Thursday, August 31, 2023


Something interesting is happening with THE EQUALISER 3.  I was expecting another "does what it says on the tin" vigilante film, along the lines of 1 and 2.  But 3 has a confidence and a vibe that altogether surpasses its predecessors.  It is so patient in doing the work to create its emotional climax that I wonder if it's even commercial.

The plot is simple enough and sounds like a standard Equaliser film.  In the course of equalising a wrong in a Sicilian mafia cell, our protagonist Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) stumbles upon an operation to import ISIS-manufactured hard drugs, the sale of which is funding terrorist attacks in Europe. He calls the scheme in to CIA operative Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning) who brings in the Americans to investigate. Meanwhile, McCall recuperates in a beautiful small town terrorised by organised crime, and decides to equalise their wrongs.

What makes this film fascinating is the way in which the franchise's director, Antoine Fuqua, chooses to go about his business in this final instalment.  

First of all, the style of violence is brutal but credible, and acknowledges McCall/Washington's age. The action sequences are skilful and suspenseful but does not require the superhuman anti-ageing of Tom Cruise in a MI film, or the CGI de-ageing of Harrison Ford in an Indiana Jones film.  McCall's equalising is brutal and effective but always feels perfectly plausible for an older man.

Second, the pace is deliberately slow and the language probably over half in Italian, in a way that truly pays off in the final act.  Fuqua really takes his time establishing McCall's rejuvenation in Altamonte's small town.  The friendship with Dr Enzo, and the slow growth of trust between Robert and the townsfolk, are lightly essayed but deeply moving. The language never switches entirely to English.  I would estimate that over half of the dialogue is in Italian, and I wonder if that choice will impact the film's commercial success. But I loved that choice, as it once again roots McCall in the life of Altamonte and roots us in the stakes of wresting it free of the Camorra. 

The result is a film that has - as strange as it might sound - an elegance, a lightness of touch, but a real impact.  This is enhanced by some truly beautiful cinematography and framing from Fuqua and cinematographer Robert Richardson, as well as the sparing inclusion of only two powerfully choreographed and compelling action sequences. 

It's kind of strange that people don't seem to really talk about Fuqua or this franchise much.  And yet with this instalment - that is so superior to its predecessors - I feel we need to reassess both. Why have they slipped under the radar? Is it because, like the film's protagonist, they are so quiet, unassuming and efficient that they don't call attention to itself? Let me know if you know.

THE EQUALISER 3 is rated R, has a running time of 109 minutes, and is on global release.

Monday, August 28, 2023


Man, I just did not get AFIRE. Is it an environmental satire about how we are all obsessed with our own mundanity while the world - literally - burns down on the edge of our peripheral vision?  Is it a satire on the narcissism of so-called creatives who underestimate the intellectual capacity of those around them?  Is it meant to be a deep and meaningful character and relationship study? Or is it meant to be a dark comedy? After an hour and forty minutes I neither know nor care. I found this film to be slow, dull, containing no characters that I found empathetic nor any plot "twists" that were compelling.  My mind drifted. I wanted to eat a blue smurf-flavoured ice cream.

The film centres on Leon (Thomas Schubert), a schlubby self-important author struggling with his second book. His friend Felix (Langston Uibel) invites him to his mum's seaside vacation house but the car breaks down en route and when they get there they find another couple also in residence. For the first thirty minutes of the film we see them from a distance but hear them loudly fucking in the next door bedroom, much to the voyeuristic Leon's frustration.  After that, Nadja (Paula Beer) comes more clearly into focus, firstly as an ice-cream seller and then as someone who is more than an intellectual and emotional match for Leon. But the character is really short-changed in this pisspoor film - a mere plot device to show up Leon's vacuity.

AFIRE has a running time of 102 minutes and is rated 12A. It played Berlin where it won the Silver Bear. It was released in the USA last month and in the UK last Friday.


The charm of the road not taken is that one can reminisce and reimagine safely from the comfort of that choice now being closed off.  Celine Song's debut feature PAST LIVES asks what would happen if the road not taken was never quite in the rear-view mirror but persisted as an option in the present day, tugging at one's sleeve and distracting us from the seemingly happy life now lived. What if our choices were still open to be re-litigated?

Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) are childhood sweethearts in Korea.  They are on the verge of a sweet pre-pubescent romance and even have a charming date in a park chaperoned by her mum when Nora's family emigrate to Canada.  

Twelve years later, Nora and Hae Sung rediscover each other via social media and create a Skype romance that moves rapidly from whimsical to serious and then frightening.  Frightening because an actual romance will require compromise: Hae Song has to do his military service and is committed to studying engineering in Korea; Nora has been accepted to a writer's retreat in Montauk. Both put their careers before their relationship.  

We jump forward another twelve years and Nora is seemingly happily married to fellow writer Arthur (John Magaro). They seem happy despite the cultural barriers between them. He tries to learn Korean to narrow the gap - to go with her into her instinctive dream language. But at the same time, as she explains to him, she doesn't feel Korean, especially when she contrasts herself to Hae Sung. He is "so Korean". She is Korean American. 

Hae Sung finally travels to New York and the weight of two decades of emotion become apparent. How does one weigh up the the pull of childhood love and cultural resonance against the reality of change, maturity and cultural difference? Is Hae Song drawn to - does he even know and understand - Nora now? Is she attracted to Hae Song or to a nostalgia for Seoul?

Song's film is delicate, quiet, elegant and wistful. It speaks to the impossibility of going back and recapturing a different time and place - a certain innocence.  But it is not melancholy. It celebrates the fact that people grow and move forward and that while this might make a rekindled romance impossible and undesirable, it acknowledges the need for.... well....acknowledgement. You can both love your husband and acknowledge your real feelings for a childhood sweetheart, and the potency of a fantasy of the road not taken.

The three leads are all strong in this film. But for me the standouts are Song's taut, spare script and cinematographer Shabier Kirchner's washed-out palette and framing. Often we see characters set apart from each other in the same frame, or filmed from a distance while their voices utter dialogue unrelated to that moment. We are at a distance, withheld from their true feelings, and this perfectly captures the ambiguity about what those feelings truly are.  At the end of the film, we know far more than the unseen couple speculating on the triumvirate's relationships at a bar at the start of the film, but we don't really know them fully.  And that is as it should be.

PAST LIVES is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 105 minutes.  It played Berlin and Sundance 2023 and was released in the USA in June. It will be released in the UK on September 8th.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023


Two seventeen year old boys fall in love in small-town France.  One leaves for America to pursue his dream of becoming a writer and living a life true to himself.  The other stays back, weighed down by obligations toward his family farm, and maybe because of a lack of courage to come out.  Thirty-five years later the writer returns to find his lover has died, but also that a handsome young man, his son, is insinuating himself into the writer's life under false pretences.

The more accurate translation of this film's title isn't Lie With Me but Stop With Your Lies, or Stop Making Up Stories. And everyone in this film is lying. Stephane, the author, is lying about what Thomas meant to him, and why he writes, and fearful of publishing something that truly deals with what happened.  Thomas lied his whole life about his sexuality, but also left enough clues for his son Lucas to figure it out. And Lucas lies about his obsession with finding out until he is exposed. 

The resulting film is gentle, elegant, beautiful and moving but also rather slow, plodding and obvious.  It never really captured my heart. It felt rather safe and anaemic and gentle.  The novel upon which it is based is apparently a best-seller so I may try that instead.

LIE WITH ME played BFI Flare 2023 and is currently on release in the UK. It has a running time of 93 minutes.


Vinay Shukla (
AN INSIGNIFICANT MAN) returns to our screens with the deeply depressing, profoundly moving, and sadly globally relevant documentary, WHILE WE WATCHED

This is a film about the death of independent journalism in Narendra Modi's India, told by focussing on the NDTV anchorman Ravish Kumar. Kumar stands for an idea of India that has been under attack for years now. One of an independent judiciary and media holding politicians and criminals to account.  An India that embraces its diversity and does not confuse confidence with nationalist arrogance.  

Over the film's running time we see Kumar struggle to speak truth to power as his journalists and producers are laid off or leave for other positions, frustrated and underpaid and uncertain for their future.  Kumar is subject to a torrent of abuse and violent hatred. The state takes to blocking the signal of his transmissions. The owners of the channel are arrested and subjected to lawsuits accusing them of being financially fraudulent.  We leave Kumar after yet another sweeping Modi electoral victory, depressed, frustrated, considering his future, nervous at the way in which young journalists look to him for inspiration and courage, knowing he will have to make a choice between journalism and keeping his job.

The documentary crew filmed Kumar between 2018 and 2020, and we know that after that the state pressure on NDTV increased, banks withdrew credit, advertisers ran, and its owners finally just selling out to a Modi crony billionaire, Guatam Adani. Ravish Kumar resigned shortly thereafter and now broadcasts from YouTube. He, and others like him, have thus been deplatformed. The question is whether they can keep some kind of influence via social media. I fear not.   

For anyone interested in contemporary India, this film is essential viewing. That said, given the global trends toward nationalism, populism, an increasingly shrill and partisan media, and the increasing violence toward journalists, I would argue it is essential viewing for any citizen of any country.

WHILE WE WATCHED has a running time of 94 minutes. It played Toronto 2022 and was released in the UK last month.


The underdog sports movie genre gets a new entrant with GHOOMER - a must-watch film for cricket fans. The stunningly beautiful Saiyami Kher stars as Anina, a hard-working, talented batter who is the victim of a hit-and-run car accident on the eve of making her debut for the Indian ODI team.  Anina survives but without her right-arm, and understandably becomes suicidal at the thought of losing her cricket career. This is where Abhishek Bhachchan's alcoholic, brutish, Paddy steps in.  He too was frustrated by injury and lost his Indian test career, and tells Anina she can indeed rescue her career by retraining as a left-handed spin bowler (ghoomer).  He trains her himself, with brutal, harsh methods that nonetheless work and lead to a deeply emotional, rousing finale. 

What I like about this film is that it by and large avoids schmaltz in every aspect except the final cricket scene. Anina is strong and largely silent, and we see the hard work taken to retrain.  The love story with her childhood sweetheart (Angad Bedi) is downplayed and his character is very much seen as a side story to her rehabilitation and success.  Anina's dad is proud and supportive but it's her sensible and intelligent grandma (Shabana Azmi - deadpan, superb!) who is her real coach, mixing her smoothies, scoring her matches and telling her not to trust in superstition.  And thank goodness the film does not attempt to give Paddy a redemption arc, or to hide his unpleasant, brutish character.  This is not just in respect to Anina but also to Rasika (Ivanka Das), Paddy's adoptive trans sister.  He isn't nice. He doesn't become nice.  He doesn't magically get sober.  The focus of our interest and emotion is thus Anina and if I cried at the final fifteen minutes of this film it was entirely in admiration of her strength and courage, as portrayed by Saiyami Kher. And that's as it should be.

While Kher is clearly the breakout star here, and Azmi is the the backbone of the film, I have to say that this is Bhachchan's finest performance since GURU. I would love to see him tackle more challenging, dramatic material not he back of this. 

The resulting film is one that is a must-watch for cricket fans, and indeed comes complete with endorsements from Tendulkar and a cameo from Bishan Singh Bedi. I can't imagine it would be easy to follow without some knowledge of the game.  But given that knowledge, how wonderful to feel so engaged in this truly inspiring fiction.

My only issue with the film is the way that Rasika's character is used to soften Paddy's character. Is it really fair to have our one trans character have no real life of her own other than to serve her brother, and show that he does have a sympathetic side?  Or maybe it's refreshing to see a trans character without her gender or sex life be the centre of the plot? Either way I was pleased to see the representation. 

GHOOMER has a running time of 135 minutes and is rated 12A. It was released globally on August 18th.

Friday, August 18, 2023


Joachim Back's directorial debut is a dark comedy that satirises the pre-pandemic office worker hell that is the open-plan floorplate staffed with irritating coworkers in cubicles.  Adapted from Swedish novelist Jonas Karlsson’s The Room, the movie has a low-key dystopian vibe with a deadpan voiceover from Mad Men's John Hamm, playing our protagonist Orson. Dressed as a schlubby middle-aged secret Machiavel, Orson holds his colleagues in contempt while treating them with a scrupulously minimum-required-amount of politeness.  "I just wanna do my job" he protests. "What do you think we're doing?", Danny Pudi's colleague responds. "I can't say with any certainty."  The condescension is cathartic for the viewer.  Orson's work-life is transformed when he discovers a secret office that is luxurious in its furnishings, but most of all in its silence and distance from other humans. Orson schemes to take possession of it, a task made all the harder by the fact that his colleagues won't acknowledge its existence. Others might be destroyed by this Kafkaesque denial of his truth, but Orson prevails. Is his thick-skin, and belief in the room, psychopathic? Or is he the last bastion of common sense in an insane world? 

I loved everything about this film - the acting, cinematography, production design, dry with - other than its length. It feels like it might have been better made as an hour-long episode of Black Mirror. The conceit is just too dry for a feature length movie. 

CORNER OFFICE has a running time of 101 minutes and is rated PG-13. It played Tribeca and Raindance 2023 and opened in the USA earlier this month.


Thomas Hardiman's impressive directorial debut seems to have come to us by way of Peter Strickland and Alan Partridge. Set in the world of regional hairdressing competitions - the stakes thus darkly, comedically, low - his characters are trapped in a claustrophobic conference centre where hairdressers, models and a competition organiser slowly go mad trying to figure out who murdered and scalped the surefire competition winner, Mosca.  Accusations of skulduggery abound. Apparently the competition judge was being bought. And Mosca's grieving partner, arriving with their baby, has to deal both with grief AND accusations of infidelity.  

Claire Perkins' Cleve steals the show with her almost tragicomic obsession with winning and violence lurking just under the surface, triggered when she realises the fight was never fair. The other star is cinematographer Robbie Ryan, whose camera takes seems to be taking us ever-deeper into this strange obsessive world in what Fouad Gaber edits as seemingly one take. 

Is the murder-mystery conceit well-enough plotted and executed? Probably not. But I loved every minute spent in the company of these characters, with their strange obsessions but also their authentic and profound discussions about what it means to be a woman, in love, pregnant, or just plain wanting to do well at the only option of a career that society gave you. Plus, these have to be the most amazing end credits I've seen in quite some time. I cannot wait to see what Thomas Hardiman does next.

MEDUSA DELUXE is rated R and has a running time of 101 minutes. It played London 2022 and was released in the UK this week and in the USA last week.


KOKOMO CITY is a beautifully photographed, deeply moving documentary about the brutal reality of being a trans sex worker in contemporary America. It is directed by trans woman D Smith who empathetically frames the real experiences of these women in all their humour, community, sorrow and violence. The trans women interviewed - Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver - are open about what the enjoy about their work, how different cis men use them and approach them, and the risks inherent in the work. So much so that poor Koko Da Doll was murdered shortly after this film debuted at Sundance earlier this year.  

Documentarian D Smith also interviews some of the johns who are open about why they go for trans women. In one particular case, it feels like a badge of honour that he is "man enough" to take them on. As a result we get a really nuanced picture of contemporary gender norms and prejudices in the black community. There's also something profoundly sad about black men so trapped in expectations of being hyper-masculine that they are closeted and ashamed about their true sexual desires.

The resulting film is a really smart, insightful and eye- and heart-opening discourse on what it is to be trans, and what it means to a black men, a black woman, and successful.  There is so much to mull over here. Like all the best documentaries, it gave me a new perspective and more empathy for some of the most marginalised and most at risk members of our society. 

KOKOMO CITY has a running time of 73 minutes and is rated R. It played Berlin, SXSW, BFI Flare and Sundance 2023. It was released in the USA last month and in the UK this weekend.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023


RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is a Bridgerton-adjacent piece of mildly entertaining rom-com fluff that satisfies our need for cheesy romantic dramas where love triumphs over bigotry, everyone looks pretty, and sex scenes are steamy but still reassuringly safe. I gave it an extra point for including a sensible conversation about safe gay sex and for featuring an inter-racial gay couple because representation matters.

The unreasonably pretty (but apparently not gay - how do we feel about that?) Nicholas Galitzine stars as a closeted gay British royal prince who falls for the Latine bisexual son of the US President (Taylor Zakhar Perez).  Naturally they start out hating each other but that soon changes as they are forced to spend time with each other as their countries negotiate a trade deal.  The POTUS is amusingly played by Uma Thurman with an insane southern accent, and her husband by Clifton Collins Jr - where has he been? They are super supportive of their son and his political ambitions.  This stands in sharp contrast to the homophobic British King, amusingly played by the real-life gay Stephen Fry. In both cases I find that the movie glosses over the political and social backlash each family would face. But I guess that's not what this film really is.

At any rate, this really is not a work of art, but it is fun enough and important. Kudos to Tony award winning playwright and debut feature director Matthew Lopez for getting this on screen.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is rated R and has a running time of 118 minutes. It was released last weekend on Amazon Prime Video.



NO HARD FEELINGS is a desperately ill-judged "comedy" in which Jennifer Lawrence attempts to be Amy Schumer and fails. It pains me that such a talented dramatic actress should waste her time trying to be something she is not - because she is not kooky or adept at physical or verbal comedy.  She stars in this film as a thirty-something commitment-phobe who is about to lose her family home.  Desperate, she answers a Craigslist ad to basically deflower a shy, much-bullied kid before he goes to College. Cue lots of awkward and unwatchable scenes where J-Law throws herself at the petrified teen who rightly deploys pepper spray.  He actually is a sweet kid, and as played by the talented Andrew Barth Feldman, is the only thing hooking us into the heart of the movie. Ultimately, naturally, both of them grow through the experience.  She realises she needs to grow up and leave home.  He realises he needs to do the same. They end up as friends.  But what happens within the running time of the movie is just bizarre. I am not saying that a weird age-gap film can't work.  Just look at HAROLD & MAUDE. But J Law doing a nude comedy fight scene just wreaks of desperation.  Avoid at all costs.

NO HARD FEELINGS is rated R and has a running time of 103 minutes. It is available to rent and own.

Friday, August 04, 2023


1970s suburban Rome.  Clara (Penelope Cruz) is stuck in a luxurious flat with three kids and a husband (Vincenzo Amato) who cheats and humiliates them all.  Rather than confront the issue - or maybe because she feels she has to somehow compensate for her husband's heavy dictatorial presence - Clara becomes almost infantile in her manic desire for childish fun.  

This desire for escapist fantasy is shared by Clara's elder daughter Adri (Luana Giuliani) who wants to be a boy but spends most of the film in sullen silence, only expressing herself by lip-synching to cheesy ballads in her dreams or in a fleeting summer romance with a young girl. Meanwhile, Adri's younger brother Gino is staging a rather more practical real-world protest. And poor little Diana's attempts to make family meals playful feel like a radically whimsical act. That said, the children express sooner than the mother their fundamental knowledge that the parent-child relationship has gone astray.  The question for the audience is how the tension will be resolved. Will Clara be broken on the wheel of stultifying bourgeois misogyny? 

The film is beautifully acted, naturally. There's an aching beauty in Cruz' face, captured in amber in the scenes where her husband imposes an oppressive stillness, or manic in its search for fun. Kudos to costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini and hair stylist Ivan Sprignese who express so much through the state and style of Clara's hair and clothes. I also really loved Dimitri Capuani's production design with its focus on the slow strangulation of seventies shag carpet. 

But really this is Emanuele Crialese's film - deeply personal, both delicate and angry, with a terrible slow-building tension. It shares in common with his stunning 2006 film Nuovomondo/Golden Door a profound interest in women trapped in social convention. It is quietly powerful, and while I merely liked it a lot when I left the screening on Monday, in the days since then I feel that I have been drawn back to it again and again, so that my reaction to it (much as the drama of the film) has also been a slowly increasing intensity of admiration

L'IMMENSITA has a running time of 99 minutes. It played Venice 2022 and Sundance 2023. It was released earlier this year in the USA and opens in the UK on Friday 11th August. 


Nicole Holofcener (ENOUGH SAID) returns to our screens with her brand of low-key rich white people dramedy. At its worst its tone deaf and deeply annoying. At its best it can be pleasantly surprising.  YOU HURT MY FEELINGS is mildly entertaining while also being a giant nothingburger.  I didn't hate it. I immediately forgot about it.  

The movie stars Seinfeld and Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth, a rich white person with rich white people problems. Her psychologist husband Don (The Crown's Tobias Menzies) is deeply loving but one day she overhears him saying he doesn't really like her new book. She reacts childishly. Rather than discuss it, she passively aggressively punishes him for something he doesn't even know he did.  Meanwhile their son Eliot (Owen Teague) is left third-wheeling their infantile psychodrama. The moral of the film seems to be that happy relationships involve some measure of deceit and that we should just get on with it. Okay. Cool. Mind blowing. It's all well enough acted and produced. It just feels so meh.

YOU HURT MY FEELINGS has a running time of 93 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK. It played Sundance 2023 and opened in the USA in May. It was released in the UK on Amazon Prime next week.


Adele Lim - screenwriter on CRAZY RICH ASIANS and  RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON - returns to our screens with a raunchy comedy that reads like an Asian remake of BRIDESMAIDS. Four Asian-Americans go on a holiday to China, have a bunch of sex, take a bunch of drugs, and wrestle with their identities. The comedy is crude, the plotting very much tab A into slot B, complete with third act falling out and fourth act resolution. There is nothing surprising here but it was quite funny, if in a deeply, deeply crude way.

The central protagonist is Emily in Paris' Ashley Park playing model minority adopted daughter Audrey. She is sent on a business trip to China to land a new client largely because of her ethnicity. The joke is that she is culturally white, has never dated an Asian, and evinces no interest in finding her Chinese birth mother.  That's where her culturally-assertive, aspiring-artist best-friend Lolo (Sherry Cola) comes in. The third wheel on the holiday is Sabrina Wu's Deadeye - a genderqueer "weird" friend who comes closer than any other character to showing emotional vulnerability as a loner who finds community in K-Pop. And when they get to China they hook up with Ashley's college roommate Kat, played by EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE's Stephanie Hsu. She's now a Chinese soap-star, hiding her sex-positive past from her hunky Christian boyfriend.

There's lots of good stuff in this film about the pressures of being a model minority, and the experience of being both not quite American and yet also not quite Chinese - at home in neither and longing for acceptance in both.  We also get a really nuanced take on racism.  Sure, Audrey's boss sent her to China because of her race, which is racist, but then again, what's up with Audrey not dating Asians, and the girls feeling safer in a train carriage with an American woman?

I just felt the social commentary was undercut by the deeply predictable plotting and crude humour. Your mileage on that may vary.

JOYRIDE has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK. JOY RIDE played SXSW 2023 and was released in the USA last month. It was released in the UK this week.