Will you look at the guy (i.e., Josh Safdie) on the left? His eyes in particular and that Three Stooges Curly Joe nyuk-nyuk goofball expression? One glance tells you why Uncut Gems is the film that it is. One glance tells you Josh is emotionally and psychologically incapable of making a film that isn’t push push crazy-fuck pedal to the metal hyper somersault manic…yeaagghhhhh! Benny (beardless, two years younger) is presumably the more moderate and political personality between them, but together they form a single rollicking aesthetic, a single hormonal urgency…fast on the draw, never slow down, never calm down, drive Hollywood Elsewhere up the wall. They’re in their mid 30s. They might start making interesting films when they hit their 50s. It’s going to take at least 15 or 20 years for these guys to settle down. They have a brand now, and so many enablers. There’s no turning back.
Uncut Gems is a full-barrelled, deep dive into the realm of a manic, crazy-fuck gambler (Adam Sandler), and yes, it “feels like being locked inside the pinwheeling brain of a lunatic for more than two hours,” as Peter Debruge wrote. And guess what? It’ll make your head explode and drive you fucking nuts. By the time it’s over you’ll be drooling and jabbering and gasping for air.
And yet Uncut Gems has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In other words not one person so far feels as I do. And I’m telling you the truth, mon freres. Which is why you can’t trust “critics”, per se. Because they’re all living in their own little fickle cubbyholes while Hollywood Elsewhere is standing tall and firm with its feet planted on the sidewalk and looking dead smack at cosmic reality each and every minute of every day…no let-up.
Adam Sandler is completely immersed in the manic mode of an insatiable edge-junkie gambler in Josh and Benny Safdie‘s Uncut Gems. For this is a hyper, hammerhead experience that, unlike Karl Reisz and James Toback‘s The Gambler or Abel Ferrara‘s Bad Lieutenant, has zero interest in looking or reaching beyond the hustling mood-rush aspects of his character’s wildly self-destructive addiction.
It’s all frenzy, all movement, all “no, wait…you know I’m good for it” or “no, man, c’mon…I put the bet down before that shit happened.” He owes, he bullshits, he runs around, he bullshits some more….homina homina bullshit bullshit junkie highs flashing as the walls move in closer and closer.
If you know anything about the gambling disease you know it’s never about winning — it’s about the rush journey…the bolt, the buzz and the tasting of doom and salvation in the exact same breath. It is therefore hugely exasperating to sit through because the Safdies don’t want to go anywhere. A certain thing happens at the very end, and when it did I immediately muttered “thank God.”
I know Manohla to a certain extent and I know what it’s like to to write for the Times, and one of the basic rules is “always project a reasonable and moderate attitude…don’t allow feelings, particularly negative feelings, to overly influence your views or prose.” So when Manohla writes that Gems is “fun”, she’s trying to sound like a good sport and a fair-minded cineaste. Because her primary reaction, trust me, was basically “Jesus H. Christ, give me a fucking break already!” Distill that down into measured Times prose, and it comes out as “Uncut Gems is wearying and at times annoying.”
Posted by yours truly on 9.19.19: “Uncut Gems is a full-barrelled, deep dive into the realm of a manic, crazy-fuck gambler (Adam Sandler), and yes, it ‘feels like being locked inside the pinwheeling brain of a lunatic for more than two hours,” as Peter Debruge wrote. And guess what? It’ll make your head explode and drive you fucking nuts. By the time it’s over you’ll be drooling and jabbering and gasping for air.”
Manohla again: “It’s easier to admire than to love, and I hate the ending, but the Safdies clearly like working your nerves.”
Really, Manohla? I loved the ending! I’m not going to say what happens, but it’s the one thing in the film that made me go “yes!” and “thank God!”
Another Manohla excerpt: “The dusty, enigmatic opener in Uncut Gems drolly echoes the start of The Exorcist (’73), where a priest at an archaeological dig in Iraq unearths the demonic relic that sets off the ensuing horror, the possession and spewing vomit. The magical discovery here is made by two Ethiopian miners, who sneak away from the bedlam to dig out a huge black opal that soon ends up in [Sandler’s] possession, though not for long.”
After reading this I was inspired to re-watch the Exorcist‘s Irag prologue. The craft levels alone — photography, editing, dusty atmosphere — are at least 16 or 17 times better than the opening of Uncut Gems. The simple truth is that early ’70s William Friedkin kicks the pipsqueak, nickle-and-dime asses of both Safdies…forget about it. Sandler and others have affectionately called the Safdies “crazy.” Well, so was Friedkin during his heyday, but he was also a craftsman of a much higher order.
Three and a half months ago I reviewed a Kino Lorber Bluray of Marty Feldman’s In God We Tru$t (’80), an anti-religion, anti-corporate satire in which Richard Pryor played God. (Or more precisely “G.O.D.”).
An In God We Trust Richard Pryor-with-white-Godbeard T-shirt was subsequently created by Elara.world, a normcore merch line from an outfit run by the crazy Safdies (Josh and Benny) and Sebastian Bear-McClard (i,.e., Emily Ratajkowski’s significant husband).
A few days ago Timothee Chalamet, costar of Wes Anderson‘s The French Dispatch, wore the whitebeard-Pryor T-shirt during a Cannes Film Festival photo op. And here I am mentioning it. It’s all come full circle.
Posted on 3.21.21: “I just can’t fathom why a rich actor would choose to wear a schlubby normcore T-shirt. He could wear the coolest Calvin Klein or John Varvatos three-button T-shirt…some kind of cooler-than-shit creation with a little style, something he bought in Milan or London or at a tag sale in Marin County.
“What’s the point of a rich guy looking like some average dude from Worcester or Scotch Plains or Clearwater? To what end? To prove to himself that he’s average common too, just like him and the same as you?”
The more I hated the hyper jackhammer insanity of Uncut Gems (’19), which wasn’t so much “directed” as mainlined by the crazy hypodermic Safdies, the more I fell in love with the memory of Karel Reisz and James Toback‘s The Gambler (’74) — a film that considers the gambling-junkie pathology in tragic-poetic terms.
I can rent a high-def streaming copy any day of the week, but I’d love to own a first-rate Bluray as a keepsake. An Imprint Bluray is out on 5.26.21, at a cost of $34.95, Isn’t that a bit much? And isn’t the orange packaging a stopper? It sure is on this end.
Say what you will about Hollywood Elsewhere, but let no man dispute that (a) I am a Reality Fortress, and (b) I’m almost never a go-alonger when the critical community loses its collective
shit mind over an auteurist favorite of a dubious caste.
For when it comes to difficult films I am a slice-of-pepperoni-pizza kind of guy and an all-around “man of the people.” Not when it comes to masterpieces like Cold War or cop films like Les Miserables, but in the matter of irritating, eccentric, frenetic-style-for-its-own-sake films.
Case in point: Josh and Benny Safdie‘s Uncut Gems, which I was appalled by when I saw it at last September’s Telluride Film Festival, but which 93% of elite critics dropped to their knees for. Well, compare their Safdie worship with the current Uncut Gems situation: (a) 55% Rotten Tomatoes audience rating and (b) C+ CinemaScore rating.
And you know what? The Safdies are going to keep making “crazy Safdie” films. They’re not going to learn from this. Because they live in their own Manhattan echo chamber. And that’s par for the course.
In a post titled “Sandler’s Finest Performance,” I wrote that “within the realm that the Safdies have created, he’s completely authentic. We all know what Sandler’s screen persona has been for the last 25 years — droll, laid-back, quippy, sarcastic smart-ass. Howard Ratner is different. Sandler has never given himself to a character like this before. I just want to make that clear. You could say that Sandler is better than the film. I completely respect what he’s done here.”
Right now we’re smack dab in the middle of ad-buying for award-season contenders, and A24, the distributor of Uncut Gems, is spending like everyone else. The other day I noticed a big front-and-back-cover Hollywood Reporter supplement praising Sandler’s performance. Are you listening, Hollywood rank-and-filers? A24 wants you to hear their plea.
Speaking as the Charley Varrick of conversation stirrers (along with Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone), I would be delighted to run some A24 Sandler ads along with, say, a special two-day advertorial telling everyone how extra-wowser he is. I really would, and my aim is true. But A24 doesn’t want to know about Hollywood Elsewhere.
As we speak most of the big-time distributors are down with Phase One and Phase Two ads on HE (a tried-and-true reality since HE launched in August ’04), but not A24. They won’t even pick up the phone. They’ll spend God know knows how many thousands on this and that promotional venue or activity and God bless them and their strategies, but they don’t believe in award-season blogaroos. Their attitude is basically “thanks for pushing Sandler, bruh, but ad-wise we’re not into the Last of the Crop-Dusting Independents….no offense, love your stuff.”
“They just don’t advertise that way,” a producer confides. “[Display ads] are not in their quiver. It’s got nothing to do with you. It’s just not what they believe in.”
Most of my responses to Josh and Benny Safdie‘s Uncut Gems were about irritation and frustration. Because, in my judgment, Sandler’s Howard Ratner, a total gambling junkie, isn’t interesting. Not because Sandler isn’t good in the role — he’s actually brilliant — but because the film has no interest in looking or reaching beyond the hustling mood-rush aspects of his wildly self-destructive addiction.
That’s not a putdown of Sandler’s performance. Within the realm that the Safdies have created, he’s completely authentic. We all know what Sandler’s screen persona has been for the last 25 years — droll, laid-back, quippy, sarcastic smart-ass. Howard Ratner is different. Sandler has never given himself to a character like this before. I just want to make that clear. You could say that Sandler is better than the film. I completely respect what he’s done here. In fact, I’ve just visited Gold Derby and upped his standing to fourth place (right behind Adam Driver, Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro).