Tag Archives: Sorry to Bother You

Uncut Gems

24 Dec

‘Uncut Gems’: Scheming knows no bounds, but walls, and Kevin Garnett, are closing in

 

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Fraught with edge-of-your-seat tension, “Uncut Gems,” the latest from Boston University-educated brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, stars Adam Sandler as a shady New York City jeweler in deep with the mob for a gambling addiction that knows no limits. The brothers’ last film, “Good Time” (2017) rode a similar arc with a protagonist (Robert Pattinson) living on the criminal fringe, making unwise choices that only amped up a sideways situation. The poor decisions there felt earnest; here, as Sandler’s Howard Ratner teeters atop the tip of a needle 24/7 and so routinely choses the most cataclysmically loaded option at hand, the orchestration of edginess feels calculated and engineered for the sake of taking it up one more notch. That heavy foot takes something away, but still the film remains a scalding-hot sizzle from frame one to the surprising last shot.

Much will be made about the choice to cast Sandler in a dramatic lead – he’s known mostly for slack, sophomoric fare such as “Happy Gilmore” (1996) and “The Waterboy” (1998) – but folks can all take a deep breath; the New Hampshire native is more than fine, and feels minted for the part of an overly intense New York Jew with big ambitions, self-destructive addictions and a penchant for bad life choices.

The fun part here for Boston peeps is that old friend Kevin Garnett pops up in the cast, playing himself (KG!). If you’re thinking it’s his latter Brooklyn Nets years, think again – he’s with the Green, as the year (we’re told during a colonoscopy) is 2012, and the Cs are playing the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semis (the LeBron-led Miami Heat would win the title that year) with KG winding his way through New York between road games with Philly. What’s KG got to do with a two-bit hustler? He’s buds with a streetwise operator named Demany (LaKeith Stanfield, so good in “Sorry to Bother You”) who stores his Rolex stash at Howard’s cramped showroom in New York’s jewelry district. Meanwhile Howard gets a covert shipment (in a fish belly) of Ethiopian opals, all glommed together in a two-fist mass. Garnett catches a glimmer of the stone, feels a mystical emanation and decides he wants to hold onto it for good luck during the next game. His collateral? The 2008 NBA championship ring he won with the Cs, which Howard pawns immediately, putting the whole enchilada on Garnett and the Celtics to take down Philly, playing home court.

Howard’s an impulsive sort. Did I mention he’s big into a loan shark (Eric Bogosian, excellent) who has close family ties with Howard (they do Passover together, which is awkward, to say the least)? Then there’s Howard’s discerning wife (Idina Menzel), hot and onto it all, and the kept woman he puts up in a posh pad (Julia Fox, who should ride a breakthrough wave after this) and the two sons he hardly ever sees as he bounces from one dicey situation to the next, buying just enough time to make the next poor choice, ever adding to a mounting shitstorm of lies and imminent retribution. Continue reading

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

14 Jun

‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’: Occupying family home doesn’t get it back

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Given efforts to address the widening socioeconomic chasm in Cambridge and matters of diversity and affordable housing, there might not be a more apt fable to heed than that of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” – even if that city’s affordability and economic divide, with its long list of tech startups and horde of nouveau millennials, far outpaces ours. This Spike Lee-sque work about a forlorn young man looking to return to the stately family home where he grew up hits all the right (dis)chords, though. The house, in what was once known as the “Harlem of the West” (in the Fillmore District) is now a tony enclave perched quaintly atop a San Fran hill, streetcar stop and all, that looks right off the Travel Channel. The specter of gentrification is in every frame of this Sundance-winning film, though never directly named.

So what does Jimmie Fails (played by Jimmie Fails, can you dig the meta framing?) do to gain back the the periwinkle-gray Victorian manse? Well, he just shows up and starts cleaning, raking the yard and painting the windows sills – which doesn’t sit well with the current white owners, who themselves are in a financial pickle and forced to move out. That’s when Jimmie and his pal Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), who’ve been in a less desirable part of the city with Mont’s blind grandfather (Danny Glover – again this week after “The Dead Don’t Die”!), decide to move in. None of that is on the up and up, which gives the film its teeth; the stakes climb even higher when the “witch hat house” goes on the market for a cool four mil. Jimmie, a caregiver at a retirement home, and Mont, who works in the local fish market, don’t have a chance in hell of buying it.

The resolution is ultimately beside the point. It’s more about the subtle portrayal of race, the impact of gentrification and the grim prospects for young men of color who have either unwisely stepped outside the law or been passed over by the system. “Blindspotting”(2018) moved in similar waves, but not quite as engrossingly or with such inventive nuance. The film, directed by Joe Talbot (who is white) and conceived by he and Fails, swings for the fences, evoking at points Godard’s “Weekend” and Lee’s “Jungle Fever” and succeeds for the most part, even if the premise feels razor thin, contrived and unlikely.The gathering of tough lads who sit outside Mont’s grandfather’s house and drop the N-word more than the article “the” (if it’s ever even used) become a captivating Greek chorus (one’s a dead drop-in for Radio Raheem) and a reality check on the American dream, not to mention a harsh reminder of the irrational suddenness of street violence and the improbability of making it off the street once you’re there.

Fails–the character, not the actor–is saddled with a lot: mom and dad are absent (due to circumstances it’s hard to have complete empathy for) but remain present in the corners, framed as impactful forces. He’s also spent time in juvie. But somehow his mission and character profile, while palpable and moving, isn’t as intriguing as Mont’s, a complex, multilevel eccentric, an aspiring intellect in tweed, a younger, emotive David Allen Grier. It’s a mind-blowing performance that pretty much makes the film – or I should say, holds us in place. Some of the dreamlike, absurdist scenes orchestrated by Talbot are a wonder to drink in. Boots Riley went this way with “Sorry to Bother You” (2018, also starring Glover as the golden “white voiced” black salesman), and while not every one of that film’s surrealist experiments landed, the sum was visceral and far-reaching in ways far beyond that of a more conventional approach. Same can be said here, about a film whose title says it all. A title change to “Cambridge” would work just as well.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

8 Nov

‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’: Spy Salander brings work home in ‘Dragon Tattoo’ film

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As in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (either version), female revenge fantasies reign in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” as hacker/punker/private investigator-cum-vigilante Lisbeth Salander (Clair Foy, “The Crown” and “First Man”) takes down rich abusive husbands (emptying out their bank accounts, giving the spoils to the abused and sending that video of the miscreant shagging the boss’ wife to said employer), deals with even deeper daddy and family issues than previous cinematic installments and, well, pretty much saves the world James Bond-style. Yeah, it’s a hive (nay, a web) of activity and a lot is asked of Foy, who’s not given much of a skin to fill — though she’s every bit as fierce and feral as Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara were in earlier incarnations.

The story, adapted from the first posthumous adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy by novelist David Lagercrantz, centers around a rogue black market mob called the Spiders (sans Ziggy) in possession of a encryption program called Firefall that gives them the keys to every nuke around the globe. They’ve hijacked the master switch from Lisbeth after she, at the behest of its creator, a conflicted NSA agent (Stephen Merchant), hacks it away from the NSA to destroy it. To get the keys to the doomsday device, there are big chases, cloistered struggles and improbable getaways – Swedish cops make the Keystones look adroit – and the baddies are all fetching statuesque blondes, namely Sylvia Hoeks, so cold and steely as the relentless replicant in “Blade Runner 2049” and more of the same here.

Lisbeth has to handle a package – the savant son of said NSA genius (Christopher Convery), who is the key to Firefall going live. In all the crash-bang Bond-esque thrills, the nuance and dark gothic brooding that made the Swedish series and the American remake by David Fincher so compelling never gets switched on here. Foy looks the part, but her Lisbeth is nearly as cold and aloof as Hoeks’ sadistic stalker in red. (The smackdown-in-stilettos thing, which worked for Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde,” does not work here.) Plus, Lisbeth’s skills are so top-notch and she’s so well known, how is it Google or Amazon haven’t hired her away? I mean this “girl” is sharp and resourceful in a way that would make McGyver look inept. She’s able to hack an airport security system with a cache of dildos, and while driving a car she uses her iPhone to take control of the vehicle she’s pursuing – while careening across a bridge at a breakneck speed in a snowstorm.

Even when it winds back to the big family estate in the cold icy hinterlands, made so iconic and visually alluring by Fincher in 2009, the film’s still all about high-tech oneupmanship and soft-core, bind-torture shenanigans. Lakeith Stanfield, so good in “Sorry to Bother You,” drops in as the U.S. agent out to recover Firefall. His Needham allegedly is one of the greatest hackers of all time, yet we never see him at a keyboard, just behind the trigger of a very big gun. The script by Steven Knight (“Locke”), Jay Basu and director Fede Alvarez tries to strap too much in. It’s sleek but overloaded. As built, this web’s a fun, passing fancy too emotionally inert to snag anything worth caring about.