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Godzilla Vs Kong – Review

Exactly what I expected.

Sometimes a films title is just a title. It doesn’t play into the plot much, or it is just a phrase someone says at some point. Whiplash is just the name of a piece of music in a film about a jazz drummer really. It doesn’t tell you anything else from the title. Godzilla V Kong is the complete opposite. The title is exactly what you get, and its exactly what I wanted from a film featuring these two cinema icons.

In a season of Oscar films with deep meaningful plots and themes, this film comes along to cleanse the palate and remind you that sometimes movies are just dumb fun. There is a plot, of course, and its as outrageous as you would expect. I enjoy that the writers have decided “Screw it, people are here to watch monsters, this stuff doesn’t have to be that coherent”. The evolution of these films from the first Godzilla film has been very satisfying. That film was interesting but it didn’t have enough of the big lizard. That is not a worry here.

That said, it takes it’s time to get really into it. After an initially fun opening, we spend a good half hour jumping around establishing what the humans are doing. I can’t say any of it is bad, all the actors are good in their roles, there is just a bit too much of it. Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry and Alexander Skarsgard all throw themselves into the ridiculousness. There are plot holes and characters take unbelievable revelations in their stride like it is nothing, but it is all just set up. Pushing us along to the titular event we are here to see.

Once we get to Godzilla & Kong facing off, it’s all just visually great fun. The two have distinct ways of fighting. I went in expecting Godzilla to be more front and centre but by the end I was wishing I could have my own pet Kong. His connection with the deaf young girl is endearing even if it comes out of nowhere. There is no such relationship with Godzilla, but the big lizard is the antagonist for half of the film until a certain point. No spoilers, but its exactly how you expect these movies to go.

There is not a lot to say about this film. I could rip it apart for idiotic plot holes, generic dialogue and dumb moments, but that just isn’t what this film is for. There is enough plot to get us to the two big guys fighting it out for supremacy. That is what the title, the posters, and the trailers promised. And it’s exactly what you get with consistently spectacular cinematic moments. Just don’t go in expecting anything else.

Good: Godzilla & Kong fight. I don’t know what more you could want from this film.

Bad: Character development? An interesting story? Oscar worthy dialogue? This has none of those things.

TL;DR – Does exactly what you expect and that is honestly the best thing you can hope for in a movie called “Godzilla Vs Kong”.

Nomadland – Review

Frances McDormand is exceptional in a story about living in a van.

Nomadland is, at the time of writing, the favourite for the best picture award at the Oscars in a few weeks time. Beyond that, it’s directed by Chloe Zhao who the marvel fans amongst you might know as the director who was given The Eternals which comes out later this year. Don’t come to this film expecting something like a marvel spectacle. Nomadland is something very different to your standard blockbuster.

Nomadland follows Fern, played by the always magnificent Frances McDormand, a woman who has committed to life as a nomadic traveller living in her van. This has come about after the death of her husband and essentially the closure of her town after the industry that kept it going shut down. Her performance is incredible, feeling incredibly real. That same genuine feeling I felt watching Minari a few weeks ago was back here.

As you are watching Nomadland, it feels like it’s blurring the lines between a fictional story and a documentary. The people Fern meets along the way feel incredibly genuine. The key reason for that, most of the other people in this film aren’t actually actors. They’re what’s been called “Non-actors”. These are people who are essentially playing a slightly altered version of themselves. Drawing from their own experiences to bring their own real life trials and tribulations to Fern’s fictional story.

That all brings a real sense of authenticity to Nomadland. I don’t know if I’ve seen another film do it quite like this that wasn’t a documentary. It feels like the character of Fern has been dropped into this world of mostly elderly Americans who are living this nomadic lifestyle and Frances McDormand has just lived the life for the year the film covers. Of course, that isn’t how it happened, it is written and the events are scripted. Every character is at least a little different from the real person.

This film tells more of it’s story using visual story telling and well placed music than it does with character dialogue. When people are talking it has a purpose, or they just make small talk. There isn’t the kind of forced conversations you feel happen in a lot of films where every emotion and explanation has to be said out loud by someone. You feel the weight of loss, the consistency of grief and the joy of remembering.

The score is one of the best this year. It sounded how I felt Fern was living. Still for a moment, then on the move. The character never wants to stop in one place for too long, and by the end I understood why. This, perhaps more than any of the other Oscar nominated films this year, is a moving film. Maybe the year we’ve all had contributed to this, but this film made me think about how we deal with loss and how we can move on but keep the one’s we’ve lost in our minds. But I can easily see someone else getting a different, maybe more positive message about your enjoying life your way.

Chloe Zhao’s approach to this film shows all the hallmarks of a great filmmaker. The unorthodox approach to the casting pays dividends with the authentic feel. It boasts an excellent score that’s memorable and fits the main character. The cinematography lets the breath taking scenery do the talking, at times looking like a windows background in it’s picture perfect nature. Nomadland is a personal story told in an intimate way that hits home. It’s a very “Oscary” movie in that it’s not going to get your blood pumping with adrenaline, but it might just make you think.

Good: Great performance by Frances McDormand, and I really liked how it made me think about certain things towards the end of the film.

Bad: The meandering plotless style may turn people off even though it fits the “Nomad” tag.

TL;DR – Nomadland is one of the more thought provoking films I’ve seen for a while, and moves up to my No.2 for best picture. (Chicago 7 remains top dog for me).

One Night In Miami – Review

Pardon me… are you Aaron Burr, Sir?

Based on a night that might have really happened, One Night in Miami follows the events that happened in a hotel room following Muhammed Ali’s world championship title win in 1964. Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Malcom X spent the evening together, and that premise is enough on it’s own to intrigue me.

I don’t think know how historically accurate this film is, but the setting serves as a perfect backdrop for the conversations about these prominent figures in Black history and their impact on the world. I’d only heard of one of the 4 main actors, that one being Leslie Odom Jr, a star of Hamilton, which was probably the best thing I watched during Lockdown. I really should write about Hamilton.

The movie picks up before that title fight, and introduces us to the main characters in their elements, giving each actor a chance to establish themselves with the audience before they are thrown together. Up to then it’s a bit by the numbers and uninteresting, nothing really grabbing me. The boxing scenes aren’t particularly stunning, but it’s not what this film is about.

Malcom X is played by Kinglsey Ben-Adir, who peaky blinders fans might recognise, but he was a newcomer to me. He certainly looks the part, and brings the sense of purpose and focus I imagine embodied a man like Malcom X. He is the driver of the conversation, which would have been little more than a drunken night out without his presence. At first he struck me as that guy who gets all political on a night out, but quickly you understand there is more to this for him. It’s not just about a boxing victory celebration.

Cassius Clay is such an iconic figure, it’s a huge testament to actor Eli Goree that I only ever saw Ali. He becomes the young version of the man who would go on to conquer the boxing world seamlessly. I wanted more from him, but the plot just didn’t require it and despite being such a larger than life character, he blends into the room when it’s other’s time to shine. That collaborative effort is shared between all the actors.

I wouldn’t normally dedicate a paragraph to each of the main actors in a film, but this one deserves it. Aldis Hodge brings a confident, sure of himself power to NFL star and actor Jim Brown. He is the least “active” of the quartet, but in his moments he provides some well placed levity and some thoughtful moments with characters that support the other three well.

There was a moment in the film when I nodded and went “It’s his film now”. Leslie Odom Jr is an incredibly talented human, he is the best part of Hamilton and that’s praise of the highest order. His portrayal of Sam Cooke is an excellent piece of casting as the characters love for music is easily brought to life in little moments early on in the film. Then he explodes with charisma and is magnetic on screen during the most memorable moments of this film.

It perhaps lends to Odom Jr’s talents that the film plays out like a stage play. There are long one shot takes and the majority of the movie takes place in one hotel room. That theatre feel carries over into the passionate speeches the characters exchange as they battle for their own way of fighting the same fight.

There is no debating the importance of the cause they are fighting. The hardest moments of this film for me came after the credits reflecting on it. Black people’s struggles are appallingly still prevalent today. The fact this film’s message is still something we need to discuss is horrendous, but we do and therefore we need to keep having the tough conversations.

One Night in Miami isn’t a perfect film, but its provocative and entertaining one. The performances elevate it, and Leslie Odom Jr deserves all the praise he is getting for this one. It’s not a film I think everyone will enjoy, but one I did a lot.

Good: Magnetic performance’s and an intriguing premise make this one worth spending the time watching.

Bad: Slow pace at the start and stage play like back and forth is maybe not for everyone.

TL;DR – The story of One Night in Miami that Leslie Odom Jr earned an Oscar Nomination.

Sound of Metal – Review

A Film based on a drummer? Sign me up.

I continued my Oscar Movie Marathon with Sound of Metal. Considering the last film about a drummer i watched was Whiplash, which is probably my favourite film of the last decade, I went into this one rather excited to see another film with music at it’s heart. What I got was not what I expected.

Sound of Metal follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a heavy metal duo. Together with Lou (Olivia Cooke), his other half both in the music act and in a romantic sense, they are plugging away at being a success in the music industry. Ruben begins losing his hearing, and we follow his journey as he deals with his new reality.

No spoilers as usual, but the film is not a musical in any way. Ruben’s passion and main outlet is his drumming, but that isn’t the focus. Instead you are taken on an eye opening ride into what it’s like to lose a sense like hearing. Ruben’s a deeply flawed character in a lot of ways, and losing his hearing threatens to strip away everything he knows and push him back to a past of addiction.

The couple have both clearly had troubled lives and this isn’t told via exposition or a conversation, it’s all visual. You see the scars on Lou’s arms, the suicidal thoughts tattooed on Rubens chest. It’s never the focus, but it’s there. You get the impression this couple are keeping each other stable and would be lost if separated. It’s all set up very efficiently and we get into the journey Ruben goes on.

Riz Ahmed is in every moment of this film, it is put on his shoulders and he carries it with his passionate and committed performance. You feel the anguish and frustration he feels, and you see the ignorance of someone who lives entirely for one thing. He has a sole focus and one that he is convinced will work, and is too stubborn to ever admit he is wrong.

The film shows the extremes of how I imagine I would feel if my hearing was to go. The frustration at not being able to do something you’ve taken for granted for your whole life. The difficulty adapting to the new sound of the world. It’s all laid out in this film and Riz Ahmed’s performance elevates it.

His performance is matched in this film by the sound design. I often a film’s use of silence powerful, and this does that expertly. I watched with headphones on, and I suggest you do too, as it really added to the experience. A good sound system will do the same, but the way the film flicks between the sound of the scene and the sounds Ruben can hear is unlike anything I have watched before. It’s the closest you can feel in a film to being in a characters head.

This is unlike most films you will watch this year. It’s a dive into what life is like for the deaf community, and still manages to keep an emotional hook that got me more than I expected at the end. It rides on the shoulders of a fantastic performance and unique sound design which all come together into a very good film.

That combination of all these elements is down to a wonderful directorial debut by Darius Marder who can feel a little unlucky to not have an Oscar nomination for directing. Sound of Metal has come out of nowhere to be one of my favourite films of the year.

Good: A heavy hitting look into the life of someone losing their hearing, wrapped in an emotional story told with real passion and care.

Bad: It’s quiet a lot of the time which is a bit unusual…. honestly there is not much I have to say negatively about this film.

TL;DR – Sound of Metal is a film that highlights the trials the deaf community has, and importantly how people adapt and overcome them. That message is worked into an emotional story and delivered in a very well made film.

Minari – Review

Korean Cinema keeps on delivering.

Minari is one of those rare films that i went into having absolutely no idea what it was about. I knew it was in a mix of English and Korean, but that’s it. That being said, Minari was nominated for Best Picture among other things, and that meant my expectations were a little higher than normally for a film I had no idea about.

Minari is a slow, ponderous film. Neither of those terms are a negative, they’re more of a warning. This isn’t a tense thriller or a laugh a minute comedy, although it has moments of tension and levity. Minari invites you in to be a fly on the wall in this young Korean family as they move from California to Arkansas.

Essentially the plot of this film is basic, it’s a family struggling to adapt to their new lives for a variety of reasons. There is a mundane feel to things, much like real life, punctuated by moments of more exciting moments. These moments are strange for me to watch as they feel so real. You believe you are just watching a kid and his grandmother bickering back and forth. It’s bizarre to watch as there isn’t anything that gets your pulse racing, but it’s really quite engrossing.

The film is a nice, interesting story, but it’s elevated to the Best Picture levels by the performances of it’s lead actors. Steven Yuen and Yeri Han play the young couple and they do a phenomenal job of bring the characters to life. Their ability to convey emotions and thoughts without saying a word is displayed in a couple of great emotional moments. Steven Yuen deserves him nomination and at this point the fact Yeri Han isn’t nominated for Lead actress seems outrageous.

Alongside Yeri Han, and this time actually getting the nomination is Youn Yuh-Jung, who plays the grandmother. She brings a different energy to the film, which then flips at a certain point and she is fantastic either side of that moment. Her relationship with the young boy is the heart of a film all about family dynamic’s and the connection between the members of the family.

Minari is a film I appreciated more than enjoyed. It never really hooked me, but the entire time I felt like I was watching real people in real situations and that’s something special in itself. I don’t think it’ll win best picture, but I understand why it’s nominated because the overall package is more than the sum of it’s parts. The incredible performances take the humdrum story and turn it into very well crafted piece of cinema that critics will love.

Good: The performers deliver in a big way, and the brilliant score matches the tone of the film at every turn.

Bad: Slow pace may turn off some, and it’s felt very much like an actor’s film. It will perhaps feel a little to “real” for some audience members to be engaged with.

TL;DR : Minari is lifted to lofty heights by some truly incredible performances.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Review

Aaron Sorkin doing Aaron Sorkin things.

Aaron Sorkin has quickly become something of an idol for me. He has the ability to find the compelling elements of a story and then entertain you using people talking in a room. There is no big action scenes, no grand acts of love or even particularly funny moments in his films, they just grab your attention and never let go.

The Social Network was a film I only watched last year, and it blew my mind which the sharpness of the writing and the pace of the script. With him turning his hand to Directing in 2017 with Molly’s game which I enjoyed a lot, my excitement was quite high for The Trial of the Chicago 7, a film he wrote and directed.

If you haven’t seen other Sorkin films, then on the face of it this film sounds like a standard courtroom drama. It takes place in 1969, over the course of the trial of people accused of inciting riots in Chicago in 1968. The story is told from the court room, with regular cuts back to the events the trial goes over. This mechanic slowly gives us more and more detail. Even though at first I felt a bit lost in the courtroom trying to follow who was who, by the end I was completely engrossed.

Sorkin’s script slowly sucks you into it, setting up the trial quickly at the start before everyone sits down to deliver performance after performance. The cast in this is just dripping with talent, and I am a little surprised there is only one Oscar nomination between them all. That nomination has gone to Sacha Baron Cohen, who is unrecognisable from the actor behind Borat as he plays one of the defendents. His comedic timing is perfect, delivering sarcastic comments and remarks peppered throughout the film to just provide some needed levity.

There isn’t any performance here that lets the film down. I loved Mark Rylance as the defending lawyer, even if his hair just bothered me endlessly throughout. His back and forth with the judge and the witnesses is so compelling. I also have to mention that this is the most I have ever enjoyed an Eddie Redmayne performance, as he plays another one of the the 7. Any of Redmayne, Rylance, Baron Cohen or the judge Frank Langella could be up for a nomination and it would be well deserved.

The reason they’re all so good though, and my mind keeps going back to it, is the incredible screenplay. The story is laid out, and the characters are talking almost non stop through the just over two hours this film runs for. The pace at which the dialogue hits is ferocious, but never hard to follow. As much as I love a good action sequence, the back and forth dialogue in this film is every bit as entertaining as seeing John Wick fight his way through a city.

This is the first of the Oscar Nominated films I have watched on my list, and it’s set an unbelievably high bar. A screenplay Oscar feels inevitable. The Best Picture might not be far behind, I reserve the right to change that after I have seen the other seven nominees of course, and what a treat it will be if this isn’t the best film of the year.

Good: Stellar performances bring to life an intriguing story told via a perfect screenplay.

Bad: I mean it is still a courtroom drama, and if that isn’t something you care for, I understand why it might not be for you. It’s worth a try though.

TL;DR : Aaron Sorkin doing Aaron Sorkin things with actors who clearly admire Aaron Sorkin.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Review – Spoiler Free

That film you saw in 2017, but this time its 4 hours.

The blog is revived, and the only thing that could revive it was a four hour long overindulgent Justice League film… and the 30+ movies I need to watch between now and the Oscars on the 25th April). Yes, it is actually four hours long and I watched it in one sitting with some friends in a discord chat.

The film kicks off and immediately there are warning signs. We were all making comments in the chat about the weirdness of the scene selection and some very strange music choices. Then when a random woman decides to break out into what sounded like a Viking love song, I quietly accepted that the rumours may not be true, and this movie might not be the fun surprise I’d read about.

It’s difficult to really talk about this as a movie. It’s not, no film should be 4 hours long. That’s a TV show worth of run time. WandaVision (more on that later) clocked in at 5 hours and 50 minutes, and that was spread over 9 episodes and 8 weeks. You can’t go into this Justice League without having scheduled the time. It’s not a movie you can stick on because you come across it and think “oh why not”. That being said by the end of it, I felt it had flown by, and that’s always a good sign. I am not going to mention the run time much more, because it is what it is. This is Zack Snyder’s truest and most indulgent version of Justice League, and he wanted 4 hours, so here we are.

The Justice League film from 2017 hit an odd place for me. It had some really fun moments but lacked so much in the way of set up and explanation. Things just happen at such a pace you’re not able to follow exactly why or how. Zack Snyder’s family issues meant the film was thrown at Josh Whedon, and he was told to cut the footage down to a two hour run time. Having now seen how much they had to cut to make it fit that bizarre mandate from the studio, it’s no wonder we ended up with the film we saw back then.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League tells a very similar story to the 2017 effort, but this time we are given far more context for it all. One small change to how Lois Lane arrives in a certain scene, elevated it from silly to sensical. That step is repeated in several places throughout the film, and to varying levels. Little moments from the other film that had me scratching my head are now explained and as a huge fan of nerd culture and particularly these characters, it was really quite refreshing to watch the conversations and relationship build between them. In 2017 they come together because that what the film demanded. In this film we are shown why each character has chosen to join the fight. Particular attention is given to Flash and Cyborg, who don’t have set up movies, and this film uses the extra time to set them up well.

That character development isn’t just for the good guys either. We spend a lot more time understanding what Steppenwolf’s motivations are. He is essentially trying to win back the trust of his family by taking earth for Darkseid. For those who don’t know, Thanos was Marvel’s reaction to Darkseid back in the 70’s. The presence of Darksied throughout casts an ominous shadow that genuinely got me intrigued about a future film.

By the way, it’s pronounced “Darkside”. I don’t know why it’s spelt that way.

When I was a kid, I played with actions figures a lot. My Saturday mornings were often spent at my nan’s house, smashing batman figures into each other and letting my imagination run wild. Zack Snyder is a lot older than me, but I imagine he has similar memories. The action in this film is slightly different to the 2017 effort, and for me it works much better. The final act of the film contains a set piece that put a smile on my face, and took me back to being a child imaging the justice league messing up bad guys. We’ve been blessed with the MCU giving us moments like that, and this is the first time in a DC film I’ve felt like that.

Zack Snyder’s name is in the title, and therefore you know what you’re getting in terms of visuals. There is what can only be described as a “Fuck Load” of slow-motion action shots. I get that they look cool in moments, but this is a 3-and-a-half-hour film if you showed these moments at full speed. In the wonder woman bank scene, which is edited slightly different in this film, there is less slow-motion and it looks incredible when she’s moving at speed and blocking bullets and hitting people. Snyder proves he can make it work perfectly, and then commits to doing the slow-motion thing anyway. By the end of the film I was quickly rolling my eyes when the screen slowed down.

Honestly at the start of this week, before reviews dropped, my expectations for this film were below the floor. In reality, I should have thought about it logically. This is a film that’s been worked on for half a decade at least, and in that time, it’s had the most rigorous test screening process you could imagine. Perhaps this is the version Snyder would have released in 2017 if he had the chance, but I don’t buy that. This film addresses so many of the complaints fans and critics had of the 2017 film that it’s clearly been made with those taken into consideration. This is, in so many ways, a unique piece of media. One which fans of these characters and superhero movies in general will find a lot of enjoyment in.

Where do DC go from here? That is an incredibly difficult question for them. They had a wild success with the Joker film, but that was completely disconnected. They then released Wonder Woman 84, which I found to be an absolute mess of a film. They have “The Batman” coming next with Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, but that’s also set in another universe. On top of all that, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has proven that his vision was at the very least entertaining, and at times threatened to be great.

There is probably half-an-hour at the end of this film that feels like a cinematic universe worth of post credit scenes. One in particular features Jared Leto as a much more recognisable Joker, and his interaction with Ben Affleck as Batman really got me intrigued to see those two do something. This flurry of scenes doesn’t really fit in with the narrative that’s been told over the previous three and half hours, but they’re interesting little glimpses into what Snyder wants to do.

What comes next is anyone’s guess, but what we have right now is a Justice League film that DC can be proud of and fans can enjoy. It’s too long, it’s got some strange moments (Seriously that Viking singing was odd), and it has just too much slow motion. I ended it with a smile on my face though, and that’s a lot better than I expected.

Good: Fun action, a plot that makes sense, and that feeling of seeing your action figures thrown into each other.

Bad: Too much slow motion, some scenes could easily have been left out, and that weird Viking singing.

TL;DR : This is Justice League 2017 with context, character development, villain motivations and 100% less weird Henry Cavill lip CGI.

The Last of Us Part 2 – Spoiler Free

It’s been a very odd few months in the world. Perhaps that’s the greatest understatement in history. The closure of cinemas, the halt of society as we know it, and the seriousness of the issues happening with the pandemic and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement sapped the motivation to write anything, as there was so little in the areas I cover to write about.

Over the course of the last few months, I have watched films, played games and binged tv shows but rarely anything new. Mostly COD, FIFA, Brooklyn 99 and comfort films. Then last Friday, I got The Last of Us Part Two. I like the first one, but not nearly as much as some people, so this new one was intriguing, but I wasn’t super hyped in the build up to launch. On the day though, it felt very exciting to have something new, something I had not experienced. What I did not understand at that point, was just how unique this experience was going to be.

I have played hundreds of single player games in my life. I have watched even more movies than that. I have read countless books & comics. I have listened to podcasts that tell stories. Never before has anything I have experienced told a story in the same way that The Last of Us Part Two does, and with nowhere near as much emotional resonance.

I am going to avoid spoilers, which is going to make some of what you read here a little odd. There are points in the game where I genuinely did not want to carry on. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I just didn’t want to press the button that caused the next action on the screen. Or I didn’t want to do what the game was pushing me to do, because I had been played like a fiddle for 10 hours to be convinced of one thing, to then have it all flipped.

You are aware it is happening. This is not subtle; it doesn’t hide it like a magician to be revealed at the last moment. Part of what makes TLOU2 so remarkable is that you know exactly what they’re trying, and you tell yourself “There is no way that’s going to happen”, then hours later you find yourself frozen at the control because they’ve done exactly what you didn’t think they could.

Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller tells a story about how Metal Gear Solid was the first time he realised what video games could do. For years I was of the belief that video games had this barrier that prevented their stories from being truly complex and compelling on their own. The Gameplay always had to be part of the focus, and that would make always hold back the narrative in an odd way.

God of War in 2018, changed that for me, it told a story of a father and son that really resonated. The gameplay was fantastic, but the story was the thing that had me gripped.  TLOU2 has fine gameplay, its hectic, not the tightest mechanically but solid. The way they manipulate you and tear down the ideas you have in your head repeatedly throughout the game is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

This is a new level of storytelling. The more you think about the messages it portrays. That message to me was a lesson in how revenge, hate, vengeance, all of those horrible feelings can consume a person and make them miss out on the rest of what life holds for them. The events of the game are an extreme example, but at it’s heart, like most of the great stories, it’s a very human story that I have found myself relating to.

If we treat storytelling as a medium, encompassing games, tv, movies, books and anything else you can think of, The Last of Us Part 2 has topped it all. Nothing has stuck with me this much before. Whether you are a gamer or not, find a way to enjoy this. There are already YouTube “movies” of the game, showing you all the key scenes and elements that tell the story.

The Last of Us Part 2 is the most unique experience I have ever had with a piece of entertainment. It’s a new level for storytelling in games.

 

 

 

Uncut Gems (2019) Review

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Adam Sandler hasn’t been hitting it out the park with his recent comedic movies. With Uncut Gems, he is returning to dramatic acting and leaving behind trying to make people laugh and trying to make them feel something very different. 

Throughout Uncut Gems, you’re following him from terrible decision to silly mistake to awful choice. Adam Sandler is transformed into this character of Howard, a Jewellery store owner who has a gambling problem who is always trying to find the next big score. At first, I was expecting to be rooting for this character, to be cheering him on towards the finale, but really, you’re just cringing and feeling anxious about every wrong choice he makes.

There is a line in this film, delivered by Frozen star Idina Menzel, where she refers to Sandler’s character as the most annoying person she’s ever met. That’s honestly a very accurate description of him. He is uncomfortable to watch, and you are with him for near enough every scene in the film. The characters around him are important and effect the events of the story, but it’s very much about this aggravating man that you just wish would make the right choice yet never seems to.

Uncut Gems is unusual in that watching it is not fun, or even particularly entertaining. It’s an experience that puts you in an uncomfortable state for over two hours witnessing the events unfold. The film assaults your sense’s, you follow characters through busy sets with them throwing dialogue at each other at light speed. You aren’t given time to rest and just as you think one uncomfortable scene has passed, Sandler’s character has fallen into another one for you to witness.

I can see a way in which you might empathise with Howard in this, as things fall apart around him. As much as I thought I should be liking the main character, he is just such an uncomfortable and ugly character to spend time with. I was looking for a reason to empathise with him, but he’d keep giving me reasons to find him annoying. As things unfolded, I found myself giving up trying to root for him.

The film does a phenomenal job of making things feel claustrophobic and anxiety inducing. The whole film is shot in a way that makes everything feel very intimate. Tight angles and close ups are used throughout to really add to that feeling of being trapped with this character’s issues. Even the environments, particularly the jewellers he runs, are grubby and nasty places. At one point you’re at an auction, where things are run smoothly, and everything is neatly arranged which contrasts brilliantly with the mess that is his store & his life.

Uncut Gems was an interesting experience for me. I can’t really pinpoint what I think might improve the film. It achieves exactly what it was aiming for, I just didn’t really like the experience. The weird part there is that I think that is the idea. You’re supposed to watch this film and feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to raise your anxiety levels. By the time it’s over, you just want to leave the world you’ve been inhabiting and never go back. Credit has to go to director siblings Benny & Josh Safdie for absolutely nailing their target.

Good: It forces you to feel anxious, concerned, confused and angry at the events unfolding, while you just wish he’d do the right thing at some point in the film. It makes you feel like you need a shower afterwards because you feel dirty.

Bad: It’s the least rewatchable movie since Foxcatcher.

TL:DR – Uncut Gems is a great showcase for Adam Sandler’s talent as a dramatic actor. If you’re looking for something to stress you out and spike your anxiety, this is the film for you.

 

The Social Network (2010) Review

People have been telling me to watch The Social Network for years and I finally got round to it this week. Knowing a little about the back story, I was not really sure how this would go. It turns out Facebook had a more tumultuous past than I imagined. Would I “Like” it? 

Jesse Eisenberg is always a bit odd when I see him in films, he is only ever worked as the guy in Zombieland, everywhere else he just never fits for me. That’s no longer the case now, as he is perfectly cast as Mark Zuckerberg, especially this version of him. I expected the film to spin things more positively towards him, but this is a sad story about a person so far in their own world they have not made any meaningful connections with other people. He is successful but has nothing outside of a bank balance to show for it.

From the first scene, I could tell who the star of the movie was, and it isn’t Eisenberg, it is the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. The first scene in a busy bar with Zuckerberg talking to Erica sets the pace for the entire film. There is a lot of information given to you, but in the form of a conversation that’s seemingly about something else. You expect the scene to be about these two people’s relationship, which it does convey to a point, but its real job is to set up the character of Zuckerberg as a self-centred arsehole.

From that point the movie clips along delivering the story by jumping between board room meetings, College dorms, Facebook HQ and at one point an English boat race. Every line of dialogue in the film feels important and furthers the plot. It’s a rare thing to have a script where the dialogue is so sharp and purposeful. Having only seen the film this one time, I imagine with multiple viewings you will pick up little lines here and there that add to the experience.

From a technical standpoint, this movie is pretty much perfect. When all the components come together like they do in this film, they almost disappear. The score adds a lot throughout the film, without sticking in your head and distracting you. Every shot is framed to give you easy recognition of which situation you are watching as it jumps between environments and times. David Fincher makes sure the elements are all blended perfectly and that nothing is left to chance. Fincher was probably as meticulous during this production as Zuckerberg is shown to be in the film itself with his coding.

A stunning technical achievement, telling a story about something we all know of, brilliantly acted, what else could you want? The thing missing from this for me is quite odd. The elements are all there, but for some reason the film just didn’t captivate me. I was taking in all this information; I was enjoying all of the dialogue. Towards the end of the film, I found that there was nothing to evoke the emotional response in me that I look for in my very favourite films.

The Social Network is fantastic. It’s a brilliant showcase in all the technical elements of a film. It gives as much information as a documentary, although how much is accurate is irrelevant for the films purpose. Whilst it’s giving you all those nuggets of information, there is a war or words going on in the board rooms, there is the beginnings of a court room drama, there is a best friend feeling betrayed, there is a man so focused on building a social network, he forgets to have a social life.

Good: A fantastic screenplay delivers the sharpest, most focused dialogue you will find. All packaged in a phenomenally crafted box and delivered to you with pace.

Bad: This is an excellent piece of cinema but didn’t evoke the emotion to be one of my very favourite films.

TL:DR : The Social Network has one of the best screenplays of the 21st century, and it’s expertly translated onto the screen, something you should definitely take the time to watch.