UNCUT GEMS – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Screenwriter: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Sanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 11/29/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

If you like your movies over-the-top like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Inglorious Basterds,” then has A24 a movie for you! The pace doesn’t let up for a second, the photography evokes New York on amphetamines, and Adam Sandler gives the performance of his lifetime. Yes, that Adam Sandler, moving up from a waterboy for a football team, a manchild with a stutter, to a jewelry merchant on New York’s 47th street with a gambling disability. “Uncut Gems,” directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie following up their New York-centered pic “Good Time,” about an attempt by a guy to get his younger brother out of jail. Given that “Uncut Gems” shoots many of its scenes inside a midtown jewelry store which has a way of locking people inside, the Safdies are right in their métier.

Even if you have a hearing disability you’ll have no problem understanding the dialogue. The shouting is combination of the floor of the Chicago Futures Market and Donald J. Trump’s ersatz press conferences that are drowned out by his chopper. Anchoring the proceedings, Adam Sandler in the role of Howard Ratner knows and loves gem stones.  He does not think that he could make the kind of life he wants at his desk in the back room, preferring to gamble on basketball games, chiefly because he has faith that his main man, Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics (who plays himself), will sink enough baskets and pick up enough rebounds to make him an instant millionaire.

The shouting, in fact, starts right in the beginning, not in New York but in Ethiopia, where a large group of miners who had just extracted a fellow worker from a grievous accident. The bosses are getting hell for allowing unsafe conditions, but when two miners re-enter the tunnel they find a large rock with brilliant opal stones imbedded as though fashioned by an expert cutter.

On a hunch, Howard buys the rock, then lends it out to KG who convinces Howard that he will buy it. To contrast Howard with his long-suffering wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), who is aware that Harold has a woman, Julia (Julia Fox) on the side, the couple are at a theater to watch their daughter perform in a play. Dinah is sitting with her teen son, but Harold who should be with them, is running about outside, all in the service of making his fortune while at the same time avoiding or putting off his creditors.

Harold is larger than life, just like Trump, and like the president he is wrapped up in himself, playing a high-wire act that finds him tending to his business but more involved in actions that could make big trouble for him. He is a rabid sports fan, liking the Celts not as a mere hobby but as his chance to make it big financially. It would be nice to say that a win that bring him over a million dollars would allow him to retire, but you can bet that he will gamble it away within a month.

Daniel Lopatin’s score, particularly in the miners’ scenes, can be madly intrusive, making one wonder why the bold and furious action would not serve to excite the moviegoers. For Darius Khondji who is behind the lenses, no action that he captures is too fast. The ensemble cast are terrific, but wouldn’t it be great if Adam Sandler, seeking the big movie guild prizes this year, winds up competing for the over-the-topness with “Dolemite”’s Eddie Murphy?

135 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

MOLLY’S GAME – movie poster


    Director:  Aaron Sorkin
    Written by: Aaron Sorkin based on the book “Molly’s Game”
    Cast:  Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/9/17
    Opens: December 25, 2017
    Molly's Game Movie Poster
    “Molly’s Game” is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, whose accomplishments include writing screenplays about organizations (“The Social Network” about Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and “Steve Jobs” from Apple Computers).  In his directing debut now, his movie can be summarized as one about Molly Bloom, who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game.”  As played by the remarkable Jessica Chastain (“Miss Sloane,” “Miss Julie,”), the title character is about as elitist as a woman can get.  Nowadays, Trump supporters consider anyone who sips Chardonnay in Manhattan or chooses latté as her breakfast beverage is elite. “Elitist” is considered a pejorative, a condemnation of people who think they are better than the rest of us.  But let’s face it: we are not all equal.  Folks who have brains, use them daily, graduate summa cum laude from top colleges and go on to contribute all the great discoveries and know-how to a technological civilization–really are better.

    What Molly Bloom contributes, given her background which includes a 3.92 average in college and an acceptance to law school, is money for herself and a place for people of great wealth and celebrity to play cards.  That’s a strange idea, since after, does Nathan Detroit in the musical “Guys and Dolls,” make a great living by simply providing card sharps with a garage for their game?  The more I watch this film, the more I wonder why the millionaire moguls and Hollywood hotties don’t just get together with one another and decide a place for their weekly game instead of paying Molly $250,000 as simply a cover charge for the Hotel Plaza or other spots including one hotel that charges $5200 a night.

    Despite its length of two hours and ten minutes, the story rolls by so fast, the narration by the principal character so literate, the facts so detailed,  that you won’t have time to check your watch.  This is a movie whose writing can be lyrical, patter of the screenplay so quick, and the performances so deft, that is obviously one of the films to look for during awards ceremonies—including potential nominations for Jessica Chastain as actress and Idris Elba as supporting actor.

    The true story, depending on how much you believe of Molly Bloom’s own book by the same name, is both a fascinating look at what the beautiful people do with their spare time and the ways that Molly is a one-in-a-million personality.  Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) spent her early life pushed by her father (Kevin Costner) to be the best at whatever she does, and what she does is become a world-famous skier of Olympic quality.  We watch as she descends a 52-degree snow-packed mountain, does flips like an Olympic swimmer making points off the divine board, but in one fateful turn falls and is knocked unconscious, later requiring spine surgery and the end of her skiing career.  She is hired to run a high-stakes weekly poker game, and together with other beautiful women encourages the men around the tables to meet regularly.  These are no penny-ante games but sometimes single hands that can run up to three million dollars.

    Sorkin wants us to be familiar with what these celebs do, so he brings us into the hotel rooms, and though not setting up any suspense about winners and losers, impresses us with their determination to get together which is so strong that they have no problem dishing out $250,000 to enter.  When she is arrested for running illegal gambling, she hires Charlie Jaffey as her attorney, a man so talented in his field that he is able to charge a retainer fee of $250,000.  Arrested by 17 agents of the FBI ready to break down her door, she is asked by the government to name the names of the people she has dealt with and encouraged to do so by her lawyer to avoid prison.  What she does becomes one of the suspenseful aspects of the story.

    Look especially for the type of person Jessica Chastain embodies.  Her father, who is a practicing psychotherapist, is aware that her prized daughter appears to be unemotional, cold, someone who has admitted that she has no heroes and does not trust people.  Though a couple of men come on to her, particularly an often-drunk Irishman played by Chris O’Dowd who is sure that the woman is Irish given her name and his knowledge of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”  She is not. Ironically considering Molly’s image as a woman with no romance in her life, this breathlessly-paced movie is full of passion.

    Unrated.  140 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – A-
    Acting – A
    Technical – A-
    Overall – A-