To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A middling second chapter

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Netflix film “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You”, which is a sequel to “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018), is a middling second chapter which feels rather flat and pedestrian compared to its predecessor. Although it is not wholly devoid of charm and spirit thanks to its solid cast, the movie is often disappointing as merely trudging along its predictable plot without bringing anything new or fresh to the story, and I must confess that I often found myself bored and impatient when I watched it in this morning.

The story begins at the point not long after the finale of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”. After going through several ups and downs in the previous film, our high schooler heroine Lara Jean (Lana Condor) eventually begins a really serious romantic relationship with Peter (Noah Centineo), and the opening scene shows us how much she is excited about her first official date with him. When he finally comes to her family house, her father and her younger sister sincerely wish a good luck to them, and they surely have a nice time at a posh restaurant as playfully reminding each other of how much they love each other.

However, of course, there later comes a trouble into Lara Jean’s life. If you have seen the previous film, you surely know that Lara Jean’s younger sister sent Lara Jean’s old love letters to five boys including Peter, and one of the other four recipients besides Peter turns out to be quite interested in getting closer to Lara Jean. When she unexpectedly receives the letter from John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), Lara Jean is certainly surprised, and then she becomes quite conflicted because, well, she comes to see that she still has some old feeling toward him.

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Not so surprisingly, the situation becomes more complicated when Lara Jean goes to a nursing home for her volunteer work and then encounters John Ambrose, who also comes to the nursing home for the same purpose. This accidental encounter of theirs feels pretty awkward to both of them right from the beginning, but they soon find themselves more attracted to each other as working and spending time together, and that certainly leads to more conflict for Lara Jean, who has not told everything to Peter yet.

While keeping hesitating between Peter and John Ambrose, Lara Jean comes to have more doubts on her current relationship with Peter mainly because he often fails to show her enough consideration and affection. When he later comes to know about what is going on between her and John Ambrose, he is surely not so pleased about that even though he was once close to John Ambrose, and that accordingly puts more distance between him and Lara Jean.

Now many of you get a pretty good idea on where the story is heading, and I assure you that you will not be surprised much. As becoming more distant to Peter, Lara Jean comes to wonder whether he still has some feeling toward his ex-girlfriend who was incidentally her best friend in the past, and that consequently pushes her toward more to John Ambrose. Although their interactions are not totally free of awkwardness, Lara Jean begins to consider beginning a relationship with him, and then she happens to see a photograph suggesting something serious going on between Peter and his ex-girlfriend.

Around that narrative point, the screenplay by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe, which is based on “P.S. I Still Love You” by Jenny Han, throws more predictable moments, and the movie consequently loses its narrative momentum during its third act. Although we get some amusement from how Lara Jean’s younger sister attempts a matchmaking between their dad and a certain neighbor, that subplot remains underdeveloped on the whole. In case of a little poignant moment between Lara Jean and Peter’s ex-girlfriend later in the story, it comes too late in my humble opinion, and we are not so surprised at all because we have already discerned a misunderstanding between them.

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Anyway, the movie is still mildly entertaining thanks to the likable lead performance from Lara Condor, who demonstrates here again that she is a promising actress with considerable talent and presence. In addition to conveying well to us her character’s growing conflict and confusion, Condor handles well a number of comic moments in the film, and she is particularly funny and charming during the opening scene as fully embracing her character’s irrepressible bliss. To be frank with you, I hope she will soon move onto better things after this film and the following sequel “To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean” (2020), which will be released on Netflix several months later.

In case of the other main cast members of the film, they are mostly stuck in their functional roles. While Noach Centineo and Jordan Fisher are suitably cast as two handsome boys around our heroine, they do not have many things to do except looking desirable, and the other substantial supporting performers including Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Holland Taylor, and John Corbett are sadly under-utilized, though they try as much as they can for bringing some life and personality to their respective roles.

In conclusion, “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” is a fairly passable product, but it did not engage me enough for recommendation, though I must say that director/cinematographer Michael Fimognari did an adequate job in technical aspects. Seriously, I do not have much expectation on “To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean” at present, but I wish it will not be more mediocre than this at least.

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Horse Girl (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): As she is losing her mind

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I was often baffled and confused as watching “Horse Girl”, which was released on Netflix not long after it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in last month. As its heroine becomes more mentally disturbed and confused along the story, the film merely moves onto one weird moment to another without generating enough narrative momentum to hold our attention, and we come to remain rather distant to its heroine’s gradual descent into madness during its second half.

At first, everything looks fine and all right for Sarah (Allison Brie), a shy, awkward young woman without much social life. While she has lived with a female roommate around her age, there is not much interaction between her and her roommate, and it seems that her only friend is Joan (Molly Shannon), a kind and generous older woman who has worked with her at their workplace.

And we get to know about her strong emotional attachment on a horse in a local ranch. For some unspecified reason vaguely implied via a short flashback shot later in the story, Sarah wants to be near that horse as much as possible, and she also approaches to a young girl who routinely comes to the ranch for her riding lesson, though she does not know anything about that young girl at all.

Meanwhile, things get a bit better for Sarah when her roommate suggests that they should have a double date with her boyfriend and one of his friends. Although she prefers to watch her favorite TV drama series alone as usual, Sarah reluctantly agrees to spend some time along with others, and, what do you know, she finds herself having much more fun than expected thanks to music, dance, and, yes, alcohol. In addition, she becomes quite attracted to her date, and it looks like the feeling is mutual between them.

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However, strange things begin to happen to Sarah, and she becomes quite unnerved because of that. Besides starting to show the serious cases of sleepwalking and time loss, she frequently dreams of herself being in an alien place along with two unconscious people she has never seen before, and she is surprised when she happens to spot one of these two people during one day.

Like any sensible people, Sarah wonders whether she is going crazy, but those weird things feel so real to her that she comes to believe that there is an insidious conspiracy around her. Just because she resembles her grandmother a lot, she thinks she is actually a clone of her grandmother, and she fears that aliens who made her will take her away sooner or later.

Of course, she surely knows how well preposterous that sounds, but she cannot help but driven by her madness day by day. At one point, she approaches to that man she saw in her dreams, and she attempts to get to know more about him, but that only results in more conflict between her and her roommate, who comes to worry about Sarah more than before. In case of Sarah’s aforementioned date, he is willing to listen and talk with her during their second meeting, but, not so surprisingly, there soon comes a point where he decides that enough is enough.

And the story goes further into more madness and confusion along with its heroine. Although it gives us some respite when Sarah subsequently comes to stay at a mental hospital after a striking moment of mental breakdown, she remains quite unstable and disturbed as before, and we accordingly get a series of strange moments filtered through her increasingly unreliable viewpoint.

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Naturally, we come to wonder more about what really makes Sarah tick, but director/co-writer/co-producer Jeff Baena never gives us any clear answer for that as steadily making us more confused than before. Thanks to cinematographer Sean McElwee, the movie is constantly shrouded in unnerving ambience, and there are a number of visually impressive moments which effectively reflect our heroine’s warped state of mind as accompanied with the unnerving score by Josiah Steinbrick and Jeremy Zuckerman.

Although we still keep getting baffled about what is exactly going on, Alison Brie, who has been known for her notable performances in several acclaimed TV series including “Mad Men”, “Community”, and “GLOW”, gives a good performance which compensates for the weak aspects of the film to some degree. While we do not get to know that much about her character, Brie, who is also the co-writer/co-producer of the movie, did a fine job of conveying to us her character’s deeply troubled state of mind, and she is poignant when her character finally finds her peace of mind during the ambiguous finale.

In contrast, several other notable performers in the movie are rather wasted in their functional roles, and that was a major disappointment for me. While Molly Shannon is reliable as usual, she is mostly limited by her thankless role, and the same thing can be said about Jay Duplass, David Paymer, and Paul Reiser, who merely come and then go during their respective brief appearances.

On the whole, I cannot recommend “Horse Girl” due to its several flaws, but I admire what Baena and Brie, who previously worked together in Baena’s previous film “The Little Hours” (2017), attempt to present on the screen. Although their overall result is not as successful as intended in my trivial opinion, the movie shows their considerable talent nonetheless, and I hope they will soon move onto better things in the future.

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An Honest Candidate (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Suddenly, she can’t lie!

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I chuckled from time to time as watching the first half of South Korean comedy film “An Honest Candidate”, which could be one of the funnier South Korean movies of this year if it pushed its rather familiar premise harder with more satiric edges. While the movie is held together well by another engaging comic performance from its wonderful lead actress, it begins to lose its comic momentum due to a number of plot contrivances during its second half, and I remained disappointed as phlegmatically watching it eventually arriving at its predictable finale.

Ra Mi-ran, who has been more notable thanks to her hilarious performance in “Miss & Mrs. Cops” (2019), plays Joo Sang-sook, a congresswoman in the middle of her re-election campaign. As shown from a TV debate of her and other candidates, she is your average dishonest politician with some dirty sides to hide behind her back, but she confidently deals with hard questions thrown at her, and everything goes pretty well as before for not only her and others around her including her loyal assistant.

During its early part, the movie generates lots of laughs from its heroine’s shamelessly hypocritical sides. Yes, there was a time when she was an idealistic activist pursuing justice, but she has turned into a jaded and cynical politician willing to lie and pretend for getting more votes from the residents of her district, and her loser husband does not have any problem with that, though it is always inconvenient for them to move back and forth between two very different residences every evening.

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Above all, Sang-sook has been hiding a fact which will certainly ruin her political career if it is ever exposed in public. Several years ago, she told others except her husband and assistant that her grandmother died, and that certainly drew lots of sympathy votes, but, what do you know, her grandmother has been actually alive while hiding in some remote place. When Sang-sook comes to visit her during one dark and stormy night, she does not hide her displeasure with her granddaughter’s hypocrisy at all, but she still cares about her granddaughter nonetheless, and she sincerely prays to her god for her granddaughter becoming honest after Sang-sook leaves.

Of course, something supernatural happens to Sang-sook not long after that. On the very next morning, she is surprised as finding herself saying whatever she feels or thinks without any inhibition, and that surely flabbergasts not only her but also her husband and assistant. Understandably panicked by this inexplicable change of his boss, Sang-sook’s assistant tries as much as he can for damage control, but Sang-sook still cannot help herself just like Jim Carrey’s lawyer hero in “Liar Liar” (1997), and we accordingly get plenty of laughs as she keeps blurting out her thoughts and feelings in front of others.

When Sang-sook’s assistant subsequently seeks help from a prominent political fixer, the situation seems to be under control for a while. Once discerning that Sang-sook really cannot lie at all, that political fixer suggests that they should go all the way with her unflappable honesty, and, to everyone’s surprise, that strategy works a lot better than they thought.

However, as some of you already expected, the mood becomes more serious than before later in the story when Sang-sook comes to realize that she has been inadvertently involved with a massive case of corruption for years. As being pushed toward more honesty and integrity than before, she cannot help but feel conflicted – especially after she comes to learn more of what has been committed behind her back and its ramifications.

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The plot seems to thicken as a stubborn news reporter tries to delve more into this case, but the movie is eventually hampered by its thin narrative and superficial characterization. While it tries to bring some tension into the story during its last act, it only comes to fizzle in the end, and the following finale is too easy and convenient to say the least. In addition, most of characters surrounding Sang-sook are more or less than broad cardboard figures to function as mere foils to interact with Sang-sook, and it often looks like the movie does not know how to utilize them for inducing more laughs from us.

Nevertheless, Ra diligently carries the film from the beginning to the end, and I particularly enjoyed how dexterously she handles numerous expected comic moments. I exactly knew when to laugh everytime, but, mainly thanks to Ra’s natural comic timing, I laughed harder than expected as watching the first half of the movie, and that is the main reason of my dissatisfaction with the second half, which, as far as I could remember, left me and the audiences around me in a less boisterous mood. In case of several notable supporting performers surrounding Ra, they are mostly under-utilized, but Kim Moo-yul did as much as he could do with his thankless role, and Na Moon-hee, who recently drew more of our attention thanks to her strong performance in “I Can Speak” (2017), steals the show as usual.

Directed by Chang You-jeong, “An Honest Candidate”, which is the remake of Brazilian comedy film “The Honest Candidate” (2014), is a lightweight product packed with some good laughs, but it is not funnier than “Miss & Mrs. Cops” or “Secret Zoo” (2019). Mainly because I gave these two movies 3 stars, I give “An Honest Candidate” 2.5 stars, but I assure you that you will not waste your money and time if you just want to laugh and smile.

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Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Harley Quinn and other hardcore ladies

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“Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” is wild, uproarious, and, above all, exhilarating. Cheerfully and irreverently bouncing along with its loony anti-heroine and several other strong, colorful female characters, the movie constantly tickles and excites us via a number of inspired moments to be savored and appreciated, and the result is one of the better products from the DC Extended Universe.

The story opens with the animation prologue scene which gives us a brief but succinct summary of the rocky life and career of Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Despite her poor and miserable childhood years in Gotham City, Harley eventually grew up to become a promising young psychiatrist, but, alas, she came to fall in love with a certain notorious criminal figure at an asylum where she happened to work, and she willingly threw herself in madness and crime as helping her insane lover escape from the asylum and then becoming his partner-in-crime during next several years. Despite going through a number of pretty rough moments as shown in “Suicide Squad” (2016), she remained romantically attached to her man during that period, but then there comes a point where she cannot stand his vicious and abusive aspects anymore, so she decides to end her relationship with him once for all.

However, Harley is not particularly willing to announce this breakup to those denizens of the underworld of Gotham City because she wants to continue to have her own crazy fun and excitement as usual. Nobody wants to mess with her because they are afraid of any possible retaliation from that criminal figure who has been closely associated with her, so she keeps pretending that she is still in a relationship with him as before, and her wild nights are continued as usual.

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Nevertheless, as trying to move onto the next chapter of her criminal life, Harley soon becomes bored and frustrated. She manages to find her own small but cozy private place where she begins to live with an predatory animal pet she happens to acquire, but she still feels something unresolved and unventilated inside her, and then, of course, there soon comes a moment when she comes across a golden opportunity for closure and liberation by chance and then goes all the way without any hesitation at all.

While she surely gets a big dramatic moment of elevation as a result, the consequences of her impulsive action come upon her far earlier than expected. Now everyone in the town knows that Harley is no longer under the protection of her ex-boyfriend, and she soon finds herself targeted by many different criminals just like Keanu Reeves in “Jock Wick” (2014) and its two sequels.

And then things subsequently become more complicated when she gets seriously involved with Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a mean, ambitious, and self-absorbed crime lord who is about to obtain an important object which will enable him to become the most powerful criminal figure in the town. When that object in question happens to be snatched at the last minute, Sionis is quite enraged to say the least, and Harley has no choice but to follow his demand as being threatened by him and his brutal henchmen including Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who is ready to utilize his particular set of skills at any moment.

In the meanwhile, the plot thickens as several other main characters enter the picture one by one. Besides a seasoned but strong-willed female cop who is determined to arrest Harley in addition to bringing down Sionis, there are 1) an exceptional lady singer working in Sionis’ bar, 2) a mysterious female figure armed with a lethal crossbow, and 3) a young but artful pickpocket girl who happens to be right in the middle of the situation.

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While it will not be much a spoiler to tell you that Harley and other main female characters eventually come to band together against Sionis and his henchman, the movie often surprises as ecstatically jumping among comedy, drama, and action, and the screenplay by Christina Hodson also throws some sincere moments of female solidarity into its boldly pulpy narrative. Although I must point out that the story becomes more predictable during the last act, director Cathy Yan enthralls us with a series of terrific physical action scenes which feel visceral and impactful while also fully packed with humor, style, and thrill, and she certainly demonstrates here that she is a skillful action movie director as good as, say, Patty Jenkins.

Under Yan’s competent direction, the main cast members of the film function well in their respective parts. As Margot Robbie, who was incidentally the saving grace of “Suicide Squad”, gleefully holds the center with her vibrant mix of charm and lunacy, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, and Ella Jay Basco hold each own place well around Robbie, and Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina look menacing and loathsome as required while never overshadowing Robbie and other ladies in the film.

Overall, “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” is as fantabulous as intended in addition to being a vast improvement compared to “Suicide Squad”, which was the lowest point of the DC Extended Universe along with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016). I do not know whether we will soon see the next naughty adventure of Harley Quinn, but, seriously, I am already looking forward to that right now.

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My prediction on the 92nd Annual Academy Awards

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So far, this Oscar season has been pretty exciting. At first, “The Irishman” seemed to be the front runner, but then “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood” went ahead with its considerable victory at the Golden Globe, but then there came “1917” and “Parasite”, a dark horse from South Korea which may make the history considering its possible chance to beat “1917” in the ongoing Best Picture Oscar race.

Meanwhile, many of other major categories have been quite clear during last several weeks. In case of the acting categories, all of the front runners won Golden Globe, SAG, BFCA and BAFTA, and we will be quite surprised if something similar to Olivia Colman winning the Best Actress Oscar in last year happens. In case of the technical categories, I am convinced that “1917” will garner 3 or 4 awards at least, and I think most of other Best Picture Oscar nominees will not be empty-handed in the end, though “The Irishman” will probably suffer the same humiliation “Gangs of New York” suffered 17 years ago.

Anyway, folks, here is my ever-incorrect Oscar Prediction, and let’s see how inaccurate my prediction is – and how much you can outsmart me. I am ready to be surprised, you know.

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Corpus Christi (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): The Priest with Tattoos

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Polish film “Corpus Christi”, which recently got nominated for Best International Film Oscar, turns out to be more solemn and serious than I expected from its absurd premise. Although it may be a little too dry for general audiences out there as your average arthouse drama film, the movie mostly works as an intense and intriguing tale about faith and redemption, and I appreciate its thoughtful storytelling coupled with an electrifying lead performance at its center.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a young man who has been held in a youth detention center since he committed a serious crime some time ago. While he is not exactly a model case of rehabilitation as shown from the opening scene, he also seems to be quite serious about becoming a priest, so he tells Father Tomasz (Łukasz Simlat) about his growing desire to attend a seminary when he is about to be released on parole, but Father Tomasz flatly reminds him that he cannot be a priest due to his criminal record, though he genuinely cares about Daniel’s future in contrast to other guards and supervisors in the youth detention center.

Anyway, Father Tomasz has already arranged a job position for Daniel, and Daniel is soon sent to a sawmill located near some small rural town, but he does not see any future from that drab place at all. When he subsequently goes to the town and then enters a local chapel, he comes to pass himself off a young traveling priest recently ordained to priesthood in Warsaw, and his impulsive disguise works better than he thought mainly thanks to a clerical collar he stole before getting out of the youth detention center.

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Daniel’s plan is simply staying at the residence of the town priest just for a few days, but then he comes to stay longer than expected when the town priest suddenly has to spend a long time at a certain medical facility outside the town. Daniel certainly feels quite nervous about becoming an acting priest, but, what do you know, he quickly gets accustomed to his new circumstance. For example, he quickly does some Google search for learning the protocols of those religious services including listening to the confessions from a bunch of parishioners, and we get a small moment for laugh when he gives one of them a practical advice on the misbehavior of that parishioner’s son.

In case of routine sermons, Daniel mostly depends on what he has absorbed from the Bible and Father Tomasz’s sermons, but then he begins to do some improvisations. As he continues to preach about many things including faith and redemption, the mood amidst the parishioners becomes livelier than before, and he soon comes to function as someone to console many people in the town, who have been grieving a lot over a recent tragic accident which led to the sudden early death of several young town people.

Watching these people frequently holding a vigil in front of a makeshift shrine near the chapel, Daniel decides to do as much as he can for leading them to healing and closure, and there is a humorous scene where he has them go through a rather silly act of therapy, but he also comes to learn about how people can be quite cruel because of tragedy. Everyone in the town blames a dead man who is presumed be responsible for the accident, and his widow has been harassed a lot by others in the town even though she has nothing to do with the accident.

When Daniel attempts to rectify this unjust circumstance for that widow, he instantly finds himself clashing with many people in the town. The mayor of the town, who is incidentally a businessman who owns the very sawmill where Daniel was supposed to work, does not welcome much the disturbance caused by Daniel’s attempt to give a proper burial to that widow’s dead husband, and he sternly warns Daniel not to go further at one point, but Daniel, who has been quite more confident than before as more comfortable with his disguise, shows some defiance when he holds a ritual of blessing at the mayor’s sawmill.

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However, he also feels more conflicted as becoming more sincere and passionate about his self-ordained vocation – especially when he faces that lingering possibility of getting exposed at any point. While the mood becomes more tense as he gets cornered by a certain supporting character later in the story, the movie wisely does not overplay that part, and the same thing can be said about Daniel’s growing relationship with Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), a young woman who becomes slowly attracted to Daniel after their first encounter at the chapel.

In the end, there comes an inevitable narrative point where Daniel has to make some crucial choices (Is this a spoiler?), but Mateusz Pacewicz’s screenplay surprises us with the finale which does not give an easy way out for its complex hero, and director Jan Komasa sticks to his austere storytelling approach till the very final scene. As often closely observing its hero, the movie depends a lot on the presence and talent of its lead actor, and Bartosz Bielenia is quite captivating in a performance which may be regarded as a major breakthrough in his nascent acting career.

Overall, “Corpus Christi” may look plain compared to its fellow Oscar nominees including “Parasite” (2019) and “Pain and Glory” (2019), but it is still an engaging religious drama film with good moments to reflect on. To be frank with you, I think you will appreciate it more especially if you are a Catholic churchgoer like some of my acquaintances, and I would love to hear their opinions on the movie.

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Uncut Gems (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Adam Sandler on full throttle mode

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The hero of Josh and Benny Safdie’s new film “Uncut Gems”, which was released on Netflix this Friday, is probably one of the most incorrigible characters I have ever seen during recent years. Constantly and helplessly driven by impulse and temper, he keeps making his desperate situation worse and worse, and it is often horribly fascinating to watch how he gets himself tumbled into one bottom after another as struggling and squiggling to find any possible way out.

During the early part of the movie, we gradually come to gather how messy the circumstance is for Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a Jewish-American jeweler running his own small jewel shop in the Diamond District of New York City. While his relationship with his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) seems to be beyond repair, he is not particularly good to his girlfriend/employee Julia (Julia Fox) either, and his mind is usually occupied with how to solve his dire financial problem. Due to his gambling addiction, he has recently borrowed lots of money from a local loan shark named Arno (Eric Bogosian), and Arno’s henchmen are ready to squeeze Howard as hard as possible despite a close personal connection between Arno and Howard.

After being threatened by Arno’s henchmen, Howard promptly borrows some money from others, but, not so surprisingly, this borrowed money is soon spent for another gambling of his, and he is confident that he will succeed this time just because of one accidental encounter. When his associate Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) brings a certain famous basketball player of the Boston Celtics into Howard’s jewel shop, that basketball player shows considerable interest on a rare Ethiopia opal which Howard has just acquired, and Howard comes to borrow the opal to that basketball player for a while as it may bring some luck to him as well as that basketball player, who will soon participate in a big game on which Howard bets lots of money.

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I will not go into details on the outcome of that big game, but it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Howard finds himself in a far messier circumstance than before as facing several unexpected setbacks, and the movie becomes darkly amusing as observing his following frantic attempt to get things under control at least for a while. No matter how much he tries, his situation does not get better at all, and he only comes to face bigger troubles after making a series of unwise choices on impulse and frustration. In addition, Arno and his henchmen become more impatient and exasperated than ever, and that leads to an absurd scene which results in lots of humiliation for Howard.

Although it feels relatively less quick and urgent than the Safdie brothers’ previous film “Good Time” (2017), the movie patiently accumulates its suspense and narrative momentum under their skillful direction, and it also shows some morbid sense of humor from time to time. I particularly like the opening title scene which starts from a big opal mine in Ethiopia and then ends with a certain medical procedure, and I was amused a bit by a brief scene between Howard and his older son, who turns out to be an apple not falling that far from its tree.

The technical aspects of the movie are top-notch. While cinematographer Darius Khondji establishes well a vivid urban atmosphere on the screen, the editing by the Safdie brothers and their co-editor/co-writer Ronald Bronstein is smooth and efficient as steadily increasing narrative pacing, and the electronic score by Daniel Lopatin, who previously collaborated with the Safdie brothers in “Good Time”, adds more propulsion to what is being unfolded on the screen.

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Above all, the movie is strongly anchored by the very compelling lead acting by Adam Sandler, who demonstrates here that he can be quite serious and effective under right condition. Although he has frequently wasted his time and talent on many disposable comedy films, Sandler has sometimes shown the more serious side of his talent through a few notable drama films such as “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” (2017), and he surely throws himself into full throttle mode here in this film without any compromise. Not making any excuse on his pathetic character’s abrasive sides at all, he constantly keeps us on the edge as exuding sheer intensity generated from accumulating desperation and frustration, and we come to pay more attention to his character’s worsening situation even while watching him from the distance.

Sandler is also surrounded by a number of various good performers. While Julia Fox and Idina Menzel hold each own place well as two different women in Howard’s crumbling life, Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Standfield, and Judd Hirsch are also well-cast in their respective supporting roles, and the special mention goes to the aforementioned basketball player, who has some wry fun with playing a fictional version of himself.

In conclusion, “Uncut Gems” is another superbly intense genre piece from the Safdie brothers, and Sander gives a supremely entertaining performance which is indubitably one of the best works in his career in addition to being one of the most powerful performances of last year. Like Robert Pattinson did in “Good Time”, he boldly pushes himself into challenges as taking a lot more chance than usual, and I sincerely wish that he was not serious at all when he recently said that he would make more bad films if he failed to get Oscar-nominated for this film. Seriously, he is too talented to be wasted like that.

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