Thursday, September 28, 2023


Gareth Edwards (ROGUE ONE) returns to our screens with a sci-fi film that feels like a cross between Battlestar Galactica and The Golden Child, except this time Sada Numpse is Allison Janney. I was surprised at just how slow, dull and soapy the film felt: all saccharine tears and overwrought emotion.  I wanted an intelligent interrogation of the real threat that AI poses. Instead I got sanctimony and a disappointingly guessable plot twist.

The film is set forty years in the future in a world where the West has decided to eliminate AI after it nuked LA, but for some unknown reason "New Asia" has decided it's cool with being out-evolved. For now, the US has the upper hand thanks to a suspiciously Death-Star hover-nuke called Nomad that can take out enemies at will, napalm-in-the-morning style. But New Asia is fighting back: its mysterious scientist Namrata has created a new AI that can neutralise any other tech, embodied in a cute little Cylon child. 

That's about as much actual sci-fi as we get. The film seems far more concerned with moody action sequences in beautifully evocative Asian settings. These hinge on John David Washington's US soldier Joshua being on the lam with the aforementioned Golden Child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) as they search for Namrata and Joshua's Asian wife Maya (Gemma Chan in a hugely underwritten part).  There are some car chases and a lot of shooting. Ken Watanabe has a rather moving cameo.  But the overwhelming feeling I had was, come on, are we there yet? And when we do finally get there, it's all so underwhelming, and indeed laughable (poor Allison Janney!)

The overall impression I get is that Gareth Edwards has made a film that looks fantastic, and imagines a beautiful, grungy, lived-in world.  But his choice to set the action in Asia and to use the Golden Child trope is problematic. His writing is very thin, and this hamstrings his actors. An example of the bad writing is given below: warning it contains spoilers.

THE CREATOR is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 133 minutes. It is on global release.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023


There is a really good movie to be made about the Gamestop sage, but DUMB MONEY is not it. Directed by Craig Gillespie (I, TONYA) and written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, the movie aspires to be THE BIG SHORT but has none of its wit, its deep understanding of financial markets, or its sheer dynamism. I didn't laugh once. I didn't learn anything. And more than that I got increasingly angry at the film's inability to tackle the real issues at stake, or to actually get the point. In fact, I think DUMB MONEY may be the most wrong-headed, dumb film I have watched in a long while.

Now, full disclosure, this blog used to be called Movie Reviews For Greedy Capitalist Bastards. And maybe I know more than the average movie goer about how financial markets work. But that isn't the point. Films like MARGIN CALL and THE BIG SHORT did great work in taking complex financial issues and interrogating them clearly and even-handedly.  But instead of having the balls to be nuanced, what Gillespie gives us is a fake David vs Goliath story, with pantomime villains and a very bizarre take on what a hero is. I think the result is morally questionable, and certainly not entertaining.

So let's go back to the beginning.  Keith Gill (Paul Dano) starts off as a little known retail investor in the US stock market.  He decides that Gamestop is undervalued, and explains why in a little-watched youtube channel. At the start I think he was in earnest. He believed he had found Deep Fucking Value in a retailer that was oversold on fears of e-commerce. I have no issue with him at this point. Then he started gaining traction on a Reddit channel called Wall Street Bets and I think it went to his head.  He realised that not only was he pumping up the value of his recommended stock, but that he could actually get it up to a level where he could punish the big hedge funds that were betting against the stock - the kind of folks that had refused to hire him all those years.

What the film should have asked is at what point our supposed hero of the little man realised the stock price had gone beyond Deep Fucking Value to Fair Value (on his reckoning) and then to Over Valued.  Even allowing for some kids still liking to buy actual hard copy games, did he really believe a value of >$100 was fair? And if he did not, then continuing to pump up the stock was just as nefarious as the institutional investors he and his dumb money disciples said they were fighting against. If we had seen any of this moral questioning, Paul Dano might have actually had something to do worthy of his talent. 

But this film isn't actually interested in asking the hard questions about Gill.  And it sure isn't interested in asking the hard questions about the toxic online culture he was part of.  There are a couple of throwaway lines that dismiss the misogyny, racism and generally 4Chan nastiness as a "few bad apples". Riiiiight. That toxicity and populist fact-opposed bullshit is exactly why a bunch of normal ordinary people lost their savings in this meme-stock insanity. Shouldn't the film have asked if Gill had any remorse?

No, the bad guys here are the evil hedge funds and the tech guys who invented Robinhood, a commission-free trading platform. Never mind that the Hedgie (Seth Rogen) made a conviction bet just like Gill, but did not pump the stock artificially - he just sat back for years waiting for e-commerce and bad management to do its work. I do indeed blame the Robinhood folk for switching off trades when they couldn't post margin.  But the film actually let's them off rather lightly, over-excited about getting Sebastian Stan to do a Sean Parker in THE SOCIAL NETWORK-lite cameo.  The film also seems to imply in its end credits that somehow Nick Griffin at Citadel (Nick Offerman - excellently understated) got away with nefarious influence over Robinhood. Maybe if charges weren't posted it's because there wasn't a case? 

I just can't take a film seriously that doesn't have its basic thesis straight. These meme stock traders were not heroes who started a revolution, as the end credits argue.  They were literally dumb money that didn't invest but gambled, refused to close out their positions out of greed, and lost their shirts.  To argue that they are somehow the righteous Davids, inherently morally better than the evil Goliaths, is nonsense. 

DUMB MONEY is rated R and has a running time of 105 minutes. It played Toronto 2023 and is now on global release.


There's an essay to be written on what happens to spiky independent directors who sell-out to dumb franchise movies, cf Ben Wheatley's MEG 2 and Neill Blomkamp (formerly of the superb DISTRICT 9 and CHAPPIE) helming this piss-poor piece of product merchandising.  It's hard to see anything of Blomkamp's political satire and visual artistry in GRAN TURISMO. Instead, we get a painfully tired, cliched, nakedly commercial, underdog sports film about a sim racer turned actual real life racing driver, based on a true story.

There are many flaws with this film, and a ham-fisted script is the largest one. Second, we have a cast basically phoning it in (that's you David Harbour), or playing it one shot shy of a camp Bond villain (Orlando Bloom). But the real problem is that the racing doesn't excite. I love a bit of F1 and have watched many an autosport movie. It says a lot that you can stage scenes at some iconic tracks - not least the beast of the Nurburgring - and not set my pulse racing. I think the problem is that Blomkamp doesn't distinguish between sim and real racing. In fact, he does the opposite. He makes real racing feel like sim-racing by adding on visual trackers and taking away any real life feel for track noise and atmosphere. When I watch a racing movie, I want to feel the heat, the sound, the the tension, the stakes. I want to smell the burning rubber.  This film gave me none of that.

Still, I am awarding the film two stars. One for its young lead actor Archie Madekwe who puts in an earnest and compelling central performance. And one for the comedy value of seeing real-life F1 Principal's wife and ex-Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell uttering the immortal line "these lentils are nice".

GRAN TURISMO has a running time of 134 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is on global release.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

CATCHING FIRE: THE STORY OF ANITA PALLENBERG***** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Preview

The more docs I watch about the supposedly glamorous sex drugs and rock'n'roll 60s and 70s the more dark and toxic I realise it actually was. CATCHING FIRE: THE STORY OF ANITA PALLENBERG does nothing to over-turn that opinion, but impresses with its crisp well-organised construction, its access to key players, and its superb use of Pallenberg's unpublished memoirs and previously unseen home video footage. All of these give the film an intimacy and understanding of what it must have been like to be at the centre of the Rolling Stones whirlwind.

Directors Svetlana Zill and Alexis Bloom try hard to make the case that Italian-born German model and actress Anita Pallenerg was worthy of notice in her own right. They speak to her charisma, her intelligence, her style, and the fact that she might have been a great actress.  Kate Moss speaks of her as the original Boho Rock Chick.  I was not convinced.  Sure, with her European upbringing and language skills, Anita was streets ahead of the Rolling Stones in style and confidence, and contributed to THEIR success, but what was actually hers? Do we really get a feel for her acting talent from a cameo in BARBARELLA or her role in PERFORMANCE? If nothing else those roles show how exploitative that era was. Roger Vadim notoriously abused his wife Jane Fonda in their relationship and the latter film was a vehicle for Mick Jagger who Anita inevitably slept with. And in the most telling moment of all, the radical revolutionary Stones were actually good old fashioned patriarchal misogynists - or at least Keith Richards was - making Anita give up her acting when they got together. So, from my perspective, while the film wants us to think of Anita as this strong, smart, inspirational woman, she actually comes across as yet another victim of men who wanted her, and her addictions.

The film opens with a young Anita falling into the orbit of the neo-famous Stones. She starts dating Brian Jones, but his addiction spins out of control and she ends up as physically abused carer, falling into addiction herself to cope. Did we know he was physically abusive before this doc? Listening to Scarlett Johansson's emotionally affecting reading of Anita's unpublished memoirs gives us a hitherto unknown insight into how horrific that time was for Anita. It broke my heart. We now know that she didn't so much jump from Brian to Keith Richards out of love, or lust, but as a means of self-protection.

And so we come to the period when the Stones were on the run, threatened with prosecution for drug use. They start recording Exile on Main Street in a French mansion that attracts free-loaders and junkies. Keith and Anita are using heavily despite the fact that they now have a young son, Marlon.  By the time they get to Switzerland, they also have a daughter, Angela, and in the words of a neighbour, interviewed here, Marlon though a toddler, is basically the man of the house.  At this level of neglect, it becomes abuse, and it speaks volumes to the character of Marlon and Angela that they speak of their mother with compassion and understanding.  It's also telling they refer to her as "Anita" rather than "mum".

The most heartbreaking moment of the film is when Keith and Anita's third child, Tara, dies of what we would now understand to be SIDS. She questions if she could have done more if sober. He goes on stage that night, weirdly numb, but in his explanation to stop him shooting himself. They seem to love their kids, but they simply are too high to be parents. 

Eventually they split, she gets sober, and has a second life away from the shadow of the Stones, taking a degree, modelling, acting again. She seems happy. In a sense it becomes a story of survival and reinvention - maybe discovering who she really was all along.  But one really thinks about those wasted years of addiction and oppression, of not working as an actor because Keith didn't let her, of basically running a flophouse for junkies in France.  You can only describe it as tragic. 

CATCHING FIRE: THE STORY OF ANITA PALLENBERG has a running time of 110 minutes. It played Cannes 2023 and will play the BFI London Film Festival. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

FIRE THROUGH DRY GRASS***** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Preview

FIRE THROUGH GRASS is a devastating and damning  - but sadly not surprising - indictment of the way in which society leaves behind its most vulnerable members in times of crisis. The thing that flips the script, and makes this one of the stand-out documentaries of the year, is that those literally left-behind, locked-up, gas-lit and abused "victims" refused to take it quietly. Instead they turned on their movie cameras and used their eloquent voices to become Reality Poets in service of a cause: #disabledlivesmatter. 

As the film opens, we meet the Reality Poets - black and brown men in wheelchairs through reasons we will come to discover as the film unfolds.  They met in Coler - a New York City run nursing home on a tiny island just off the coast of Manhattan.  And as most of the residents are old, these younger men start hanging out and free styling for fun.  One of the poets, director Jay Molina, connects with film director and activist Alexis Neophytides, and he starts to document his friends' lives on film. 

Then the pandemic hits.  Not only are the friends locked up in the home, they can't even meet with each other if they are in different wards.  The nurses look panicked, they don't have enough PPE, and isolation protocols aren't being followed.  Things get out of control when Di Blasio and Cuomo start shifting patients out of hospital into Coler, which has now been retrofitted into a hospital.  It's a story we know in the UK too - vulnerable nursing home patients with comorbidities left as sitting ducks when hospital patients move in without proper testing first.  One of the poets describe his words as ripping through like fire through dry grass. Sadly this is also a metaphor for how covid ripped through those wards.

The anger and frustration increases as the lockdown extends from weeks to months.  The poets and their fellow residents suffer from a lack of even basic healthcare, their lives at risk, and some of them die. And they die in far greater numbers than the politicians will admit to.  As if the physical risk wasn't enough, their mental health deteriorates as isolation takes its toll. 

The Reality Poets and other residents start to agitate, getting their experiences into the outside world and - in the wake of the murder of George Floyd - starting a protest movement on both sides of the fence. But still the authorities - whether the hospital managers or politicians - refuse to believe them. It's the final insult at the end of the film when we learn that neither Cuomo nor di Blasio deigned to be interviewed for the film, and many hospital staff refused to be interviewed for fear of retaliation.

It blows my mind how many nursing homes this basic story must have been true for.  And how, according to the one nurse brave enough to be interviewed, this wasn't just about the pandemic: basic health services were not being provided even before that. It's with grim inevitability that we learn that people of colour are less likely to receive the care they are entitled to, and that more died faster in the pandemic. These things don't happen in a vacuum. They speak to societal prejudice against the differently able and ethnic minorities. God forbid you are both at once. 

Social care is going to become one of the defining issues of this decade. That alone makes this film urgent and important. But watch it to be inspired by these brave film-makers and to see the first draft of history taken from the frontlines of the pandemic.

FIRE THROUGH DRY GRASS has a running time of 89 minutes. It goes on release in the USA on September 29th and will play the BFI London Film Festival 2023 where tickets are still available for both screenings.

GIRL** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Preview

Writer-director Adura Onashile's debut feature is a deeply frustrating film. There are flashes of brilliance: a fascinating soundscape and strong performances, but my attention sagged. Even though the film only has an 86 minute run-time it felt as though it was 30 minutes too long, like a short-film expanded beyond its narrative capability.  The result is a film that feels underwritten and uninvolving. 

As the film opens we meet a young mother and pre-teen daughter living in a high-rise flat in contemporary Scotland. West African immigrant Grace (Deborah Lukumuena) and her daughter Ama (Le'Shantay Bonsu) share their space with an oppressive intimacy. It soon becomes clear that Grace's over-protection stems from trauma and is manifesting in emotional manipulation and damage to her child. As well as literally locking her in the flat at night while she goes out to work, Grace seems to infantilise Ama, fearing the onset of puberty in a kind of dysphoria by proxy.  A well-meaning social worker tries to intervene, as does Ama's newfound schoolfriend. But that's about as much plot as we get. 

What we DO get are endless tableaux of Grace and Ama in close-up expressing fear and captivity - whether literal or emotional  This becomes wearying. That said, I really loved Re Olunuga's ethereal and evocative score, and cinematographer Tasha Black's acid coloured nightscapes of Glasgow. It has never looked more beautiful.

GIRL has a running time of 87 minutes. It played Sundance 2023 and will play the BFI London Film Festival 2023.

SHOSHANA**** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Preview

Michael Winterbottom's SHOSHANA is a handsomely made, meticulously researched, admirably nuanced, film about politics and policing in 1930s Tel Aviv. At that time, Tel Aviv was a new modern town established by Zionists attempting to create a Jewish homeland in British-mandate Palestine.  The film (set in Italy) gives us a sense of how attractive life must have been there at the beginning: beautiful weather, stylish clothes, wonderful music, idealist politics and civilised debate. All of this is summed up in the real-life figure of Shoshana Borochuv (Irina Starshenbaum).  She is an intelligent, beautiful, Russian Jew who came to Israel with her iconic Zionist socialist father, and retains his idealism and mission.  She wants to create a peaceful, inclusive Israel without the violence she sees in the British occupation, and so becomes a member of Hagganah, who seek to work WITH the British for eventual independence.  This stands in contrast with the militant tactics of Irgun.

The film starts with violence, but somehow it feels like flashes and fleeting compared to the ratcheting intensity that comes later.  In the first twenty minutes we see the British summarily shoot an Arab and hang a Jew. The casual racism and anti-semitism of the British is summed up in the person of Geoffrey Morton, played by Harry Melling (THE PALE BLUE EYES).  He stands in contrast with Shoshana's lover, Wilkins (Douglas Booth), who speaks Hebrew and seems to genuinely love Shoshana and Tel Aviv.  But the message of the film is that idealism and love cannot survive politics.

As the film goes on, we see the stakes rise.  As Hitler's intentions toward the Jews become clear, the need for a Jewish homeland intensifies and the flow of immigrants increases.  Shoshana is now under threat for daring to be in love with a British police officer.  The Jewish policemen working with the British are targets too. Our lovers split up under the pressure of societal condemnation and police investigation. Wilkins - our sympathetic protagonist - is now witnessing brutal interrogations and taking part in brutal police raids on suspected Irgun members, notably their leader Avraham Stern (Aury Alby). By the depressing end of an immaculate film, we are asked if anyone's humanity can survive the brutal politics that created a still-contested state. When I saw the final scenes my heart broke.  

Winterbottom directs with patience and meticulous attention to detail. The "action" sequences of police raids are tense, and well choreographed.  The political debates clear and well-articulated. I had a real sense of time and place and what was at stake. And of the invidious demands put on fundamentally good people. My only criticism of the film is that while Starshenbaum and Booth give good individual performances, I never bought into their passionate love affair. They had no screen chemistry.

SHOSHANA has a running time of 119 minutes.  It played Toronto 2023. There are still tickets available for the BFI London Film Festival.

MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE**** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Preview

MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE is an absolutely charming, funny, inventive romantic comedy for aficionados of the genre. Modelled on WHEN HARRY MET SALLY with a side-order of screwball comedy, this is the film for those of us who tried to forge relationships in the era of tinder and insta celebrity culture, against the backdrop of populist politics and the pandemic. The film may well be set in the future but it very much speaks to our times, and even our nostalgia for those janky 1980s video games.  The aesthetic is deliberately lo-fi, day-glo coloured, and square aspect ratio'd.  It's like playing with a first gen Nintendo, but with the quick-witted dialogue of the best Woody Allen movie. Massive kudos to writer-director Michael Lull Lutwak. I can't believe this is his debut feature: it's so assured and despite its heavy references, genuinely unique. But also kudos to the lead actors, Zosia Mamet (Girls) and Aristotle Athari (SNL), who have real chemistry.  I actually believed in their multi-year friendship / romance and was rooting for them to win.  But most of all, kudos to Erin Darke who absolutely steals scenes as the 1940s wise-cracking screwball heroine AI/mech Mar14 who seems to be channelling Barbara Stanwick. 

MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE has a running time of 93 minutes. It played SXSW 2023 and does not yet have a commercial release date.


Guy Nattiv's GOLDA is a less a conventional biopic than an explanation pro vita sua of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's actions, or inactions, in the run up to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Notoriously, Israel was caught napping ahead of a joint Egyptian-Syrian invasion on the Jewish High Holiday.  Did Golda ignore intelligence warnings of troops massing on the border?  Her leadership during this crisis remains highly contested, and in the war's aftermath Meir was dragged in front of the Agranat Commission to explain herself. She was also ejected from power at the next election.  This film, using the Commission as a framing device, attempts to correct the historical record.

In this telling, Golda's advisors - Mossad chief Zvi Zamir (Rotem Keinan) and Defence minister Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger) were at odds in their pre-attack advice.  Her instinct told her to mobilise, but she knew this would be controversial ahead of Yom Kippur. Later in the film we learn that Mossad's incredibly expensive intelligence system was switched off in the days before the invasion, but Golda decided to take full responsibility for this and did not throw the agency under the bus.  We also learn that Israel had to fight with one hand tied behind her back, forgoing a pre-emptive strike because Nixon would have disapproved. After all, this was in essence a proxy war between the US and Soviet Union.

As writer Nicholas Martin steps us through the days of the war I felt as if I understood the shifting balance of forces and the difficult tactical decisions that Golda had to make.  We get a funny reference to publicity-hungry Ariel Sharon, but really the tone is deadly serious if not one of existential crisis. The film really comes alive in Golda's phone conversations with Liev Schreiber's Henry Kissinger, where she begs him for enough materiel to keep her armed forces functional. Or when in a brief reference to her childhood she describes her childhood in Ukraine, when Christians would celebrate Christmas by looking for Jews to beat up.  When you grow up fearing fatal violence in your own home for being Jewish, you are prepared deep in your bones for an existential war.

It is hard not to sympathise with a woman who seems to carry the weight of the nation on her hunched shoulders - whose health is so bad she is secretly undergoing treatment for cancer, but cannot stop chain-smoking.  There are beautifully subtle moments of feminine empathy. When Golda enters the cabinet room she pauses to ask the minute-taking secretary where her son is serving.  She takes every soldier's death to heart. I know there has been controversy about Helen Mirren playing the role given that she is not Jewish, but I cannot fault her performance. She is transformed into Golda by amazing prosthetic work, with an accurate midwestern accent, and with a world-weariness coupled with inward steel.

Behind the lens I admired Guy Nattiv's direction - the choice not to stage battle scenes but to use real wartime footage.  I also loved the sound direction of the film.  Many times, we hear Golda enveloped in the sound of a military bombardment, signalling how enmeshed she is in the experience of her troops. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I was expecting a hagiographic TV movie but got a far more considered, interestingly-made political drama. 

GOLDA is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 100 minutes. It played Berlin 2023 and was released in the USA in August. It goes on release in the UK on October 6th.

Saturday, September 16, 2023


Pablo Larrain returns to our screens after the histrionic and only partly successful Princess Diana biopic SPENCER with his mordantly black political satire about the Chilean director Augusto Pinochet, EL CONDE. Larrain has often covered the long shadow of Pinochet's brutal military dictatorship, not least in his brilliantly political comedy NO. But this film is darker, nastier and more challenging, if something of a one-trick pony. The big concept of this film is that Pinochet is reimagined as a vampire who first stirred up shit in the French revolution, before seizing power in a military coup in Chile, fifty years ago.  In Larrain's hilarious fantasy, Pinochet faked his own death in the mid 2010s, but now wants to actually die, leaving his avaricious wife and children with a logistical and financial issue.  So they bring in an accountant slash nun to both exorcise Pinochet so that he can be killed, but also to track down his hidden fortune. 

The question this film raises is where evil resides. Can it be isolated to Satan? To a single power- (and blood-) hungry general? To the soldiers that carried out his terror? To the businessmen and family members that grew rich in his regime? To the Catholic Church rich on ill-gotten donations? To the foreign political powers who supported his coups?  To the country, England, that had benefited from his military intelligence in the Falklands war?

As an ardent Thatcherite I might object at Stella Gonet's portrayal of Thatcher as a fellow blood-sucking political player, but that would to ludicrously miss the point. Thatcher DID admire Pinochet's fight against Communism and acknowledge Chile's help in the war. That realpolitik may not sit well with the British public but it's a truth we have to reckon with, just as Chile has to reckon with Pinochet's legacy in their own country.  The film uses provocative dark humour to rightly leave us all uncomfortable at our own complicity.

So kudos to Larrain and writer Guillermo Calderon for creating a deeply unsafe but also hilarious vampire movie, as provocative in its depiction of vampires and religion as Park Chan Wook's THIRST. But also a film that at root is a fucked-up five-person love story - the sexual and financial jealousy runs deep between Marie-Antoinette, Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet, his wife and his valet. Yep.  That's the kind of film this is.

Elsewhere, praise for cinematographer Ed Lachman (CAROL) for his stunning black and white photography, and to the actors Jaime Vadell (Pinochet), Paula Luchsinger (the nun), Gloria Muenchmeyer (Pinochet's wife) and a scene-stealing turn by Alfredo Castro as the valet.

EL CONDE has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated R. It played Venice and Telluride 2023, went on limited cinematic release last week, and is on Netflix this week.


The really annoying millennial assistant from White Lotus season 2 (Haley Lu Richardson) and Eastenders' Peter Beale (Ben Hardy) fall in love at first sight at a New York airport lounge. She's going to London for her father's second marriage, he's going to a living memorial for his dying mother.  Back in London, she decides to crash the aforementioned memorial and then he follows her to the wedding reception and all's well that ends well. 

Vanessa Caswill directs her debut feature with good pace but DP Luke Bryant's coral palette feels cloying.  Katie Lovejoy's script based on Jennifer E Smith's novel is similarly grating thanks to a condescending and unnecessary voiceover from a recurring character played by Jameela Jamil. The only real reason to watch this film - and a star each for both - is the genuinely moving love story between the English boy's parents. Dexter Fletcher and Sally Phillips play thespians who have lived a wonderful life together, thwarted by her now dying of cancer.  The living memorial is truly emotional, and I must admit I shed a tear.  THAT - not to the stupid meet cute between the kids - is the heart of the story, and the only thing in this film worth a damn.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT has a running time of 90 minutes, is rated PG-13, and is on global release on Netflix.

Sunday, September 10, 2023


Shah Rukh Khan returns to our screens with a social justice / revenge thriller / action movie that's one part Count of Monte Cristo, one part Dark Knight Returns, one part Charlie's Angels and one part Expendables.  Directed by Tamil cinema wunderkind Atlee with knowing references to martial arts and Western action classics, the resulting film delivers action set pieces to rival anything in the Western canon, and showcases the full range of Shah Rukh Khan's talents. It also admirably draws attentions to the structural injustices and corruption in contemporary India. That said, it falls down on the lack of chemistry in the central romantic relationship, the lame musical numbers, and the rather retrograde gender politics.

Shah Rukh Khan stars as a masked vigilante with six female sidekicks who robs the rich to both give to the poor and raise awareness of their plight. While the police might crow that they want to see the women in prison, the joke is that they already are. We learn that their crimes were justified by social injustice and that Shah Rukh Khan is actually their prison warden, Azad. And while they rail against systemic injustice in all its forms, it becomes clear that Azad's real nemesis is a weapons dealer called Kaalee Gaikwad (Vijay Sethypathi). Meanwhile, in a real life totally unnecessary sub-plot, Azad is being set up for an arranged marriage with - natch - Narmada (Nayanthara), a police hostage negotiator, and her cute little girl Suji.  

The plot is genuinely complicated and full of twists that really surprised and satisfied me.  The slow reveals of multi-generational injustice are very well done, and even the trailer to this film was a superb misdirect. So kudos to all of the writing team.  The action set pieces are also absolutely fantastic.  The choreography and shooting style, whether in the hand to hand combat or big vehicle chase scenes, are superlative.  There are some great stylistic twists on classic set-ups, like when someone drops their gun and it ends up wedged in a lorry's windscreen, alerting the bad guys to the good guys' presence.  I also really loved the Indian Expendables using decidedly old-school tricks to foil a plot and would gladly see a spin off of these old rogues careering around on motorbikes dispensing justice A-team style. I also loved the occasional flashes of humour, particularly in that Expendables aspect. There are some fantastic one-liners here.

I also really loved the fact that the film is progressive in its politics. It's quite radical that Narmada is a single mum and that this isn't held against her by Azad. In Modi's India it's probably quite radical to show a band of special forces fighters that are as racially and religiously diverse as India. It's also quite radical to see Atlee show so clearly the social injustices of contemporary India - the heavy financial burden and consequent suicides of Indian farmers - the shocking health divide between public and private hospitals - the ongoing toxic pollution from factories, nearly four decades after Bhopal - businessmen buying off politicians and directly buying votes - dodgy public procurement resulting in shoddy goods and the loss of life. 

Most of all, the final speech that Azad gives to the Indian nation is deeply radical, and not least because Shah Rukh Khan - a Muslim married to a Hindu - is giving it.  He tells them to use their finger to vote wisely (in a nation where you press the screen on an electronic voting machine) - to question what politicians will do for them rather than just voting along religious or caste lines. It strikes me that this is a powerful and simple message rather at odds with Modi's message of religious and caste separatism and exclusion. I applaud Khan for being able to make such speeches in the heightened politicised atmosphere in a Bollywood where "cancel culture" doesn't even begin to cover it. And where his own position as an example of a successful diverse family is not welcomed by large sections of society.  That said, how does he square the antagonist being an arms dealer with his lauding Sanjay Dutt in a cameo role, given his real life implications in weapons dealing? Or is the line that Dutt was himself the victim of corrupt politics? Either way, it's good to see Sanju back on screen after his fight with lung cancer.  It's a great cameo.

On the negative side of the scale, there's still a rather regretful social conservatism that pervades the film, in contrast to the more thorough going radicalism of ROCKY AUR RANI. There's something rather retrograde about the Charlie's Angels concept - a bunch of super smart talented women waiting to take orders from their Chief. And let's not forget that the central beef is really one between men - Azad vs Kaalee Gaikwad. The woman are kind of incidental to this. We even see this played out in the song lyrics that have Shah Rukh Khan singing about "being a man among men" in a scene set in a women's prison. Laughable.

The other two things that really let the film down are the music and the romantic relationships.  Anirudh Ravichander's score is obvious, unimaginative and the big song and dance set pieces are really lame. There's not a memorable tune among them, the choreography is super-basic, and the costumes are also cheap. It takes a lot to make someone as beautiful as Deepika Padukone look ordinary but somehow this film manages it. What makes it worse is the way the songs are spread (or not spread) through the film. For instance, in the first half we open with two absolute banger action scenes, and then bring the momentum to a halt with two lame songs.  Even worse, the only tune that's remotely memorable is stuck over the end credits where in the cinema I was in the lights were already on and people leaving. D'oh.

Finally, while the female lead actress Nayanthara is beautiful she has zero charisma on screen, and certainly zero chemistry with her much older male counterpart Shah Rukh Khan. I wonder if part of the reason is that she's used to acting in a different language?  The problem with Nayanthara is only made more obvious in contrast with the chemistry between Khan and Padukone and the latter's obvious ease on screen. It's because of her character Aishwarya that we feel the film has a heart, and her central scene is the only one that actually moved me to tears, despite almost every character having that one glycerine teardrop down their right cheek at one time or another.

Still, for all its flaws, JAWAN remains compelling.  You're unlikely to see better action set pieces in Indian cinema this year, and maybe - bar MI7 - in cinema full stop.

JAWAN has a running time of 169 minutes and is rated 15. It went on global release on September 7th.

Saturday, September 09, 2023


With SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, director Yuval Adler (THE SECRETS WE KEEP) teams up with debut feature writer Luke Paradise and cinematographer Steven Holleran to create a stylish, unabashedly nasty, almost Grindhouse thriller. I suspect your tolerance for the film is going to be dependent on how far you enjoy Nic Cage being insane, and whether you enjoy a pastiche of Tarantino pastiching the ultraviolet revenge thriller genre. But for me, this taut 90 minute two-hander is impressive in its commitment to a simple, brutal, story.

The film opens with Joel Kinnaman's uber driver going to see his pregnant wife give birth, driving through the dark neon-lit streets of off-strip Vegas. Barely a beat passes and he is carjacked by Nic Cage with luminous red hair and a large gun.  What then transpires is a talky, occasionally hilarious, sinister, twisty thriller. The title of the film is some kind of hint, but who really is the devil?  We get two superb set-pieces. The first, a fantastic diner scene that can only be described as Peak Cage.  The second, an incredibly stylish shoot out that delivers smoky burnt orange skies and a hellscape that felt supernatural and sinister in a way that deeply impressed me.

This is a small low/no release film that will really repay your efforts in seeking it out.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated R. It opened in the USA in late July and is now available to stream on demand in the UK.


STRAYS is a foul-mouthed animation/live action comedy that never fully commits to the sheer filth of TED, and thus finds itself stranded in "meh".  Will Ferrell voices a relentlessly optimistic and naive dog called Reggie whose owner Doug (Will Forte) is clearly abusing him.  When Doug finally totally kicks Reggie out, he finds himself taken in by a group of strays, led by wise-cracking street-smart Bug (Jamie Foxx). Through Bug and fellow strays Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Hunter (Randall Park), Reggie comes to realise that his owner didn't in fact love him and commits to hunt him down and bite his balls in vengeance.

The film starts off strong with some excellent black comedy at Reggie's expense but settles into a rather heartwarming but gentle buddy comedy that falls between two stalls. I just wish writer Dan Perrault (American Vandal) and director Josh Greenbaum (BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR) had had the courage to fully commit to X-rated humour. 

STRAYS is rated R and has a running time of 93 minutes. It was released on August 17th.

Friday, September 08, 2023


James Mangold (FORD VS FERRARI, LOGAN) directs the fifth instalment of the beloved INDIANA JONES franchise as if he's making a dated greatest hits compilation.  Indy battling evil Nazis (Mads Mikelsen), check.  Indy in a dusty desert town in a rickety vehicle outrunning the bad guys, check. Indy helping out a bumbling but super-smart British archeologist (Toby Jones), check. Indy hunting down a MacGuffin with supernatural spooky powers, check. Indy with a short, precocious ethnic minority sidekick, check. Indy pining over Marian, check. 

The problem is that as much as I love those early Indy movies, cinema thrills have moved on since then.  So when we now see an old grumpy Indy and his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) outrunning the bad guys in a tuk tuk it feels low pace and lacklustre, especially in a summer when we watched Tom Cruise basically do the same thing, way better, in a Fiat in Rome.  Worst of all, I was expecting some witty banter between Indy and Helena to paper over the weaksauce action scenes but even that didn't happen. This is a script singularly lacking in zip!

To be frank, you'd be better off just watching the original trilogy for Indy 1.0, and then flipping over to Apple TV to see modern day grumpy Harrison Ford do his comedy thing in Shrinking.  This film is well-made in its nuts and bolts but has zero charisma, fun, or novelty.

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY has a running time of 154 minutes and is rated PG-13. It opened in June 2023 and is now available to rent and own.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023


TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM blew me away with its wonderfully grungy, plasticine-y, incredibly dynamic animation style; its hilariously funny script; its ridiculously impressive voice cast; its 90s nostalgia; and its heart-felt debate about whether mutants can ever be accepted by humans (echoes of X-MEN). Kudos to debut directors Kyler Spears and Jeff Rowe, and screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, for creating something so genuinely compelling, that deserves to spoken of in the same breath as SPIDERVERSE. Five stars FTW!

The movie starts with our teenange mutant protagonists living in hiding in New York, under the tutelage of their ninja rat daddy voiced by JACKIE CHAN!!!! He suffered rejection from humans and just wants to keep his kids safe. So they are left pining for real High School life, absurdly informed by watching FERRIS BUELLER at a drive-thru, and wondering whether if they came out of hiding to help people with their mad skills, humans would accept them.

Lucky for us they get a chance to test out their theory.  They meet April O'Neill, their wannabe journalist ally, here recast as a young African-American teenager with glasses, smarts, and a penchant for chundering on air. Together they realise that the person terrorising New York is an evil scientist (Maya Rudolph) who wants to take their Precious Bodily Fluids and create even more mutants. She and her  evil henchman (Ice-T) will then assert mutant dominance over humans for good.

I absolutely loved the knowing pop-culture references, the funny dialogue, and the genuine feeling of camaraderie I felt among the turtles. I genuinely felt that Jackie Chan's rat was their surrogate dad and that they loved each other.  The whole thing was clever, knowing but also just wonderfully uplifting.  Honestly, I wouldn't change a frame and really hope this is the first in a franchise.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM has a running time of 99 minutes and is rated PG. It was released in early August.


MEG 2: THE TRENCH is a piss-poor dull AF action movie sequel that delivers zero wow-action moments and zero humour. I was hoping for some silly mindless "Jason Statham beats up a giant shark" nonsense. I love The Stath. Instead I was trapped for over an hour in a pitch-black sea scape as our group of shark-haters tried to get back to the surface. It gave me Titan Submersible heebie-jeebies. Too Soon! They squabble and quibble and half of them don't make it but we don't care. And to literally nobody's surprise it turns out that the massive corporation funding the research is EEEEVILLL. Hence Sienna Guillory doing a Parker Posey impression with a side-order of Cruella DeVill.  But I still had hope. Once we got to the ocean's surface I was all ready for the giant shark to eat dumb fat tourists and some White Lotus style social satire. But no. The writers aren't witty enough for the social satire and yes some people get eaten but way not enough.  It's so weird thinking that director Ben Wheatley used to make weird low budget black and white historical horrors like A FIELD IN ENGLAND. For my money he has produced progressively worse films the larger the budget he has been given.  Let it end.

MEG 2: THE TRENCH has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13. It opened in early August.