BOOKSMART 4 out of 5

Director: Olivia Wilde. Cast Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis.

Nothing about this film inspired me much, from the title, to the cast, to the trailer… Not even the poster looked that good.
I thought “Do we really need another teen-comedy, about people graduating from high school, trying to go to parties and have sex and being as rude as only kids can be at that age?”
Well, apparently we do.
Not for anything “Booksmart” ended up on Obama’s list of his favourite film from 2019.
Obviously, every film needs to be judged according to his genre (if any). You can’t really compare a horror with a comedy or a documentary and so on. But this is certainly one of the strongest coming-of-age/teen-commedy of the last few years and it will probably end up being used as a sort of milestone for this decade, the way Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Breakfast Club were for the 80s, Clueless for the 90s and, like or not, Superbad for the 00s (thought, I can assure you, this is A LOT BETTER)
This is a comedy which is so effortlessly inclusive and progressive that it doesn’t even have to make a point about by drawing your attention to it: it just is.
The humour is always sharp, yes sometimes crude, yes often puerile, but never cheap and always advancing the story or its characters… and most importantly, quite fun too!
The script is honest and smart as it plays with tropes and archetypes and doesn’t just subvert them but gives a whole new fresh and modern twist.
Yes, we still have the “graduation speech” scene at the end and the “learn about myself” moment and rivals will inevitably become friends, but for most of it, the film just hangs all the superficial assumptions and the clichés at the door and let the real kids step forward, and boy the kids of today are a lot smarter than we were!

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.


Director: Quentin Tarantino, Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino


Now, I’m aware I’m going to make myself some enemies here, but I’ve never really been a massive fan of Tarantino. I have tried and tried over the years. I recognise his skills at writing some of the dialogue (dialogue which HE seems to love more than anyone else), I can see the craft behind the camera. He’s definitely a man who knows what he’s doing and who knows the visual language of film-making, but I find him repetitive, a bit full of himself (well actually, both his films and him as a person), incredibly indulgent and actually a bit childish. I know, I know… not quite a popular view.
I came to this film with open arms, with all the will in the world, as a massive fan of Di Caprio e as somebody who really enjoys watching Brad Pitt in anything (yes, anything! Even “Meet Joe Black!”)… and unfortunately I was proved once again, that Quentin just does not do it for me…. In fact he kinda pisses me off a bit. 
The film is a love letter to the Hollywood which Tarantino seems to love so much and that’s been “quoted” throughout all his previous films. And that love clearly shows everywhere down to the attention to smallest detail, wherther it’s a poster in the background, or the name of a minor character which appears for just a few seconds.
He also loves the music from the time, so much so that the film seems to spend an awful lot of time just playing some of those tracks over (endless) shots of Brad driving his car. Whether that makes an entertaining watch is something which I would debate. But then again, I can see I’m clearly in the minority here because everybody else loves the mood that this film creates.
I just thought it was an incredibly episodic film which aside from recreating the Hollywood from the late 60s early 70s had nothing else to say.
Di Caprio does his best with his character, but even his great acting can’t hide the fact that’s it’s all a bit light. The scenes with the little girl/actress are probably some of the best in the film, but once again, they serve no purpose in the overall narrative. And then somewhere around “hour 2” of the endless running time, the film decides to take a turn and becomes a story about the “Manson killers”, which Tarantino, in his style, which by now is predictable as ever, decides to re-write just as it did for the Nazi and Hitler at the end of “Inglorious Bastards”.

Yes, yes, very funny. Mmm… really? Again? Apparently so.
Also, once again, we get the gratuitous ending with ultra-violence, which we’ve seen over and over. Whether this is bad taste, considering that a pregnant woman got slaughtered in real life, among the many other victims too and considering that the close families to all these people are still living with the consequences, I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Tarantino once again is unable to keep his films under 2 hours, because he’s so in love with his set-pieces, with his dialogue that he thinks he (and we) just can’t do without it.
And so he indulges himself with extraneous scenes (completely superfluous) with an idiotic Bruce Lee (No wonder the Chinese hated it), with the above mentioned endless car driving sequences and long preambles to even longer sequences, for which there’s actually very little in terms of payoff.
So what could have been a beautiful old fashioned film about the “magic of movies” mixed up with a lovely bromance ends up being meandering, very self-indulgent and a very diluted mish-mash of everything, which actually amounts to pretty much nothing.
It may look and sound cool but behind the neon signs, hippie girls, the funky music, the shirtless Brad, it’s just a series of period clichés with nothing to tell… for three hours!




I found this film tantalising, interesting and infuriating all at the same time. At times I found myself discovering hidden gems and film which I had never ever heard of, but other times, and more often than not, I was just left frustrated by how reaching some those links from clip to clip were, how far-fetched were some of the arguments and wrong were some of the readings and basically just how random it all seemed. It really felt as if Mark Cousins was so keen to try to include certain film clips (which he had to “fair deal” in order not to pay the copyrights, so he filled them up with pointless descriptions and analysis), that it didn’t really matter whether they fitted or not: he just made them fit. Phrases like “a storm about to hit… just like adolescence” felt incredibly forced and actually quite up-their-own-self. And of course there were HUGE oversights too. Where was Bicycle thieves? And Kolya? Stand by me? The 400 Blows? Lord of the flies? Au Revoir les Enfants? ANd the list goes on… I was also amazed to see how ET was used 3 times (obviously the moon shot, but also two other moments which were beautiful but to me didn’t quite illustrate the points Cousins was trying to make) but then when Cousins talks about adults cut off from frame, making the analogy with Tom & Jerry, he fails to mention ET, which is a wonderful example of how Spielberg keeps the camera a child’s level all the time and keeps the adults out of frame as if they were not allowed to enter the children’s world (except the mother, who’s obviously special), until the moment ET is about to die (which is the moment Elliot really grow up). Incidetally, no animations? And finally the “family moments” were completely unrelated to the rest, despite the constant attempt to make it all relevant. Anyway, it really should have been called “A Personal Story of Children and (some) Films” Basically it was all just very very light despite all the pretences to be deep.

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).




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


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

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.



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