1917

We have now seen the best movie of the year.
It is April 6, 1917. The “War to end all wars” will rage on until the Treaty of Versailles is signed on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day commemorated that event until it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
This is a uniquely effective, immersive film, due to being filmed in a continuous single camera shot (technically, listed as edited to appear as one shot). Only at one point at about the mid point did the screen go black, allowing for a reset, but then continued on in single camera fashion to the end. The difficulty of doing this, both from a cinematography perspective, performance by the actors, staging, lighting and set construction are hard to conceive, but Sam Mendes pulled it all together in the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan
And perhaps this could have been called Saving Lieutenant Blake.
1917 was filmed in the UK on April 1, 2019. Imagine rehearsing the entire two hour journey of two young British soldiers through battlefields, trenches and bombed out villages while flares and bombs are exploding, planes are circling and crashing, through chase scenes, hand to hand combat, being swept down a raging river over a waterfall, and so much more, while cameras are following, circling and leading the audience through the action as if participating in the events first hand.
There is no provision for starting over. No “cut” or “take two” here. Beginning with orders from Colin Firth as General Erinmore, and culminating with the delivery of a crucial message to Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel MacKenzie, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) endures heart pounding, stomach turning horror to prevent the slaughter of 1600 British troops in a German trap.
Producer Sam Mendes previously gave us Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, The Kite Runner and dozens of Penny Dreadful episodes for Showtime. George MacKay, a busy actor, but appearing here in a breakout performance, deserves a special award for this punishing role. Alongside Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Blake, the human side of this relentlessly horrific war propels us through the early mechanization of military conflict, which was otherwise still being fought as it was during the Civil War. An underlying theme, as often is the case, is that no good deed goes unpunished. Compassion shown for the enemy frequently backfires in spectacularly tragic fashion.
This film has already taken its place among the top 25 war films of all time, and there are some heavy hitters in that crowd, from Apocalypse Now to All Quiet on the Western Front and Lawrence of Arabia.
See this on the big screen. If you suffer from PTSD, I recommend that you not suffer through this two-hour journey through Hell.
1917 (2019) Runs 1 hour 59 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  


Uncut Gems

Sometimes I have to take a step back and differentiate between the quality and effectiveness of a film versus my enjoyment at its showing.
If you enjoy being jostled in a noisy crowd at a filthy amusement park, and being thrilled at riding a rickety roller coaster with a history of safety issues and sharing your car with drunken thugs, then Uncut Gems may be your ticket. It is well done, but hard to watch.
Adam Sandler, the star of this show, is at his Jewish best, but not the lighthearted Saturday Night Live version, singing The Chanukah Song. This is a portrayal of a gambling-addicted New York Diamond District purveyor of gems and collector of sports memorabilia working to stay ahead of his own tidal wave of self-destruction. The addict’s delusion – just one more big score – propels him through layer upon layer of a money-fueled onion of Ponzi schemes built around the hope of auctioning an uncut 3000 carat stone for over a million dollars.
Sandler, playing Howard Ratner, relies for sales leads on associates of real-life basketball legend Kevin Garnett, a six foot eleven power forward, now retired, who is still dominating the game for the Boston Celtics in Uncut Gems. Garnett, smitten with the potentially magical powers of a huge black opal mined at the expense of Ethiopian slave-workers, offers his NBA title ring as collateral for the stone, which he believes will enhance his game. And it does. But not before Howard pawns the ring for cash, makes a series of seemingly impossible bets, and wins big. Or does he?
That’s where a family member mafia type, on a break from their shared Passover meal, sends thugs to collect from Howard, and cancels the bet. Of course, the bet would have paid off, so Howard learns nothing. On to the next big thing.
Along Howard’s journey, he is left naked in the trunk of a car, thrown in a fountain, beaten several times and threatened mercilessly. Nothing stops him or even slows him down much. His gambling adrenaline has the same effect as any other stimulant.
Howard treats customers, children, his wife and family with the same glazed-eyed, addle brained juggling and leveraging of emotions and money, robbing from Peter to pay Saul, in an exhausting array of interdependent maneuvers that result in his ultimate reckoning. But not before one more attempt, successful yet again, with the aid of his devoted prostitute girlfriend, Julia, played by Julia Fox.
The real feel of this film was enhanced by performers playing themselves alongside Garnett, like rapper Ca$h Out and The Weekend.
Idina Menzel steps away from her voicing of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, appearing here as Dinah Ratner, Howard’s wife, disgusted with his antics and agreeing to announce a divorce, “after Passover.” Judd Hirsch is along for the ride as “Gooey,” 84 years old, but still reminding us of the TV hit Taxi.
Directed by 35 year old brothers, Josh and Bennie Safdie, whose limited experience includes the money-losing 2017 film Good Time, this latest effort will establish them as players in Hollywood. The discomfort I felt throughout the movie can be attributed to the relentless pace of Sandler’s delivery from a script so loaded with F-bombs and shouting it can cause tightness in your chest if it doesn’t numb your senses.
Uncut Gems (2019) runs 2 hours 15 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  
 Hard to say.

No Time to Die

We saw the long-awaited James Bond film recently. And not surprisingly, I began this review with the wrong title, not that it matters. The f...