A diamond dealer readies for the biggest sale of his life.
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Starring Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, and Kevin Garnett
Review by Jon Kissel
Uncut Gems was one of the more important and notable movies from 2019, and I would usually write an appropriately lengthy review in correlation with all the professional ink that was spilled on it, but I am unfamiliar with the autosave feature on the latest version of MS Office and the 1000+ words I wrote earlier this evening somehow disappeared. I’m too irritated to recreate that review, so this is going to be shorter than usual. That kind of mishap, however, seems appropriate for Uncut Gems, a comedy of errors where things keep going wrong for its nigh-intolerable protagonist, diamond district denizen Howard Ratner. Played by Adam Sandler in one of his groundhog-esque displays of acting ability, poking his head up out of the David Spade/Kevin James dirt to remind everyone of his talent, Howard tests the limits of my empathy. Saddled with a compulsive illness that he would characterize as ‘how he wins,’ Howard is so reckless and dangerous that he devalues every character in the film that chooses to spend time with or around him. Anyone who doesn’t run screaming from this guy is an abysmal judge of character.
A surprisingly appropriate movie for the immediate moment, Blue Chips scratches the surface of an exploitative and racially divided system, but falls into a familiar trap. The great William Friedkin can’t direct a film that contains the backing of the NCAA and fully indict the system it profits from. Blue Chips is plagued by half measures, doubly so because it’s apparent what the film wants to say and pulls its punches anyway. That’s not to say that there isn’t an entertaining film here. Friedkin gets plenty of mileage out of a cast loaded with non-professionals, while also turning Nick Nolte loose for a wild performance in the lead. Blue Chips gets the feel of the thing that it’s about correct, even if it doesn’t analyze it as sharply as it could.
The action movies that dominated the mid-90’s occupy an interesting place in the culture. The Cold War’s over, so Communist villains are out, but it’s pre-9/11, so the next easy bad-guy shorthand hasn’t arrived yet, either. Hollywood’s still reveling in leftover masculinity from the 80’s, so there’s none of the introspection of something like the Bourne series. We’re all gung-ho with nowhere to go, so these movies frequently envision internal chaotic enemies i.e. your Castor Troys, your Cyrus the Viruses. Whatever it takes to keep the Department of Defense-sponsored glorification of war games going. Broken Arrow is an early example of the six-year period that would be dominated by Jerry Bruckheimer and his protégé Michael Bay, and no one would say it’s the best of breed. Hong Kong action staple director John Woo still hasn’t figured out how to marry his distinctive style to English-language film, a synchronization he would finally crack one year later with Face/Off. These absurd movies need to get as far from realism as possible, and Broken Arrow, while it’s no one’s idea of realistic, is still too close. I at least need magnet boots or their equivalent in my nonsense action.
The legend of Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, holds that he consulted the wise algorithm for ideas about what original programming to produce, and he discovered that subscribers loved Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. Voila, House of Cards is born. Seven years later, Spacey has a lesser Q-rating, but the same smell of calculated imitation is all over Freaks. A hearty base of Stranger Things, some Dogtooth for indie cred, a seasoning of contemporary buzzwords for political relevance, and there’s your movie. Directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky have enough pull to entice well-known actors, and that seems to be the only reason this was released in theaters instead of buried on the SyFy channel.
Bong Joon-ho is a kind of South Korean jack-of-all-trades, in that his movies defy easy classification. His contemporaries are more easily put into boxes, between the psycho-sexual extremity of Park Chan-wook or the mysterious morality plays of Lee Chang-dong or the low-key romance of Hong Sang-soo. Bong is all over the place, often within the same film. His breakout film, Memories of Murder, is a police farce, a ground-level satire, and a deadly serious serial killer chase. He followed that with a comedic monster film, a murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic class metaphor, and an ET-homage, if the government had been trying to eat ET. By being unpredictable for so long, the unpredictability has become his trademark. Wherever a Bong Joon-ho film starts, it’s never clear where it’s going to end. This remains true for his latest and most impactful film, Parasite. The first foreign-language Best Picture winner, Parasite has also ridden a wave of ecstatic critical acclaim, and perhaps recency bias, to feature heavily on end-of-decade lists, all while making a tremendous amount of money over its modest budget. Like all of Bong’s other films, Parasite doesn’t quite fit with what’s come before, but that dissonance doesn’t stop it from being an enthralling exploration of class in a package that is wound like clockwork.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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