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Tuesday, April 7, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY A24From left: Kevin Garnett (as himself), Lakeith Stanfield (Demany), Adam Sandler (Howard Ratner), “Uncut Gems.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY A24From left: Kevin Garnett (as himself), Lakeith Stanfield (Demany), Adam Sandler (Howard Ratner), “Uncut Gems.”

Movie Review: Adam Sandler a gem

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

When the Academy Award nominations were announced, many Oscar-watchers bemoaned the lack of a leading actor Oscar nomination for Adam Sandler for “Uncut Gems,” which received no Oscar nominations.

The night before the Oscars, at what might be regarded as the anti-Oscars or the alternative Oscars, that of the Film Independent Spirt Awards, “Uncut Gems” received three awards: Best Director (brothers Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie), Best Male Lead (Adam Sandler) and Best Editing (Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie), and was nominated for two more awards: Best Screenplay (Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie) and Best Feature (Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Scott Rudin).

“Uncut Gems” was on many movie critics’ Top 10 lists for 2019 and was nominated for and received awards from many movie critics’ associations in the United States.

The National Board of Review named “Uncut Gems” to its Top 10 film list for 2019 and named Adam Sandler as Best Actor.

Adam Sandler even won Best Actor from the AARP Movies for Grownups Award.

“Uncut Gems” isn’t only for members of the American Association for Retired Persons.

“Uncut Gems” is a wild (Yes, you won’t believe some of the things that happen.), profane (Yes, it is indeed for grownups.) ride (Yes, it’s edited at a fast pace that’s sometimes brutal-on-the-eyes and mind.) about a jewelry store owner in New York City’s Diamond District.

“Uncut Gems” tells the fictional story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a jewelry store owner who has a professional sports (specifically, basketball) gambling addiction and is in debit for his gambling wagers.

Ratner’s fascination with a black opal from Ethiopia, his obtaining the opal and his plans to auction it off to pay off his gambling debt propels the plot of “Uncut Gems” and gives the film its title. Ratner wants to auction the rock containing the opals for $1 million.

There are numerous subplots in “Uncut Gems” that add to the excitement, humor and suspense.

Ratner owes $100,000 to his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), a loan shark. Ratner is separated from his wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel). He’s dating Julia (Julia Fox), who works at his jewelry store.

There are some amazing scenes in “Uncut Gems,” so much is going on, and the story unfolds so fast that it’s one film that not only bears, but demands, repeated viewings.

In the screenplay, cinematography and editing, the Safdie brothers successfully balance comedy and tragedy.

A scene at the Passover table is wrought with ironic subtext, as Ratner’s ridiculous gambling schemes and girlfriend problems spill over into what is a reverent family observance.

A compelling storyline in “Uncut Gems” pertains to Boston Celtics’ basketball player Kevin Garnett (playing himself), who borrows the opal rock for good luck.

A scene takes place in a nightclub where Ratner accuses his girlfriend Julia of flirting with hip-hop star Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye, playing himself) and gets into a scuffle with the singer.

There are many such counterpoints of topics and tempo, of plot references and overlaps that are fascinating, riveting and successfully rendered to make “Uncut Gems” a film not to be missed.

Adam Sandler is terrific in the lead role of Howard Ratner. Ratner is an awful person. Still, he’s not unredeemable. He has impulse control problems and makes bad decisions. Sandler captures the role’s emotional range.

Movie-goers are accustomed to Sandler in comedy movie roles (“Billy Madison,” 1995; “The Wedding Singer,” 1998; “50 First Dates,” 2004) This role is Sandler’s most fully-realized.

Excellent in supporting roles are Lakeith Stanfield (Demany, who recruits customers for Ratner’s jewelry store), Julia Fox (Julia, a jewelry store employee and Ratner’s girlfriend), Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics’ forward), Idina Menzel (Dinah, Ratner’s wire), Eric Bogosian (Arno, Howard’s brother-in-law) and Judd Hirsch (Gooey, Ratner’s father-in-law).

The rock containing the gems in “Uncut Gems” isn’t the only rock used as a plot holder in award-winning 2010 films. The Oscar-winning Best Picture “Parasite” also has a rock that provides a pivotal plot twist.

Tunnels, those navigated by the African miners, as depicted in “Uncut Gems,” play a lesser role. Tunnels also play a lesser role in the Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning movie “1917.”

The “Uncut Gems” screenplay is written, filmed (Director of Photography Darius Khondji) and edited at a breakneck pace. The soundtrack (composer Daniel Lopatin) gives the impression of even more blazing speed.

“Uncut Gems” is intense. It seems like a rough cut. It doesn’t give the sense of polished film-making, yet it is. “Uncut Gems” is a gem.

Although “Uncut Gems” is the Safdie brothers’ fifth feature-length theatrical movie release, it blasts off the screen like a film-maker’s first feature movie, such as director Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) and the directors Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” (1985).

“Uncut Gems,” said to be inspired by the Safdie brothers’ father’s working in Manhattan’s Diamond District, is as audacious as any film by Tarantino or the Coens. If you’re a fan of those off-beat film-makers, then don’t miss “Uncut Gems.”

“Uncut Gems,” MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use; Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller: Run Time: 2 hr., 15 min.; Distributed by A24.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The opening and closing sequences of “Uncut Gems” are inspired by the gemological photomicrography of Eduard Gübelin and Danny J. Sanchez.

Box Office, Feb. 21-23: “Sonic the Hedgehog” played at No. 1 two weeks in a row, with $26.3 million, $106.6 million, two weeks, as Harrison Ford’s “The Call of the Wild” opened close behind at No. 2 with $24.8 million, “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” dropped one place to No. 3 with $7 million, $72.5 million, three weeks, and movie-goers didn’t seem to want to hear it for “Brahms: The Boy II,” opening at No. 4 with $5.9 million.

5. “Bad Boys For Life” stayed in place, $5.8 million, $191.1 million, six weeks. 6. “1917” (10 Oscar nominations; three Oscars received) stayed in place, $4.4 million, $151.9 million, nine weeks. 7. “Fantasy Island” dropped four places, $4.1 million, $20.1 million, two weeks. 8. “Gisaengchung” (original title) aka “Parasite” (Six Oscar nominations, four Oscars received) dropped one place, $3.1 million, $48.9 million, 20 weeks. 9. “Jumanji: The Next Level” dropped two places, $3 million, $310.9 million, 11 weeks. 10. “The Photograph” dropped six places, $2.8 million, $17.6 million. 30. “Uncut Gems” dropped four places, $73,304, $49.9 million, 11 weeks.

Unreel, Feb. 28

“The Invisible Man,” R: Leigh Whannell directs Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge and Michael Dorman in the Horror film. The death of a former husband is suspected to be a hoax.

“Wendy,” PG-13: Benh Zeitlin directs Yashua Mack, Devin France, Gage Naquin and Gavin Naquin in the Fantasy Drama. Wendy tries to save her family, her freedom and her youth. The screenplay is based on the classic “Peter Pan” fairytale.