FlixChatter Review – UNCUT GEMS (2019)

Having seen the brothers Josh and Ben Safdie‘s 2017 crime thriller Good Time, I was more than excited to see their next feature film, Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler, with Martin Scorsese serving as an executive producer. Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, who is a gambling addict and narcissist in New York City’s Diamond District. The idea for the film was inspired by Safdie brothers’ own father and his time working in the same Manhattan Diamond District and the script was co-written by the brothers and their friend Ronald Bronstein. Ratner, a Jewish jewelry shop owner and profiteer, is already over his head taking out loans to feed his gambling habits and constantly dealing with loan sharks who chasing after him.

The film starts with Ethiopian miners finding a fantastic gem, an uncut opal that has numerous sparking and shining properties. This uncut gem finds its way to Howard Ratner, just as he is opening his shop for NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, who is in the middle of a title run with the Boston Celtics. Garnett and his posse come in to shop for some unique jewelry pieces and Ratner offers them various different things such as diamond watches and a diamond-covered animal creature with creepily moving eyes. Garnett doesn’t seem interested and is ready to leave, so while Howard’s assistant Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) distracts Garnett with some small talk, Ratner and his assistant/girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) open up a freshly delivered package containing the shiny uncut opal.

Not having the ability to contain himself, Ratner shows Garnett the opal and Garnett instantly wants to buy it. Refusing to sell it, Ratner makes a deal with Garnett to let him hold onto it for good luck at his game that night, putting up his Celtics championship diamond ring as collateral. While being pursued by his own brother-in-law loan shark Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his goons, Ratner immediately runs off to a pawn shop to pawn Garnett’s ring in exchange for some quick cash he can gamble with. More specifically, Ratner plans to bet it all on Garnet having a personal best night at the basketball game he is playing in that night, scoring a personal best and helping the Celtics win the game.

In his personal life, Howard is dealing with his estranged wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel), who intends to divorce him after Passover (but doesn’t want to confront him in front of their kids) and his assistant/girlfriend/mistress Julia. Howard gets jealous when he finds Julia at a concert with The Weekend (plays himself) making out in the bathroom. Howard kicks Julia out of the apartment he is renting for her, without his wife’s knowledge. Things get worse for Howard when Demany tells him that even though Garnett won his game the previous night and Howard made some money, Garnett now wants to keep the opal for a considerable time longer. This is a problem for Howard as he intends to sell the opal at a high-end auction that is mere days away.

Howard gets jumped at his daughter’s school play by Arno and his bodyguards Phil (Keith Williams Richards) and Nico (Tommy Kominik), who strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his own car, forcing him to call Dinah to unlock it for him. Prior to locking Howard in the car trunk, Arno tells Howard that he placed a stop on the bet that Howard had made on Garnett’s game, as the bet was made with money owed to him. Garnett contacts Howard prior to the auction and offers him $175,000 to purchase the opal but Howard refuses, thinking that it would make more money at the auction. Howard convinces his father-in-law Gooey (Judd Hirsch) to bid against Garnett at the auction, but Garnett senses something is off and bows out before the opal reaching Howard’s minimum price of $200,000, forcing Gooey to purchase it with Howards own money. Arno, Phil and Nico confront Howard in front of the auction and end up punching him in the nose as Howard falls into the nearby fountain in front of the building.

Kevin Garnett, still wanting the opal, reaches out to Howard to try one more time to purchase the opal for $175,000, and this time Howard agrees. But instead of paying back Arno, Phil and Nico the money he owes them, Howard tells his recently reconciled with assistant/girlfriend Julia to take the money and place a bet on Garnett’s basketball game at a nearby casino. Howard locks Arno, Phil and Nico in his jewelry shop’s security area between doors and watches Garnett’s basketball game from inside his shop.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) Howard wins big (over one million dollars) and when he releases Arno, Phil and Nico from in-between the doors to his jewelry shop, Phil shoots Howard in the head at point-blank range, also shoots and kills Arno, and Phil and Nico rob Howard’s shop. The camera zooms inside Howard’s bullet hole.

Adam Sandler gave a tour-de-force performance. Not only does he deliver on of his best dramatic performances ever, Sandler also delivers a one of a kind equally impressive comedic performance that makes his audience squirm and laugh nervously in their seats, not knowing when a punch would be thrown his away making the situation time times more uncomfortable. Additionally, Kevin Garnett is realistic and believable, playing the NBA Basketball Champion, looking for a lucky gem that would help him win his next championship. The interaction between Sandler and Garnet is at times scripted but often improvised. Sander finds a way to make the crazy compulsive gambler and jewelry salesman character relatable and somewhat compassionate but also someone Garnett could go toe-to-toe with and still be fearful of him.

The other supporting cast Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel all pull their weight in their respective scenes, but it is newcomer Julia Fox who stands out as Howard’s assistant and on-and-off again girlfriend. Fox, who is making her first feature film appearance in Uncut Gems, is a standout in the film, making a perfect partner for Howard and Julia’s toxic and yet very, very hyper-romantic relationship (at least according to co-director, co-writer Josh Safdie). I can see both Sandler and Fox being recognized for the originality as well as their codependency in making their onscreen relationship work.

Uncut Gems is one of best films I’ve seen this year, in what has been an overall fantastic year for cinema and original storytelling. This Safdie Brothers crime thriller is definitely in my top-ten list and I can see it winning multiple awards in the next month or two (Sandler is already getting heavy Oscar buzz).

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen UNCUT GEMS? Well, what did you think? 

JUNE Viewing Recap: INDIAN SUMMERS, Netflix’s Murder Mystery, Unlocked, etc.

I can’t believe it’s July already… I feel like once July 4th is behind us, we’re already more than halfway done with Summer 😦 Well, I actually didn’t really do much movie/tv watching around the Fourth weekend as I prefer to make the most of Minnesota Summer outside.

I did watch quite a few things in June, some of which I haven’t reviewed nor even mentioned on the blog. But for those looking for new releases reviews, here’s a handy list:

Aladdin | Godzilla: King of Monsters | Rocketman | Dark Phoenix | Always Be My Maybe | Late Night | Dead Don’t Die | Toy Story 4 | Spiderman: Far From Home | Midsommar | Yesterday

Oh I also saw MIB: International which I can’t say was a good movie (read: it was awful!). Review coming sometime next week.


Let me start with the show I’ve been bingeing. Thanks to my friend Vony B who has a similar taste as mine in regards to British shows [and hunks 😉 ], she recommended me INDIAN SUMMERS on Amazon Prime.

Period drama set in 1932 during the final years of British colonial rule in India.

I finished Season 1 in about a week, but took my time with the 2nd season as I kind of don’t want this series to end (there are only 2 seasons). I LOVE it, it’s kind of like Downton Abbey but with even more intrigue and higher stakes, and also feature a diverse cast. The show centers in Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, during the Summer, hence the name. The British colonialism story has been told before but what I love about this one is how the story is told by both sides, the British and the Indians. The characters from each group are both multi-dimensional… not every British are evil and all Indians are good or vice versa, lots of gray areas that make the show so compelling and intriguing. Kudos to show creator Paul Rutman for making such an addictive show and each episode always ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger!

Nikesh Patel & Jemima West

My initial draw to the show is Julie Walters who plays against type as the ruthless and conniving Simla club owner. But soon I was rooting for Nikesh Patel’s Aafrin, the Indian man in a British suit who’s rising through the ranks in the Indian Civil Service. What period drama without romance? The secret ‘forbidden’ romance between Aafrin and Alice (Jemima West) is downright juicy! I’m only about 3 episodes in on season 2 but I’m savoring every moment. Even though I’m not done with the entire series yet, based on what I’ve seen so far I’m giving it a high rating.


New to VOD

Isn’t It Romantic

So my friend Holly has reviewed the movie here, and I agree with her that it’s a lot of fun! I’m not the biggest fan of rom-coms (unless it’s written by Nora Ephron or Richard Curtis) and I love that this movie pokes fun at the genre while paying homage to it at the same time. “I had you at hello-copter” had me in stitches! I adore Rebel Wilson and she’s definitely the reason to see this.


Netflix Shows:

Murder Mystery

Ok so when Netflix bragged that over 30million people saw this movie in its opening weekend, I was curious what the fuss is about. Well Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston are made for each other in this lush but vapid vacation comedy that’s practically devoid of suspense. Ok I gotta to admit the gorgeous locations are pure escapism, heck I’d love to be invited aboard a yacht by a perfectly-tanned tycoon who looked like Luke Evans. I told my hubby that if that’d ever happen to us, I’m definitely saying yes, ha! Of course I’d be hit by lightning long before that’d ever occur in my lifetime. It’s entertaining in parts, but I likened it to eating McDonalds… yes you enjoyed it but once you finished eating, you wished you’d eaten something far more nutritious.

Unlocked

I had never even heard about this movie before I saw its image suddenly flashed on Netflix. This is the fourth action movie of Noomi Rapace on Netflix I saw in the past couple of years, the previous three were What Happened To Monday, Bright and Close. Boy, the petite Swedish actress is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Here she plays a CIA interrogator who’s lured into a ruse that puts London at risk of a biological attack. It started out really intriguing but as soon as Orlando Bloom showed up, it became an old school spy flick where nothing is what it seems. It’s not as smart as you think however, which is disappointing given its gripping first act. The cast is filled with talented actors, Michael Douglas, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, but most of them are pretty wasted in bit parts. Rapace’s is interesting to watch however despite her stoic expression and no-nonsense demeanor. I’d say it’s still worth a look if you’re a fan of spy thrillers, and at 1hr 38 minutes, it’s pretty darn efficient.

The Chef Show

I think this show’s got more unwanted PR from Gwyneth Paltrow when she apparently didn’t remember she was in the first Spider-Man movie that Jon Favreau had to remind her. It’s too bad as it’s a really good show… just make sure you don’t watch it hungry.

Favreau was chef Roy Choi’s apprentice when he did the indie movie Chef (which I highly recommend). In the first two episodes, they made even the simplest food like grilled cheese so mouth watering. I don’t even like grilled cheese that much and I was salivating! Nice that Favreu has plenty of cool friends to stop by his show. In an Atlanta restaurant, a few Avengers (and its honcho), Robert Downey Jr.Tom Holland and Kevin Feige joined them for lunch.

I love the casual vibe of the show and the camaraderie of the chefs. Favreau and Choi seemed to genuinely each other’s company, and obviously enjoy what they’re doing that their joy is infectious. Can’t wait to watch the rest of the season!


My fave JUNE movie has got to be Always Be My Maybe

…with Spider-Man: Far From Home closely behind.


So what’s the highlight of your JUNE viewing?

TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review

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Today’s the day! The fifth annual Twin Cities Film Fest kicked off with the Minnesota premiere of Jason Reitman’s latest drama, Men, Women & Children. As he always does year after year, TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia introduced the film and asked the packed audience to give him a five to commemorate our fifth year bringing the film fest to cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike in the Twin Cities and beyond!

Jatin also pointed out the social cause that our film fest bring to the community since year one, when the social theme of the year was education, hence Waiting for Superman was the opening night film back in 2010. We’ve since introduced a CHANGEMAKER series, with the tagline ‘Watch. Learn. Act.’ Check out this FREE event on Friday, Oct 24 at 6:30 event, presenting “Breaking Free from the Life” documentary, followed by Survivor Panel event at Showplace ICON Theatre Lobby.

OldFashioned2015Early in the evening, just before the first screening of the year, I had the privilege of chatting with Rik Swartzwelder, the writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, which will have two showings at TCFF! I’m glad we’re showing a film like this, a classic romance where two people attempt the impossible … an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America. Now that is rare indeed in today’s culture. I really enjoyed our conversation, so stay tuned for the full interview transcript later this week!

Here are some pics from tonight’s festivities:

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And lookie here… the lovely Haley Lu Richardson, who’s got not one but TWO films screening at TCFF, is in town and having a blast! Looking forward to chattin’ with her tomorrow morning 😀


Can’t help joining on the fun, too w/ my pal Julie 😀

 


Now on to the first TCFF review of the year…

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Men, Women and Children (2014)

Jason Reitman has a knack for portraying interesting [read: quirky] relationships in his films. This is his sixth feature film and once again he explores relationships and its predicaments. This time it’s set in the age of the internet, as Emma Thompson narrates throughout the film whilst we’re shown views of earth from space. The film is a blatant commentary of how we are inevitably affected by the enormous social change that comes through digital devices such as our phones, tablets, laptops, etc. that many of us can’t live without. Nobody is immune, as the title of the film says, the internet affects every man, woman and child [except perhaps the Amish people] and alters how we deal/view relationships with each other.

It’s a topic that’s as relevant and timely as ever, and the concept itself is appealing because most of us today can relate to this. Alas, I don’t think the execution quite hit the mark here. The performances are good but somehow the story took too long to built, and in the end it just wasn’t as engaging as I’d have liked it to be. Right away the theme of the film reminds me of Disconnect which also deals with how ‘disconnected’ we have become in an age where everything is readily available to us at the touch of a button. That film isn’t perfect either but I think it did a better job in telling the story and made us care for the characters.

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Except for a few, most of the characters don’t feel real to me, they’re more caricatures painted with such broad strokes of opposite extremes. One set of parent is waaay too strict about protecting their kids from the danger of the internet, and the other are waaaay too loose that they lose sight of even the most basic societal boundaries are in regards to what/how much one should share online and such. A lot of these characters are so predictable, you expect them to behave in a certain way and voila, they do exactly that. Most of the young actors playing the teens seem so awkward here, and their story lines are too heavy-handed but in the end they’re not fully-realized either.

Adam Sandler gives a restrained performance as one half of a couple in a troubled marriage, with Rosemarie DeWitt playing his bored housewife. Their marriage is as lethargic as the way these interwoven stories are portrayed. Try as I might, the stories just don’t quite captivate me. DeWitt’s scenes with Dennis Haysbert is perhaps one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I’ve seen all year. I know it’s supposed to be awkward given the circumstances, but it’s the way it’s directed that’s problematic, so I don’t blame the actors. It’s too bad as I like DeWitt as an actress and I think Sandler does have dramatic chops when he choose to use it. I’m more impressed by the secondary characters played by Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Dean NorrisJennifer Garner is as dour and stern as I’ve never seen her before, playing an overprotective & controlling mother that undoubtedly produces the opposite effect of what she’s trying to achieve.

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The use of music is a bit odd too, sometimes the songs played are so loud that it felt jarring, and others there’s not a single sound as the camera zooms in on an actor’s face with no word is spoken. The visuals are as somber as the stories, the muted color palette just isn’t aesthetically pleasing here. But the look of the film is the least of the its problems. I just think Reitman, who’s a gifted filmmaker who’s made terrific work such as Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, is trying too hard here in striving to be profound and philosophical. Now, the themes presented here certainly are thought-provoking and the idea that face-to-face human relationships just can’t be replaced by technology isn’t lost on me. I just wish the film were more engaging as I found myself looking at my watch a few times, even as the last third did improve a bit in terms of pacing. Perhaps a more straight-forward approach and injecting a bit more humor into this might’ve made the film more palatable and entertaining. It’s not a terrible film per se, but I expected a lot better from Reitman.

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Well that’s it for Day 1 folks, stay tuned for more TCFF coverage in the coming days!