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🎬 Uncut Gems, The Gentlemen, Just Mercy, and the Great Dictator

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ESJ's Movie Project

January 31 · Issue #53 · View online
I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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Uncut Gems
Pictured: Two things I cared about a lot in the 90s: Furby and Adam Sandler movies.
Pictured: Two things I cared about a lot in the 90s: Furby and Adam Sandler movies.
UNCUT GEMS is a superbly directed and shot character study and, although I didn’t love Adam Sandler’s performance as much as the rest of the Internet, I can’t deny that he is perfectly cast as high-stakes gambler Howard Ratner. Sandler rides the lines separating tolerable from unlikable and alienating from engrossing as he tries to turn one “hit” into more, and the way he carries the propulsive final act would turn even the most sports-agnostic person into a Boston Celtics fan, if only for a few minutes. The script is intentionally written so that characters often talk over each other, and (especially with jerks in my theater who were also talking) I had a hard time keeping track of all the different collectors and bookies breathing down Ratner’s neck. However, that wound up being immaterial: Point is, they’re bad news. The rest of the supporting cast, including Idina Mendel and Lakeith Stanfield, nicely balances Sandler’s energy, but the real star of Uncut Gems for me is the look of the film — stylishly desaturated and always in motion. Recommended.
Just Mercy
Pictured: Adonis Killmonger, attorney at law.
Pictured: Adonis Killmonger, attorney at law.
The legal drama JUST MERCY has garnered little buzz this awards season, which is unfortunate but understandable. Despite excellent performances from Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, it retells the story of the Equal Justice Initiative’s founder Bryan Stevenson — and one of his first cases, Walter “Johnnie D” McMillian — with a level-headed precision. Save for one scene that was shoehorned into all the trailers, there are no explosive outbursts of emotion in the script, and director Destin Daniel Cretton shoots the story with a compassionate, but not showy, eye for his characters. “Middlebrow” to some folks is an insult, but I mean only good things when I call this a confident middlebrow story about systemic racism. Just Mercy is all but out of theaters now (I watched a screener copy), yet I’d recommend seeking it out. There is a great deal of talent on display here and it would be a shame to let it go unseen.
The Gentlemen
Pictured: Matthew McConaughey thinking about his paycheck.
Pictured: Matthew McConaughey thinking about his paycheck.
THE GENTLEMEN is a prime example of a movie distribution trend that Red Letter Media calls “fuck you, it’s January.” The month has long been a dumping ground for studios’ worst bets (see also: Dolittle), but nevertheless I went into The Gentlemen with some optimism: All I wanted was a dumb action movie starring a bunch of people I like. I was not prepared for how dumb this movie would be. It’s a crime caper told in meandering fashion by a dramatic private investigator, played by Hugh Grant — the one bit I sort of liked, because Grant is the only person in this film who seems to at least be trying something, even if it is vaguely “evil queen.” Everything else is a dull parade of “I’m on your side … not!” reversals and politically incorrect jokes, which someone under the age of 15 probably thinks is super clever and edgy. But there’s zero nutrition to be found here: No fun characters, no smart dialogue, and barely any funny jokes. Avoid.
The Great Dictator
Pictured: The comedy with the guy playing Hitler ... no, not Jojo Rabbit, the other one.
Pictured: The comedy with the guy playing Hitler ... no, not Jojo Rabbit, the other one.
Going into THE GREAT DICTATOR, I knew sort of how it ended — the closing speech by Charlie Chaplin is one of the most famous monologues in film history for a reason — but I had no idea how the story would get there, or which of his two characters would be giving the speech. Purely by coincidence, I started watching this movie the day before the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But it’s worth stressing that Chaplin started shooting his satire of Adolf Hitler in 1937 and released it in 1940, all before the US had entered the war and at a time when mainstream popular opinion toward Europe’s Jews in America was as callous as what you might hear about Syrian refugees and Mexican asylum seekers today. The two hours preceding the speech are uneven but powerful at times, veering from slapstick humor into unsettling political realities, and I think the story souls have benefitted from focusing on the barber and cutting the Hynkel material down significantly. Despite The Great Dictator’s flaws, it’s all worth it for that final speech — which is unfortunately as relevant now as it was in 1940.
🏆 Every New Movie I've Seen in 2020 (So Far), Ranked
(new additions in bold)

  1. Marriage Story
  2. Little Women
  3. 1917
  4. Uncut Gems
  5. Just Mercy
  6. Joker
  7. The Gentlemen

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