Spoiler-Free Reviews of Two Indies (2023): “Polite Society” & “Joyland”

Polite Society

A merry mash up of sisterly affection, parental disappointment and bold action, Polite Society follows martial artist-in-training Ria Khan who believes she must save her older sister Lena from her impending marriage. After enlisting the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood.

-Synopsis (Focus Features)

Are you a fan of the (genre-defying) indie hit Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) directed by the Daniels? Then, THIS is the next film (written/directed by a young woman- Nida Manzoor) is for you! Polite Society is an unique blend of action (incl. martial arts) and comedy w/ domestic drama and horror elements mixed in. A modern-day British Pakistani teen, Ria (Priya Kansara), aspires to be a stuntwoman like her idol Eunice Huthart (recently a stunt coordinator on Star Wars and Marvel movies IRL). Her parents, teachers, and peers are skeptical about her ambition. However, Ria is supported by her older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), who left art school and is back home wondering what to do next. In their community of British Asians, there is a wealthy woman w/ a (single/doctor) son named Salim; when he meets Lena, they quickly hit it off. Ria is NOT so happy to see her sis dating (and maybe falling for) this man.


The youngest son in a traditional Pakistani family takes a job as a backup dancer in a Bollywood-style burlesque and quickly becomes infatuated with the strong-willed trans woman who runs the show.


I heard re: this film while watching the Independent Spirit Awards (which streamed on YT this Spring). The young director/co-writer, Saim Siddiq, was applauded for Joyland (his 1st feature film). The movie was originally banned in Pakistan, but the censors later cleared it; a ban remains in Punjab, (where the story is set). During an interview at Cannes w/ an Indian film critic, Siddiq said that he edited parts out for his native country: “though most directors would not allow it, I wanted this to be seen by a broad audience.” The film got an 8 min. long standing ovation at Cannes. It is Pakistan’s submission to the 95th Academy Awards. As one of the programmers at TIFF (a Canadian Indian young man) commented, this is “a story of family, desire, and who gets to express that desire.” It is the type of restrained story that is rare to see today; there isn’t much music (therefore no pushing to elicit emotions from the audience). Siddiq chose to use silence a LOT, as he felt that was more powerful.

In modern-day Lahore, a quiet/unassuming young man, Haider (Ali Junejo), serves the (unofficial) caretaker in his “joint family.” At first, you may think of him as a bystander in his own life. His wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq- close friend/classmate of Siddiq), works at a beauty salon. The head of the household is Haider’s elderly father; he is a widower who uses a wheelchair. Haider’s older brother (Saleem) and his wife (Nucchi) have 3 young daughters; they’re expecting another baby soon (perhaps a son). After several yrs. w/o a job, Haider gets an interview at an “erotic theatre” (part of an amusement park- “Joyland”). A confident/fast-talking trans woman, Biba (Alina Khan), is one of the dancers; she also choreographs the routines. Biba needs 6 men to be her back-up dancers; Haider is NOT naturally a dancer, BUT the pay is V good.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Infinity Pool” (2023) starring Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, & Cleopatra Coleman

While staying at an isolated island resort, James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are enjoying a perfect vacation of pristine beaches, exceptional staff, and soaking up the sun. But guided by the seductive and mysterious Gabi (Mia Goth), they venture outside the resort grounds and find themselves in a culture filled with violence, hedonism, and untold horror. -Official synopsis

WTF did I see!? What exactly are the filmmakers trying to say? The writer/director of this horror/drama is Brandon, the son of veteran Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg. Like his father, Cronenberg does NOT shy away from controversy; this film contains a LOT of blood, drug use, explicit scenes (w/ nudity), and dark (possibly unsettling) themes. It was originally rated NC-17 for “some graphic violence and sexual content.” After an unsuccessful appeal for an R rating, NEON (the distributing studio) edited it. The uncut version was screened at the Sundance Film Festival; the edited (R-rated) version was released in theaters.

James Foster: I actually came here looking for inspiration. To a resort. It’s quite pathetic.

Alban Bauer: So what do you do for money then? Do you teach, or?

Em Foster: He married rich.

Alban Bauer: That’s a good one. Well, its’ good for an artist to have a patron, isn’t it?

James Foster: Yes.

Em Foster: Oh, sure. I’m in danger of becoming a charitable organization at this point.

Alexander Skarsgard (son Stellan/brother of several other actors) is in his anti-hero stage; I was recently impressed by his (complicated) husband role in HBO’s Big Little Lies. The Swedish actor is considered one the most (classically) handsome men onscreen (V tall, blond, blue-eyed, w/ a trim/sculpted body). Well, there is NOT much “hot” (or even likeable) about the role of James! He’s feeling emasculated, being dependent on Em (his wealthy/young wife). James has been suffering writer’s block (after early success); Gabi Alban (Mia Goth- a Brit w/ a Latina mother) boosts his ego w/ her compliments… and more. I’ve only seen 2 movies w/ Goth; you may know her as the wife of (troubled actor) Shia LaBeouf. In a recent podcast, LaBeouf commented that being w/ him has hurt Goth’s career; she is known for her work in the horror genre. I don’t know the supporting actors; they all play unhinged characters.

I have to admit I did like the scene where Gabi (boldy) touches the hollow of James’ throat to illustrate a point on the beach. Who acts that way w/ a stranger!? When the married couples go out to dinner at the Chinese restaurant, Gabi looks at James like she wants to eat him up! Modern viewers sometimes complain re: the overuse of close-ups; there are TOO many here (and often unsettling). If you are squeamish re: blood, then I recommend you avoid this movie. I just didn’t like the style of directing, incl. the use of (discomforting) graphics. The music is disturbing; if I knew more on this topic, I could say more. It is rumored that Robert Pattinson was offered the lead, but passed; he would’ve made it worse than it already is IMO! The ending is just frustrating, as is most of the film. I learned that some viewers walked out at Sundance.

[1] I just felt like it didn’t really amount to anything except for shock for the sake of shock and weirdness for the sake of weirdness. […] The visuals were admittedly cool and the overall aesthetic of the movie was well done, but what was the point? It ultimately just amounted to being a very pretentious, try hard, extreme film for commercial audiences.

[2] The story makes no sense with cloning being the predominant theme. Skarsgard, Goth and the entire cast are wasted with a silly script and story.

[3] Sad no one spends the time to think things out and develop a scary story and use atmosphere and tension.

This movie has atmosphere and tension, but it’s of the lower kind .

If this movie is trying to say something it’s that people with connections and money get away with murder .

[4] This film had the potential to be something new and creative in the horror genre, but writer/director Brandon Cronenberg settles for more of the same of his usual style with little in the way of an understanding of why these events are occurring or even caring that they are happening. […]

All the acting is very well done; Mia Goth is always a sure bet when playing a sinister crazy person. Alexander Skarsgård, unfortunately, isn’t given enough material here to truly shine in his role. He’s a practically one dimensional shell of a character, and that is one of the main reasons the film did not work for me. I felt nothing for his character, and the character makes some of the worst decisions I’ve seen on film. Barely any of the film makes sense, if I’m being honest. Best not to ask why to any of the questions you have because, more than likely, they will not be answered.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Fatal Attraction” (Paramount+): Episode 1

A deep-dive reimagining of the classic 80s thriller, exploring timeless themes of marriage and infidelity through the lens of modern attitudes toward strong women, personality disorders and coercive control. -Synopsis


Are you a fan of the (iconic) movie Fatal Attraction (1987) starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close, or perhaps the erotic thriller genre? If so, then you may want to check out this new Paramount+ streaming show (w/ a subscription on Amazon Prime). Three eps were released last SUN (April 30th); there will be a total of 8 eps (about 1 hr./ea.) For fans of the original, there are “Easter eggs” to be found, as co-writer Alexandra Cunningham noted. James Dearden (who wrote the original screenplay) is credited; long-time fans may recognize (discarded) ideas from his original script. Beth has a much larger role to play; she has a small business (so is not a housewife). Dearden originally wrote Beth as a schoolteacher who’d taken a few yrs off, BUT was planning to return to work. Producers didn’t like that idea, so that’s why movie Beth (Ann Archer) was an ideal “happy homemaker.”

Episode 1:

15 years after Alex Forrest’s murder, Dan Gallagher is paroled and reaches out to his estranged daughter Ellen. In the past, a crushing career defeat drives him to first connect with Alex. -Synopsis of the pilot episode

Do you know the (alternate) ending to the ’80s movie which the producers rejected? That finale included Dan being convicted of murdering Alex! The ep opens w/ Dan’s hearing in front of the parole board; he has served his sentence of 15 yrs. It sounds like he has been a model prisoner during this time. His manner is humble and his speech is V serious/calm. Though he doesn’t notice her, the adult Ellen (a grad student in Psychology) is at the hearing.

The setting of the story has been moved from NYC to LA. In 2008, Dan (Joshua Jackson, 45 y.o.) is still a lawyer, BUT he’s a Deputy District Attorney (NOT in corporate law). As in the movie, he has a comfy home, loving wife (Beth), and young daughter (Ellen is aged up to 8 y.o.) He seems to be respected/liked by most of his colleagues at the Criminal Courts Building. Dan is turning 40 soon and up for a judgeship. Alex (Lizzy Caplan, 40 y.o.) isn’t a book editor here; she works in Victims Services (and is also a colleague of Dan’s). In the era of #MeToo, this adds another layer to the classic story of infidelity.

This show has 2 timelines: the present (2023) has a cool color palette, while the time period of the affair/its aftermath (2008) has a warmer look. In the past, Dan is often in the center of the frame (as one would typically present a main character). He wears suits, talks fast, and walks in an upright/confident manner. In the present, Dan is sometimes on the sidelines (as the story is NOT just his anymore). He has more gray hair, is dressed V casually, talks carefully (slowly) and has his head/shoulders lowered. There is more to see, so check out the show for yourself!

My first reaction was that I missed the (more glam) setting of Manhattan. Then, I wondered how much of the story would focus on law and order. Ellen’s focus is on Carl Jung; I wonder if this may play out in the show. Do you think the casting of the leads is fitting? I will keep on watching and post review of the full series when it has finished. If you’re active on Twitter, I’ve posted some related tweets. (See videos below.)

“The Star” (1952) starring Bette Davis & Sterling Hayden

The story of every woman who ever climbed the stairway to the stars…and found herself at the bottom looking up. Played, as it could only be, by the two-time winner of the Academy Award!

When the Hollywood star fades… the woman is born.

-Taglines for the film

Middle-aged former Oscar winner Margaret Elliot (Bette Davis at age 44) is a Hollywood has-been. Maggie hopes to resurrect her past stardom in a leading movie role. However, no job offers are coming and she’s broke (w/ creditors selling off most of her valuable personal items). A young ingenue (Barbara Lawrence) has been getting the types of roles Maggie played. Divorced from her successful/actor husband, Maggie shares joint custody of their 13 y.o. daughter, Gretchen (Natalie Wood ay just 13). Maggie is torn btwn her fear of age, devotion to her daughter, and drive to get back to where she belongs. She has an extended family that she had cared for financially, but is no longer able to do that. When it looks as if Maggie has hit rock bottom (spending a night in jail for a DUI), Jim Johannsen (Sterling Hayden at age 35 y.o.) re-enters her life. He is an old friend who got his big break in Hollywood b/c of Maggie’s notice. However, Jim soon came to the realization that he didn’t want to be an an actor. Jim works as a boat parts supplier/mechanic and lives a quiet/contented life.

Jim: You know, it’s funny, I was just thinking. Sailors are a lot like actors. With them it’s always the next ship and the next voyage, and with an actor it’s always the next part and the next picture… Always chasing rainbows.

This is a short (89 mins.) movie which packs a punch; it’s a must-see for fans of Davis and the classics! Some astute viewers said it was like a (dark) view into what could’ve happened to Margot Channing (Davis’ character in All About Eve). The director (Stuart Heisler) was on contract at Paramount (1940-1942), turning out mostly “B” movies. As a freelancer, he did a fine job w/ Storm Warning (1951) starring Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan. Here we have a no-frills (non-glam) style of directing, which suits the themes. The writers of the (terrific) screenplay (Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert) were a married pair. Hayden goes a great job in his (understated/good guy) role; his real life reflects that of Jim.

[1] This is worth seeing for Davis alone. She’s just great. She also gleefully said she modeled her character after Joan Crawford! OUCH!

[2] Ironic isn’t it, that Bette Davis would get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for a role in which she portrays a washed up actress? There’s a great “Sunset Boulevard” moment in the story when she affirms to her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood) , “…if you’re a star, you don’t stop being a star.”

[3] Hayden, of course, is at his sterling best; how nice to see him playing a tender, kindly role, for a change…

[4] “The Star” is a realistic look at the ego of someone who has been isolated from reality and surviving on her identity as a film star. Unlike her male counterparts, she has to face the passage of time, and she can’t. […] And although someone commented that this character is probably like Davis herself, yes and no. Davis was very smart in that she went into character roles – where every leading lady ends up eventually – comparatively early in her career.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The Outsider” (2002) starring Naomi Watts & Tim Daly

Have y’all seen anything on Freevee? A few weekends ago, I came across this movie (which originally aired on Showtime). The Outsider (based on the novel by Penelope Williamson) is a Western/drama/romance set in the late 1880s; it was filmed in Australia. It is centered on the (forbidden) love btwn a widowed mother, Rebecca Yoder (Naomi Watts), from a (Mennonite-like) group and a gunslinger, Johnny Gault (Tim Daly), who she takes into her house after he is shot. Noah (Keth Carradine) is Rebecca’s friend/neighbor; he is a widower w/ a teen son. The community’s doctor is played by his (real-life) older brother, David Carradine. Fans of the LOTR trilogy will recognize the main villain, Mr. Hunter (John Noble- a veteran Aussie actor). The director (Randa Haines) has worked on several critically-acclaimed films.

This is NOT the typical (shoot ’em up) Western, though there are scenes of action. The scenery is V nice, though the sets, costumes, etc. are simple. Rebecca’s community members are called “the plain people” and they avoid confrontation and violence. In an early scene, we see what lead to the death of her husband. The townspeople try to take advantage of this peaceful community sometimes. The worst one of all is Mr. Hunter, a powerful/feared man who wants to expand his land holdings. About a year later, a man dressed in dusty/dark clothes stumbles onto her land w/ a bullet lodged in his gut. Quickly, Rebecca and her young son (Benjo) take him into their log cabin. Rebecca is shocked when she unwraps the guns, knives, and bullets that this man carried on his person. We wonder if this is a good man or one that is a criminal (who could cause her harm)! The doctor removes the bullet and predicts that the outsider will die soon. However, Rebecca is NOT convinced; she prays for his life and helps him recover (going out of her way).

Why would anyone want to cover up something so beautiful? -Johnny asks Rebecca (who covers her hair)

After a rocky start, Rebecca and Johnny get to know each other as he heals. She’s pleasantly surprised to know that he knows the Bible. Johnny appreciates her humor and humanity. Rebecca is more of a spiritual person; her view of religion consists of everything around her. When Johnny is chastised for playing music, he is playful/teasing w/ Rebecca, not angry. It turns out that Rebecca loves music, BUT it’s not allowed by her people. Rebecca is attracted to Johnny b/c he appreciates who she is. Yes, there are (typical) tropes you find in romance novels, BUT there are scenes that feel fresh and non-cliched. Even today, there are NOT many movies that focus on women’s desire! Watts (who is an Aussie) would go on to some big roles; she always gives a fine performance. Daly (an American; then known for light/comedic roles) gets to show his versatility. They have great chemistry together!

[1] Every so often, a movie comes along with an inspiring cast, a beautiful setting, dialogue that sounds like people talking, foreshadow that makes sense and characters that emote deep sympathy.

[2] For anyone that loves reading a good romance novel, this is the movie for you. […] Sexy, intelligent, believable characters, and a smoldering chemistry…

Tim Daly is fantastic in this film. …his character has a variety of facets which are explored in a realistic way.

[3] Tim Daly – who I had always considered as an actor in light comedy – was extremely impressive as a dark, possibly evil, character. In a movie that could have been just a mixture of Shane/Witness, it brought something new and impelling. It made you care…

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews