Cinema Dispatch: Uncut Gems

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Uncut Gems and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24

Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

Good Time wasn’t one of my favorite movies of that year by a long shot, but it’s also a movie I keep thinking about even now as the filmmakers clearly made something wildly compelling even if it wasn’t exactly for me.  If nothing else, I was eager to see what they did next as I really believe they can make a movie that’s not just great but one that I’d like as well, which is why when I first heard of this new movie they were making AND that it would be a dramatic turn for Adam Sandler, I knew that this had to be a top priority that I needed to see as soon as it came out!  Okay fine, AFTER Star Wars, but this was locked in for second place!  Do the Safdie Brothers improve on their last film and make a film that’s even better, or was all the potential I saw in Good Time actually the peak of their creative vision?  Let’s find out!!

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) runs a jewelry store out of New York City where he makes a tidy living selling exquisite trash to those looking for something Gaudy more than Elegant, but most of the money he makes is then funneled into his gambling addiction which means he gets to talk to sports stars, have nice apartments, and live a life of relative comfort, but he’s also in deep with loan sharks (Eric Bogosian, Keith Williams, and Tommy Kominik) who want nothing more than to rip his heart out right out of his chest since that’s about all they’ll get from the guy who can’t stop throwing all his money away on terrible sports bets.  Still, he’s got an ace up his sleeve which is this opal he got straight from a mining company in Ethiopia which he plans to sell at an auction for up to a MILLION dollars.  Seems like he’s got it all sorted out, but of course when you’re a guy whose got as much bad blood as he does, those people who want something from him could easily derail everything in an instant, and Howard himself can’t seem to keep his own behavior under control long enough to get the money and clean the slate; especially when he “loans” the opal to basketball player Kevin Garnett (playing himself) and for whatever reason he can’t be reached and his go between guy (Lakeith Stanfield) is being awfully cagey for some reason.  Can Howard get the opal back in time to sell it and get his life back in order?  What sorts of comeuppance will he have waiting for him the moment he gets the money and what if it comes for him sooner than that?  I mean if he’s THAT deep in the red, can’t he just make Happy Gilmore 2?  Nineties nostalgia is ALL the rage now; tell me that wouldn’t make a hundred million at the box office!

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“Weren’t you Little Nicky?  No, you’re thinking of the other guy.  I think his name was SHUT UP!!”

A24 has basically paid the Safede brothers to make the exact same movie for them again and I’m glad they did because this is absolutely fantastic!  Good Time has some great aspects to it, but some of its rougher edges made it hard for me to really engage with the story instead of just marveling it at a distance, so there was definitely some room for improvement and for a movie like this to be made.  With the character they wrote here played brilliantly by Adam Sandler as well as stronger focus on comedy, it smooths out what could have been a similarly unsavory adventure and ends up accentuating the strengths of the directors’ film making style. Their gritty and compelling cinematography, their lightning fast pace that flies the characters (as well as the audience) by the seat of their pants, the amazing synth soundtrack that underlines the action and almost serves as the beating heart of the film; hastening when things get stressful and relaxing for the few moments of peace Howard can find over this ridiculously convoluted weekend.  It all feels like a remastered version of what they did before and if these guys keep refining their craft like this, they could be two of the most exciting filmmakers of their generation.

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Safdie Brothers for the Furby movie; confirmed.

Just like their previous film, the movie is more comparable to a thrill ride than a narrative feature as the story is held together by seemingly endless number of crises that center around the astoundingly poor judgement of its main character and the seriously run of bad luck that we just so happen to be here to witness.  Clearly Howard’s problems began WELL before we jump into the narrative, but there’s almost a cosmic sense of tragedy to it all where his primary antagonist isn’t bad people, an oppressive society, or even his own choices to an extent, but timing and schedules.  We all do it where we make a very specific plan for a day but don’t factor in enough variables so that everything goes off the rails by about step three, but for us it’s running late for something or finding out the store doesn’t have the thing you’re looking for.  In Howard’s case, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line for everything to go according to plan, and considering how compulsively he gambles you get the sense that he likes going through life this way; fighting against the current for the chance of overcoming the waves.  He wants to succeed, he wants to live the good life and be a WINNER, but he’s also never satisfied with what he has and has to throw in a little side action to keep it interesting.  His family life is in shambles because he’s trying to juggle his wife and kids with a younger mistress, he’d rather gamble on getting a little bit more than sticking with the sure thing, and he wants to act like a young and impulsive teenager despite being a grown man with real responsibilities.  It’s all conveyed brilliantly not just by Sandler’s acting but by the filmmakers who infuse each scene with the same chaotic energy that Howard tries to cultivate in every aspect of his life, with loud noises, multiple rambling conversations going on simultaneously, and an omnipresent sense of danger as the movie makes it clear just how much trouble Howard is and just how precarious his situation is.

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“It could be worse.  What if I DIDN’T have tissues?”

The real strength of the movie is how it manages to toy with your emotions throughout in regards to how you feel about Howard as the movie tells us more and more about him.  This is also the biggest difference between this movie and Good Time as Robert Pattinson’s character, while very well acted, was little more than a scum bag from beginning to end and, perhaps more importantly, all of his desperate and flailing actions had terrible consequences for everyone he came into contact with.  Howard is for the most part digging his own grave throughout, so I didn’t feel as stressfully anxious watching him go from bad idea to bad idea with the foolishness of someone WAY too confident in his own brilliance; not that I wasn’t anxious throughout, but more in a WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO NOW way than a PLEASE STOP DOING THIS sort of way that I felt while watching Pattinson.  Now sure ther’s definitely a class issue involved here where Pattinson didn’t have the means to approach his problem WITHOUT dragging other people into it (except… you know; turn yourself in because you robbed a bank) while Sandler’s character seems like he’d be just fine if just took a minute to sort his stuff out, but there still feels like there’s a lot more to the characters in this film than in Good Time.  Howard is given much more time to just be a character and to take to take actions that are not merely reactive to his current set of circumstances which makes him feel more complete as a person that much more empathetic as thinks kept hitting the fan; helped in no small part by Sandler’s innate charm which we is so great to see when it’s not bundled in the kind of dreck he’s usually associated with.  Because of this extra time developing his character, it really hits home once we see where all of this is leading to with a third act that is perhaps one of the best endings to a movie I’ve seen all year.  I won’t spoil it, but the emotional balancing act it puts you on where you can’t quite be certain how much you should care about the him and his struggles beautifully sets up the turning point for his character; the moment where they give you basically no choice in how you feel about the guy and you just sit there marveling at how distressing this movie can truly get when it all comes down to the wire.

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“Hey.  Hey.  Hey.  Hey.”     “WHAT!?”     “Pixels made over two-hundred million at the box office.”     “I hate you…”

There are a few minor nitpicks here and there which are worth point out but aren’t that detrimental to the movie.  It starts off VERY loud and boisterous with lots of movement, lots of plot threads, and a WHOLE lot of shouty conversations right off the bat which works for the level of intensity the movie is going for, but it is a bit off putting to get all of that at once right when we’re being introduced to the character and MAYBE easing us into it a bit more would have helped.  There’s a prologue that could have been shortened or perhaps cut out entirely if it was a runtime issue as it feels a bit excessive even if it does set up one of the ongoing plot threads.  Frankly it feels a bit like the Safdie were granted a much bigger budget for this movie than anything they’ve worked with before and wanted to excited blow a chunk of it on a big opening that only imparts minor details to the overall story; unless of course I missed some deeper meaning to it which could easily be the case.  Also, MAYBE a bit more of the family would have been nice?  I kind of wanted to see more of his kids or perhaps one of them could have been involved in some way with the absurdity going on.  As it is, they feel rather tertiary to the overall narrative.

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You’re telling me you got Idina Menzel to be this movie, but DIDN’T put her in every single scene!?

I was really looking forward to this movie, but I didn’t think I’d enjoy it THIS much!  This is easily one of the best movies of the year and you should run out and see it as soon as possible!  If this is your jam and you can sit through long stretches of really intense character drama, then you don’t want to wait for the home release to see this.  Watch it in a nice theater with great sound so that the oppressive and suspenseful nature of it can just wash over you as you enjoy this darkly fun thrill ride.  It has not been a BORING December considering we got Cats and Star Wars: Rise of the Compromised Vision, but I’m so glad that I get to end things on this high of a note and it’s probably the best present I could have gotten this year!  Just don’t screw up all this goodwill, Sandler!  You’re back on the good list for now, but that comes with a whole lot of asterisks and is written in pencil!


5 out of 5

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Uncut Gems

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