THE CREATOR is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 133 minutes. It is on global release.
THE CREATOR is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 133 minutes. It is on global release.
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.
GRAN TURISMO has a running time of 134 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is on global release.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 rated R and has a running time of 93 minutes. It was released on August 17th.
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.