Monday, July 31, 2023


ROCKY AUR RANI KI PREM KAHANI (Rocky and Rani's love story) is everything we expect from a Karan Johar film. It's a multi-generational family dramedy with broad laughs, beautiful clothes, wonderful music, and moments that genuinely make you cry.  But more than that, this is a movie that is daring in its surface message of progressive inclusion, and even more radical in its meta-message of queer acceptance. 

On the surface, this is a typical Karan Johar multi-generational dramedy. Rocky Randhawa (Ranveer Singh) is the scion of an incredibly wealthy Delhi family that is traditional and Punjabi (North Indian). He is a flamboyant, luxury-label obsessed, gym-obsessive who speaks broken English, and whose father bribed his teachers for his grades. The family is run by the frighteningly strict matriarch Dhanlaxmi (Jaya Bachchan) and her equally fearsome son Tijori (Aamir Bashir). Tijori's wife Poonam (Kshitee Jog) is servile and their daughter Gayatri (Anjali Anand) is mocked for being overweight. 

Contrast this to Rani Chatterjee (Alia Bhatt), a deeply intellectual, American-educated news-anchor whose Bengali family are cultured, bohemian and socially progressive.  Her mother, Anjali (Churni Ganguly), is the breadwinner and a university professor. Her father Chandan (Tota Roy Chowdhury) is a male classical Indian khatak dancer.  Her grandma Jamini (Shabana Azmi) recites poetry at recitals in their house. They are so progressive that her father can happily discuss why Rani's relationship with Shomen broke up - he was a bad lover. 

Chance brings Rocky and Rani together. Rocky's beloved grandfather (Dharmendra) is suffering from dementia and Rocky thinks that if he tracks down the women he once had a love affair with - Jamini - this might trigger his memories.  At first Rani mocks Rocky for his ignorance and crass personality but they soon start their own affair, just as the grandparents are also reconnecting.  

The first half of the movie is basically the two realising that they do have genuine feelings for each other despite their cultural differences.  The second half of the movie sees them move in with each others' families to see if those differences can be overcome. Can the cultured Chatterjee's help Rocky become more progressive while also becoming less snobby themselves? And can the Rhandawas accept a daughter-in-law who speaks her mind, speaks English, and doesn't cover her head?

So far so rom-com with a side-order of melodrama. What elevates this film about the norm is its surface message of progressive inclusion.  Rocky gives a powerful speech about feeling judged by the Chatterjees for his poor English - a real issue in India given that most education is private and language can be interpreted as denoting class. Mrs Chatterjee gives an amazing speech about how Indian men use the language of "honour" to disguise misogyny, and that they might sing lewd songs about what's behind a sari blouse (chola ke peetchay kya hai?) but are too embarrassed to utter the word brassiere. Most powerfully, Mr Chatterjee gives an amazing speech describing his joy at dancing Khatak but also the incredible mockery he has faced his entire life because of it. 

I commend the (now) openly gay director Karan Johar for including this material. Even more, I commend Ranveer Singh for undercutting his hyper-masculine image and partnering with the supremely talented dancer Tota Roy Chowdhury in dancing the khatak inspired and iconic Dola Re song from Devdas.  Just as the evil matriarch mockingly laughs behind her scarf, I can imagine many viewers doing the same. For Ranveer Singh to show this kind of allyship is powerful and explodes the hypocrisy of an Indian Bollywood culture where it's totally fine and not at all queer for straight men to wax their chests and dance around to Bollywood songs, but heaven forfend they do classical dance, which is still seen as the province of women.

Indeed, one can take this radical message one step further. I would argue that ROCKY AUR RANI is really a film about questioning gender roles and sexuality, and for a less toxic masculinity. After all, when you think about it, we have come a loooong way from Johar's 2001 film KABHI KUSHI KABHI GUM. In this film both families are run by financially dominant women, with Jaya Bachchan taking the evil patriarch role that her real-life husband Amitabh took in KKKG. And in the current generation it is Rani and Rocky's sister Anjali that are smart and earning a living, while Rocky is just a nepo-baby.  

In both families the patriarchs are criticised for a love of the arts that is somehow seen as not masculine enough in India's toxic hyper-masculine culture. Rocky's grandfather was scorned by his wife Dhanlaxmi for his love of poetry, and she kept their son Tijori from spending time with his father for fear that somehow this anti-masculine behaviour might be contagious! By contrast, Rani's mother and grandmother have stood by her father and his love of the arts, but his father beat him for dancing.  Maybe it's because we all know Karan Johar's real-life journey of self- and societal acceptance that I think we can read this entire storyline of what it would be like to come out not as a khatak dancer but as a gay man in India today.

The resulting film is one that wears its politics as well as its heart on its sleeve, but remains entertaining throughout. Pritam's songs are fantastic and the choreography, outfits and sets are wonderfully over the top.  In particular, I love Manish Malhotra's brightly coloured chiffon saris for Alia Bhatt's Rani, and Ranveer Singh brilliantly self-parodies his real life image as a fashion obsessive as Rocky.  Karan Johar expertly uses the iconography of DEVDAS in his pivotal khatak scene, and my only real criticism is the heavy product placement for a certain music back catalogue's hardware in the grandparents' reminiscence montage. As for scene stealers - well it's lovely to have Dharmendra and Shabana Azmi back on the screen, although I could have done without Jaya Bachchan's two-dimensionally-written evil grandma.  I think it's actually Anjali Anand as Golu/Gayatri who really steals the show with a late movie singing scene that cracked me up. 

ROCKY AUR RANI KI PREM KAHANI has a running time of 168 minutes plus an interval. It is rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate innuendo, sexual violence references.

Sunday, July 30, 2023


Composer Damian Kulash and late night scriptwriter Kristin Gore make their directorial debut with Apple TV's biographical dramedy THE BEANIE BUBBLE.  This is something you may remember from the 1990s, when for a brief moment adult humans thought that buying and flipping children's soft toys would make them millionaires.  

This was all thanks to the perfect combination of three factors. First the toymaker's decision NOT to sell on mass to big retailers like Toys'R'Us but one to small stores, creating hype by word of mouth rather than mass marketing.  Second, the toymaker's decision to retire individual models, creating scarcity. Thirdly, the arrival of the internet and Ebay, allowing frenzy to build in the second-hand market. At its peak, people were jumping delivery trucks to get their hands on the toys, and when McDonalds ran a promotion giving away mini Beanie Babies with their Happy Meals, people were queuing round the block for the exclusive toys. 

This all seems like marketing genius and the movie argues that it indeed was. Except that the genius wasn't the sole purview of the toymaker Ty Warner. He could design cute toys, sure, but this film argues that his billionaire success was actually the result of three women that he met at different parts of his life. 

The first is Robbie, played by the always likeable Elizabeth Banks. She is a really charismatic and shrewd saleswoman who helps Ty make major sales of Beanie Babies at trade shows and sets up foreign distribution. She actually co-founds the company with him but because he used his family money, she has no actual ownership stake.

The second is Sheila, played by Succession's Sarah Snook. When she meets Ty she is an independent single mother of two smart young girls.  She is swept off her feet, but while engaged resists marriage.  Her contribution to the Beanie Babies story is that her kids inspire a lot of the designs as ready made beta testers.

Finally, and arguably most crucially, we have the young college student Maya (break-out star Geraldine Viswanathan) who starts off temping at the company and eventually masterminds its e-commerce strategy before any other company even knew what e-commerce was. She is the one who sets up the website and realises how important the secondary market on Ebay is, not just in driving up primary sales but also in giving them feedback on which are the popular models. She also writes all of the cutesy poems on the Beanie Baby tags.

Together these women power Ty to success but the more he gets the more selfish, narcissistic and greedy he becomes. As a result, the story of the film is pitched not as his story, but as the story of three amazing women who get used but who also have the strength to leave. 

I really enjoyed this film. It's no work of art but it is well cast and cleverly constructed so that we see these women's stories unfold simultaneously, allowing for some great aha moments at the end when they finally meet in real time. Zach Galifianakis reins it in as Ty, making his character suitably sinister while still larger than life. And Viswanathan absolutely knocks it out of the park with a star-making turn as the moral heart of the film.  Still, as much as the screenwriter wants this to be a feminist parable, it is Ty that had the last laugh. He remains a billionaire. 

THE BEANIE BUBBLE is rated R, has a running time of 111 minutes and is streaming on Apple TV.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023


Mark Cousins is arguably the most erudite cinema essayist working today and cineastes will learn a lot from watching his latest film about the works of the master, Alfred Hitchcock.  With minute detail and deep knowledge of how Hitchock's films were constructed (lighting, mise en scene, framing, direction) Cousins gives us new insights into Hitchcock's art.  He does this my chossing six themes - e
scape, desire, loneliness, time, fulfilment and height - and then taking scenes from Hitchock's work and explaining the throughline, whether from the early British black and white films or the later big budget American colour films. My only issue with Cousins' documentary - though it is a big one - is that rather than simply narrating the film himself, as Cousins' did with his epic STORY OF CINEMA, he chooses to deliver his analysis from the imagined point of view of Hitchcock himself, as voiced by the impersonator Alastair McGowan. I found this really distracting, maybe partly because Hitchcock had such a particular (and not particularly clear) way of speaking. I would far rather Cousins shed the pretense that he can see into the minds of these auteurs (he did something similar with Welles).  First-rate film criticism is enough. It doesn't need any bells and whistles or imaginative leaps. 

MY NAME IS ALFRED HITCHCOCK has a running time of 120 minutes. It played Telluride 2022 and is on limited release in UK cinemas and is available to rent at home.

Saturday, July 22, 2023


I have found Christopher Nolan's films deeply frustrating. I regard him as our most accomplished technical film-maker since Stanley Kubrick. And yet I have serially struggled to be truly emotionally involved in his films. I admired them. I was intellectually provoked by them. But they were arid, sterile things that failed to move me or to tell me anything insightful about the human condition. 

With OPPENHEIMER everything has changed. For the first time, Nolan has trained his IMAX camera onto a deeply personal, ethical, political, sexual story of a great but troubled man.  He has given us a film that feels at times more like an Oliver Stone political conspiracy film that takes us under the skin of American history. But at the same time, he gives us images and sound design of surpassing beauty and power.  Best of all, he allows us to view it on actual celluloid IMAX film.

Nolan's film is an interrogation of the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the genius physicist who ran the US government's Manhattan Project and delivered them the atomic bomb that was controversially used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  One might think this would earn him a nation's grateful respect but in the Cold War anti-Soviet hysteria of the McCarthy witch-hunts, Oppenheimer was refused his security clearance on the basis of his 1930s sympathy with left-wing causes and effectively publicly silenced. Was Oppenheimer a Communist? No. But he was a fellow traveller who donated to worthy causes that were Communist front organisations. After all, as a Jew who was funding the escape of fellow Jews from Nazi Germany he was deeply sensitive to the plight of refugees. Was Oppenheimer a traitor? No. He hated Hitler and feared what would happen if the Nazis got the A-bomb. It was Klaus Fuchs who was leaking Los Alamos' secrets to the Soviets.  Oppenheimer - even after everything his country did to him - loved it to the end.

Oppenheimer was not, then, a traitor. But he was indeed guilty of naivety and highhandedness.  He was naive about how far his celebrity would protect him from the political machine. He was naive about how far a prurient establishment would excuse his incessant womanising, not least with the actual Communist Jean Tatlock. He was naive about how far he could cover up for his Communist friend Haakon Chevalier without being seen as complicit.  

Oppenheimer was also high-handed.  Perhaps this should be no surprise for the wealthy son of first generation Jewish immigrants who grew up in an apartment filled with expensive art and who had the resources to travel throughout Europe to lear from the champions of the New Physics. For a man who could be devastatingly charming at a dinner party, he was careless of appearing rude to powerful politicians. He had no time for the Game, and Game beat him in the end.  

In this film, politics is embodied in and personified by Oppenheimer's nemesis, Lewis Strauss. Strauss was also a second generation Jewish immigrant but unlike Oppenheimer didn't have the money to study physics at university, becoming a shoe salesman to raise the tuition fees. Despite later wild financial success and political success he never lost his insecurity over this lack of formal education. After World War Two, Strauss maintained his interest in science by chairing the Atomic Energy Commission, and so butted heads with Oppenheimer.  While never publicly regretting creating the A-bomb, or its use against Japan, Oppenheimer used all of his influence to try and steer US policy toward collaboration, containment, and against developing the H-bomb.  By contrast, the pragmatist Strauss simply wanted the US to be better armed than the Soviets.

Nolan's framing device for his film are the two trials in all but name of these two men that took place in the febrile McCarthyite political climate of the 1950s. The latter is the 1958 Senate hearing of Strauss, shot in black and white, where he fails to be confirmed for a Cabinet position.  The reason?  The vindictive kangaroo court he inflicted upon Oppenheimer in 1954 when the AEC refused to renew his top security clearance, and all but accused him of being a Soviet spy. Publicly shamed, Oppenheimer public life was effectively ended. 

The vast centre of the film within this framing device is the story of Oppenheimer's life as told by him in his statement to the 1954 Gray Commission.  In this part of the film we are in vivid colour and firmly in the subjective experience of our protagonist. From young student in Europe to charismatic Berkeley professor, to impressively driven manager of the Manhattan project.  We see him trying to balance his politics with his top security cleared job, and his ethics with the need to win the war against Hitler.  This becomes infinitely more muddy when Nazi Germany surrenders and it becomes clear that the bomb will be used against civilian subjects in Japan.  That decision is still debated, and it's unclear how much influence the scientists ever really had on the politicians. But Oppenheimer's self justification went along the lines that a demonstration of the awesome power of the A-bomb would scare politicians into co-operation within the United Nations for arms control. Evidently, this was not the case.

What can we say about this infinitely complex, nuanced, moving drama? Nolan's writing is a masterclass in concision and precision. Every line is considered - every intertwining of timelines adds meaning.  His direction is masterful. Working with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema he conjures up the magisterial beauty of New Mexico; the claustrophobia of the Commission's interrogation room; the vivid abstraction of quantum physics; and the awesome power of nuclear fire.  Working with composer Ludwig Goransson, Nolan creates a sound design and complementary soundscape that is at moments tender, at moments tellingly silent, and at moments so powerful and literally awesome that it shakes your entire body.  And working with his actors, well Nolan is simply a master.

Let's start with Cillian Murphy's haunting central performance as Oppenheimer - arrogant, haughty, stubborn, guilt-ridden, hunted.  But let's also speak of Robert Downey Junior as Strauss - puffed up, prickly, wiser, harder. And then we have the balancing presence of Matt Damon as General Groves - physically intimidating, no nonsense, practical, but humane. In smaller roles, I loved the interrogatory intensity of Jason Clarke's Roger Robb; Dane De Haan's sinister precision as security officer Nichols; and a truly intimidating cameo by Casey Affleck as his superior, Boris Pash. 

For the women, well, this is Nolan's weakness. I feel that both of the female stars are given short shrift. Florence Pugh is all too brief a presence as Oppenheimer's true love, Jean Tatlock. She is reduced to being naked, demanding, capricious.  We don't see her brilliance. But we get something of her brave, troubled nature. I also think (but need to rewatch to confirm) that Nolan inserts a slippery quick shot of a gloved hand intervening in her narrative. Similarly Emily Blunt has little to do for much of the film as Oppenheimer's wife Kitty.  A brilliant botanist who resented giving up her career to be stuck at Los Alamos with the kids, Kitty is a brittle alcoholic from the start in this version of her life. She exists to urge Oppenheimer to fight back - perhaps cathartically for the audience.  And to provide a channel for our anger when he is intent on being a martyr.

The short-changing of the female characters is a minor blemish on an outstanding film that pushes Nolan from technical mastery into the realm of "complete" film-making. He is now to be considered with the true masters of cinema.  This is a film that is intellectually and emotionally provocative, that excites visually and aurally, and that showcases outstanding performances. Please try to see it on IMAX celluloid. 

OPPENHEIMER is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK and has a running time of 180 minutes. 


BARBIE is a fun light film that isn't really as profound or original as it thinks, but worth seeing for Ryan Gosling's star-turn as Ken. Greta Gerwig shows us how cine literate she is, but she tangles herself in knots trying to show us how Barbie is actually a feminist icon. Worse still, she wastes a truly heartfelt pre-ending with housewife turned Barbie inventor Ruth Handler with yet another tonally uneven shift into broad comedy.

First the good stuff. For much of its running time BARBIE is a lot of fun. It looks fun, the pop songs are great, the costumes are fabulous and it has the same kind of crass gonzo energy as ZOOLANDER.  Ryan Gosling is absolutely superb as Barbie's overlooked boyfriend Ken, really channelling that Owen Wilson-Ben Stiller vibe with his outrageous prickly vanity.  I also loved Michael Cera - long known to us a dry comedy genius - as Ken's even more overlooked sidekick. 

The problem is that these charismatic, hilarious, male characters overshadow Barbie in her own movie.  Ken's enlightenment upon leaving Barbieland for contemporary LA is that men (and horses!) rule! The path of Ken from friendzoned sidekick to champion of the patriarchy and thence to working on himself and being "Ken Enough" is genuinely fascinating and funny and at times genuinely poignant. It's something we haven't really seen addressed in contemporary film before: the reaction of men in a world that is now empowering women - or at least paying lip service to that. 

By contrast, Barbie's enlightenment that the real world is not a matriarchy is pretty hackneyed.  America Ferrera makes a superb speech in the final act of the film about how tough it is to be a woman in contemporary society - be pretty but not too threatening, be thin but not too thin, have a career but also be a great mum. The speech resonates but felt like so many speeches I had heard before. There is (sadly) nothing new here for us, even it's new to Barbie. 

I also don't feel that the film ever squares the circle of how to reconcile the "fascistic" uber prettiess of Barbie with the concept that Barbie is actually a feminist empowerment telling little girls everywhere they can be doctors and scientists and President.  What Barbie actually tells them is that society recognises and rewards an impossible standard of beauty.  The character Sasha gets it right with her epic second act takedown but Greta Gerwig (in partnership with Mattel) never has the balls or the scope to really explore that.

Last but not least, let's talk about tone, and how Greta Gerwig tries to have it all - from dayglo Barbie pink with songs by Lizzo and Dua Lipa, to ethereal mournful existential angst in the words of Billie Eilish.  I feel that is particularly jarring in the final scenes of the film where a genuinely moving scene between Margot Robbie's Barbie and Rhea Pearlman's Ruth Handler is sandwiched between Barbieland fun and a gynie joke. Pick a lane, Greta! Pick a lane.

BARBIE is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 114 minutes.

Monday, July 17, 2023


Pity Gen Z for many things, but especially for never knowing the joys of vinyl - the waiting in line for new releases, the reverential first play, the endless mooning over the iconic cover art, interpreting and reinterpreting now iconic images.  Noel Gallagher sums it up best when he observes that his kid doesn't even know what cover art is, least of all why anyone would pay for it.  Thumbnail schnumbnail. But in the old days of prog rock when drum solos could last half an hour and record companies were allowing their stadium bands unprecedented freedom, the album cover was the art of the masses (again, aptly put by Noel).  And if album covers were art then Hipgnosis aka Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey "Po" Powell were the most influential artists of their time.  Almost every classic cover you know from Led Zip, the Floyd, 10CC, Peter Gabriel, and more besides were designed by this duo.  They seem to have fallen into the job by way of psychedelic drug-taking and happening to know Pink Floyd. It's the kind of weird whacky shit you can't make it: they amass their first lighting rig from Roman Polanski who was shooting REPULSION in the same apartment block. Drugs killed Bono and video killed Hipgnosis. There was a half-arsed attempt at becoming video artists but it broke up without record companies to under-write their (or specifically Storm's) excesses. But what a time they had.

Photographer and fiction feature director Anton Corbijn (CONTROL) tells this story in his trademark black and white, with only the album covers themselves in glorious colour.  The doc is centred around a candid and deeply moving interview with Po and old footage of the design studio members at their height. We also get context and insight from new interviews with members of Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel. Their respect for the art of Hipgnosis is clear. And with this doc we all get to go behind the scenes of some of their most iconic album cover shoots and relive their glory. Splendid stuff.

SQUARING THE CIRCLE (THE STORY OF HIPGNOSIS) has a running time of 101 minutes. It played Telluride 2022 and Sundance 2023 and was released in UK cinemas and streaming platforms last weekend.



It feels as though Wes Anderson peaked somewhere around GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and has been offering diminishing returns ever since. To be sure, ASTEROID CITY isn't quite as pointless as THE FRENCH DISPATCH but it isn't far off.  The film looks beautiful. It is as full of Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson as ever. But at what point do we just say, "Halt! Enough!" Because of all this useless beauty becomes merely self-parody if it doesn't also make us feel.

Maybe the problem is that the stuff that is meant to make us feel has been done before, many times, by Wes Anderson.  The self-cannibalisation just feels lazy.  How often can we watch a film about the awkwardness and sweetness of first love?  We've already seen it done better in MOONRISE KINGDOM and indeed in GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, but with way more consequence in the latter.  The story of a widower struggling to tell his kids about their mother's death and calling in his father to help is also ripped straight out of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.  Ask yourself if Jason Schwartzman's emotional crisis, which barely registers on screen, moves you as much as Ben Stiller's manic energy in TENENBAUMS? Everywhere I looked at this film I saw pale dilutions of ideas already worked and reworked. And nothing approaching the mournful or comedic heights of the best of Anderson's oeuvre. It's like watching the last two decades of Woody Allen knowing that MANHATTAN was once possible.

ASTEROID CITY is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 105 minutes. It played Cannes 2023 and opened last month.

Sunday, July 16, 2023


Dionne Edwards debut feature is an assured and humane drama featuring incredibly strong central performances from its core trio of actors.  Natey Jones starts as Travis, a South London DJ just released from prison and returning to his family and a shit job in a restaurant.  His wife Candice (Alexandra Burke) is desperate to break out of her shitty jobs to star in a musical as Tina Turner.  She welcomes her husband back, and they seem to have a mutually supportive and sex-positive relationship. The drama begins when we realise that Travis is attracted to the stunning red dress he has bought his wife for her audition. When his teenage daughter Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun), and then his wife catch him wearing it, he tries to laugh it off as a drunken joke.  But we realise it's something far deeper, and soon so do they.  Their reactions feel authentic and complicated.  Candice wants to be supportive but also needs him to be her husband as he used to be - for her, there's a difference between role-play and questioning identity.  Meanwhile Kenisha, who is also starting to come out as gay, feels that she has to defend her father from homophobic language and is on the verge of being excluded from her school. We realise Travis is a good man when he defends his daughter's acting out despise his internalised homophobia. But I couldn't help but feel that the final scene let the family and the audience off the hook a little too easily.  Nonetheless, this is a great debut feature and I look forward to seeing what Dionne Edwards does not. It's also really refreshing to see contemporary real London on screen.

PRETTY RED DRESS has a running time of 110 minutes. It played the BFI London Film Festival 2022 and was released in the UK last month.


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE DEAD RECKONING PART ONE is the action film other action films want to be when they grow up. It brings us glamorous destinations and stunts that are better choreographed and more audacious than a James Bond, Bourne or Fast film.  But most of all, it brings us a depth of relationship dynamic that we just don't get with other films.  The characters care about each other, they riff off of each other, and they have a profound moral sense. This means that amidst the action scenes we get moments of real pathos.  We actually care that the characters survive.  We actually believe in their mission.  

The big bad in this film couldn't be more timely: a sentient AI that has gained access to every major nation's defense and intelligence systems.  Governments are vying to control it and so become the world's next superpower.  By contrast, our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his friends and colleagues in the Impossible Mission Force want to stop it. And to do so they need to unite two half of a cruciform key AND figure out what that key unlocks.  This mission will lead them from an attempted theft in Abu Dhabi airport, to a car chase in Rome, a brokered deal in Venice, and an interception aboard the Orient Express.

The stunts are just incredible. The car chase in Rome neatly references THE ITALIAN JOB and gives us the physical comedy of Cruise driving a tiny Fiat. But the money shot is the one that was featured in the extended trailer, showing Cruise motorcycling off a mountain then free gliding onto the Orient Express.  And yes, in a world of CGI, the fact that we see and know that it is Cruise makes all the difference. 

But as I said before, what makes this film fantastic are the layered relationships and call-backs.  I love Vanessa Kirby channelling Vanessa Redgrave from MI1, as Max's daughter and Alanna.  I love having Harry Czerny back as Kitteridge, and how Macquarrie shoots him in a askew angles, just like Brian de Palma in the first film.  As for the much ridiculed MI2 I would argue that Hayley Atwell's Grace is basically Nia Nordorff-Hall redrawn with more spunk.  From MIs 1 to 3 on we get both Simon Pegg's Benji and Ving Rhames's Luther as the IMF's IT experts, with some great banter as to who is the best coder. (Clearly, Luther!)  And from MI5 and 6 we get Rebecca Ferguson's literally kickass former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust. In other words, the gang's back together and we really feel their love for each other: indeed that bond is an integral part of the plot.

It's worth taking a moment to note that the core group of players is one of the most diverse in contemporary action film. Few films are making their crack coders older black men.  Even better, that we rarely see a MI woman in a bikini (unless she's training to hold her breath underwater).  These are all professional competent women. They aren't (with the exception of Nia) damsels in distress. And while Grace is a shit action driver, well, wouldn't we all be? But we have no doubt that she would be a skilled member of IMF in due course.  And let's just highlight the careful writing of the character Paris, played superbly by Pom Klementieff. In a Bond film, she'd be just another crazed evil henchman.  But in this film she's given growth, nuance and dignity.

It's also worth remembering that what Tom Cruise and Christopher Macquarie have achieved is rare: they have pushed forward the action genre while also creating a mournful meditation on the toll secret work takes on personal relationships and the refuge that is found family.  And, if that sounds po-faced, they do this while also making meta-jokes about latex masks and how everyone thinks the IMF is the International Monetary Fund. 

I cannot speak highly enough for the way in which this franchise has developed. MI3 had been my favourite instalment up until now but this just blew me away.  See it now, on the biggest screen with the big sound system you can find. 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE has a running time of 163 minutes and is rated 12A in the UK and PG-13 in the USA. It is on global release.