It’s no surprise there are an abundance of films about the actual process of filmmaking. Firstly, if you follow the idea of “writing what you know” literally, a filmmaker, screenwriter or director will certainly have first hand experience of this. Secondly, and most importantly, is that the film industry is full of rich possibilities in terms of drama, action, tragedy, romance and comedy. Lastly, cinema down the years is replete with imaginative, tough, evil, spoilt, egotistical, eccentric and frankly insane individuals working in the film industry.
Therefore, over the course of cinematic history there have been many great films about the movie-making business. I personally love the sub-genre and probably could’ve have chosen a top twenty. Indeed, the following could also have been picked too:8 1/2 (1963),Dolemite is My Name (2019), Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Barton Fink (1991), State and Main (2000), Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), Hugo (2011), Living In Oblivion (1995) etc. However, as is the case with this feature, I’ve selected just six of the best.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
“Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it’s amateurs and not professionals? I’m a filmmaker, which is why I will never make a movie on tape.” Jack Horner
THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)
“Not closed set. Open set. Life is not closed set! I want everyone to see!”Tommy Wiseau
ED WOOD (1994)
“Really? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better. Hello. Hello.”Ed Wood
THE PLAYER (1992)
“I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”Griffin Mill
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
“Why bother to shoot this film? Why not release the old one under a new title? You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Cosmo Brown
TROPIC THUNDER (2008)
“First, take a big step back… and literally, FUCK YOUR OWN FACE! I don’t know what kind of pan-pacific bullshit power play you’re trying to pull here, but Asia Jack is my territory. So whatever you’re thinking, you’d better think again!”Les Grossman
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #8 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1989 – 1990)– SEASON 3
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 3 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Kemper, Hannah Louise Shearer, Sam Rolfe, Robin Bernheim, Richard Danus, Ed Zuckerman, Joseph Stefano, Rene Echevarria, David Bischoff, Sally Caves, Susan Sackett, Hans Beimler, etc.
Season 3 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Becker, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Joseph L. Scanlan, Cliff Bole, Robert Legato, Tom Benko, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, John De Lancie, Dwight Schultz etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Thus, my ongoing viewing project of watching ALL the Star Trek series and films in order of release date continues. I have already covered the pro-genesis of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATIONhere. So, I won’t cover the same ground again. With Season 3 we saw the return of Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher, replacing the sterner virtues of Doctor Pulaski. Other than that, the established crew of the Enterprise were all present and correct.
The season as a whole continued, and even improved, the consistent qualities of Season 2. Indeed, there was a great balance between romantic, comedic, dramatic, tragic, action and sci-fi genre storylines. The appearances of Romulans, Klingons and the Ferengi further cemented their place in Star Trek lore. Yet, there was also space in the bumper twenty-six episodes for new species, beings and aliens to appear. Plus, not forgetting the return of that very formidable foe, The Borg.
I especially thought the narrative balance was very good throughout. All the Enterprise crew got episodes dedicated to their characters and a chance to shine individually and as part of the ensemble. We also got some fine guest appearances as new characters were introduced. Anyway, here are six episodes from Season 3 that I particularly enjoyed.
THE VENGEANCE FACTOR – EPISODE 9
Here Riker finds himself romantically entwined as Picard attempts to broker peace between two factions hellbent on a blood feud. I enjoyed it because of the murder mystery aspect. Also, Jonathan Frakes impressed as Riker in the leading romantic hero role.
THE HUNTED – EPISODE 11
This fast-paced and action-packed episode found the crew meeting their match, as they face off against a genetically enhanced soldier portrayed by Jeffrey McCarthy. With echoes of Universal Soldier (1992), the episode has emotional depth too because it explores the disregard of veteran soldiers by the ruling classes once war is over.
YESTERDAY’S ENTERPRISE – EPISODE 15
The writers deserves a lot of praise for constructing such an imaginative and intelligent alternative-timeline narrative. A rift in space and time creates another version of the Enterprise. In this timeline war rages with the Klingons and moreover reveals Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) to still be alive. Only Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) senses something isn’t right and what ensues is a complex story; thoroughly enjoyable from both plot and emotional perspectives.
THE OFFSPRING – EPISODE 16
One of the big story questions that hung over the series for me was: why didn’t they try and replicate Data in some way? This concept is explored in this very moving episode when he constructs another android called, Lal (Hallie Todd). Brett Spiner is on great form as Data faces a difficult choice,; having to choose between his “daughter” and Starfleet regulations.
SINS OF THE FATHER – EPISODE 17
Any episode with Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) as the lead protagonist is always intriguing. Here Worf must face potential death in defending his family honour against the Klingon High Council. Tony Todd appears as Worf’s brother and the chance to further explore Klingon culture amidst a conspiracy plot leads to a really good episode.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – PART 1 – EPISODE 26
I can only imagine what emotions the Star Trek fans felt at the time when they witnessed Jean Luc Picard’s transformation into the Borg known as Locutus. In what must be one of the greatest cliff-hanger TV moments of all time, this episode had strong writing and incredible conflict. The addition of Elizabeth Dennehy to the crew of the Enterprise, as the ambitious and formidable, Lt. Commander Shelby, also added to the overall quality of this brilliant episode.
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Armando Iannucci
Produced by: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader
Screenplay by: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci
Based on: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Cast: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Anthony Welsh, Paul Whitehouse etc.
Music by: Christopher Willis
Cinematography: Zac Nicholson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Armando Iannucci is a bona fide genius if you ask me. For over thirty years I have been listening, watching and laughing at his various collaborative comedic works. These include notables such as: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, Veep, In the Loop (2009), andThe Death of Stalin (2017). Now, one can include the wonderful delectation of an adaptation that is The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019). While I am embarrassed to say I am not as familiar with this Charles Dickens novel as I am his other books, Iannucci has taken his own inimitable style and married it perfectly to Dickens’ narratively opulent Victoriana vision. The result is an entertaining comedic and dramatic romp, tantamount to a quasi-greatest hits package of a Dickens masterwork.
Dev Patel stars as the eponymous hero in adulthood, while the young David is portrayed with energy and charm by Jairaj Varsani. As a child, his father passed, David is brought up by his mother, Clara and the ebullient housekeeper, Peggotty. Peggotty, portrayed brilliantly by Daisy May Cooper, encourages David’s word-smithery and youthful imagination. But this being Charles Dickens, David’s innocent and magical childhood soon gives way to tragedy and he soon finds himself at the mercy of fate. Conversely, the narrative is more of a chronicle of David’s life and contains what I call an “up-and-down” structure.
Through the rollercoaster that is David’s life he finds family love, then industrial pain via his stepfather condemning him to years of child labour. Then in an attempt to overcome his cruel fate he finds positive gain through family, creativity, romantic love, friendship and education. But destiny tests him by having this all taken away once again. Throughout, Dev Patel shines brightly. His David Copperfield is as tough as they come, as he rolls with the punch’s life throws at him. Moreover, he is a fantastic conduit and spine within the structure. Through him we are introduced to some wonderfully vivid characters; some likeable and some not so. Indeed, Iannucci’s casting is a primary joy with Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber, Hugh Laurie as Mr Dick, Tilda Swinton as Betsy Trotwood, Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep and Aneurin Barnard as Steerforth, all giving splendid renditions of their respective characters.
Overall, Iannucci and his scriptwriting partner, Simon Blackwell, mine Dickens’ novel for much comedy gold and there are so many hilarious one-liners and funny situations. Moreover, there’s some depth here too as it’s a story of an individual finding their soul, identity and place in a cruel world. One could argue a feature film is not enough to do the novel justice, and it would probably best be served as a television mini-series. However, for a whip-cracking, razor-sharp and heart-warming two hours, in the company of one the greatest novelists, one of the greatest modern satirists, wonderful set design; and finally one of the most impressive ensemble casts gathered in recent memory, this film is highly recommended.
Cast: Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jnr.
I started this series a while ago and posted a few times on the subject with multiple entries; however, I have now decided to make it a feature, like ‘Classic Movie Scenes’, concentrating on singular films. My rules are simple – an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
Blue Collar (1978) was Paul Schrader’s directorial debut. He had gained much critical and film industry kudos following the release of the exceptional psychological drama Taxi Driver (1976). His screenplay for that classic is one of the best I have ever read, such is the raw power and agony in the character of Travis Bickle. Blue Collar (1978) though is more of an ensemble drama, centring on the tribulations of a group of car workers in Detroit, rather than an individual’s slow descent into madness.
Blue Collar (1978) is rarely on television and is arguably a forgotten classic on Schrader’s impressive cinematic curriculum vitae. The plot revolves around workers on the poverty line deciding to get out of their predicament by robbing their local Union’s Office’s safe. This leads all manner of difficulties for the men as they face the anger of corrupt Union bosses who come for them. In a rare dramatic role, Richard Pryor brings an energetic rage and humour to the character of Zeke. At the same time Harvey Keitel is intensity itself as his friend, Jerry.
According to sources, the conflict in the film between management, Union and workers is reflected by the on-set troubles between the cast and director. It is alleged that working with Keitel and Pryor was so stressful Schrader had a nervous breakdown on set. How much this strife was down to drug use and abuse is open to conjecture, however, Blue Collar (1978) remains an under-rated classic today. It has many memorable scenes and remains a damning indictment of capitalism and socialism inasmuch as such ideologies ultimately turn human beings against each other.
War brings out the worst of humanity; difficult choices must be made as lies, fiction and manipulations become the order of the day. This is especially true where the shadowy world of the spy is concerned. The Channel 4 drama, Traitors (2019), was released last year and presents six intelligently written episodes exploring matters of politics and espionage in post-war 1945-set London. Pitting American, British and Russian spies against each other, it also delves into the history behind the creation of the Israeli state by the British. Indeed, the reverberations of future political conflicts, between Israel and Palestine, coalesce alongside echoes of the recently demised World War II.
This is an ensemble driven piece, but the lead protagonist is Emma Appleton’s portrayal of Feef Symonds. She is a young upper-class civil servant looking to serve her country in more exciting ways than mere typing. Thus, she finds herself becoming a secret agent for Michael Stuhlbarg’s obsessive Office of Strategic Services operative, Rowe. Stuhlbarg gives his usual excellent performance as the shady American spy. His paranoid fixation with all things Soviet, becomes a reflective precursor to the infamous “Red Scare” that plagued American socio-politics in the 1950’s.
Rowe determines that the British Government must have a Soviet spy in its’ midst and charges Feef with tracking them and reporting back. As Feef delves deeper within the corridors of Whitehall she begins a cat-and-mouse game with many potential suspects, notably Keeley Hawes’ suspicious civil servant. Feef’s romance with an earnest Labour MP, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, also complicates matters. Hawes, as expected, is impressive in her role and is the most memorably complex of the characters. Hawes is especially adept at burying twisted anguish within this subtle performance. Her character battles both personal and political conflicts and is the most empathetic within a gallery of untrustworthy archetypes.
Overall, I enjoyed Traitors (2019) for it’s well-researched historical aspects and some very fine acting. My main reservations though were that the drama never quite caught fire, despite some decent suspense amidst the espionage. Moreover, there was, no doubt deliberate, an arrogant air about most of the characters. Conversely, I did not really warm to any of the personalities due to their wintry natures. That’s the problem with the representation of spies here; they’re nothing like the fantasy action heroes of Ethan Hunt and James Bond. Here they are all shown all to be liars and traitors of a kind and therefore difficult to like or trust. My feeling is that is precisely is the point. The programme reflects a world today where we are consistently fed government lies, fictions and manipulations.
HORROR-ON-SEA FILM FESTIVAL is an amazing gathering in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. Every year horror filmmakers and fans flock to the Essex coastal town to satisfy their lust for all things horror.
The festival screens, over two weekends in January, some of the most gruesome, scariest, funniest and entertaining independent horror films you’ll ever find. For more information please check out their Facebook page here. And the website here.
I would personally like to thank Horror-on-Sea for screening my short psychological thriller, TOLERANCE (2019). It was a great crowd who seemed to enjoy the film last Sunday night. You can see the film by clicking on link below. Also, please subscribe to the YouTube channel by clicking here.
Lastly, a big shout out to Paul Cotgrove and his army of assistants who make the festival such a success. Also, congratulations to all the filmmakers who commit to making their horror films so bloody entertaining. Many of these films are self-funded and produced so well done to them.
This was my third visit to Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and this year I stayed for two nights. That enabled me to watch even more short and feature horror films. Here is a list of films I watched with promotional links (where possible). They were all really entertaining with horror, comedy, fear, sex and gore all combining to wonderful effect. There were many, many more films shown too so I recommend you go next year as it’s back in 2021!
HORROR-ON-SEA 2020 – FILMS WATCHED
The Dead Ones (Short) – Director: Stefan Georgiou – Link
The Front Door (Short) – Director: Andrew Rutter – Link
Produced by: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jaybe-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver
Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Cast: George McKay, Dean Charles-Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch etc.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Music by: Thomas Newman
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
If Roger Deakins doesn’t win every single award for best cinematography in the world, I will be completely shocked! Together with Sam Mendes’ and their respective creative and production teams they have delivered a barnstorming, aggressive and beautiful work of pulsating cinema with 1917 (2019). In fact, the whole project is such a feat of technical brilliance, I think Sam Mendes will probably win best direction and the film will most likely win best film at the 2020 Academy Awards.
The form and style of the film are dictated by Mendes and Deakins audacious decision to film in one long continuous take. Set, as the title states in 1917 during World War I, we open with a long tracking shot and from there the shot never ends. Establishing the main protagonists Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), the camera glides along as they make small-talk, creating humour, warmth and calm before the storm to come. That storm derives from their mission to carry a message through perilous territory and prevent 1,600 British soldiers falling into a German trap. Immediately the stakes are high and these two brave men set out to achieve this dangerous task.
The choice to film in one continuous shot is a fascinating one and here it is executed brilliantly. Of course, there are occasions where a cut has occurred, but this is masked by darkness, water, camera movement or CGI. I personally am not a massive fan of longer takes though. They can be seen as a stylish, but empty process and usually work best in opening scenes. Moreover, by not cutting or using montage techniques I feel you can lose suspense, impact and pace from a film. However, that is certainly not the case with 1917 (2019). Here it works perfectly with the camera following, tracking, running, falling and stalking the characters, so much so, the audience becomes the camera. We are right in this war with them!
As we track Blake and Schofield through bunkers, trenches, fields, farmhouses, derelict buildings and villages, the stench of death and destruction surrounds them. Mendes and his writing partner, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, also create some heart-sweating and explosive set-pieces for the soldiers to overcome. Indeed, the pace with which they regularly find themselves under attack, married with the filmmaking style, puts you in the heart of the action and fight. The final battle where Schofield valiantly strives to reach his final destination and relay the message is utterly exhilarating and spellbinding cinema.
As the two everyman soldiers, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman give convincing performances. MacKay is especially memorable as his tall frame, hollowed cheekbones and haunted eyes dominate the screen. Furthermore, the two leads are supported ably by a “who’s-who” of British actors. The likes of: Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott puncture the action throughout with their quality. Scott is especially excellent as a cynical officer, drunk and bereft of hope. The two heroes ignore his jaded battle worn persona, but soon find themselves surrounded by corpses, quickly coming to understand this character’s despairing heart.
Like Dunkirk (2017), the film is arguably thin on characterisation and character development, but stylistically impressive in it’s rendition of the horrors of war. Indeed, when the events switch to night, Deakin’s lighting skills dominate as he paints images with darkness, moonlight and fire with majestic results. Thus, overall, one could argue this is just one long chase film; an extended version of the climax of another World War I classic, Gallipoli (1981). However, the cinematic marvel that is, 1917 (2019), overcomes it’s narrative and thematic familiarity with an amazing technical achievement in both form and style. Awards glory beckons for all involved; and more importantly the film pays fine tribute to the gallant soldiers who served in an ultimately senseless war.
Created and Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Producer: Sue Vertue
Directors: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas
Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Scanlan, Lujza Richter, Jonathan Aris, Sacha Dhawan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Clive Russell, Mark Gatiss, Catherine Schell etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are uber-television scriptwriters of vast experience and expertise. Solo and together they have been involved with fine TV programmes including: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coupling, The League of Gentlemen, Press Gang, Jekyll and many other films, comedies and dramas. Their latest BBC project found them combining forces again and breathing new life into Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Screened over three dark nights on BBC1 from January 1st, 2020 onwards, this horror adaptation mixed Stoker’s traditional vampiric tropes with fresh and bloody ingredients infused by Moffat and Gatiss’ typically iconoclastic approach to genre.
The structure of the first episode, Rules of the Beast, finds a gravely ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), recounting his misadventures having travelled to Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle in Transylvania. A haunted shell of a man, his stories of doomed employment, entrapment and the “children of the night” are delivered to Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Somewhat incisive, intelligent and irreverent for a nun, Sister Agatha becomes both our hero and main foe to Dracula’s nefarious uber-villain. Having said that, the fantastically witty script and Claes Bang’s charismatic representation of Dracula almost succeed in making him the hero. Indeed, other than being a life-sucking, murderous, blood-addicted, shape-shifting, immortal and homicidal maniac he’s actually quite charming and likeable.
The first episode, apart from certain structural alterations and differences in characterisation, stays kind of faithful to the spirit of Stoker’s gothic vision. The second episode especially is one of the best examples of horror television I have seen in a long time. Cleverly called Blood Vessel, the action merges suspense and terror with an Agatha Christie style of plot. Here the crew and passengers of the ship Demeter find they are at the mercy of a vicious killer. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is picking them off one-by-one. The episode also contains an ingenious reference to the BBC anthology series Inside No. 9. Thus, overall, this was my favourite episode of the series.
By the third episode though, Gatiss and Moffatt couldn’t stop themselves taking a bold leap away from the original text. The Dark Compass contains some fantastic twists and ideas, but arguably the writers strive too much for reinvention and originality. So much so, it lost some of the narrative impetus of the first two in the mini-series. Nonetheless, I would love to see more of Claes Bang’s Dracula in the future. His performance and chemistry with Dolly Well’s Sister Agatha were a bloody joy. Likewise, the script was brilliant; full of fangtastic one-liners, poetic turns of phrase and fascinating plot developments. Lastly, I was grateful they did not spare us the horror too. There were many memorably gory deaths throughout, as Dracula and his wolves wreaked devilish havoc across land, time and the television screen.
Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.
As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.
It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard
Written by: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsh etc.
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
This is a film about an arsehole. Aptly enough we are introduced to the main protagonist, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), as he has a rectal examination of his colon and other extremities. From here on we descend into the mired cesspool that is Howard’s dysfunctional business, family, love and extra-curricular activities. He is, on the surface, a successful businessman selling jewellery, watches and gems within New York’s Diamond district. Alas, he is also a degenerate gambler who is being chased by all manner of shark-like money lenders. Most hungry of all is Eric Bogosian’s Arno, who also happens to be Howard’s brother-in-law.
So, we find ourselves in the company of a thoroughly unedifying character such as Howard. Yet, in Adam Sandler’s brilliant performance and searing direction by the Safdie Brothers, you get caught up in his latest cynical money-making plan to sell an uncut opal rock from Ethiopia at auction. The rock itself becomes — reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000) — a metaphorically blood-stained McGuffin that drags us into the underbelly of New York’s sports, pawnbroker, bookmaker, entertainment and loan shark territories. Aside from Howard’s wife and children everyone is looking for luck and a buck. Everyone’s a hustler. Everyone talks and shouts and swears over each other, creating a sense of panic throughout many scenes of deal-making and deal-breaking.
Opening with two visually very different internal examinations that involve “mining”, the Safdie brothers film Uncut Gems (2019), is a stylish and rampant anxiety inducing character study and thriller. The plot, which in itself, is quite straightforward, is wrapped in a series of heart-sweating gambles, twists and double-crosses. Supporting Sandler’s fine central performance, the Safdie Brothers find acting gold with Lakeith Stanfield’s memorable supporting turn, plus basketball legend, Kevin Garnett brilliantly playing himself! Allied to this, you also get a rogue’s gallery of personalities straight out of the local New York jewellery area itself. These characters add a further dirty authenticity to the already chaotic urban environment.
Like the Safdie Brothers previous film, the ironically titled, Good Time (2017), we are once again introduced to a set of morally repugnant characters who, rather than root for, you are dragged down into their disturbing lifestyle choices and increasingly poor decisions. Howard himself is an unrelenting addict, his own worst enemy and a whirlwind of broken promises. But, I must admit I was gripped throughout due to overwhelmingly brilliant style, cinematography, editing, direction, darkly funny script and acting performances. My only criticism is that for all the black humour, bone-breaking violence and heart-sweating suspense, the film could have easily been 15 minutes shorter. I like a lot of plot and action, but at times the narrative was over-loaded with characters and scenes that could have been chopped. Lastly, it’s great to witness Adam Sandler taking another risky role, even if Howard Ratner is fundamentally an arsehole from the probing start to the very bitter end.