Category Archives: Drama

Uncut Gems (2019) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Uncut Gems Review

Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Writers: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel  

If you’ve never been to Six Flags Magic Mountain, let me assure you it has more roller coasters than any park in the world…big ones, small ones, fast ones, slow ones, new ones, old ones…a coaster for every age and level of bravery. My wife and I went one summer, and since coasters are my favorite ride at any park, I was up for the challenge.

Then I rode Goliath. At the time, it was the longest, tallest and fastest coaster in the world. Some poor lady even suffered a heart attack and died on the ride just a few years earlier. As for this would-be thrillseeker, Goliath turned out to be a bit more than I bargained for…not only scary, but loud, overwhelming and relentless. While I didn’t have a coronary or toss my cookies, when the ride was finally over, the main thing I felt was relief.

Uncut Gems is kind-of like riding Goliath, which isn’t intended as criticism.

The film is getting a lot of attention because of Adam Sandler in a role that’s certainly atypical of the man-children he’s made a career from. Some say he was snubbed during awards season, but I don’t know if I’d go that far. Sure, it’s the best thing Sandler has ever done and he’s mesmerizing as brash, fast-talking gambling addict Howard Ratner. But is his performance really a huge stretch? As a comedian and actor, Sandler’s generally loud, brash and – in my opinion – obnoxiously overbearing. Since Ratner displays all these traits and more, it’s arguably a character he was born to play (albeit with a lot more F-bombs).

As for the film, Uncut Gems is 135 minutes of relentless anxiety as we watch Ratner’s downward spiral. Arguably the film’s protagonist and antagonist, he’s his own worst enemy. An unscrupulous gem dealer, Ratner has gambling debts all over town and is barely a step ahead of those trying to collect, including brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), who appears to have mob connections. After acquiring a rare stone that could solve all his financial woes, Ratner still can’t get out of his own way, trying to dupe others into paying more than its worth (such as NBA star Kevin Garnett, playing himself) so he can settle his debts. But even then, Ratner is literally unable to stop gambling with money that isn’t his.

I was immediately reminded of Bad Lieutenant, another film featuring a remorseless main character whose downfall is the entire plot. Uncut Games isn’t nearly as off-putting, but cut from the same cloth. Ratner isn’t a likable character, neglecting his own family, alienating everyone close to him and growing increasingly narcissistic. Yet we watch with fascinated dread as he repeatedly digs himself deeper, to the point we’re certain everything’s gonna end badly. The most powerful moment comes late in the story when Ratner’s sitting in his office, bawling helplessly as the walls close in, yet he still doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions. That scene might be the best of Sandler’s entire career.

Howard Ratner’s descent into self-destruction is morbidly compelling and Sadler knocks it out of the park with a manic performance that – for once – suits the character perfectly. Extremely well-written, directed and performed, Uncut Gems is a character study that plays like a thriller (though the grating score is awful). Similar to riding Goliath, it’s an exhausting, uncomfortable ride that doesn’t let the viewer off until the end credits roll. As good as it is, I gotta say I was kind of relieved when it was finally over.

Colewell (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

Colewell Review
Director: Tom Quinn
Writer: Tom Quinn
Stars: Karen Allen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Hannah Gross

You’ve just seen “Uncut Gems” and you feel the nerves raging through your body after watching this ultra-nervous film? Well, I recommend you to watch the film “Colewell“. Believe me. After watching this film, you’ll feel completely relaxed again. There are no situations full of agitated behaviour. No feverish activity. Everything is calm and peaceful. This cosy and pleasant film progresses at a leisurely pace. Like the gently rippling water in a quiet stream. Just about the pace of someone in old age who performs the same ritual every day and eagerly awaits his well-deserved retirement. Only Nora (Karen Allen) was not yet ready for that well-deserved rest that is now being forced upon her.

Nora is an older lady who runs a local post office in the small village of Colewell, somewhere in Pennsylvania. And trust me on this, when I say you can admire her morning routine several times. A morning where she will check the chicken coop for freshly laid eggs. And every time she checks the state of one of the laying hens because it’s upset because of newly added fellow hens and thus refuses to squeeze such a fragile object through her poopybutthole. Then it’s time for breakfast (with a firm omelette made with fresh eggs) and a getting dressed ritual before she opens the door of the post office (located at her place) to welcome the villagers. Everything is performed dutifully and meticulously. And I’m sure she did this from day one.

“Colewell” is about aging and the preservation of certain values of life. At the same time, it’s also about the fear of losing these certain values. And the rapidly changing world around us. When a decision is made to forget about certain post offices and integrate them into the larger whole, Nora sees those values disappearing like snow in the sun. The day after she’s being confronted with this terrible decision at the US Postal Service headquarters, she sinks into an emotional pit and consciously skips her daily rituals. As if it all no longer matters. The choices that were proposed to her are both not adequate solutions for her. Relocating to a larger city to work there at the post office. Or retire. Both are alternatives that Nora disregards.

The post office in Colewell has an additional function. It’s the meeting place for the local population. There’s gossiping, stockings are knitted, food is exchanged, and life stories shared. In short, it’s the heart of a community. And the members of this community are heartbroken when they are told that their beloved assembly point is about to disappear. Initiatives are being taken to turn the tide and efforts are being made to safeguard Nora’s workplace. But as soon as they realize that this is a futile effort, everyone accepts the situation and the social contacts move to other locations. To the dismay of Nora.

“Colewell” is endearing, serene and melancholic at the same time. A subdued drama about how it feels to grow older and then suddenly realize that your functional role has been played out and two arrogant younger people say this without hesitation in your face. Or you’ll be flexible, or you pack it up and make room for the future generation. A realistic character study, without frills. But not entirely. The moment Ella (Hannah Gross) shows up at Nora’s place, realism turns into vagueness. It’s not clear whether this is Nora’s free-spirited daughter or a figment of Nora’s imagination representing the younger Nora. Anyway. Do you like action-rich movies that are nerve-wracking exciting? Well, I suggest skipping this one. The easy-going nature of the film may well get on your nerves.

Midway (2019) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

 

Midway Review

Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Wes Tooke
Stars: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson 

Thank God Midway is not a remake of the 1976 film depicting the same event.

Some of you might recall that one, which was mostly an excuse for Universal to promote their newest sonic toy, Sensurround. Most of the action scenes consisted of footage lifted from older – and better – movies, while the narrative was needlessly padded with fictional main characters and a sappy romantic subplot. Too bad, because Charlton Heston was one of my idols back then.

If nothing else, director Roland Emmerich knows such a decisive WWII naval battle is dramatic enough without such embellishments. Since the plot has already been written in history books, all that’s really needed is a solid cast depicting real-life figures and Emmerich’s distinctive brand of visual bombast. As such, what Midway lacks in dynamic characters is compensated by the intricacy of Japanese and American strategies, punctuated by some astounding action sequences as the scenario plays out.

Typical of Emmerich’s biggest films, the special effects are the real stars. While there are some brief moments of truly terrible CGI, for the most part, the battle scenes are convincing, spectacular and creatively rendered. Midway needs them, too, because also like Emmerich’s biggest films, the screenplay is rife with dialogue that sounds like it was written in the 1950s. But while most of the characters are walking cliches from war movies of that same era, they are performed with workmanlike skill by a talented cast, making the movie’s cornball earnestness oddly endearing (though I kept expecting Woody Harrelson to say or do something really funny).

Ultimately, Midway is the kind hopelessly old-fashioned war film people haven’t bothered to make for decades. But in a way, that’s also part of its charm. Just like he did with Independence Day, Roland Emmerich shamelessly pilfers standard characters & tropes of the past, then glosses over his thievery with state-of-the-art visuals & sonic fireworks. The result may not resonate much afterwards, but it’s an infinitely more entertaining depiction of the Battle of Midway than the 1976 film. Sorry, Chuck.

Queen & Slim (2019) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Queen & Slim Review

Director: Melina Matsoukas
Writers: Lena Waithe (screenplay by), James Frey (story by)
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine

If you think you’ve had bad first dates, Queen & Slim will refine the term for you.

Like everyone, I’ve had a few dates that didn’t go quite like as planned. Either these ladies weren’t impressed by my inherent charm or fewer women enjoy an evening of Natty Ice & skeet shooting than I once assumed. But at least none of those dates ended with the two of us on-the-lam after shooting a cop.

Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) aren’t really hitting-it-off, either. They clearly have nothing in common and don’t appear too impressed with each other. But that’s okay, since we like them anyway. During the drive home, they are pulled over by an overzealous cop. The situation escalates and Slim ends up grabbing the cop’s gun and killing him in self defense. Slim wants to call the police, but Queen, a defense attorney with first-hand experience in social injustice, insists they flee the scene.

All this happens before the title even flashes on the screen. Queen & Slim masterfully establishes its plot, setting and lead characters with more efficiency than any film I’ve seen in recent memory.

Now fugitives, the two head south without a solid plan beyond their next move. Subjects of a massive manhunt, not only do Queen and Slim become a media sensation, but reluctant folk heroes. Some are willing to assist them in trying to flee the country, while many others rise in protest of their treatment…sometimes violently. One of those who assists them is Queen’s uncle, Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), a sleazy pimp who’s already indebted to her (the reason why is just one of the film’s many narrative surprises).

The film becomes a road trip that unfolds much like Thelma & Louise, albeit with a lot of relevant commentary on today’s tumultuous social climate. The real journey is the one taken by the titular characters as they reassess themselves, increasingly aware that their entire future has boiled down to the next few days and the most important thing left in their lives is each other.

Though sometimes shamelessly manipulative, it’s difficult not to get swept along by their journey. Queen and Slim are not-only complex characters, but extraordinarily likable and their transformation is compelling. As media scrutiny and public protests intensify, so does their relationship, best exemplified when Queen and Slim consummate their relationship by the roadside while a young boy they met the day before – inspired by their fame – intentionally shoots a cop during a riot. It’s at this moment we suspect things are going to end all lot worse than any of my dates at the shooting range.

Queen & Slim ultimately becomes a sweeping journey of discovery, an engaging, poignant story bolstered by sympathetic performances from Kaluuya and Turner-Smith. Confidently directed by first-timer Melina Matsoukas (her first film), we’ve seen this type of movie before, but in the right hands, it’s still a trip worth taking.

IO (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

IO Review

Director: Jonathan Helpert
Writers: Clay Jeter, Charles Spano
Stars: Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie, Danny Huston

“IO” will certainly be an orgasmic experience for global environmentalists and defeatists. Supporters of global protest movements about global warming and the destruction of our balanced eco-system will certainly use this film as an example to reinforce their apocalyptic disaster scenarios. Can you already imagine it? Such a television program where they put a microphone under the nose of such an environmental adept? You can bet that comments such as “You see. Any idea what misery we’ll get into if we don’t intervene now?” will be flung at the interviewer. In my humble opinion, all this is a storm in a glass of water (And no, global warming didn’t cause that storm). I blame it on the natural evolution that our planet is undergoing. An evolution in cycles in which we as humans only speed up the process because of our polluting behaviour. Soit. I should stick to just one particular thing I’m good at. And that’s to write down a review of the movie in question. Short and concise: the film is as boring as any environmental debate of today.

For those who didn’t know yet, “IO” shows us for the umpteenth time a deserted, uninhabitable planet Earth. This concept has been used to a great extent in multiple films with a different cause each time. Either it’s because of a zombie outbreak like in “World War Z” and similar zombie movies. Or its prehistoric creatures like in “The Silence” that cause a global slaughter. And let’s not forget aliens? They appear all the time to plunder our blue planet because they themselves are without resources. Viruses, impulses via mobile telephones, an innocent text message, a computer virus or simply a world war. An enormous number of causes have already been used to create chaos with an extinct planet as a result.

Here in “IO“, it’s toxic fumes that cause the population to die en masse. Choking and blood transforming into a black liquid. Scientists claim the reason is an unexpected change in atmospheric composition. Smart people with common sense realise that it’s only Mother Earth who is thoroughly sick and tired of us and tries to get us off this planet with a well-aimed ecological kick in the butt. The result is a massive exodus to IO, a planet floating around somewhere near Jupiter. But that doesn’t apply to teenage girl Sam (Margaret Qualley) who stayed behind on Mother Earth, living in a house somewhere on a mountain where the toxic fumes can’t reach. When she looks over the valley, this smothering smog hangs like fog in the valley. Even a storm cannot blow these toxic fumes over the ridge. What the storm surely did, was blowing away a bee colony, necessary for the scientific research Sam and her father, who initiated this research and apparently didn’t survive the disaster, we’re doing. Or he went up in smoke. I cannot judge what this scientific research actually meant or if it made sense. That’s probably due to my limited intelligence.

All in all, the beginning of the film wasn’t bad. Sam wearing an oxygen mask, traveling through the deserted streets of some American city with the help of a quad (equipped with a trailer). Images of a dead city and horribly dark underground corridors where rainwater drips from the ceiling. And the realisation that her visiting time is limited to the content of the oxygen bottles. A miscalculation and she falls prey to the toxic fumes. Exciting. Captivating. But at the same time, it’s not groundbreaking. Even when Micah (Anthony “Falcon” Mackie) arrives in a Jules Verne-like balloon, it doesn’t get much more fascinating. What follows is a conflict between these two main characters. Sam wants to continue her father’s life’s work and prove that life on Earth could be possible in the future. Micah wants to board the last spaceship that leaves for IO but needs some extra help. When the romantic get-together comes into play, I immediately thought of “Z for Zachariah“. A similar film that starts interesting but is characterised by a general dullness and slowness.

The two main characters weren’t the problem. Margaret Qualley is a good-looking appearance and shows in a solid way how determined the character Sam is. Only the decisions she made were a bit implausible. Anthony Mackie manages to play the unsympathetic balloonist with a self-control problem effortlessly. The script was too nihilistic for me. The pace was irritatingly low. And the story itself was extremely boring. Many technically perfect still life’s. Lots of musing and breaks full of drama. Even the hopeful ending with a mythological-religious message couldn’t raise the level. Well, “IO” was a bit of a disappointment for me. I didn’t expect a “Lucas Arts” kind of movie where everything “explodes and blasts and bleeps”. But in terms of dullness, this Netflix Original still beats many competitors.

 

1917 (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

1917 Review

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Stars: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman

When I look back at that long (seemingly) unbroken take that opened Spectre, I can’t help but wonder if the seed of 1917 was already growing in Sam Mendes’s mind. With this film he takes that impressive filming method and applies it to the whole film, giving us something never before seen on-screen; an entire movie that looks like a single shot.

The story is fairly simple; two corporals are tasked with getting a message to the front line before an offensive push leads 1600 men into an ambush. The mission is given added urgency because the brother of one of the soldiers is among those about to go over the top. It’s a race against time across the war-torn ruins of the Western Front to get the message delivered.

Like its two heroes, this film hits the ground running and barely stops for two hours. It’s essentially a road movie with the soldiers going from one location to another and meeting various obstacles. To say more would be to spoil the plot, but suffice to say there are always a few stragglers even when an enemy has officially left the area.

This isn’t your gung-ho sort of war film where the hero can pick up a radio and get back-up. This is the story of one man’s mission. He’s in it alone and more often than not you feel sorry for him rather than wanting to cheer on his heroic actions. He is heroic, though, there’s no doubt about that, but his heroism isn’t defined by the amount of enemy soldiers he can kill by himself, but by his ability to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward no matter what tries to stop him. It’s his determination against all odds and obstacles that truly makes him a hero.

Though we’re with Schofield (George McKay) for most of the film, there’s a lot of familiar faces as he meets various people for brief periods. Colin Firth starts him off on his mission and Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott (Holmes and Moriarty) are in there too, as well as Mark Strong and Daniel Mays. It’s refreshing to see such well-known actors in small parts; it means they don’t detract from Schofield and his mission, which Mendes is smart enough to know should always remain the focus of the narrative.

George McKay’s performance as Schofield should see him making space on his mantel come award season. Not only does he fully commit to the role, but he even looks like how I imagine soldiers in World War I looked. It’s a stroke of casting genius by Mendes that has paid off in spades.

Another member of the crew that can’t be praised enough is Roger Deakins. The veteran cinematographer has always delivered something special in his films, but he has really excelled himself this time. The standout scene for me was the ruins of a village being lit solely by flares as they rise and fall in the air, casting eerie shadows across the set as they travel. It’s an incredible piece of lighting and something I’ve never seen done before. That scene alone begs to be seen on a big screen for the sheer scale involved.

The whole film is a masterclass in blocking and timing. Since these shots all have to be stitched together to look like a single shot everything has to be timed perfectly to make it work. The amount of thought needed for this makes my mind melt. There’s one scene with hundreds of extras charging, which would have to be reset every time if even the slightest thing went wrong.

I was watching a behind the scenes interview with Sam Mendes today where he explained one shot from the film. It involved a camera sitting on a crane while the crane moved to the ground, then the cameraman got off, followed the actor on foot, then jumped onto a jeep when the actor started running, then got off again so he could follow the actor through a narrow passageway, and then jumped onto the back of a motorcycle when the actor turns and runs back towards him. They should create a new Oscar for the sheer innovation, time and attention to detail it took to put this vision on screen.

Mendes’s war epic is a down and dirty depiction of duty and determination and puts the viewer right there in those muddy trenches with Schofield. See it on the big screen to revel fully in its scope and scale, and if you know anything about film-making your mouth will drop when you see what Mendes and Co. have achieved.