 1990s Miami, that takes us from the glossy mansions to derelict warehouses and manages to capture the coked-up craziness of a kidnap gone bad.  There's a particular sequence in a suburban home where his fluid style and use of body cameras is absolutely breathtaking. 

PAIN & GAIN has a running time of 129 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK.

PAIN & GAIN was released earlier this year in the USA, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Russia, USA, Canada, Croatia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania, Slovenia, Georgia, Mexico, Bosnia, Serbia, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, Macedonia, Turkey and Italy. It opened earlier this month in Hungary, Singapore, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Austria, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and Switzerland, Portugal, Thailand, Brazil and South Africa.  The movie opens on August 30th in Ireland, Poland, Spain and the UK; on September 5th in Denmark; on September 6th in Colombia, Panama and Taiwan; on September 11th in France; on September 12th in Chile and Peru; on September 13th in Cyprus and Sweden; and on September 19th in Argentina.

Friday, August 23, 2013


WE'RE THE MILLERS is a lukewarm, predictable comedy about a group of misfits who learn to love each other on a roadtrip to Mexico in which they're trafficking mary-jane.  (As a side-note I find it amazing that getting baked is now seen as so acceptable by the mainstream media that you can have a mainstream box office hit featuring you're friendly neighbourhood dope peddlar.)

The classic odd-couple comedy sees Jason Sudeikis of SNL fame cast as Dave, the arrested development pusher who is blackmailed into going to Mexico by his college room-mate turned megalomaniacal drug-kingpin (Ed Helms.) He figures he'll be better able to smuggle the drugs if he recruits a Brady Bunch style family, and turns to his neighbour, who happens to be a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), his goofy neighbour who is a virgin, Kenny, (yes - that's his tag!) (Will Poulter) and some homeless chick (Emma Roberts.)  Naturally, the misfits scrub up well, and bond over singing TLC's Waterfalls, and Rose gets to strip so that Brad Pitt can see how Jennifer Aniston still is, in perhaps the most unsexy stripping scene in movie history.  Finally, there's one of those Han Solo moments in which Dave realises that what he really wants is a family, and hey presto, it all ends happily.

There are one or two genuinely good laughs in this flick - the first aimed at satirising wannabe gangsta teen boys - and the second aimed at - what I can't even remember.  The rest of the film is disappointingly weak on humour, suggesting that the two screenwriters who wrote the piss-poor HOT TUB TIME MACHINE had more to do with this than the two screenwriters who wrote the brilliant WEDDING CRASHERS.  The direction, from Rawson Marshall Thurber (DODGEBALL) is fairly pedestrian, which is pretty much the description I'd give to this whole film. It's very Tab A into Slot B.  You know exactly where it's going as soon as you see the opening credits.   Acting-wise, Jason Sudeikis is always charming, as is Aniston, and Emma Roberts has little to do as the pissed off hobo.  It's good to see Will Poulter getting his first major US role, and he's good in a straight comedy role. But basically, this movie is one for DVD and dinner night at best.

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

WE'RE THE MILLERS has been rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK. It has a running time of 110 minutes.

WE'RE THE MILLERS is on release in the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Iceland, Austria, Denmark, Israel, Poland, Serbia, Bulgaria, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, the UK and Ireland. It opens next weekend in Belgium, Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Taiwan. It opens on September 6th in Russia, Singapore, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Mexico and Romania, and on September 12th in Chile and Italy. It opens on September 20th in France, Hong Kong, Norway and Sweden and on September 27th in Brazil. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


The weird thing about LOVELACE is that it isn't a film about the porn industry. It isn't BOOGIE NIGHTS.  It's a film about domestic abuse. It's WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT. And like that Tina Turner biopic, this Linda Lovelace biopic is rather melodramatic and grim and over-wrought - it moves you, and features a very good leading performance, but it it often feels like a TV afternoon movie.

So for anyone under a proverbial rock, Linda Lovelace was the 1970s porn star of DEEP THROAT, the commercial success that popularised a certain type of fellatio and made it chic to take a date to a porno.  She achieved a cross-over fame, but not success, and for a brief moment was a pop-culture icon.  However, she later wrote a book claiming that her abusive husband had long since been pimping her out, even forcing her to star in animal porn, and that she made DEEP THROAT under duress. She never saw a dime, eventually found the courage to leave him, and tried to make some kind of normal life as a wife, mother and anti-porn campaigner.  This story has been told before, in Linda's own best-selling book, Ordeal, as well as in the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT.

In this movie, writer Andy Bellin sticks closely to Ordeal but definitely leaves out a lot of the harsher material concerning the early years of hooking, the bestiality - which apparently, shockingly, involved Hugh Heffner - and the weird affair with Sammy Davis Junior.  Bellin focuses on the story of domestic abuse and uses a clever conceit to contrast this with the public image of Linda as a smiling, willing porn star.  So the first half of the film shows us the headlines - innocent naive loved-up Linda trips and falls into porn, has a blast, becomes famous! We then revisit those same events and see her husband Chuck Traynor's manipulation, abuse and coercion. In this view, Linda did porn under the threat of a gun, with bruises on her legs, and the crew knew about it. 

The resulting movie plays as a deeply affecting melodrama.  Amanda Seyfriend is utterly convincing and utterly desperate as Linda. Peter Sarsgaard seems typecast but efficient in his portrayal as Traynor, effectively amping up his performance from AN EDUCATION. The real scene stealer is Sharon Stone as Linda's mother - almost unrecognisable in her ageing domineering prude role. She has very little screen time and has to do some horrible things but we always understand her complicated motivations.  The rest of the cast just feels like a parade of famous faces in over-the-top 70s costumes - and this becomes, at times, distracting. Did we really need James Franco as the Hef, or Chloe Sevigny? As for the direction, other than the conceit of the folded back narrative, it's pretty pedestrian, but I did like DP than choosing to use a kind of sun-bleached 16mm look to give the movie some nostalgia contrasted with the higher-def look of the later "real" scenes. 

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

LOVELACE has a running time of 93 minutes and has been rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK for strong sex and sex references and domestic abuse.

LOVELACE played Sundance and Berlin 2013 and is currently on release in the USA, Canada, Croatia, the UK and Ireland. It opens in Brazil and Taiwan on August 30th, in Estonia on September 6th, in the Netherlands on September 19th, in Denmark on November 21st and in Sweden on November 29th. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


In the fourth of Channel 4's event drama, SOUTHCLIFFE, it is a year after Stephen Morton went on a mass shooting in the seaside town, and we see the devastating impact of those events on its victims' families.  The parents of the teenage girl, Anna Salter (Kaya Scodelario) take up most of the screen time.  Disturbed mother Claire (Shirley Henderson) becomes obsessed with an immigrant woman that she is believes has been forced into prostitution and takes desperate measures to infiltrate the so-called brothel and free her.  Her husband Andrew (Eddie Marsan) is supportive but uncomprehending and lost in his own grief.  The other major story is that of journalist David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear)  who returns to Southcliffe having received a mysterious note, ostensibly to investigate whether Stephen Morton is still alive, but really it's to pick at his old grudge against the town that covers up its own scandals.  

The final episode of SOUTHCLIFFE peters out and merely comes to an end without any kind of resolution. Maybe that's the point that writer Tony Grisoni wants to make - that a town never really recovers or moves on or gets closure from such events. The wounds are deep and fester and even decades later the grudges are still there. The problem is that this makes for a drama that is alternately hysterical and melodramatic (Claire Salter) or almost numbingly dull (David Whitehead.) I am not sure what, at the end of this series, has been achieved, other than four hours of unrelentingly grim, dour and depressing drama.  It was not engaging, it did not reveal any great emotional insight, and certainly wasn't entertaining. 


Friday, August 16, 2013


You can listen to a podcast review of this film by clicking here, or by subscribing in iTunes.

KICK-ASS 2 is a movie about two kids who happened to be masked vigilantes, working out whether to turn their backs on a life of danger and try to be "normal". In other words, should they stop subverting justice, stop swearing and stop beating people up?  The movie itself happens to be grappling with exactly the same problem.  And while writer-director Jeff Wadlow has his hero and heroine throw off the shackles of society and embrace their destiny, he himself has the balls of a little girl - well, any little girl except Hit Girl.  Wadlow chokes, giving us the same egregious violence and swearing as the original, but couching every single scene with heavy-handed parental guidance, quite literally giving Hitgirl a swear jar. 

The resulting film is not without its fun.  I had a good enough time during its 100 minute run-time. I loved Chloe Moretz as Mindy, struggling with the Mean Girls at school, and spoofing one of my favourite teen movies, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF.  She steals the show as the teenage girl who gets her first crush, goes on her first date, and puts the mean girls in their place.  Brilliant!  I even liked the nascent romance between Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Kick-Ass and Night-Bitch.  There was a little dust in the theatre when Dave/Kick-Ass faces the consequences of his continued vigilante activity, and I really do want to see what happens to Dave and Mindy in the inevitable threequel.

But most of the rest of the movie falls flat. Ser Jorah Mormont looks completely out of place - far too good/serious a performance - as Chris/Red Mist/The Motherf***er's uncle.  By contrast, Jim Carrey is utterly anonymous as Colonel Star-and-Stripes. In fact, I literally forgot he was in the movie.  And the subversive swearing just seemed gratuitous once it lost its shock value from the first film.  

So, overall, a mixed experience.  KICK-ASS is what it is. It needs to stop doubting itself, and pandering to its critics, and just revel in its gonzo madness. Bringing back the original director, Matthew Vaughn, would be a good start. 

KICK-ASS 2 has a running time of 103 minutes. It is rated R in the USA, and somewhat generously, 15 in the UK for strong bloody violence, sex references and very strong language.

KICK-ASS 2 is on release in the UK, USA, Ireland, the Philippines, Austria, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Cyprus, Finland, India, Latvia, Mexico, Romania, Sweden and Turkey. It opens on August 21st in Belgium and France; on August 22nd in Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia and Thailand; on August 23rd in Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Taiwan; and on August 29th in Denmark, Malaysia and Portugal; and on August 30th in Spain and Lithuania. It opens on September 5th in Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and the UAE. It opens on September 11th in Egypt; on September 12th in Croatia; on September 13th in Indonesia and on September 27th in Panama and South Africa. It opens on October 4th in Colombia; on October 9th in South Korea; on October 10th in Argentina and Chile; on October 17th in Peru and on October 18th in Brazil.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


In the third episode of Channel 4's event drama, SOUTHCLIFFE, we see further fall out from the mass shooting. A grieving father stages a macabre funeral in which everyone wears morning dress and the organist plays hear comes the bride, before descending into suicidal madness. Another grieving father speaks to his teenage daughter's corpse as if she were alive.  The towns turns against the press, particularly brooding and resentful returning son David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear.) His buttoned-up repressed anger turns into a violent accusing rant in a local pub that goes viral. And rumours of a conspiracy surface - is the killer really dead?

I have to say that I am really struggling with Southcliffe, and outside of a couple of beautifully staged set-pieces - the wedding-funeral and tghe  - the pace is too slow, the emotional reactions to predictable, and worst of all, the accusations of a conspiracy just too melodramatic for a production that has sought to remain gritty, realistic and profound. The performances are strong, despite the writing.  I'm still not convinced that Anatol Yusef has the chops to carry the conflict and violent mood swings of grieving father Paul, but Rory Kinnear remains compelling. Once again, he's the only reason to wade through this dour, slow and ultimately rather tedious mood-piece. 


Monday, August 12, 2013


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

YOU'RE NEXT is a properly laugh-out loud funny, sometimes spoofy, sometimes properly scary horror movie from  director Adam Wingard.  Once you get attuned to the fact that he's playing it for laughs, abetted by straight-faced actors, you can sit back and enjoy this wonderfully camp twist on the final-girl home invasion horror.

In writer Simon Barrett's set-up, a preppie extended family gathers in an isolated swanky mansion for a reunion.  They soon descend into jealous sniping and convey their contempt for the hipster indie film-maker boyfriend of one of the daughters (a nice touch, that!) But we know from the obligatory adulterer-and-slut-slasher prologue that mayhem is about to be unleashed.  The plot unfolds for an enjoyable fifty minutes or so, with a satisfyingly gory pile  up of bodies, and the brilliant fun of watching the sweet Aussie girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) transform into a practical no-nonsense heroine. I also love how the snarky competitive elder brother remains snarky and competitive even with an arrow through his back: "I'm the fastest runner but I have an arrow through my back!" Joe Swanberg at his finest.

Sadly, the first of the three twists - or really the major twist that sets up the two sub-twists - is a bit predictable, and also a bit rootless. In other words, it coulda been anyone, and it's clearly just a convenient plot point rather than anything more meaty.  The second twist is even more predictable - absences in horror always are.  The final twist was the funniest and most tragic and I kinda wish Wingard had stuck with it, but there we are. I can see the emotional justification for the alternative route.  

All of which is coded language that signifies the following:  the acting and dialogue are sometimes deliberately obvious, but Sharni Vinson in particular is absolutely superb and a charismatic screen presence.  The movie may jump the shark in terms of going Full Comedy in the final twenty minutes - all that 80s synth music when the Final Girl goes MacGuyver - but I had a fantastic time watching it, and could easily watch it again just for that blender scene. There's many a studio comedy that never approaches this level of entertainment, and there's brilliantly inventive gore too.

YOU'RE NEXT has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK for strong bloody violence.

YOU'RE NEXT played Toronto 2011 and opens in the USA on August 23rd, when it also plays Frightfest. It opens on August 28th in Belgium, Ireland and the UK.  It opens in Spain on August 30th, in France on September 4th, in Greece on September 5th, in Poland on September 6th, in Argentina on September 12th, in Denmark and Italy on September 19th, in Chile on September 26th, and in New Zealand on October 17th. 

Friday, August 09, 2013


SILENCE is a high concept arthouse movie that for 90 minutes sees a sound recordist called Eoghan stand contemplatively in the gorgeous Irish countryside trying to record the sound of pure nature, without man's intervention.  This is interspersed with random old duffers reading poetry or hinting at Irish folklore.  I really wanted to like the flick - you've got to admire such an unashamedly challenging and purist project, as well as be fascinated by some of the (simulated?) old footage of Irishmen on the move.  But my god, was I bored.  The fact that Collins doesn't bother to create characters or plot is, of course, his point, but without any conventional narrative to cling to, I soon became bored of bored looking Eoghan staring into space.  Of course, there are ways to do a successful nostalgic homage to the land of our fathers. I am reminded of Guy Maddin's MY WINNIPEG.  But this really just isn't one of them unless you are the most masochistic of arthouse cinephiles.

SILENCE has a running time of 87 minutes and has been rated PG in the UK.  It was released in Ireland in November 2012 and is currently on release in the UK, as well as being available to download on demand.

This movie review is available as a podcast below, or by subscribing to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.


In addition to reading the review below, you can listen to a podcast review of this film or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

Dirk Simon's documentary on the political conflict between Tibet and China originally played the festival circuit in 2010.  Since then, it's IMDB page has been blocked in China, and it is only now getting a theatrical release in the UK.  The way it plays is as a straightforward agit-doc, unashamedly presenting the cause of the victimised invaded Tibet, with its fragile culture deliberately and methodically stamped out by the Chinese. I have been quite scornful of this kind of film in the past. I always wonder whether anyone who wasn't always convinced of the case would choose to see a film on that subject.  But this documentary is different.  In this case, I feel that even those of us in the west who have a sort of kneejerk response to support Tibet in some vague manner, are getting an education into what's really going on with that cause. Moreover, given the length of time the film took to assemble, its patient interviews with many Tibetans inside the cause, we get insight that is not readily available elsewhere.

The documentary has three key messages for us.  The first is the most obvious: Tibet was an independent country in 1912, and was invaded by the Chinese in 1950.  It is entitled to its independence.

The second key message is that Tibet is almost uniquely ill-equipped to fight for that independence. It has a deeply entrenched state religion that is committed to peace - so much so that the Dalai Lama called the resistance fight to a halt.  It also has a still respected aristocracy whose scion is now a young teenager with little guidance, much doubt and great expectations of him.  There is a powerful scene where the boy goes to the state oracle for advise and is given the banal instruction to follow the Dalai Lama, who has himself just admitted that the fight for independence has failed, the compromise fight for autonomy has failed, and now he looks to his people for answers, just as they look to him.  Therein lies the contradiction of the Tibetan struggle.  They are fighting for modern liberal values from the starting position of a feudal, hierarchical, religious monarchy and the very power structures they seek to preserve as their culture are holding them back from protecting it.

The third key message is that China is not going to negotiate and the West is not going to intervene.  Just as in 1950, when the West cosied up to Mao hoping to provoke a Sino-Soviet split, today the West needs Chinese trade.  And as for China, she is playing a patient waiting game, for the Dalai Lama to die - and for all the resettled Han Chinese to dominate and dilute the Tibetan culture.

The overwhelming feeling at the end of this sometimes frustratingly edited and arguably overlong documentary is one of having been given valuable insight but also a sense of hopelessness.   There is a young Tibetan girl who is reduced to tears asking the interviewer what they should do.  Former resistance fighters want a campaign of civil disobedience at the cost of lives. The Dalai Lama feels that would be hopeless against the massive Chinese numbers.  Both sides are right.  And our minds are cast back to the opening scenes of the doc - where Richard Gere and Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at a rally - and it all seems rather futile.  One wonders then, whether this documentary is also futile. Educating ourselves about the struggle that we know is likely to fail. It is depressing and yet utterly morally necessary.

WHEN THE DRAGON SWALLOWED THE SUN has a running time of 115 minutes and is rated 15 for the real images of tortured Tibetans.  The film will be released in the UK on August 16th.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


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

I laughed at almost every line of ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA. And I don't mean an inward knowing intellectual laugh but proper laugh-out-loud, can't eat my jelly babies laughing.  And so was everyone else in the cinema, which was a bit disconcerting because they had an average age of twenty which means they weren't even born when Steve Coogan's comic creation first hit the small screen.  I felt momentarily old and passed it, and in between cackling with laughter at Patridge lip synching to Roachford's late 80s hit "Cuddly Toy", I thought of LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge"  - all those teenagers "in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties".  There was some irony in seeing these "yoot" get down with Alan Partridge - a movie that is at heart about people who are losing their edge, whose faces don't fit with shiny new brands aimed at the target demographic. People who want to stick two fingers up to the airbrushed over-familiar breakfast DJs who play from carefully manicured set-lists and have about as much to do with real music as IPL has to do with real cricket.

But, anyways, back to the matter at hand!  ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA is absolutely brilliant, and not just if you're a fan of his TV appearances as talk-show host and then his ignominious descent into local radio. We've got Alan as we love him - his goofy geeky fashion faux pas - his borderline sexism and racism - his sly selfish survival instinct - and most of all, his egomania.   There's something despairing and tragic about Alan, and yet, he always comes out on top, and that's why we love him.  We all have moments of pathetic desperation and Alan speaks to that. 

In his first feature film, Alan is a DJ at North Norfolk Digital - basically a media no-man's land. But he gets, and ceases his chance at fame, when his fellow DJ Pat Farrell is sacked by the station's new greed capitalist owners.  And when I say sacked, I mean shafted by a devious Alan.  Farrell goes FALLING DOWN, and starts shooting up the station, resulting in a hostage crisis that Alan mediates.  What results in a script that is absolutely packed with jokes but which also hangs together in terms of the  emotional motivation of the key characters and feels satisfying and meaty rather than just another shameless cash-in TV adaptation that has some funny scenes but no real substance.  God bless Armando Iannucci.  For giving us Alan and Malcolm Tucker.  That man shouldn't just be an OBE, he should be a bloody Duke, or Lord or something that signifies what a genius he is.  

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated 15.  ALPHA PAPA premiered in Norwich on July 24th and was released in the UK on August 7th.  It opens in New Zealand on December 5th.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Rory Kinnear as the journalist David Whitehead returning to SOUTHCLIFFE.

In the second episode of Channel 4's brooding, despairing, SOUTHCLIFFE, the narrative switches to the events just before and after the mass shooting in the sleepy British town. We see more of Rory Kinnear's buttoned up but traumatised journalist, David Whitehead, forced to return to his hometown as the body count increases, and learn a little about why he is so dismissive of the "nice small town" image.  And we see more of the killer Stephen Morton (Sean Harris) struggling to care for his ailing mother.  But the real focus of the episode are two of the families that are victims of the shooting. The first is depicted as a typical suburban loving young family, but almost predictably we learn that the father is cheating on his wife.  The second is the family of the social worker (Shirley Henderson) caring for Stephen's mum. They seem genuinely caring, worried for their teenage daughter (Kaya Scodelario) who wants to go travelling, and trying IVF for another baby. 

As in the first episode, Sean Durkin's direction is carefully paced and elliptically edited. The tone is grey and dark green - oppressive and depressing.  Rory Kinnear is superb as the stiff upper-lip journalist, stating the horrible with a matter of fact air and a repressed anger.  He's the only character where I am genuinely interested in seeing where he goes.  The first family is a cliché, but there's one single scene that redeems the plotline - when the lads are drunk, singing to Oasis in a pub, and the father starts to break down.  It's for visual images like this that we watch high class TV. The second family is better acted though - Eddie Marsan and Shirley Henderson always masterful and utterly sympathetic.   The way in which writer Tony Grisoni shows each member of that family coming to an understanding of what is happening - the sound design - the panicked voicemails - is the second piece of exceptional film-making in this otherwise rather banal episode. 

SOUTHCLIFFE EPISODE 2: LIGHT FALLS was originally broadcast in the UK on August 5th.

Monday, August 05, 2013


Sean Harris as ex-squaddie Stephen
SOUTHCLIFFE is the latest event television, which is basically a posh word for a highbrow mini-series. It follows in the steps of the Sundance Channel's TOP OF THE LAKE and ITV's hugely successful BROADCHURCH - combining an all-star cast with auteur cinema production values and gritty realism and psychological heft.   The series centres on the traumatised war veteran Stephen, played by Sean Harris (Micheletto, THE BORGIAS), and the events that lead him to go on a killing spree in his sleepy British sea-side town.  That isn't a spoiler.  Because in Tony Grisoni's intelligent and empathetic script, Stephen's actions are revealed up front. The series then becomes about why the killer did what he did, and even more, the impact on the town.

In the first episode, THE HOLLOW SHORE, we focus on the events and indignities that lead Stephen to kill.  We see Stephen frustrated with caring for his ailing mother, pissed about by friends who owe him cash, mocked by the villagers who saw through his delusions of being in the SAS, and generally despairing that nobody understands him, or the war that he has seen.  He strikes up a friendship with Chris (Joe Dempsie - Gendry in GAME OF THRONES).  A naive kid who's friend has just died in a crash and needs some structure and perhaps the adrenaline rush of war. Meanwhile, journalist and Southcliffe native David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear - Tanner in SKYFALL) is remembering his bullied childhood and drinking heavily in his adulthood.

There's a lot to admire in SOUTHCLIFFE.  It's patient, tense, beautifully shot, well-acted, and has a daring approach to narrative, folding memory into contemporary events, and challenging the concept of with-holding the killer's identity.  Director, Sean Durkin, most famous for his Sundance Festival smash, MARTHA, MARCY, MAY, MARLENE presents us a vision of the English seaside town that's muddy-grey and brown, oppressive, claustrophobic and dead-end depressing.  

But I couldn't help but think I'd seen this all before.  The traumatised ex-squaddie is a totem of post-Gulf War cinema and TV - as is the beaten down carer of the invalid parent.  Similarly, we're very familiar with the Lynchian idea that there's brutality and sadism behind the white picket fences not least from writer Tony Grisoni's most recent foray into TV, RED RIDINGSOUTHCLIFFE's going to have to provide something more radical and ground-breaking if it isn't going to be "just another" well-acted, earnest British drama. 

SOUTHCLIFFE EPISODE 1: THE HOLLOW SHORE was first broadcast in the UK on August 4th 2013.

Sunday, August 04, 2013


ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a visually stunning, austere, balletic movie that happens to contain one scene of particularly gruesome violence that has had critics up in arms at its "torture porn" aesthetic. I think this is a gross misunderstanding of what this film is trying to do and explore, and a rather facile reason to dismiss it. A more serious criticism is that the austerity - the slow tracking camera - the carefully staged tableaux - become wearying in their purity, and alienating insofar as they flatten out and forbid any real emotional engagement.

The plot is almost impossible to spoil - the movie is all concept and very little development. In a highly stylised but contemporary Bangkok an American crime family falls foul of a Thai cop cum avenging angel called Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Chang arranges for the death of the paedophile son Billy (Tom Burke - THE HOURS), which prompts the emotionally manipulative matriarch Crystal (Kristin Scott-Thomas) to order her other son Julian (Ryan Gosling) to be avenged in turn.  This unleashes a wave of death with an unflinching logic - no-one who is guilty escapes, other than the man who, accepting his guilt, seeks an escape. 

The style of this movie is similarly unflinching and unrelenting.  Nicholas Windig Refn retreats from the small semblance of emotional authenticity and narrative contained in DRIVE to the more arthouse purity of his Mads Mikkelsen Viking flick VALHALLA RISING.  There's a sense in which that character, as well as Driver, reach their apotheosis in Chang  - the man whose motivation is primal and almost robotic.  He has no emotion - barely breaks a sweat - we get that he has a daughter but could any of us say that he is attached to her? 

In fact, the only real emotional relationship for us to get invested in, is that between Crystal and her son.  The typically elegant Kristin Scott Thomas is transformed into the Real Housewives of Psychoville, channelling Donatella Versace, Lady Macbeth, Livia from THE SOPRANOS.  Her performance elicits the few laughs of the movie, and could easily have slipped into spoof.  There's one moment when she's almost as nutso as MOMMY DEAREST, but somehow the film just manages to stay on the right side of serious.

As for Ryan Gosling, he's paring down the character of Driver into something even less dialogue-driven, and yet conveying a guilt, an honour, and a pent-up anger that is powerful and ultimately gives us the only catharsis of this movie. In a moment of levity, I thought he was like the Hulk, deliberately trying to constrain his anger. And then, at times I thought Julian was (rather improbably) like Alex Marchmain in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, using a hooker to shield himself from his mother/wife. 

Finally, to the real star of the show - cinematographer Larry Smith's breath-taking visuals - which combine the surreal, hyper-designed colour-schemes of a David Lynch nightmare and the slow deliberate tracking of Kubrick.  While the director has asserted that he was inspired by Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE VOID, look at those bar scenes and tell me you're not thinking of the Twin Peaks' Red Room. Watch Chang singing schmaltzy Thai karaoke songs in an eerie tableaux setting, sometimes with the sound overdubbed, and tell me you're not thinking of the Club Silencio scene in MULHOLLAND DRIVE where the old woman lip synchs to a cover of Roy Orbison's Crying.  The sound design from Cliff Martinez is similarly fantastic and at times I felt like I didn't need any dialogue at all - just this expressionist electronic take on religious organ music and the Lynchian visuals. 

I guess I should address some of the objections to this film? Is it just torture porn? No.  The violence is largely off screen and is certainly at the service of Chang's deep ethics. The one full-on torture scene is difficult, but is in the context of a movie that is a massive Biblical metaphor, it serves a purpose in illustrating the "if the eye offends thee" vengeance imperative. To that end, it feels like some of the violence in Park Chan-Wook movies. And the final scene of grotesquerie is a masterpiece - echoing the seminal penetration scene in Georges Bataille's Ma Mere. 

Is the movie condescending toward its oriental setting?  No. It's making a point about how Westerners can view Thailand as a place to escape and indulge their base desires, and how frustrating and infuriating this must be for the local population.  The key scene between Chang and Julian is absolutely crucial in this respect. In fact, the choice of using Thai language title cards for this movie with English subtitles is a very clear move not to pander to Westerners. 

What can I say? I was transfixed by this film. I found it to be intelligent, deliberately styled, and, perhaps astonishingly, laugh-out-loud funny. It was absorbing even as I acknowledged that I didn't really care about the characters. It just wasn't that kind of movie.

This movie is available as a podcast below, or by subscribing to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES played Cannes 2013, and opened earlier this year in France, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey. It is currently on release in Australia, Germany, Canada, the USA, Israel, Portugal, Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. It opens on August 8th in Hungary; on August 22nd in Singapore; on September 20th in Latvia and Mexico; on September 26th in Russia; on November 1st in Spain and in January 2014 in Japan.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK for strong bloody violence. 


Rounding out our Ben Wheatley retrospective, we come to his latest release, A FIELD IN ENGLAND.  This was remarkable for being the first British movie to be released simultaneously in the cinema, on TV and on demand.   I completely understand why Wheatley was in favour of this type of release. Going for a TV and OD release means that his film will be seen by far more people, and generate far more buzz, than with a conventional limited art-house cinema release followed at a distance by a DVD release. It's also another sign of the trend wherein TV and cinema have merged. In the old days, there was a snobbery about quality work being put out in cinemas, and TV being of lesser quality.  But now, with the HBO-isation of TV, we can see long-form drama of infinitely higher quality than shitty genre films, and budgets per minute that match anything Hollywood has to offer.  We're rapidly coming to a place where cinema, TV, ipads and phones are just media on which the content is delivered, and the hierarchy between them is being dissolved. To be sure, for any beautifully shot visual work, the bigger the screen the better, and there's always something to be said for the group experience, but modern life doesn't allow for the reverence of the movie theatre.  The common sense solution is simultaneous release.  To be sure, I'd urge you to watch visually arresting movies like A FIELD IN ENGLAND on a big screen. But if you don't live near an art-house cinema, that you can watch on its "opening weekend" is fantastic, even as the significance of that moniker in a Netflix mega-release world diminishes.

All of which is pre-amble to the review of the actual film, which is remarkable for its content as much as for the method of its release. 

The movie is set in the mid seventeenth century, during the English civil war - a period of history much under-filmed.  As the film opens, we meet a motley crew of deserters - Whitehead, an alchemist, fleeing his master, Trower, and Jacob and Friend, two deserters being marshalled by Cutler.   They amble about in a comedy of manners - the crude deserters making jokes about constipation and searching for an alehouse, while Whitehead asserts his delicate intellectual superiority.  The crew then come across the enigmatic O'Neill who, broadly speaking, asserts his authority, gets the group high on magic mushrooms, and forces them to dig for some unspecified, potentially magical, treasure. And then, in classic Ben Wheatley style, it all goes horribly, sickeningly wrong. 

For his fourth feature, Wheatley once again does something utterly different. After the domestic gangster flick that was DOWN TERRACE, and the cultish horror of KILL LIST, and the very darkly funny SIGHTSEERS, we get a period, black-and-white, cultish, trippy horror movie that defines all genre conventions.  A FIELD IN ENGLAND has elements of all of Wheatley's previous films.  We've got darkly funny comedy - jokes about constipation and nagging wives  - we've got a fascination with the mythic pagan magic of the English countryside - and we've got the seemingly banal slip into the bonkers and then finally the truly frightening.  And in terms of the formal direction, while this movie is in black and white, in period costume, and shot in a single film, A FIELD IN ENGLAND retains the elegant framing of DP Laurie Rose - arresting images that stay with us long after the movie is over - and ellipses that jolt us - in this movie, living tableaux. 

My view is that A FIELD IN ENGLAND is Wheatley most formally imaginative and daring film, and the visuals and sound mix are stunning.  There's a seen with a man being harnessed and driven like a horse that's as horrific as anything more graphic later in the film.  I love the casting of Reece Sheersmith, of A LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN fame, as Whitehead, and Wheatley regular Michael Smiley as O'Neill. And I love some of the early dark humour:

Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right? 
Whitehead: Is that not usual? 
Friend: Not in Essex. 


A FIELD IN ENGLAND was released simultaneously in cinemas, on demand, and on TV on July 5th. It has a running time of 87 minutes and is rated 15 in the UK for strong language, one occurrence of very strong violence and gory images.

A podcast review of this film is available directly here, and by subscribing to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.