In launching this monthly movie column, a disclaimer is necessary: It won’t always be devoted to reviews.
As a longtime cinema buff, I’ve long wanted to tackle more first-run films in addition to the occasional reviews I’ve written of the classic movies playing at Hoquiam’s 7th Street Theatre (I plan to continue the latter duty). Yet I’m aware of several shortcomings that would separate me from conventional critics.
I know what I like, but my mainstream tastes aren’t always the same as the consensus of critics. (I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.) I’m lukewarm, at best, about some popular genres, such as action-adventure superhero movies. I also have a particular aversion to historical films that push a political agenda, and to self-consciously weird films such as the 2014 Academy Award-winning “Birdman.”
If the plot summary of a particular film leaves me cold, I’m just as likely to stay home rather than suffer through the movie merely to fulfill an assignment.
So, with the consent of my editors, this column will be a mixture of reviews, commentaries, retrospectives and a few top-five lists.
This month’s effort consists of mini-reviews of three recent films: a potential Oscar winner, a good movie that could have been better, and a critically acclaimed production that I didn’t like at all.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this historical drama is set in France during World War I.
British Army corporals Schofield (played by George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are dispatched to deliver an urgent message to a nearby unit: An Army general is ordering that the unit call off a planned attack to prevent it from being caught in a German ambush.
Since his brother is an officer in that unit, Blake is eager for the assignment. Schofield is a much more reluctant participant — until circumstances force a greater level of commitment.
The corporals reach their intended destination some 20 minutes into the film, only to discover that the unit has relocated. That sets up a perilous journey across enemy lines.
Stunningly filmed in what appears to be real time (although it obviously isn’t), “1917” possesses a gritty authenticity lacking in most war films since “Saving Private Ryan.”
Unlike the makers of 2017’s “Dunkirk” and last year’s “Midway,” producer/director/co-writer Sam Mendes doesn’t clutter up the narrative with excess characters. The two little-known lead actors are both excellent.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Mendes’ storytelling skills is that two hours pass in an apparent heartbeat.
“1917” may not win an Oscar, but it is one of the year’s best films.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
The appearance of Tom Hanks among the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominees tells you everything you need to know about this sentimental drama.
Contrary to the expectation of many viewers, this is not a biography of kids television show host Fred Rogers (played by Hanks). It instead focuses on how a magazine profile of Rogers altered the life of the cynical writer (Matthew Rhys), an investigative journalist embittered by a conflict with his estranged father (Chris Cooper).
The main storyline is well-handled by director Marielle Heller and very well-acted by Rhys and Cooper. But I’ll bet that a good portion of the audience would have rather seen more of Rogers and less of the journalist.
Once pigeonholed as the successor to James Stewart as America’s Everyman, Hanks is finally receiving recognition for his astonishing versatility. Here’s an actor who has convincingly played an astronaut, a heroic World War II officer, a beleaguered airline pilot and ship’s captain, a hard-driving newspaper editor, a dying AIDS victim, a lonely widower, a stand-up comic and a boozy baseball manager. Not to mention Forrest Gump and Walt Disney. (OK, I didn’t quite buy him as Disney in 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks.”)
It’s not surprising that Hanks nails Rogers’ distinctive vocal cadence and somewhat inscrutable decency. He easily could have shouldered a heavier acting load here. ★★★
Curiosity over what proved to be false Oscar buzz for Adam Sandler (he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor) drew me to this film.
An Oscar for Adam Sandler? The same comic actor who played the title roles in “The Waterboy” and “Happy Gilmore”?
Sandler did receive the role of a lifetime as Howard Ratner, a hyperkinetic New York jeweler who uses a valuable black opal and a complicated betting scheme involving former pro basketball all-star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) in an attempt to square his gambling debts with an ominous group of loan sharks.
If there were an Oscar category for Best Performance by a Miscast Actor, Sandler would have been a cinch to win it.
Ratner is supposed to be abrasive but charismatic enough to attract a legion of friends and a young mistress. That’s the type of character that a young Richard Dreyfuss used to eat for lunch.
Sandler masters only the abrasive part. Ratner’s estranged wife hits the bull’s-eye when she calls him the most annoying person she ever met.
As for the movie, the Rotten Tomatoes website reports a 92% approval rate among critics. Count me unashamedly among the other 8%.
Sketchy character development and overlapping dialogue make the first 30 to 45 minutes tough to follow. There are too many subplots to make it a compelling examination of gambling addiction — a timely topic that Hollywood, for some reason, has seldom handled well. And you have a “hero” unworthy of the audience’s sympathy or empathy.
For the most part, “Uncut Gems” is an unpleasant movie. Or, as Ratner’s wife might put it, really annoying. ★1⁄2
Rick Anderson, retired sports editor of The Daily World, now is a contributing columnist. “Rick’s Picks” will run on the third Saturday of wach month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.