STAR TREK: PICARD – STARDUST CITY RAG

by Alan Yudman

Last week I mildly complained about the formulaic nature of episodes 2, 3 and 4 of STAR TREK: PICARD. Well, the whingeing is over. STARDUST CITY RAG broke the mold in several ways.

There was a brief flashback to give us a little of Seven of Nine’s recent backstory. It involves Icheb from STAR TREK: VOYAGER and a group of, I suppose you could call them pirates led by a woman named Bjayzl. They find released Borg and harvest their technology. Similar to what the Romulans are doing on the Artifact, but much more cruelly. And we don’t see any sign of Soji, Narek and Narek’s menacing sister. Those are all pluses until they move that story forward in a more dramatic fashion.

I enjoyed this episode and then had a slightly disturbing thought. Did I like it because there is less Picard in PICARD? The story lines focus on Seven, Raffi, Agnes and Maddox. Picard seems to be there just to keep the larger mission in our minds. But Jean-Luc is largely a supporting player in this episode. Did that make it better? Maybe. I was so excited to see Patrick Stewart live in this role again. I tried to temper expectations knowing that an actor nearly 80-years-old could not do the same things he did on THE NEXT GENERATION. But the expectations were sneaking in the more I watched. Now I am approaching disappointment that the creators have dialed back his Picard-ness to a level that he seems almost like a doddering old man.

Everyone is on this mission for their own reasons and we are discovering more and more about those reasons. Raffi it seems has a grandson. Agnes and Maddox were more than work colleagues. Seven is out to avenge Icheb. Those are all interesting stories that play out in interesting ways. But they don’t involve Picard (other than doing a hilarious French accent to pass himself off as some kind of smuggler.. wait… he’s French.. shouldn’t his French accent be better?).

I’m still all-in. But I am waiting for a really good episode that makes me care more about Picard as much as I’ve begun to care about the other characters.

SEBERG

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by Alan Yudman

In the 1960’s the FBI engaged in a domestic counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO. The idea was to discredit American political organizations J. Edgar Hoover believed were dangerous to the country. Most were minorities like the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Communist Party or ant-Vietnam protesters.

Actress Jean Seberg became a target and eventually a victim of a campaign of gossip and lies because of her connections to the Black Panthers… a campaign that eventually led to her apparent suicide. Her journey from activism to madness is the story behind the movie SEBERG.

Seberg was a star of the French New Wave beginning with Jean-Luc Goddard’s BREATHLESS. She went on to star in movies like SAINT JOAN, PAINT YOUR WAGON and AIRPORT. But amid her success she began donating money to the Panthers and to a community organization headed by activist Hakim Jamal.

The movie picks up with Seberg (Kristen Stewart) returning to Hollywood to audition for PAINT YOUR WAGON. On the plane she meets Jamal who is escorting Betty Shabazz back to the United States. On the tarmac at LAX she is photographed next to Jamal giving the Black Power salute. A photo that would change her life.

It put her in the FBI’s crosshairs, a place from which she would never really escape. At the start we see her as a caring if somewhat naïve celebrity who is hell bent on challenging authority and helping those she perceives are targeted by the U.S. Government. The FBI begins a campaign of surveillance and eventually counterintelligence that sends her spiraling into paranoia, depression and madness. Seberg has an affair with Jamal, a fact the FBI spreads to the gossip columnists. The whole mess is supervised by an agent named Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell). At the beginning he believes in the cause but has a crisis of conscience as he realizes the dark depths of the FBI’S program.

Stewart is a fine actress, but she frequently comes across as cold and distant. That makes Seberg’s descent into madness feel performative rather than truly emotional. Vince Vaughn plays a true asshole of an FBI agent. He concocts lies about Seberg that are leaked to reporters. There is one scene at a dinner party where he is angry and abusive to his family. I’m not sure why we needed to see that. It was already clear he was a jerk. Other than Seberg, no character has any depth. They are merely archetypes of an activist, a racist FBI agent, an emotionally closed off French husband. No one has earned any of their emotions.

Anthony Mackie and Zazie Beets as Hakim and Dorothy Jamal are the only two who seem to do more with their characters than what is written on the page by screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Benedict Andrews direction is fine, but everything in the movie just lies there.

The only thing the movie successfully portrays is the evil of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (read more about it here). That’s the sum total of its emotional depth, which is kind of sad considering the true tragic story of SEBERG.

STAR TREK: PICARD – ABSOLUTE CANDOR

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by Alan Yudman

Time for some ABSOLUTE CANDOR about STAR TREK: PICARD.

I am enjoying the show and cannot wait for the notification that the new episode is available to watch. But some of the story telling devices are getting a bit tired.

Starting every episode with a “14 years ago” flashback that ends with the synth attack on Mars feels like someone plugging elements into an outline rather than natural storytelling. Like the producers have a formula and every script must fit it. This week’s plug and play scenario finds Picard on the planet Vashti where Romulan refugees have settled. All is well as he visits the Warrior Nuns and the young boy they are caring for when all of sudden he hears about the Mars attack and leaves… never to return for 14 years.

Checking in every week at the Borg cube is relatively pointless unless something actually happens. It is a slow drip as Narek slowly, excruciatingly slowly, blows apart the history she believes she knows. Narek’s sister shows up to be all menacing and alluring but adds nothing to what we already know. She is pressuring him for results. He is steadfast in his belief his is the right tack to take. She wants to make sure he hasn’t lost his focus so she chokes him until he calls Soji “the Destroyer”. Ok, we get it. Please, can we have a new character beat for Narissa? Please?

Despite that, there is a lot of good stuff in this episode. The banter on the ship between Rios and Jurati about the boredom of space travel is clever. The introduction of Elnor as a sort of Romulan Ninja was a great addition to our ragtag bunch. The hint that this may all be a futile quest gives it a La Manchian air that is interesting. And the dogfight between the Romulan Bird of Prey (yes, it’s not just a Klingon thing) and Rios’s ship was very cool… especially when a Ranger comes to the rescue and we get a classic re-introduction to Seven of Nine.

I want to see more of the Picard we see in this episode. He is daring and competent. He doesn’t seem as enfeebled as he sometimes feels. The ABSOLUTE CANDOR in the title is a reference to how the Warrior Nuns live their lives. I will try to live up to their example in my reviews (without the messy beheadings).

OSCAR 2020 RECAP

by Alan Yudman

It’s recap time and like the audience demanded at the end of the show, I, like PARASITE, will not be played off or have the lights turned out on me!

There wasn’t much in the way of surprises, except for the domination of PARASITE in the major categories and Eminem performing “Lose Yourself” to a raucous welcome.

I’ll leave the critique of the show to others. But a couple of observations before the recap. Rene Zellwegger’s speech was a rambling, off the rails mess. That’s where you bring in the music. And Joaquin Phoenix should have lead with a quote from his brother River’s lyrics.

Strap in… here we go.

BEST ACTOR

Choice: Joaquin Phoenix √

Prediction: Same

Every time I think about JOKER I like it less. But without Phoenix it would have been truly unwatchable. The most predictable win except for….

BEST ACTRESS

Choice: Saorise Ronan

Prediction: Rene Zellwegger

Zellwegger’s streak continued, but you’d think she would have had the acceptance speech thing down by now.

At some point Saorise Ronan will win an Oscar. She’s young and marvelously talented.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Choice: Joe Pesci

Prediction: Brad Pitt

Yeah, Pitt deserved it. Tough category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Choice: Laura Dern

Prediction: Laura Dern

Yeah, yeah.. Jennifer Lopez was done wrong by not being nominated at all. But Dern gave 2 standout performances in LITTLE WOMEN and MARRIAGE STORY. She should win for both.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Choice: Thomas Newman

Prediction: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Guðnadóttir deserved this. I’d forgotten she also scored the best TV show of 2019… HBO’s CHERNOBYL

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I was happy/shocked. I figured old Hollywood would tip its cap to Tarantino. But they gave the Oscar to the screenplay that deserved it. The first domino in the domination of PARASITE.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Choice: LITTLE WOMEN

Prediction: LITTLE WOMEN

I read the comments of an anonymous voter in the Hollywood Reporter before the ceremony who said he couldn’t keep track of the jumps back and forth in time. Ridiculous. Absurd. I still believe LITTLE WOMEN should have won. But, I can’t dismiss the selection of JOJO RABBIT. This would have been the biggest surprise if not for PARASITE.

BEST DIRECTOR

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: 1917

Maybe the guild awards are no longer an accurate predictor of Oscar success. The Directors and Producers gave their awards to 1917. The Academy decided Bong Joon Ho’s genre breaking film was more deserving. Who am I to argue?

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Choice: 1917

Prediction: 1917

Roger Deakins is a god. His god-hood continues unchallenged.

BEST PICTURE

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: 1917

I actually threw my hands up in the air and screamed “YES!”, then did a fist pump. I was more excited than Bong. Nah, probably not. The choice of this remarkable movie does not forgive last year’s choice of GREEN BOOK, but I’m on the road to forgiveness.

Maybe the changes the Academy has made over the past few years are finally bearing fruit. A Korean film with subtitles won the big awards, the first non-English language film ever to win Best Picture. Next challenge is recognizing the acting categories need to be less white. Progress can be slow and I’m willing to wait and see.

STAR TREK: PICARD – THE END IS THE BEGINNING

by Alan Yudman

Slow. Very slow. Like impulse versus warp power. So far STAR TREK: PICARD should be renamed STAR TREK: EXPOSITION. Three episodes in and we are still unfolding the back story. Please, let there be some action soon. I have hope that things will move quicker now that our group of renegades have left earth.

Here Picard finds the ship he will use to hunt down Dahj’s sister and Bruce Maddox. We also discover more about that sister’s work on The Artifact. Apparently the whole operation is being run by Hugh, the former Borg from THE NEXT GENERATION. Picard’s history with Raffi is also peeled back a bit. They worked on the mission to save Romulan refugees, but she is abandoned by Picard when he leaves Starfleet. She is a very imperfect character with anger and addiction issues. But she has the curiosity of most good Starfleet officers. She also hooks Picard up with Chris Rios, the pilot whose ship they will board for their hunt. He is apparently another former Starfleet officer who has a fractured history with the organization. That seems to be a theme that is developing. In other Star Trek franchises the goodness and general morality of Starfleet and the Federation is almost beyond doubt. But here some grey areas are introduced that makes Starfleet feel more like it is part of a real world, not some bizarre utopia. The action ramps up a bit too. Picard is getting too close to truth for Starfleet Intelligence and a Romulan kill squad shows up at his Chateau. Picard and his two Romulan caretakers fight them off and Jean-Luc is off on his search for answers.

The idea of repairing past wrongs really develops in this episode and as suggested in the title, the end of all that Picard, Raffi, Rios and Dr. Jurati believed in or worked toward is really the beginning of their new mission to find answers that Starfleet and The Federation don’t seem want answered. It’s still not entirely clear how The Artifact and the Romulan exploitation of the Borg plays into the larger mission. But it is sketching out some interesting ideas, but here’s hoping it gets there sooner rather than later.

STAR TREK: PICARD – MAPS AND LEGENDS

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by Alan Yudman

The second episode of STAR TREK: PICARD titled MAPS AND LEGENDS continues Jean-Luc Picard’s struggle with his fractured legacy. Can he live up to it or repair it? That remains to be seen but it isn’t going to be easy.

Now the Maps referred to are more metaphor than real. Picard’s path to finding Dahj’s sister Soji is being laid out. In a remarkably revealing scene, his request for a ship to go find Bruce Maddox is turned down by Starfleet Command. He isn’t just turned down though he is humiliated by an Admiral who calls his request “fucking hubris”. That forces Picard to take another route on his journey. Picard is also dealing with his legend. The Admiral gets into a debate about the reasons behind his divorce from Starfleet. Picard has always believed in being the ultimate human, helping anyone in trouble. But the Admiral reveals a shocking truth, Starfleet is omnipotent. It gets to decide who lives and dies. It is a shocking revelation from a society believed to be a moral guidepost. You can see how it rattles Picard as it goes against his own principles.

The other legends dealt with are those of the Romulans. Their history as operators and schemers is revealed in new disturbing ways. The Tal Shiar seems resurrected. They have agents operating on earth and within Starfleet. But we also learn about an ancient Romulan agency called the Zhat Vash… described as the keeper of secrets only the dead can truly keep. One of those is the Romulan distrust and outright hatred of synthetic life forms. Now their beliefs begin to align with those of Starfleet since the destruction of Mars. Starfleet intelligence seems to be working with Romulans to find Soji. The legend of this secret agency seems real.

The shocking reveal at the end of REMEMBERANCE is explained. The Borg cube we see is really something run by the Romulans called The Artifact. They are exploiting it by mining its technology for profit (where are the Ferengi?). We also learn more about Soji, her work. She helps remove Borg technology from drones who are being “unassimilated”. We get more hints about her humanity and her knowledge as she seems sympathetic to one drone who she speaks to in his native language.

Picard’s map to finding Soji requires him to get in touch with a former Starfleet officer Rafi Musiker who seems none too happy to see the Admiral. That’s where this episode ends.

The knowledge of Star Trek history is satisfying. Picard’s diagnosis of Irumodic Syndrome from “ALL GOOD THINGS” is brought up. He had received a physical by his former doctor on the Stargazer in order to be cleared for space travel. It seems the disease is progressing, and the prognosis is dire. But Picard would rather die among the stars than withering like a vine at his vineyard. We also get a glimpse of the destruction of Mars and how very Data-looking synths made it happen.

STAR TREK: PICARD continues to be a satisfying watch, even when it is just setting up the plot for future episodes. It deals with life, death and finding your true place in the galaxy.

MARRIAGE STORY

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by Alan Yudman

Watching a marriage end is never enjoyable on screen. You wind up rooting for one side or the other, you feel horrible for what is happening to the family. Watching Noah Baumbach’s wonderful MARRIAGE STORY is as close to an enjoyable experience you can have given the circumstances.

Anyone who knows Baumbach’s story knows that this is semi-autobiographical about his marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Adam Driver is Charlie, a somewhat successful and respected theater director. His wife is Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), an actress who believes she has given up stardom in Hollywood to follow Charlie to New York.

That is the major source of tension in the movie. Charlie seems unaware of Nicole’s distress over her situation. She acts in his experimental theater and raises their young son Henry (Azhy Robertson). But as we learn nearly right away, she feels frustrated and unfulfilled. We don’t see the marriage falling apart, except for a few flashbacks. Mostly this is two people who were once in love navigating the stormy waters of divorce. Charlie seems so self-involved he doesn’t seem to notice Nicole doesn’t want this to be friendly. She gets advice on the set of her new TV show that she should hire Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), a kind of benevolent shark. She is therapist for her client and attack dog when it comes to getting the best for Nicole. Charlie is forced to hire a lawyer, first seeing Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), a stereotypical nightmare of a divorce attorney. It’s not what Charlie wants so he goes to see Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) a genial but ultimately ineffective attorney.

All this points to how different Charlie and Nicole see the process. Charlie thinks they will live in New York and Nicole will have none of that because her career is in California. They are on opposite coasts and opposite sides of this battle… both separated by 3,000 miles. It all comes to a head in an amazing scene in Charlie’s L.A. apartment where they have it out for the last time. It is an incredibly raw and emotional scene that surely lead to both Driver and Johansson being nominated in their respective acting categories.

MARRIAGE STORY is great, but it’s not unique or remarkable in any real way. The score by Randy Newman is perfect and sets the right melancholy tone. Baumbach’s script and directing are perfectly solid, but unspectacular. The skill here is knowing you have and incredible cast (3 nominations for Dern, Driver and Johansson) and just setting them up to be the best they can be. I dreaded watching this movie before I saw it. But, I’m glad I did because MARRIAGE STORY is an example of good storytelling and solid if unspectacular filmmaking.

OSCARS 2020 PREDICTIONS

by Alan Yudman

It’s that time of year again. The Academy Awards are a little more than a week away as I write this. The Oscars are a little more than a week away. If you follow this blog, you know I have seen all the Best Picture nominees and all the Best Director nominees. I have some holes in my Acting category knowledge having not seen The Two Popes, Richard Jewell, Harriet or Judy. Like all of twitter that will not stop me from sharing a largely uninformed opinion. Welcome to the USA in 2020.

First let’s talk about the misogyny in the room. There were no women nominated for Best Director. And it’s not like there were no viable films from which to choose. All the directors I’m about to mention helmed films that rated 85% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes. Some have more extensive resumes directing foreign films, acting or writing. But all are deserving: Mati Diop (3 features), Lulu Wang (3), Olivia Wilde (1), Alma Har’el (6,) Marielle Heller (3), Lorene Scafaria (3) and Greta Gerwig (3, but 11 screenwriting credits). I’m sure I am leaving someone out, but at least I’ve acknowledged their excellence. Then there is the latest version of “Oscars so white”. Antonio Banderas is the only minority nominated in the male acting categories and Cynthia Erivo is the only woman of color in the female acting categories. It continues to baffle how the academy ignores minorities and women after several years of backlash. Even expanding membership over the past few years hasn’t solved a problem that needs fixing.

Ok, climbing off the soapbox now and walking up to the ballot box. Here’s how I’m laying this out. I will give you my pick in a category and then who I believe will win. For most I will link to my review and will argue who should replace whom. Yelling about someone not being nominated while not being brave enough to remove an undeserving nominee seems a little cowardly. Here goes:

BEST ACTOR

Choice: Joaquin Phoenix

Prediction: Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix did what he always does. He transformed himself for a role. JOKER is not JOKER without him. He is the sole reason that movie was watchable at all.

BEST ACTRESS

Choice: Saorise Ronan

Prediction: Rene Zellwegger

Zellwegger has won every acting award for JUDY leading up to the Oscars. So this is as “no brainer” a no brainer as there is.

LITTLE WOMEN features a great ensemble, but it revolves around Jo and Ronan is the force of nature that makes us root for her.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Choice: Joe Pesci

Prediction: Brad Pitt

Like the actress category, Pitt has won everything for ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. But Pesci’s quiet, nuanced performance as mob boss Russell Buffalino in THE IRISHMAN is completely different than anything he has ever done before and it gives the movie a bit of heart.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Choice: Laura Dern

Prediction: Laura Dern

Yeah, yeah.. Jennifer Lopez was done wrong by not being nominated at all. But Dern gave 2 standout performances in LITTLE WOMEN and MARRIAGE STORY. She should win for both.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Choice: Thomas Newman

Prediction: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Guðnadóttir won the Golden Globe for JOKER and it definitely fits the dark and weird tone of the film. But give me a big score anytime. It was close for me between Randy and Thomas, but I had to pick Thomas for 1917.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

This is a incredibly competitive category. It’s not that THE IRISHMAN, KNIVES OUT or 1917 are undeserving. I would replace 1917 with UNCUT GEMS. But Bong Joon Ho’s PARASITE made you think, laugh, cry and shocked the hell out of everyone. It’s damn near perfect.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Choice: LITTLE WOMEN

Prediction: LITTLE WOMEN

The Academy’s version of a consolation prize for not being nominated for Best Director, Gerwig gets the screenplay trophy.

BEST DIRECTOR

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: 1917

Mendes won the DGA award. His movie is great. But PARASITE was something greater than all others. Throw out Todd Phillips and replace him with Gerwig. As Dana Stevens wrote in Slate, did LITTLE WOMEN direct itself? Phillips is riding Phoenix’s coattails.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Choice: 1917

Prediction: 1917

Roger Deakins is a god. The one shot “stunt” wasn’t so much a stunt as the tool that drew the audience into the story. Amazing achievement.

BEST PICTURE

Choice: PARASITE

Prediction: 1917

For the same reasons Bong should win screenplay, his film should win Best Picture. This story is at its base about income inequality. It shows what is wrong with global economies while entertaining you for 2 hours. JOKER does not belong on this list. Replace it with UNCUT GEMS and add KNIVES OUT (the Academy can nominate up to 10 and only chose 9 this year). 1917 has gotten all the love from The Golden Globes, the DGA and the Producer’s Guild. That is a pretty good predictor of Oscar success.

Ok, that’s it for this year. I’ll check back in after February 9, 2020 to see how I and the Academy did.

 

STAR TREK: PICARD — EPISODE 1 “REMEMBERANCE”

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by Alan Yudman

Imagine your career is not just a career, it is a calling. You have always served a higher purpose. You weigh moral consequences with every decision and those calls can mean life or death for large populations. Now image your moral compass has forced you to give that all up. You step away because the world has changed around you and you are unwilling to change who you are. Former Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself at that point of his life in the excellent STAR TREK PICARD.

The first episode in the CBS ALL ACCESS and AMAZON series titled REMEMBERANCE, sets the scene for where Picard is in his life. That is retired on his family vineyard. There are hints at how unsettled he may be. That seems to be the theme of the entire episode. Picard and a young woman named Dahj are both at sea in their lives. Picard seems to be enjoying retirement, but the death of Data (killed saving Picard in STAR TREK: NEMESIS) haunts his dreams.

Dahj seems fine. She has a nice apartment in Boston. A boyfriend. An appointment to the Daystrom Institute. That is until three helmeted Romulans break in, kill her boyfriend and try to abduct her. She is “activated” during the struggle and kills them all. The life she knows, or believes she knows, is thrown into chaos.

Picard and Dahj meet. She runs. They meet again, something shocking happens and there are hints about her origin and possible ties to Data and Bruce Maddox (check out MEASURE OF A MAN from Season 2 of THE NEXT GENERATION). Oh, and she might be a twin.

Producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Kirsten Beyer and Michael Chabon use the first episode to establish the time and circumstances that will push Picard on this journey. And even these first slow steps feel earned and of a piece with the entire TNG universe. The nods to Picard’s history are all over the place and feel perfectly integrated into the story. Data and Picard play poker in Ten Forward on the Enterprise D. Picard visits the Starfleet Archive and we see nuggets from TNG… items from his Ready Room and the “Captain Picard Day” banner are just two examples. But these are not just fan service, there are real threads pulled that are tied to Picard’s time as Captain of the Enterprise.

The story draws you right in and really feels like Star Trek. What elevates this from “good for fans” to excellent television is Patrick Stewart. Apologies to William Shatner, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine… but Stewart is one of the greatest actors of his generation and the greatest captain in the franchise’s long history. He brings heart and weight to the role. That’s probably why Kurtzman and Goldsman tried to bring him back to Picard several times before he said yes to this project. This would not be as compelling without him.

Where STAR TREK: PICARD goes from here is hinted at in the trailers. Jean-Luc feels Starfleet is no longer the Starfleet he knew and served. That is made painfully obvious in a scene where he is interviewed on the anniversary of the destruction of Romulus and the interviewer ambushes him with questions about why he left Starfleet. He needs answers to his questions about Dahj and the destruction of Mars (sorry… spoiler alert). He abandons his ties to the Federation to find the answers he and the universe need. And I am completely along for this ride.

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UNCUT GEMS

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by Alan Yudman

I heard someone describe UNCUT GEMS as a two-hour long heart attack. Hard to argue. This is a manic story of a schemer who thinks he has pulled off the ultimate score, only to be thwarted at every turn.

The movie, directed by the Safdie Brothers and co-written along with Ronald Bronstein, is a non-stop trip into the world of Howard Ratner (the wonderful Adam Sandler), a New York jewelry merchant who goes through life at a pace that could only be described as frenetic. The only time he seems to slow down during the entire run time of the movie is when he is having a colonoscopy and at the very end

Howard has managed to smuggle a rare black opal into the country, and he plans to auction it off and make millions. But between his dream and reality stands a superstitious NBA Superstar (Kevin Garnett), a loan shark to whom he owes money, his girlfriend, his wife, his partner in hustling up business and his own inability to stop trying to play everyone and everything.

Sandler’s fidgety, obsessive performance is the highlight of the film. I read that the Safdies wanted Jonah Hill at one point, then considered Harvey Keitel at another. This would not be the same film without Sandler. He seems to coast through movies like GROWN UPS, LITTLE NICKY, JACK AND JILL, etc. Maybe he’s just that good an actor, but he seems to put little or no effort into those roles – like he is barely making an effort. Then you watch Sandler in a movie like this or THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES or PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE and you see a guy who can inhabit a role almost as much as say, Joaquin Phoenix. This is the Adam Sandler I am here for. The guy who seems beaten down by life but is either too desperate, stupid or obsessed to see what a mess he is making. He shambles, lopes and slouches through every interaction. Talking too fast and making sense to almost no one but himself. No one else can see the big picture like Howard can. Sandler sells that better than any other actor I can think of could. Being ignored for a Best Actor Oscar nomination is almost a crime.

The supporting cast is excellent. Garnett plays himself, or a version of himself that he is totally ok with. Eric Bogosian as the loan shark (or bookie.. can’t really tell), relative newcomer Julia Fox as his gorgeous and needy girlfriend, Idina Menzel as his “ok, I’ve had enough of your shit” wife, LaKeith Stanfield as his hustle partner Demany, Keith Williams Richards and Tommy Kominik as thugs, Judd Hirsch as his father-in-law and The Weekend as the worst version of himself all add to the off the rails vibe.

The ending of this movie is shocking. I’ll just leave that out there because to say anything more would be a spoiler.

That feeling of constant mania is due to the Bennie and Josh Safdie’s style that employs jittery camera work, fast cuts, dialogue on top of dialogue. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who has trouble with anxiety. It’s all anxiety. But is it good? It’s not bad. I really like the Safdies’ GOOD TIME. They are expert at communicating a vibe while telling an interesting story. For me, the frenetic pace was a little too much. I felt I couldn’t just sit with what was happening before I got yanked into the next catastrophe. I mean it worked, but it’s not my favorite feeling. I can see why the Academy shunned this film, it’s not really their thing. The Safdies are an acquired taste. The more you keep trying it… the better you like it.