The upshot is that Jewell is right and when the bomb goes off, all but one life is saved (two, if you count the heart attack victim post the event) and despite the many injuries, Jewell’s actions foil the terrorist act. Overnight, Jewell becomes a hero complete with media attention, admiration from the cops and an appearance on the Today Show. But his celebrity is short-lived as agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) of the FBI, responding to a tip off from a former employee. It makes sense to the FBI. Jewell fits the profile. He’s a white middle-aged male who lives with his mother, has ambitions to be a police officer and a strong sense of his own importance in preventing crime. All this makes Jewell Shaw’s chief suspect. When Shaw leaks that information to Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) the full weight of law enforcement and the media comes down on Jewell and he becomes a pariah in the public eye.
When Clint’s movies are good they are often great (like his 2018 movie The Mule which was a cracker)... but when he misses the mark he often misses by a mile and, sadly, that’s the case here. It’s not so much a matter of the movie being bad; it’s more that it’s dull, plodding and feels lazy in its screencraft. The strong cast which, in addition to Hauser, Hamm and Wilde includes Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell (Richard’s mother who bears the brunt of the public pillorying of her son) and Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant (Jewell’s former work colleague, now a washed up lawyer who takes on the case) are mostly underused and pedestrian in their performances. That’s not to say that they’re unwatchable; these are all actors who bring great presence to the screen even when they’re in movies that don’t allow them to shine (Bates received an Oscar nomination for her role, but it’s not surprising that she didn’t take home the statue).
One part of the problem here is the lacklustre direction of the film that offers up a by-the-numbers chronology of events and largely thumbnail sketches of the characters. The other part is an uninspiring screenplay by Billy Ray whose credits include last year’s Terminator: Dark Fate and Gemini Man but, more importantly, the 2003 film Shattered Glass (which he also directed) about Stephen Glass, the journalist who fabricated more than half of his published stories. Like that movie, the Richard Jewell screenplay is based on a magazine article (as well as a book) and, like Shattered Glass, the heart of Richard Jewell’s storytelling feels eclipsed by the details of its unfolding events.
On the plus side, Hauser is good as Jewell who is his own worst enemy in terms of making himself look guilty. It’s a laconic, likeable performance that melds nicely with an equally good performance by Bates as the protective mother. But the standout (for me, at least) is Nina Ariadna as Bryant’s long suffering but smart-as-a-whip assistant Nadya Light. It’s a minor role, but the story comes to life every time she enters a scene.
I saw this movie with my son, Gully (we were the only two punters in the cinema) and about two-thirds of the way through, he leant over to me and said “...isn’t the FBI just doing its job?” In a way, he was bang on the money. If you’re expecting to see a tight thriller that exposes a miscarriage of justice then, like me, you’re likely to be disappointed. Yes, the FBI treated Jewell badly in the way they went after him with little or no real evidence. But, isn’t that the nature of investigation, to interrogate the suspect in order to discover the guilt or innocence? And even if (as portrayed here) the agents are lazy and expedient and misleading in their investigation, it’s more a case of shoddy police work than of corruption. (in the real world, the lead FBI investigator was only suspended for five days because of the way he handled the case).
In fact, it’s the media that’s the real bad guy in this film, jumping to conclusions which are published well before there is any substantiation. It’s a shame, then, that Wilde’s journalist character Kathy Scruggs is so flimsily and superficially written. In fact, the suggestion that she traded sex for the leaked FBI information has been the most controversial aspect of this film. In fact, she died well before the film was made and her source was never revealed. Here, though, she’s played as an amoral go-getter who’ll do anything to get a headline and yet (mild spoiler alert) she is very easily turned around on the simplest of revelations and when that happens, her whole character seems to soften and change in a way that seems far from plausible.
Don’t get me wrong... it’s not that there isn’t a story here to tell. What happened to Richard Jewell and his mother was reprehensible and his treatment by both the FBI and the media was grossly unfair. His story should be a parable for us about the dangers of jumping to conclusions, relying on profiles and of being all too ready to buy the news outlet with the most sensationalist headline. In this case, though, neither Billy Ray nor Clint Eastwood have found the way to tell that story on the big screen.
HONEYLAND is largely set in the remote North Macedonian village of Bekirlija, where the film’s subjects live in near-total isolation without electricity or running water. Here, Hatidze Muratova is one of the last wild beekeepers in all of Europe. Hatidze’s methods may sound somewhat quaint, for instance, she uses the cool stone walls of the village’s abandoned buildings to store her bees, as opposed to modern hives. Yet there is an undeniable method and skill to her work honed through years of experience. In two standout sequences, the filmmakers follow Hatidze’s four-hour journey to sell her honey at markets in Skopje. Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov cleverly follow up her confident sales spiel with impressed testimonials from customers, almost justifying the eye- watering price of ten euros per jar.
The most fascinating element of Hatidze’s work is her focus on conserving and respecting the environment. Indeed, the simple mantra ‘take half, leave half’ is repeated every time she collects a honeycomb, emphasising her perception of the bees as partners. It’s a sentiment that may seem obvious, but one which HONEYLAND embraces to deliver a powerful cautionary tale. Towards the end of the first act, a family of Turkish farmers move to the village and strike up a friendship with Hatidze. After initially focusing on breeding cattle, patriarch Hussein Sam is eventually inspired to begin his own honey business, albeit with tools like hives and bee smokers. As Hussein’s customers become greedier and demand larger quantities, the film delivers some terrific slow-burning tension. I won’t spoil exactly how things fall apart, but the subtlety and lack of intervention from the filmmakers renders the breakdown of the neighbours’ friendship even more devastating.
However, HONEYLAND has even more to offer than an engaging story, simultaneously being a gorgeously shot testament to the natural world. The flashier exterior cinematography is typically used to reaffirm the film’s call for conservation, most notably during the Sam family’s departure from the village. Kotevska and Stefanov opt for a super wide shot here, with the surrounding woods utterly dwarfing the humans who sought too much control. A similar sense of scale can be felt as Hatidze walks through the ruined structures of Bekirlija past enormous open plains. Once again, the notion that life extends beyond our species is perhaps something you’ve heard or seen before, but it’s a particularly humbling and effective reminder.
Yet despite the scope of its message, HONEYLAND is above all an intimate account of one woman’s remarkable existence. Hatidze is an unassuming subject who openly wonders what opportunities she might have missed out on, but continues working for the sake of her family. If you’re anything like me and go into HONEYLAND with no expectations of wild beekeeping, you’ll be hooked on the small details. Likewise, focusing on a real individual only heightens the impact of its emotional final minutes. Whether you’re an avid documentary fan or struggle to connect with the genre, this simple but absorbing film will go down as smooth as honey.
But Zak is not one to be held back. Much to the exasperation of his carer, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) he enlists the help of some of his fellow ‘inmates’ in making his escape (more than once!) When he finally succeeds, he falls in with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a down and out, unemployed would-be fisherman who tends to secure his catch by stealing from others. When Tyler has to go on the run after wreaking a bit of havoc at the docks, Zak tags along and their adventure begins. Tyler is on his way to Florida and the dream of a better life. Zak is on his way to meet his hero, a TV wrestling character called The Salt Water Redneck.
All the characters in this film are unfulfilled in terms of what they hope (or had hoped) their lives might be. But none of them, ultimately, is defeated by that sense of unfulfillment. It’s what drives them forward and, to a large extent, so does what they see in each other. This is a tale about both personal resilience and the need we have for others to believe in what we most desire; to help us get there. In this movie, the ‘getting there’ is both literal (it’s a road trip) and metaphorical; each character grows as a result of the time they spend together. It’s certainly a film about the empowerment of a character like Zak to gain autonomy over his life in a world that would seek to minimise his autonomy because of his perceived disability. But the film is not a ‘worthy-message-movie’. Zak’s story is only the beginning. What’s surprising is that, in addition to Tyler and Eleanor (who we might assume to be the only other key characters in the story) we’re given a fourth story of self-actualisation when they meet up with Clint (Thomas Hayden Church) - AKA The Salt Water Redneck. This story which takes us into the final act is the icing on the cake and includes a lovely moment of magical-realism and a kind of twist at the end that cleverly plays with our emotions.
One of the strengths of the movie is the calibre of the supporting cast. In addition to Hayden Church’s role there are powerful and understated performances by Jon Bernthal as Tyler’s brother Mark, John Hawkes as Tyler’s nemesis, Duncan and his offsider Ratboy played by rapper Yelawolf (both of whom are hell bent on taking their revenge on Tyler for what he did at the docks), Bruce Dern in a lovely small role as Carl, Zak’s friend and accomplice at the old people’s home, and a great appearance by real life wrestler Jake ‘the snake’ Roberts as Salter Water Redneck’s friend Sam.
But the real acting chops are to be found in the central three characters. Gottsagen embodies the role of Zak with a charm and wry wit that is built of a strong sense of determination. Johnson finds a believable balance between what her job would tell her is the right thing to do, and what her heart would say is the right way to go. Her slow conversion to the carefree ways of Tyler and Zak’s road trip is lovely to watch. And, for me at least, LaBeouf has never been better. I’m often on the fence with his performances, but this film tips the balance in the direction of me feeling like he’s a very fine actor.
The screenplay by Nilson and Schwartz is written in a lean, easy, unobtrusive style that allows the story and the characters to emerge in their own natural time and it’s shot in the great outdoors of Georgia with a gentle and picturesque eye by cinematographer Nigel Bluck.
But what’s going on with that title? I hear you ask. Well, that would be telling and would spoil the moment of discovering its meaning. Suffice it to say that the explanation for the title is as satisfying as the rest of the film.
Grizzled old timer Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is an old salt, a cantankerous curmudgeon set in his ways and protective of his precious lamp. Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) is the younger newbie who comes to the rock for a four-week rotation replacing a predecessor whose departure is the subject of some mystery. The background of Howard himself is not without its mystery, especially as relates to his previous work as a Canadian timberman, his relationship with fellow worker Ephraim Winslow (Logan Hawkes) and the reasons he left. As the weeks drag on, the tension of their abrasive relationship grows, as do the strange experiences and visions visited upon the new wickie – the discovery of a scrimshaw (a bone carving) of a mermaid hidden in his mattress, nightmarish imagery of tree stumps floating in water, the unsettling presence of gulls (Wake tells Howard never to kill a seabird because they’re the reincarnation of drowned sailors), the hallucinatory appearance of a mermaid (Valeriia Karaman) and Wake’s determination to prevent Howard from gaining access to the lamp room at the top of the lighthouse. Resistant, at first, to Wake’s invitation to partake of some pretty rough looking alcohol, Howard eventually relents, and the atmosphere descends into a drunken and at times violent miasma steeped in secrets and superstitions and, ultimately, madness.
The screenplay for The Lighthouse (written by Eggers with his brother Max) has its origins in Edgar Allan Poe’s final unfinished work of the same name (interestingly that scant work – barely two pages of four journal entries, the last one blank – has inspired many attempts at expansion or adaptation including the short story Horror in the Lighthouse by Robert Bloch and Benjamin Cooper’s 2016 movie, Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper). When Max Eggers’ reworking of Poe’s fragment stalled, Robert stepped in and, leaving Poe behind, they produced this new work. The result is a bit of a mixed bag of fascinating language (the research from which the language is drawn gets its own credit at the end), compelling characterisations and an assortment of promising but ultimately unresolved narrative threads that undermine the overall cohesiveness of the film. The many mysteries of the layered story - Howard’s background, the fate of the previous wickie, the possibility that a malevolent force surrounds the lighthouse, the authenticity or not of the mermaid and the reason Wake doesn’t want Howard to enter the lamp room – all these threads are enticing and well set up but none of them feel like they reach their completion by the end of the film.
Visually and aurally, the film is powerful and sublime. Jarin Blaschke’s black and white imagery is glorious and the square framing of its 1.19:1 aspect ratio adds to the authentic feel of the pictures on the screen. Production design by Craig Lathrop and Art Direction by Matt Likely evoke a bleak, rudimentary and harsh environment both in its natural world and man-made elements and Mariusz Glabinski’s sound design is relentless and foreboding. At times this movie is compelling and dense like a Samuel Beckett play, but at other times it breaks the bounds of constraint allowing the actors freedom to go over the top; something that seems to please Dafoe and Pattinson, but winds up doing no favours for the audience experience. In the end, as beautiful as this movie looks and sounds and as strong as the performances might be, the overall effect, for me at least, was that the heart of the story, the unsettling, mythological narrative, seemed to be swamped by the triumph of style over substance.
Set in the isolated wilderness of Nome, Alaska, with the devastation of the 1918 influenza pandemic still fresh in the minds of the small town’s inhabitants, the outbreak of diphtheria only seven years later is made worse by the discovery by Dr Welch (Treat Williams) that their stock of medicine has expired and they have nothing with which to treat the children. Nome Mayor, George Maynard (Brad Leland) telegraphs Governor Bone (Bruce Davison) for help but, despite his willingness to assist, the stock of medicine is a thousand miles away from them and there’s a vicious Alaskan storm in between. Their one hope seems to be Mr Thompson (Henry Thomas), a newspaper editor and aviator who is lobbying the Governor to establish an air service into Nome. This is his chance to make that happen, but the storm and harsh weather conditions prove too extreme for Thompson’s aircraft.
So now there’s just one slim chance; to use the old dog sleds known as mushers. It falls to the town’s best musher, Leonhard Seppala (Brian Presley) to hitch up his old dog Togo for what seems like an impossible mission: to travel through the raging storm, seven hundred miles to where the railway will deliver the serum.
This story promises all the beats of a terrific adventure but Presley’s screenplay opts, instead, to devote most of its time to the story of how Seppala came to live here, how his wife died in the influenza epidemic leaving him with newborn baby Sigrid (Emma Presley) and how, by 1925, he’s caught the eye of Dr Welch’s daughter Constance (Brea Bee) who spends most of the film nursing the sick children (including, of course, Sigrid) and being attracted to Seppala (which seems to mostly manifest itself in trying to get him to come to church on Sundays).
Once the mission begins (forty minutes into the film’s eighty-minute running time) you might expect the action to shift to the efforts of Seppala and his huskies against the harsh Alaskan elements. But, other than long shots of the dog sled making its way through snow storm, and one lacklustre CGI snow mishap the action sits mostly in the side-stories of the negotiation between Governor Bone and Mr Thompson regarding the use of Thompson’s aircraft, and numerous scenes of worried parents juxtaposed against the Mayor and the Doctor frequently reminding us that ‘time is running out’. There seems to be an assumption here that lots of intercutting between these characters who sit outside the adventurous heart of the story will somehow build tension and suspense and distract us from the lack of actual adventure happening out on the mission itself. That assumption proves to be false.
The progress of the mission is conveyed to us by the use of an ongoing radio report by newsman Harry Davenport (Nolan North) who is shot against a backdrop of newsreel footage from the time. In a way it seems to be trying to act as a stand-in for the constant barrage of news updates we’re used to in the twenty-first century. It’s an interesting idea but ends up as a hokey device that relies on telling instead of showing and herein lies the main problem with the film. It’s almost all exposition and not enough action, especially for a story as visceral as this. The upshot is that cast of good actors are hamstrung by being stuck in static, dialogue heavy scenes in nice sets that evoke the era but not the urgency of the situation. Add to that the almost complete lack of any character development for the two canine heroes of the tale; Togo and Balto (we spend next to no screentime with them and so it’s hard to feel anything for them as they struggle to save the children) and you wind up with a story that seems more concerned with the facts and the details than it is with any emotional engagement it might give the audience. In short, it’s a film that is too much reaction and not enough action.
If you stick around for the credits, there is some great archival footage and imagery of the real Leonhard Seppala and many of the other key characters in the story and, of course, Togo and Balto, the two key huskies that are crucial to the story. Ironically, these images almost tell the story in a more engaging way than the film does.
The question is, is there anything new to see down this road? And the answer (to my surprise) is a very qualified ‘yes’... for some of the journey at least.
Travolta’s Moose is an ageing fanboy on the spectrum. Badly dressed in loud shirts and with a shocker of a shaved-head-mullet, he tootles about the city on his motor scooter and seems to eke out a meagre living playing an English ‘bobby’ street character at a local tourist trap where his fellow buskers, sleazy Todd (Jacob Grodnik) and pickpocket Slim (James Paxton) like to bully him between gigs. But on the advice of a friendly Security Guard (Jeff Chase) Moose decides to stand up for himself against the bullies and we discover he’s got both a temper and the physical strength to make that a worry.
Most of the time, though, his attention is devoted to his obsession with collecting movie memorabilia associated with his favourite celebrity crush. When a book signing gives him an opportunity to meet his hero things start to go wrong. Turns out Dunbar isn’t a very nice man and hurt at getting dissed by the movie star and winding up without an autograph, Moose sets out to put things right. Moose’s (seemingly) only friend, paparazzi photographer Leah (Ana Golja) shows him an app that gives out the location of the homes of Hollywood stars and then next thing you know, Moose is legging it over Dunbar’s security fence in order to hand deliver a letter calling Dunbar to account. It’s around here that things start to go downhill (both for Moose, AND for the movie).
Despite the drubbing this film has received by almost every reviewer who seems to delight in sinking the boot into Travolta’s recent run of big screen shockers, there are some positives to find in this movie. Travolta’s performance is strong and measured and it’s nice to see him doing something other than playing alpha-male, ultra-violent caricatures that do little more than chew up the scenery (yes, I’m looking at you Swordfish). There’s a gentleness to Moose that elicits some sympathy in the character (at least it did from me) and Travolta plays him as low status for much of the film, something we don’t often get to see. What undermines this is some dodgy logic to the way the story unfolds in the second half. There’s also an attempt at something deeper than just the psycho-fan and the celebrity-victim going on here but its effort to explore the co-dependent relationship that almost exists between star and fan doesn’t quite get there. In fact, for me, there’s a fork in the road near the end of the film that could have sent us down the path of redemption for both characters, where both men could have learned something about their personalities and behaviours and grown from it. Sadly, the film diverts at this point of the story and opts, instead, for some gory violence and an attempt at a twist that it doesn’t quite pull off. Perhaps, as first-time screenwriters, Durst and his co-writer Dave Bekerman felt safer taking the road more travelled despite it leading the story past familiar tropes to a less satisfying conclusion.
Oddly, the film is punctuated with some vivid animated cartoon images that encapsulate some (but not all) of the key beats of the story. As images, they’re quite effective, but they aren’t really used enough, or to any great benefit in the unfolding of the narrative which means they end up as little more than an anachronism.
It’s a shame, but, despite a very good performance from Travolta in what seems to be a well-meaning attempt to tell an interesting story that aims for a fresh take on the ‘obsessive number one fan’ genre, the film gets lost along the way and runs out of petrol just in time to hit a dead end.
At its best it can be a tense, compelling, immersive experience that draws us into the heart of the experience of the story. At its worst, it ends up a contrived, chaotic jumble of shaky camera work and muffled sound trying to coalesce into coherent narrative. For most of its 83-minute running time, Ross Perkin’s first feature film sits enjoyably close to the former, although it suffers at times when it leans a bit towards the latter. I say ‘enjoyably’, although the truth is that watching such a frightening, intrusive and violent tale rendered in this realistic form is, in fact, far from what we might think of as enjoyable which, of course, is a credit to its effectiveness in making this genre work.
The story, inspired by a true occurrence, begins as successful businessman, Dale (Matt Hastings), sets up his new iPhone. This, then, becomes the medium through which we ‘see’ the various aspects of the story. Dale has a seemingly perfect life with loving wife, Natalie (Dearbhla Hannigan) and teenage daughter Gabby (Tequila Rathbone). Using the camera function, voice mail and other apps on the phone, we’re drawn into a deeper truth about Dale’s life; his brush with infidelity and eventually the shadier side of his business dealings. It’s here that Mad House gets the found footage idea right – the means by which the footage is captured is integral to the understanding of the story. The superficial appearance of Dale’s successful life (and, by extension, maybe our own) is betrayed by what the iPhone knows that not everyone else does. When that knowledge falls into the wrong hands, then we’re introduced to a horror far great than monsters or aliens or dark forces outside our understanding of the world. That horror arrives in the form of Bryce (Aaron Patrick), Cass (Jess Turner) and Wes (Perkins himself) three drug addicts who gain control of Dale’s phone and his secrets, invade his happy home and take he and his family hostage until he provides them with what they want. But Dale doesn’t want to give them what they want, nor does he want to admit to what he’s been up to in the seedier side of his life.
Dale’s iPhone may be the narrative device here, but Ross Perkins’ iPhone is the means by which the film is made and the clever use of this piece of ubiquitous personal technology as something that is integral to what goes on on both sides of the camera (well, in fact, it is the camera) enhances the effectiveness of the found footage style. But Perkins goes further than just using the phone as a means of recording the footage that tells the story. At times (especially with Cass and then later with Wes) the phone is used as confessional in a way that provides a deeper insight these two characters who we should hold in contempt but are more likely to find a bit of sympathy for in the way we understand what the lives they are destroying could, in other circumstances, have been. Obviously, the judges agreed with this when they gonged Mad House with the Best Feature Film Award at the San Diego International Mobile Film Festival in April last year.
On the downside, the film suffers at times from the less appealing aspects of the found footage genre; the rough, shaky, inelegant images that are necessarily the product of this form of filmmaking can grow tiresome in their sameness and in their anti-cinematography as does the fluctuating sound quality and the mundaneness of some of the dialogue which, for all its terrific authenticity, can sometimes be taxing on the ear. The film also has its fair share of contrivances in relation to how and why we get different perspectives on the characters and shifts within the narrative. The logic of how the iPhone (both in the hands of the characters and in the hands of the director) travels through the film doesn’t always hold as true as it might. These things aside, though, as a first-time feature writer/director/actor/editor working with a handheld iPhone in a demanding genre, Perkins could well have bitten off more than he could chew. It’s pleasing, then, that he didn’t and, instead, produced a tasty little treat.
Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a jewellery shop owner and gambling addict in a race against time to pay off his debts. His latest get-rich-quick scheme involves a rare black opal imported from Africa, expected to bring him over a million dollars at auction. However, the deal is put in jeopardy after Howard’s employee Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) unexpectedly brings in NBA star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) to peruse the shop’s wares. Garnett takes a shine to the gem (pun intended) and is eventually allowed to borrow it for a game as his lucky charm. As you might expect, some classic miscommunication forces Howard to track the gem down across various locations over the course of a weekend.
Just in case the above synopsis still has you expecting a black comedy, let me once again emphatically state that UNCUT GEMS is a straight-up crime thriller. While Sandler has played assholes on paths to redemption, or even literal winking devils, Howard is lightyears away from his previous characters and is easily the least sympathetic role he’s ever undertaken. He’s an angry, impulsive man whose actions feel like an animal caught in a trap desperately thrashing towards freedom, regardless of the impact his actions might have on other people. For instance, despite his most menacing creditor literally being his brother-in-law, Howard rarely seems to consider the proximity of this danger to his wife and children.
Howard’s omnipresent rage is perhaps the only recognisable Sandler trait that’s used here, though it’s heightened to a captivating extreme. Forget Happy Gilmore freaking out over his putt falling short, Howard screams his lungs out in almost every scene. Sandler’s limitless energy left me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what he would say or do next, whether a bad decision would prove to be Howard’s undoing, or catalyse an even worse one. Tight editing is a hallmark of the Safdie brothers’ work, yet UNCUT GEMS’ breathtaking pace is equally Sandler’s doing. On the sole occasion where the film slows down and Howard begins to wallow in despair, it instinctively feels uncomfortable. Sandler knows this and otherwise rushes through each set piece, simultaneously in pursuit of his big score and fleeing his impending doom. To put it simply, Sandler proves himself not just as a dramatic actor, but as a bona fide powerhouse.
Reviewers have taken jabs at the ‘Adam Sandler brand’ for as long as I’ve been alive, so I’d like to avoid doing so at length here. I don’t automatically dislike everything the man has done; in fact, I’ll even defend some of the less popular entries in his filmography like Funny People (yes, it’s too long, but the actors aren’t to blame for that). At the same time, I also haven’t watched any of his Netflix co-productions because I can safely assume the humour isn’t my cup of tea.
This is where the Safdies come in. Although the duo wrote UNCUT GEMS with Sandler in mind, his performance complements their distinct vision instead of distracting from it. Much of what made their 2017 film Good Time so compelling is also present in this film, such as its hazy, dreamlike cinematography and composer Daniel Lopatin’s dazzling synths. The former will take some getting used to for those unfamiliar with the brothers’ work and may unfortunately dissuade some viewers, but it’s worth sticking with it to witness the bizarre flourishes they add at every turn. If you didn’t already think Furbys are creepy, Howard sells blinged up ones as necklaces. In addition to Garnett, singer The Weeknd briefly appears as himself. The film cuts from a closeup of the opal to Howard’s colonoscopy footage. On paper it almost sounds like it shouldn’t work.
Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons to love UNCUT GEMS. I haven’t even mentioned how consistently excellent the supporting cast are, from Garnett elevating what could’ve been a glorified cameo, to Julia Fox’s surprisingly layered turn as Howard’s employee/mistress (in her feature film debut, no less). Nevertheless, I imagine most people’s reactions to this film will focus on the same aspect as mine: one of the biggest names in American comedy blowing up your expectations of him and pulling it off flawlessly. The fact that the Oscars didn’t even nominate this performance in the Best Actor category is absurd. This is career best work from Adam Sandler and the Safdies alike; I look forward to whatever they do next.
Indeed, a film such as this should make us feel very grateful for our geographical upbringing, and fortunate to live in a free society. It is almost perverse that we, Westerners, watch the horrors from the comfort of an air-conditioned room, however we ought not feel guilty for having it so good either, when so many others are suffering elsewhere in the world, because – after all – our origins are beyond our control. But it would be wrong to dismiss the plight of others and not sympathise with their circumstances at the very least.
FOR SAMA is unique in its premise. It documents the Siege of Aleppo from a first-person perspective over the course of a 5-year period. Director Waad Al-Kateab is a journalist who lived in the city at the time of the revolution, and documented every waking moment with her camera and phone. She was married to one of the city's last remaining doctors and was able to film and document the true human cost of the conflict... and it's not pretty. She also gave birth during this time; to a daughter named Sama. And so rather than a foreign film crew visiting the war-ravished city, Al-Kateab lived and breathed it first-hand, and the result is devastating.
The film gives an unflinching perspective into the lives of Syrian residents whose world has been rocked by an unjust and incessant war. It isn't overtly political, nor is it religious, and it simply tells a story of humanity. Most importantly, her camera never flinches. Men, women and children are killed in the hundreds and blood fills corridors of makeshift hospitals like a surging tide. It is a harrowing, gruesome and overwhelming document that begs to be seen. As the conflict drew closer each day, and death loomed over every breath, Al-Kateab and her husband refused to leave. They began as freedom fighters and were determined to stay so that they could document the death and destruction for the rest of the world to see.
As I prefaced, words can't – and won't – suffice, and FOR SAMA must be experienced. For all of its heartbreak and loss, it is also a story of determination, courage and love. While it has us question our faith in humanity, it also restores said faith with its familiar depictions of family life in the war-torn Middle East. To Al-Kateab's credit, she never pushes a political agenda, and allows the documentary to serve as a conversation starter. Where we choose to take that conversation is up to us, but as far as she's concerned, having the world see their perspective is the most important thing of all.
FOR SAMA is one the hardest viewing experiences I have ever had but it is also one of the most humbling and important. Those who so staunchly oppose immigration and refugee intake would do well to see it, for at the very least it will undoubtedly soften their position, if not change it.
One particularly dramatic and breathtaking moment involving a newborn baby has to be seen to be believed. You cannot fake this stuff. This film is phenomenal!