Uncut Tension (Uncut Gems, 2019)

Uncut_Gems_PosterAdam Sandler plays Howard, a man with a once thriving business as a jeweler whose gambling addiction has brought his life to a stressful ruin.  When he acquires a gem worth millions, that he plans to auction off, life spirals even farther out of control as his debtors close in.

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a film that is unrelenting in its desperation. It feels almost like a constant build up that never gives any release during its run time.  It never paints Howard as anything but a tragic fool, a slave to his greed and gambling addictions.

Sandler gives what is easily his strongest and most intense performance of all time.  Did you forget that Sandler can act? The Safdie Brothers did not and Sandler’s performance is one of the best performances of last year. The man was cheated by the Oscars.

Uncut Gems is not an easy watch, but it is rewarding and is a film worth checking out.

 

Take a Stab At It (Knives Out, 2019)

Knives_Out_PosterFamous Crime novelist Walter Thrombey is found dead after his birthday party. At first, declared a suicide, famous detective Benoit Blanc arrives and sees possible suspects in every member of his family. Caught up in it all is his nurse Marta who may have the most to gain.

I cannot really say more…so I am just going to say this:

SEE THIS MOVIE.

It is superbly written, directed and performed.  It is hilarious and a rewarding watch.  This was the most fun I had at the movies all year.

Modern Problems (Sorry to Bother You, 2018)

Sorry_To_Bother_You_PosterCassious (Cash to his friends) Green is just hoping to get a job, though he fears his life will never amount to anything at all. He wants his life to mean something. He rises up to be a top telemarketer and then is faced with the choice of staying with his co-workers as they fight for better pay and benefits…or accepting a promotion that will solve all his financial problems.

Sorry to Bother you explores Cash and his temptations in a ever so slightly heightened reality. There is a top program called “I Got the S#!t Kicked out of Me” where people go on to be beat up and humiliated (this bit actually reminded me of the film Idiocracy where a hit show in the future was “Ouch! My Balls!”). A new trend in the country is a company called WorryFree which signs people to work contracts and provides for their living expenses. Which sounds great until you realize people are sharing a room full of bunk beds as their home and are forced to do menial task work.

The film skewers working and upper class dynamics as well as race and culture with precision. Writer and director Boots Riley infuses the film with terrific over the top visuals, such as when ever Cash is calling a customer, his desk drops into their house. As his life improves, his old furniture and appliances break open as newer things unfold.

The film has a gag about the black cast using “white voices” and in a stroke of hilarity, Riley has employed white comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt who are then dubbed over the voices of stars Lakeith Stanfield, Omari Hardwick and Tessa Thompson.

The cast is terrific. Stanfield was memorable in Get Out, but he carries the moves on his shoulders and does so memorably. Tessa Thompson is just golden as she disappears into the role of Detroit, Cash’s artist and activist fiancee. They are supported by a great cast including Terry Crews, Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant and Steve Yeun to name but a few.

Boots Riley and his cast and crew have made a terrific film that is socially tough and biting, hilarious and downright unpredictable. Nothing really had me prepared for the film, and it was rewarding to watch.

 

Taking Notes (Death Note, 2017)

Death_Note_PosterMeet Light Turner.  He is in high school and frustrated by bullies.  He is also angry that the drunk driver who killed his mother walked.  One day, a notebook falls from the sky.  It is full of rules, and comes with great power.  Oh…and a demon or a death god or some such thing.  This tall creature with a love for apples is named Ryuk.

Ryuk explains that all Light must do is write the name of a person (while picturing their face) and a method of death…and it will happen.  Light initially believes himself to be dreaming, but when he realizes that a local bully indeed died as he wrote in the book, he starts to get an idea.  With his girlfriend Mia, he begins a campaign against crime causing the death of hundreds of terrorists, murderers and other terrible people.  He attributes it to “Kira”.  But Kira attracts the attention of the authorities, including his own father, Detective James Turner.  Joining Light’s father is Watari and the mysterious L.

The film follows Lights attempts to not get caught, while trying to figure out how to avoid killing good people.  L knows Light is behind Kira…but is not sure how he is doing it.

Death Note is a pretty interesting concept.  However, it is based on an anime series as well as a manga series.  And here they have forced the entire series into under two hours.  Which results in a major rush to tell the story.  So interesting concepts (Light cannot simply write L’s name in the book, because they do not know his real name and almost nobody knows what he looks like.  But everything has to play out so fast that there is no opportunity to fully explore these things.

And it is to bad.  Director Adam Wingard has a good cast at his disposal.  Shea Wigham is quite good as Light’s father.  And Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield is good in the role of the mysterious L.  Willem Defoe obviously had some fun as the voice of Ryuk.  Had Netflix maybe planned this as a start of a series, the film might have worked better.  While I am sure the goal includes further films, trying to force Lights tale into such a short space simply results in it being hard to connect with the characters.

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