Tag Archives: Benny Safdie

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review

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Pieces of a Woman

Time: 128 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language & nudity
Cast:
Vanessa Kirby as Martha Weiss
Shia LaBeouf as Sean Carson
Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth Weiss
Molly Parker as Eva Woodward
Sarah Snook as Suzanne
Iliza Shlesinger as Anita Weiss
Benny Safdie as Chris
Jimmie Fails as Max
Director: Kornél Mundruczó

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Thus begins a yearlong odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn), along with the publicly vilified midwife, whom she must face in court. A deeply personal, searing, and ultimately transcendent story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.

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I heard about Pieces of a Woman mainly with regards to awards hype, especially with the lead performance from Vanessa Kirby. I wasn’t really expecting much from the movie beyond that aside from some positive reactions, and that it was being released on Netflix. Pieces of a Woman is a solid enough movie. It definitely could’ve been a lot better, but there’s enough here to make it worth checking out.

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The first act is quite intense as it portraying a childbirth, and everything from the acting to the directing is outstanding in this. It’s by far the most talked about moment in the whole movie and is probably what the film would be largely known for. The movie peaks early with its 20 minute long take of childbirth, however this moment was essential to really put the audience through it and understand the depth of trauma and grief that goes on. So it was kind of inevitable that the rest of the movie wouldn’t reach those heights again, nonetheless I feel like it could’ve been a little better. The rest of the movie is about the after effects and the grief that follows that first act, it’s really a movie that you’re gonna want to watch only once, as it isn’t easy to watch. The movie has a lot of loud bombastic moments of shouting and crying, as well as monologues that not only makes the film feel overdramtised and awards baity, it feels rather hollow and doesn’t have much impact. Also, the film is very predictable, you have a good idea of where it is going, not that it’s the main issue. It’s just that the story and premise aren’t approached in a very interesting way. It could’ve explored much of the relationships between characters but it doesn’t really. The film is seemingly more of a character study centred on the lead character of Martha but it’s somewhat distant from her, so it’s in a bit of an odd spot for the narrative. I really wish the film focused more on the lead character’s individuality and really allowed her to fully explore its themes of loss and grief. For a story that is trying to be intimate, it didn’t feel intimate. Outside of Martha, there are some forgettable characterisations. I have heard some people take issue with some of the odd decisions made by the characters, but they didn’t read to me as tone-deaf or bizarre. They felt completely to real life, it’s just that the characters themselves aren’t particularly well developed or defined. Storywise it does become drawn out, and it doesn’t pick up steam until a little later in the second act. I will say that it did conclude well with the third act and the ending. I wish the middle chunk of the movie was on the same level as its beginning and ending.

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While the acting from everyone is good, this is really Vanessa Kirby’s film, and she’s outstanding in the lead role. I think that Kirby should’ve been given more moments to shine, but she nonetheless gives perhaps one of the most evocative and resonant performance of the past year. She seems to be the only character written with layers because her delivery conveys a lot of the emotions and suffering that she’s going through with a lot of nuance, where everyone else is a surface-level understanding of grief. That’s particularly impressive considering that the character is written in quite a distant way. The rest of the supporting cast are good, including Sarah Snook and Benny Safdie. Ellen Burstyn is great, she is in a somewhat one note role as Martha’s mother, but is able to deliver some powerful moments and fills the story out with her performance and definitely makes up for it.

PIECES OF A WOMAN: (L to R) Vanessa Kirby as Martha, Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth

The movie is directed by Kornél Mundruczó and I think he did a good job. It’s a tightly directed and shot film, with vital visual elements and compositions, I liked the look of the movie overall. In fact, some aspects of the direction and the editing seem to be more effective with visual moments than some of the actual writing. The long takes are particularly great, especially for the childbirth sequence in the first act. Now looking at that whole scene, it’s pretty clear that not all of it was in one shot as there are some things that happen that would be impossible to do in one complete take. With that said, most of it looks like it was in one shot, and that in itself is impressive.

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Pieces of a Woman is a good movie with great elements but also isn’t as good as it could’ve been. The attempt to look at grief is admirable, but doesn’t explore it well enough. The subject matter and the tone already make it somewhat hard to watch but it’s also hard to be invested when the approach to it isn’t particularly engaging, especially with the writing. With that said, it’s directed well, and some impressive scenes and great acting, especially a fantastic Vanessa Kirby, whose performance alone makes Pieces of a Woman worth watching.

Uncut Gems (2019) Review

Time: 135 Minutes
Cast:
Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner
Julia Fox as Julia
Idina Menzel as Dinah Ratner
Lakeith Stanfield as Demany
Kevin Garnett as himself
Eric Bogosian as Arno
Director: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

From acclaimed filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie comes an electrifying crime thriller about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score. When he makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime, Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.

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Uncut Gems was one of my most anticipated movies of 2019. The Safdie Brothers impressed me quite a bit with Good Time back in 2017, and so I was interested in seeing what they would do next. Also the fact that Adam Sandler was cast in the lead role interested me, because I just knew that he was going to return to being dramatic Sandler even for just one movie, and basing off of Punch Drunk Love, I knew that he would be great. Uncut Gems on the whole was great, and one of the highlights of the year.

Uncut Gems is another thriller from the Safdies, this time it’s a different kind of thriller. There’s a bunch of things going on at once, with lead character Howard Ratner constantly placing bets while being heavily in debt. Although there are moments to breathe (with a movie a 2 hours and 15 minutes long you’d expect that to be the case), you are constantly aware of the danger that is present, and the stakes are high for our main character. Every time things go right for Howard, he does something to put himself into dangerous situations again, usually by placing another bet. The tension just keeps being raised and raised even further. It’s full of energy constantly from start to finish, and the characters are very well realised. The second act does slow down the pace quite a bit for some reason, and while it was fine, it was rather out of place. The third act was particularly great, very suspenseful and effective, concluded by a fitting ending.

Much of the talk is about how great Adam Sandler is, and the talk is well deserved. I’d go so far as to say that this is his best performance, and having seen Punch Drunk Love, that’s saying a lot. While you can definitely tell it’s Sandler all the way through, he performs his character of Howard Ratner perfectly, I can’t see anyone else in this role. Howard is not a good person, he’s not very likable, and he could’ve easily been obnoxious to watch on screen. Sandler however manages to get you to tolerate him and even root for him, even when he often keeps digging himself into a deeper grave. He has this immense energy in him that works perfectly for the character. The movie is already great, but even if it wasn’t, it would be worth watching for his performance alone. That’s not all though, the supporting cast does well too, including Idina Menzel as Howard’s wife, and Lakeith Stanfield who is good as always. Former professional basketball plater Kevin Garnett actually plays himself as part of the plot, and he’s actually a really good actor, he’s great here. Eric Bogosian does some effective work as a loanshark that Howard is in debt to. A standout among the supporting cast (and that’s saying a lot) however is Julia Fox as Howard’s girlfriend. I think this is Fox’s first movie, and he leaves quite a strong impression in this movie, and I hope she gets a lot more roles from her work here.

The Safdie Brothers has once again directed this incredibly. I’m not sure how it’s possible for them to top Good Time on a directing level at least, but they’ve done it here. It’s well shot and edited from start to finish, one of the highlight scenes took place at a nightclub. The tense scenes are made even more tense by how it is directed. If possible, see this in a cinema, though I’m aware that due to some weak distribution that’s not always possible (certainly wasn’t the case for me). The music by Daniel Lopatin worked quite well, fitting the fast paced nature of the rest of the movie.

Uncut Gems is great, and one of the highlights of the year. It’s written and directed incredibly well by the Safdie Brothers, and the cast is great, especially with a career best performance from Adam Sandler. It’s a movie I’d like to revisit for sure.