Sunday, January 26, 2014


AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is a histrionic family melodrama of little merit in which the performances are so extreme they verge on parody. Oh look, there's Meryl Streep which all her trademark physical ticks being a drunken, mean old cancer-ridden harridan, haranguing her family so cruelly that her alcoholic husband (Sam Shepard) tops himself.  It's hard to know whether it's the character who's so repulsive or Streep's "turn it up to eleven" performance, but for whatever reason seeing the old witch harassing her children made me want to leave the cinema.  And what of her children? Julia Roberts is doing some proper acting. We know this because she has generously allowed us to see her grey roots as she portrays a tired middle-aged mother struggling with her unhappy marriage in a haze of self-righteous anger.  Juliette Lewis is cast against type as the fragile, man-dependent, delusional ditz, and it's utterly unconvincing. Finally, we get some actress called Julianne Nicholson playing a shy wallflower quite implausibly attracted to her cousin Little Charles - played by the typically marvellous Benedict Cumberbatch only two notches shy of Simple Jack.   

This sack of unsympathetic, uninspired characters gather at the old witch's house for the funeral of her husband, as we would expect, all the seething resentments and nasty secrets come out.  I found the whole thing shouty and dull. The only real emotional truth came from a confrontation between Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper as the witch's sister and brother in law, arguing over their treatment of Simple Jack, sorry Little Charles.   The acting is otherwise over-done. The direction, from John Wells, plodding. The cinematography, by Adriano Goldman, often just technically bad. 

What's the problem here? We've had two marvellous movies recently based on plays by Tracy Letts - BUG and KILLER JOE. In both cases, the characters were outlandish and the plotting crazy but it somehow worked and seemed real in the context of the gonzo worlds the director, Billy Friedkin, had created.  Here, the director seems to rooted to a naturalistic setting, in which his characters seem like circus freaks.  There's a disconnect - are we meant to be taking this seriously? Are we meant to be laughing? It's disconcerting, but not in the way the play is meant to be disconcerting. What a waste of the on-screen talent!

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY played Toronto, Austin and AFI 2013 and was released last year in the USA, Israel and Brazil. It was released this month in Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Canada, Spain, Hungary and Kuwait. The movie was released this weekend in Singapore, the UK, Ireland, Iceland, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. It opens on January 30th in Italy and Macedonia; on February 5th in the Faroe Islands, Argentina and Denmark; on February 13th in Belgium; on February 26th in France, Hong Kong, Portugal, Finland and Sweden; on March 6th in Germany; on March 20th in the Netherlands and on April 18th in Japan.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY has a running time of 121 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK for strong language. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscars 2014 - Who Should Win; Who Will Win

The Oscars a grimy political business - studios shelling out PR campaigns that appeal the voting demographic that skews old, conservative and ex-actors.  You start seeing nasty little negative stories planted in The Hollywood Reporter and the more obvious than usual pimping out of the 'talent' at minor award ceremonies who's only real value is as a predictor for the big event.  The Oscars are not a judge of merit - just look at the iconic pictures that have been unrecognised. But they DO add to the bottom line.  And so, we Greedy Capitalist Bastards simply have to take them seriously.

This year there seem to be three main contenders: AMERICAN HUSTLE, GRAVITY and 12 YEARS A SLAVE. I loved the raucous slippery energy of HUSTLE but was left wondering if it's gonzo kitsch was intentional or not.  GRAVITY was a technical tour de force and pure in intention but, of course, has to fight charges that it contains little else.  12 YEARS - ah 12 YEARS - I loved the courage, the artistry, but was left cold by the inclusion of Pitt and the epilogue.  So it's pretty much even stevens.I guess my overall feeling is that liberal Hollywood will go for 12 YEARS for behind the lens but that HUSTLE will win out in front of the lens, with GRAVITY pulling the Technical awards.   Also, BEST ACTOR is a sentimental tie between Bruce Dern and a form-busting Matthew McConaughey.  The only egregious inclusions are PHILOMENA, which was schlocky at best. The pleasant surprise was Sally Hawkins for BLUE JASMINE.

So here we go: who was nominated, who shoulda been nominated, who will win, who should win.  "Will" is marked with an asterisk, "Should" with a cross. Also, I should point out that I haven't seen DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB or HER yet. 

BEST PICTURE: 12 Years a Slave*; American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club; Gravity; Her; Nebraska+; Philomena; The Wolf of Wall Street.

BEST DIRECTOR: David O Russell, American Hustle; Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity; Alexander Payne, Nebraska+; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave*; Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ACTOR: Christian Bale, American Hustle; Bruce Dern, Nebraska+; Leonardo DiCaprio, The; Wolf of Wall Street*; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club.

BEST ACTRESS: Amy Adams, American Hustle*; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine+; Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Judi Dench, Philomena; Meryl Streep, August: Osage County.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle*; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave+; Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle*+; Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County; June Squibb, Nebraska.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: American Hustle*; Blue Jasmine; Dallas Buyers Club; Her; Nebraska+.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Before Midnight; Captain Phillips; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave+; The Wolf of Wall Street*.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium); The Great Beauty (Italy); The Hunt (Denmark); The Missing Picture (Cambodia); Omar (Palestine).

BEST DOCUMENTARY: The Act of Killing; Cutie and the Boxer*; Dirty Wars; The Square; 20 Feet from Stardom.+

BEST ANIMATION: The Croods; Despicable Me 2; Ernest and Celestine; Frozen*+;The Wind Rises.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Alone Yet Not Alone, Alone Yet Not Alone; Happy, Despicable Me 2; Let It Go, Frozen*+; The Moon Song, Her; Ordinary Love, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Grandmaster; Gravity; Inside Llewyn Davis; Nebraska+; Prisoners.

BEST EDITING: American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club; Gravity*+; 12 Years a Slave.

BEST SOUND EDITING: All Is Lost+; Captain Phillips; Gravity*; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Lone Survivor.

BEST SOUND MIXING: Captain Phillips; Gravity*+; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Inside Llewyn Davis; Lone Survivor.

BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIR: Dallas Buyers Club*+; Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa; The Lone Ranger.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: The Book Thief;  Gravity*+; Her; Philomena; Saving Mr Banks.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: American Hustle+; Gravity*; The Great Gatsby; Her; 12 Years a Slave.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity*+; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Iron Man 3; The Lone Ranger; Star Trek Into Darkness.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: American Hustle*+; The Grandmaster; The Great Gatsby; The Invisible Woman; 12 Years a Slave.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is crazy gonzo fun for about an hour.  And then it's still sporadically funny but the complete lack of character or indeed plot development starts to nag at you.  And while it's nagging you think, haven't I seen all this before, thematically at least, in GOODFELLAS and CASINO?  And then, in the final half hour of this over-long three hour film, you get the first indication of the dark side of the excesses of greed and addiction - the first actually profound exploration.  And it's just too late.

Which is not to say that Martin Scorsese hasn't achieved a great deal with this film. No-one depicts hedonism with his sense of energy, flair and superb synchronisation of music cues. And my god, Leonardo diCaprio and Seth Rogen really commit to their performances.  To see the two rookie stockbrokers sneak out the back of a restaurant, smoke crack and then go skipping and jumping through the car-lot like naughty children is a joy.  To see them, now super successful, crippled by quaaludes, bodies spasoming, fighting over a kitchen counter is physical comedy of the highest form.   To be sure the intervening two hours contain many a funny scene.  The serious discussion about dwarf tossing, referring always to the dwarf as 'it' is funny as hell.   But there's an uneasiness in the gonzo nature of this film, and Scorsese's resistance to any dark backing.  Surely it must be possible to make a movie about superficial greedy people that is not itself superficial and egregious?

Because, make no mistake, the tone of this film for the majority of the run-time is one of admiration for these charming gonzo folk.  It's swallowed the hype for the most part.  It makes zero attempt to show the impact of these swindlers on the ordinary folk whose money they have invested in worthless stock, while taking massive commission. The 'hero' has an earnest first wife who is dispatched in a divorce quickly and is never seen again.  What's even worse is that Scorsese clearly isn't actually interested in the con.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) was a real life broker who operated a 'boiler plate' scheme - that means you set up a call centre and randomly cold call dumb schmucks and get them to invest their money with you. It works because they are ignorant and greedy. The so-called investments are actually in worthless 'penny stocks' - companies so small that they aren't on the main stock market and so fly under the radar of the big investment banks.  And the real con, is that the brokers take 50% commission. So they take your $10,000, invest $5,000 in stuff  that's worthless, and keep the other $5,000.  In addition to this con, Jordan also ran two other cons. First, he would bring a new company to the stock market, but instead of selling the new shares in the market, he would pocket them himself, in secret, drive up the price and then sell.  Second, he was wholesale exporting cold hard cash to a secret bank account in Switzerland.

Scorsese barely tells you any of this. In fact, time and again in Jordan's speeches to the audience he says something like 'You don't understand what I'm saying, or care, so let's just flick to another picture of me snorting coke from a hooker's arse.'  I find this just as patronising as the original boiler plate scam - assuming the audience is as gullible and greedy for excess and dumb as the scammed investors.  Scorsese is truly giving a massive Fuck You to all of us.  Compare the approach taken here to J.C.Chandor's marvellous MARGIN CALL - the only movie to really GET Wall Street.  The tragedy here is not that Scorsese fails, as Oliver Stone did with WALL STREET 2 - the tragedy is that Scorsese doesn't even try.

So when you strip out any interest in Wall Street, and any interest in what's really behind all this excess psychologically, what you basically get is a gag-reel full of drug-fuelled pratfalls and brilliantly kitschy 1980s clothes.  It's funny but it's empty and too long given the paucity of its ambition.

But is it worth seeing anyway? Here I'd have to say 'yes'.  The Matthew McConaughey cameo is genius - as if anyone isn't already convinced that this is truly HIS time in the sun.  The physical comedy is fantastic.  DiCaprio's quaaluded-up attempt to get to his car is worth awards glory on its own.  But be prepared, amid these wonderful set-pieces, for boredom. And don't expect Scorsese to move beyond the thematic work that has, by now, become cliché - sudden wealth, hot wife, doofus sidekick, hubris, nemesis.  Where's the personal growth? Both on the part of Jordan Belfort AND on the part of Scorsese?

P.S. If in your publicity material you're making great claims for screenwriter Terence Winter's background in investment banking, don't show the tickers for Black Monday as GREEN when the RED was dripping on the walls, dumbass.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is rated R in the USA and 18 in the UK for very strong language, strong sex and drug use. The movie has a running time of 180 minutes.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was released last year in the USA, Canada, France, Albania, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Lebanon, New Zealand, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. It was released earlier this month in Egypt, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Uruguay, Finland, India, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, Romania, Sweden and Vietnam. It will be released on January 17th in the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Pakistan and Spain.  It will be released on January 23rd in Australia, Italy and Brazil; and on January 24th in Japan; on January 31st in Norway and Russia; on February 7th in Russia, Estonia and Latvia; on February 13th in Hong Kong; on February 21st in Lithuania; and on February 28th in Turkey.

This review is available as a podcast. You can listen directly below or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


INTO THE WOODS is a sanitised an anodyne version of the Stephen Sondheim musical that supposedly shows us the dark side of fairytales.  This is, of course, material far better and more deeply explored by Angela Carter in her books and with Neil Jordan in his 1984 gothic horror classic THE COMPANY OF WOLVES - a movie on which I have recorded a full length DVD commentary, which can be found here.  The Sondheim musical is, by contrast, a work that tries to show the dark backing of the mirror - death, disenchament - but never reached the psychosexual depths of Carter.  It has a two act structure - in the first a variety of familiar fairy-tale characters journey into the woods with many of the threads tied together in the story of the baker and his wife who need to collect a handful of fairy-tale items and so lift the curse that prevents them from having a baby.  We meet Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, some Princes and Jack and the Beanstalk and all more or less get what they want. But then, in the second act we see that fairytales don't end happily ever after. We see death, infidelity, and the high cost of "winning".

All of this is good post-modern stuff, except a few decades too late to pack a real punch.  I wonder how kids in the post-Shrek era will view this rather tame revisionism.  None of this is helped by Disney trying to keep the movie to a PG certificate and running shy of a 3 hour running time. This means that the pivotal, albeit it largely off-screen character of the baker's father - the man who starts so much of the plot - is omitted.  Much of the violence is toned down and character motivation is subtly altered. The result is a wolf with a lesser bite.

Overall, I did still enjoy the film although I wouldn't want to see it again. The acting is just fine, the production design beautiful and the cinematography really very good indeed.  The only misfires are, for me, too (and two) campy performances from Meryl Streep as the witch and Johnny Depp as the Wolf, and the aforementioned ellipses.

INTO THE WOODS has a running time of 125 minutes and is rated PG. The movie is on release in the USA, UAE, South Korea, Canada, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Kenya, Romania, South Africa, Australia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, New Zealand, Slovenia, the UK and Ireland.  It opens later in January in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Belgium, Luxembourg, Peru, Thailand, Spain, Iceland, Pakistan, France, the Philippines, Brazil, Chile and the Netherlands. It opens in February in Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Taiwan, Austria, Germany, Israel, Turkey, Venezuela and Japan. It opens on March 14th in Japan, March 26th in Denmark, March 27th in Norway, on April 1st in Sweden, April 2nd in Italy, on April 17th in Estonia, on April 19th in China and on April 24th in Lithuania.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is a film in that long tradition of sepia toned Hollywood hagiography that fully subscribes to the Great Man theory of history.  It is a simple film that tells a powerful story and contains a truly exceptional central performance.  But it is mortally wounded by  bad make-up and intellectual timidity.

So, I guess we all know the story.  Nelson Mandela is a lawyer in apartheid South Africa - an advocate for the repressed in white courts.  At first reluctant, he becomes a leader in the African National Congress - a banned political party campaigning for equal rights.  When the struggle goes nowhere, they turn to violence and Mandela goes underground.  When a sabotage mission goes wrong he's caught, tries to become a martyr, but is instead imprisoned for life on Robben Island. There he stayed for decades as international pressure increased, the ANC's violence increased, and F W DeKlerk realised he would have to negotiate.  All this led us to that iconic image of Mandela walking free, hand-in-hand with his long-supportive wife Winnie. The crucial final act, is seeing the man who could so easily seek vengeance, pleading for what would become "truth and reconciliation".

The problem with this film is that while it tries to make us see the nasty side of Mandela - his serial womanising - it doesn't want to go too far in damaging the legend. Similarly, it treats Winnie Mandela - a fascinating figure - with respect and sympathy - which is right - but arguably goes too far.  We see her brutalised and radicalised - but we don't see enough of the ANC campaign of violence that so alienated her from Nelson. Indeed, I wanted much more of Winnie, not least because while Idris Elba's acting was just fine as Nelson, Naomie Harris absolutely mastered the accent and growing hardness of Winnie.  It is absurd to me that Elba is getting award nominations while Harris is unrecognised. Of course, at a much more superficial level, the real problem of this film is that Elba looks nothing like Mandela.  That doesn't matter of itself. I saw Mark Rylance play Cleopatra and his acting was mesmerising.  And maybe if they'd been less heavyhanded with the make-up and just let Elba act Nelson rather than trying to make him look like Nelson, it would've been less distracting. As it is, the make-up is utterly unsuccessful and utterly distracting.

So, overall, a rather disappointing film, worth watching only for Naomie Harris, and to see just how far Mandela's conditions eased in the final years of his captivity. There is no real depiction of the horror of living in a small cell for decades.  No searing indictment of that captivity in the manner of Steve McQueen's HUNGER. And no real desire to stir up the pot of controversy surrounding the ANC's tactics, as embodied in Winnie.  It's a picture book movie of fortuitous timing and poor make-up.  Mandela deserves better. 

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM played Toronto 2013 and opened last year in South Africa, the USA, Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Canada and Kuwait. It opened earlier this year in the UK and Ireland. It opens in Spain on January 17th; in Denmark on January 23rd; in India on January 24th; in Germany and New Zealand on January 30th; in Australia on February 6th; in Sweden on February 7th; in Finland on February 14th; and Singapore on February 27th. 

Saturday, January 04, 2014


In eighteenth century Japan, a young half-Japanese half-English boy called Kai is taken in by Lord Asano. Suspected as an outsider, Kai grows up and falls in love with Asano's daughter Mika. The problem is that the evil Lord Kira also wants Mika, and uses a Witch to manipulate Asano into attacking him and therefore forfeiting his life.  Mika must now marry Kira, unless Lord Asano's now leaderless Samurai, joined by Kai, and armed with magical swords, defy their Shogun's orders and take revenge on Kira. 

With the exception of the character of Kai, and the supernatural aspects,  this is the traditional Japanese story of the 47 Ronin which has inspired many a film, book, opera, print and TV show. In this latest big budget Hollywood outing, it is made accessible for a Western audience with the inclusion of the outsider character, Kai.  Sadly, this late inclusion is obviously unnecessary.  The Kai character doesn't really add to the story - the on-screen love story doesn't convince - and the charismatic gravitational pull of the film always seems to be toward Oishi, the chief Ronin.  It is then, Hiroyuki Sanada's film and not Keanu Reeves'.  The emotional search for justice, the deep trauma, the nobility in going outside of the Samurai code and the horrible price paid - that is all the narrative arc of Oishi not Reeves, and maybe reflect not just his better lines, but also his greater acting ability.  I think there is something in the screenwriters actually acknowledging this in a key final scene where it is Oishi and not Kai who holds up a key totem.

I heard about 47 RONIN long before I saw it. It felt like The Hollywood Reporter had been running articles on it for literally years, calling it a troubled production in the same breath as JOHN CARTER and WORLD WAR Z.  The director, Carl Rinsch, had never directed a feature length film before, let alone one budgeted at $170m.  The movie was originally meant to come out in 2012 and then got bumped into 2013, and then it got moved back from Feb 13 to Christmas.  And it turned out Universal Pictures were writing down the losses over a year before it even hit movie screens.  Some blamed the director.  Carl Rinsch hadn't directed a feature film before and, among other things, the entire final battle sequence had to be reshot.

But I don't think the movie is an utter failure. In fact I rather enjoyed it.  You just have to cruise past the Keanu scenes and just watch it for Oishi/Sanada, the lavish costumes and beautiful sets.  I don't think the movie needed the supernatural element, but you can't help but find the Witch's transformations elegant.  And who cares if the final battle had to be reshot? It's amazing! All of which adds up to say that inside this over-long and over-altered film is a leaner more faithful Japanese film waiting to get out. Someone just needs to take to it with FinalCut Pro.

47 RONIN is on global release. It has a running time of 118 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Friday, January 03, 2014


ALL IS LOST is a movie that I admired but did not enjoy. It's a high concept film from the director that brought us arguably the only authentic description of financial services in MARGIN CALL, J.C. Chandor. In this film we are awoken in a small young crewed by Robert Redford. It has crashed into a shipping container tearing a hole in its side. He is evidently an experienced sailor and doesn't panic.  He patches up the hole and continues on his way.  But soon a giant storm arrives and he's forced to abandon ship and into a lifeboat. Even then he doesn't panic although his situation becomes more grave. For the entire duration of the movie he is alone and we are alone with him, never more than a short distance away.  The loneliness is suffocating and we suffer far more than he appears to.

The trick of all this working, if indeed it does work for you, is the immersive sound-scape, the beautiful seascape cinematography and the sheer charisma of Robert Redford. Sadly I found it a rather tedious watch - I admired the existential simplicity and the bold concept - but just couldn't get engaged in a film where the lone protagonist does so little to involve me in his emotional journey.

ALL IS LOST has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie played Cannes, Telluride & London last year and was released in the USA, Greece, South Korea, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, France, Israel, the UK and Ireland last year. It goes on release in January in Germany & the Netherlands, in February in the Phillippines, Argentina, Italy, Portugal, Finland, india, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Estonia and Norway. It opens in March in Denmark, Brazil and Japan.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Harry Hill is a British comedy institution - with his big glasses, tall white collars, and surreal, puppet-laden, humour.  His new movie makes no compromises - it contains all the absurdity, outlandishness and brilliance of his TV movie except stretched out over 90 minutes and with lots of movie spoofs as a nod to the big screen.  I think you'll know if you love this film from the opening credits, where Harry and his nan, played by Julie Walters, have a pant-wettingly funny mobility scooter chase through suburban streets.  This is rapidly followed by a a World War Two era gunfight between Harry and his chickens.  

We're then into Plot.  Harry's pet hamster Abu is gravely ill, as diagnosed by a vet played by THE INBETWEENERS' Simon Bird. So Harry and his Nan decide to take him to Blackpool for a final holiday.  Cue the inevitable comedy song and dance routine and you remember just why Julie Walters is a comedy genius. Meanwhile, we've been told by Nan that Harry actually has a long-adopted secret evil twin called Otto, played by Matt Lucas who has hired the evil vet to capture Abu. And as a sub-plot, Harry is trying to persuade his Nan to go into a retirement home.

I was just about losing patience for the silliness - which really does work better in the small doses of a TV sketch show - when Sheridan Smith appeared with Harry to perform an under-sea dance routine, but even after that I was getting a little restless.  All of which is to say that even confirmed fans are probably better of watching this film in smaller chunks over successive nights on DVD.

THE HARRY HILL MOVIE has a running time of 88 minutes and is rated PG for mild comic violence and threat, sex references and innuendo.