Category Archives: Drama

Little Women (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Little Women Review

Director: Greta Gerwig
Writers: Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott (based on the novel by)
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh

I waited to publish this list until I saw Little Women. And that decision proves more and more wise the longer I sit with it. Greta Gerwig captures emotion in film as if she invented it. Similarly to my observation about how The Irishman is more than it may seemingly appear, Little Women presents far more raw, earnest brilliance than you may grasp in a passing glance or a trailer. We’ve all seen the Oscar-baity period piece with respectable actresses (doesn’t it always seem to be Keira Knightley? She’s brilliant but like…) with posh language and extravagant gowns.

We exit the theatre a little let down thinking, “I’ve seen this before”, and so we say to each other on the way out things we’d never think to say, like, “really strong production design,” or, “definitely felt authentic”. This is not that movie. Little Women is a timeless examination of intimacy. With just a line of dialogue, Gerwig is able to tether you entirely to the journey of her characters, a journey that feels like a path you’ve walked yourself. A struggle to connect or feel important or feel desired or give love. And through all of it you inherently come to understand that you’ve known these women your entire life. Through their tumultuous, childhood innocence all the way through their oppressive present.

The performances uncovered from this rambunctious group are among the year’s best, not just in their passionate devotion to the text but also their experimental desire to fight for something with their entire soul. In this way, it feels the natural assessment to address Gerwig as the next Cassavettes: director/writers that understand their stories thoroughly enough to allow others to experiment with them, knowing full well that with their guidance, a long leash will inevitably guide their troupe on the road home. Were I to name flaws (and of course I must otherwise my own OCD would crucify itself), they would be akin to some of Cassavettes best work. Gerwig is more concerned with performance than continuity (hardly a critique, I know), and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there was one casting choice that distances itself from the proper vision of what it ultimately is trying to achieve. But what does it matter? When I finally perfect this list and decide to publish it to the 10’s of people that may glance upon it, Little Women is likely the film I will run the theatre to go and see and cry at again. 9.7/10

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood Review

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Tarantino’s sterling achievement is a hang out movie. And I mean that with all the love and adoration I can muster. It’s interesting that two of the greatest auteurs of our time create two of their greatest works in the same year (Scorsese and Tarantino) because they have quite a bit in common under the hood. It’s easy to look at OUATIH and think of it as simplistic. To judge a film by its plot is to deprive yourself of all the brilliance a man like Tarantino is able to create. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth will go down in history as two of the most remarkably lovely characters ever put to screen. Performances aside (and they are a wonder), Tarantino has taken a step back from his usually rocky terrain that pits complex people at odds and decided to examine the compassion within himself instead.

Cliff and Rick are eccentric, vivacious, and exceptionally generous to one another. We don’t root for these two to succeed because a plot dictates it to us. We root for them because we relate and admire their companionship. OUATIH is a film about the familial bonds we create for ourselves. But of course that’s not all it’s about. You’re waiting for me to address ‘the good part’. The conceptual genius of Tarantino that had us giddy with anticipation. The recreation of the events the night Sharon Tate was murdered is a revelatory plot device. I of course cannot resign myself to spoilers, but I will say that Tarantino has crafted the most wholesome depiction of violence ever put to screen. It’s the most delightfully aggressive reaction to any tragedy. OUATIH is undoubtably a fairytale.

The same kind that allowed for escapist fantasy to place you in a world where people are either just or unjust, either saving a princess from a castle or locking her in one. And it’s that same fairytale justice that allowed for an actor and his stuntman to save the golden age of Hollywood with a simple act of circumstance. Similarly to The Irishman, does everything work to the advantage of this uniformed theme? No. But what does it matter if the ride in is so delightfully honest and fun? 9.5/10

The Irishman (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

The Irishman Review

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Charles Brandt (book)
Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

It’s easy to look at The Irishman as simply another mafia film, and if that’s your outlook I certainly don’t fault you for being unable to separate the creatives from their previous work. However, the heart of The Irishman is far more rich and layered than previously recounted stories would lead you to believe. As with any young life, the first act of The Irishman does mislead you to believe the film will take a familiar approach. A man gets swept up in the mob. He’s violent, there’s some zaniness, he’s got an accent, these are the things you likely expected. What comes unexpected and indeed what keeps me coming back to The Irishman so feverishly is the third act where the film takes on entirely new meaning.

Existential dread and the consequences of our actions, the things that pull us in diametrically opposed directions and the brutality of our true nature that repels all forces of sincerity. These are the things that strike true in this ‘typical mob film’. Upon examining the deeper questions, we’re able to see the tragic truth behind the more obvious observations. Is his daughter’s lack of presence in the film due to an oversight on the creative vision, or is it a deliberate choice to demonstrate what truly matters to our protagonist? And is it in fact showing us in retrospect that his selective memory is in itself a story? The power of what Scorsese shows is personal and hauntingly effective, but even more impressive is what he doesn’t show. And how effortlessly even something as simple as the title cards are able to convey such a timeless message of inevitable mortality brings chills to my spine.

The performances are each excellent. Pacino hogging the spotlight with rich borderline campy enthusiasm, Pesci reflecting a completely opposing force of subtlety as a reaction to that. And of course DeNiro in one of his most emotionally vulnerable roles to date. With a 3 and a half hour runtime, does it all fit neatly under the thematic umbrella? No. Watermelons and quirky casket dealings can’t all feel like a contemplative journey. But The Irishman is a remarkably reflective experience that people should think about more. 9.5/10

Marriage Story (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Marriage Story Review

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Julia Greer

As with all of Baumbach’s narratives, Marriage Story excels in the bravely earnest penmanship of the helmer. Marriage Story is not just a excellent drama with creative displays of tragedy layered with comedic sincerity that punctuates each moment with a relatable thread. It’s also a story about Baumbach’s own struggle with failure which is likely why it feels so resonant. Only an author so honest with his own reality could craft a story so authentic, so real. It’s a simple narrative, one that could easily veer into familiar territory that would render it too simple. But that is a critique best saved for films written with less voice. Baumbach bares his entire soul on the page. Am I sounding too dramatic? No? BAUMBACH BARES HIS SOUL! Better? The performances in this film are exquisite (there’s much to unpack in this statement, but I will unravel it slowly).

The problem with Marriage Story, a problem that is easy to overlook in a film that is crafted to jar you with its agile perspective, is that I believe it sides with one character. It tries so hard not to, you can see that plain as day when you watch Johansson’s monologue lamenting about her complicit reaction to her husband’s peacefully domineering presence in her life. But ultimately it is Adam Driver’s Charlie that leaves the lasting impression. I won’t dive into spoiler territory, but I feel very strongly that Nicole’s voice is relegated to the perspective Baumbach (and by extension, Charlie) has on her actions. What’s so interesting about this debate that I’m currently having with myself about this is that this is the only film I can think of in a long while that could even have this type of criticism.

It intentionally bends perspective, and aligning yourself with one side as I wilfully have, is Baumbach entire creative point. You as the viewer are saddled with a choice to fight for something. And the genius of this narrative is that it limits complicity. I think about Marriage Story often and contemplate if I would relate stronger to Nicole if I were a woman. It’s a question I’ll never really have perspective on, but I’m so excited to continually look for it. I’m rambling now. Marriage Story is incredible. It has lovely performances, some of which may be misguided in an attempt to convey a certain perspective, but nevertheless wonderful. The supporting cast too, my god! When has Ray Liotta been this good? Or Alan Alda? Or the constant force that is Laura Dern? Marriage Story is worthy of the conversation it inevitably creates. 9/10

Uncut Gems (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Uncut Gems Review

Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Writers: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
Stars: Mesfin Lamengo, Suin Zhi Hua-Hilton, Liang Wei-Hei Duncan

The Safdie brothers have officially cemented themselves as masters in adrenaline thrillers. Where as Good Timewas a race against the clock, Uncut Gems is a race against human nature, an exercise in maintaining a status quo within our own cosmic desire to be better than. Howard is convincingly manic in his pursuit of gluttony, but it’s a struggle that we can unfortunately relate to. A struggle that our capitalist society continually dips us into, and despite whatever desire we have to work against it, we inevitably have to obey. The Safdies capitalise on every opportunity to layer their story with delicate strings tethering together a weave of deceit and destruction.

Some are subtle, like the flippant working conditions of a door, while others are far more overt, like Howard’s personal relationship to some of his greater adversaries. But regardless of what they are, The Safdie’s keep them in constant motion, pulling each string ever so tightly until it becomes entirely taut in a nausea inducing fever dream of high anxiety. Combine that with relentless performances from Adam Sandler and Julia Fox as well as some of the best film editing and sound design of the decade and Uncut Gems is able to become more than the sum of its parts. Every cut propels the film violently into the next frame as if Howard is a wrecking ball in his own world. Each layered voice echoing into a cacophonous void of near incoherence to further the audience’s stress of misunderstanding.

And what else can I add about the performances that hasn’t been said already? I don’t necessarily subscribe myself to the belief that this is undoubtably Sandler’s best work ever (it would require some rewatching of films I sincerely admire of his from my youth before I could), but his performance here is pivotal in the cataclysmic journey. Will you care about Howard by the end? My guess is no. And perhaps the movie’s greatest downfall is its deliberate distance from an emotional through-line (it becomes inevitable near the halfway point that you may say, “what’s keeping me watching this”), but the rollercoaster is undoubtably worth the price of admission. 9.3/10

The Lighthouse (2019) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

The Lighthouse Review

Director: Robert Eggers
Writers: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman

Watching The Lighthouse, I couldn’t help but think this is the aesthetic approach Stanley Kubrick should have taken with The Shining, especially since he jettisoned most of the supernatural aspects King’s novel, anyway. Of course, we all know Kubrick was probably not capable of such minimalism.

Robert Eggers is, though. Shooting in chromatic black & white in a nearly extinct aspect ratio (1:19) establishes an oppressive, claustrophobic tone right away. We feel the isolation of the film’s only two characters before we even meet them: crusty, cantankerous lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and newly hired-hand Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), the latter of whom appears to be trying to escape his past.

A 19th Century New England lighthouse is already an ideal setting for a horror film, even more so for depicting a descent into madness, which is ultimately scarier than less tangible terrors. But what’s interesting about The Lighthouse is – if one were so inclined – it could still be taken on face value as a supernatural horror film. But what would be the fun in that?

Instead, the isolation slowly drives Wake and Winslow mad, exacerbated by their already adversarial relationship, no-small-amount of booze and a storm that delays the monthly supply ship. However, since Wake already seems a few cans short of a six-pack, maybe it’s only Winslow who’s losing his grip on reality. The story unfolds from his point of view and the increasingly disturbing hallucinations are all his. One could even go out on a limb to suggest Wake himself is just another product of Winslow’s delusions. A relatively weak argument, but there is some circumstantial evidence.

And if Eggers’ The Witch veered from the beaten path, The Lighthouse doesn’t even set foot on it. In the disc’s behind-the-scenes documentary, Pattinson stated he was looking for something weird. Well, young sir, mission accomplished. Nearly every aspect of the film – both visually and narratively – is fascinatingly bizarre, reciprocated by all-in performances from both leads. Dafoe’s no stranger to such roles, but Pattinson is turning into a really interesting actor, something none of us would have predicted 10 years ago.

All of which means The Lighthouse is likely to spark plenty of love-it-or-loathe-it debates, which automatically renders it a unique film worth checking out by adventurous horror fans. Unpredictable, maddening, ambiguous and surreal – even quite funny, on occasion – one thing the film definitely isn’t is boring.