Film Brief: Uncut Gems

An initial note: all the press accounts of Uncut Gems played up the idea of this as the first serious role for Adam Sandler, which is utter nonsense. Sure he’s known for his goofball roles, but: Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me, and Men, Women & Children.

It’s such a sad state when even the mainstream (TV) press from which so many people get their information is so wrong so much of the time — at least on stuff like this. The whole Oscars So White balderdash they play up too. 12 Years a Slave, anyone?

Onto the movie…

Uncut Gems features a good pace, with a fringe on mania. The Safdie brothers have an idea. Style with no substance carried Good Time to something much less than the title promised; style and a whirlwind, stream-of-consciousness storyride propelled this much-improved follow up. 7/10

Comparison Notes: Aronofsky films (Mother!, e.g.); Hustlers, Joker

Fresh & Fit, Queen & Slim

There’s a lot to like in Queen & Slim. The base story is not particularly original, but the film has a fresh feel and authenticity to the relationship of our couple on the run. The romantic development is nicely handled, and it’s got a good vibe.

Never did the film slip into corniness, but neither was it ever quite edge-of-your-seat, except during that first pullover scene. You’re invested into these two, but the whole journey isn’t as harrowing as it ought to be. The worst part was that the theory of the rope is played a little two often, and the conclusion is trite. There’s also a sense I had in a couple moments that the movie was pandering to a black audience. Michelle Goldberg, an opinion columnist, not a film critic, of the Times wrote:

I left a recent matinee of “Queen & Slim,” the mesmerizing new outlaw romance directed by Melina Matsoukas, astonished on two levels. The film itself kept me rapt; I cried through the end and left the theater with the dazed, disoriented feeling you get when a movie makes you momentarily forget everything else in your life. But as amazed as I was by the experience of watching the film, I was equally amazed that it got made at all.

Talk about overstating it. I wonder what one of the better Lars von Trier films would do to her. It’s almost like this was only the eleventh or twelfth movie she’s ever seen. That hackneyed ending should not make anyone who reads my blog cry.

(Minor) SPOILER ALERT: Side note: where did this title come from? Neither character is ever referred to as Queen or Slim in the entire picture. And I get the Queen thing, but Daniel Kaluuya isn’t particularly slim. He’s not overweight or anything, but neither is he a string bean. I really like the title, but can you throw me a bone sometime during the movie?

END (Minor) SPOILER

I was at a 7 for most of the film, rising to an 8 at times, but the conclusion was a letdown. A lot of lovely elements, including the settings and the music. A dance-club scene takes you under its beat. By the end the swampy story elements add up to a knock-down. 6/10

Comparison Notes: Thelma & Louise, Wild at Heart, Breaking the Waves

Is Honey Boy bland or bitter?

There’s a reason the marketing for Honey Boy emphasizes the pie in the face and the big airplane crash scenes, making it seem like some quirky piece-study. I imagine test-marketing what this film is really about, an intimate study of a father and son in a less than ideal relationship where very little happens and the story is thin as a wisp, didn’t fare so well.

The irony here is that reading about Shia LaBeouf’s early life proves a much more fascinating, or at least a significantly more compelling story than the snooze-fest put on screen. Not quite sure why he had to downplay much more interesting events of his life that he’s already admitted to. Not like he’s hiding anything here.

Glenn Kenny of The Times:

One could watch “Honey Boy” musing that it must be nice to have someone finance a movie of your 12-step qualification. That assessment is actually too generous.

For such a short film (95 min), Honey Boy was draggy. Not terribly so, but there’s little story here. Another breaking of the Tomatometer. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Maybe two opposites: Fences and The Firm. The Firm is a movie, also with great acting, in which stuff actually happens. A stretchy comparison note, I know. Also: Mid 90sBlue Valentine, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Boyhood

Film Brief: The Lighthouse

Underwhelming is the operative word here. Overrated claptrap pops up too. Nowhere in my imagination would I think The Lighthouse would make Robert Eggers’ previous effort The Witch look good by comparison, but it does.

As expected, there’s plenty of atmosphere, and, aye sir — the square frame is fittin’. But I’ve said it a million times — atmospherics aren’t everything. You need a good story. Eggers, once again, is well short of the mark and lacks a clear vision. The conclusion — no spoilers needed here — is downright lame. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Dead Man, Mad Men, Antichrist. The concluding scenes of The Lighthouse brought to mind Antichrist. And it makes you realize what a genius Lars von Trier is. Eggers, by comparison, is a poser, a wannabe hack, one attempting to appear as some great art director, but hollow at the core. Because story is always the core.

Parasite wants to snuggle up with you


Tragedy: when a film so precise and careful in so many ways can become utterly riddled with logic holes. Parasite glows brightly with many moments of sheer brilliance, but much is swept away in the impending deluge. From early on, a suspension of disbelief is required — though with the film speeding along as it does, it’s easy enough to let go those hang-ups because you’re too busy holding on to the ride. Still, the gaps stack up and prevent Parasite from being any sort of ‘masterpiece’ as hailed by many critics (The Wall Street Journal, e.g., and it won the Cannes top prize).

One big problem is believing that this otherwise destitute family — each member — has the whole time been a pack of highly-skilled tradespeople who are simultaneously masterfully adept con-artists. We just didn’t know it, and neither did they. Another is that issue of basic human maintenance, of how to get clean when you cannot bathe — I lived that. Parasite makes it a theme, but then slaps the idea in the face. There are plenty of other holes of equal magnitude, and an array of smaller ones, that really drag the movie down.

The hilarious Snapple commercial — “other than that, pretty fun trip” — sums up Parasite. It’s fun and engrossing. But I wish the rabbit hole it literally starts going down had a more satisfying payoff. 7/10

Comparison Notes: Ex Machina, Catch Me If You Can, Metro Manila, La Cérémonie, The Housemaid, Roma, Purple Noon, Us, House of Sand and Fog

Pain and Glory, or at least one of those

I don’t generally like movies where characters speak extensively to convey remembrances or current thoughts.  I like it when the movie does the talking, not the characters. Put another way: I like movies in which stuff happens. Look no further than Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In for a movie where stuff happens. And look at an adjacent finger on his hand to find Pain and Glory for a movie in which little happens. It’s not all narrative dialogue, but there’s a lot.

I came to watch a movie, not listen to an audiobook. Or, as it were with subtitles throughout, read a book. And a dull one at that.

The Skin I Live In is one of the most extraordinary picture’s I’ve ever seen.  It’s like a completely different filmmaker is at work here. Maybe, in an ironic twist of truth, Pain and Glory after all is an autobiographical account about a filmmaker, Almodóvar himself, who can no longer make movies. Unfortunately for his audience here, that reality bleeds too convincingly across the screen.

Pain and Glory probes the extents of neither. I liked the way it began and ran for maybe the first half, and there was something compelling about Antonio Banderas’ performance.  There was a lot to like about this movie, especially in the flashbacks. But the story — especially in the latter part of the film.  Ugh.

5/10

Comparison Notes: Cinema Paradiso, A Ghost Story, To The Wonder, Wild Tales, Neighboring Sounds

Who’s the Joker now?

Joker has evoked tons of media coverage and criticism, those flames fanned when Joaquin Phoenix stated that a movie is not responsible for teaching right and wrong. He’s right. A Times writer felt he needed to explain how the movie accidentally makes a big statement about being a white anti-hero vs. a black one. There’s truth in what he’s saying, but so what — you could write that about any movie with a white male lead.

So yes, it’s annoying that critics have to complain about the perceived social ills of Joker. Because it’s a good movie. And, in fact, something that it would seem only I am saying is the societal impact is exactly the opposite of its criticism. Joker does a great service by showing what a plain old revolver can inflict on the flesh and bone of a human being.  All the do-gooders out there should be more concerned about a fake war movie that shows a bazooka hitting a vehicle A-Team style, causing it to flip over but then everyone exits unscathed. Or lame superhero/Fast & Furious movies in which no one ever gets hurt.

JOKER PROVIDES A GREAT SERVICE TO SOCIETY

Joker contains something much better than all the societal messages the critics wish it did: grand cinematic vision. The story is not the strongest I’ve ever seen by a long shot, so I did not love the movie. But I dug it. It’s entertaining. And just like a Lynch film, or any film, it needs to be judged by what it is, not what it is not.

And if you’re concerned about gun violence, there’s a simple solution: make guns a lot harder to obtain.

* * *

Two big positives: Joker features a great look and setting, perhaps my favorite “Gotham City” yet.  And, best of all, a perfectly-cast Joaquin Phoenix. He delivers a spirited performance in a role he was meant to play. Joaquin Phoenix is, like Ryan Gosling, an actor who’s always fascinating to watch. There’s something always under the surface that you just can’t quite figure. A character that moves in unexpected and explosive ways. And it’s nice to see him getting paid… a stalwart indie/small film actor for years and years who finally got to see a payday.

You wouldn’t guess this is Todd Phillips, the same director as Due Date and The Hangover franchise. I don’t think the direction is utter genius, but’s it’s good and a league above The Hangover. There’s a sense throughout that we’re doing something different here. This is not just another comic book movie. Hardly.

About on par with last year’s Upgrade and a peg or two below Midsommar; on the low end of 8/10

Comparison Notes: Taxi Driver, all Batman movies, Streets of Fire, Natural Born Killers, Gorky Park, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master (which I definitely need to revisit at some point – every time I think of it my opinion rises.)