MOVIE REVIEW: Color Out of Space

Rating: Unrated / Runtime: 1 hour and 51 minutes

The best independent films do more with less. When there isn’t a massive budget to fall back on for special effects, the importance of storytelling and conveyance of mood become amplified. Operating on a $12 million budget (which I’d assume a decent chunk of went to star actor Nicolas Cage), Richard Stanley has crafted a gnarly, yet intoxicatingly beautiful aesthetic in “Color Out of Space”, which fits the bizarre nature of this story perfectly. The tale comes from an H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. We follow the Gardner family, who have not too long ago traded city life for a rural family estate located near Lovecraft’s famous setting of Arkham, Massachusetts. Nathan (Cage), the father, is a wannabe gardener and farmer who raises alpacas and is trying to embrace this new country life, while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is doing her best to work from home via the home’s bad internet connection while recovering from breast cancer surgery. They have three children, all with their own sort of strange qualities. LaVinia (Madeleine Arthur) we first meet in the middle of some kind of Wiccan ritual that she hopes will heal her mother and eventually lead the family back to the city. Her practice of magic and dabbling in the occult continues throughout the film and leads to some pretty horrifying decision making. Her brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) likes video games, smoking weed, and helps out around the house without too much fuss. And then there is her younger brother Jack (Julian Hilliard), who is a bit of a mama’s boy still and gives the film a vessel for some freaky child-based horror. There’s also an old hippie living out in the woods who seems to notice problems with nature before everyone else and a young biologist named Ward (Elliot Knight) who pops in and out of the story and serves as a sort of documentarian for the events that take place.

The first half or so of the film, before things get really weird, I found myself very engaged. Family drama is explored and when the mysterious meteorite crashes into their yard a good amount of time is spent on slowly revealing various sci-fi anomalies that mess with the characters’ sense of sight and sound. Of course, this is based on the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft, so horror is part of the story’s DNA and once it comes, the situation gets nasty quickly. There is definitely some gore, but it’s far from overwhelming and contained to just a few scenes. For the most part, it’s the psychological nature of horror explored here, a staple of Lovecraftian storytelling, and a general haziness of time and space that overwhelms the family as the alien color begins to permeate the landscape and their lives. Cage is given the opportunity to get nuts in a few scenes, but unfortunately, it felt almost out of left-field, very forced, and not a natural reaction I expected from his character. Perhaps if he had gone all-out crazy and stuck to that versus oscillating back and forth between sanity and insanity it would have played better for me. It’s in the second half of the film, where the color from the meteorite is taking over, where I didn’t find myself enjoying it nearly as much. As mentioned earlier, the look of the film is mesmerizing and the score by Colin Stetson contributes strongly toward setting that important mood. I just didn’t care about the characters much at all, and I didn’t find the film to be saying anything vastly important about humanity and nature. It’s a tale of aliens or elder gods or whatever you want to think of them as showing up without any explanation as to why and ruining life for this family in a horrific way. The story is just lacking a bigger picture view that I think would have given it much-needed weight and stakes.

“Color Out of Space” is Stanley’s first feature film in over two decades, though, and it proves the filmmaker most famous for being fired from “The Island of Doctor Moreau” still has talent worth sharing with the world. The visuals alone are worth seeing this movie for and it never dips into lackluster boring territory, even if it doesn’t reach any memorable heights either. “Color Out of Space” is the kind of unique sci-fi and horror film that we deserve to see more of. Though the vision of their directors may not blow every viewer away, seeing something this different from mass-market blockbusters is always a treat.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: A Fall from Grace

“A Fall from Grace” could be a descriptor for Tyler Perry’s career at the current moment. This particular film is a drama centered on a young unproven public defender who is trying to defend the innocence of a woman who admits to killing her husband in a fit of rage until she realizes that there is more to this jilted tale than just the actions of a scorned, heartbroken wife. Twists and surprises abound in an insidious manner, coming out of left field leaving the viewer confused and underwhelmed. The storytelling experience is nothing more than constant narration that points out events and moments, giving no room for the viewer to interpret anything for themselves. Perry is reliant on many flashbacks and chooses to use a jailhouse interview between the public defender and her client in order to flesh out the meat of the film, which speaks to the issues that are present in the screenplay. Tyler Perry needs to invest in a team of advisors to review and undo the bad habits he has developed in the writing room. It has become maddening and insanely frustrating to sit through narratives with no interesting characters and cheap soap opera drama. This film and others like it are only considered “drama” based on the genre but have no real dramatic weight that you expect. You could call “A Fall From Grace” a masterclass in inconsistent tonal structure and a lack of redeemable qualities. Perry also suffers from directional ineptitude, evident in his played out stories that do nothing but reuse the same conventional tropes his fans continue to eat up. Passion is lacking, especially in the laughable and cheap production design that had environments reeking of Dollar Tree inspiration. A moment does not exist in this film where the viewer actually believes they are living in a breathing and stimulating environment; it consists of thrown together moments of melodrama complete with a redundant reality television inspired musical score. There is no figment of entertainment value that shows itself to be apparent or earned. “A Fall From Grace” is the equivalent of a life sucking drain that wastes every minute of its existence.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Bad Boys For Life

Rating: R / Runtime: 2 hours and 3 minutes

An action film shouldn’t be compelled to live up to the heights of a “Die Hard” or the efficiency and marksmanship of a “John Wick” to be considered a blast at the cineplex. If an action film can deliver side-splitting humor, unbreakable chemistry between two characters, and flair that oozes its way into finely staged action set pieces, then you have a winning combination.  “Bad Boys” has been the standard of which buddy cop films have tried to emulate and walk in the same quality footsteps for the last 25 years. The new, and possibly final, entry in the trilogy carries on the same favorable hallmarks that will have longtime fans of the series sitting on cloud nine while also ingratiating newcomers who love stylish and intense blockbusters. Will and Martin remain the best one-two punch working in cinema hands down, and they enjoyed a deserved send off fit for living legends.

Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Marcus Lawrence) are still ripping the beautiful and glossy streets of Miami even with Father Time having paid them a visit. Just when things seem set for these guys to ease their way into a life after law enforcement, Mike ends up on the wrong end of an almost successful assassination attempt that has him rethinking his legendary status within Miami PD as “Bulletproof Mike”; it gives him a sense of mortality that he hasn’t gotten a drastic taste of until now. Mike wants to forge on the scorched earth path of tracking down his shooter while Marcus wants to move on from the chaos of law enforcement and settle into being a newly minted grandpa who loves watching reality television. Eventually, the two best friends realize they will need each other more than ever if they want to take down this new vicious threat who has a bit of history with Mike and is looking for bloodthirsty vengeance.

Screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan display ambition in crafting a story that pays homage to the Bad Boys brand while also taking some new avenues in adding deep stakes to the festivities. The humor is at a high level, dividing its time between callbacks that die-hard fans will enjoy and the gold standard of back and forth banter that Will and Martin have down to a delicate science. There are serious moments centered on the passage of time, family, mortality, death, and the old adage of “every sin has a consequence”. One area of the story adds a new layer to the character of Mike Lowery and his hidden past that made him into what he is; no spoilers here, but the added dimension represents an emotional core that audiences will appreciate outside of the usual action film hijinks. We have the old guard of characters that will be familiar and a new set that adds something modern to keep the film from just being a retread of past ideas. Newcomers such as Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez, Alexander Ludwig, and others do a serviceable job being more than just window dressing in the presence of Will and Martin. They aren’t fully developed but don’t become annoying either with their time on the screen. Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio carve out a place as brutal and intimidating antagonists who carry a clear purpose, and some might say justifiable reason, to carry out the mayhem and suffering they want to inflict on our main characters.

I will admit in my deepest thoughts of nostalgia that I did miss Michael Bay’s high-octane overindulgent action set pieces and the massive number of explosions out of nowhere this time around, but I have no problem with the restrained efforts from the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. The action jumps off the screen with a certain bounce that is admirable in its use of careful quick edits and some one-take shots that are very well done. If there is any word that can describe the tone of the camera movement, it has flashy written all over it. Direct jump cuts, immediate whip pans, and handheld work will keep the viewer on the edge, creating an intensity akin to a volcano ready to explode. Hand to hand combat is strong and features some striking stunt choreography, although unfortunately, it is very easy to tell when the stuntmen are on screen apart from the actors.

If this is the end for the saga of “Bad Boys”, then it has a glorious and satisfying sendoff. This film is not an Oscar contender or even one that will stand the test of time to be known as a guilty pleasure, but it doesn’t have to be in order to show people a fun time. Will and Martin have the special kind of hard to find chemistry that is enough to compel anyone to buy a ticket, and it upholds the prestige set by its predecessors in the buddy cop genre. “We ride together, we die together, Bad Boys for life.”


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Dolittle

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

If someone had told me beforehand that this movie was essentially a kid-friendly combination of the Uncharted video game series mixed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, where the human companions were animals and there’s a lot less combat, my teenagers wouldn’t have had to beg me to take them. That is to say, it turns out “Dolittle”, Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-MCU headliner, is actually a lot of fun and right in this adventure lover’s wheelhouse.

As much as “Dolittle” follows the titular doctor (Downey Jr.), who is a sort of super veterinarian that can communicate with animals by speaking their language, it equally is about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who stumbles upon Dolittle’s overgrown estate in need of emergency animal medical support. Stubbins was out hunting with his uncle and cousin, and we quickly learn that he’s much too soft-hearted toward the cute woodland critters, which eventually makes it easy for he and Dr. Dolittle to relate. Dolittle has been a recluse up until their meeting, avoiding contact with humanity as he endlessly grieves over the loss of his wife. From there a young emissary of the Queen of England arrives, beckoning him to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has fallen ill and needs Dolittle’s help. Up until this point, the story feels pretty generic and uninteresting, but upon learning that the necessary cure lies in a magical fruit on a mythical undiscovered island that Dolittle’s wife died while searching for, the excitement rises considerably. 

The bulk of the film then plays out like a traditional adventure tale, with some highlights being a thrilling chase at-sea, the infiltration of an island of outlaws, and an ever-present over-the-top villainous rival determined to stop Dolittle and steal his praise. Along the way Dolittle must overcome his fear of opening up to others while Stubbins gets many (often amusing) life-changing lessons and discovers a passion for working with the animals. And it’s understandable why, because Dolittle’s animal friends are silly, sweet, and always entertaining.  Voicework by some big Hollywood stars is mostly a delight, with Kumail Nanjiani’s Plimpton the Emu, John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear, and Ralph Fiennes’ Barry the Tiger being particular standouts. 

That’s not to say that everything comes up roses in this newest adaptation of the classic American children’s book. Downey Jr. chooses to use an odd, distracting accent and plays the character with an eccentricity that reminds of Captain Jack Sparrow. The animal banter is mostly great but there are definitely some dud jokes, too. And the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, getting increasingly more noticeably bad the more action that is taking place.

Still, even though it may not be particularly memorable, “Dolittle” ends up being a hilarious and wholesome mythical adventure that is fun for the entire family. Talking animals will always be a hit with kids and the added elements of high seas adventure and pirate-like action combined with the search for a magical item will keep teens and adults interested as well. Throw in some lovely relationship-building and a big dose of hope, and you’ve got a great option for a weekend family theater outing.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Underwater

Underwater, no one can hear you scream!
(unless of course they have a mic in their dive suit helmet and you do too, and then you can definitely hear them scream but I digress)

 

It’s easier to just get the comparisons out of the way right off the bat. The hot take will be that “Underwater” is “Alien” at the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, there’s some truth to that, or people wouldn’t be saying it. Sure, “Underwater” follows a female primary protagonist, who is part of a crew trying to stay alive amidst the presence of mythical deadly creatures, but much of the film plays out a lot more straightforward than you might expect, instead resembling a traditional natural disaster escape movie.

Narratively, “Underwater” isn’t too deep (heh), and that’s perfectly alright. Director William Eubank makes a great choice utilizing the credits sequence to provide background information that normally would be delivered via boring, pace-slowing exposition. Instead, a collection of newspaper articles, scientific papers, and memos flashing behind the credits tell us that our setting is a drill site in the Mariana Trench, where the deepest drilling in history is taking place, and that reports of mysterious shadowy creatures have been made. Once inside Kepler Station, we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), reflecting on the isolation and timelessness of life in the deep while brushing her teeth. Within minutes, though, a breach of the station hull occurs due to an earthquake and what follows is a 90-minute rush to rescue, survive, and escape. Along the way, Norah, a mechanical engineer, teams up with fellow survivors. They include a wise-cracking, Alice in Wonderland obsessed goof played by T.J. Miller (who surprisingly has a few jokes actually land), their calm and collected Captain (Vincent Cassell) of the station, and a few others. The Captain proposes a dangerous plan where they will don their deep-sea suits, descend, and then traverse the nearly 7-mile deep ocean floor to reach another station that still has working escape pods. They all know it’s insane, but they have no choice. What follows is a suspenseful group effort to stay alive; some do, some don’t. At times it definitely gets ridiculous and some of the more chaotic action is nearly incoherent in the dark watery setting, but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the dialogue kept at a minimum and the propulsive intensity dialed up high throughout. Stewart is a capable lead and her considerable talent is on display, even when not really necessary. She carries an emotional weight for the crew that elevated the film for me, and she is also a part of the film’s most memorable monster moment.

The concept of “Underwater” certainly could have been presented in a longer, smarter, and more dramatically heavy film – one that isn’t so predictable, doesn’t play fast and loose with science, and gives a more thorough explanation about the creatures encountered. But that’s not this movie, and as I said in the beginning, that’s okay. What “Underwater” does is deliver a fast-paced, claustrophobic, action-thriller (backed by an excellent Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts score) that works perfectly fine without sea monster aliens even introduced, but that takes joy in leaning into its creature feature third act. It’s wild and at times silly, but I had a great time watching it and would gladly sit through it again when it releases on home video. Not every movie needs to have depth (heh again) to be entertaining, even if its title makes you think otherwise.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Like A Boss

Comedy is in need of a defibrillator to bring back the beating heart of creativity in order to get rid of a plague consisting of worn-out trends. Writers seem to be lacking the ability to sit down and really brainstorm new jokes and punchlines that haven’t been heard before. Unfortunately, most general audiences will not bat an eye at being spoon-fed the same crass and raunchy humor because it all feels so familiar and comfortable. Excitement, however, does not come from being content and set in your old ways; there has to come a time where taking a risk is more than just an obscure concept. Humor encompasses greatness only by testing new heights and staying away from the road heavily traveled.

“Like A Boss” struggles to reach even the low bar of generic and redundant humor that fails to activate motion for the funny bone. Every punchline and sequence has been featured in dozens of films before, and it is puzzling to think what the writers were trying to accomplish. The focus is on two best friends (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne) who run a makeup business that has fallen on hard times; they become the victims of mixing business with friendship, egged on by the greedy and predatory actions of a forthcoming benefactor (Salma Hayek). Haddish continues to spin like a broken record, playing the same loud and obnoxious character that sponsored her breakthrough into Hollywood stardom. It is very hard to understand what leading appeal Haddish continues to have for directors and studios because this act has gotten old and overdone. Byrne and Hayek do what they can to save the proceedings, bringing just enough credibility and talent to slightly overcome the cringe dialogue. I commend their attempt, at least, because they deserve so much better than this. Billy Porter is the only one who can make lemonade out of lemons, providing the only genuine laughs of the film. Everything else feels like a movie that is checking off boxes. Some of the lowlights include an opening monologue describing a wet dream with Barack Obama, weed-related hijinks that seem taken from a film like “Pineapple Express”, sexual humor that seeks to objectify women despite a supposed “female empowerment” vibe, Instagram references, and the quote “You smell so fresh and clean, like a thermometer before it goes in your butt”. None of this is hyperbole, this is the “high mark” comedy that is presented to the viewer.

If a person is not looking to be challenged and has a particular palette for the kind of routine, raunchy humor described, then this might be something worth seeing in theaters. For most, though, this film is Basic Comedy 101, underwhelming and downright bland. “Like A Boss” is, to put it bluntly, a waste of time, and it’s too bad there wasn’t a stronger boss in charge of the creativity department.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Just Mercy

The American criminal justice system was envisioned to be built on the ideas of fairness, justice, and due process for its citizens, a system that has a responsibility to give those citizens a fair trial, a court-appointed lawyer, and that operates under the adage “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”. Throughout history, this has been the opposite for those who have the distinction of being African American and of lower than privileged socioeconomic means. The United States has a bad track record of people wrongfully shackled under the thumb of the correctional system based on flimsy evidence and a lack of procedural aptitude; the same shortcomings have lead to innocent individuals losing their lives at the hands of a retributive government practice known as the death penalty. “Just Mercy” tells the story of one man’s fight to escape the clutches of a broken system with the help of a heroic lawyer willing to do the impossible.

Not enough praise can be showered on the plethora of terrific acting performances that can be found throughout this film. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx play off each other with deep conviction and dedication to their respective roles; Jordan is electric as the headstrong lawyer who is putting everything on the line to help inmates get off death row, while Foxx turns in one of his more compelling performances as a victim of injustice and racism. Character actor extraordinaire Tim Blake Nelson impresses me highly in the few moments he had to share, physically and mentally turning himself into a traumatized empty shell who is a victim of coercion. If there is one actor who carves their own mark away from the rest, it is Rob Morgan. Morgan is phenomenal, the equivalent of a sixth man in the NBA  who comes off the bench and drops 40 points to the surprise of everyone. His personal moments as a man on the brink of execution touch the soul with great heartbreak and tragedy, giving us the most emotionally charged moments that will bring any viewer to an uncontrollable amount of tears. Brie Larson, in my opinion, stands as one of the few actresses in Hollywood who is must-see but sadly does not fit the distinction in this forgettable role. She is not in control of a story that doesn’t give her much activity when it comes to more powerful moments and she lacks presence compared to the other actors, while her attempt at a Southern dialectic o is missing the juice needed to feel convincing.

Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12″) displays an inherent trait of allowing the characters on screen to show off a strong sense of humanity and imperfection. The whole film is a testament to thematic drama in its purest form. Cretton gathers plenty of kudos for his use of emotionally telling close-ups and Steadicam shots that put you in the center of the environment, rife with equal parts hope and fear. It would have been very easy for this to be another assembly line cliche-filled melodrama complete with a lineup of white saviors but this is filled with genuine attention and care to the topic at hand. The ugliness of African Americans being wrapped up as victims of a system characterized by racism and oppression will not be lost on anyone, and the fact that we still are plagued by these problems is a hard pill to swallow. If “Just Mercy” teaches us anything, the lesson is that we each have an obligation to fight and stand for the ones who cannot, the ones who are voiceless and invisible based on their bank account or their ethnic roots.

A powerful and profoundly deep drama, “Just Mercy” is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who shares the same passion in doing right by the people who deserve it the most.  This biopic is a true story that should be treated in the glow of the American Hero narrative. It is an indictment on a criminal justice system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt with a sense of fairness for all.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Grudge

It has been said that the month of January is a dumping ground for studios to unload projects that spark the least potential to be a success. As much as it pains me to say, this claim has been verified with the release of Nicolas Pesce’s “The Grudge”, a horror film that tries to juggle so many characters and superficial subplots that it drops the ball on every level. There is no time to connect with any of the characters who find their life altered by a vengeful ghost known only as “The Grudge”, an evil spirit that stalks anyone unlucky enough to inhibit the space that it calls home sweet home. Suspense and tension should cover every nook and cranny of this narrative, but they’ve been replaced by unimaginative and overused horror tropes. Dullness is the rhythm that carries this horrid horror remake to a land of no distinguishing qualities.

The film uses a non-linear story structure to try and separate itself and the results are less than inspiring. The different storylines are misconstructed into a mess of exposition dumping and paper-thin characters. Our main protagonist is used as a plot device to force the audience into badly edited flashbacks that feel out of place to the overarching narrative. Her role as a police officer gains her access to different files of Grudge victims from past events that all took place in the same haunted house. At times, you think you are following one set of characters and then you are jarred backward to experiencing a different set out of nowhere. Confusion peaks when you are shown the climax of a subplot only to then travel to the beginning of it, erasing the opportunity for authentic stakes. It’s hard to feel connected to the outcome of this film given that none of the characters are written to be anything more than easy fodder for the main villain; there is no personality, charm, or emotional guts to make the serious moments more than forgettable. Consider the biggest crime of this film to be undercutting the supreme talents of a pair of talented actors such as John Cho and William Sandler. This screenplay dealt them poison in the amount of cringe dialogue and farce use of depressing storylines which would ruin any actor’s chance of making their performances work. To make things worse, the final act is essentially a rush job in trying to wrap up all the tangled web of storylines before the audience makes it to the finish line. It felt like the writers submitted the screenplay as the first draft with no revisions or corrections to the flow of different set pieces.

Horror and suspense was manufactured straight from the bargain bin section of the generic store. There is an abundance of poor jump cuts, odd implementation of sound effects, lackluster visual effects, and weak lighting in dark scenes. Some scenes suffer from having human faces drenched in too much darkness; terror scenes didn’t have a stressful effect because there was no way to see the characters or the monster moving around in the environment. There was a weird instance of people popping in and out of the frame, masquerading as a scary surprise. It’s just very easy to see coming and no creative juice is present. I have seen all of the terror tricks this film tries to make unique and it all turns out so bland and tepid to watch. The musical accompaniment to these scenes comes off too hard as a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross knock-off with badly composed use of pounding drums and broken electronic notes.

“The Grudge” is the kind of experience that will drain the life-force out of the average viewer. It has no crowd-pleasing moments and treats the audience as a child who needs their handheld to navigate what should have been a simple horror film. This is one of the few films I have witnessed in the last few years that does nothing well and is an embarrassment to not just horror but any cinematic genre. 2020 has started off its year by providing me a top candidate for one of the worst films of the year.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Uncut Gems

The experience of your physical and mental senses being run through the gauntlet of a pressure cooker has never been more fully realized. Your heartbeat thumps with each new anxiety-filled sequence that won’t resolve itself, and an escalation of stakes conjures sweat to trickle from the surface of your forehead. Even in the quietest of moments, there is a sense that the viewer and the main protagonist will never find themselves out of the massive black hole that has swallowed them whole. The Safdie Bros “Uncut Gems” is a cinematic experience that demands full attention with its cascading thrills, visual/auditory richness, and Adam Sandler’s tour de force performance.

Set in the year 2012, Howard Ratner (Sandler) is a jeweler stationed in New York City who enjoys an impressive clientele that features a who’s who of musicians and athletes desiring custom pieces that stand out. Ratner receives the delivery that he has been salivating over for months, a rock filled with colorful gems straight from the country of Ethiopia. Ratner hopes to score a big windfall of cash from this prized possession in the form of an auction listing, while also getting serious loan sharks and bookies off his neck over uncovered debts. The plan does not go well due to unfortunate circumstances brought on by mishandled gambling decisions and the chaos of Ratner’s personal life unfolding behind the scenes, sending him traveling down a slippery slope of heightened drama and personal turmoil that can prove undo his quest for a high heaven payday.

Adding to the massive characterization of this New York City thriller is Daniel Lopatin’s chilling score, featuring a mixture of 80’s inspired synthesizers, monk chanting, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and pounding drums. The musical accompaniment is important to creating an atmospheric high on par with the thrilling events provided by the story. This is one of the best examples of the year in how a score can serve as a mirror to the emotional texture a film wants to supply the audience. There is an immersion element present in the sound design that is chock full of details and pays emotional dividends. One great example is a sequence that takes place in a club where the insurmountable boom of early 2010’s rap and R&B surround the auditory landscape, filling viewers with an  actual rendering of the chaos present on the screen

Sandler proves once again that he is not just useful in the comedic arena but can also encapsulate larger than life characters. He became Howard Ratner down to the accent, personality, walk, and contradictions. It is fascinating to watch him lose himself and take over the DNA of the film with a performance that is equal parts compelling, entertaining, and award-worthy. Lakeith Stanfield is wonderful in his supporting role and continues to travel upward to respectability in the cinema world. Basketball enthusiasts will be ecstatic to see Kevin Garnett have a major role in how this film unfolds, too. He is such a loveable cult of personality, playing himself, which is far from a fault but icing on the cake.

The Safdie Brothers feel right in their element with another adrenaline-filled ride that follows their previous breakthrough “Good Time”. This effort strikes white-hot with the handling of tension and offers a great exploration of morality in the dangerous world of high stakes gambling. The intense direction sparks growing suspense and dread that never leaves. Quick cuts, push in close-ups, and panning shots are employed with a showmanship style that captivates. It can be very hard for most films to keep up high energy because there is a risk of driving off the tracks and losing a sense of newness present in the tone. The Safdie Brothers have incredible talent displaying prominent control which keeps the audience hooked into what will be coming around the corner. This all leads to a shocking conclusion that will not leave my mind even with the advent of a new decade. Let’s just say that viewers will get their money’s worth, but it may not be in the manner of what they expected.

Darius Khondji’s work as cinematographer is visually powerful and hard to keep from gawking in amazement. The use of neon and fluorescent lighting in evening vignettes feels natural to the worldwide reputation of New York, also known as “The Concrete Jungle”. There is an air of grittiness, but also classy opulence, in the production design; apartments and houses that give off the style of high taste even with the characters and sequences involved being rife with uncertainty and sometimes illicit behavior. The look of a flashy extravaganza complete with luxury but embodying the same surface area as a Scorsese crime drama in homage brings the film home in a majorly impactful way.

“Uncut Gems” is a film that will test your strength and stamina in how much intensity one human body can handle. It is a drama that builds and builds on entertainment, suspense, and fascination until it releases it all in a climactic supernova, making it an integral part of the year in cinema.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Two Popes

Following the journey of Jorge Bergoglio’s ascendancy to the title of “Pope Francis”, “The Two Popes” plays out more like a documentary than a typical drama. Based on true events, this story is mostly told via continuing dialogue between Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) and Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins), who differ in what the future path should be for the Catholic Church. Will the religion stay stuck to outdated cultural and ideological truths or is it time for new progressive ideas that fit in with the changing times? Pryce and Hopkins both deliver the goods in acting quality; their dichotomy represented by scenes of verbal conflict and immense respect for one another. Flashbacks do well in fleshing out Bergoglio’s disposition prior to his current way of living, bringing levity to his unconditional dedication to the common people valued by Catholicism and events that shaped his new-age ideals for views centered on topics such as homosexuality, economic inequality, and religious practices.

Appreciation can be showered on the professionalism echoing from Fernando Meirelles’s direction and the steady writing Anthony McCarten puts together working with an expansive story such as this. The film’s issue lies in nothing truly standing out on its own. Its method of storytelling is not always compelling and can cause some viewers to lose focus. Most scenes centered on two men exchanging long anecdotes concerning religion and political ramifications will not be what most would call “entertaining”. The humor in this film feels very tough to latch onto, especially when the actors conveyed these scenes in a manner that feels far from enthusiastic.

Fernando Meirelles’s “The Two Popes” will find an audience with people who have deep knowledge of the long history of the Catholic Church and who have pledged their support for Pope Francis. Outside of that, it’s difficult to recommend a 2-hour film that uses long-running discussion between two men as its manner of narrative technique. Pryce and Hopkins are both prominent in dual leading roles and the topics they discuss do lend themselves to current societal issues around the world that are experienced by many. For me, this is an experience that can be praised for its polish but is not something worth a second viewing.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.