Sunday, June 28, 2015


The celebrated Hollywood director and raconteur Peter Bogdanovich returns to our screens after a 17 year hiatus with a romantic comedy that one can only generously describe as "inspired by" Woody Allen romantic comedies. It's set in New York. The opening credits feature an easy listening track from the 1950s.  The lead character is a young prostitute with a heart of gold and a over-egged Noo Yoick accent in the manner of Mira Sorvino.  She's forms a relationship with a much older successful married man.  People have irritable but witty conversations on side-walks and disparage the irritatingly perfect weather in Los Angeles. Psychoanalysis features. There's even a wise-ass voice-over and a knowing love of Hollywood convention.

Does this blatant channelling of Woody Allen make SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY a bad film?  No. It's not a bad film. It's a fairly dull film - contrived in its chamber comedy set-up - often mis-firing in its humour.  It goes a little something like this.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


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

AMY is the controversial new documentary about the hyper-talented North London jazz and soul singer Amy Winehouse, who died at the age of 27 in 2010 from complications due to long-term bulimia, drug and alcohol abuse. The director, Asif Kapadia, opens the story with Amy as a 16 year old goofing around with her close friends on video, clearly talented, and quickly signed up by manager Nick Shyamsky.  She's evidently steeped in the jazz tradition and wants to make great music rather than achieve a fame that she knows she'll find hard to handle.  She's soon signed to Island Records, brings out her debut album "Frank" and uses the money to first move into a small flat and then into her house in Camden.  The freedom allows her pot smoking to morph into heavier drug use, and she's still bulimic but she's still not on crack cocaine or heroine when her manager and friend, Nick, tries to intervene. This is the first of two pivotal moments in the documentary - the moment where maybe early intervention might have led to the start of recovery because the paparazzi glare, and Blake Fielder-Civil, hadn't yet appeared.  But Amy wants her dad, Mitch, to make a decision, and he says she doesn't have to go, much to Nick's horror, and echoed in the lyrics of "Rehab".  This feels like an early chance foregone, and sets us up to explore Amy's trauma at her father leaving her mother when Amy was 9, and being an absent figure who's approval she still craved.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - THE LOOK OF SILENCE

Joshua Oppenheimer is a documentarian of rare patience, empathy and wisdom. He has spent much of the past fifteen years exploring and documenting the aftermath of the military coup in Indonesia in the mid 1960s that resulted in a totalitarian regime coming to power and remaining the source of power to this day. In the months immediately following the coup the military encouraged the ordinary people of Indonesia to create mobs and summarily execute actual and alleged Communists. The numbers are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered. And what amazes me, as someone who thinks of herself as fairly well read, is that these events are virtually undiscussed in the West as well as in Indonesia. Those killers returned back to live in their communities alongside the families of their victims. One might wonder how this situation didn’t explode in recrimination and violence but is it any wonder given the combination of a repressive government, an almost pathological desire to forget, and a highly selective narrative taught in schools. 

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - THE GREATEST SHOWS ON EARTH

THE GREATEST SHOWS ON EARTH was programmed alongside Joshua Oppenheimer's stunning but tough THE LOOK OF SILENCE for the opening night of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015.  For most of us wondering up from The Showroom to Sheffield's magnificent City Hall, we were expecting something of a light-hearted palate cleanser.  But we were wrong.  While there is a lot to excite and entertain in THE GREATEST SHOWS ON EARTH, this skilfully edited film of the history of vaudeville and circuses over time and geography was actually quite a provocative and depressing watch. Because in amongst the clown-acts and acrobats was exploitation - of women, children, animals, black people.  And the repetition of these acts, wonderfully highlighted by director Benedikt Elringsson's mash-up of acts over generations, is in itself depressing.  Rather than being an act of unity among cultures it felt like we had discovered the lowest common denominator of humanity.  What is it about us as humans that when we see a lion, we want to prise its jaws open as far as possible and stick our head between them, not only to sure our courage, but actually our mastery over nature?  What is it that makes us want to humiliate a great beast of an elephant and make it stand on a stool?   The whole thing made for rightfully uncomfortable viewing.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - PLANETARY

We here at the blog formerly known as Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards don’t take kindly to being forced to sit through an hour of pro-environmentalist propaganda having been lured into the screening room under the false promise of a film about space travel. But let’s be generous, even if the marketing department got this film room, and it wasn’t our fault for misreading the content of the documentary, the completely heavy-handed, unbalanced and dull presentation of the environmental message was reason enough to hate this film.

So here’s what the deal is. We start off PLANETARY with some cool footage of space shuttle launches and interviews with awe-inspired astronauts talking about the beauty of planet earth and how the perspective of seeing it from space forces you to see our presence on it as part of a holistic organic process. Fair enough. There’s a wonderful Ron Howard documentary called IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON which features extensive interviews with Buzz Aldrin and it really does inspire you with a similar feeling of awe and wonder but also of custody and conservatorship.


The celebrated documentarian Stanley Nelson has, in THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, created what must surely be the definitive history of the Black Panthers in America. That is not to say that there aren’t other complementary and more focussed documentaries out there. I have profoundly enjoyed films like THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE, FREE ANGELA DAVIS AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS, as well as CHICAGO 8. But with the latter two in particular, we are focusing in on particular episodes. I can’t think of another documentary that has the editorial mastery to really try to contain the sweep of the movement.

The film starts in Oakland in the late 1960s when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale read up on the law and realise that they have the right to bear arms so long as they are carried in public, and form a kind of self-defense league that is by its very nature far more than a defense but a provocation. The iconic fashions, bold rhetoric and threat of violence proves an attractive mix for everyone from Hollywood backers to young African-Americans who join chapters faster than the leadership can induct them. And so you get a movement propelled by its own youthful energy and momentum, part of a wider counter-cultural moment in American history.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - CONTAINMENT

Any of you old enough to have read this blog when it began will know that look before I started caring about stuff like press accreditation, this site was known as Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards. And so, it’s fair to say that I am about as far as it’s possible to get from a liberal hippie concerned about the environment and fluffy bunny rabbits. More than my political prejudice, I am also sceptical about earnest agit-docs on the grounds that I don’t think that they do any good. After all, who is going to pay to see a documentary made by tree-huggers if they don’t already agree with it, or at the very least, have a pre-existing interest in it.

Now, CONTAINMENT is a fantastic documentary because it doesn’t come across as propaganda, or an attempt to proselytise in an obvious and heavy handed way. Rather, it is an intelligent, insightful and above all complex discussion about what do with all the nuclear waste we have already created. By narrowing the focus of the film down to this one narrow but profound issue, the film-makers avoid getting caught up in the polemics of whether using nuclear energy is right or wrong, although there is a clear take-away from the material on show. This is exactly what I want a good documentary to do. I want it to make imaginative use of source material, archives and interviews to show me a complex argument and to lead me toward a more informed situation from where I can make up my own mind. And I did, and I’m guessing the film-makers would be pleased with the result. The point is that the film empowered me to do so, rather than banging me over the head with a text-book.

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - GENERATION RIGHT

GENERATION RIGHT is a 40 minute long documentary funded by Sheffield University as part of its research into changing generational social attitudes. In this case, the film examines the radical nature of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership and its impact on pulling the centre ground to the right. It argues that her legacy was to redefine the boundaries between state and citizen, so that where her privatisation programme was seen as radical, Tony Blair could then only be elected by moving Labour to the right, and continuing her legacy with regard to parts of the National Health Service and student loans, as just some examples. One could read this message onto the latest UK General Election results which resulted in a higher proportion of voters voting for right wing parties that at any times since 1900. In other words, far from dying, Thatcher’s legacy lives on with an arguably bigger mandate in David Cameron’s majority government.


BRITAIN'S FORGOTTEN SLAVE OWNERS is a series of two one-hour documentaries that will be shown on the BBC. It is based on some pioneering research done at University College London that does micro research on the archive ledgers showing who was compensated for the abolition of slavery in 1830s Britain.  The tragedy is that, of course, it wasn't the slaves or their descendants who benefited from a government handout worth £17bn in today's money, but the slave owners themselves.  As might have been expected, the documentary shows is that here are many large scale slaveowners whose rapid financial success was soon transformed into entry into Britain's elite.  In an admirably balanced interview with the 8th Earl of Harewood, the presenter David Olusoga sees the palatial wealth that slave-owning brought to the man who is now fifty-something'th in line to the throne.  But what is far more surprising is just how widespread slave ownership was in nineteenth century England, with the middle classes owning perhaps just a handful of slaves, some through inheritance, all bringing in a modest income and thereafter compensation. In other words, slavery wasn't just the tool of the oligarchs but a systemic and endemic system that created the wealth that founded Britain's industrial revolution.  


SPY is a genuinely funny spy movie spoof starring Melissa McCarthy as a frumpy back office analyst allowed to go on a mission to save James Bond-esque boss (Jude Law).  On the way, she's hindered by an ultra-macho but feckless spy played by Jason Statham and poses as a bodyguard for a bitchy evil villain played by Rose Byrne, who frankly steals the show.  The film rolls along at a frantic pace taking us through the glamorous capital cities of Europe. The running jokes are at the expense of slick heroes, and champion the under-dogs. Byrne gets all the best lines and McCarthy's charm carries along the rest of the film. But kudos to Law and Statham for having the comic timing and general good humour to rinse their screen personae so well.  Another hit from writer-director Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS).  I could happily watch a sequel.

SPY has a running time of 119 minutes and is rated R. The movie is on global release.


SAN ANDREAS is a hokey but surprisingly effective earthquake disaster movie.  Dwayne Johnson plays an all-round nice guy father who happens to work a helicopter in LA Fire and Rescue.  His ex-wife (Carla Gugino) is currently living with a rich real estate developer (Ioan Gruffudd) but as with all nice family in peril films, we learn that they didn't really divorce because they hate each other and the rich guy is evil.  They have a spunky daughter (Alexandra Daddario) who hooks up with a junior nice guy Brit played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt and his regulation adorable kid brother. And so the movie unravels in a very predictable way. Hero-dad first has to save mum from LA earthquake, then save kids from San Francisco earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile we have Paul Giamatti as the earnest desperate-to-warn-everyone scientist Archie Punjabi as the journo who helps get his message out.

It's hokey because the good guys are good and the bad guy is bad and it's all about family. But even thought the story holds no real surprises the disaster scenes are effectively done and there was no small tension in the big set pieces.   Overall, I can see why the movie was popular and I think it comes down to the fact that Dwayne Johnson is just very likeable in a hulking earnest way and without the wise-ass ironic jokiness that has become the norm for Hollywood protagonists. Overall, this is well put together wholesome family fare.

SAN ANDREAS has a running time of PG-13 and is rated 114 minutes.  The movie is on global release.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 - KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK

You could ask why I went to see KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK at the Sheffield Doc Fest. After all, the movie has already been shown on HBO and is widely available on DVD. But there's something about cramming into a packed screening room of fans, seeing this amazing collage of home video, diary entries, audio recordings and family photos, and hearing that amazing music turned up to 11. (Well technically 7.2).  You need to see this documentary somewhere where the sound system is worthy of it, and given the sheer visual inventiveness that director Brett Morgen (THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE) brings to the archive material, unlike most docs, this movie really benefits from a big screen too.

So the story is that Courtney Love gave Brett Morgan unrestricted access to all her archive materials, and while Morgan has created an intimate portrait of a troubled kid and a loving father, this movie is not hagiography but nor is it a hate-filled accusation.  Love doesn't come out of it too well, which gives me faith that Morgan really did have full editorial control.  It feels balanced, sensitive and fair. The other thing worth mentioning is that although this movie runs for well over an hour, I didn't look at my watch once.  The way in which Morgan continually mixes up animated versions of Cobain's art and notes, new orchestrations of Nirvana's songs, old video and talking heads, keeps up engaged. I'm not even a Nirvana super-fan but this movie had me riveted. And if anything, I came out with even greater respect for Cobain as an artist and even more sympathy for his messed up childhood and the tragedy that both his depression and his stomach problems didn't receive the medical attention they deserved.


The experience of watching Claude Lanzmann's 10 hour documentary SHOAH is a visceral and life-changing one. It forces you to confront a crime on a scale almost unimaginable and, per Lanzmann, unexplainable. And because the Nazis were so good at eradicating traces of the Holocaust, Lanzmann uses a style quite unlike any other documentary. Instead of archive footage interspersed with contemporary talking heads, he gave us only contemporary accounts from the point of view of the Jewish victims, the Polish villagers who participated, albeit under force, and the Nazi perpetrators. He contrasts these unforgettable pieces of testimony with almost painfully still shots of the countryside where the crimes once took place, or has his witnesses retell their stories through repeating the actions they committed. Most famously, barber Abraham Bomba, now settled in New York, cuts a man's hair so that the actions can force him into reflecting on how it felt to do this to women being sent into the gas chamber. Lanzmann's technique was to co-erce the witness for sure, but in a shared project to not let the truth die. And it has always struck me as tragically ironic that the creation of this awesome documentary of truth was made possible by lies - lies to the financiers who wanted the film to be finished in one year, two years and to be two hours long. Lies to the Nazis now living safe bourgeois lives in Germany who were filmed by the means of secret camera equipment and fake passports.

Monday, June 01, 2015


STRETCH is a super-low budget film shot in fast gonzo style and, despite an all-star cast, has gone to straight to video. This is a shame because it's really quite funny and works well under its own momentum.  It's directed by Joe Carnahan who directed the awesome Liam Neeson drama, THE GREY, as well as that awful A-TEAM reboot. I'm pleased to say that this movie definitely belongs with THE GREY as one of Carnahan's better movies.   

Patrick Wilson stars as a failed actor turned limo driver and recovering addict called Stretch who's still paying off the debts he incurred in his former life.  This day in the life starts when his creditors demand that he repay his $6k debt that night, he blows his first pick-up (a hilarious David Hasselhof playing himself) and tries to jack another high-paying client from his limo company's big rival, The Jovi.  This involves some convoluted events including Ray Liotta giving him a gun and a badge and a heavily disguised and hilariously gonzo Chris Pine playing a ultra-rich playboy who promises to pay off Stretch's debt if he in turn goes to pick up a suitcase full of money and some drugs.  Meanwhile, Stretch encounters his ex-girlfriend and sets up a blind date. Oh yes, and did I tell you that Stretch has a heavy voice-over throughout the movie and sees visions of his dead ex-colleague played by Ed Helms?

If all this sounds ridiculous it is.  But the movie does what all ridiculous movies needs to do - it has utter conviction in what it's doing and never winks at the camera, even when Hasselhof is on screen.  The result is a film that may  not be credible but which, against all odds, has us rooting for the protagonist and carries us along on a wave of fast dialogue, outlandish characters and crazy situations.

STRETCH has a running time of 94 minutes and is rated R. STRETCH is a straight to video movie that is available on streaming services.