Friday, June 21, 2019


Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) returns to our screens with what is being marketed as a feel-good movie - BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. It's based on the memoirs of Sarfraz Mahmood, a second gen British-Pakistani growing up in the racially violent and economically distressed Luton of the 1980s.  If there's not enough to deal with outside the safety of his home, inside he has to deal with issues many second gen immigrants face - how to live an assimilated life, fulfilling one's own dreams, while still honouring the values and dreams of the first gen who sacrificed so much for our success. I say "our" because this is a milieu - and indeed a specific time and place - that I know very well. And I can say that the authenticity that Chadha and Mansoor capture in how our families spoke to each other and hoped and dreamed and were thwarted is spot on - and so close to the bone it provoked a really violent reaction in me.  I think that's because it's so rare to see any kind of explicit racial violence on screen that so clearly depicts the British history that we lived through that the film drove a moment of raw catharsis. So it wasn't feel good for me, but that's okay, because it's deep political conscience is really admirable and much needed.

That said, before the raw emotion overcame me, I have to say this really was and is a lovely and feel good film.  Firstly because Chadha and her production designers so beautifully capture small-town English towns of the 80s - including long-gone but much-lived shops like Athena and Our Price - all those fantastic clothes and songs - the ever-present Walkman headphones - and that specific joy of handing over your favourite cassette or VHS tape to a friend.  Because that's what happens in this film. Our protagonist Javed (Viveik Khalra - sympathetic and charismatic) is feeling miserable under the pressures at home and outside until his new friend Roops gives him a tape of the then unfashionable Bruce Springsteen. He wonders what an American rocker can say that's relevant to him until he listens to the lyrics and realises that working class angst is global, and that seeing your father's dreams crushed by economic reality is deeply relatable.  So the music in this film is superb and energetic before Springsteen makes an entrance but reaches another level when he does. The way in which Chadha uses CGI to superimpose the lyrics on scenes, or pivots action around an inspiring lyric is just superb. There's a lot of love and respect and understanding of Springsteen's work in there.

The film is also just straightforwardly funny - helped by some lovely cameos from comedians such as Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips (Char-DON-nay), Marcus Brigstock and Olivia Poulet.  My only criticism is that it could've more fully embraced its genre - at least for a central music scene that's full of joy and energy but could've been truly superb with a little more careful choreography.  But these are all small concerns. Because BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a truly lovely joyous film that masks a provocative and brutally honest heart about the immigrant experience.  It deserves to be seen as widely as possible. 

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated PG-13. It played Sundance 2019 and will be released in the UK on August 9th and in the USA on August 14th. 


DIEGO MARADONA is the latest doc from Asif Kapadia - the film-maker behind the superb SENNA and AMY.  Once again he uses the same technique - curating a collage of previously unseen video and audio to give an overarching narrative about an icon's inner life.  He doesn't insert himself overtly into the doc in the way that Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore do - but his thesis is very present, conveyed through his editing and shaping of the material. In those prior docs, Kapadia created a villain - Alain Prost and Amy Winehouse's dad. In this one, he creates both hero and villain in Diego and Maradona - the charismatic super-talented slum kid who made good - and the cocky, cocaine-fuelled adulterer who imploded.  It's an effective duality but leaves other factors unexplored. Because Maradona's life - unlike Senna or Amy - allows us a window into two particular social issues which are as fascinating as he is. The first is the racism and classism of Italian society that allows northern football fans to call the Napoli fans black cholera-plagued scum. The second is the influence of the mafia on Napolese life.  These intersect in Maradona, because he was bought for a record sum by Napoli - the poorest club in the poorest town in Italy - bankrolled by the mafia who then courted Diego and gave him cocaine and women. They also intersect because Diego sympathised with Napoli and for a time embodied all its best hopes because he too had been called all the names, treated as scum, and could become their avatar.  I wanted to hear more about these issues and felt that Kapadia was either reluctant or unable to explore them further. And I feel that this is because he was over-concerned with using his treasure trove of unseen Napoli football footage, and remains resistant to using talking heads to provide social context.  The problem with this approach is that for all but the most ardent soccer fan, watching footage of 1980s seria A football isn't that interesting.  And second, that I left the doc wanting more - unsatisfied despite sitting through a 2 hour doc.  That said, it's still a film worth watching for the occasional flashes of Diego's charisma, and the joy of seeing him teach his daughter how to swear at the Juve fans. 

DIEGO MARADONA has a running time of 130 minutes. It played Cannes and Sheffield 2019. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in the USA on September 20th.


TAG is a superb film - great slapstick and verbal wit - wonderful spoofs of action movies - and a really genuinely warm heart.  It's based on a Wall Street Journal article about a bunch of grown men who have been playing a game of tag together since they were kids. Now grown-ups, every May is hunting season, and while all of them have been tagged one time or another, Jeff (Jeremy Renner) hasn't. So they band together to try and take him out at his wedding, although they aren't complete dickheads, so they don't actually want to ruin his wedding doing it. It's absolutely glorious seeing Ed Helms, Jake Johnson and Jon Hamm take in pratfalls and stunts - they look like they're having the time of their life.  And Jeremy Renner is hilarious spoofing the super-serious inner monologue of an action hero trying to avoid being tagged. The visual humour has flair and the film just works! But what I really loved was the attempt to seriously interrogate where the line is between a fun game and obsessive competition, and what the value of friendship really is.  The ending of this film gives us a clear view on this, and it's deeply moving while never feeling cheap or manipulative.  I also love how the script - which could've just been another HANGOVER style bro comedy - managed to beef up the roles of the women - making them actual protagonists and deeply enmeshed in all of the moral questioning that occurs. Kudos to all involved!

TAG is rated R and has a running time of 100 minutes. It's available to rent and own. 


The Incredible family is back, but out of work when the world turns against superheroes.  But have no fear! Superrich siblings appear offering Mrs I a job as a private sector superhero complete with PR rehabilitation plan.  When did anything in this world ever go wrong with American superrich siblings involved? So dad stays at home with kids - cue lots of jokes about how tough childcare is - especially when baby Jack Jack has superpowers too. And mum goes off to fight a newly emerged super villain called Screenslaver. No guesses as to who that turns out to be in real life.  

The resulting film is visually witty and of course the domestic duty role reversal throws up a lot of good gags. But I couldn't help but feel that this sequel lacked a little elan and all felt a bit predictable and blah.  The animation is of course superb and the design wonderful but animated films have moved on since the original and this film just hasn't.  In a world where the cutting edge of animated design and wit is defined by SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE - this film seems rather old-fashioned - stuck in time 14 years ago when it was pioneering. Does this sort of middle-age middle-class humour about old-fashioned men struggled to take care of a kid really feel relevant anymore?

INCREDIBLES 2 is available to rent and own.  It has a running time of 118 minutes and is rated PG.


PUZZLE is worse than banal, it teeters on the offensive.  The banality begins with the slow-moving uninteresting tale of a middle-age housewife who lives as a martyr tending to her family.  In her spare time she does jigsaw puzzles and soon teams up with a glamorous exotic Indian millionaire to train for a competition.  Naturally - predictably - they end up falling for each other, and the affair gives her the confidence to demand a more equitable share of labour around the house and for her sons to take control of their lives. But in the end she drops out of the competition and her affair and returns to her now reformed family. And what of the Indian puzzler who enables this renaissance? He's cast off casually having done his part. The whole thing struck me as very dodgy and unconvincing. I get why she would be fascinated by him but not what he would see in her. Every now and then the script those in a line where he says she's beautiful, but they never have a conversation that shows a spark, and the two actors - Kelly Macdonald and Irrfhan Khan - have no chemistry. The resulting film is just too dull, and then dodgy, for words. It's the racial equivalent of films that creative manic pixie dream girls whose only purpose is to prompt a character reversal in a man, or that create wise old black women whose only purpose is to enlighten the young white protagonist. Enough already.

PUZZLE is rated R and has a 103 minute run time. It played Sundance 2018 and is now available to rent and own.  


In which Jodie Foster plays an old lady with a thick Noo Yawk accent who runs a secret hospital for the criminal underworld. In heavy make-up, with a shuffling gait, trying to keep the peace among warring thugs, she impresses with a truly immersive performance - her toughness matched by genuine melancholy at the death of her son.  The delicate equilibrium in which she lives is disturbed when Zachary Quinto (STAR TREK) brings in his mortally wounded father, Jeff Goldblum, violating the Nurse's strict code and dredging up painful events from her past. It also unleashes nastiness among her guests, including Sofia Boutela and THIS IS US' Sterling K Brown.

HOTEL ARTEMIS is the first directorial feature from Drew Pierce - the guy who wrote IRON MAN 3 - and as one would expect from that it's witty and high concept. The production design of the antiquated hotel is really beautiful and the cinematography from Chung-Hoon Chung gives it a suitably ominous claustrophobic feel.  I love the near future setting and delicate hints at sci-fi, but this film is best viewed as a nasty little drama of claustrophobic conflict, with the real suspense around who'll be the last man or woman standing.   It's a clever, captivating film - to be sure by the end I didn't really care who was left alive - but I really want to see what Drew Pierce does next. 

HOTEL ARTEMIS is rated R and has a running time of 94 minutes. The movie is available to rent and own.

Sunday, June 09, 2019


LIAM GALLAGHER: AS IT WAS is a rather earnest and ultimately rather charming documentary about the former front-man of one of the 1990 supergroups, Oasis.  It picks up as the group splits, thanks to increasingly violent and still on-going fighting between Liam and his brother Noel, and the documentary never really recovers from the absence of Noel's point of view, and Oasis' tracks.  We then move to the start and collapse of Liam's follow-up band Beady Eye and onto his eventual solo career. It's kind of touching to see how much Liam just sees himself as a rock-band front-man - he never considers anything else or just giving up. He's genuinely shocked and winded when his brother pulls the plug on Oasis. And there's even something admirable in the fact that he managed to pull himself out of addiction and recommit to music, thanks to the love of a good woman -his now wife/manager.  The sincerity of his desire to just play music for his fans is touching and there's something credible about him that bands like Coldplay will just never have.  He's still just rocking up to concerts in a parka with some loud guitars and his snarling singing style trying to give kids a good time. Good on him - genuinely. How many super famous rock musicians have anything like this kind of self-awareness and happy ending?  I had found the first half a bit dull but was ultimately won over by Liam's charm! Just seeing him rail against PG Tips while on a tour bus with his kids is funny and lovely.  Would that all rockstars managed to achieved this kind of balance.

LIAM GALLAGHER: AS IT WAS has a running time of 85 minutes and is currently on release in the UK on screens and streaming services. 

Sunday, June 02, 2019


While BOOKSMART is getting all the hype, Olivia Wilde stars in a taut beautiful revenge thriller that's quietly slipped onto our screens.  A VIGILANTE is the debut feature from writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson, and is pretty much carried by Wilde who plays Sadie, a domestic abuse victim turned violent vigilante.  

In the present day, scenes alternate between Sadie quietly, meticulously, threatening abusers with violence to get them to leave their victims alone - and Sadie working on herself - whether training in spartan hotel rooms, or attending victim support groups. Both scenes have their own weight.  There's an impressive authenticity and realism in how Sadie prepares for her missions, training herself in make-up and disguise on youtube videos.  The score is particularly effective in giving her missions a workmanlike, unglamorous, but deadly serious vibe.  And then in the quiet more reflective moments, whether alone or in group therapy, the film has a quiet, simple power of authentic suffering.  Daggar-Nickson avoids anything showy - she just lets her camera focus on these women as they tell their awful stories in a straightforward, heart-breaking way.  

A VIGILANTE is then - a superb debut - and even moreso because it manages to get the balance just right. It doesn't shy away from showing violence, and its impact, but never feels gratuitous or exploitative. And while it purports to show that vengeance is a solution, it also has Sadie tell the women that they need to find a new support group when they leave - the violence gives them a chance, but it isn't actually a long-term sustainable solution.

A VIGILANTE is rated R and has a running time of 91 minutes. It played SXSW last year and was released in the USA earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK, including being available to rent on Sky. 


MAUDIE is a biopic of an apparently famous folk artist made by director Aisling White and written by Sherry White. It stars Sally Hawkins as a woman who is severely arthritic and infantilised by her family, escaping to menial labour for a fisherman (Ethan Hawke) who abuses her.  She self-medicates with chain-smoking and painting, has the luck to be talent-spotted by a rich socialite and achieves a measure of fame and financial independence.  This shift in power naturally impacts the dynamic with her now husband, who becomes almost sheepish in the latter half of the film, and genuinely tries to help Maudie achieve some kind of emotional closure as her health deteriorates.  

The movie is well enough made and well acted and I know one should never criticise the choice of a film's subject but how well that subject was treated. All I know is that it may be possible to make a super interesting film about Maud Lewis but this wasn't it. I found myself at a distance from the characters, admiring their acting, without ever really feeling their emotions or actually caring about what happened to them.  The whole thing just fell earnest and Oscar-baity and frankly dull. 

MAUDIE has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film is available to rent and own.


And so the McConaughaissance crests its wave with this awkwardly shit thriller from British writer-director Steven Knight (LOCKE, PEAKY BLINDERS).  McConaughey plays a washed up fisherman/tour guide for rich tourists on a paradise tropical island with a trademark wise loyal sidekick played by Djimon Hounsou.  All goes tits up when his ex-wife turns up begging him to kill her new abusive husband for the sake of their son.  The key issue is that earnest sweet princess-next-door Anne Hathaway sucks at playing a femme fatale, and there is zero chemistry between her and McC.  You wade through an hour of this awfulness and then the plot gets a bit twisty and momentarily interesting, except that you can't shake the feeling that this would all have been handled with more wit, brevity and horror in a BLACK MIRROR episode. 

Avoid at all costs. 

SERENITY is rated R and has a running time of 106 minutes. It is now available to rent and own.


Rachel Lear's and Robin Blotnick (THE HAND THAT FEEDS) re-unite for another socially conscious documentary, following a crop of young radical liberal candidates for US public office, including the now incredibly famous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The film won the audience award at Sundance 2019, timing its release fortuitously for the upswing of optimism around a new crop of diverse progressive entrants to Congress, lining itself up for a May 1st Netflix release.  

The film itself is a tightly edited, dynamic and compelling tale of how to start a fight-back after the shock 2016 presidential election result.  We follow a handful of hopefuls trying to challenge good ole boy incumbents who seem shocked that anyone would have the temerity to challenge them.  While I - like many others I'm sure - came to the film to find out more about "AOC" - a woman who seems to have shifted Democratic environmental policy with a tweet - I stayed for a genuinely moving tale about what it takes to campaign at grassroots level. One forgets how - even in this social media age - people still have to go knocking door to door, listening to their voters, husting and canvassing. It's somehow reassuring to know that the basic mechanics of politics are still what they were in the eighteenth century.  Of course, I knew AOC won, and that was still uplifting. But I hadn't heard of the other candidates and was genuinely surprised at how on-edge I was as the results began to come in.  

So this doc works perfectly on two levels - first as pure thrilling entertainment - but hopefully also inspiring people of whatever political views to get engaged, pick up that clipboard, listen to people and get into politics. 

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE is rated PG and has a running time of 86 minutes. It is available on Netflix.