Uncut Gems (2019) Review

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Adam Sandler hasn’t been hitting it out the park with his recent comedic movies. With Uncut Gems, he is returning to dramatic acting and leaving behind trying to make people laugh and trying to make them feel something very different. 

Throughout Uncut Gems, you’re following him from terrible decision to silly mistake to awful choice. Adam Sandler is transformed into this character of Howard, a Jewellery store owner who has a gambling problem who is always trying to find the next big score. At first, I was expecting to be rooting for this character, to be cheering him on towards the finale, but really, you’re just cringing and feeling anxious about every wrong choice he makes.

There is a line in this film, delivered by Frozen star Idina Menzel, where she refers to Sandler’s character as the most annoying person she’s ever met. That’s honestly a very accurate description of him. He is uncomfortable to watch, and you are with him for near enough every scene in the film. The characters around him are important and effect the events of the story, but it’s very much about this aggravating man that you just wish would make the right choice yet never seems to.

Uncut Gems is unusual in that watching it is not fun, or even particularly entertaining. It’s an experience that puts you in an uncomfortable state for over two hours witnessing the events unfold. The film assaults your sense’s, you follow characters through busy sets with them throwing dialogue at each other at light speed. You aren’t given time to rest and just as you think one uncomfortable scene has passed, Sandler’s character has fallen into another one for you to witness.

I can see a way in which you might empathise with Howard in this, as things fall apart around him. As much as I thought I should be liking the main character, he is just such an uncomfortable and ugly character to spend time with. I was looking for a reason to empathise with him, but he’d keep giving me reasons to find him annoying. As things unfolded, I found myself giving up trying to root for him.

The film does a phenomenal job of making things feel claustrophobic and anxiety inducing. The whole film is shot in a way that makes everything feel very intimate. Tight angles and close ups are used throughout to really add to that feeling of being trapped with this character’s issues. Even the environments, particularly the jewellers he runs, are grubby and nasty places. At one point you’re at an auction, where things are run smoothly, and everything is neatly arranged which contrasts brilliantly with the mess that is his store & his life.

Uncut Gems was an interesting experience for me. I can’t really pinpoint what I think might improve the film. It achieves exactly what it was aiming for, I just didn’t really like the experience. The weird part there is that I think that is the idea. You’re supposed to watch this film and feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to raise your anxiety levels. By the time it’s over, you just want to leave the world you’ve been inhabiting and never go back. Credit has to go to director siblings Benny & Josh Safdie for absolutely nailing their target.

Good: It forces you to feel anxious, concerned, confused and angry at the events unfolding, while you just wish he’d do the right thing at some point in the film. It makes you feel like you need a shower afterwards because you feel dirty.

Bad: It’s the least rewatchable movie since Foxcatcher.

TL:DR – Uncut Gems is a great showcase for Adam Sandler’s talent as a dramatic actor. If you’re looking for something to stress you out and spike your anxiety, this is the film for you.

 

Zombieland Double Tap Review

The first Zombieland was great fun and came out of nowhere. I remember seeing it and being completely surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It was quirky, funny, and had the 4 main characters had great chemistry. It was also 2009, and by 2014 I had just naturally assumed there wasn’t going to be a sequel. However, 10 years later, we have the next part of the story and once again I am going in with absolutely no idea of what to expect. 

The core cast are all back, with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who has noticeably grown up over the last 10 years while the other 3 look remarkably like how they did in the first one. It’s like they haven’t aged a day, but then Woody Harrelson has looked like he does now for as long as I have known of him, so I guess it makes sense. He’s one of those ageless people like Keanu Reeves.

Anyway, those four returns and seem to have not missed a beat. Their chemistry is once again the engine that keeps this film going. The banter back and forth between them all really does feel like a group that has been together for a long time so I would guess these four are friends outside of the camera as well. The newcomers to the cast add some new dimensions, and top of that list is Zoey Deutch who plays a ditzy, oblivious girl who has somehow survived this long. At first, I thought the character would become annoying very fast, but she does develop a little and is not just the idiot she first seems.

Rosario Dawson is the other newcomer and as always, she is great. She is immediately on the same wavelength as the rest of the group and her chemistry with Woody Harrelson adds a new dynamic to his character. I’ve talked about the cast so much because really, they’re the best thing about Zombieland Double Tap. Beyond them and some funny “Zombie Kill of the Year” bits, there isn’t much else here beyond some zombie killing.

The plot is fine, the action scenes are fine, and the special effects are great. That could kind of sum up this film unfortunately. There is no clever plot here, it’s basic and it serves its purpose of giving the characters a reason to go somewhere. Beyond that there is no intrigue or “what’s going to happen”. There is rarely a moment when you worry about any characters and when you do, it’s never for too long. The new Zombie types are fun, and the cleverly named T-800 (Zombieland’s main box office competition is the new Terminator) is an interesting idea, but they quickly become just another part of the horde.

The action scenes do have some fun moments, but there are only so many times a zombie being shot in the head is that entertaining. The film sets up a more interesting fight at the end, but then the finale happens a bit too quickly and there is no time for any cool action scenes. The last fight is practical, rather than entertaining, and even if there are some fun visuals a couple of times, my highlight of the films action was a cutaway skit to a guy murdering zombie in Italy.

What is odd about Zombieland Double Tap is that it doesn’t bring much new to the table, but still feels fun, fresh and enjoyable. It’s a movie we have had before, but the 10-year gap makes the reunion feel like more fun than if we had a sequel a couple of years later. It’s rare that comedy sequels made 10 years later work (see Zoolander 2) but somehow the formula of the first film still holds up in 2019. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, I can’t say I need another Zombieland anytime soon, so perhaps revisiting in another 10 years wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

It’s one of those films where your expectations need to be in the right place when you go in. Don’t expect a stunning sequel that surpasses the first, it doesn’t even try to be that. It’s an update on what’s happened to the characters you enjoyed first time. Like a postcard from someone you lost contact with, you will probably smile, laugh a little, and then forget about it all over again.

Good: Great chemistry between the cast with some laughs. Some laugh out loud moments that got me good.

Bad: Unambitious, very little original content, and unadventurous action scenes.

7/10 – Zombieland is Fine, and I think that’s what they were aiming for.