Saturday, December 28, 2019

Uncut Gems (2019) Review

Directed by
Bennie Safdie & Josh Safdie

Uncut Gems is mesmerizing, torturous, thrilling, painful, and haunting, yet it is impossible to look away.

Written and directed by the Safdie brothers, Uncut Gems tells the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a high-end jewelry dealer and a compulsive gambler that is always looking for the next big score while those that he owes money to are constantly looking for him.  Howard's life is lived in extremes, with highs like showing off his best jewels to NBA star Kevin Garnett, partying with The Weeknd, and hitting on five-figure bets, but also lows like getting locked in his trunk naked and his kid discovering he is cheating on his mom.  Everything that happens to Howard is self-inflicted, which makes the highs that much more thrilling and the lows that much more tragic.

There are so many things I love about this movie.  First, the story.  This is my first experience with the Safdie brothers, but I heard universal praise about Good Time a couple years ago.  They are able to design this story in a way that slowly but surely sucks you in until you can't look away.  Second, Adam Sandler.  This is by far the best I have ever seen him.  He is perfect at portraying Howard's charm and demons all at the same time.  He is irresistible throughout the film.  The supporting performances around Sandler compliment extremely well.  Kevin Garnett shows that he has some acting chops, even if he is just playing himself.  LaKeith Stanfield is awesome in everything.  The two women in Howard's life, his wife (Idina Menzel) and his girlfriend (Julia Fox), are also outstanding.  It is refreshing to see Menzel in something dark and hard like this.  She shows that she is a very talented actress and so much more than a Disney princess.  Fox also gives a stellar performance in her first feature film.  I have a feeling we will be hearing much more from her in the next decade.

This is one of those films I haven't been able to stop thinking about since I watched it.  It is one I won't be able to shake for awhile.  It is like the horrific sports injury that makes you cringe but you also can't look away.  There are so many things I can say about this movie, but it is just a film you have to experience.  So the only other thing I will say is GO SEE IT!!!

4 stars

Richard Jewell (2019) Review

Directed by
Clint Eastwood

Although I have some serious issues with how this story is told and portrayed, it is undeniably an amazing portrait of a complicated true story that needed to be told.

Richard Jewell is the latest film from the neverending career of Clint Eastwood, who seems to secretly put out a new film or two each year despite the fact he is fast approaching his 90th birthday.  Over the last 15 years or so, his career has leaned more towards spotlighting true stories that need to be told (Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Invictus, J. Edgar, American Sniper, Sully, The 15:17 to Paris).  You can add this film to that list as it tells the story of an average man that wants to be a police officer a little too much.  Along the way, he runs security at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and discovers the bomb that goes off in Centennial Park, saving many people from injury and death.  However, he soon finds himself in the cross hairs of the investigation as it is suspected he planted the bomb so he could be the hero.

Richard Jewell is portrayed by Paul Walter Hauser, who is becoming more and more of a known commodity in Hollywood after memorable roles in critically-acclaimed films the last few years (I, Tonya, BlacKkKlansman).  After looking at side-by-side photographs of the two, it is obvious he is cast because of his uncanny resemblance to the real Jewell, however he earns it beyond the lookalike appeal.  His portrayal of the soft-spoken, quirky, awkward security guard is the heart and soul of the film.  The best scenes in the movie are the interactions Jewell has with his lawyer Watson Bryant, portrayed by Sam Rockwell who has been at the heart of awards season the last two years.  He might be better in Richard Jewell than he was in his Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  He is definitely better than he was in his head-scratching nomination last year for Vice.  However, the performance getting all the buzz is Kathy Bates as Richard's mother Bobi.  Bates always is strong in everything she does, and this is no different.  These three spend much of the film fighting against what feels like insurmountable accusations in a way that is subtle and authentic.

There is only one villain in this story: the terrorist who actually planted the bomb in Centennial Park that killed two and injured over 100.  However, where my problems start with this film is how hard the filmmakers work to vilify others involved in the story.  There is FBI agent Tom Shaw, portrayed by Jon Hamm.  Agent Shaw was on site when the bomb was discovered and exploded and then heads up the investigation.  He is portrayed as someone whose guilt over allowing this event to happen has forced him to lash out and attack the one person who did their job in Richard Jewell; falsely accusing him with almost no evidence and destroying his life in an attempt to replace Jewell as the hero.  Then there is the most problematic story arc of the film.  Meet Kathy Scruggs (portrayed by Olivia Wilde): a newspaper reporter that is the most morally bankrupt person you can think of.  We first meet her cussing out the newsroom for being jealous of her superior skills at sniffing out a story.  When she is in the park during the bombing, she shows no concern for the safety of anyone, but instead dreams of how great of a story she can write when the bomber is discovered.  She will do anything for a story, and I mean anything.  She feels like an over-exaggerated caricature of a sleazy, ambulance-chasing reporter.  It is so unbelievable that when they try to redeem her character by the end of the film, it feels forced and disingenuous, while also being incomplete and unfinished.  These are our bad guys.  As Sam Rockwell's character states, Richard Jewell is being attacked by the two most powerful entities in our country: the U.S. government and the media.  The filmmakers make sure we know who we should hate.

What made a film like Bombshell so effective is the fact that is was able to tell a story intertwined with politics without making about politics.  My primary problem with Richard Jewell is they take a story that has nothing to do with politics and let an obvious political bias shine through.  Law enforcement cares more about the narrative than being right.  The media is the enemy of the American people, willing to crucify anyone for anything, whether it is based on fact or not.  The right-wing conservative bias of the filmmakers is so evident that it distracts from the telling of a truly powerful and important story.  I felt the same way about BlacKkKlansman last year which was guilty of the same thing but on the other side of the political spectrum.  Tell the story and let us think.  Don't tell us what to think.

Just like BlacKkKlansman last year, I feel the positives of the compelling story outweigh the negatives of the storytelling.  This film could have been great, but instead we are left with a great story with amazing performances (including Hamm and Wilde ... their characters may be poorly written, but their performances are still stellar) that could have been so much more if the filmmakers allowed the story to speak for itself.  I was hoping Clint had one more great film in him.  I was hoping Richard Jewell would be it.  It is looking more like one of the greatest filmmakers of the last 50 years may be out of masterpieces.

3 stars

Watch the trailer here: