By Robin E. Simmons
Asif Kapadia’s extraordinary biopic of singer Amy Winehouse packs a powerful punch to the gut. Experience this unfiltered look at a life that touched millions with her brilliant – sometimes searing — words and voice but battles pop culture fame and deadly addictions. In her short life, Amy releases only two albums, but she was among the biggest pop music stars in the UK. In fact, it would not be a stretch to call her an icon. She bared her soul in the eclectic mix of songs (“Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good”) she wrote and sang. Fans and critics rightfully compared her to Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughan among others giants. Her ironic name and disastrous personal life — along with her unfiltered music — were a perfect storm that finally ended in a sad fugue. Kapadia’s film wisely and specifically utilizes concert and private footage that reveals Amy’s brilliance and, saddest of all, her despairing descent and passing at the age of 27. (Yes, she’s part the infamous club.) You will long remember this brilliant film that is also about our fragile mortality, the creative drive and the choices we make on the road of life. Highest recommendation. Now playing.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
Solidly in the vein of the Roger Moore “James Bond” movies, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is a bloody violent action ride that yanks the audience into an elite British counter-espionage league where manners and sartorial splendor weigh as heavily as courage, teamwork and fighting skills.
Not for all tastes, this thrilling adventure lashes out at real evil in our contemporary world — including churches that espouse hatred and bigotry. Based on the acclaimed Mark Miller comics and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass), this eye-popping film delivers far more than the trailer hinted at. I like that. (I hate seeing the best moments of a film in the trailer, don’t you?)
In this first outing – I’m pretty sure more adventures will follow – we are introduced to a team of newbies who have been recruited to the Kingsman unit by dapper Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a rough around-the-edges, uncultured street kid from south London stands out in the ultra competitive training process and is assigned to help bring down twisted genius
Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who has plans to kill world leaders and the 1% in order to save the planet. Wait, say that again? In the end, it all makes sense. Co-stars Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Sophie Cookson make this eye-popping, assault on the senses work in ways that remind us what movies can do when all cylinders are firing. Watchable extras go behind the scenes. Fox. Blu-ray.
Although not a mainstream hit, I was entertained by Johnny Depp‘s strange channeling of what seems to be Terry Thomas – complete with a gap toothed self-effacing grin. I laughed out loud at his wonderful twit-like incarnation of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s fictional Charlie Mortdecai who likes to live the good life – he’s been called a “professional bon-vivant” — but is unfortunately often financially embarrassed and must resort to his questionable art dealings to stay afloat.
Bonfiglioli’s witty books (“Don’t Point That Thing at Me,” “Something Nasty in the Woodshed” and “After You with the Pistol”) have long been a favorite of Depp’s. “They are irreverent and insane in a way I thought would translate well to the screen,” he said. (Depp even gave a copy to co-star Paul Bettany during the TRANSCENDANCE shoot.) On screen, it’s easy to see the fun Depp has in playing the not so dashing, mustachioed and blithely desperate Mortdecai.
The top-notch supporting cast features Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn and Jeff Goldblum. It must be said the mustache is also a major character. I liked this old school throwback that reminds of Blake Edward’s best “Pink Panther” movies. Director David Koepp keeps the complicated shenanigans on track for maximum effect. A nice extra explores the set during production. Lionsgate. Blu-ray.
Based on an idea from Juliette Binoche, this intriguing psychological mystery drama from director Olivier Assayas features Binoche as a veteran actress Maria Enders who must face an unsettling memory of her former self when she signs on to take part in the restaging of a play that launched her into stardom 20 years ago.
Binoche plays Enders as an actress at the peak of fame and acclaim. Twenty years earlier she played the younger role of Sigrid, a seductive, manipulative young woman who drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now, in the planned revival, she is playing the older Helena. We find Enders rehearsing her lines in the remote Swiss Alps region of Sils Maria with her assistant (Kristin Stewart). When the younger Hollywood actress (Chloë Grace Moretz) arrives, Enders finds herself facing a scandal ridden but bright and charmingly ambiguous reflection of former self. Now Enders must face her demons.
Binoche, Stewart and Moretz are perfect together. Stewart in particular has been the subject of scathing ridicule but shows her skill here. For her performance, she was the first American to win the prestigious César Award for Best Supporting Actress. This intelligent film plays with notions of identity and ambition and the toll time demands on our souls. Critics have used words like “exhilarating” and “stunning.” Although not for everyone, if you like psychological drama that is not heavy-handed, you may enjoy this unusual story set in a beautiful location. Paramount. Blu-ray.