UNCUT GEMS – Mini Review

uncut gems.jpg

UNCUT GEMS  stars-7.5

Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie. Stars: Adam SandlerMesfin Lamengo, Suin Zhi Hua-Hilton, Liang Wei-Hei Duncan, Keith Williams Richards, Idina Menzel.

Just a bit of advise, don’t watch “Uncut Gems” before going to bed because it may take you a while to unwind from all the stress accumulated during the film and fall asleep. 

This is an electrifying, stressful, tense, frantic, exhausting film, where everything seems to be turned up to 11, where every single line of dialogue is shouted and where nobody ever seems to sit still as it all leads to a nail-biting finale. It’s all very entertaining, even if you not very relaxing. 

Adam Sandler proves once again that he has the real acting chops when he’s given the right material; in fact this may be his best performance as the jewellery dealer/compulsive gambler/cheater who has the ability to always make the wrong decision at the wrong time and never seems to finish a phone call. 

It’s all relentless for both the audience and his character on screen

This film is out in the cinema right now, but it also comes up on Netflix on the 31st of January. or so and if you like the fast, crime-type of films that Martin Scorsese used to make (this is actually produced by him), you’ll need to see.

 

FOR SAMA- Mini Review

for sama

FOR SAMA 10!!!

Directors: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts. Cast:Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab

To review “For Sama” as if it was like any other film or documentary feels wrong. For a start it’s distasteful and disrespectful for the thousands of people who have suffered and are still suffering as a result of what’s happening in Syria (or many other places savaged by war), but also this is not like a normal documentary (even though there are skilful makers behind the scenes doing their best work: some beautiful shots, some perfectly judged music, some skilful decisions in the editing and so on).

Waad al-Kateab’s devastating personal account of the last few years in Aleppo set against the backdrop of a crumbling city, countless death and unimaginable horrors, had me completely floored like nothing before.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much during a film in my entire life.
In fact I have to confess I had to pause the film a few times and take a break from it (a luxury that its protagonists never had). This is as close to impossible to watch as it gets, and yet at the same time I am really happy I got to the end (I particularly love her take at the very end). This film should probably be compulsory viewing to everyone, especially those who complain about immigrants from Syria “stealing our jobs”.
These are people living a life where air strikes, mass funerals, people dying in front of your eyes, crumbling buildings and the soundtrack of gunfire right behind your wall are part of a daily routine.
But what makes “For Sama” a unique masterpiece are the moments of pure love, laughs and smiles in among the unspeakable sadness.
A scene in particular relating to a C-Section on a still born baby had me sobbing in convulsions, not for the reason you might expect, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Al-Kateab films everything with both the unflinching eye of a journalist (in one heartbreaking scene she even gets confronted by a screaming mother who’s just lost her child: “why are you filming?!”) and at the same time with the heart, care and love of a mother who one day will have to explain all this to her daughter Sama… and of course to us.
The result is one not just the best documentaries of the year, but one of the most heartbreaking pieces of work I’ve ever seen (just watching the trailer below makes me weep again).

AMERICAN FACTORY – Mini Review

AMERICAN FACTORY

lead_720_405

Directors: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert.

There’s a lot to learn and a lot to think about in this BAFTA-nominated documentary on Netflix. “I don’t know if I’m a contributor or a sinner” says the Chinese CAO of a factory in America which employs over 2000 American workers (most of which had been laid off by the closure of a previous GM factory) with complete disregards of health & safety, working hours and keeping them all on minimum wage (and dismissing them at the first chance).
But not all it as it seems. This is a complex, thought-provoking and utterly fascinating study about the clash between China and America and they way the two countries are miles apart not just geographically, but also in the way they approach work and life in general. The film tries to look at it from both sides, without any agenda and just when you think the Chinese are the “baddies”, then your preconceptions are completely subverted: the world is a much more complex place that it first appears and this is definitely a different type of documentary and a very interesting one too.

 

ROCKETMAN – Mini Review

rocketman-cannes-review.jpg

Director Dexter Fletcher: Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones

rating: 6/10

Your enjoyment of films like these usually goes together with how much you like the music of the artist subjected to the bio-treatment.
Last year I ended up liking Bohemian Rhapsody, not because it was a good film (which clearly it wasn’t), but because the music by the Queen was so infectious and permeated every single frame of that film, elevating it from “average” to “a lot of fun”
In the case of Rocketman, the pitch was obviously quite an easy sell. I mean, who doesn’t like Elton after all? As the film played I found myself saying “Oh… I had forgotten about this one too… “ about 20 times!
On top of all that, the visual dazzleness (is there such a word?), the inventiveness of director Dexter Fletcher (who rightly decided to go for a musical as opposed to just a plain bio) and obviously the sheer brilliance of Egerton who inhabits Elton to perfection, make this a much more enjoyable experience and a better film than it had any right to be.
Yes of course, the framing device (those AA meeting scenes) is clunky as hell, the wigs are terrible, it’s all pretty disposable, ridiculous and filled with all the usual cliché of this kind of films, but what else were you expecting? Just sit back and enjoy it and stop picking on it: I had fun with it.

Spielberg HBO Documentary – Review

spielberg-hbo-documentary-duel

Spielberg HBO Documentary

Director: Susan Lacy. Cast: Steven SpielbergMartin ScorseseFrancis Ford CoppolaGeorge LucasBrian De Palma ,Tom HanksLeonardo DiCaprio

rating 6.0/10

Let me come out clean right from the start: I’m a Spielberg mega-fan. In fact so much so that the word mega-fan doesn’t even come close to what I think about Steven Spielberg… Maybe a should say a Spielberg-Maniac…

Basically, he single-handledly made me the person I am today. I know.. A big bold statement, but ever so true. He’s the reason why I work in the film  industry today.  He’s the one who really made me fall in love with movies at an age when I didn’t even know what movies were.

So it won’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say that I’d been waiting for a proper and insightful documentary on him for a long time. When I learnt that HBO was producing this film, I was in heaven.

Obviously, the moment I started watching it, I realised this was only going to scratch the surface. Of course, how could it possibly go deep into a career spanning 5 decades? But I can’t really blame it for that. How many bio-documentaries are out there about famous personalities? How can you squeeze a life into a little bit more than 2 hours?

I was bound to get a bit disappointed.

I do not question so much the stuff that’s been omitted, however I do wonder what the intents of the film-maker were when she set out to make this film. Who is this film for? Clearly very few people would actually sit down and watch 147 minutes on a movie director unless of course they were interested in the man himself… And I have to say, if you are interested in the man himself then most of what the film covers is stuff that you should know already.

But the main question is what is this going to be? Is it “Steven Spielberg in his own words”? Is it “Spielberg told by the people who knew him”? Or is it a Spielberg history by film critics and journalists?Is it a celebration? A critical look at his work? An masterclass?

Well, it’s a bit of all of the above: a mish-mash of styles (if we can call them such) which moves back and forth in time quite randomly,  sometimes feeling like it’s even repeating certain subjects and even certain film clips (in fact the film is quite badly constructed and clumsily edited).

Basically, it’s just another biographical documentary with a bigger budget (to get all those film rights and the chance to use John Williams score, as your score) and great access to pretty much every single person you’d want (except wives and children… and that’s a clue of the type of control that Spielberg must have had over this).

The film is incredibly reverential towards the man… And fair enough. We are talking about Spielberg here. I mean, he is a genius! He has changed the face of cinema forever and he should be treated as royalty, but let’s all be honest here: he also did make some bad movies. In his huge filmography, there are indeed some big turkeys especially in the latter part of his career (I’m the first one to admit that): and the film-maker knows that, so much so that the film flies through some of the more recent times, trying to brush it all under the carpet.

Also some films are barely even get mentioned. For example I could not see a single shot from  The TerminalThe Lost WorldTwilight Zone, and most crucially Always, a film which Spielberg himself loves dearly. That was odd.

It would have been interesting to explore some of those failures, both from his point of view and from those people who worked with him.

But the film-maker is so afraid to piss off the main star that she misses too many opportunities to actually go a little bit deeper and make a documentary which is not just a bit more edgy but also just different and actually more interesting.

She should have tried to question the director’s approach to film-making maybe. She should have confronted those critics. He would have come out a winner anyway.

The segment about the failure of  1941 is all too well documented, so she could not avoid talking about it (Also I guess it’s easier since it was such a long time ago), but we know there’s a lot more than that.

For example Hook gets no mentioned and there are probably 2 shots of it in the whole film. That’s the one he’s most ashamed of. It would have been interesting to talk about that. How we wanted to make a musical but never had the guts to do it.

How about  Tintin? His first foray into animation? Even more than that: the first of a trilogy! Well, that didn’t quite go as planned. Again, no mention: just one brief shot.

Let me give you another example: The Color Purple is talked about briefly as a failure, claiming that Spielberg sanitised the story (but that’s really not the reason why it got slated).  Also there’s no mention of the fact that it got 11 nomination except the one for directing and ended up not winning a single one. That would have been a great excuse to talk about his relationship with the rest of Hollywood and the Oscars themselves (up until Schindler’s List he was never nominated: there is great footage of him reacting live to not getting the nomination for Jaws for example).

Yes, at some point they say that “some director” thought he was making Hollywood a worse place (I’m paraphrasing), well, let’s hear some of these people. Let’s hear some of the harsh critics, let’s see them attacking his sentimentality, his ending of Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan or any other film in the last 15 years (let’s be honest, Steven Spielberg has had a problem with ending his films in the last few years).

Instead the film reverts to using terribly banal soundbites from some random film critics. That’s bad film-making in my opinion, especially when you set up to make a film which tries to be personal, as some of it is. In fact some of the most successful segments are the ones where Spielberg opens up a bit more, whether about his own divorce or the one of his parents, or being bullied as a kid. That’s when you start getting glimpse of the real man behind the beard… And then just when you think she can do it, they cut to yet again another film critic telling you how great he is, or explaining how his films all are about the lack of a father and so on…

It should all have really come from people in his films, who worked with him. From his friends or people who knew him well . It would have made it a lot more personal.

Obviously there’s a lot missing too.

The Poltergeist controversy could have been confronted once for all with the man at the centre of it.

And what about all the amazing work he did in the 80s as a producer: Gremlins , The Goonies , Back to the FutureRoger Rabbit, just to mention a few? And his work on TV both on TV series and and Animation? Amazing Stories”Tiny ToonAnimaniacs” and all the more recent one, from Band of Brothers”, to Taken, all the way to Falling Skies. Nothing. And talking about animation: all his work from  An American Tail to TinTin, once again? Nothing.

What about question his role as an executive producer in lesser products like Transformers for example? I know,  that would have been a different type of film probably. But I think it has to do with his brand as well. The Spielberg brand is now something that can sell an entire TV series. I’m surprised none of that got a mention.

But crucially  I get very little insight about his film-making process. Very little of him actually on the sets of his films, overcoming problems, coming up with solutions, or simply talking to his actors (that moment where Liam Neeson question his directing was gold but never gets picked up again: another missed opportunity), working with his crew. How does he work with his Director of Photography, his editor, his composer. All they’re telling me is that he likes to work with the same people. Well, thanks I can see that from imdb: what does it actually mean practically? Show me.

For a documentary about a film director, there is surprisingly little directing going on.

The only surprise came from the interviews with his family and by the fact that today his parents are back together again.. So just like a Spielberg movie, there’s a happy ending here too.

I could have watched 20 more hours, even in this slightly diluted, bland and biased form.

I won’t deny that I have enjoyed it and that there are some lovely moments here and there, but given the access they had, the contacts and the freedom to use pretty much everything at her disposal, this is a very light documentary that reveals pretty much nothing new and gives me no more inside into the mind of the greatest director on earth today.

 

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Review

the-amazing-spider-man-2-movie-2014-hd-1920x1080

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) Rating 7/10

Directed by : Marc Webb. Cast: Andrew GarfieldEmma StoneJamie FoxxDane DeHaanFelicity JonesPaul GiamattiSally Field.

Let’s be honest, I’ve always been a sucker for Spiderman. So you may feel this review is a little bit biased by my love for the character. When I was a little skinny 5 years old boy I used to dress up in a Spidey costume and I remember feeling invincible (despite the fact that I looked even skinnier and more feeble than ever with those red and blue tights on).

When the first Amazing Spider-Man was released back in 2012 I was there on opening night, on the biggest IMAX screen Britain has ever seen (or so the slogan says), dragging my pregnant wife (Little Jr. inside the belly wasn’t too pleased about the loud subwoofer apparently), filled with excitement, despite fearing the worse (early trailers didn’t look that good) and hating the idea of a new reboot so soon after Raimi’s trilogy. In the end Andrew Garfiled managed to win me over and I was probably one of the few bloggers out there completely satisfied with the Marc Webb‘s reboot (You can still read my review for the first film here).

The Amazing Spiderm-man 2 swings into our screens followed by an overwhelming number of trailers and teasers. So many in fact that I walked into the theatre feeling that I had already seen most of the film. Luckily, there were enough surprises throughout to keep it all fresh, including the biggest surprise of them all which obviously I am not going to reveal (but which will be the one that you’ll be dying to talk to somebody about, after you’ve seen this film).

Well, let me tell you straight away: I loved this movie! This is my idea of a perfect Comic adaptation: a mix of humour, action, over-the-top baddies, and some emotionally charged scenes. And once again, just like in the previous instalment, this is where director Marc Webb shines: the relationship with between Andrew Garfiled and Emma Stone is almost tangible and it’s definitely one of the strong cards; credit to the director of course, but also and especially to the actors).  Garfiled, first and foremost, doesn’t just inhabits the character to perfection (Tobey Maguire is now completely gone from my memory) but he also manages to make him relatable, funny and bizarrely… real! I must confess he even managed to bring a few tears into my eyes a couple of times.

The pace, the action and the special effects, all seem to have gone up a couple of gears too. Right from the bright and energetic beginning as the camera swoops through the skyscrapers of Manhattan, this feels straight away a much more confident film than the first. There’s no more comparisons to draw with an already told story and the ghost of Raimi is nowhere to be seen despite the fact that his previous “2nd SpiderMan” is possibly known as one of the best superhero movie ever (I can hear a lot of Avengers fans screaming with rage… hahaha).

Manhattan itself takes centre stage like only the big Apple can do, while a series of perfectly cast characters enhance every moment in the film: from the forever-reliable Sally Field and the surely future Oscar winner Dane DeHaan (I don’t think you can argue with this premonition), to the deliriously over-the-top Paul Giamatti and the electrically charged Jamie Foxx who manages be sad and terrifying at the same time.

If there is one criticism to make is probably that the film tries to do too much, as it handles too many threads and character and runs for a bit too long (what film doesn’t these days?), but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy every single moment and I did not look at my watch once.

Yes, the editing is a bit choppy and the order of some of the scenes sometimes feels a bit arbitrary (clearly they must have left a fair bit in the editing room), but it’s all entertaining enough and it all runs along at a brisk pace that you hardly notice it.

Call it what you want, escapism, pop-corn film-making, Hollywood money-sucking machine… but when I go and see a movie called Spider-Man, this is exactly what I want to see.

7 Stars (out of 10)

Zero Dark Thirty – Review

Zero-Dark-Thirty-Trailer

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) rating 6.5/10

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jessica ChastainJoel EdgertonJason ClarkeKyle ChandlerJames GandolfiniMark Strong.

The film opens in darkness: almost two minutes of black screen as a sound montage made of screams, 911 calls and that all-too-familiar crying. There is no need for pictures, somehow those bits of sound are just as recognisable… And we get it straight away. It’s an effective, un-exploitive and subtle way to take us back to 9/11 without having to resort to the abused images of the collapsing towers… Also by using actual archive sound, talking about real about events, real dates, real names and victims, the film establishes certain boundaries of reality which makes it feel pretty much like a documentary… A dangerous and a rather questionable game to play… But more on that later.

Zero Dark Thirty essentially tries to do three things at once: to give us an account of the Osama Bin Laden manhunt “based on firsthand accounts of the events” leading up to his killing, but it’s also a look at black ops‘s modus operandi and their way of obtaining information by means of torture, and finally it paints a portrait of a woman who seems to have no other purpose in life than finding the Al Qaeda leader: unfortunately her character is really paper-thin (kudos for  Jessica Chastain for actually making something out of it and for that getting Oscar nominated too) and this ends up being the weakest part of the film, in my view.

There is no denying that Kathryne Bigelow is a skilled director who knows how to tell a complicated story in the clearest of terms, while at the same time cranking up the tension but without falling into the obvious Hollywood clichés. There are certainly interesting, riveting and compelling sequences throughout this handsomely made film, while a lot of serious, important and controversial issues are touched upon… But to me that’s the key problem: they’re just touched upon. Not only the film never really seems to ask any real question, but even when it looks like it does, it never actually gives any answer. Of course, a good movie doesn’t necessarily have to ask questions, nor give answers, but when the subject matter is something as serious as this (including the showing of graphic depictions of Americans torturing their prisoners in order to obtain information) and when you’re doing it in such a manner that the audience assumes this is all real, then you’re beginning to have certain responsibility too.

There are glimpses of an interesting and challenging film here and there, (including an extract from a news report showing Obama stating “America condemns torture”, which happens to be just after a torture sequence), but to me it was all too a bit too little and spare.

This is not meant to be a real documentary, in fact the end credits tell you that this is to be taken as a dramatisation… Well, if that’s the case, the characterisation of every single person in the film is pretty weak (including the already mentioned “super-woman” protagonist).

So if you take it as a drama, it’s all pretty standard fare and rather flat and superficial film. As a piece of documentary and a critique to the “American System”, it’s just too diluted in among all those bad lines of dialogue (“who are you?” -“I’m the motherfucker who found this place”, or “I believe I was spared so I could finish the job”) which in the end diminish the impact that such a subject could have had.

The last 25 minutes of the film follow the actual mission to capture and kill Bin Laden (sidelining even our main character, who completely disappears from the film). It is pretty much shown in real time, without any music (mercifully, because for the rest of the film the score is as obvious and bland as they come). It is a sequence which is meticulously executed and wisely stirs well away from easy heroism or American triumphalism and yet, because of course we all know how it ended, it felt to me not only a bit anticlimactic, slightly voyeuristic, but also a bit pointless, which in a way sums up my thoughts about the whole film.

Certainly a lot of people will talk about the issues raised, but mainly because of the issues themselves, not  because the film.

Of course we’ll never know the truth (In fact recently some criticism has been raised about the actual veracity of the facts), but as it often happens with these sort of real-case stories (whether it’s about the birth of Facebook with “the Social Network”, or a terrorist attack with “United 93” or simply Che Guevara’s road trip in the “Motorcycle Diaries”…), this film will eventually become THE VERSION of the truth we’ll all believe, which in this case might be a bit troubling and very questionable.

6.5/10

The Impossible – Review

the-impossible06

The Impossible (2012) rating 6.0/10

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring Naomi WattsEwan McGregorTom Holland.

The Impossible tells the true story of an American family (mother, father and three kids) caught up in the terrible Tsunami that in 2004 claimed the lives of an estimated 250000 people, residents and tourists alike, across 14 countries in South-East Asia: is was one of the largest natural disaster ever witnessed in human memory.

Of course the idea of using (or exploiting ssomebody may say) real-life horrors, natural (and non-natural) disasters and human tragedies to tell a story is at least as old as cinema itself. I could quote hundreds of movies that did it, some more successful than others… And if Titanic and its $1.8 billion at the box office on its release, is to be taken as proof, there is clearly an appetite for this kind of stuff. Whether it’s the holocaust, slavery, wars, shootings in schools, terrorist attacks: nothing seems to be sacred these days in Hollywood. No tragedy is off-limits anymore, not even a recent one like this. “United 93”  did it for the terrorist attack to America only 5 years after the event. Raise your hand if you thought it was a good idea at the time…. And yet, surprisingly, it ended up being a fairly balanced film, incredibly powerful and on the whole quite an accomplished success. I’m not sure whether anyone actually needed it, but hey… that’s the subject for another discussion.

To cut to the chase, I don’t necessarily argue against the actual idea of telling such stories. After all, isn’t that what every single war movie does? Sometimes it can work. It can raise awareness for a certain tragedy or even serve as a tribute or a simple educational tool, it can give us a different prospective to a known event or it can help us to remember such a tragedy, never forget what our ancestors had to go through. Even seemingly simplistic films like Titanic, once again, beyond the silly love story, can be seen as a look into social classes at the beginning of 1900s.

Sadly “The Impossible” not only does none of that, but also has absolutely nothing to say. It exploits the tragedy to tell us an unbalanced and slightly distorted view of what actually happened in Thailand in 2004 following an American family who just happen to survive against all the odds: you may ask yourself “what’s the point?”. Well, there isn’t one… or if there is it’s probably “life is about luck… and whether you have a medical insurance or not”. Never mind the  insane amount of people who died, most of which locals anyway (which in this film are largely ignored), never mind the ecological and economic impact of such tragedy: as long as the loving American family can reunite itself once again we are all happy. An absolute travesty, if you ask me. Simplistic, cheap, superficial, with an underlying uneasy complacency, and some troubling sentimentality throughout(including an over-played soundtrack, with twinkling piano and soaring strings).

And apparently the horrors of the real events were not enough for the film-makers so they even decided to add a series of manipulative clichés to enhance the drama (slow-motion – sound drops, and an incredibly misjudged sequence, which should really belong to a Black Edwards comedy, where father and son keep on missing each other among the multitude of people in a hospital).

It doesn’t matter whether the story is true of not, this is just not the way it should have been told.

It is a great shame because aside from that, the film technically is really impressive: the actual scene where the Tsunami hits the cost is truly terrifying and what I assume must be CGI is seamless (beating the one in Clint Eastwood’s dog of a film Hereafter) If you can somehow switch your brain off (a next-to-impossible task) and take this as just another  silly disaster movie, a sort of Towering Inferno, or Dante’s peak, there is no denying that the film is quite gripping and emotionally draining. I just wish it could have been a lot more than that.

I long for the day Naomi Watts will finally choose a film which will give her a well deserved Oscar… Sadly this is not such film. Ewan McGregor once again confirms himself as a great charismatic leading actor and his absorbing performance is nothing short of perfect. And finally the little Tom Holland, whose name is deservedly bantered about these days within several industry magazines and papers next to those 3 words “For Your Consideration”. He’s really very good, bringing to the role the fragility of a kid of that age, the strength of a teenager but also depth and emotions reminiscent of some of the best child actors in movies. I can’t wait to see him in something not just half decent.

Their impressive performances ultimately lift the film and give it enough depth and gravitas to avoid being a complete failure and just an insult to so many of the real victims.

6.0/10 

%d bloggers like this: