New York City jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is always looking for the next big score and always pushing his luck to find it. When he comes across a “sure thing,” it puts him at odds with friends and enemies alike.
It has been a long time since I have seen a new Adam Sandler movie. I’m talking like 2011’s Jack and Jill and 2008’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan before that. I’ve even missed Pixels, which my aunt has assured me I would enjoy given the amount of video games I play. But Uncut Gems piqued my interest because it looked like a different kind of Sandler movie. Even by my own admission I haven’t seen many of his movies outside of his early popular hits to compare to, but his role in Uncut Gems is unlike I have ever seen from him and might just be his best performance.
Sandler is absolutely brilliant as Howard Ratner, a shifty jeweler in New York City. Sandler is mostly known as a comedic actor but his role as Howard shows that he can branch out to other types of roles if he puts his mind to it. Howard is not a good person and is involved in shady dealings. Sandler bring a schizophrenic element to the part and makes it seem natural. The further I got into the film, the less and less I believed the person on screen was Sandler and not some doppelganger. Compared to other roles in his filmography, he is unrecognizable. After watching him in this film, I would like to see Sandler take on more dramatic roles such as this.
As I said before, Howard is not a good person, you might even call him a downright awful person. Usually a main character of a film has some sort of redeeming quality so the audience can connect and root for them. Not Howard. This disconnect from the audience actually works towards another purpose. Since he is such a terrible individual, I continuously expected something terrible to happen to him. This is where I found the suspense of the film to come from. I was constantly wondering when something will go wrong for Howard. Once this thought took hold, I was glued to the screen, always expecting the worse to happen in every scene.
The cinematography was expertly used to elevate the tension as well. Tight angles and small, crowded spaces were often used to create a sense of claustrophobia, making the audience more uneasy being up close and personal with such despicable people. Kudos to the Safdie brothers and cinematographer Darius Khondji for creating an uncomfortable feeling using just the camera.
If I had one complaint about the film it would be that it is a bit too long. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it does drag on a points. If one or two subplots would have been cut to shave the run time down by 20 or 30 minutes, I think this film would have found that sweet spot.
I thought Uncut Gems was GREAT 😀 Adam Sandler completely transforms himself in what is probably his most dramatic role to date. I found myself on edge expecting the worst to happen. While it was just a smidge too long, Uncut Gems is unrelenting and extremely raw, dragging you into Howard’s seedy world and never letting go.
Cast & Crew
Benny Safdie – Director / Writer
Josh Safdie – Director / Writer
Ronald Bronstein – Writer
Daniel Lopatin – Composer
Adan Sandler – Howard Ratner
Julia Fox – Julia
Idina Menzel – Dinah Ratner
Lakeith Stanfield – Demany
Kevin Garnett – Himself
Eric Bogosian – Arno
Keith Williams Richards – Phil
Mike Francesa – Gary
Judd Hirsch – Gooey
Noa Fisher – Marcel Ratner
Jonathan Aranbayev – Eddie Ratner
Jacob Idielski – Beni Ratner
On Monday, the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon was announced! If you would like to participate, all the details can be found in this announcement post.
When Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), long thought dead, calls out to the galaxy, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) each go on a quest to find him. Meanwhile, the surviving Resistance forces get ready for a final confrontation against the First Order.
Review I want to start this review by saying that I am not one of those Star Wars fans who rants and rages because things are not how I expect them to be. However, I am also used to going against the majority when it comes to this franchise. I am not blind to the problems of the Prequel Trilogy but I will defend them on what they did right and the potential they had that could have been mined better if George Lucas wasn’t left to write and direct them on his own. Also, I wasn’t impressed with the first two entries of the Sequel Trilogy, feeling that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was too derivative but still contained a lot of positives and Star Wars: The Last Jedi made some missteps with major characters and did not moving the overall plot along very far, but I appreciate it for the story and the risks it took. Going into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially with JJ Abrams back at the helm to conclude the story he started with The Force Awakens. Coming out of The Rise of Skywalker, I’m left with very mixed feelings.
One thing any Star Wars movie hasn’t been short of is action and excitement. The Rise of Skywalker is no exception. In fact, it might have some of the best action pieces of the franchise. One scene sees Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) battling it out aboard wreckage out in a raging ocean. Another scene has the Resistance fleet going up against the First Order fleet that makes any aerial fight sequence from the rest of the saga pale in comparison. Additionally, there are no shortage of lightsaber duels or chases sequences. There is always something commanding your attention. For the final entry of a nine-part saga, The Rise of Skywalker has all the spectacle it deserves.
Throughout The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, the new main trio of Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) were never all together despite proving they had fantastic chemistry together. They spend much more time together in this film. This made me extremely happy because seriously, these three are fantastic together and play together so well. They truly bring back the chemistry of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford from the Original Trilogy. It’s only too bad it took us three movies to finally get them all together.
Despite being mainstays of the Original Trilogy, or the entire Skywalker Saga in the case of C-3PO, Chewbacca and C-3PO have never had their stand out moments, always being relegated to support characters. Well their due has finally come as both of these characters are given important things to do for the story. Discussing what those things are is going into spoilers so I won’t go into them here but longtime fans should be happy that these characters who have been around for so long are finally getting their chances to make a significant impact on this movies story.
Shortly after The Last Jedi was released, Carrie Fisher passed away. This left the fate of her character, General Leia, up in the air. Abrams and company were able to find archive footage of Fisher from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi to have her be a part of the movie. These scenes can seem a bit awkward at times, given the script had to be worked around what footage already existed, but I think for the most part they were integrated well and eventually give Fisher a proper send off our princess deserved.
Much like Abram’s The Force Awakens felt like it was played safe to appease the fan backlash of the prequels, his The Rise of Skywalker felt like he played it safe to appease the fans who outraged over The Last Jedi. Except for it feels too safe. It seemingly ignored most of what happened in Rian Johnson’s film. Many revelations, or revelations to be made in The Rise of Skywalker, were flipped or brushed away just as Johnson had done to The Force Awakens. Perhaps this was meant a course-correct from fan outrage or maybe it was because The Last Jedi veered too far from Abrams’ Star Wars plans. In either case, it makes the entire Sequel Trilogy feel more disjointed than ever.
The opening crawl immediately sets up that Emperor Palpatine has returned and that both the Resistance and Kylo Ren is searching for him. Because of this set up, the film starts at break-neck speeds. Kylo races from planet to planet in search of a McGuffin. Then Rey, Finn, and Poe are racing from planet to planet looking for a McGuffin. From there the pace rarely ever lets up. Despite the long run time, it still feels rushed because of all the threads it is trying to resolve in that time. Part of this might be because this film is trying to tie up two films of set up. Abrams had his vision of the trilogy and planted seeds in The Force Awakens then Johnson came in with The Last Jedi and was like “nah,” and set up new threads to be resolved in the final installment of the Sequel Trilogy. As a result, it throws a lot of stuff at you throughout its two and a half hour run time as Abrams does to The Last Jedi what The Last Jedi did to The Force Awakens.
This is particularly frustrating because it leaves many threads either still hanging or barely explored. Most notably, the relationship between Rey and Kylo gets an intriguing development that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more. Instead, it is mentioned just enough for the story to move forward but ends up leaving so much more unfulfilled. That is just one example and there are more that I will not go into for wanting to avoid spoiler territory. It makes me wonder why they didn’t create a vision for this new trilogy from the beginning, whether that is one person leading the creative side akin to Kevin Fiege driving the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or one director for every installment.
As I said before, and as you might have seen in the trailer, Emperor Palpatine has returned from his descent into the depths of the second Death Star by Darth Vader’s hands. For me, his return is not unwelcomed. Just like the Skywalkers have been a pillar of the Star Wars Saga, so has Palpatine. However, it does feel… unearned. There was no lead up, no foreshadowing; he just shows up. As it stands, it appears he was thrown in for nostalgia’s sake, because they needed a villain since Snoke of offed in The Last Jedi.
I thought Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was GOOD 🙂 After my first viewing I would have called this simply “OK” but after another viewing, some of the problems that I thought were major problems became minor problems, or at least not as major as I initially thought. Maybe “Not Bad” or “Decent” would be a better way to rate this film. There are still plenty of issues, most of which stem from poor planning from Lucasfilm on the offset of planning the Sequel Trilogy, but there is also plenty to enjoy. Where you fall on the spectrum will probably depend on where you stand on the other two Sequel Trilogy films. Now that the “Skywalker Saga” is finished, maybe Disney will have a moment, take a step back, and approach the Star Wars universe more prepared the next time they dive into the galaxy far, far away.
Cast & Crew
JJ Abrams – Director / Screenplay / Story
Chris Terrio – Screenplay / Story
Derek Connolly – Story
Colin Trevorrow – Story
John Williams – Composer
Daisy Ridley – Rey
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
John Boyega – Fin
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Joonas Suotamo – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Carrie Fisher – Leia Organa
Billy Dee Williams – Lando Calrissian
Greg Grunberg – Snap Wexley
Kelly Marie Tran – Rose Tico
Billie Lourd – Lieutenant Connix
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Keri Russell – Zorii Bliss
Shirley Henderson – Babu Frik
Naomi Ackie – Jannah
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Richard E. Grant – General Pryde
Ian McDiarmid – Emperor Palpatine
When Spencer (Alex Wolff) travels back into the game of Jumanji, Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) go in to rescue him.
In an age of reboots and sequels, Sony decided to create a sequel to the beloved Robin Williams film Jumanji 20 years later with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. That film ended up being a heap of fun and another sequel was inevitable. Enter Jumanji: The Next Level. Jumanji: The Next Level brings back much of what made Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle so enjoyable mixed with just enough of something new.
The combination of Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Heart acting as avatars to teens and behaving as said teens was without a doubt the best part from the previous film. They are back at it again only this time they are acting as avatars for different “players,” except for Gillen who continues to behave like Martha. Rather than playing an awkward teen, Dwayne Johnson gets to do his best Danny DeVito interpretation and absolutely nails it, somehow being even funnier than last time. Kevin Hart gets to pretend to be Danny Glover to hilarious effect. Jack Black deserves all the recognitions for his acting. Previously, he was acting like a teenage white girl, now he is acting like a teenage black dude, and once again creates the biggest laughs of the film.
Awkwafina joins the crew this time around. She doesn’t come in until partway through the film and disappears what feels like shortly after she arrives. Which is a shame because she integrates with the rest of the cast well. Through some shenanigans she also gets to do her best Danny DeVito impression. Alex (Nick Jonas), the fifth avatar from Welcome to the Jungle, also joins the fun for a little bit but he also isn’t on the screen much. It is clear that the movie’s focus is on the characters of Johnson, Gillan, Black, and Hart. Which on one hand is great because they have great chemistry together but on the other hand causes the other characters to be sidelined for chunks of time.
Jumanji: The Next Level keeps with the video game motif and gives the avatars new abilities and a new villain to defeat. Just like Van Pelt from the previous film, Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) is pretty flat and only acts as the villain because the movie says it needs one, much like video games themselves. There are also new environments for the team to explore. The sense of adventure returns bigger than before.
The concept of lives this time around isn’t taken as seriously. In Welcome to the Jungle, the movie makes the characters limited amount of lives important and a big part of the story later on, creating stakes towards the end of the film when the characters are down to their last lives. However, that sense of value isn’t found in this sequel. Characters lose lives quickly and unnecessarily. Excluding a couple acknowledgements of their importance, the concept lives does not play much into the story, which removes those stakes mentioned in the last film.
I thought Jumanji: The Next Level was GOOD 🙂 It brings back many of the elements that made Welcome to the Jungle so much fun but with a few twists. The new cast members are great but don’t have enough screen time to make much of an impression, at least not a lasting one. After two decently successful outings, I wonder how many good levels this franchise actually has left.
Cast & Crew
Jake Kasdan – Director / Writer
Jeff Pinkner – Writer
Scott Rosenberg – Writer
Henry Jackman – Composer
Dwayne Johnson – Dr. Smolder Bravestone
Karen Gillan – Ruby Roundhouse
Jack Black – Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon
Kevin Heart – Franklin “Mouse” Finbar
Nick Jonas – Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough
Awkwafina – Ming Fleetfoot
Alex Wolff – Spencer Gulpin
Morgan Turner – Martha Kaply
Ser’Darius Blain – Anthony “Fridge” Johnson
Madison Iseman – Bethany Walker
Danny DeVito – Eddie Gilpin
Danny Glover – Milo Walker
Colin Hanks – Alex Vreeke
Rhys Darby – Nigel Billingsley
Rory McCann – Jurgen the Brutal
Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) investigates the death of mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).
I have a weird relationship with Rian Johnson. I’ve only seen two of his films: Looper, which I enjoyed a lot, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I have very mixed feelings about. The trailers for Knives Out definitely did their job of piquing my interest. So despite my feelings for his last movie, I thought I would check it out his latest endeavor. Johnson has one crazy imagination! Knives Out is filled to the brim with twists and excitement.
This film is a classic whodunit, something you would expect to play out like a game of Clue. Normally, the reveal about the murder is the final twist at the end. This movie separates itself from other murder mysteries by revealing the events of the murder in question at the end of the first act, which was much earlier than I expected. However, even after these events are revealed, it still kept my attention. The rest of the movie becomes a cat-and-mouse chase which maintains the intrigue and left me on the edge of my seat, constantly saying “oh, no,” but in a good way, under my breath on many occasions. Because the film explained the murder early on and shifts from a classic mystery to more of a thriller, the final twist felt like a let down. It was a wheels-within-wheels type reveal that wasn’t quite as hard-hitting as Johnson probably wanted it to be.
Despite this small gripe with the story, this movie is well written. As I said, even after the tonal shift partway through the film, it was still exciting. By the end of the film, all of the breadcrumbs that were laid out are cleaned up. Also, many lines that sound like throwaway comments have meaning later on, so pay attention closely or you might just miss something. Of course, this captivating script is only made better by such a fantastic cast. Everyone is clearly having a good time. Ana de Armas is arguably not as big of an actress as much of the rest of the cast but she holds her own when sharing the screen with the likes of Daniel Craig, Chris Evens, Jamie Lee Curtis or any of the rest. She is surely an actress to be watching out for.
I thought Knives Out was GREAT 😀 I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rian Johnson, a director with whom I have a love-hate relationship, but I think it’s safe to say at this point in time, I like more of his films than I dislike. Your classic whodunit script gets a twist and you won’t want to take your eyes off of the screen. The well-written script and excellent cast make Knives Out a thrilling ride from start to finish.
Cast & Crew
Rian Johnson – Director / Writer
Nathan Johnson – Composer
Daniel Craig – Benoit Blanc
Ana de Armas – Marta Cabrera
Chris Evans – Ransom Drysdale
Jamie Lee Curtis – Linda Dysdale
Michael Shannon – Walt Thrombey
Don Johnson – Richard Drysdale
Toni Collette – Joni Thrombey
Katherine Langford – Meg Thrombey
Jaeden Martell – Jacob Thrombey
Riki Lindhome – Donna Thrombey
Christopher Plummer – Harlan Thrombey
K Callan – Greatnana Wanetta
LaKeith Stanfield – Lieutenant Elliott
Noah Segan – Trooper Wagner
Edi Patterson – Fran
When the spirits force the people out of Arendelle, Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad), and Sven venture to the Enchanted Forest to settle the spirits.
Back in 2013, Frozen became a phenomenon. Children everywhere dressed up as Anna and even more dressed up as Anna’s sister Elsa. It seemed you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Let it Go.” I’m man enough to admit that I got swept up in the craze as well. It was no surprise that a sequel was announced, especially given Disney has had more of an eye towards making theatrical sequels to their films as of late. Given how much I enjoyed Frozen, I was excited to see what directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck had in store for Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Kirstoff in the sequel. Despite my high expectations, Frozen II blew them away.
Easily the stand-out feature of Frozen was the original songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The songwriting couple returns for the sequel and once more they knock it out of the park! Idina Menzel again demonstrates how much of a powerhouse singer she is. “Into the Unknown” is bound to become this film’s “Let it Go” but “Show Yourself,” Menzel’s duet with Evan Rachel Wood, should not be ignored either. Jonathan Groff didn’t get much room to flex his singing chops in the last film but that was remedied this time around. Besides having a small part in the ensemble song “Some Things Never Change,” he gets his own song in “Lost in the Woods,” which is presented in a boy band-esque way that had me laughing uncontrollably. And of course Kristen Bell and Josh Gad have their songs as well, so no one is left out.
Olaf (Gad) provided much (not all but a lot) of the comedy from the previous film. While Olaf still functions as the comedic relief, and even though he does have some of the funnier moments of this film, it feels like the humor is spread out more evenly throughout the cast. This makes the comedy feel more organic. Anna, Kristoff, and many of the new characters all get a few laughs in. Two new characters, Lieutenant Mattias, voiced wonderfully by Sterling K. Brown, and Ryder, voiced by Jason Ritter, aren’t on the screen much but they each have a handful of memorable moments that help them stand out in this sequel.
Frozen II is unsurprisingly done in an animation style very similar to that of Frozen. However, everything just looks… better. Similar but better. The character models look better and feel like they have more expression, Elsa’s ice powers look better and seriously jaw-dropping at moments, the environments look better and almost life-like. Just like most of the last film is spent in the snow, most of this film is spent in the Enchanted Forest, and the Forest look absolutely stunning. If you’ve ever been in the woods, particularly during the autumn months, you’ll know how vivid it can be, with a wide range of colors and textures. This film captures all of that in great detail. From the various colors of the leaves to the greens of the grass and moss to the grays of rocks and to the clear blue streams. Once again, the Disney animation studio has outdone themselves.
Every sequel should build on and expand the world from the film(s) before it and continue to evolve the characters. Both sisters grow considerably. Elsa’s journey takes her on a path of discovery about her powers and herself more so than the previous film. At the end of Frozen, she learns to embrace her powers and that they are not something to be feared. Throughout this movie, she embraces her powers even more. Of the two, Anna displays the most change and growth. I don’t want to spoil anything but she goes through a dramatic change that is perfect for her character and will serve as an inspiration for many young children. When we meet Olaf at the beginning, he has begin questioning the world in a more mature way than his more innocent and naive self of the last film. It’s played for comedy but is exciting to watch. As for Kristoff, we get to see how his feelings for Anna have deepened but it feels like his character does not quite have as drastic an arc as some of the other characters.
Out of everything I have talked about up to this point, I think what I appreciate most about this film is how well it rounds out and completes the story of Frozen. As I just talked about, the two central sisters go through tremendous character growth, especially if we look at where they started in Frozen. It’s awe-inspiring how much the writers were able to accomplish in just two films. While the movie could potentially have a threequel (even if Disney decided to actually make a third theatrical film for one of their animated franchises), I feel like the story is complete enough that a third outing is not needed nor would it be necessary.
I thought Frozen II was GOOD 🙂 Despite all my positive comments, there are still a few flaws that can be found. However, those are minor compared to everything else I enjoyed in this film. There is a larger sense of adventure this time around and even more excitement than Frozen. While I usually feel most Disney animated films do not require sequels, this is an instance where I am extremely glad this sequel was made. Building on where the characters ended in the previous movie, this movie expands on them even further. Where Frozen II really shines is when it’s taken as a whole with Frozen. Together, they tell a complete and complementary story, making both films better in the process.
Cast & Crew
Chris Buck – Director / Story
Jenifer Lee – Director / Screenplay / Story
Marc Smith – Story
Kristen Anderson-Lopez – Story / Original Songs
Robert Lopez – Story / Original Songs
Christophe Beck – Composer
Idina Menzel – Elsa (voice)
Kristen Bell – Anna (voice)
Josh Gad – Olaf (voice)
Jonathan Groff – Kristoff (voice)
Evan Rachel Wood – Queen Iduna (voice)
Alfred Molina – King Agnarr (voice)
Sterling K. Brown – Lieutenant Mattias (voice)
Martha Plimpton – Yelana (voice)
Jason Ritter – Ryder (voice)
Rachel Matthews – Honeymaren (voice)
Jeremy Sisto – King Runeard (voice)
Ciaran Hinds – Pabbie (voice)
Alan Tudyk – Northuldra Leader (voice)
Mattea Conforti – Young Elsa (voice)
Hadley Gannaway – Young Ana (voice)
Aurora – The Voice (voice)
Jake Carson (John Cena) and his crew are an elite squad of smoke jumpers but when they rescue Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand) and her two siblings, they realize fighting fires might be easier than taking care of three children.
When going into Playing with Fire, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Family comedies can be hit or miss for older audience members. However, I was intrigued given it starred Keegan-Michael Key, one of my favorite comedic actors at the moment, so I was willing to check it out. In the end, I found it to be a lot of fun.
One good thing about this film is no matter your age, there are plenty of laughs to be had. For me, Key steals the movie with his performance. As I’ve said before, I am a huge fan of his skit show, Key and Peele, and he channels much of that same energy into his performance in this film. He also had great chemistry with everyone around him, particularly John Cena, which only makes him even better. Speaking of Cena, his performance as the buff leader was entertaining but many of his jokes or gags fell short for me. I haven’t seen many of his other comedic roles but based on his performance here I felt he was eclipsed by some of the other actors. Besides Key and Cena, the rest of the cast also each had their moments, generating a fair number of laughs throughout the film.
As for the story, it was fairly predictable. It treads similar ground of movies like Vin Diesel’s The Pacifier, where the premise is taking muscular men and putting them in charge of or taking care of young children, clearly being out of their element. Playing with Fire also incorporates gags seen in many other films before, such as one character being silent for most of the film then shocks everybody when they finally open their mouth or the tough guy not getting the hint the girl likes him. So don’t expect any new ground to be covered.
Despite the unoriginal story, this movie has a big heart. What Cena lacks in the comedy, he makes up for with warmth and genuineness. His moments with Judy Greer, and Brianna Hildebrand in particular, form the emotional backbone of the film. Cena’s Jake Carson also isn’t just a pretty face. He receives a lot of development that is well explored for a 90-minute family comedy.
I thought Playing with Fire was GOOD 🙂 While it’s not entirely original and fairly predictable, this movie doesn’t try to take itself seriously and the cast’s dynamic makes it fun and entertaining. If you go in with an open mind and don’t take the film too seriously, like the actors, you might find something about it to enjoy.
Cast & Crew
Andy Fickman – Director
Dan Ewen – Writer
Matt Lieberman – Writer
Nathan Wang – Composer
John Cena – Jake ‘Supe’ Carson
Keegan-Michael Key – Mark
John Leguizamo – Rodrigo
Tyler Mane – Axe
Judy Greer – Dr. Amy Hicks
Brianna Hildebrand – Brynn
Christian Convery – Will
Finley Rose Slater – Zoey
Dennis Haysbert – Commander Richards