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Uncut Gems The Criterion Collection
Given our current condition and how and when we mark things, it could be easy to overlook the buzz surrounding Uncut Gems given that most of it occurred in the final months before we could all walk around without masks and such. Moreover, a lot of us probably blocked out things we did during most of 2020 and into 2021 in order to avoid such personally bleak moments, and in the wash of that, other things may have been forgotten too. For example, I do remember the Gems talk, and recognition of its star on the awards circuit. Actually, seeing the movie? Nope, but in consulting my wife I apparently did, with her, so I guess this gives me a chance to revisit this one!
Ronald Bronstein wrote the film with Benny and Josh Safdie in a follow-up from the trio's 2017 film (Good Time), but this one stars Adam Sandler (Grown Ups) as Howard, owner of a jewelry store but also a degenerate gambler. He has a wife (Idina Menzel, Rent) but also a girlfriend on the side (Julia Fox), and his brother in law (Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio) holds the keys to his gambling debts and is not letting go. Howard encounters an opportunity with an opal from Ethiopia and Kevin Garnett which he believes is going to get him out from his debts.
So with the process of turning rocks into gems using pressure to do this (do I have my geology right?) so goes the gem in this film, which would be Howard, who we first see on a table getting a colonoscopy. With this, his relationships, his money, things slowly turn and ramp up for him and you see him run out of options and escape routes, and it permeates through everything in his life; whether it's school plays, auction houses, or such. The pressure is the big part of Uncut Gems and it's so present it's frightening.
As events unfold in that final act, they are a little conventional as they unfold; you know how some movies have that ‘one last job and I'm out' concept behind them? That is the vibe I had coming from Uncut Gems seeing it again. Howard tries for the Hail Mary shot in order for the payoff, and says why over and over again (here is where Garnett, a player with the Boston Celtics in 2012 when the film is sent, comes into play). That may be the only deterrent from the film, but it is not a large one, given how the suspense is ratcheted up. But the ending could certainly be polarizing more than the Safdies may have anticipated.
As far as the praise surrounding Sandler's performance? It's OK. I think people may be over ebullient about his work because of the amount of dreck he does; his performances are fine for sure, but backing off hyperbole for a moment, he is the type of guy who could turn in a decent effort if he wants to, and he did that for Gems.The Blu-ray:
The Safdies participating in the transfer for this Criterion release as well as the 4K, and after only seeing this streaming I think, the Blu-ray took me back in just how vivid some of the colors are. Black levels are inky and provide a quality contrast during viewing, shadow delineation is sharp and color reproduction is also spot on, whether it's under the artificial lights of the store or in the darkness of a club, the disc handles everything thrown at it convincingly.The Sound:
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is excellent, throwing the viewer into a lot of cross-talk among people that you can discern easily. You also follow Howard to the club and the music booms through the soundstage. Maybe it's in the din of a casino as Julia fends of a flirting playboy while watching the Celtics game, or the New York City fountain that Howard is thrown into. It all sounds consistent and strong for the run of the film, and is one of the better sounding discs I've heard (albeit in my small sample size) for the last few months.The Extras:
Criterion ported over the only extra from the Sony release and then went all Criterion over it. "Money on the Street" (30:29) is here, examining the genesis and evolution of the story into film, and the cast discuss the Safdies while the Safdies return the favor. It looks like most everyone participates in this, and it gets into the process and stories on set to boot.
But there's much more, as the Safdies, Bronstein and producer Sebastian Bear-McClard team up for a commentary which includes a good amount of production recall, provides information on the supporting cast and on a specific scene or two as they watch. They provide some backstory and motivation behind the jeweler backdrop and on a production headache or two, before veering into things like the value of a director commentary and the quartet having to take a bio-break on microphone. It's a nice track with some value for fans of the film. After that, "Studio Visit" (14:16) gets into the costume design by Miyako Bellizzi as she gets into the inspiration for the threads and how she worked with Sandler to achieve his look and the looks of others in the film. "Shooting Gems" (13:47) gives us Khondji's perspective and backstory before getting to shoot this one, and the challenges for him in it. "Human Kinds" (15:40) looks at Jennifer Venditti's casting for the feature (and includes some audition footage of some of the actors) while "Creating the World of Uncut Gems" (14:14) explores production design with Sam Lisenco. "Behind the Soundtrack" (17:40) gets into Daniel Lopatin's creation of the score and cues for the film, with some amplification on things by Josh Safdie in a fascinating segment. Three extended scenes (12:34) include a song by The Weekend, there is some screen test footage of Sandler and Fox (3:13) and a piece on Ethiopian Israelites (1:20). There is a Q&A (21:02) which is designed not to be by the Safdies, so they can get a reclusive Sandler to talk about the film, along with some help by Jason Bateman. "Goldman vs. Silverman" (6:43) is a short with Sandler and street performing in New York. The trailer (2:19) and a trailer for Elara (:30) complete things almost, but the booklet in the packaging is set up to be a catalog for Howard's business and includes some essays, interviews and photos, but the concept of the packaging is cool and worth a look.Final Thoughts:
I can understand some of the praise surrounding Uncut Gems and on Sandler specifically, but I don't think it is quite the underrated, ugh, ‘jewel' that people seem to think it is. Good, but not great by my thoughts. The Criterion version of the film is a standout with contributions by most of the ensemble in a lot of different areas, and the technical presentation is excellent, and I think should be one of the best discs of the year. Strong recommendation to watch at least, with an eye towards adding to your library.