Saturday, January 31, 2015


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

What exactly is it that Michael Vaughn wants to do with KINGSMAN?  Is he trying to make a didactic film about class and style?  Is he trying to remake the vintage bonds for a new audience? Or is he spoofing them?  The difficulty of working out what's going on makes KINGSMAN sporadically entertaining but ultimately dis-satisfying and occasionally baffling.

The conceit of the movie is that the Kingsman are an elite spy organisation run in the interests of the public good, above and beyond corrupt governments. A Kingsman agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sponsors a young kid called Eggsy (Taron Egerton) into a competitive entry test to become a Kingsman.  He isn't as posh as the other entrants, but Harry reassures him that to be a gentleman is about manners rather than breeding.  In the process, Eggsy becomes an active spy trying to bring down the evil super villain slash internet billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) with the help of the Kingsman's tech specialist Merlin (Mark Strong).


What really annoys me about this piss-poor attempt at a caper film is that Johnny Depp's vanity project is likely to put people off reading the marvellous source novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli.  And this is a shame because those novels combine the wit of P.G. Wodehouse, the political incorrectness of George Macdonald Fraser and a surprising familiarity with the intricate workings of crime.  Taken together they create a marvellous world of 1970s intrigue in which our hero, wily art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, outwits various intelligence agencies and evil-doers, with his loyal sidekick and thug, Jock.  To be sure, the books vary in style - the first two are basically thrillers - the third is a detective story and the last is a prequel more akin to a high seas adventure.  All of them contain a rich vein of comedy running through them but they aren't just or even mostly comedies.  And Charlie himself, while a very witty man, is not chiefly a comedic character. He's middle aged, overweight, often wrong, but very very cunning and can always be relied upon to outwit his enemies.  He is also not remotely camp.

And yet, in this woeful excuse for a film, Charlie Mortdecai becomes just another Johnny Depp weirdo - as camp as a row of buttons - sporting an absurd British accent and a moustache hardly worthy of the name.  Worse still, the movie plays as pastiche, rather than straight, which is always the death of comedy.  I feel that the director, David Koepp (writer of the similarly woeful last INDIANA JONES film) and screenwriter Eric Aronson didn't really know how to tackle the novels. So instead of just adapting the first, which would have been coherent in tone and style - being a James Bond style thriller - they use elements of all three. The result is an incoherent mess - is it a detective story or a caper?  Moreover, they do not seem to know when they want to set the movie.  It looks like the present day, although clearly Charlie could not be a plausible undercover agent in such a world, and yet Mark Ronson has provided a campy 1970s score. 

The result is so bad it's embarrassing. To be sure, Johnny Depp is the worst offender, but Gwyneth Paltrow - utterly miscast as Johanna Krampf - is utterly irritating. Paul Bethany plays Jock as a thug but without that softer side and without his very deadpan humour.

Avoid at all costs, but please do try the books.

MORTDECAI is rated R and has a running time of 107 minutes.  The film is on global release. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015


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

Any new film about artificial intelligence stands in the shadow of the great BLADE RUNNER and the no less philosophically incisive TV show Battlestar Galactica, as well as the ultimate sci-fi horror mash-up, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. These films posed deep questions:  can a Cylon love and have faith; how does one know one isn't a Replicant; should a human be punished for raping a Cylon; what duty does the creator owe to the created?  For any film to add to this genre it must ask something different or those same questions better - with more visual flair, with greater insight as to the complexity of the answers, with greater emotional impact.  Sadly, EX MACHINA does not live up to those tall expectations. Moreover, even on the rather less ambitious question of whether it passes for entertainment, the jury is out.


In THE GAMBLER director Rupert Wyatt (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) and screenwriter William Monahan (THE DEPARTED) have updated Karel Reisz' bleak 1974 thriller based on a James Toback script and originally inspired by a Dostoyevsky novel. The basic premise is that the protagonist is a University lecturer with a gambling addiction combined with a self-destructive streak of nihilism.  He feels that if he can't be a genius and a winner he should be nothing - it's not even worth trying or being consigned to being mediocre.  The self-conscious self-willed harmful behaviour is compelling to watch.   The way in which the film works is that every now and then it hands the gambler a lifeline - more money from a loan shark or a family member - and then he blows that too.  Finally,  he ends up manipulating one of his students, corrupting them too.  The tension and the thrills come from the writers making us like the character, dangling that lifelines, and watching him climbing up the rope only to fall again. Does the protagonist even want to pay his creditors? Is he an addict or an existential suicide in the manner of  Camus' The Stranger? The resulting film is compelling, sleek, well-acted although ultimately less relentlessly and purely existential as the original.  I think this is a dreadful shame - and undercuts the philosophical stylings the movie aspires to and which Mark Wahlberg would've been capable of delivering on screen. To cast such a man, even in heavily reduced form, and then not use that balance of vulnerability and violence, is a crime. 

THE GAMBLER has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated R.  THE GAMBLER was released last year in the USA and Canada and was released earlier this year in Denmark, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Cambodia, Mexico, Pakistan, Belgium and Germany. It is currently on release in Azerbaijan, Russia, the UK and Ireland.  It opens on February 5th in Kuwait, on March 19th in New Zealand, on April 9th in Ukraine, and on April 24th in Latvia and Japan.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


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

When people like Matt Taibbi get angry at AMERICAN SNIPER I think what they're really angry about is the Iraqi war.   I don't believe my country should've gone to war in Iraq after 9-11 but that doesn't have anything to do with AMERICAN SNIPER. This film is not pro-war propaganda nor is it mindlessly racist.  Maybe the real Chris Kyle was all of these things are more.  I don't care.  What I care about when I'm reviewing a film is what I see on screen. And what I saw was a beautifully made, superbly acted film that had the courage to show the flaws and delusions of a simple patriot, and the grave toll that war takes on everyone involved in it. It's an intelligent and sensitive film and I wish people could just watch it on its own terms.


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

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a bad film that could've been iconic - a movie so steeped in cinema heritage that it slides into pastiche - a movie that reaches for greatness but trips over its own shoelaces in a final act that had the audience laughing at it rather than being awed by it. 

All of which is a great shame because the writer-director of the film, J C Chandor, is a great director.  His film MARGIN CALL remains the most powerful and understated examination of how Wall Street really works that I've ever seen.  ALL IS LOST pitted Robert Redford against the elements and in doing so created something like a profound exploration of character and worth.  These films had a style and a set of concerns that were new and unique to J C Chandor.  They felt authentic and urgent.  By contrast, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR seems like a slow and lingering meditation on an earlier time, both in New York history and in cinema history.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


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

In 2002, Richard Linklater (BEFORE SUNRISE) cast a six year old boy called Ellar Coltrane to play a kid called Mason, who lives with his sister Sam (Lorelai Linklater) and his single-mom (Patricia Arquette). He filmed the kids hanging out with their charismatic but clearly immature father (Ethan Hawke), cycling round their neighbourhood and acting out when their mom wants to move back home and go back to college.  Six years later and Linklater took up the project again.  The kids are dealing with life with a new stepfather, stepbrother and stepsister. Their mum has gone to college and gotten her career back on track, but the marriage is bad and their father is still a distant presence.  The difficulty of dealing with authority and life's sudden changes plays itself out.  The kids have an attitude because they can't see the full picture.  Fast forward another six years, and Sam has gone to college, and young Mason is on the verge of leaving. He's grown up now, but still growing - dating, excited and scared at the new life he's about to embark upon, sensitive and wise but still vulnerable and changeable.   Meanwhile, his dad has remarried and grown up and his mum has realised she's an empty nester.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


BIG EYES is a well-acted biopic starring Amy Adams as Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) passed off her phenomenally popular if schmaltzy portraits of big-eyed kids as his own  throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  Finally she struck up the courage to leave him and then to sue him, proving beyond doubt she was the artist when the judge asked them both to create one  of the iconic pictures. This story is retold by Tim Burton in one of his least Burton-esque pictures. It doesn't star his typical actors and doesn't have his typical trademark gothic style.  That's actually a good thing, because this is a great and claustrophobic story about a woman suckered into a lie by a good liar, and suffocated by the consequences. All you need to do is cast two good actors, stand back, and let them do their thing. And this is exactly what happens.  Christoph Waltz is perfectly cast as Walter. He's charming and his energy wraps you up and makes it convincing that a good, if shy woman could be carried along on the crest of a wave and not realise she had imprisoned herself before it was too late.  And Amy Adams has that amazing mix of vulnerability of strength so that both her complicity and then her escape feel authentic. In a sense,this is a story of a abusive marriage.  There's no beating or drinking but that tell-tale symptom - a loss of self, vanishing into oneself - is there. Apart from the beautifully enacted drama, what else is there? One trademark flash of Burtonism - a spooky gothic nightmare in which everyone Margaret meets has her big eyes - and pointed cameos from Terence Stamp as an unimpressed art critic and Jason Schwartzman as a jealous gallery owner.

BIG EYES has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated PG-13.  BIG EYES is on release in the USA, Spain, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Taiwan, Greece, Italy, Poland, Hong Kong, India and Latvia. It opens on January 15th in Israel, Malaysia, Russia, Estonia and Romania; on January 23rd in Japan; on Japan 29th in Brazil, Singapore and Iceland; on February 5th in Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Lithuania; on February 12th in Iraq and Kuwait; on February 19th in Hungary; on February 25th in Philippines, Portugal and Croatia; on March 5th in Denmark, Mexico, Sweden and Turkey; on March 12th in Chile, Peru and Finland; on March 18th in Belgium and France; on March 27th in Norway; on April 16th in Argentina; on April 23rd in Germany and on July 24th in Venezuela. 


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

One of the less edifying revelations of the Sony hack was producer Scott Rudin's contempt for Angelina Jolie's talent as a film-maker and his bile at her leave of absence from his CLEOPATRA project to make UNBROKEN. So I approached this World War Two biopic with some interest and maybe some scepticism. What I am happy to say is that UNBROKEN is a handsomely made film about a true wartime hero, that while conventional in its approach, has so much authentic concern with the human condition that it left me with real tears, as opposed to some of those more mawkish and manipulative films that want to make you cry but don't. (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, I'm looking at you here.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex and
Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII

You can listen to a podcast preview of Wolf Hall here:

I am a desperate fan of Hilary Mantel's superbly researched, intricately crafted, slippery novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Though a Catholic, I have been surprised and fascinated by her sympathetic depiction of Thomas Cromwell and critical depiction of Saint Thomas More. Growing up in England where the history of the Tudors looms large in our school curriculum, our TV history and costume dramas, it was astounding to find someone who had a genuinely fresh perspective. What was even more impressive was Mantel's technical achievement to situate us so firmly in Cromwell's perspective and position, and to make this famous historic period seem contemporary and fresh. We don't meet Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn until Cromwell meets them. His own domestic vicissitudes loom large. Business, politics, religion - all seem vital, close, real and urgent rather than faded, distant and epic. And Mantel's great historic figures are real people with their weakness, moral failings, occasional nobilities, suffering and humour. The greatest example of this is her treatment of Cardinal Wolsey. He isn't just a rapacious, arrogant, power-hungry bogeyman but a fragile and fallen, perhaps delusional optimist who deserves our sympathy and Cromwell's fierce loyalty.

The challenge for any adaptation of the what will eventually become three novels is how to keep that sense of freshness, and how to keep Cromwell's perspective.  And in the case of the BBC's new six part adaptation of the two densely written published novels: how to condense the material without losing its sophistication, and how to present it for a prime time audience without dumbing it down.  I have seen the first two episodes of WOLF HALL and I can confirm that director Peter Kosminsky (THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR) and writer Peter Straughan (FRANK) have kept faith with Mantel and all her readers: this adaptation is dense, uncompromising, and centred firmly on Cromwell.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


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

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is a well-acted but ultimately banal biopic of the famous physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as told from the perspective of his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones).  As it opens, the young couple meet at Oxford University in the 1960s and are immediately smitten with each other.  Almost simultaneous with their courtship over the first half hour of the film is the discovery that Stephen suffers from Motor Neurone disease with perhaps only two years left to live.  It is testament to Jane's courage that she refuses to be shut out of Stephen's life and drops her own studies to marry him, raise his children and nurse him as he makes his reputation as one of the great scientists of our age.  But as we move into the second half of the film, while they both clearly still love each other, the cracks are starting to show.  Jane, who has always been religious in contrast to Stephen's atheism, falls in love with her Church choir leader, an earnest widower who becomes a kind of surrogate husband and father with Stephen's apparent blessing.  And then Stephen, forced to have a tracheotomy, and before he gets the computer voice we have come to associate with him, falls for his physical therapist.

Sunday, January 04, 2015


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

Cinema is rich in films that tell the story of simple men who dash themselves against the rocks of misfortune:  of impotence in the face of corrupt authority and arbitrary fate.  Good men are not rewarded:  justice is not done.  In general, I find such tales uncomfortable viewing.  In fact, I find them sadistic.  You take a good man and watch him suffer for two hours with the director casting himself as the uncaring and inscrutable God of the Book of Job.  So why is it that while I found the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS unappealing I was bowled over by LEVIATHAN?  I suspect it's because there is no knowing, snide humour in LEVIATHAN, although it is sometimes funny in a low-key way.  Consequently, rather than being outside of the movie laughing at its central character's misfortune, we are inside the movie, sympathising with him. Or maybe it's because the subject matter is so much more urgent when situated within contemporary Russia, a totalitarian kleptocracy worthy of the movie's title.   At any rate, I am not alone.  LEVIATHAN has garnered critical acclaim and awards wherever it has been shown.  And in a brazen act of co-option is the official nomination of Russia for the Academy Awards.  It's featured in many a critic's Best of 2014 list and you'll be hearing more about it as awards season gathers pace.  All of this is justified.

Saturday, January 03, 2015


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

Jake Gyllenhaal is Adam, a university lecturer in Toronto stuck in a repetitive job, alienated from society, and married to a woman who refuses to fuck him.  One day, despite his contempt for film, Adam watches a film and sees movie that apparently stars an actor who is his exact doppelgänger.  It starts off as an innocent infiltration.  Adam picks up Anthony's mail at the film studio.  And then he calls him up. He has a boyish excitement about finding someone who sounds like him.  It feels harmless. Except it isn't.  Meanwhile a freaked out Anthony starts googling Adam.  Anthony's heavily pregnant girlfriend thinks he's having an affair and ends up meeting Adam.  And this leads us into very murky territory indeed. Does Anthony exist? Does Adam?  Is this the story of one man with two lives?  Or is this two people deciding to escalate a battle of extreme disruption at the expense of the women in their lives?