Uncut Gems


Viewed – 04 February 2020. Netflix

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Adam Sandler. His movies especially these days just slip under my radar and except for The Wedding Singer none of his output has ever impacted me much. However, some positive word of mouth has been doing the rounds about this, so I thought I’d check it out. Sandler plays Howard, a crooked jewellery store owner and general wheeler-dealer with a wife, kids and a girlfriend on the side who lives his life ducking mob loan sharks and continually struggling to keep one step ahead of people. After obtaining some priceless uncut gems however, a way out just might be on the cards.

I found Howard’s lifestyle exhausting to watch yet it’s portrayed fairly realistic even if it never made me sympathise with such an obviously self-inflicted plight. What’s going on and why is pretty much glossed over as well. And… despite best intentions, Sandler fails to be much more than a caricature surrounded by more believable casting (including NBA star Kevin Garnett as himself). This isn’t helped by what appears to be a bad Heat-era Al Pacino impression Sandler is doing throughout.. With that said the sheer relentlessness of the direction is commendable.

For fans this proves a departure for Sandler they might appreciate but for me he didn’t stand out or prove all that appealing … the story pretty much goes exactly where I expected also. Forgettable.

Verdict: Poor

The Favourite


Viewed – 23 January 2020 Blu-ray

Sometimes a movie peaks one’s interest for no particular reason. I guess I wanted to see this just because of its intriguing concept and the fact it had good word of mouth. That Olivia Coleman Oscar nod didn’t go ignored either. So what’s it about? In the early 18th century, Queen Anne (Coleman) reigns during a war with the French, and is dutifully aided by Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). However when a maiden, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace, the equilibrium is upset as she begins to court the Queen’s favour and a fierce rivalry ensues.

This reminded me of that other costume drama classic Dangerous Liaisons, with its similarly mean-spirited characters and manipulative behaviour. Similarly this is also rather sexy and interwoven some strong language amongst its often entertaining, quirky dialogue. Olivia Coleman may have got all the attention for her performance but I found her portrayal overly pathetic and silly, that whilst fascinating was far from award-winning in my opinion. Weisz is suitably bitchy, sexually-ambiguous and enjoyable but next to Emma Stone’s more interesting, conniving character she comes off second best. Yes, Stone is the stand out here, subtle, layered and just fun to watch with more of a character ark than those that surround her.

With expected lavish production and costumes, despite occasional bizarre camera techniques (were those fish-eye lenses entirely necessary?) this was a joy to look at. The movie’s not quite as daring or provocative as it could have been and where it goes is rather disappointing … whereas I had expected a dramatic, possibly shocking conclusion. Worth checking out though.

Verdict: Good

1917


Viewed – 21 January 2020 Cinema

There’s been a lot of buzz around this leading up to awards season.  Is it worthy?  Let’s find out.  During World War I, two young soldiers are given an unenviable task. In a race against time, they must travel into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save thousands of lives.

I won’t say I have the best knowledge of WW1, but still found this fascinating but not utterly gripping. The focus on these two characters makes for an effectively claustrophobic experience, aided by an unshifting, one-shot gimmick that certainly adds to the focus but also makes the whole show a bit less cinematic. Director Sam Mendes however delivers an occasionally powerful story that feels very real at times, exploring the mundanity of war as much as the violence and conflict. I felt the movie lacked big set pieces and failed to dig in deep with the characters, with little of the depth of say, the similarly perspective-driven The Revenant. With that said, one particular night sequence is quite visually striking.

Actor George Mackay is the stand out and is suitably supported by realistic casting, with names like Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch making an appearance. Yet it’s the authenticity here that shines, stepping away from any Hollywood excess. Worth a watch, but not quite as good as it’s hype suggests.

Verdict: Good

Midsommar


Viewed – 11 January 2020. Online rental

Following a family tragedy, a female student agrees to go on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends to attend a religious festival at a secluded commune. However once there she begins to witness the community’s unusual ceremonies and suspect not all is what it seems.

The second movie from Hereditary director Ari Aster certainly has influences from The Wicker Man, with its focus on Pagan rituals, and also bares resemblances to religious cults like The Manson Family and Heaven’s Gate. Yet Aster also sprinkles it with his own ideas and haunting imagery and with an exploration of human drama at the centre of the horror, like Hereditary this again disturbs. Lead actress Florence Pugh is mesmerising as someone already dealing with grief, faced with uncertainty in her relationship and then unfamiliar surroundings that initially seem exactly what she needs – and then something else entirely. The movie also explores passive-aggressive behaviour amongst the various characters which only adds to the tension.

It is a bit long at over 2 and a half hours, and gets predictable towards the end with a little too much foreshadowing … but direction is effective with great use of sound, unconventional editing and (cleverly) daylight to build unease. A movie that further cements Ari Aster as one of the most interesting horror directors working today.

Verdict: Recommended

Rocketman


Viewed – 06 January 2020 Blu-ray

I’ve always appreciated the music of Elton John and consider several of his songs all-time classics. Following on from Bohemian Rhapsody this similarly tells the life story of one of the UK’s most iconic stars, this time with less of a tragic ending.

Told in a surreal musical style that takes those famous songs and matches them with key events in Elton’s life… this has Taron Egerton on amazing form, delivering all the nuance, emotion and flamboyance of the man himself whilst also singing all the songs as well. The musical approach is done very well even if at times I wished certain favourites were just delivered normally instead of other cast members stealing certain parts as way of delivering the story. Jamie Bell is very good as Elton’s writing partner Bernie, although Bryce Dallas Howard proves a bit forgettable as Elton’s disapproving mother.

The focus here is mostly Elton’s struggle to be accepted by his parents or find love. It’s occasionally a little overly stylish, and despite showcasing many famous songs, the omission of Candle In The Wind is puzzling. Yet this still delivers an occasionally moving, often eye-opening story with some seriously feel good moments, aided by a killer soundtrack.

Verdict: Recommended