Uncut Gems – 7.5

“Intense movie,” said the usher as I, and the two other men in the audience, left the theater. High-stress, high-volume is another way to describe the life of jeweller Howard Ratner, played brilliantly by Adam Sandler – neither hero nor antihero, a gambling addict, basketball fan, unfaithful husband, lousy father whom you don’t exactly root for or against but can’t take your eyes off of. You accept the dramatic license, which packs about six months of traumatic incident into six days, partly because the Safdie brothers weave real-life touches – an Ethiopian mine accident, the Celtics’ NBA finals against the 76ers, a club performance by the Weeknd – so smoothly into the frantic narrative of Howard’s existence. Kevin Garnett and newcomer Keith Williams Richards are memorable in secondary roles. It’s a serious movie with a great performance and fitting ending, but it’s not for everyone.

Ford v. Ferrari – 8

For a welcome change, a red-blooded bromance, mavericks-against-the-establishment, Americans-vs.-Italians action drama, made memorable by the protean Christian Bale’s portrayal of race driver Ken Miles. Matt Damon is solidly good, as he always is, and the rest of the supporting cast is almost as fun to watch. My only quibble – and in such a long movie having only one is remarkable – is that the Ford VP bad guy (Leo Beebe) is wildly overdrawn; but hey, what’s wrong with setting up a villain to root against. That’s what this film provides, in spades: a chance to root.

1917 – 5

Despite theoretically compressing 18 non-stop hours into a two-hour film, the pace was so slow that I kept overanalyzing  the absurd story. Yes, war is senseless, but if 1,200 lives are at stake, can’t you do better than send a total greenhorn and whomever he chooses off on a horrendously challenging rescue mission? And why do they have to crawl over corpses through no-man’s land when there is an armed caravan of Allied troops driving up the road ahead of them? And when our hero meets this caravan, why is he sent off alone on this crucial mission? And what about the planes flying overhead? Can’t they deliver a message? And why are our heroes loath to hurt the Germans when they encounter them? As other critics have noted, we bounce from obstacle to obstacle like a video game, without any effort at characterization; and this movie competes with Harriet for glossing over how the end zone is miraculously reached. Having Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch in the roles of commanding officers only accentuated the inappropriateness of entrusting our two with anything.

Parasite – 5.5

Bizarre. Part absurdist comedy, part horror film, part sociological commentary, none of it strikes an emotional chord or makes you think too much. The vibe is similar to Jordan Peele’s movies (Get Out and particularly Us), but there’s no one to root for and the story is full of holes: e.g., how can the son end up the hero after we saw his head bashed in, lying in a puddle of his blood? Maybe the movie would make more sense for a Korean audience, but if this is our glimpse into Korean culture I don’t feel I’m missing much.

Movie Butts

Why does almost every movie have to have a scene, or more, of characters smoking? At one point I used a cigarette rating at the end of every review, to comment on how extensive or unnecessary the smoking was – e.g., obviously a film taking place in the 1930s had more reason to show smoking than a movie taking place today – but that became tiresome and distracted,  I admit, from more important critical judgments.  I have decided, therefore, to set up this separate post as a resting place for my comments about smoking in films, as I see them.

Long Shot. Set in modern-day Washington, apparently, there is no reason to have a character smoke; yet Secretary of State Charlize Theron spots a pack of Gauloises in the Situation Room and bums a fag from one of the Chiefs of Staff to smoke while negotiating a hostage release on the phone with a Middle East leader. Would a Federal building, let alone the War Room of the Chiefs of Staff (or whatever it was), not be a No-Smoking area?

The Souvenir. This may set the mark for 2019 for constant, distracting fagging. The loathsome male lead apparently can’t breathe without a cigarette in his hand or his face. Plenty of others indulge, too, to show that this is all taking place in the distant past of 1983.

Non-Fiction. Here, at least, the characters are slightly guilty about their cigarettes – making apologies and stepping out-of-doors to light up – and usually not doing much more than that. Of course, why even that is necessary to the plot or the characterizations is not evident.

Gloria Bell. Julianne Moore becomes a chimney half-way through the film. At least she looks uncomfortable holding her cigarette.

Late Night. Cigarettes appear wildly out of the blue on two occasions: late in the game when Emma Thompson’s three-year-old affair is revealed, she lights up in bed; and in a meta moment, Mindy Kaling’s colleague has a smoke on the street while she tells him of a benefit for lung cancer she is about to emcee.

Yesterday. This film pulls off the cleverest obligatory but gratuitous  smoking reference: when the lead character, out of the blue, says if he smoked he’d need a cigarette, his companion expresses bewilderment because cigarettes, like Coke, Harry Potter and the Beatles, were erased from human consciousness during a global 12-second electric grid collapse.

Wild Rose. Just two shots, I think, enough to check the box. The neighbor on her porch next door is puffing away, and our heroine lights up once, for no obvious reason.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio are smoking cigarettes pretty much the entire movie. Sure, we have to know it’s a time past – but even in 1969 most of my acquaintances weren’t smoking – and Pitt and DiCaprio have to look “cool.” But that’s my problem. How can having two of Hollywood’s leading heartthrobs looking cool with a cigarette in their mouth not have an effect on a teenager today? When Tarantino accompanied the closing credits with DiCaprio’s character filming a commercial for Red Apple cigs, I was hoping it would turn into a public-service disclaimer, but no, the character just dumped on the brand.

Aquarela. For no reason at all, in the opening scene of Russians pulling a car out of a frozen lake, one of the rescuers lifts his mask to light a cigarette.

Judy.  It’s hard to argue with the profligate use of cigarettes by Judy (and cigar by Louis Mayer), given her general dissolution and similar abuse of alcohol.

Knives Out. For little or no reason, Jamie Lee Curtis lights up near the end: the typical cigarette cameo.

Marriage Story. Ditto above; after not smoking through an immensely stressful story, Adam Driver is seen smoking on the street before we leave.

Hustlers. Almost surprised there weren’t more cigarettes, but again the characters pulled them out well into the movie, after any plot need.

Honeyboy. The constant presence of cigarettes could be justified as emphasizing the low-life character of Honeyboy’s father; but the movie took it farther by having the 12-year-old become a smoker, too.

Uncut Gems. 75 minutes into the film a minor character lights up a cigarette following a seder – no relationship to the plot or a characterization, just an isolated incident of smoking.

Seberg. Period-appropriate smoking, I suppose, by several characters, ramping up as the movie moves along.