Uncut Gems (2019) Review

Directors: Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 135 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

In 2019, Adam Sandler generated a lot of Oscar buzz for himself for his performance in the drama-thriller Uncut Gems. It’s a bit different from the typical Sandler role, and, although he wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award, he still made quite an impression. In this crime film, New York City jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) desperately finds himself trying to pay off his gambling debts in order to stay afloat.

Uncut Gems is famous for its reputation of being an assaultive panic attack in cinematic form. The movie’s style is relentlessly suspenseful, constantly having its main character being in some sort of trouble, as he moves from one bad decision to the next. Personally, I didn’t find it as anxiety-inducing as many have suggested, but that didn’t stop me from being entertained from beginning to end.

For a picture about people incessantly screaming, swearing, and talking at the same time, this is a surprisingly easy feature to follow. In terms of comprehending what was going on onscreen, I felt like I was treading water the same way that Sandler’s character was with his financial dealings. Speaking of Sandler, his performance here is rightfully celebrated. He simply disappears into the role of a fast-talking bullshitter who’s in over his head with no one to blame but himself.

For some viewers, Uncut Gems is a bit too much. Yes, it relies heavily on uncomfortable and nervous-energy-provoking scenes and there are no likable characters, but there’s never a dull moment and the comedy that is in it is effective. I especially liked the way it built up to its climax. If you know that you’re in for a film that’s not entertaining in the conventional sense of the term, you might walk away smiling.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

They Drive by Night (1940) Review

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

They Drive by Night may not be an action, adventure, gangster, war, or western movie, but it often has the macho swagger of one. It doesn’t always live up to its promises, but this working-class drama features a cast at the top of their game. The story concerns a couple of two-fisted, tough-guy truckers, Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart), who’re brothers, and must survive their perilous occupation during the Great Depression.

This film works best when it’s showing slices-of-life from the blue-collar badasses that inhabit its world. Seeing Humphrey Bogart and George Raft play siblings alone will make it worth the price for some classic cinema buffs. They’re joined by an impressive cast, consisting of Ann Sheridan (as Cassie Hartley, a waitress at a roadside diner), Alan Hale (as Ed Carlsen, a former trucker who’s now the owner of a business in that line of work), Ida Lupino (as Lana Carlsen, Ed’s scheming wife), and George Tobias (playing George Rondolos, one of the vendors buying the brothers’ goods).

Unfortunately, They Drive by Night feels like it has two separate plots joined at the hip. Most of the first half is about the gritty trucking adventures of Bogart, Raft, and their kind, while the second half transforms the motion picture into a crime-melodrama. There’s even a courtroom climax that seems like a far cry from the open road antics from earlier in the runtime. I wouldn’t read the plot synopsis on IMDb unless you want some of the details of the latter half revealed to you.

Even if it feels vaguely plotless, the first half of this feature is the stronger part. The second half (oriented around a certain crime) has a few cheesy moments and is less street-tough. So, do I recommend They Drive by Night? That’s a tough question to answer, although I’m sure classic movie fans will get a kick out of the cast. If you’re looking for a consistent, well-articulated story, then there’s probably better choices out there.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Big Sleep (1946) Review

Director: Howard Hawks

Genre(s): Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 114 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The second (of four) onscreen collaborations between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was the endlessly complicated film-noir The Big Sleep, released in 1946. Badass, womanizing private-eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is called upon to investigate a blackmailing scheme, and ends up trapped in a web of gambling and murder. Sounds great, right? Well, just wait until you try to untangle the movie’s plot.

Even the most die-hard of The Big Sleep defenders are quick to admit that it’s impossible to follow what’s going on onscreen. It’s certainly one of Hollywood’s most famous examples of plot convolution. Instead of focusing on who and why people are getting killed, critics suggest paying attention to the picture’s intense, nocturnal mood and the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall.

Okay, those aspects of the feature deserve praise. This is a shadowy, sinister, seedy world that the characters inhabit, and the cinematography really brings this out. The nighttime scenes are memorable, even if you’re not sure what’s going on. The banter between the two leads (which occasionally thumbs its nose at the Hollywood Production Code of the time) is fun to listen to.

Professional critics really seem to bend over backwards for this one, loving it for what it could’ve been (if the plot was easier to follow), rather than for what it is. It’s not bad, but I generally prefer films where I can tell what is happening (unless it’s something intentionally surreal). According to one famous anecdote about the making of the motion picture, the filmmakers asked Raymond Chandler (who wrote the book that the movie’s based on) about one of the murders in the production in order to figure out the “who?” and “why?” behind the killing. Apparently, Chandler didn’t know either!

My rating is 5 outta 10.

Dark Passage (1947) Review

Director: Delmer Daves

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The third (of four) movies that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together was a film-noir with some interesting ideas called Dark Passage. After escaping from prison (where he was locked up for allegedly murdering his wife), Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) is taken in by artist Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) to help him clear his name. The finished product really isn’t as good as it should be, but it’s still watchable.

One of the most notable aspects of Dark Passage is the heavy use of first-person point-of-view cinematography in the first half. It’s not always seamless, but it adds a cool, almost ahead-of-its-time flavor to this crime-thriller. This, and the intriguing plot built up around a man on the run with no one he can trust (well, with the possible exception of Lauren Bacall’s character), ropes in the viewer. Not every character is going to survive to the end.

Unfortunately, the first act is the best part of the movie. Not everything after that is bad by any means, but, as the picture shifts away from the first-person gimmick, it loses something. It gets significantly talkier in several sequences and the ending is quite anti-climatic. It almost feels like the filmmakers were running out of time or didn’t exactly know how to end the picture on a pleasing note and rushed the conclusion.

In retrospective, professional critics have been rather kind to this one, partially thanks to the fact that it’s just Bogie and Bacall doing what they do best (although the supporting cast also gets singled out for praise). I am less enthusiastic about it, due to its not-entirely-satisfying ending and some of its dialogue-heavy tendencies. There are certainly many films I’d recommend this over, but can I really give a thumbs-up to a flick that peaks in its first third?

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Key Largo (1948) Review

Director: John Huston

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The crime-thriller Key Largo would be the fourth and final onscreen collaboration between husband-wife acting duo Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Set in Key Largo, Florida, a small group of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) hold the visitors to an ocean-side hotel, including World War II veteran Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), hostage in the middle of a hurricane. Another captive is Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall), who was made a widow by the 1939-1945 war and who sets her eyes on McCloud.

Key Largo is based on a 1939 play with the same name, and sometimes it shows. Most of the action takes place in the Hotel Largo and this sometimes causes the movie to verge on talkiness. Still, the film is blessed with a sweaty atmosphere and the script is pretty good, too. It never really feels claustrophobic in a bad sort of way, and the final shootout gives the flick a chance to breathe.

This feature is usually classified as a film-noir, and it has a mercifully straightforward plot for a motion picture done in that style. I’m frequently turned off by the twisty-turny stories that noirs often employ, but Key Largo is refreshingly simple. Plus, it’s just fun to see two of the greatest icons of black-and-white gangster movies, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, square off against each other in such a well-made flick.

Key Largo is a likeable mobster-noir drama with several swell performances. It’s not an action picture (though the final moments of gunplay do satisfy), but it still manages to keep the audience engaged. In a way, it feels like a reverse version of The Petrified Forest (1936). In that film, Bogie plays a criminal who holds a Western American diner hostage, and in this movie, Bogart is a prisoner to a gangster takeover of a building orchestrated by a different actor.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Honest Thief (2020) Review

Director: Mark Williams

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

To enjoy the Liam Neeson crime-thriller Honest Thief, expectations should be tempered. Try to think of it as a piece of Taken (2008)-lite, and you might find yourself pulled in. Liam Neeson stars as Tom, an infamous bank robber who decides to turn himself in and lead an honest life, but, needless to say, things go awry.

Honest Thief works on the basic level of the audience wanting to see the protagonist overcome the odds and succeed. Yeah, I know that sounds like I’m damning the picture will faint praise, but the film works better as a root-for-the-good-guy-and-hiss-at-the-bad-guys drama than as an action spectacle. Liam Neeson plays his usual nice tough guy and the script is sometimes predictable or padded-feeling.

When the action scenes do arrive, they’re fair. The body count’s microscopic, so don’t expect the near-indiscriminate slaughter of, say, Taken. The somewhat restrained chaos takes the form of car chases and point-blank-range shootouts. It feels smaller in scale than some of Neeson’s other actioners, but I suppose that this gives the movie an intimacy to the onscreen happenings that some epic superhero flicks lack.

Sure, Kate Walsh (as Annie, Neeson’s character’s girlfriend) feels out-of-place at times and, sure, it feels like it would’ve gone direct-to-video if it didn’t feature a star the caliber of Neeson, but this is a well-paced action-thriller that will tie over fans of the lead actor. Well, it’s not boring, and it succeeds in a I-hope-this-character-doesn’t-die sort of way. So, I’d recommend getting in the right state of mind, and not expecting a throat-punchathon.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) Review

Director: Peter Segal

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 83 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

“Aggressively stupid” is a good way to describe the sense of humor found in the third film of The Naked Gun trilogy (Hell, the whole trio could be explained with that phrase). The zany antics of police officer Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) continue, with the incompetent cop being called upon to infiltrate a gang of terrorists to uncover their next bombing target. Expect a fair amount of groin-related jokes.

As rip-snortingly funny as Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult is, it probably has the loosest plot of the series. Hilarious gags definitely take precedence over tight storytelling here. That being said, the film gets its act together for the last third, which is a very strong sequence, with Leslie Nielsen’s character making a total ass of himself at the bad guys’ bombing target.

This movie is, well, spooftacular, parodying various pieces of popular culture left and right. Yep, the goofy, “politically incorrect” comedy of the first two installments in the franchise is back, and just as ferociously funny as ever. Somehow, lightning has been caught in a bottle for a third time in a row. Cameo appearances are everywhere.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult is actually my second favorite feature in the trilogy. It feels a tad more memorable than The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991). Fans of dumb-as-dirt humor that’s heavily reliant on slapstick and that sort of thing will want to check this comedy out. It’s non-stop laughs. It’s interesting to note that director Peter Segal’s next movie would be Tommy Boy (1995).

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991) Review

Director: David Zucker

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Inept police officer Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is back in action and ready to deliver more laughs in this sequel to the 1988 masterpiece The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. This time, pro-green-energy scientist Dr. Meinheimer (Richard Griffiths) has been kidnapped by fossil fuel tycoons…and it’s up to Drebin to rescue him. Featuring the same absurd, slapstick-oriented humor of the original, this flick is a real winner.

The series’ style of comedy is still stupid as Hell, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. For all of its proud dumbness, the filmmakers definitely seem to know that they’re crafting low-brow gags. I love the franchise’s brand of humor, and I know that I was guffawing constantly throughout the picture’s relatively short runtime. It’s all deeply silly and juvenile.

Okay, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear is the least-best of the trilogy (I will not use the word “worst” here). It’s the least memorable of the series and perhaps the least joke-heavy, but it’s still a serious hoot. There are a few moments of physical action, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they’re “exciting.” That’s okay, this is a comedy, not an action film.

Do you like the sound of a comedy movie featuring endless crotch jokes and other audaciously stupid gags? Well, then I probably don’t need to tell you that The Naked Gun 2½ is your ticket to Belly Laugh City (geez, what a lame-sounding recommendation that is!). It may not be the best of its trilogy, yet its did-they-really-just-go-there? sense of humor will unquestionably please fans of lowest-common-denominator merriment. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) Review

Director: David Zucker

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

For audiences who couldn’t get enough of the style of comedy found in the masterpiece Airplane! (1980), the trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker returned to bring them The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! in 1988. However, instead of spoofing 1970s disaster movies, this picture would focus on police films. The plot is about an apparently globe-trotting Los Angeles cop named Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) who must foil an assassination attempt against Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) while she visits L.A.

If you aren’t familiar with Airplane!, this flick follows the same formula of throwing as many how-stupid-can-we-be-and-get-away-with-it? jokes at the audience as possible. There’s nothing sophisticated about the slapstick-heavy, hyperbolic humor in The Naked Gun. Sometimes the gags are even predictable, but, to be honest, it doesn’t make them any less side-splitting. Few crime or action movie clichés make it out of the feature alive.

The first installment of The Naked Gun cinematic franchise (which is based off of a short-lived television show called Police Squad!) greatly benefits from Leslie Nielsen’s committed performance as the lead character. The supporting cast includes George Kennedy (as Ed Hocken), Ricardo Montalban (as Vincent Ludwig), and O.J. Simpson (as Nordberg). This was, of course, before he was a murderer.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is a real laugh riot, lasting only 85 minutes, so it surely doesn’t outstay its welcome. The flick is so crammed with comedy that if ten seconds go by without a joke of some kind, something seems off. The film is profoundly silly, so those looking for high-brow humor will leave disappointed. That being said, I love the low-brow stuff, so this picture really does the trick for me.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Eddie Macon’s Run (1983) Review

Director: Jeff Kanew

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Here’s one for all the Kirk Douglas fans out there. It’s not among his most famous flicks, but Eddie Macon’s Run is one to watch. The Eddie Macon (John Schneider) of the title is an average Joe locked away in prison away from his loving family who breaks out and makes a run for the Mexican border to freedom…all while having a relentless cop – Carl “Buster” Marzack (Kirk Douglas) – on his trail.

This underrated movie is part-The Fugitive (1993) and part-The Getaway (1972). It’s a simple, yet engaging, treat, with an easy-to-root-for protagonist. Thrown in the slammer for beating up an uncaring boss who dismissed his seriously ill son (well, that and some less-relatable drinking-and-driving), Eddie Macon just wants to be with his wife and son. In case you forget, you’ll be reminded of that by the near-constant country songs spelling out the plot to you that play over the soundtrack.

Eddie Macon’s Run is a relatively small film, and to be frank, it’s not always that memorable. However, it’s got it where it counts, with a short runtime, entertaining scenarios, and a fantastic role for Kirk Douglas. It doesn’t go too heavy on the physical action, reserving most of it for a car chase at the end that’s accompanied by music that sounds like something out of a 1970s pornographic vehicle pursuit.

This feature is a straightforward crowd-pleaser that moves along at a reasonable pace. The movie’s tone seems pretty well balanced. It’s not about big, extravagant set-pieces, but instead focuses its efforts on crafting likeable characters. I’d recommend it to Kirk Douglas fans and those looking for a simple, inspiring story told well.

My rating is 8 outta 10.